Friday, May 16, 2008

The Origin of "That really gets my goat"

For those of you who have never asked "what is VOIP?" I can say with most certainty you have also never asked "what is the origin of 'that really gets my goat'." Now I'm not saying that the two questions go hand in hand. Nay, I'm not suggesting that the absurdity of the latter brings shame and disgrace upon the former. It's just that there are folks who like to go deeper into normal every-day life and reflect on the strange and absurd. "Artists," I believe they are called.

No, I kid... I keed... I keeeed.

I, too am lumped together with those who would dare ask both of these questions. You, too, have joined me. An odd and fascinating thing, it is.

"That really gets my goat" jumped out of my mouth today. I proceeded, then, to make goat sounds while pulling my non-existent air-goat by its non-existent collar. What's worse is that I asked myself the question, "where did that phrase come from?" and worse yet, began to seek the answer.

A quick Google search turned up nothing beyond a number of references with people using it in blog titles, on web pages, etc. There was also a reference to the origin of the phrase - that it was "unknown." I thought, "who would go to these great lengths of research?" Ouch! I've been hit with the arrow of irony.

In all seriousness, let's explore the origin of this phrase.

The phrase dates back to the middle ages and a particular provincial ruler named Francis. During this time, business transactions were not conducted using paper and coins but using cattle, birds and various other animals. Francis had a large herd of goats (they are called "herds" aren't they?) Because Francis had so many goats, the peasants were constantly attempting to steal the goats from him.

Naturally, due to the actions of the peasants, Francis became quite angry and was prone to spontaneous outbursts. As the years went by Francis became known as around the town as the "crazy goat man." As tends to be the case the richer one gets, he became more and more attached to his amassing wealth. He would yell and scream when anything was taken from him.

This period of history was also identified by stark honesty. When silverware was taken from a party, it was not uncommon for the host or hostess to proclaim, "they took my silverware!" When dinner rolls were taken, "they took my dinner rolls!" Communication styles and terminology changed with the growing society and before long, leading with direct terms "they" and "he" and "you" was out of style. Thus, as the styles changed and due the type of theft from Francis, his choice phrase became, you guessed it, "that really gets my goat."

Fascinating, eh?

Best of all, Francis had a son. Yes, that's right. A young prodigy. Francis named him, "Goat boy."

I think that just about does it. You may want to check this out on your own. Well, have a good day.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What is VOIP?

Perhaps this is not a popular question, but if you've heard the term and just don't know what it is then this post is for you! If this is not a question you have ever asked of yourself, you may quietly close this post now. VOIP, simply put, is a method of transporting voice information over the internet. The end result looks like a phone, smells like a phone, tastes like a phone doesn't work like a phone at all!

First off, VOIP is really an acronym. As such, it should be written V.O.I.P. but that's really a lot of periods so I shorten it to just VOIP. I think that's acceptable now. Here's what it stands for:

V - Voice
O - Over
I - Internet
P - Protocol

Let's unpack that for just a minute. "Voice" and "Over" are self-explanatory. "I.P." stands for "internet protocol" which is a method of forming bits of information that need to get from point A to point B so that it can go through the computers, switches, routers, etc. that form the internet.

For VOIP, the information that needs to be transmitted is your voice and the voice of the person on the other end of the line. A VOIP telephone system takes the audio from the conversation and turns it into packets of information. A VOIP telephone communicates (usually) with a central computer that knows the addresses of each telephone on the network. When the packets that make up your voice are sent to this central server they are then forwarded on to the address of the telephone they are destined for.

If this sounds confusing, think of this process like having a long-distance conversation through a series of written letters. To make this example more like VOIP, you would write and mail one letter for each word you want to say to your writing partner. You would write thousands of letters for each conversation and then mail each of them through the postal service. Every letter would need to arrive quickly and be coded in such a way that described the order in which each of the letters was supposed to be placed. The receiver would then receive the letters and put them in the proper order, decoding your message. That person would then repeat the process on his or her end. You would go back and forth with the person until your conversation was finished, upon which you would send a final letter saying you're done conversing.

VOIP is a lot like that - only the process happens with every nuance of your voice. Your voice is encoded many times per second, turned into little messages and sent to the destination intended for it. Incredibly, even though the destination may be on the other side of the country, the trip may take as little as 50 to 150 milliseconds to get there! That's 50 to 150 thousandths of a second. Wow - that's fast!

