3/17/06

VOIP and Vonage

I've finally gotten rid of my ISDN phone line I've had since April 1998. I had an ISDN line back then for two reasons (if I remember correctly). First, ISDN gave me a faster data connection to the Internet than regular dial-up. This was way before DSL of any type was available where I live. (I live 36 miles from the White House and 30 miles from \ downtown Baltimore—hardly the boondocks.) It also gave me related lines, one I used for voice and the other for fax. And the ISDN connection for data did not use either (if I remember correctly. A third bonus, but not necessary for me, though it would come back to bite me: It gave me a "foreign exchange"; I have a Columbia number though I live in a small town west of there. When I moved to two-way satellite as my "always on, high-speed Internet connection (I used to tell people in my classes, when it came up, "It is absolutely the greatest, if you have no other choice.") I stopped using it for ISDN data connection, but kept the 2 lines to keep the numbers I had for years and because it was less expensive than ordering 2 different local numbers.

Recently, I decided to check out Vonage (pronounced "VAH-nidj," by every employee of theirs I talked to, by the way, not a French "vo-NAJ"). It seemed like a good deal. I decided to sign up for the "$14.99 Basic 500" package. I gave them my phone number, 410–309–6910, and they said they could transfer it. (There were a few caveats.) I did not try to transfer the fax number; I only get junk faxes on it and I can hook a computer up to any phone line to receive a fax in an emergency. Everyone I deal with uses e-mail.

Vonage sent me the Linksys VOIP router. They gave me a temporary, "virtual" number, plugged everything in and it worked! The outbound calls identified themselves as being from my number (the one they were trying to get). Sweet. Inbound only worked, of course, to my new, virtual number. My old number would ring on my old line.

A few weeks later, they gave me the news that they could not transfer my number until I removed the ISDN and the foreign exchange attributes. I asked Verizon. They said to remove the ISDN, I needed to cancel the ISDN and then call residential services and ask for a new residential phone with my old number, which they would hold for 45 days. I did it and waited. Vonage contacted me again. No, go. They cannot take over a disconnected line. I need to get the line back from Verizon. Then Vonage could do it. I just had to make sure it had no foreign exchange on it.

Do you see where I am going? I cannot get that number as a local number; it is not local to my home. Someone suggested I just ask a friend to register it from an address local to him. Think about that a minute. Neither Verizon nor Vonage will give me or allow me to take over a number at a different service address.

The bottom line is that I had to give up the office number I've had for 7 years, and start using a new number. I had to tell everyone who might need it, what the new number is. (I am still doing that: credit cards, banks, frequent traveler programs, etc.) Still, most people e-mail me.

I was grumpy about it for a few days. But, I am very happy with Vonage, it's features, and the service.

3/10/06

Book Review: Just Say "No" to Microsoft by Tony Bove

On October 18, 2005 I mentioned this book and pointed to this interview with its author. This is a short review.

You might think that the purpose of this book is to promote Linux or Mac use. And you would be both right and wrong. I was on guard against Microsoft-bashing for bashing's sake. Not that it is not a temptation. Microsoft is the company that people love to hate. But most of us use it anyway (though, me to a very small degree, of late). While I think Bove does dip into Microsoft-bashing, there is still useful information here, and the bashing is not too often or blatant.

This is an excellent introduction the the alternatives available to the computer user. Bove talks about the joys of moving to Mac, the openness of of the Linux world, and mostly gives the person thinking of a change the courage to try. He talks about how most of what the average user uses their computer for is available on either Mac or Linux (I will shortly blog about my positive opinin of Linux with Gnome as a replacement for Windows for anyone; I've already been raving— in a nice way—about my Mac experience). He talks about Open Office as an alternative to MS Office as well as tries to make a case for PDF as a document exchange format.
Okay, diversion. I am struggling with this. I would like to get away from "Microsoft Word as a document exchange format." I just don't know what else to do. PDF is fine —and he makes a case for it. But, it is lousey for collaboration (unless everyone has expensive Adobe products.) So, I still send plain, ASCII text e-mail. I do send ASCII when the recipient doesn't need to change it. And I did enjoy his pointing to We Can Put an End to Word Attachments, by Richard M. Stallman (January 2002), and MS-Word is Not a document exchange format, among others.

Recommendations?
Here is the table of contents, taken from the publisher's web site.

Introduction
PART I: YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION
Chapter 1: Playing Monopoly Is No Longer Fun
Chapter 2: All You Need Is a Mac
Chapter 3: Linux: Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

PART II: REHAB FOR YOUR MICROSOFT ADDICTION
Chapter 4: Slay the Word and You'll Be Free
Chapter 5: De-Microsoft Your Office
Chapter 6: Media Lib: Microsoft-Free Music and Video

PART III: THE WHOLE NETWORK IS WATCHING
Chapter 7: The Message Is the Medium for Infections
Chapter 8: This LAN Is Your LAN
Chapter 9: Browsers and Your Own Private Identity

PART IV: GETTING ON WITH YOUR COMPUTER LIFE
Chapter 10: Twelve Steps to Freedom from Microsoft
Chapter 11: Where Do You Want to Go Tomorrow?
Appendix: The Truth Is Out There
Citations


Just Say No to Microsoft: How to Ditch Microsoft and Why It's Not as Hard as You Think

3/9/06

Good-bye to AV

You may recall, in PowerBook Day 1 and Following, I said "I did install ClamXav, an open-source antivirus program. Viruses on Macs are not a problem. But, I don't want a PC virus to get forwarded in a document from my PowerBook! And the price was right. So, I learned that I just drop the ".app" file where I want it to sit, I learned how to link to it from the Desktop or the Dock (like the Task Menu in Windows)."


