17 Mar

How I Save Time with the Right Shortcuts, Handpicked Apps, and Finetuned Hardware [Spring 2015 update]

Over many years I’ve found a lot of good hardware and neat apps that work well together. In the spirit of the setup and how I work interviews, here’s my advice on picking desktop hardware, some of my favorite software, and various productivity shortcuts, all of which may prove useful to other multi-monitor Windows users who work with a wide variety of applications.

Warning: this is a relatively geeky entry, but these recommendations are the fruit of years of hard-won experience! Beyond advice about specific products, I hope you’ll get some broadly applicable help out of this entry, as technology adoption is a madness that requires method. Read More

14 Mar

State of my VOIP Setup

I just bought a prepaid data package from Claro, one of the three mobile telcos here in Chile. After fumbling with their settings (their APN for prepago banda ancha is bap.clarochile.cl, not bam.clarochile.cl) I’ve just completed a successful call with my Teliax account on my Nokia E71 to my Vonage account. The chain involved goes something like this:

Nokia SIP call -> Claro 3.5G network -> internet cloud to the US -> Vonage -> more internet cloud back to Chile -> Tutopia DSL -> Cisco ATA 186 -> Philips VOIP841 wireless phone (for whom Vonage is my “landline”, I also have Skype running on it).

There’s probably 20,000 miles worth of roundtrip involved, with data packets going through air, copper and fiber. Try to visualize it. Read More

08 Mar

Nokia E71 Apps

Quick notes on apps I’m using with my E71 smartphone:

I’m planning a trip to the US in April/May (Denver and Miami) and want my phone to support me as much as possible during the trip. I usually rely on a good old piece of paper with all the necessary addresses and phone numbers and what not, but I hope it will act mostly as backup from now on.
Update: I’ve set up Teliax and made a couple test calls, seems pretty good so far. Vonage has seemed on the brink of extinction since pretty much they got started and Skype has never worked quite as well for me (some calls are great, some are crappy, it’s always been more uneven in my experience). Plus, Vonage’s soft phone is not cheap and I’m not sure there’s even one for smartphones. More options means more resilience means less headaches and downtime.
Also: E71 tricks.
Update about push email: Seven sends SMS to the UK in a kind of sneaky way behind your back, and it doesn’t work seamlessly with Devicescape Easy Wifi (at least for me). Not sure it’s going to be my long term solution, especially given it won’t work with messages stored on external memory. I tried Emoze but it doesn’t seem to manage folders, at least not the free product. Next: Profimail.

29 Aug


I’m thinking of buying an unlocked Nokia E71 (about $400 at Newegg, the Blackberry Bold isn’t really available unlocked yet at decent prices, and the iPhone has half a dozen dealbreakers for me). I want a device for use in various countries in South America, North America and Europe to have easy voice, email and web access while traveling without constantly needing my laptop. From what reviews report, the E71 can run Skype among other VOIP options, has a real keyboard, isn’t a brick, is a decent email client, mp3 player and GPS, and an OK web browser and camera. I want to avoid at all costs the total rip-off that are overpriced contracts and international roaming, and I just want to own by own damn device without bending backwards to keep it unlocked.
So right now I’m trying to figure out what’s available in the US, and let me tell you, Sprint, T-Online, Verizon and Sprint are competing to win the Most Useless Website award. So I’m begging you, dear reader, to email me with info on how to get 3/3.5G access in the US (most importantly, New England) without a damn yearly contract (ideally, without any sort of contract at all, as sometimes I just spend three days in, say, New York and don’t go back to the US for six months so even a month-to-month PAYG contract is overkill).
Any help appreciated (email, twitter or IM, comments here are broken). Progress, if any, in my quest, will be updated here.
Update: bitching on my blog unlocked the right google query which led me to this, which looks like a winner. Update: or not as it looks like a loophole, but hey AT&T don’t bother even listing PAYG data plans in your GoPhone pages, right? Medianet Unlimited is “unlimited” only if you use a phone without a full-fledged keyboard. Jokers/crooks. But then you have iPhone 3G users doing it. Seems worth a try buying one of the $10 GoPhone.
Update about the E71, it works in Europe and the US because it’s quad band GSM, but 3G is an either/or proposition:
– Europe: E71-1 RM-346 = GSM 850/900/1800/1900; WCDMA 900/2100 HSDPA
– US: E71-2 RM-357 = GSM 850/900/1800/1900; WCDMA 850/1900 HSDPA
Well at least Chile is running HSDPA 1900 too, and I don’t go back to Europe much these days. Can’t have it all I guess, but what a headache.

02 Feb

The Chilean Sea is Not to Be Given Away?!

