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October 2007

Posts from September 2007

Suggestions for a VERY small, portable, *wired* headset/mic for travel?

As I packed for my travel to IT Expo early tomorrow morning, I was again annoyed that I still haven't found a great headset (with microphone) for travelling.  A little bit ago, I bought the Logitech "Premium Notebook Headset" which is in fact a very nice headset.  Audio sounds great, fits well, works great with all the various VoIP softphones  I use... I have no real complaints about how it functions.  I bought it in part because it folds flat and has a nice hardshell case.  But it has a problem - it's still too darn big! 

I never check bags when on business travel.  I have my "roller" travel luggage and then my laptop bag on top of that.  Space is at an absolute premium. And given that I cram a lot of equipment into my laptop bag, having a small but hard plastic case is really critical. (As previous (destroyed!) headsets without cases will attest!) An example that works is my wonderful Sennheiser PCX 100 headphones that fold up into this nice little hard case that is about 5.5 inches long, 3 inches wide and 1 inch deep. Fantastic! (Curiously, though, Sennheiser doesn't seem to make them anymore.)  If I could get a set like that with a microphone, I'd be all set.

Now, yes, I could go very small with a Bluetooth headset, but I have two problems: 1) my current laptop doesn't have Bluetooth built in, so I have to use an adapter, and the one I have doesn't always seem to work; and 2) my experience with Bluetooth so far is that it really eats up the batteries on devices like headsets.  I don't want to be at an airport or hotel trying to have a VoIP call and discover that my headset needs a recharge.  I just want to keep it simple... give me wires!

So that's my question for any readers out there... do you have any suggestions for headsets that have worked well for you in travel?  (Thanks in advance)

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Thanks... (and I expect my 'light blogging' won't be so light)

MANY thanks for all the kinds words sent my way after yesterday's post, both publicly and privately.  I'll admit that aspect of it has been a bit overwhelming!  But it's VERY definitely appreciated.  Thank you.

As to this comment I made:

In the meantime, I may be blogging a little less here for a bit as I focus on what comes next.

The reality is that after seven years of doing it, blogging has become ingrained and is just part and parcel of what I do on a daily basis... already this morning I've started several posts.  I expect that I'll realistically just keep on posting because that's part of what I do.  Stay tuned...

And again... thanks!

Mitel/Inter-Tel integration plan restructures me out of a job...

UPDATE - October 23, 2007 - As of yesterday, I started employment with Voxeo.  MANY thanks to all of you who offered kind words, job leads, references and help in many other ways. Thank you!

UPDATE - Sept 13, 2007 - Because I have been repeatedly asked about the type of roles I am seeking, I posted some thoughts on the kind of positions I would ideally like to pursue.

UPDATE - Sept 9, 2007 - My resume is now available for those wanting more information on my background.


"Every new beginning starts with some other beginning's end."

I found myself humming that chorus from the song "Closing Time" by the band Semisonic late on Tuesday after a very frank and cordial call with my manager (Mitel's CTO), who has always been great to work with and with whom I've had a wonderfully open relationship.  Some of you may have seen the news - there was a "reduction in headcount" at Mitel on Tuesday as part of the "integration plan" resulting from the merger with Inter-Tel.  This is pretty much inevitable in any merger as there is always some duplication and some need to reduce the overall number of employees. Unfortunately this time around my head was one of those.  My last day with Mitel will be September 21.

I'll be honest and say that this was not entirely unexpected.  Taking a role in a CTO organization focused on analyzing emerging technology is not without its risks.  It's a great role to be up in the crow's nest with a spyglass scanning the horizon to identify opportunities and threats and calling down suggestions about where to steer the ship.  You learn a huge amount and, quite honestly, it's a great amount of fun. (That is, if you are a techie/geek who is interested in how emerging technologies can be applied to solve business/communication requirements/issues.)  But the risk is that if the seas get really rough, you're role isn't absolutely necessary for steering the ship.  Navigation can still occur from the decks down below, albeit with a shorter perspective, at least until the seas are calm again. I knew this was a risk when I took the role two years ago - and so on one level I wasn't overly surprised to get the call.  Disappointed?  Absolutely. Initially shocked? Sure.  Even with the intellectual preparation, I don't think you're ever fully ready for "the call".

That's the situation.  Mitel's got a little rough patch of water to work through right now as it merges the two ships into one, and to keep with the metaphor, I guess, I'm one of those who had to go overboard.  The company will get through it, I'm sure.  It's got outstanding products and some of the most amazingly talented people with whom I've ever had the privilege to work.  As they sort out the right size and structure, I know it will do fine and get back to clear sailing.  I'm very grateful for the six years I had there. I learned an incredible amount and was honored to be part of the team.  The list of people to thank is way too long to include here.

