Monthly Archives: May 2009

Google Voice and Skype – Cheap Awesome Home VoIP Phone Service

For about 3 years, I’ve lived totally without a “Land line” phone and used only a mobile phone.

At the same time, carrying two cell phones around was always a pain so I decided to cancel my “personal” cell phone and use only my employer provided blackberry. I recently got lucky enough (after weeks and weeks of pestering anyone I could find) to get an invite to Google voice, and that service has given me a completely new way of looking at phone service. I have been waiting for this forever.

Here’s what I’ve done this week:

1: Skype Unlimited Calling Subscription.
An unlimited US/Canada calling plan from Skype is about 34 dollars a year (2.79 / month). This unlimited calling plan allows me to call any phone in the continental US and Canada and talk as long as I want. For 2.79 a month, you just can’t beat that.

2: Skype Online Number.
When I signed up for an unlimited calling subscription, I got a discount on signing up for a Skype phone number at a 50% off. Subscribing to an online number is usually 60 bucks a month; but since I signed up for unlimited calling it was only 30 dollars for a 12 month subscription. This brings the TOTAL cost of Skype for a year of unlimited service with a callable phone number to about $64.

3: A Landline Phone VoIP Gateway USB adapter.
I ordered a Skype VoIP gateway which I will connect to my home server computer via USB. This product’s only (and very minimal, IMO) downside is that it must be connected to a PC in order to work. This adapter allows you to make and receive Skype calls from your normal phone handset. Plug in your standard cordless phone receiver with a couple satellite handsets, and you’ve got a pretty solid home phone that converts to VoIP using your Skype account. This product was 27 dollars and about 5 dollars shipping for a cost of $32.

4: Tie the Room Together with Google Voice.
Using Google Voice, I’ve set up a primary number that I use to forward to my Mobile phone and also my Skype number. So, anytime somebody calls me I have the option to answer it on my actual cell phone, on my computer with Skype’s soft client, or on a normal cordless phone handset hooked up through the VoIP gateway adapter.

I’m not a person that likes to spend hours on the phone, but at the same time I feel good about giving my employer a break and not using my work cell for 100% of my personal phone calls. And really, I feel like this setup is pretty “bad ass” from a techie perspective.

To give some perspective, here are the base prices for some other VoIP solutions:

    Vonage: 24.99 / month
    Charter Home Voice: 29.99 / month
    Comcast “Digital Voice”: 24.95 / month

My setup, although a little more hands-on to set up, is VASTLY cheaper than these other options – and provides a unified voicemail that I can access online, amazing call forwarding features through Google voice, number blocking, call screening, and pretty awesome flexibility to make calls from cell/normal phone/computers running Skype.

With a setup that I like more than Vonage, Comcast, or Charter – my total cost per month for the first year of service will be about $8.05 per month. ($30 Skype number + $33 VoIP Gateway + 33.60 annual Skype subscription for Unlimited calls / 12 Months) And that number will go down significantly next year without having to purchase another gateway device adapter.

Google Voice is seriously changing the game, and I have officially jumped in.


Ever since Google Browser Sync was ceased; I’ve been looking for a better way to have a unified browser experience.

I have 4 different computers at home, and three different computers at work. Sometimes I use Internet Explorer, sometimes Firefox, sometimes Firefox in Linux.

With all these computers and all these browsers, keeping my bookmarks synced has always been a pain. I tried Microsoft’s sync toy, I tried Google bookmarks, I tried not using bookmarks at all…

When “Foxmarks” debuted a new version for Internet explorer, my browsing world came together. They’ve since changed the name to Xmarks, but really it’s the tool of the year in my opinion. I created two accounts; one for home and one for work – so my bookmarks are seamlessly synchronized between platforms and browsers without me even thinking about it. It’s even intelligent enough to map Firefox’s bookmarks toolbar to Internet Explorer’s Links toolbar, which is good considering that’s where most of my bookmarks are.

I’ve been hoping for a tool like this for a long time… and Xmarks does not disappoint.

Event Log Management in 10 Minutes

Log management in an IT infrastructure is always going to be a challenge…

I’ve attempted to work with several “Enterprise” tools including GFI’s Languard, LogLogic, EventTracker, and a few more that aren’t even worth mentioning.

No matter the tool, the story is always the same: It’s a pain to work with logs, and a “pretty” interface and some neat looking graphs don’t offer that much benefit. Adding onto this general problem is the time and effort it takes to manage and maintain a log management solution. Some may even make the argument that it could be faster to manually review logs in some cases. Making a long story short – Log management sucks.

Which brings me to a solution that completely negates the first part of this post. It makes log management quick, easy, and even a little bit fun. Better yet, it’s completely free!

