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Telzio: An Amazing & Powerful VoIP Phone System

Visit TelzioIf you are a startup, small business, non-profit, or any organization that has employees demanding that their calls go to multiple phones since they’re traveling or remote, you owe it to yourself to look in to my new VoIP phone provider, Telzio. I continue to be blown away with how easy Telzio is to configure, use, and manage. Plus it is very affordable which I’ll tell you about in a moment.

MY POTS TO VOIP ADVENTURE
When the global economic crash occurred in 2008, one of our businesses dependent upon the home furnishings industry took a huge hit. Slashing costs became absolutely necessary and one of the easiest costs to lower was our plain-old-telephone-system (POTS) providers: AT&T long distance and our landline provider, CenturyLink (formerly Qwest).

After some due diligence I chose RingCentral (RC). I’m a geek and I personally set it all up. Unfortunately it took me about 50 hours to set up our internal phone system and fax machine, doing so with the help of RC’s only-somewhat-competent Philippines-based technical support. It was quite painful and taxed my technical skills to the limit, but we finally got it up-and-running.

As such I successfully brought our telephony costs down from $500-$600 per month to well under $170 per month. Those savings, along with a bunch of other cost-cutting measures we made, really helped us at a time when we had to fight to keep that business going like so many others had to do across our nation and the world.

Our home furnishings trend business is flourishing now, so why would I make a change to move away from RC?

Because making a change to equipment, or the plan, at RC is such a pain-in-the-ass, I just couldn’t go on. After investing 20-30 hours a few months ago with RC’s Philippines-based support folks to configure new VoIP phones we’d purchased so they actually WORKED, I was so mad that I wrote this Open Letter to Vlad Shmunis, CEO, RingCentral. He obviously read it and had someone on his team respond, so I finally got some help from a U.S.-based technical manager and everything was working.

But it was too little help, far too late to keep me as a customer.

WHY I DECIDED ON TELZIO
Knowing we were making a change for certain, I started analyzing every other VoIP provider that indicated they supported and encouraged small businesses to use their service. After looking at many options I set up a trial account at one that looked the most promising, Nextiva. To make a long story short they were just as complex and cost about the same (just under $170) so that wasn’t an option and I canceled the account.

telzio-decisionNext I looked at Vonage business, Ooma business, and even buying a bunch of these Obi200 boxes and using Google Voice accounts (which I do personally with my personal Google Voice account and it works great…but this wasn’t a business-ready solution). In fact, I even thought about setting up my own open-source Asterisk phone/communication server in-house, but then I realized it would burn up far too much of my time.

There just wasn’t any sort of system I could find that was easy to set up and use, was simple to edit and reconfigure, and a breeze to upgrade and add phones to over time. As I looked at all of these systems and tried them out, I continued to think there had to be some startup somewhere who had solved the VoIP complexity and tear-your-hair-out frustrating use of a hosted telephone system.

Then I discovered Telzio.

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NSA: Why are you not focused on protecting the nation?

nsa-logoReading the German publication Der Spiegel’s article called Prying Eyes: Inside the NSA’s War on Internet Security this weekend, like them I was struck by something that has been on my mind for over ten years. Why does the U.S. intelligence services, and specifically the National Security Agency (NSA), do more to protect the nation?

What came out in the Edward Snowden revelations was that the NSA is, without question or doubt, working feverishly to crack all encryption and are also working hard to build a quantum computer that will crack the little unbreakable encryption we still enjoy today.

Any of us in information technology, web or mobile app creation, and any sort of data security at all, know that if something has been cracked—regardless if it’s some kid in Norway or a state-based intelligence service—it is only a matter of time before the blackhat hackers discover it and exploit the crack.

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We Are Wanderers

You will absolutely love Erik Wernquist’s vision of the future, traveling within our solar system, and using narration by the late astronomer Carl Sagan. I encourage you to watch it full screen since it’s even more stunning that way.

Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.

Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.