So now it's time for a new beginning for me.

What's next?  I'm not sure, to be honest, as there are several pathways.  I'd love to run back up to the crow's nest and perform that kind of analysis/investigation/exploration/communication/evangelism for a company in the IP telephony/unified communications space, especially with a focus on social networking / social media.  I think its a great fit with my technical, strategic, marketing and communication skills - and I think sites like Facebook will have a profound effect on our communication. I'd love to help explore and guide people through that space. Having said that, I definitely recognize that those roles are few and far between.  I may look into something focused in the VOIP security space, where I've obviously got some great depth and experience, or something related to IETF standards, another strong interest of mine.  I've considered some form of strategic consulting, or joining the analyst ranks.  There are a couple of books I'd like to write.  There's a startup idea I'm pondering. As is obvious, I completely enjoy blogging, podcasting, etc. and may pursue a role focused in those areas - or in community development, another strength.  And then there's always returning to my open source roots in the Linux space...

Whatever the case, my aim is to be with of an organization that is part of the disruption in this space (or at the very least chronicling the disruption).

Right now I'd love to hear from folks who have openings in any of those various areas (or know of such openings).  Please do email me - or contact me via Facebook or Skype.  For folks in the IT telephony/unified communication's space, I'll be out at the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo next week in Los Angeles and would be delighted to speak with folks there. (As I mentioned previously, I'll be speaking there.)  Information about my background can be obtained at LinkedIn ( ), my VOIPSA bio or my (soon to be updated)  In my ideal world, I'd love to find a role that lets me continue to live in Burlington, VT, (with some amount of travel) since we're nicely settled in here and love the area.

In the meantime, I may be blogging a little less here for a bit as I focus on what comes next. Also, I've already had a couple of questions sent my way:

Q: What does this mean for your role on the Board of the VoIP Security Alliance?
A: No change, assuming I wind up in a role where continuing with VOIPSA makes sense. My VOIPSA appointment was a personal one and was not associated with my employer, so it will move with me to wherever I land.

Q: What does this mean for Blue Box: The VoIP Security Podcast or any of these blogs?
A: No change.  While I was always keeping Mitel PR and Marketing management in the loop on what I was doing with those sites, they were and are personal projects.

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Iotum improves their Facebook conference call app...

image What a difference a day makes. When I wrote about Iotum's "Free Conference Call" app for Facebook yesterday, I mentioned that there were a few things still in development.  Today, as shown in the image on the right (click on it for larger image), they've already addressed two of the issues: 1) the Agenda can now be completed (and in fact is the second step now while you are setting up the call); and 2) they've corrected the display issues with the participants.  With a few participants, the pictures loaded in very quickly, and with a larger number of participants the pictures were removed and only the names were shown.  Kudos to the Iotum team for iterating so quickly.

FYI, as shown in the image, I did participate in the "historic" public conference call hosted today by Moshe Maeir at 3:30 Eastern US time today.  It was a good demonstration as at one point we had easily 10+ people involved.  Very nice to see who joined simply by looking at the list of participants and seeing who was in green.  (Hmmm... note to Alec, you might want to rethink the use of green and red as there is some percentage of people out there who are color-blind and can't differentiate between the two.)  Unfortunately, about mid-way through the call, actually when I was in the middle of answering a security question that Moshe asked... the conference bridge failed. (or something failed - in any event, the call was terminated)  The others apparently all dialed back in, but I unfortunately had to prep for a 4pm conf call and couldn't make the time to rejoin.  Despite the glitch, though, it was a nice experiment in using it with a group of people in a public setting.

In related news, Alec Saunders has a nice roundup of the coverage of the launch of their Facebook application.  Worth checking out to see the opinions of others.

Facebook gets free conference calls with Facebook app from Iotum

Conference calls - inside of Facebook?  And for free

Yes... courtesy of the folks up at Ottawa-based startup Iotum. As I've written before, there are tons of applications being developed for Facebook, but there haven't been a whole lot of voice applications and there have been even fewer (in fact, almost none) voice-over-IP (VoIP) applications.  Of the existing voice apps (nicely listed by Pat Phelan), most of them are really what I'll call "consumer" apps... primarily focused on cheaper phone calls or making it easier to call people.  Or "calling" other Facebook users - or leaving them voicemail.  But there haven't really yet been any interesting apps I've seen that could provide business features.

Until now.  The team at Iotum just released their "Free Conference Call" Facebook application and now allowed anyone to install it. Until now, it's been in a very limited test phase, but after Alec issued his request for volunteers last Friday, I naturally had to give it a try (and he asked us not to write about it until today).