If you want to have a solid, scalable, and reliable log management solution in LITERALLY 10 minutes, then follow these steps.

1: Download Splunk.
Splunk is an awesome product. Plain and simple. It will index log data from almost anything you can throw at it. It can take syslogs, application logs, Windows event logs, and even straight up files/directories. Whether you have a Windows server, a Unix/Linux server, or even a Windows XP workstation laying around (with decent specs) then you can install Splunk in just a couple minutes. It’s painfully simple to install and get set up with an initial and default configuration. The only thing to configure before moving on to step 2 below is to make sure you have port 514 defined as a datasource on both TCP and UDP. This will allow your Splunk server to index log data we’re going to throw at it. Note that Splunk does have both a free version and a enterprise version which costs money. The free version is adequate for most small/medium deployments as it can index up to 500 megs daily. The enterprise version is definitely not a waste of money though if you’re looking at a large deployment.

2: Download Lasso Server.
LogLogic has released a very powerful tool for log collection. This tool is designed to run on a Windows Server or XP/Vista workstation, and it makes it VERY simple to gather log data from multiple Windows Server systems. The install takes only seconds: just add your log destination (read: Splunk server you just set up), and then add your Windows server hosts that you want to collect logs from. The Lasso service takes care of the rest. It will poll all your Windows servers, grab the event logs from them via WMI calls, convert those logs into syslog format, and then send them off to your Splunk server on TCP port 514. Splunk takes care of the rest by indexing all that log data and making it usable, searchable, and actionable. Note that If you’re running mostly Unix/Linux servers, then you don’t need a tool like Lasso to collect your logs. Just set them up to forward their own syslog data to your Splunk server directly.

3: Tuning.
By default, Splunk provides an easy to use search interface for you to easily find and locate log data. Depending on your needs, you may want to spend some time tuning Splunk to do scheduled searches, send emails if it finds certain results, outline custom search queries for specific messages, etc. Splunk is a very flexible tool that can be scaled to meet the needs of even large enterprise organizations. It can do all kinds of cool things if you want, but even the simple fact of having a log repository that you can search if/when you need to is priceless.

This combination of tools gives system administrators a quick and simple way to tackle the task of log management. And really, there’s no downside. It’s free (assuming you have access to some decent hardware to run it on), it’s easy, but most of all it’s very powerful. My thanks to Splunk and LogLogic for providing these tools to the community. It’s good to know that there’s companies out there making solid products and standing behind them.

New Theme

Can’t really explain why – but today I felt like changing my “Look n’ Feel” again.

Oddly enough, I started using K2 on May 10th 2008 – so it’s been my theme of choice for about 1 year exactly. At the time, I said to myself that I would never change from K2. Just because it’s such a pain in the ass to take a theme and integrate it with my existing content and pages.

Enter this evening, where it’s currently 2:09 AM and I finally have things integrated for the most part.
I hate themes. I hate feeling the need to change them.


Grand Theft Auto 4 – End Game Stats

Today I finally completed the storyline content of GTA4 on Xbox360. The last missions were pretty amazing, and overall this is one of my favorite games I’ve ever played. The storyline is surprisingly deep for a video game and it does a great job putting you into the middle of it. I don’t want to give away any spoilers; so I’m going to copy Vanlandw’s idea and publish my stats. Here are some of the more interesting parts of my GTA4 Experience:

  • Game Progress: 63%
  • Missions Passed: 94
  • Missions Failed: 33
  • Missions Attempted: 127
  • Replays used: 33
  • Times Busted: 0
  • Times Died: 20
  • People Killed: 848
  • Playing Time: 38 hours, 48 minutes
  • Favorite Radio Station: Liberty Rock Radio 97.8
  • Least Favorite Station: K108 The Studio
  • Times Cheated: 0
  • Days passed: 93
  • Cars stolen: 215
  • Bikes Stolen: 22
  • Boats Stolen: 6
  • Helicopters Stolen: 1
  • People run down: 352
  • Fires Started: 118
  • Criminals Killed: 41
  • Favorite Transport: Motocycle
  • Farthest Jump: 348 ft
  • Highest Jump: 97 ft
  • Longest Wheelie: 561 ft
  • Flips done in vehicle: 39
  • Successful Dates: 17
  • Time on Internet: 24 minutes
  • Girls Dumped: 1
  • Scored with Girl: 4
  • Times Drunk: 8
  • Bullets Fired:  15,002
  • Headshot Kills:  236
  • Vehicles blown up:  101
  • Shooting Accuracy:  57%
  • Kills by Free Look:  42%

Overall not too bad I guess… It was a pretty fun play through

**updated title for SEO