Using Google Voice as vacation receptionist

Google Voice
I signed up for GrandCentral about two years ago, long before the days of Google Voice. I haven’t had much use for it outside of being another number to give when I sign up for services (credit cards, what have you). Once Google bought it out and converted it to Google Voice a whole new world opened up for phone users. (If you aren’t familiar with Google Voice – Pogue sums it up best, as always!) Not only does Google Voice take messages for you, it transcribes them and sends them to you by e-mail or text message! You can also send text messages from Google Voice for free! Both of these things will become quite handy as I leave for Spain tonight.

My plan – forward all incoming calls directly to my Google Voice number.

There are a few reasons I’m doing this. First of all, I’d like to see who calls and get my messages while I’m away. Secondly, it helps me avoid the $1.99 fee for not accepting an incoming call. Yes, you read that right. If your phone is set up for international roaming, even if you don’t accept the call, you will be charged for one minute of use to send the call to your voice-mail back in the states. Keep in mind that the amount changes with the country you are in! In Ecuador it is $5.99!!

In order for this to work, I have to uncheck all phones that Google Voice forwards to (under Settings -> Phones). I then have to enable Do Not Disturb (under Settings -> General). Lastly I have to forward all incoming calls on my cell phone to my Google Voice number. Unfortunately setting vary widely per phone and provider as how that is set up. Usually its under Settings -> Call Settings -> Call Forwarding on your phone. You want to forward “all voice calls” (or “always forward”) to your Google Voice number. Don’t forget to unforward them when you get back! Now you will get all your messages via e-mail at your convenience! You can even see what calls you missed if no voice-mails were left by logging in to your Google Voice account. While you are logged in, go ahead and exchange some text messages with your friends – its free!

What happend to January?

Yes, its been over a month. So much for posting more often in the New Year! (Happy New Year incidentally!) I returned from Ecuador on Jan 11th and I’ve been extraordinarily busy since I’ve been back. Spending so much time in front of the computer screen during the day, the last thing I want to look at while at home is the computer! The fact that many of my faithful readers are on Facebook now is also keeping me away from the blog. Is it worth keeping up the blog when most people are checking Facebook anyway? I guess it comes down to what you have time make time to update!

Otherwise things are going well. The adjustment from 65-70F weather to the sub-zero weather in Chicago is taking some time. Having three weeks off also made it difficult to get back into the groove at the 9-5, finding motivation has been especially difficult. I do have to say that after our new Commander in Chief’s inaugural address I did feel impetus for this “new era of responsibility”. As such, I’ve been trying to find new ways to keep myself on task and organized.

I stumbled upon Thinking Rock through a friends recommendation of another piece of software Things, which at the moment is Mac/iPhone only. Both are based on GTD “Getting Things Done” philosophy – something that I find works very well with my short attention span, and my propensity for having lots of ideas that fall through the cracks. There is a fair amount of a learning curve getting going on it – and you have to be religious about its use. But it keeps things in good order and really forces you to think in a productive way about everything on your mind! If anybody has experience with the Mac/iPhone “Things” app – let me know what you think. It would be really nice to have the data accessible while on the move. The only option I’ve found for Thinking Rock is not very intuitive, oh, and I no longer use a Windows Mobile device.

Yes – after 3 solid years of service from my trusty T-Mobile MDA, I’ve finally upgraded to the world of capacitive multi-touch screens and 320×480 pixel resolution!! An iPhone you say? Nope – an Android DP1. Merry x-mas to me!! Thank you Katty!! 🙂

Now if somebody could just port Thinkingrock to the Android OS… anybody? anybody??

Hypermiling – is it worth it?

I just read an article about Hypermiling on Hypermiling is fuel economy maximizing behaviors – for any vehicle type. Where I agree with Mr. Gerdes that many behaviors can be modified to increase fuel economy, the article does not at all mention the pitfalls to some of these methods. Before everybody maxes out their tire pressures and keys off at every stop – a few things should be noted.

Regular maintenance and smooth driving can make the biggest difference in your gas mileage! While the former is touched upon, by the brief mention of changing filters, the later was not addressed at all. Smooth driving is easy:

Generally fuel economy is maximized when acceleration and braking are minimized. So a fuel-efficient strategy is to anticipate what is happening ahead, and drive in such a way so as to minimize acceleration and braking, and maximize coasting time. Gentle acceleration and deceleration is helpful in avoiding unnecessary acceleration. Wikipedia

I would also add that using cruise control to maintain consistent speed is a surefire way to save fuel (edit)as long as you are on flat terrain. When it gets hilly, turn off the cruise and accelerate smoothly to maintain speed. If you are driving an automatic, use minimum increments of throttle so the transmission does not select a lower gear – do this to reach your cruising speed before you select “resume” from the cruise control as well. As for the rest…

Maxing the tire pressure: while inflating the tire pressure to the maximum rating on the tire will not damage the tire itself, irregular wear is the inevitable result. Given the price of most OEM tires, especially run-flats, you have to weigh the fuel savings with the possibility of premature tire replacement. A new set of 4 tires can easily run more than $500 installed – you might want to calculate at what point the savings are nullified. I prefer to keep my tires 2-4 psi above the manufacturer’s recommended pressure for everyday driving, and boost it 10-12 psi above for long distance highway trips. Tire pressure can also dramatically change traction in adverse conditions – something to consider for driving in rain or snow.

