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Everything as a Service

When you first see Netflix coming through your SmartTV with just an internet connection, that large monthly cable TV bill starts looking exorbitant.  Similarly, using Skype or Google Hangouts makes your phone bills seem a bit ripe for some pruning.  With internet access becoming more ubiquitous, paying traditional connection fees (ie – land-line, cable TV, cell phone GSM/CDMA, …) seem like expenses that we might be able to cut out of the equation.

Last fall we got rid of our landline itself, but not the function.  By getting a free Google Voice account and using an Obihai OBI100 device, we can use our traditional phones to have a free land-line.  For less than $40 we bought the Obihai, then used their website to tie it to our Google Voice account.  We get free calls for the USA and Canada.  Calls to Europe are usually 3 cents/minute.  Think “Roku meets your home phone service.”  In fact, it supports two Google Voice numbers and they have other models that support more.  Guests in our home that are tech-averse just use it like a regular old landline and do not know or need to know the technology behind it.  In fact, we could plug the Obihai into an internet connection anywhere and essentially have a home phone that we can travel with.

My next cord to cut was the monthly Verizon Wireless smartphone fee of $40 per month.  I migrated my cellphone number to Google Voice and then connected my Google Voice to Google Hangouts Dialer.  Now my Google Hangouts app rings when you call my cell phone number, so I can talk via Wifi or 4G.  That allows me to just have a tablet which I can connect to Verizon Wireless for $10 per month, and the tablet itself was free with my wife’s phone (also free when we renewed her contract).  If it works out, I’ll save nearly $400 this year on our family cell phone bill.  There are some adjustments to be made since the Hangouts Dialer has a few bugs as a new product and my tablet is only 4G, so my location has a lot to do with where I can receive and make calls.  But I’m encouraged that this can work.  As I start to see ads for Verizon Voice Over LTE, I know they are aware of this capability and need to be aware that they may close this loophole or tweak their prices over time to make sure they keep rolling in our dough.

TV “cord cutters” have to be encouraged by the news at CES 2015 that Sling TV is making progress getting traditional cable networks interested in direct internet streaming.  Cutting the cable TV portion of your “cable bill” could save you $1000 annually, but without live sports, it has not been an option for most.  I’m sure that Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon keep pressure on the cable networks like ESPN and local cable sports (Root Sports, MSG, etc) not to sell direct.  It looks like Sling has made some strides in getting them interested in direct subscriptions over IP.  If ESPN is the “first domino,” then how far behind them are the other networks?  It’s not to say that they will be free, but paying by service should yield lower prices in the end and steal some of the monopoly power of the cable TV providers.  Then again, that may just force price increases in wired internet fees and even buying your home internet by the GB like wireless has become.

At any rate, 2015 is looking promising to transition more of my communications costs to being more selected service-based. I hope it will be a cost advantage versus the bills local monopoly telecom companies have been foisting off on us for decades.


Desktop Control of Your Smartphone

iogear-keyshair30-300x211I’ve used Airdroid for years to use my desktop or laptop to control my phone.  I find the keyboard and mouse much easier than fumbling with my thumbs when I’m at a desk.  Airdroid can be a hassle and a possible security concern though.  That’s why when I saw a review of the IOGear KeyShair it caught my eye.

The KeyShair looks like a flashdrive, but it acts like a KVM (a device that lets you use one keyboard, mouse, and video to control multiple computers).  You plug the small device into a USB port, run the software, pair the bluetooth with your phone and you can then toggle between your keyboard and mouse controlling your smartphone or your computer.  In fact it can flip between four devices if need be.  So instead of fumbling with your phone to reply to a text, you’d look over at your phone screen, press a hot-key on your computer and start controlling the phone with your mouse and smoothly enter your reply text at your keyboard.

Maybe I’m just showing my age, but if you can fly on the computer and are derailed switching to the mobile device constantly, check out the IOGear KeyShair microsite and see if this might be a solution you appreciate as well.


Android Trick to Add Number Row to Keyboard

keyboard_number_0One of the great things about Android is that you can customize the various components to fit your particular habits.  It has done this better than iOS for years.  While iOS8 finally let’s iPhone users pick a custom keyboard, most are not free, nor do any I could find have an on-screen keyboard with a dedicated number row above the qwerty keyboard.  Switching from the letter to number screen has always been a pain, especially when entering passwords or trying to fire off a quick text.

The Google Keyboard is free in the Play Store and has customizable views and Swype capabilities.  Once you’ve seen the speed of “swyping” words instead of pecking individual letters, you’ll never go back.  Of course you don’t lose the ability to speak your type as well with the microphone key.

Customize away with the instructions here: How to add a dedicated number row to Google Keyboard – AndroidPIT.


