At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Tag: Skype Online Number

How to Boost Your Smartphone’s Signal Strength

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean your smartphone is.  And even though you’re trying to get away from it all, you probably still want to receive that important phone call…

Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean your smartphone is. And even though you’re trying to get away from it all, you probably still want to receive that important phone call…

This past week, I’ve been adjusting to the sad reality that summer is behind us. All that’s left are the fun memories, a thousand photos that need organizing and a few cautionary tech tales.

Like what to do when you find yourself more disconnected than you originally planned…
(Cue “The Twilight Zone” music…)

Losing It at the Log Cabin
It was billed as the perfect vacation getaway…

  • A road trip up to the Berkshires
  • A little log cabin in the woods (with ‘most’ of the comforts of home)
  • A babbling brook nearby (okay… it was more like a roaring river)
  • Time set aside for a little R&R at a little lake in Great Barrington, MA

It was supposed to be perfect.

Until I asked the day before we left if there was decent cell phone coverage at the house.
(Granted, it was a little late in the game to be asking.)

The response:
“You can probably get one or two bars on the back deck.”

Hmmmm….
That sounded decidedly like code for a different answer…

When we arrived, I whipped out my iPhone and discovered the truth.
There wasn’t a morsel of a signal bar on my phone as I walked around the entire house, grounds and deck.

I was cut off!!

…and I started to panic.
Think.
Think. Think. THINK!…

Aha!
I spotted the broadband modem in the kitchen.
We were not entirely in the digital dark!

Skype to the Rescue?
Yes, at least there was Wi-Fi in the house.

So, we got the modem working,
(First, we needed to reboot the frozen box, downed by a recent power outage.)

I immediately tested my Skype app.
Success!

So now people could Skype me, but I was still concerned I couldn’t receive an old-fashioned phone call.

The irony here is I had forgotten all about my online Skype number for my iPhone’s Skype app.
I was so proud to acquire it a couple years back, but the reality is I’ve rarely used it.
(D’oh!!)

That would have solved the problem, as long as I stayed on my Wi-Fi tether.
(and if all my friends and family actually knew about my Skype number…)

Waiting for the Phone to Ring
So I kept searching for a solution to ‘MacGyver’ my phone to somehow access incoming calls to my mobile number.
(I could still receive texts via the Wi-Fi network.)

But if someone called me,
(like my 81-year-old father)
I really wanted to be able to pick up the call.

After a little Googling, I discovered the truth is out there.
You can actually create a few bars for your mobile phone using your Wi-Fi network.
But pulling the trigger on the solution would have to wait until I returned from my trip.

How to Generate Signal Strength
It’s called the AT&T MicroCell, and this little device acts like a mini cellular tower.
You simply plug it into a broadband modem via an Ethernet port and voila…!
You’ve got your very own cell bubble to use!!
(You do have to set it up first online, and you can register up to fifteen different AT&T Wireless cell phones.)

And how much for this slice of magic?
$150.00.
(Available at your local AT&T store… I couldn’t find it online.)

MicroCell

You can take the MicroCell with you wherever you go as long as you plug it into a broadband DSL or cable network and update your location change online.
(and as long as it’s within an AT&T wireless authorized service area)

And if you’re wondering, …
Yes, Verizon offers a similar product with its “Wireless Network Extender.”

Don’t Get Cut Off on Vacation
No, this isn’t a cheap solution, and I think the MicroCell probably is purchasd more to solve signal strength problems at home. But it certainly would have done the trick at our log cabin in the digital wilderness.

I’m not sure how many of you would want to pack a MicroCell with your socks every time you head out on vacation, but if you plan on receiving calls on your smartphone using your regular mobile number, you might need it!

At Home with Tech – The Year in Review

How about 50 Tech Tips for my 50th post to kick off the New Year? Let’s begin!

How about 50 Tech Tips for my 50th post to kick off the New Year? Let’s begin!