What are the benefits of VOIP for you?
VOIP offers lower cost phone calls because the phone calls use the infrastructure that is shared with the rest of internet communication - web pages, emails, etc. Instead of having equipment to simply transport phone calls like the standard telephone network does (PSTN), VOIP shares equipment for multiple forms of communication which lowers the cost of ownership of said equipment.

VOIP offers portability. Because the telephone number isn't tied to a particular location, but rather a particular handset, it's a lot like a cell phone. You can travel anywhere with your cell phone and it always rings when you're called - the system finds you. The same can be said of VOIP. The system will find you whenever you connect your VOIP phone to the internet.

Another key benefit for many people are the additional calling features that VOIP can provide. Because VOIP calls are processed in a computer while being transported it's possible to write very sophisticated functions that are costly or impossible to do with standard telephone equipment. These benefits include the ability to have multiple telephone numbers from different area codes, call recording, call transferring, group conference calling, and even placing calls right from a computer with no telephone needed.

For businesses, VOIP enables them to reduce the cost of installation. Traditional telephone systems require wiring to each location - and each wire designates a particular extension. That means that if someone moves offices, the wire either needs to be switched on the telephone system or the telephone system needs to be re-programmed to know what wire will carry the new extension. In a large business this can become quite cumbersome.

VOIP, on the other hand, enables a user with "extension 100" to simply disconnect his or her phone and re-connect it in a new location. It will communicate with the server for a few minutes and work just fine. That also means that the person could take their phone home, to the beach, or around the world - while enabling his co-workers to dial "extension 100" to contact him.

How do you get a VOIP phone system?
To begin you need a high-speed internet connection. DSL or cable is preferred. A dial-up connection just won't do. Provided you have a high-speed connection like DSL or cable, you can choose among a few providers.

For consumers, Vonage is a great option. They offer plans as low as $15 per month (+ tax) or $25 per month with unlimited local and long-distance calling. Call quality is great from most places and you can manage your account, including voice mails, online. They also have some advanced features such as voicemail transcription and emailing if you'd rather see your voicemail than listen to it. Adding a fax line or a second line is affordable and simple to do.

For businesses, Vonage for business, Packet8, or even finding a provider for Asterisk are all good options depending on the level of sophistication you need. Asterisk VOIP is a software system that can run on various types of hardware. It will require a level of support beyond Vonage or another hosted solution, but you can literally program it to do just about anything.

That's the basic scoop on VOIP. Perhaps it has immediate application for you, perhaps not. But it is in your future. Today, many long distance calls are converted to VOIP calls by the phone company while travelling through across the globe. Someday, you'll likely have a VOIP system in your own home.

Full disclosure: I use Vonage at home and I use Asterisk (with some cool custom stuff) at the office.

To learn more about VOIP, do a Google search for "VOIP telephone systems."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Finest Coffee in the World

My wife and I were fortunate enough to spend some time in Costa Rica a few years back. It was a great time to "get away from it all."

We had a lot of great experiences and met some new friends. We also stayed affordably right off the beach.

Some parts of the experience must remain there, but the coffee needn't. I'm a coffee lover and if you're a coffee lover like me, you're sure to find a great coffee online at Green Mountain Coffee. I recommend you give them a try. Let me know which one you think is best. We can trade coffee! How fun.

Weather Channel Changes Name

I have been known to make mistakes. Some are really obvious, some are not. I've also been known to razz the weather-folk among us about how the weather forecasts are so often wrong. It's must be difficult to get a good weather forecast, I'm sure. So I'll cut them some slack.

Today, however, this just struck me funny. Maybe I was up too early or something. Off a week of bad-weather news, the Weather Channel is opening up a new studio. They have the inside scoop on the new digs on their web site. It's the "studio of the future" as they call it.

What they didn't say is that they are also changing their name as the new studio broadcasts begins broadcasting in HD. In an effort to separate themselves from the normal news about "weather" and to differentiate from traditional "weather forecasts" they will, henceforth, be known as "Weater." No time-frame is given, but the transition is sure to rock the weather world.

Here's the large image of the not-so-well-publicized release on their homepage on May 10 - there at 6:30 and still there at 10:15. Look at the zoomed image that follows for further details. Oh, and tell your friends...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Answering the tough questions

I have been asked quite frequently why this blog is named "Fun with butter." It's a good story, and one I'm sure that the world would like to hear. I will give the short version here and you'll need to engage me in meaningful conversation for the longer version.

