Tuesday, January 27, 2009

VOIP, A new phone technology…. Is it for you?

Typical VOIP modem

© 2009 Bob Skidmore All Rights Reserved


Contributing Writer


Years ago communities were served by only one phone provider. There was simply no alternative. Today the market is flooded with numerous choices, which have dramatically lowered the price of phone service while adding many more features. One such choice is VOIP (voice over internet protocol) that uses your existing cable broadband Ethernet Internet connection in place of a phone line. The advantage of VOIP is that you already have a link to the outside world, so shopping for service plans becomes the only additional cost. The key is to compare the offers. Things to consider are price, calling areas that are included, features such as message waiting, caller ID, voice mail and the reliability of the company. Some of the better-known providers are,  Brighthouse (mybrighthouse.com), Time Warner (www.buytimewarner.com), Vonage (www.vonage.com) and Knology (www.knology.com).  An interesting point is that Vonage has been hit by several patent infringement lawsuits brought by some of its competitors, but to date seems to have satisfactorily resolved these issues and remains very much a player in this competitive field.

How does VOIP work?  The company you select will either install or provide you with a modem, a device that converts the digital signal to work with your existing telephone instruments in your home network. You may also request your old phone number be transferred to this service. The modem, the size of a paperback book, simply connects to your existing router, which in turn is connected to any telephone jack in your home. Now you have connectivity between the Internet and the phones in your home network. Your computer does not need to be on or plugged in for this to work. Pick up any phone in your home network and start talking. You can even take the modem with you when you travel providing you have access to a broadband Ethernet Internet connection. This permits you to still receive and make all your calls from your home number wherever you may be.

The downside to VOIP is that you are dependent on a good broadband Ethernet connection. Faster speeds mean better voice quality. If the power goes out, so does the phone, however, this is easily remedied by adding a low cost battery backup system, better known as a UPS (uninterruptible power source). You are probably not aware of it, but this is exactly what the large phone companies do. Heavy Internet network system usage can cause busy signals or dropped calls. This is rare, but a possibility. Also, many fax machines and TIVO devices have difficulty communicating with VOIP service.

There are many benefits to VOIP, such as lower costs with a greatly expanded calling area. Vonage, for example treats all of the U. S., Canada, Puerto Rico, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland and the U. K. as a local call. They also provide local access numbers in Canada, France, Mexico, Spain, the U. K. and the U. S. that allow free calls to be made to their customers from these countries. Furthermore, you may check your messages by not only dialing into a mailbox, but also going on line. Business plans are quite often available too, but you would be well advised not to switch all your lines to VOIP. By not doing so you create a backup source in case either service has a major outage. I have used VOIP technology in business and residential applications and have benefited from significant cost savings over landline service. Generally speaking, I am very satisfied.

Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer.


Plain phone lies in wait as household spy

Review | TeleSpy

© 2008 Bob Skidmore All Rights Reserved

 Plain phone lies in wait as household spy 


 Contributing Writer 

  One of the innovative items at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the TeleSpy, a traditional-looking and normally operating telephone. What makes the TeleSpy unique is its ability to act as a no-cost security monitoring system.

  Installation is quick and simple. If you can plug a phone into a standard phone jack, then you can install the TeleSpy. There are no complicated adjustments to activate. Simply position and aim the phone in the direction of the area you want monitored. Plug the standard modular plug into your phone jack and plug the supplied AC power adapter into the jack on the side of the phone.

  The 30-foot throw distance covers a 20-foot-wide area. Use the test position switch to compensate for pets. To arm, pick up the handset and dial in the phone number you want called in the event of an intrusion, then hang up. Since this becomes the last number dialed, it’s in the phone’s memory and will be the number called. Turn the power switch on.

  When the phone senses an intrusion in the specified area, it will silently dial the number you requested, be it a wired or cell phone model, anywhere in the world. When that phone answers, you will hear everything going on for up to 60 seconds. After a 30-second reset period, that number will be dialed again if the activity is still present. In the meantime, you contact your local law enforcement agency to report the intrusion.

  When you use an external siren and the security mode is turned on, no number is dialed and the siren is heard immediately.

  This feature is handy when you are sleeping and want to be alerted to unwanted activity in the area.

  An additional feature allows external devices like a smoke alarm or window/door switch to be plugged in. If a fire breaks out or an unwanted entry is made, the phone is triggered to become active and you are alerted.

  Since this is a self-contained device you pay no monthly fees to anyone. I tested this phone and found it to work well.

  Retail prices vary from $80 to $125. You can learn more at the company’s Web site, www.telespy.biz

 Bob Skidmore is a freelance writer.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Hey, what's wrong with this DVD?

© 2007 Bob Skidmore All Rights Reserved


Hey, what's wrong with this DVD?

Playback quality depends on encoding, the caliber of disc and how much information is stored.

By Bob Skidmore, Special to the Times Published July 30, 2007

How many times have you attempted to play a DVD only to have it rejected, pixilate, skip or freeze? You can blame a lot of different factors and the lack of a single standard.

Let's start with the various DVD formats and standards:

DVD REPLICATED: This is a DVD that is stamped as opposed to being burned. It's generally used in high-volume duplication, such as the feature films you find in your local video store. In theory, replicated DVDs should play in most DVD players with little or no problem. But not long ago, I bought three major studios' DVDs, and two of the three were rejected by my name-brand player. The LCD readout indicated that they were blank, but when I tried another player, they worked fine. This is simply the nature of a technology that I like to refer to as A Work In Progress.

BURNED DISCS: DVD-R is the most popular and is used for video and data recording. It is also available in a camcorder version that stores 1.4 gigabytes, 30 minutes or 500 still images, and is smaller so it can easily fit in a palm-size camcorder. DVD+R also is used for data and video recording, but it is far less popular. Both of these formats are available in a RW version, which means that they can be erased and recorded up to 1,000 times. DVD-RAM is a less popular variety, and can store 2.8GB, 60 minutes or 1,000 still images. It is available in a RW version, which can be erased and rerecorded up to 100,000 times.

Well, you have your player, but some of your discs have problems playing back. What causes that?

ENCODING: Many different computer programs encode DVDs, and no two are alike. Therefore, the manufacturer of the player must incorporate these differences into their reading software. If they don't, you could have a problem. Rapid scene changes and transitions can cause drastic data-rate fluctuations, which can affect a clean playback.

COMPRESSION: Compression removes redundancies, or repetitions, in digital media to reduce the amount of recorded information so it can fit on a disc. The more you try to fit on a disc, the more compression is required and the greater chance of reproduction defects and compatibility problems with various players. A burned disc compressed for two hours or less has the best compatibility about 85 percent, while a disc that has six hours of recorded material has about a 40 percent compatibility factor.

MEDIA: No-name brand DVDs may be inexpensive, but they can contribute to playback problems. Generally, such discs have poor surface consistency, which may result in a lack of information being recorded. Also, they tend to chip easily, which will contaminate the disc and recorded material will be lost over time. Branded DVDs, such as Maxell, Sony, FUJI, Taiyo Yuden and TDK, may last a lifetime and are worth the investment.

DAMAGE: Scratches, dust, fingerprints and prolonged exposure to light may affect recorded material. Keeping DVDs in a hot environment can cause warping. I like to store my DVDs in a dark- colored case, in an upright position in a cool place. Avoid affixing labels unless you have a very good device, like CD Stomper, that properly centers them. Some DVDs have printable surfaces, and are usually identified with a "P" in the part number. They require a printer such as the Epson 960 to allow printing on the face of the DVD. But at no time should you imprint on the recorded side of the disc.