We’ve covered a lot of ground this year!
And what have we learned in our quest to keep our digital gears spinning at home?
The trek is never over.
But the journey doesn’t have to be so confusing.

That said, it’s time for my year in review!
Here are my 50 tech tips to take with you into the New Year:

50 At Home with Tech Tips

What’s Your Backup Plan?
#1 – Technology is a Tool That Will Eventually Turn on You
That T-800 with your name is never far away.
So don’t get complacent.

It Got Cloudy
#2 – Happily, There’s Life After MobileMe
If you want to share your photos online, use Flickr.
For your home videos, use YouTube or Vimeo.
If you need to share some files, then go with Dropbox.

Date Night and the 42” Plasma
#3 – Without Planning, You Can’t Guarantee a Good Date Night Movie at Home
(Even with full access to Cable TV, Netflix DVDs/Streaming, Apple TV, Roku, and Blockbuster!)

My Mission for the Perfect Picture
#4 – Taking an Amazing Photo Is Often Just an Accident
Embrace your accidents! And keep taking lots of pictures. It’s free.
Statistics are in your favor.

The IT Guy is in the Doghouse
#5 – Don’t Try to Win the Battle with Older Tech
Your tech is only as strong as its weakest link.
Enough said.

Your Shoebox Vs. the Cloud
#6 – Print an Annual Photo Book of Your Life
Otherwise, your best photos will get lost in the quagmire of your photo glut.
Time is your enemy.

I Am a Road Warrior
#7 – When a Tech Door Closes, Look for a Window to Open
My cable company locked down its box, which shut off my mobile media viewing on my portable DVD player. Then, streaming cable content on my iPhone became available through services like HGO Go.
Go figure.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
#8 – Just Because You Know How to Make Someone Younger in a Photo Doesn’t Mean You Should
My digital moral code says don’t mess with someone’s CDI.
(The Core Digital Integrity of a person’s image).

Please Rate This Product…or Else
#9 – No Product Ever Gets a Perfect Score Online
You’ve got no choice but to rely on Tech Group Think.

Is it Time to Stockpile Light Bulbs?
#10 – New Tech Light Bulbs Cost $50!
Thank The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
It says incandescent bulbs aren’t cutting it anymore and need to be 25% more efficient or else.
The solution? Pricey LED Bulbs.
The new darling ‘A Bulb’ by Philips launched with a steep $50 price tag.
Ouch!

The Art of Inaction, Part 1
#11 – The Tao of Total Tech Caution Says Don’t Upgrade Unless You Absolutely Have To
That also means never buy the first of anything.

The Art of Inaction, Part 2
#12 – Remember the Software Update Button
When you finally upgrade to a new operating system months after the rest of the world, don’t forget to immediately check Software Update.
Otherwise, gremlins will show up!

Parental Omniscience for only $24.95
#13 – You Can Have X-ray Vision Through Your Smart Phone
An Eye-Fi wireless memory card + a Flickr Pro account, + Flickr’s iPhone app = The power to almost instantly see photos of my lad’s adventures wherever I am.

Loving the Loser Light Bulb
#14 – Don’t Spend $50 on the Lexus of New LED Bulbs
Go with the runner up bulb for $15- Philips’ AmbientLED!

Joe and the End of Your World
#15 – If Your Coffee Mug Spills Near Your Computer, Game Over
Buy the HotJo Stoneware Wide Base Travel Mug.
(It’s pear-shaped!)

Living in the Amazon and Loving It
#16 – Amazon Prime Is the Best $79 You Will Ever Spend
Amazon to the rescue…
Every day!

Taming the Evil Work BlackBerry
#17 – It’s Okay to Turn Into a Pumpkin
Choose a time to stop responding to work emails on nights and weekends.
Everyone is supposed to catch some Z’s at some point.

Cancel the Cable TV Mutiny
#18 – 50,000 Free Hot Spots Coast to Coast
The cable industry announced it will share metro Wi-Fi services throughout the nation.
Now we’re talking!

