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Tag: Skype

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.

The Price of Staying Connected

Warning. This is not a drill. My iPhone will no longer function as a cell phone after crossing the Andes. Wi-Fi is my only lifeline to home. And it’s all my fault.

In my last post, you may recall I was preparing to fly to Chile for a work project. My plan was to dumb down my iPhone and only rely on its Wi-Fi capability and use both Apple’s FaceTime and Skype to stay connected with my life in the northern hemisphere.
This is my story…

Not in Kansas Anymore
My Delta 767 has just touched down in Santiago.
Two hours late.
It’s the back-up plane. And what happened to my aircraft?
It had equipment problems and was pulled out of service.
The cause?
Its entertainment system wasn’t working.

I had scheduled my first meeting in Santiago with a two and a half buffer of flex time for me to chill out after I was to arrive at my hotel.
Unpack. Take a shower. Maybe go the bar and try a Pisco Sour.

But not anymore. It’s going to be tight. Really tight.

As I wait in line at customs, I turn on my iPhone, prepared to begin my little experiment. And suddenly it hits me.

I feel a shiver as the adrenaline shoots through my body. I’ve forgotten to forward my normal cell phone number to my new Skype Online Number.
D’oh!! It was the last thing I was supposed to do.

So now I have a choice. Either leave my cell phone number behind for the week, or open up my device’s defense bubble and try to forward my cell phone number in an unfriendly roaming jungle.

Yes, I know I could live without knowing if anyone actually called my cell phone number while I was away, but I had worked so hard to put my plan in place.
I just had to know how it was all going to work.

It’s like building a rocket ship.
If you don’t go anywhere in it, what’s the point?

Cut to ninety minutes later.

I walk into my hotel room. That meeting is now twenty-five minutes away, and I haven’t showered in thirty hours after two flights totaling eleven hours.

Pop Quiz: What do you do? What do you do?!
Yeah, I forget common sense and instead pull out my iPhone to make the fix in search of truth.

I go to Airplane Mode and flick it off.
I feel like I’ve activated Skynet.

My phone immediately receives a Chilean carrier signal.

It’s a text warning me about international charges. It’s like they were waiting for me.
I’m not sure how this is possible as I still have data functionality turned off.

No time to think. Must continue. Fast.

I go to the call forwarding section of Settings and turn Call Forwarding on.
My Skype Online Number is right there, still populating the field from my earlier testing.
I nervously flick it on.

The phone starts thinking…thinking…. Done.
There it is!

Another text. This one offers my phone a billion texts for a million pesos…or something.

OMG. My phone is under attack! The unknown text costs.!!

Everything starts to move in slow motion.
Must get phone back into Airplane Mode.

Five seconds later, I get the blast doors closed again.

Now what?

It’s twenty-one minutes till my meeting.

Twenty-two minutes later I’m in the lobby.
Showered, shaved, and wearing fresh clothes.
I only got fours hours of sleep on the plane, but the fact that I am connected makes all the difference. I’m ready for the job.

Wi-Fi or Bust
And how did my wireless-less communications strategy perform?

First off, I’ve got to say I did feel a little impaired not having access to my full communications arsenal. I felt like I had gone back in time to 2005.

But with a little planning… the way things used to work, it wasn’t all that bad.

My wife and I set up a video chat in the morning and evening every day with our toddler.

Apple’s FaceTime worked perfectly on the hotel’s Wi-Fi network. Our toddler successfully negotiated time with my wife to share the chatting with me, an impressive new skill. (It’s all part of the sharing thing we’re teaching him.) I’m not sure that he understood why my face was in the screen, but he did say once “When going?”
Which I think reveals he understood that I was far away.
His use of ‘going’ probably meant ‘coming back.’. Very cool stuff.

I tried Skype video calling a couple times, but it didn’t seem to work. My wife never answered.

Where Skype really came in handy though was just making normal outbound calls.
As long as I was on the hotel’s Wi-Fi network, I was set.
And I was able to check my Skype Credit balance to confirm that in fact, my U.S./Canada calling plan covered these calls for free. All for that $2.99/month plan.
It wasn’t too good to be true after all. And I even received inbound calls on Skype.