For more information and stills gallery, please turn to: erikwernquist.com/wanderers

(Just in case his website runs slow, here is a link to an imgur album version of the gallery: imgur.com/a/Ur5dP)

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Publishing Fail: Inhabitat

This is a post about a site I’m not going to anymore and I’m writing this because I tried to connect with them on their contact form. But I was stunned to see that one has to have a username and password to use the form. Really? So they don’t care to hear from anyone else?

Inhabitat is a site I’ve read for several years because I’m interested in their focus: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to the future of design, tracking the innovations in technology, practices and materials that are pushing architecture and home design towards a smarter and more sustainable future.

That should probably instead say: Inhabitat.com is a weblog devoted to making as much money as we possibly can off of you. We do that by packing in so many ad-trackers, audience identifiers, and advertisements, so only 30% of your screen real estate is actual content while the other 70% is either visual noise or ways for us to make you click on stuff so we make money.

Unfortunately they are making the #1 small publisher mistake which is driving me away: Instead of making the visit to their site a great experience, instead it is crystal clear it’s all about providing them with an opportunity to monetize.

inhabitat-noisy

Would you believe that, if you go to their site, they use 78 advertising-related services and 35 analytics and tracking ones? Holy shit…see for yourself. While many of them might not be active (you have to subscribe to BuiltWith to get deep analysis), the site has so much going on when you visit (and a WordPress mobile plugin I detest: OnSwipe) that it’s more bother than it’s worth. I have a 75mbps download speed on my broadband connection and it takes 30-45 seconds to completely load their homepage!

So publishers, or anyone who creates and delivers anything to customers, FIRST focus on your visitor and their experience and THEN on yourself. If you reverse that you will fail…just like Inhabitat has done.

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Housing America’s Older Adults

seniorsYep. I’m getting older, but so are you. Since some of my work is with non-profits focused on seniors and aging, I re-read a study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University called Housing America’s Older Adults you might be interested in the huge number of 50+’ers there will be in just over 15 years:

America’s older population is in the midst of unprecedented growth. With the aging of the large baby-boom generation and increased longevity, the 50-and over population is projected to increase about 20 percent by 2030, to 132 million. In just 15 years, one in five people will be at least aged 65.

Wow. At least I’ll have some company! Take a peek at the Harvard Symposium AGING + PLACE at YouTube or look at the infographic below for some fun factoids…

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Climate Change & Big Cars

Often I wonder if the vast majority of people are just stupid. Or to be a bit kinder, perhaps they’re illiterate or they get their strategic decision-making “data” from watching the climate deniers on Fox News since that’s the only channel available to them.

But when I saw this in today’s Minneapolis StarTribune I shook my head in disgust and sadness that confirmed my worst fears about my fellow human beings:

climate-change_big_cars

Loudest climate warning issued,” was replaced last evening online by a much clearer one: UN climate panel says emissions need to drop to zero this century to keep warming in check. It states that, “Climate change is happening, it’s almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century, the U.N.’s panel on climate science said Sunday.” That means NO greenhouse gases. You know…like the ONES PRODUCED BY BURNING FOSSIL FUELS IN BIG CARS!

From the report:

“Emissions have risen so fast in recent years that the world has used up two-thirds of its carbon budget, the maximum amount of CO2 that can be emitted to have a likely chance of avoiding 2 degrees of warming.”

Two degrees of warming would devastate the world’s coastlines…you know, like Florida’s (more on that in a moment).

So then I was taken aback when I saw this article on the front page of the StarTribune’s Business section that said, “Small-vehicle sales seen slumping as low fuel prices benefit SUVs. Larger SUVs are looking good to buyers as gas hovers near $3 a gallon in much of the nation.

What?

BUYING BIGGER CARS

Some quotes from that second article that illustrates why I said all that stuff about people in my opening paragraph:

The price of gas per gallon is drastically low — I’m really celebrating and enjoying that at the moment,” said Andrea Turner, a Tennessee mother who last week bought a 2014 Buick Encore sport-utility vehicle. The Encore has extra space to fit her 5-foot-11 frame and 10-year-old son’s soccer gear.