Saying “Sleep Tight from 5,000 Miles Away
#19 – When Traveling Internationally, Keep Your Smartphone Connected on the Cheap with Skype
Buy a Skype Online Number plus a $2.99/month Unlimited US and Canada plan.

The Price of Staying Connected
#20 – Skype Video Can Work on 3G (4G) If the Signal Is Strong Enough
Bonus!

At Home without Tech
#21 – The Digital Sisyphus Always Looms
Do you fear being at home without tech?
Fear is a great motivator. And so is a deadline.
Do your Apple software upgrades or suffer the consequences.

Laptop Time Machine
#22 – Your Laptop Really Is a Time Portal!
The tether of your social media connections remains long after you’ve moved on.
Today’s younger generation will never experience completely losing touch with old friends for decades.

Remembering MobileMe
#23 – Life Isn’t Easy. Why Should Your Virtual Existence Be Any Different?
The marketing gurus say moving your email to iCloud is so easy even a child can do it.
I say you’d better have a child around to show you how.

I Sold My Soul to the Digital Devil
#24 – Final Cut Pro X Claims to End the Era of Pesky Transcoding
Yes, FCP X will grudgingly edit your camera’s native H.264 MOV files without you first having to transcode them.

High Tide at Grand Central
#25 – My Favorite New York Minute of the Day!

Singing the Blu-ray Blues
#26 – It’s Painful, but Stick with Blu-ray Disks
Here are five reasons:
-The downloadable copy
-The extras come with extra extras
-DVD Player, Say hello to VHS Player in the attic
-3D
-Owning atoms instead of bytes

The Joy of Shopping at Midnight in your Underwear
#27 – Unless You’re Out of Toilet Paper,
Online Shopping Is the Way to Go!

Who’s got time to waste traveling to the mall, hoping they’ll have what you need and then waiting in a long line?

GPS Jane
#28 – Garmin Nuvi Loses to My iPhone During Their GPS Smackdown
(Probably still holds true even after Apple’s ‘Map-Gate’ debacle)

Going Batty Buying Movie Music
#29 – It’s Almost Impossible to Purchase the Complete Soundtrack for
“The Dark Knight Rises”
I found at least five bonus tracks available across two sales channels.
Holy Complex Marketing Scam, Batman!

Five Tips to Rescue your Best Summer Family Photos
#30 – Brutally Choose Your Best Photos and Leave the Rest Behind
The more vacation pictures you bring home to clog up your computer, the smaller the odds are you’ll actually share any of your best photos with family and friends.
Your only chance is to quickly find the few gems and forget the rest.

My iPad Doesn’t Brake for Flash
#31 – Apple’s Mobile Devices Don’t Use Adobe Flash Player
Now, Adobe has removed its Flash Player from the Google Play store, which is the beginning of the end for Android and BlackBerry PlayBook owners.

My New Area Code Twists My Tech-Dentity
#32 – Skype Online Numbers Let You Choose Your Area Code!
Now, you too can be a New Yorker without moving out of the ‘burbs…

My Laptop Battery Got Pregnant
#33 – Don’t be Surprised If the Lithium-Ion Battery In Your Old Apple Laptop Turns Into the Hulk
Mine did. After some research in the X-Files, I realized I was not alone.

I Don’t Know How to Install my Wireless IP Camera, Part 1
#34 – This Journey Can Break Anyone’s Tech Zen
I had no choice but to continue on and risk ‘tech-tastrophe.’

I Don’t Know How to Install my Wireless IP Camera, Part 2
#35 – My Winning Tech Death Match Against the Foscam
Wireless IP Camera

(model FI8910W)

Ode to iPhone 5
#36 – My 4S Contract Says It’s Not Yet Time to Upgrade
Instead, write a poem!

Epson Multifunction Printer Vs. Multi-Talented Toddler
#37 – In the Hands of Baby McGyver, the Evil Power of the Penny Will Destroy Your Printer
Time to look for a new one on sale.