Pièce de Résistance
Remember my call-forwarding hi-stress maneuver?
Yup. That worked too!
I received a critical voicemail that my work briefcase that was in repair was ready for pick up.
(Yes, the world is now safe again for another day.)
Hey, the point is, my little communications scheme worked like a charm.

Time to Pay the Piper
…Except for the lingering fact that I did have to turn on the wireless function the one time, totally against plan.
Deep down, I knew there would be damages.

As my airplane touched down on American soil in Atlanta on my way back to New York, I immediately released my caged iPhone and reactivated the wireless. It roared back to full functionality as if it never left.

My plane had arrived early, and we couldn’t deplane until U.S. Customs opened at 5:30am. (Good detail to remember when you’re flying on a red-eye.)

We had ten minutes to hang out. So I dialed 611 to talk to the AT&T operator and find out how successful my iPhone lock down had been.
Did I cleverly circumvent the traditional international calling payment structure or had I just rung up $300 in roaming fees?

The operator asked if I had set up an international plan.
No, I said with some small, lingering guilt.

There was a long silence as she looked up my account.
Yes, she confirmed. There was indeed a charge.

My heartbeat started to go up.
She wasn’t saying how much.

“For what?” I asked.

“Text messaging,” she replied calmly.

“How much?”

“Twenty-five cents.”

“Can you repeat that?”

“One international text message for twenty-five cents.”

Hmm. Must have been one of those marketing texts when I opened up the floodgates for the thirty seconds.

“Twenty-five cents? Okay. I can handle that….”

I know.
It’s kind of like being a baseball pitcher and missing a no hitter in the ninth inning.
But if being a parent of a toddler has taught me anything, an almost perfectly executed plan is something to really cheer about!

“Kirk to Enterprise”
I glowed with my little success, as I sat on my next plane headed to New York. Suddenly, I experienced a bonus jolt of mini joy as the rest of the passengers boarded.

I had previously forgotten that Skype video can work on 3G (4G) if the signal is strong enough. And now that my phone was back to normal, I called the ‘fam’ and did a Skype video chat right on the plane.

I felt I was back in time in the ‘60’s in the middle of a science fiction movie about the 1990’s.

There was my boy looking around the plane as I described everything to him.

His face filled the screen.
“Ooooh,” he cried out.

Twenty-five cents?

Saying “Sleep Tight” from 5,000 Miles Away

Skype will be doing some heavy lifting for me, as I stay connected to my life back home during my trip to South America.

I’m going on a trip.
Far, far away.
I’m flying to Santiago, Chile.

Three worries have dominated my brain space, as I’ve prepared for this little adventure for my job.

  • What shots do I need, so I don’t become Typhoid Mary?
  • What can I eat, so I don’t get Montezuma’s Revenge?
  • And how the heck do I stay in touch with my family without breaking the bank?

The Vaccination Plan
I had to visit the doctor’s office three times to fill up on all the shots I needed.
But I found an unexpected issue you might be interested in.
For all of you out there of a certain age, you probably need a Measles/Mumps/Rubella combo booster shot that apparently few of us got when we were kids. Even if you’re not planning an international trip, you might want to take care of this while here at home.
I’m just saying… Everyone else in America is covered.
I guess that vaccination box fell off the truck back in 1965.
Anyway, now I’m all set.

The Cuisine
We all know- Don’t drink the water. Don’t eat anything uncooked that’s been washed with water. So that means no fruits and vegetables.
What a hardship. I’ll live.

Reach Out and Touch Someone
I don’t have to tell you that using your cell phone internationally is expensive.
I called AT&T last week, and the best wireless international deal they could offer that covers roaming charges is $1.99/minute plus the $6 monthly fee. And that’s just to use the phone. A data plan for email and web is a whole different story that starts at $30/month plus usage fees.

Apparently, some Americans have lost their life savings (slight exaggeration) taking a peek at Facebook on their smartphone overseas. (Come to think of it, there are other ways to lose money with Facebook these days.)

Something for Nothing?
You know, I’m not just interested in racking up big phone charges.
That’s so 1999.

In the good old days, you would just pick up the hotel phone and dial away with a cigarette and blindfold on.

Or, you had your expensive AT&T calling card. Remember that? You just sucked it up and paid big bucks to make a quick call to let mom know you’re still alive.