It all began one afternoon while walking over to the counter in my kitchen. I had been pondering domain names and how they are like real estate (more on that in a future post). All of a sudden it struck me that a good name would be "fun with butter." I rushed to my office and snapped it up.

What a buy. The end.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Knock, knock. Who's there? Smellmop. Smellmop who?

I apologize in advance for the tasteless humor in the title. I was dropped as a child or something. Can't really remember. It might also be my brother's fault. Yeah, that's it.

Crude humor aside, there's a real problem with that keyboard (and probably mouse) you're touching right now. It's true. Science as confirmed it and ABC News has let us know the extent of the problem.

Apparently your keyboard is, in fact, dirtier than a toilet. That joke you just read? Yep, your typing surface is dirtier than your potty mouth. How's that make you feel?

Fortunately, this feeling can be counteracted by the lovely scent of lavender. With a cup of water and 20 drops of essential lavender oil, you can disinfect your keyboard and anything else you can spray it on. (Note that these facts have not been verified).

I feel better already.

Tale of Woe Part 2

Tale of Woe Part 2...

I opened up the Netflix "Watch Now" videos and tried to see if there was anything to watch. Nothing looked good to Beth or me. I felt it best to simply attempt to salvage the soon-to-be wreck of the download instead. Beth quietly turned over and closed her eyes.

I went downstairs, plugged my old router into my new router and set that up. Only that didn't work either. So after marching up and down the steps a few times I took the laptop downstairs, disabled the wireless and plugged the network cable into the back of the thing.

Finally! Speed! The download was going to complete in 20 minutes! Remember that. It's an important number.

I stood around for about 10 or 15 minutes, holding the laptop because the network cable was too short to set it down. The download kept getting faster and I was thinking about finally watching this movie. But when the download said "you can now watch this movie" it wasn't fully downloaded. No, it was just buffered.

"If I disconnect this cable and go back to the wireless it may never complete!" I thought. And sure enough, I was right (probably for the first time this night!). Going back to the flaky wireless dropped the download rate again and it was all over. I felt the cold grip of defeat.

I took the laptop back upstairs, connected it to the TV again, woke up Beth and confidently said, "Alright, we're ready." It was now 10:40. Though I was, We were, in fact, not ready anymore. Beth was tired and asleep and as I write this (now 12:40 AM) I am still amazed at how calmly she responded to me waking her up. She said, "you can watch it if you like, but I can't. I'm sleeping."

Rightly so. I had discovered that the movie was only 20% downloaded, but "ready to watch," and the remaining 80% would download in 1 hour 20 minutes and climbing. Had we turned it on, we would have come to the end of that which was downloaded probably 40 minutes into the movie and we would have had to complete the rest of the movie at another time. Oh, but you only have 24 hours to watch it after pressing "play." I couldn't bring myself to tell her that the light comedy she wanted to watch just wasn't going to happen.

I laughed a bit more. Then I left the room and went down to my ubuntu install (which is working nicely, thanks). To obtain some level of satisfaction through this evening of mis-steps and poor judgment, I shall now pass on to you the morals of the story...

Obligatory Morals to the Tale of Woe

1. iTunes rentals do not play on iPods created before September 2007 (or some say 5th Generation). I did very little reading on the matter, but there is much discussion and speculation. None of it is worth reading (okay, it is, but not at this hour!), but I shall soon write a post on it nevertheless. Until then, just heed this word of warning.

2. Invest in high-speed, stable wireless. Yes, STABLE. You'll thank yourself (and maybe me) someday. If your wireless router isn't working well... Get a new one. If that's not an option (as it is not for me, for reasons left unspoken), buy a wireless access point or extender, or build a wifi extender yourself. I could make a clearer point through clever use of time-value calculations, but just take the advice - after all, you read this far! I will be taking my self-advice in the morning.


3. Never, never, never, never, never, never, never experiment with unproven methodologies on production systems. That's sort of a universal moral with direct application to tonight. I should have driven to the movie store and obtained the movie. That's what I should have done. It's a proven system - practically guaranteed to work. What I should not have done was what I did do, which I'm sure you also fully appreciate now.