You just feel so much better when you look at the pump, and you’re pleasantly surprised,” said Jeff Schuster, an analyst for LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich., who sees a direct link between gasoline prices and small-car sales. “You say, ‘Maybe I’ll splurge on something and treat myself.’ ”

Right now, gas mileage is not that much of an issue for consumer choice,” said Greg Williams, new-car sales manager at Holman Honda of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

It’s not gas mileage…it’s the carbon going in to the atmosphere dummy. Hope Greg Williams has plans to get out of Florida since this is what the National Geographic climate change map shows for Florida when all Arctic and Antarctic ice melts (the absolute worst-case scenario, I should add):

Florida completely submerged if/when all ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctica

Florida completely submerged when all ice melts in the Arctic and Antarctica

 

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A Gene Story by Lynn Fellman

dnaIn the not-too-distant future your genetics will inform and guide your healthcare and those that treat you. Your genetics will outline your risk factors. How you will react to medications. What is the optimal course of treatment for all the variables that make up you.

Even though I’ve had my own DNA sequenced and learned a lot about my own makeup, I know so little about the current state of applied genetics as it is applied to one’s personal healthcare that I wish someone would write a book about where the science is at, what is up with all that DNA stuff, and where the science is headed.

Someone is creating that book: Lynn Fellman.

lynnfellmanI’ve known illustrator, author, artist, podcaster, and genetic communicator Lynn Fellman since we met in the early 90s in an interactive multimedia group. She’s spent the last decade plus learning about, and communicating on, everything DNA and genomics. To say this woman knows A LOT about genomics is an understatement. So much so that she’s been on NPR’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow (and other radio interview shows) since she can speak so eloquently about the science, and the meaning of, genetics and what it means for all of us.

To show you I’m not the only one that sees the powerful interpretive value Lynn brings to the science, she was recently recognized and granted a Fulbright Scholarship award to Israel for 2014-2015. Lynn will be working with Professor Dan Mishmar, evolutionary biologist at Ben Gurion University. She will be developing a video and lecture about Prof Mishmar’s research in the mitochondrial genome.

With all she knew and all the scientists and genetic leadership organizations Lynn was connected to, she was in for an unpleasant surprise. It happened when she learned she had cancer and needed a personal medical breakthrough. That’s when everything she’s learned came full circle: Lynn realized how far the science has come with genetics, but yet how far it has to go in order to directly benefit those of us who need it.

So Lynn is doing exactly what needs to be done for herself, for the science, and for us: She’s applying all of her media and communication expertise to create an ebook that is perfect for parents, children and even for use in schools! Right now she has a proposal out to various leadership organizations involved in advancing medical genetics in order to obtain full funding to complete this work. (By the way if you, or someone you know, is interested in finding out more or reviewing her proposal, please email Lynn directly).

lynn-fellmans-ibook

When finished this will not be some ordinary ebook. I’ve seen a significant amount of her (already pretty far along) ebook prototype and it is a beautifully illustrated, interactive journey through the science…but written as her own adventure and search for genetics application for her situation. The ebook is an adventure we’re on with her and the byproduct (intentional, of course) is that we learn an incredible amount about genetics, all wrapped up in an engaging and delightful story we want to keep reading.

ABOUT THE EBOOK (from Lynn’s website here)

The electronic book titled “Gene Stories” is about genomic science and how it is expanding our ideas about who we are. Blending narration, digital paintings, scientific content and story, the presentation appeals to both parents and their children.

With the advance of whole genome sequencing, the complexity of our genetic ancestry will gradually be understood. Will this knowledge expand our self-perception and cultural identity? This project explores innovative ways to encourage curiosity in our multifaceted ancestry while appreciating the beautiful complexity of human evolution.

The project received support by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) during my residency at NESCent. Designed with iBook Author for viewing on iPads, the book will be available in the iTunes Bookstore in 2015.

If you would like to be informed when the ebook is available for preorder and release, please email Lynn.