All I Want is to Have my Peace of Mind and Cloud Storage
#38 – You Need a Backup Cloud Solution
For total peace of mind you should create a copy of your precious home media offsite.
I went with the CrashPlan+ Unlimited one-year plan.

How to Rescue your iPhone Voicemail
#39 – Use an Old Analog Mini Audio Plug and Audacity Software
Rerecord your messages and save your visual voicemail onto your computer as AIFF audio files.

My Cable Box Blurred my Political View
#40 – Don’t Press the “#” on Your Cablevision DVR Remote Control. Ever.
Don’t lean on it. Don’t point at it. Don’t look at it.
You’re welcome.

How to Fix Your Broken Email
#41 – Use Connection Doctor
It will tell you if you’ve got the right incoming and outgoing mail server settings.
Then listen for the happy ‘Whoosh’ or ‘Ping!’

Fighting the Digital Darkness after Hurricane Sandy
#42 – MiFi Can Repair Your Broken Tech Bubble
If your smartphone has a signal, and you’ve got some power at home,
a MiFi mobile hotspot generator will get the rest of your tech back in business.

How to Lose Your Email while Upgrading from Entourage to Outlook
#43 – Moving to Outlook for Mac 2011 Shouldn’t Be Hands-Off
After loading it, you’ve then got to copy all your email over from Entourage!
And if you’re not careful, you’ll create unwanted duplicates from your mail server and then accidentally purge your entire email archive. (like me)
Check the settings first!

I Got Lost While on Safari 6.0.2
#44 – Safari Has Received Some Significant ‘Upgrades’
Get used to the Google URL OMNIBAR.

Best Digital Cameras to Capture Your Speedy Toddler
#45 – Buy Last Year’s Canon PowerShot S100 at a Great Discount
I also got the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens to upgrade my old Canon T1i DSLR.

The Beginner’s Guide to Editing Your Camera’s Video Clips
#46 – There’s Nothing Like a Deadline to Push Your Video to Completion!
Shoot some video. Edit it. And distribute the magic. All in one day!
I took the challenge and quickly created a little finished flick from my father-and-son outing to Stepping Stones Museum.

Holiday Gift Guide for Home Tech
#47 – Nine Winning Tech Gifts for Anytime of Year!

Blinded by the UltraViolet Promise in Your New Blu-ray Movie
#48 – UltraViolet Streaming Has Replaced Free iTunes Downloads on
Blu-ray Disks

This bait-and-switch has only further destabilized my commitment to physical discs.

What Photomosaic Software is Best?
#49 – Download cf/x Photo Mosaic v 2.0 for $29.99 From the Mac App Store
Become the new family Picasso!

#50 – Keep Blog Posts Short.
(I’m working on it!)

Happy New Year!
(And I wish you much ‘Tech Clarity’ in 2013!)

My New Area Code Twists My Tech-Dentity

Getting bored with your area code? Feeling like you need to move to the Big City? Don’t bother. Just sign up for a Skype Online Number with the area code of your choice. Sacrilege? Nope. It’s just progress.

A few months back, I flew to Latin America for work and came up with this elaborate experiment to stay in touch with my family and friends using Skype on my iPhone tricked out with a Skype Online Number. This new phone number allowed my friends and family to reach out to me without the iPhone burning a hole in my pocket by racking up ludicrous roaming charges. Once I allowed Skype to take control, the rest was free.
Quite a parlor trick! (though I needed to be tethered to Wi-Fi zones)

Sure, I paid $18 to set up my new Skype uber-number for three months.
But after that, I was in business as Barrett Lester, International Man of Tech Mystery…. reachable around the world… all for the cost of a domestic call.

I was digging it.

My experiment was a huge success. And I came home to a hero’s welcome.
I put my passport away and returned to my Clark Kent life.

Doubling Down on my Online Skype Number
Fast forward a couple months, and I get a friendly email from Skype.
My Skype Online Number was expiring. Would I like to renew it?