So here's the process.  After you've installed the app, you have to go through a brief authentication process to put your mobile phone number on file with the app.  Basically, the app sends your mobile number a text message with a verification code.  You then enter the verification code and your number is put on file with the app.

Creating a conf call is then a simple process.  Click a link and then fill in the relevant time/date fields (which can be basically right away) and then choose whether this is a private conf call or should be listed in the public directory (click on image for larger view):


Since the app is still in test mode, there weren't really any public calls to see and I just tried it out with private calls.  The next step is to invite recipients, a process that is made very easy by having a search box in the upper right side that lets you easily search through your Facebook friends (click for larger image):


Note that there is the capability to "Invite Friends who are not on Facebook", although this functionality is still in development.  The basic idea is that that person could receive an email with dial-in instructions.  In the end, you have a conf call page listing the various participants (in this case only one) and you have the ability to send invitations out:


When you send the invitation out, it goes out in typical Facebook fashion to the user's Facebook account where the user is then given the choice to RSVP or Ignore the invitation:


In the end, you press "Finish and View" and wind up with a page like this:


It has the typical type of info you would expect for a conference call.  A place to add an agenda (although this was still being developed), list of attendees, etc. Once the call is underway, the portion at the bottom fills in to show the pictures of the participants who are on the call, with the participants in green when the call is underway and red when they are disconnected from the conference bridge:

image image

I'll note that the images took a very long time to load on my PC (in fact, they never loaded in one of my browsers) but this is clearly a bug they are very aware of and working on fixing.  For Alec, the images loaded quickly (and he said it had nothing to do with him being on Iotum's network because all traffic is proxied through Facebook).

Alec indicates that the plan is to highlight the people currently talking, etc.  He also says that over time they expect to add more functionality like a "Wall" capability where you could write notes during a call.  In my brief testing I was able to create both an immediate conf call (by simply scheduling the call for the time it was right then) and also a scheduled call.

Regarding the scheduled call, back on my "Conference Call" application page inside of Facebook, I have a nice view of upcoming conference calls, a tab for past conferece calls and a tab for public conference calls (none currently listed):


The link to create a new conf call is up in the upper left.  Once the time came for the call, I got a red bar across the top that said "ACTIVE CALL" indicating that one of my conf calls was in session.

The call itself was rather straightforward.  I simply dialed into the conf call bridge (a number in Minnesota) and, because my Caller ID matched that of the number on file for my mobile, I was put directly into the appropriate conference call.  Had I called in from another line, I would have needed to provide my mobile number as the "PIN" to get me into the conf call (which may also be the case with some mobile providers that don't send appropriate Caller ID).  I'm not entirely sure how comfortable I am with relying on Caller ID to get you into the conference calls (since, wearing my security hat, I know how easily it can be spoofed), but when it works (as it did for me) it does get you in there easily. Alec said they will soon be sending out a text message prior to the call with the dial-in number, which would make it easier for mobile users to simply dial the number in the text message, and also serves as a useful reminder.

All-in-all, it seemed like a nice very basic conferencing system.  Not yet as full-featured as any of the regular conf call systems out there available for businesses (Full disclosure: My employer makes such a system.), but it's probably "good enough" for many people and more importantly, it's integrated with Facebook.  Yet to be seen is how well it really scales... and what, if any, security exposures are out there, but those type of things will appear over time. It's a new app and, again, it's integrated with Facebook. There's also the detail that it only has a North American phone number, but again, this is just its initial launch.

I had two questions for Alec: 1) Why a conferencing app from Iotum? What does this have to do with their "Relevance Engine"? and 2) What is the business case?  How is he providing the free conference calls?

On the Iotum connection, Alec freely admits that launching the conferencing app now is mostly about time-to-market and getting out there first with a conferencing app.  Having said that, Alec is very clear that iotum's plan is to add in their presence features over time and also integrate this app with their Talk-Now app for Blackberries.  Adding a "social networking" component to their products was always on their roadmap, but the launch of the Facebook platform allowed them to accelerate those plans.  For right now, Alec definitely sees how red-hot the interest in Facebook is and is quite obviously seizing the opportunity to ride that wave. (And the beautiful thing about being CEO of a startup is that he can easily adjust and do this.)

On the money side of things, Alec indicates he's funding the free conf calls in part through sharing termination revenue with the LEC hosting the conference bridge and also through ad-supported SMS messages.

So in the end, Facebook now gets a conference calling application.  Give it a try.    I would expect that it will actually be the first of many such apps, but Iotum is now first out there with a working app.  From my perspective, it's good to see an useful business app out there for Facebook, in whatever form.  Kudos to Alec and team - and I look forward to seeing what it evolves into.

(Meanwhile, I'm still waiting to see a true VoIP app for Facebook (that does more than just calls between FB users) .... )