Forced stop is the practice of keying off the engine at every stop and even while coasting. While it can be argued that the driver has less control with the engine off, again, my concern leans more towards the maintenance side. It can be detrimental to the gas mileage as well as the internals of the engine if the car is not up to normal operating temperatures when this method is employed. It will also accelerate starter wear. While I’m sure starters have come a long way over the years, they were not designed to start the car 20-50 times a day. Thats over 10 times an increase in starts per day assuming 3 trips. Modern cars with stop-start technology have been designed from the get go with more robust starter motors. Again, one must weight the cost and headache of a possible starter replacement with fuel savings.

What gives me hope is the influx of stop-start vehicles in the future; with the 9% fuel savings that the stop-start equipped European Mini claims, the technology can’t come soon enough!

Low Viscosity Oil is another item requiring an informed approach. Low viscosity oil can break down under high temperature environments and cause severe damage to engine components. In temperate climates and low engine load conditions this may not be as much of as concern.

All of the above methods will conserve fuel – but what needs to be considered is at what point is it worth it for you.

Added more info to cruise control usage – I had glossed over that originally, thanks to the comments for bringing it to my attention.

NPR just ran a story on Hypermilers this morning. The more extreme methods of Hypermiling are not discussed (other than rolling through stop signs). The fact that Curtis Adam’s wife drives separately negates the whole idea!

YTC International Computer Competition

I have plenty of excuses for not posting – realistically, I could have made time to do so, but I just had way too much going on! The last two weeks have been non-stop! Youth Technology Corps‘ Mexican counterparts were visiting the first week of May. We had a computer competition, where the kids had to build computers from spare parts – ala Iron Chef. We had a few professors from Devry as well as Chicago’s alderman of the 12th ward, George Cardenas, on hand to oversee and judge the competition. Our video crew filmed and had a live feed for the rest of the audience. I played many roles as head judge, MC, translator, lead techie, A/V… etc… it was quite exhausting! But overall a total success!! Each team consisted of four Chicago Public school kids and two Mexican students. They were given 3 cases that they had to build into computers and 3 computers that had been sabotaged. 30% of their score was for the computers they built, 30% for those they troubleshooted, and 40% for teamwork. I was amazed at how into the competition the kids were! The “audience” was also quite enthusiastic! Overall a great event!



I’ve been busy disassembling things as of late. After a bit of a bicycle mishap coming back from a Cubs game a few weeks ago, I broke my phone. When I started to lose my balance, I launched myself off of my bike to try to avoid breaking the phone, as I was on it! But I had gripped onto the phone too hard and cracked the LCD with my fingers! T-Mobile wanted $110 deductible to replace it (and I’ve been paying ~$7 a month for insurance!) So I purchased a replacement screen on eBay for $40 instead – it took forever to arrive, but I finally got the phone back up and running yesterday.

I haven’t been very good at blogging as of late, I guess I’m working on a personal disassembly – you see, something broke not too long ago, and I’m working on putting the pieces back together. It’s difficult to see how they will all fit again – but I know they came apart from one whole, so hopefully it is just a matter of time.

Our Engadget HD contest entry

I was going to enter the Engadget HD contest with my setup, but when talking to Greg about it I realized that his was far worse! We took the above video today for his entry. Unfortunately, the e-mail bounced – Engadget HD’s 3gb GMail account was full!! We await to see what they will say about those whose entries bounced. In the mean time for your enjoyment…

Cracking Word and Excel protection passwords

One of our employees has left the organization and, with that, had left me with quite a predicament. He had password protected the views on all of his Excel and Word documents. In other words, you could see the document, but you couldn’t edit it. Apparently he didn’t leave on the best terms, as he would not relinquish the password to us. Of course, I wasn’t about to say that “it isn’t possible” – so I did a little digging and came up with the following solutions:

Both links are quite simple to use and give you an unprotected document as an end result! I figured I’d share the knowledge as I had tried quite a few other methods from other sites that either didn’t work or were much more complicated.

As far as document open passwords, which Microsoft Office handles quite differently, they require “brute force” method which can take days to weeks to accomplish. So those of you using passwords for those files should fear not, one would have to be quite determined to crack them!

Spotty internet

I just spent the last half hour on an entry, and my internet connection dropped. I was just writing about the things that we take for granted, and I suppose a reliable internet connection is one of them! I finally got a good night’s rest after my first hot shower since the night we arrived! We are now preparing our final presentation for the school the wrap up what we have been working on all week Its a bit haphazard, but we are getting there. The municipal president is receiving us and taking us all out to lunch, and we will be presenting immediately afterwards. We then hop in a bus and head back to Durango! The wireless seems to work better there, so hopefully I’ll be able to post more. Its been a sometimes frustrating but always fascinating trip – it’ll take some time to process it all.