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Takei Tours YouTube Space LA

George Takei’s YouTube show, Takei’s Take, tours YouTube Space LA (there are also London, Tokyo and New York locations currently). If you haven’t yet heard about this space, and what they’re trying to accomplish, this is a perfect overview in 4 minutes (and always enjoyable due to George’s take on things and his delightfully positive attitude and outlook)!

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You’re in Danger on Public Wifi!

wifi-publicIllustration by Kristina Collantes

If you ever connect to a public Wifi hotspot, you owe it to yourself to spend 4-5 minutes and read this article by Maurits Martijn called, “Maybe It’s Better If You Don’t Read This Story on Public WiFiWe took a hacker to a café and, in 20 minutes, he knew where everyone else was born, what schools they attended, and the last five things they googled.”

I want to make thousands of copies of that article and give them to every single person I see in every public Wifi location everywhere!

Let me say it as emphatically as I can if you’ve read this far: You are an idiot if you connect to any public Wifi without running a virtual private network (VPN) connection (like the one I use, Private Internet Access for $39.99/year for 5 devices). If you don’t it’s not “if” you will get hacked, but rather “when” it will happen to you.

To show you how pervasive and simple it is to hack your laptop, smartphone or tablet when you connect willy-nilly to some public Wifi hotspot, let me give you a glimpse at what I can only describes as a…

HACKER’S DREAM MACHINE
The Wifi Pineapple, a $99.99 black box

The Wifi Pineapple, a $99.99 black box
which makes it trivial for a hacker to steal you!

Because I’ve technically known the risks for nearly ten years, I’ve been paranoid about public Wifi locations since 2005 and wrote about being “naked in a coffee shop” here, here and here. But to show you how brain-dead-simple it has become to BE a hacker, wait until you read about a black box called the Wifi Pineapple you can buy, for $99.99, which lets anyone who has one:

  • Run a man-in-the-middle attack, essentially spoofing a public Wifi connection and even impersonating the actual, real network connection (whether open or secured). How many times have you connected to Wifi that said “Coffee Shop Guest” or “Free Public Wifi”? Sometimes they’re real, mostly they are not. You can almost never be certain.
  • The attacker can monitor all network traffic flowing between an Internet gateway and the connected clients (like your laptop, smartphone or tablet!) as well as manipulate this data in transit such as through captive portals, DNS spoofing, IP redirection and even the substitution of executables in transit (so that file you’re downloading might be coming off of the attacker’s laptop!).

There’s alot more you can do with this device and Hak5, the group that makes it, is certainly gleeful about all the rogue crap it can do:

“…the WiFi Pineapple is more than a platform – it’s a community for creativity. Rickrolling clients, powering off WiFi drones mid-flight, tracking commercial airliners and logging WiFi connections are only some of the creative things being done within the WiFi Pineapple community.”

On the Hak5 forums they even have a section entitled, “WiFi Pineapple University” to help users teach users about this ‘fun’ little box.

The good news? If you run a VPN and inadvertently connect to “Coffee Shop Guest” and it’s actually a spoofed connection through one of these black boxes, the hacker would only see encrypted traffic! Everyone else’s internet traffic—Facebook login, bank password, credit card data—would mostly be going in the clear. (Note: I know that an actual SSL connection would encrypt traffic in the browser, and so do most smartphone and tablet apps, but more sophisticated hackers can even spoof SSL connections so that your browser thinks it is securely connecting…but it is not).

I must admit that, even though I’m more appalled by the activities of our government and mass surveillance of U.S. citizens in what I believe is a direct violation of our Constitution, boxes like this one target individuals with a lot to lose. It’s not right and not fair and I hope I never catch someone using one in a public place or…

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Privacy Does Matter

Glenn Greenwald was one of the first reporters to see — and write about — the Edward Snowden files, with their revelations about the United States’ extensive surveillance of private citizens. In this searing talk, Greenwald makes the case for why you need to care about privacy, even if you’re “not doing anything you need to hide.”