Tale of Woe Part 1

I seldom have a need to "vent." Those of you who do, and you know who you are, will certainly share in my pain. I know that I am among friends. What began innocently enough about 8:30 this evening has turned into an all-evening adventure. My opportunity to sit and watch a movie before beginning the work week has been lost along with my wife's desire to unwind with some light comedy. As you know, I'm somewhat of a geek and overly patient with technology, but I arrived quickly at my wits end tonight. Without further adieu, I present to you my Tale of Woe.

Jason's Tale of Woe Part 1.
(Moral may be found at the end of the story)

(music queue)

"Turn back, turn back, turn back...." came the soft cooing of wisdom sneaking into my seemingly well-thought-out plan of not having to go to the movie store.
I should have known better than to have silenced that voice.

It began innocently enough. Beth said, "Let's watch a movie. Go to the store and get a comedy" to which I replied, "let's see if we can rent it on iTunes so I don't have to leave." I was playing around with my new ubuntu install, attempting to raise my geek to an entirely new level.

"Okay, I found it - can you download it to your iPod so we can take it upstairs?" she asked. "Sure, one minute, I need to re-boot."

A few minutes later I was re-booted back into Windows and had No Reservations ordered from iTunes (after updating my credit card). "Is it ready?" she asked, not knowing that the time table had been extended an additional 20 minutes due to the 1 GB high-definition download. "Uh, it'll be ready in 20 minutes - it's downloading."

In my brain I had done the math already. By the time I went to the video store and got the movie, came home and put it in, it would have been 20 minutes anyhow. So, I was still good. Just in case this was going to take longer I asked Beth to look on Netflix for the "Watch Now" feature - perhaps we could get it there? After a brief look, nope.

The movie downloaded from iTunes and I tried to get it on my iPod to no avail. A cursory look through Google results quickly informed me that it was not going to happen. Did you know that iTunes rentals don't play on iPods made before September 2007 (or thereabouts). You didn't??? Geez - everybody knows that!

Right... That didn't go so well. No matter, it was still a bit after 9 and I had time to pull this stalled plane out of its dive. Time would tell.

I thought to myself, "Self... Copy the file to your iTunes folder on your laptop and bring that upstairs and run the TV through the video out." So I tried to do that. Only, my wireless network was flaky and the copying was not going well.

(queue Motorola wireless router, stage left)
(crowd: boo, hiss, show no mercy!)

Yes, that's right, the wireless network was running somewhere between 1 Mb and 5.5 Mb, spiking to 48 Mb and then dropping back down. That never happened with my old Netgear router, but I was not going to change that out. Or was I? Not yet, anyhow.

So copying across the network was not going to work - but that was okay. I had options: Burn to a DVD and for backup, copy to a USB flash. And it was so.

Seven minutes later the deed was done. Files had been written and transported upstairs to the waiting laptop. The files were copied over and with a right-click "play in iTunes" the prompt came up, "Would you like to play this rental? You will have 24 hours to complete it." I clicked "Ok" and bam!

"This file has been authorized to be played on a different machine or device."

So there I stood... Laptop connected, playing on the 13" TV upstairs. And I laughed. I apologized, too, for taking so long. I said something like "I didn't think it would be this much trouble." Beth said that she knew it would. And I remembered the still, small voice, "turn back, turn back, turn back." But I laughed as well.

The end.

I wished. Um actually, no, it doesn't end there. This tale had just begun. Perhaps now you know my need to vent. Join me, will you?

So in my great understanding, I thought, "I'll get this on Amazon Unbox." Then we can begin watching this in a few minutes while the rest downloads in the background. At this point I did not totally recall the slow network issue that was sure to plague any downloading. I took the mental steps necessary to plan my attack and I clicked the "watch" or "rent" or "click here" or whatever it said button - and I had to download the Unbox player.

I downloaded the player and installed it, at which point the video displayed as "queued for download" with no way to move it out to the "download now or else!" group that I so desperately wanted it in. A minute or two later it began downloading... at 336k. My connection was jumping between 1 and 5.5, up to 48, back down to 1. It was crazy.

For the non-geeks among us, 336k is slow. It's much slower than this sort of thing should take. Yes, this Unbox download was going to complete in... drum roll... 15 hours. I laughed more. What else was I going to do?

Beth had already given up. It was now 10 PM - an hour and a half past the beginning of this idea and now almost to the point that a rented movie from down the street would have already been completed! My hole that I dug was now quite large and I was preparing to jump in. My task was not yet complete, though! If I could only find one more thing to try! March on, friend, I was not deterred!

Stay tuned for Part 2.