We’ve started to (carefully) explore to what extent there might actually be value in the current crop of social networks. We were involved in earlier waves – from Ryze to the now defunct Soflow – with little to show for it, so we chose to sit out of Facebook and Twitter for a long time, mostly for signal-to-noise issues. Feverish hype or not, I think the jury is still out, but I admit there seems to be staying power here.
Anyway, today’s weird FB discovery (in the sense that I just stumbled on it), or maybe it is telling, is the group named El Mar de Chile no Se Regala!!!! which loosely translated is this post’s title (though I’m using my own bewildered punctuation). 3,169 members to support Chile’s position in one of its territorial disputes with its neighbors! I wouldn’t have thought people would create groups around rather arcane geopolitical issues, and that’s before Facebook has even been localized. Peru’s FB network is half as large as Chile’s, which I guess reflects its smaller online population (broadband is expensive in Chile in PPP terms, but I think it’s much worse in Peru). The El pisco es Chileno group seems more at home on FB, since the dispute between Chile and Peru over paternity for a regional drink is more of an informal joke of an issue to rant about over a pisco sour. Speaking of which, I like this cocktail but also highly recommend amaretto sour. How’s that for a conclusion about world affairs seen through the lens of social networks?

24 Jan

Innovation Outside of Big Cities

Jon Udell has a good conversation (with very good audio quality) with Neil Giarratana, the president of a small web shop based off Keene, NH. This stroke very close to home (so to speak!) since our HQ is based in Vermont but we have people all over the place: Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Georgia, Montana, Colorado, Oregon, California, and myself down here in Chile. We have people who sometimes spend time in London or the Florida Keys or wherever and don’t really skip a beat. Looking at Lucidus’ blog, I see we go through the very same issues, from how much can you rely on Vonage or Skype, to making sure wherever your people are, they’d better investigate their broadband options.
It’s interesting to see Giarratana has made his location choice in large part for family reasons, just like we did. From a practical perspective, there are many variables, but the bottom line is, where can you get good schools without paying an arm and a leg for real estate? The almost philosophical under-current is to define and pursue success and quality of life on your own terms, and go in big cities only when you want to enjoy what they offer without bearing with their noise, pollution, traffic, cost and crime on a daily basis.
As a business, this distributed MO has definitely its challenges, but I’m convinced we’ve been forced to develop a sense of focus and discipline whose lack is killing a majority of internet start-ups. For us, it’s all about outcomes, from new features to better content to, most importantly, satisfied customers and increasing revenue and free cash flow. There’s no water cooler and white board endless filler. Less banter, more writing. Not that we can’t have fun though!

24 Sep

Chile Wiki and VOIP Nuttiness

Web workers looking to spend some time or possibly relocate to Chile may want to check our entries on the fledgling Chile Wiki: internet access and VOIP. I bought the Draytek 2910g router I mentioned a couple months ago though I’m not using its dual wan capacity yet (will do once we have found our long term house rental), nor have I tested the ability to use a GPRS/EDGE modem, but I’m considering it (Almost $200 for a Samba 75 is holding me back). I’m now living in an area where a major earthquake is a distinct possibility, so more ways to be able to get and send information could literally be life saving. More mundanely, I’m just interested in being able to keep working normally even if one of my ISPs is down, one of my routers dies and so on. It’s all about getting more redundancy while keeping cost and complexity under control.
Part of the whole expat and distributed team lifestyle is talking over the phone — a lot. I’m having fun with VOIP, for instance making calls to the US for 2 cents a minute from my Chilean cell phone with Skype To Go. I’m researching options for maximum resilience and mobility, which may look something like this:

Read More

04 Aug

Better Ways to Spend Marketing Bucks than Second Life

Wired and Clickz recently exposed what should have been obvious from the get-go: sponsoring corporate “land” in Second Life is a plain-and-simple waste of money. If you’re a marketer and you’re trying to act less like a sheep and do something that actually works, consider these two ideas:
– Sponsor busy sites such as Curse Gaming whenever World of Warcraft has a patch day or there’s a speculation burst about the next expansion (“you mean I need to grind to level 80 then do a long quest just for the pleasure or grinding through another 20 levels with a reroll? Awesome (Not)”). Anyway, this stuff is popular and if you sponsored the sites to keep them up-and-running through burst traffic, you’d get a lot of goodwill from players. Bonus points if you cram a WoW reference in your ad copy, e.g. “Warlocks are not imba, they just drink Coke Zero.” (You can see it’s a modern ad because it’s making an obviously false claim with a wink to the audience. Warlocks are over-powered.)
– Work with the Google Earth community to geotag the world. This stuff is seriously useful for travelers and people who relocate. Are you a nature buff going to Latin America? You’ll find a layer to add to the map of Chile to see where rare tree species can be seen. Kitesurf is your thing? There’s a layer for spots worldwide. On top of the obvious stuff such as mapping retail stores, you can help provide lasting values to plenty of different demographics/phychographics/however you like to slice and dice people. Come on, activity meets location, that’s a lot of customer segmentation right there.
But can you trust most marketers to show enough self-restraint and manners not to spoil these environments? That would go against historical trends for sure.

12 Oct

Five Years

I’ve been blogging on this site for five years and a couple of days. I didn’t pay attention to the exact date. Did you celebrate your first five years of email? Of course not, it’s just something you happen to do. Hype and inflated domain prices apart, blogging became a mainstream, natural thing to do, and that’s the format’s real accomplishment.