Or maybe you just disconnected for a week and went cold turkey.
(I shudder at the thought. Wait, I can’t tell if it’s with shock or glee.)

But we now live in more ‘evolved’ times, where technology has supposedly broken through the shackles of the old school wireless titans.

Just Turn It Off
I think the best way to ensure you don’t bleed money with your smart phone is to temporarily hobble it as a cell phone. You just turn off its wireless capability before you step on the plane. For my iPhone, that means activating the airplane mode and blocking the data function.

So what good is it then?
Well, you’ve still got its Wi-Fi functionality.
Turn it back on and use what you’ve got.

With the power of any international hotel’s Wi-Fi network, you can easily check email and surf the web without the assistance of a wireless carrier.
And with my iPhone, I can even do a video FaceTime chat with my wife and son at home before he goes ‘night night.’

Apple’s iMessage will also work over Wi-Fi. So now you’ve got your texting functionality back to communicate with other iMessage users.
No problem.

But if anyone else wants to reach me, especially those who don’t know I’m away, my cell phone number and normal texting functions are trapped in my lobotomized iPhone.

I’m essentially unreachable.
Or am I?

Skype Online Number
I’ve always wondered how Skype does what it does.
Always for free or pennies on the dollar.
All these years, I thought there had to be a catch.
But now, I’m leaving the country, and the only communications lifeline I’m giving myself is Skype.

As you’re probably aware, Skype is best known as a free computer-to-computer voice tool anywhere in the world. That’s really nice. But who spends all their time at their computer? Especially when travelling?

Well, Skype has been busy expanding its offerings, and it now proudly lives on my iPhone. As long as I’m within range of a Wi-Fi network, I can receive calls from anyone back in the States for free. (almost)

Here’s how-

I bought a Skype Online Number, which works like a regular telephone number using the area code of my choice.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be turning off the cell part of my iPhone by turning on its Airplane mode. Just to be safe, I’ll also turn off data roaming, which prevents my phone from surfing the web or receiving text messages with big international fees attached.

Now, when someone calls my new Online Number, and as long as my iPhone is active on a Wi-Fi network with Skype running, my phone will be back in business.
If I miss a call, no worries. I’ve also got Skype voicemail.

The cost to set this crazy idea up?
$12.06 for three months.
(Skype is currently running a sale for their Online Numbers.)

But what about the 95% of my contacts who won’t know to call my new number?
Are you ready?

I’ll just forward my regular cell phone number (which won’t work while my phone is in Airplane mode) to my fabulous Online Number.

(Light bubble goes off!)


And how do you complete the circuit to call someone back in the States?
Are you sitting down? This sounds even more absurd.

Buy a $2.99/month Unlimited US and Canada plan.
All your Skype calls to a US landline or mobile number are now free.

What?! That sounds impossible.
But I’ve done some research on this, and it seems to hold up.
And yes, this works if you call from anywhere in the world on a Wi-Fi connection.
This is all so simple and inexpensive, and ludicrous!
There’s got to be a catch, right?

I don’t think so.
(And if I’ve missed something, please let me know!)

Of course, remember, you’ve got to be tethered to a Wi-Fi network, which is the only major downside to this very disruptive concept. (I’m expecting several stealth Blackhawk helicopters to be hovering over my house any minute now.)

But I should be fine with my plan, because I’ll be working much of the time and close to the hotel’s Wi-Fi.

Skype WiFi
And when I leave the hotel’s Wi-Fi bubble, I also have another Skype app called Skype WiFi. This app allows you to find public hotspots that partner with Skype for a wicked cheap per-minute connection, which you pay with your Skype Credit.

So if you haven’t guessed, I’m going for it!

Wife IT Support
And after I explained my lengthy, ingenious solution to my wife, she offered me her own airtight plan that she took five nanoseconds to research for me:

When she wants to reach me at night, she will walk to the couch, sit down, and pick up our home phone. She will then call my hotel room using our Optimum Voice international plan, which has a low 17 cent/minute cost to Chile.

Well… I guess that works too.
(I’m not going to let my overlooking this obvious and very practical strategy spoil my joy.)

Wheels up in less than 8 hours. I’ll let you know how it goes…!

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