Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's been a good geek year so far

The past few months have been quite satisfying from a geeky standpoint. I've integrated a number of new capabilities into my life that are changing the way I work and do personal business.

I'm never really been an early adopter--for financial reasons--so my new capabilities are mostly new to me. There is nothing wrong though in moving cautiously and acquiring technology when its usefulness is established.

First, I was a late comer into smart phones. I chose the Instinct because Sprint made it affordable for three people. I read the posts of people on the Sprint Forum who were early Instinct buyers and profoundly disappointed (and mad) that it hadn't become the iPhone killer they'd hoped. By the time I chose it, I knew it wasn't going to be an iPhone, but it would be a good value and useful. It has turned out to be just that.

And I've gone on way to much about the other game changer, Google Voice. Suffice to say, I like making free calls and having some control over how people reach me by phone.

Normally I come to resent impulsive buys. I've long coveted Fujitsu's $500 sheet fed scanner. I have a flat bed scanner, and often scan documents. But doing each one meant getting the scanner out, hooking it up, placing the document etc. etc. I have found I can't leave a flat bed scanner on my desk--I hate the dedicated space it required and I tended to pile things on it. Storing it in a drawer was a better solution.

I couldn't afford the Fujitsu, but Costco had the Neat Scanner on sale for $149. It is a small, unobtrusive scanner you can feed a single sheet through. It would be nice to put in a stack of documents and walk away, but I suspect even if I had a sheet fed scanner, most of the scans would be single sheet anyway.

The true value of the Neat is its software. It automatically orients the scan--you never see an upside down document. And it can recognize a receipt or business card from a standard document. For a receipt it OCR's out the amount, payee, date etc. and puts into fields in a database. For business cards it extracts the name, title, company etc.

I don't use it yet for receipts and business cards. I use it for regular document storage. All scanned documents go into an inbox. You can then tag them and fill in other fields. It stores the whole thing in a SQL Server database that comes with it. Searching is fairly fast. It's a clever little device. I must admit, I've seen them for sale in airports and thought it sounded sort of gimmicky, but I'm glad for my impetuous purchase.

The final item I've only been using for a couple of days. It has been around for a while and already extolled by many. I'd signed up about a year ago, but didn't see its value immediately and only recently took a second look.

It is Evernote. I didn't realize there was a Windows application that went with it when I looked at it before. I thought it was just a web app only. The Windows app makes it much more useful.

Evernotes lets you store PDF's, notes, photos etc. in it. With the Windows app, you can just drag your items to it, or it can import them from your PC. The beauty is you then can search within the PDF. It can even search within photos, and find text in the photo.

Both Neat and Evernote deserve their own own posts, and will get them soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What the heck is Google Voice?

If you take the time to read this blog last dozen posts, you'll see my struggles to understand and implement Google Voice.

It occcured to me I haven't really defined what GV is.

It is a telephone application from Google. It is not yet out to the public. I got lucky a year or so ago and got a invite to the Beta for GrandCentral that Google bought and transformed into GV.

It will be made available to the general public "soon" in Google parlance, which has already been almost two months. When it actually goes public is anyone's guess.

Lifehacker.com did a great profile of GV back in March. It is as good an introduction to GV as I can find.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Google Voice Implemented

The toughest part of having a service like Google Voice is figuring out the best way to use it. I've finally settled on a plan and after a few weeks it appears to be working for me.

Instead of having it ring a variety of phones, I send all incoming calls to my cell phone. My cell is always with me, and besides I share my home phone and don't want to have it answered professionally.

I can hand out my number freely. If ever there should be someone I regret giving my number to, it is a simple matter to flag them in GV's settings so they always are sent to voice mail.

I see that as a great boon for many professionals. When our dog had a minor procedure recently, he was in great pain his first night home. Our vet gave me her cell phone number and we did call her a time or two that night. Now, I'll never again use her number without permission, but what if we were the kind of people who would call her at two AM because our dog sneezed? If she handed out a GV number, she could channel all patients to voice mail except for the ones she expects might have complications because of surgery that day. Any messages left will be transcribed and texted to her so she can choose who to call back.

I keep my most active customers in my GV Contacts list with Cust- appended to their name. I have bookmarked the GV Mobile page with that search for "Cust-" so I an display all my customers in one screen and easily call them when out, if need be.

My GV phone number is now on my business card, and my email signature (both work and personal). I've changed my office voice mail to encourage people to call it. I tell everyone it is my mobile number.

On a recent trip to the home office, I was able to keep in contact with customers as well as I could at my office. The best part, I was telling my boss about GV when my phone rang, with a customer who'd called my GV number.

I have been using Chad Smith's excellent Google Voice add-on for Firefox. It turns any phone number into a link that when clicked, dials through GV. So to make outgoing calls to customers I just click their phone number in my web based CRM system. Those outgoing calls go through my Gizmo5 softphone. I recently bought a good pair of padded headphones, so it is comfortable sitting and making calls. Online demos, Webex's are a breeze; the headphones leave my hands free to type.

Back in February, after unceremoniously dropping my smart phone in water, I worried about how long it took my cell phone company to replace it. Even a day, as it was for me, was too long if I had customers trained to call that number. GV avoids that issue. If my phone goes swimming again, I simply confiscate my son's phone for a day (Hey-I pay for it!), and change the routing at Google Voice setup to send calls to his phone. If he's quick on his feet and gets out of the house with his phone, then to my soft phone on my PC.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rambling Saturday

I have a whole Saturday to geek out. Have a bit of real work to do, some personal finance, some filing, and some fun projects to work on.

So a little rambling here as I go.

Gave some thought to how a 10 digit phone number can support just shy of a billion people. There are are 303,824,640 in the US now. We each may have 3.29 phone numbers. Let's see, I have a landline, a cell phone, a Google Voice number, and a personal efax number. I've exceeded my share.

Interesting article from PCWorld (via Digg) about how the cell phone is changing the life of children on the planet. Did you know there are only 1.27 billion landlines, but over 4.1 billion cell phone subscriptions? Better connectivity is thought to improve education, healthcare, political organization, and can reduce fraud. When I was in Journalism School in the late 70's theory then was that the then looming satellite TV technology would bring news across borders and help eliminate totalitarian regimes . I suppose you can argue it did to a degree. Maybe cell phones can continue leveling the playing field.

Of course, nothing is without consequences. The Guardian (again via Digg) warns of privacy issues with your cell phone.

In the "I was born too soon" category, I sort of resent that my childhood didn't have Super Soakers or Nerf Guns.

In the "Duh!" department, researchers have discovered women are attracted to men with nice cars. I once lived in a building where a wealthy car collector kept his "city" apartment. In the garage below he had three Ferrari's. One day he paid the teenage son of the building manager to wash one outside. The kid took all day to do it, while he collected the phone numbers of 20 something girls who assumed it was his car.

I heard an urban legend when I lived in San Francisco about a guy who lost a home in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, took his insurance money and bought a home in the Oakland Hills. When he lost the home to the firestorm the next year, he took his insurance money and quit San Francisco for good, buying a home in Northridge, in Southern California. Lost that home in '94 to the earthquake there. If true, his luck isn't as bad as this guy. Tsutomu Yamaguchi survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb in 1945, and then went back to his home, to Nagasaki.

Will kids today see photos of themselves in 30 years of themselves wearing earbuds and text messaging and cringe? The photo on this post is that photo for my generation. Take a look at the size of the cassette recorder she carries to class.