Home Wifi Help Through Your Power Lines

header-xwnb5201-hero-photo-largeNot every home is ideal for wifi.  Many need multiple access points due to size, bad location of the cable modem, etc.  Netgear has a simple system that is very easy to install that can use your electric outlets to extend where a second wifi access point can be.  This prevents you from needing to install network wiring and the mess and expertise involved with traditional wired ethernet networks.

I don’t like range extenders as much because they have to create an additional named wifi network to function and their range is limited because they still have to be within good range of the original wifi, thus reducing the distance that they can actually extend the original network.  The Netgear XWNB5201 kit uses the power lines in your home to connect to the router as opposed to being dependent on the weak wifi that you are trying to extend.  Not all home electrical systems in homes work well with this kit, so your results may vary.  Netgear does include a simple utility that helps configure the adapters as well as reveal the speed it is able to attain as you have them connected.  For about $80 it’s not a bad way to get better internet access throughout your home without getting your hands dirty.

For a more complete review, please follow this link.  To purchase or see more details, this Amazon link should help.


Take Your WiFi Network With You


Here’s a cool little gadget I saw on Amazon for under $40.  It can be a WiFi range extender for home or a way to take your WiFi network convenience to other places.  You can plug into the wired ethernet at a relative’s house, a hotel, or wherever you’re going that has a router you can plug into.  It will even serve as a wired connection for a device without wifi where wifi is the only connection (wireless bridge).  The more I looked at it, the more I saw that it could do.  It will share a USB printer or hard drive.  It can plug into the wall or get its power from your USB.  The Netgear Trek N300 is the swiss army knife of wifi network sharing:

Netgear Trek N300 is a Portable Personal Wi-Fi Router.


Experiments with a Standing Desk

I’ve been tempted to try a standing  desk at work for a few years and finally got around to making one.  Really, all I did was to find a used TV stand (IKEA LACK for $25) and put it on my existing desk.  I’m three work days into the experiment and so far so good!  There is an online standing desk timer that has helped me keep with a 30 minute rotation of sitting and standing.  Since I sit in desk drudgery for most of each work day, I decided to do it for general health reasons.  What I’ve found is that there are many good productivity reasons to do it as well.  (More here:

Here’s a look at what the contraption I’ve stacked together looks like.  Notice the 14″ high broad TV stand placed on a regular office desk.



Part of the problem with my cheap solution versus a $2000 desk made for standing is that there is no way to adjust the apparatus down to sitting level.  So I decided to categorize my typical work into sitting and standing operations.  This has added the benefit of scheduled variety into my day, which is also a productivity hack touted by many.  So when I’m standing, I’m attending to network tasks, email and online meetings, while I use my sitting time for computer bench-work, calendar and to-do maintenance, news feed reading, and blog posting or drafts.  Granted this has meant using an old laptop or tablet often while sitting, but as the PC fix-it guy, those tools are relatively abundant.

So if you are interested in burning a few calories and adding a curve-ball to your productivity, I’d recommend looking into these standing desk links I’ve found.  Maybe trolling your local Craigslist site for some old furniture would make it an easy experiment for you as well.  Be prepared to find a footstool and perhaps plan on more comfortable shoes.  Once the spark from the new technique wears off, you may find your feet and legs reminding you why they developed cushy office chairs.

Simple Adjustments for Dealing with Standing Desk Fatigue:

Some Background on Standing Desk History


Time Gathering and Billing

Most businesses I service (including my own) essentially rent out the expertise of their employees.  You bill your customers by some mix of specific time, general costs, and reimbursements.  The legal industry’s “fees and costs” bills are a typical example.  Aside from the obvious disciplines of organization, consistency, and honesty required by your “time-keepers,” you as a business manager need to shape their data into a bill that your customer can agree is fair.  Having a system, both logically and electronically, is often the difference between red and black on your ledger.

There are three main roles in this system of converting tracked time into bills: the time-keeper, the billing clerk, and the account manager.




  • Do the work
  • Enter time accurately
  • Requests checks
  • Simple Entry
  • CYA Details
Billing Clerk
  • Organize billable items
  • Generate Prebills
  • Process Checks
  • Consistent entry
  • Timely submission
Account Manager
  • Process adjustments
  • Approve Final Bill
  • Organized
  • Analysis Reports of clients and time-keepers

Different variations of the above exist depending on how big the organization is.  The processes need to occur whether manually or ideally with the help of a database system specifically designed to handle it.  How  you divide the tasks may be equally determined by your process as well as the software limitations.  The ideal package not only conforms to your operations, but hopefully adds features that improve it.  Since your business may have multiple units that bill differently, your creativity in creating billing codes and tracking actual versus billed time will have a great impact on how any system can be fit to your organization.

Whether via paper, spreadsheets, or custom applications, some flow of the information needs to be mapped out and kept consistent across the roles outlined in the table above.  Also not to be missed is integration with your accounting system.  At this point, the market for these products is mature enough to come with and without their own accounting and CRM systems built-in.  Those aspects are beyond the scope of this article though.

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