Hmmm. Well, I hadn’t used it since returning home. And I didn’t have any immediate plans for another international trip. So I wasn’t really sure why I needed to hold onto it. Still, I liked the idea of having it.

Though I live in Connecticut, I had chosen a New York City mobile area code for my Skype Online Number as I work down in NYC everyday.
(Yes, I am a Road Warrior.)

But there was something more to the choice.
I simply liked having the 917 area code.
It felt like it connected me back to my birthplace.
And to the place I currently spend most of my weekday waking hours.

Or maybe I simply coveted having a New York City area code, again.
I hadn’t realized this, but it held some value for me.
Those three digits were something of an identifier.
Being able to say those numbers just felt… good.

Operator, Would You Ring Up William Powell and Myrna Loy?
It was the same for my father when I was growing up. He would always enjoy sharing our Upper East Side area code to anyone and everyone when the old area codes began with two letters.

Ours were “R-E.” And these letters referred to a word- “Regency.”
I still remember how he would begin articulating our phone number in his deep voice with “Regency 7…” It rolled off his tongue like smooth whiskey. For me, every time he said it was like watching one of the “Thin Man” movies from the 1930’s.
How classy is that?

I think it was a badge of honor for him.

He occasionally talks about it the same way I still pine after my old DVR/DVD combo TV recorder that no one makes anymore. (I really loved that unit.)

In the New York of the ‘70’s, still having a “Regency” extension was an identifier. It said, I’ve had this number for a really long time.
Kind of like saying, “My relatives came over on the Mayflower.”

And now, through the magic of Skype and $54 a year, I can buy an identifier that says I am still a New Yorker. Plus I chose a coveted area code that most can’t get anymore. (Not sure how Skype pulled that one off.)

Problem? What Problem?
But I don’t live in New York City.

I’m buying into a tech identity (“tech-dentity”) that is not truly my own.
Is this a moral dilemma?

Many others have actually defaulted into this exact scenario.
They just pick up and move to a different state and simply don’t update their cell phone number. (like my wife)
And why should they? It’s a pain changing the number and an even greater challenge cajoling all their contacts to update the number.

So they just let it ride, right?

Ultimately, the concept of your phone number as one identifier for your
tech-dentity will blur over time as cell phone numbers continue to move around with the population.

But we’re not there yet.

Logic Not Required
So I signed up for a full year of my swanky Skype Online Number.

But wait… There’s more.

Then Skype offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse.
(I know. Someone should stop me.)
They sold me a GE Skype phone for the deeeeeply discounted price of $10. And yes, it also connects to my home line. (Which, by the way, I’m thinking, perhaps I don’t need anymore.)

You’re probably saying right now, “How many phones and phone numbers does this guy really need?”

Good question.

I’m telling myself I’ve got grandiose plans that some day I’ll use this technology to crack the code on how to restructure my home/personal phone communication plan so I feel I’m no longer funding the operating budget of a small country. And maybe even integrate Google Voice into the equation for not additional cost.
(A topic for another time.)

But for now, I’ve got to admit; I have only one tangible justification for holding onto the number – pure and simple v-a-n-i-t-y.
Vanity as a once, current, and, I suppose, always New Yorker.

Okay, now I’ve got that off my chest.
I feel better already.

Today, I pulled the trigger and forwarded my Skype Online Number to my regular AT&T cell phone number. So both numbers will now ring on my iPhone. Remember, Skype works on a regular wireless connection.
(Wi-Fi not required)

Tick Tock
At any moment, I may choose to fully activate the latent New Yorker DNA in my soul and fully use my 917 Skype Online Number which says,
“Hey, I’m still a New Yorker! Hear me roar!!”

Because I can.

But for now, I’m keeping the quaint suburban number that says,
“Hey, I live in the ‘burbs with two pear trees and a backyard.”

Because I do.

I am at peace with my complex tech-dentity.

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