Recently, I read a Cybertrust "Hype or Hot" recommendation, about recent Mac OS X malware. It said, in part, "To date, there are no known cases of Mac OS X users suffering significant data loss due to a virus. However, there have been at least three separate outbreaks of data loss due to OS X users running antivirus software. In light of this, Cybertrust recommends against the use of antivirus software for most Mac users until further notice."

Good enough for me. Off it came.

Full disclosure: I am working on a contract for Cybertrust, directing their Risk Intel Team. The Mac security recommendations I get from them are a side benefit.

Some press on the subject:

3/8/06

Mac E-mail Again

I mentioned earlier—in Moving to the Mac, E-mail—that I had moved to using the mail application (Mail.app) on my PowerBook. I am also using IMAP, as I mentioned, connecting with my e-mail server. My e-mail is stored on my PowerBook and on the server. As I think I mentioned, one cool thing about it is I can read my mail using anything that will read UNIX mbox format and any IMAP client.

And I thought I was ready to ditch Mail.app. I found it would … occasionally … reload all the e-mail in my server's mailbox. See, on most UNIX, or Linux, systems, e-mail is deposited in a user's mailbox (for example, /var/mail/fred). E-mail clients read from there. That is what Mail (or Thunderbird) calls my "Inbox." As I delete or refolder messages, the IMAP server (I assume) or maybe just the e-mail client notes the change, and waits to update things until some opportune time. I am being nebulous here because it seems to be e-mail client specific. Logging off ("Go offline") will do it in Mail as it will in Thunderbird. (Compressing a mailbox will do the same thing in Thunderbird.)

It was very frustrating. There are some things I really like about the Apple Mail client. For example:
  • Connection with the Address Book. Very nice. Yes, Thunderbird does this with it's own address book, but I sync my Palm Computer (pet peeve—there hasn't been anything called "PalmPilot" for like 10 years. US Robotics made it. I had one. Had to change the name when Pilot Pen Company complained. No joke.) with the Address Book (see Mac Calendaring and Address Book. One down side is the programs insistence to rewrite headers. If e-mail comes in from "Charlie Applerot " and I have a calendar entry for him, but it says "Charles Applerot," it uses what is in the Address Book. I don't mind it recognizing it is the same e-mail address. I don't like it changing what was in the message header. (It doesn't actually change it in the message file. But, if I reply to the message, it uses the rewrittenm address. This is bad behavior.) Still the integration of Address Book is useful.
  • Smart Mailbox. This is the read cool stuff. A Smart Mailbox is one that looks at all messages that match a set of search criteria based on headers, body, attachment count, date, etc., and shows all that match in the Smart Mailbox, no matter what actual mailboxes they might be in. I automatically "folder" some mailing list messages as they come in rather than leaving them in the Inbox. I set up a "Smart Mailbox" that simply is "all unread e-mail." I also sometimes "flag" e-mail—mark it as special. (Mail does not have a list of tags like Eudora and Thunderbird has; all it has is flagged or not.) So, I have a Smart Mailbox that shows me all "flagged" mail in one virtual mailbox.
Nevertheless, I had decided with the Inbox flakiness, that Mail.app must go. I would move to Thunderbird! I spend a few hours recreating filters that I used in Mail that I wanted in Thunderbird. I worked for hours fiddling to get Address Book records to Thunderbird. (Address Book doesn't export in anything but "vcard" format. Thunderbird, correct, does not read vcard format. I used Address Book Exporter.)

I started using Thunderbird. I missed Mail.app, but as I said earlier, I had liked and recommended Thunderbird. And it's an IMAP client, so I still had plain text files on the server and on the PowerBook. Thunderbird is not as integrated with the Mac as Mail.app is (natch). It allows complex searches; Mail.app only allows them in a Smart Folder (which is not really a problem). It has seven, count them seven, "labels" for tagging messages. And I was happy.

Until the same thing happened with Thunderbird: e-mail's I had taken care of— deleted, refolder—showed up again!

Hmmmm. Maybe it is the IMAP server on Linux. Someone recommended Dovecot. Swore by it (I mean that in a nice way). I tried setting it up. I couldn't get the user authentication to work. There is no real documentation. Yes, I know. "Use the Source, Luke." I'm getting too old. Now that I have a second server on the Internet, I may try it to see if it plays nicer. Or perhaps someone can give me a clue as to where to look for what exactly is happening. Is there a setting to "only connect when downloading and sending? Is it some mode setting on the /var/mail directory? (I tried it 755 and 1777. Same behavior.)

I am using Mail.app again. Periodically, I try to remember to "Go offline" then "Go online" again. I am settled but not fully satisfied. You know?