Fax Check

June 28, 2009

The year I am writing this is 2009, yet sadly the fax, as in facsimile, machine is still in common use. A machine that was first demonstrated in 1851, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, and one that has been in offices since 1948 has not substantially changed. A document here goes in and it ends up slowly over there.

The problem with this is that it is slow, expensive and wastes a lot of resources. You have to have a separate machine in order to things most computers are capable of doing on their own.

Of course, there are lots of ways around this, but here I’m going to look for the least expensive possible. That, of course, means free.

First, we’ll deal with the easy part sending your faxes to someone else. There are a number of sites that do this, but I’ve used and like GotFreeFax.com. Here you simply enter your name and e-mail, and the name and fax number of the person you are sending to into a form. Then, you can enter text into an editor (RTF, if you care) or you can attach a PDF or Microsoft Word DOC formatted file. Hit Send Free Fax, and you are done.

The drawbacks with this site are that you are only allowed 2 faxes a day with a maximum of 3 pages, but since I rarely ever fax anyone and there are other sites with different restrictions, this has not been a problem for me.

You will have to confirm your fax by clicking on a link sent to your e-mail, which slows down the process a lit bit, but it sure beats having a fax machine and paying for a phone call.

The other side of the equation receiving a fax for free seems to be a little trickier. I’m hoping that the opening up of the Google Voice beta will eventually lead to some better options in this area, but that remains to be seen.

For now though, the best thing I have found is K7.net, which will issue you a free Washington-State-based number to receive faxes and voice mail messages on. I know a number of podcasts use this technology in order to get messages from their listeners onto their shows and the quality of that has been pretty good. I did have some problems and delays using it for faxes though. In fairness to them, all of my faxes did eventually get through and were e-mailed to my account as a TIF image file. However, there was a significant delay for some of them of a few hours.

If there’s no particular rush and you don’t want to deal with having a fax machine this may be a good solution for you. One other drawback is that an inactive number is returned to them after 30 days without use. This is something to keep in mind, if like me you are an occasional receiver of faxes.

Do you have any great tips for avoiding the pain of the fax machine? Let me know in the comments.

Cell Phone Resolution, Mostly

June 21, 2009

In case you have not been following the blog, (shame on you) last time I talked about cell phone options for my wife and me. You can read more about it here.

After some consideration, my wife and I did end up sticking with the Straight Talk/Tracfone split. I’ll continue using my beat-up Tracfone for now and my wife, who uses her phone more will get the new Straight Talk plan. We’ve had the phone for a few days now, so let me give you some impressions. The deciding factor for me was that I was a little nervous about buying a first-generation smartphone. There is always some concern that one of parts was designed poorly and will break down prematurely. This decision allows us to buy some time to see how the Pre and the applications for it develop and gives the flexibility to change should the timing be correct.

As far as executing our decision, first, we went to the Straight Talk website and ordered a phone which was sold through Wal-Mart’s online store. There were three options of phones to  choose from: the LG200, which is a very basic model, the Motorola W385, which has quite a bit more functionality including a camera and web browsing, and finally the Motorazr V3a, which is the most expensive and has upgraded components.

We ended up selecting the least expensive phone, the LG200. We though this would minimize our losses in the event it got lost or stolen and would do the job we needed it for. After some use though, we decided it might not have been the right choice for us. First, this phone does not come with any web-browsing abilities at all. After taking a wrong turn on a trip we were on, we realized that the ability to use the 30 MB of data on the Straight Talk plan would be a useful thing. It also seemed to be a shame to not take full advantage of the plan we had gotten for ourselves.

The phone itself was very light and easy to use. For some people, including the less tech savvy among us, this may be the perfect choice. The only disappointment in this regard is that the buttons may be just a little too small for an elderly person with arthritis to be able to use effectively. Otherwise, this might be a great plan for someone who wants a very basic phone and wants to talk on the phone sometimes, but not too often.

The reception on the phone, however, was very good in our area in Brooklyn and in Northern and Central New Jersey. We did not have any trouble with dropped calls, and was very pleased with the Verizon-supplied service.

Ultimately, we’ve elected to return the phone, and upgrade to one of the other models. This is where the Wal-Mart store will come into play. Since we’ve already paid for the first month’s service in order to use it, our plan is to return it after the first month’s time is up. Wal-Mart has a 90-day return policy on this item, so it could be a simple matter of just returning the phone, buying a new one and porting the new number over. Of course, any number of things could go wrong with this plan, so we’ll keep you posted and see the real resolution of our cell phone conundrum.

Thanks to the great post in the comments, and if you have any thoughts, comment away.

Cell Phone Conundrum

June 13, 2009

My wife and I are now in the market for a cell phone. I’m currently making do without one, while she borrows my pre-paid phone that I used to use. She had been on her family’s plan, but the time has come for us to strike out on our own.

I’m ambivalent toward cell phones in general. While I like being able to contact others, I’m not very happy with being “on call” at every moment. Of course, I’m under no obligation to answer the phone at all times, but there is some social pressure that is placed on you once you do have a cell phone.

For me a pre-paid plan through Tracfone worked very well, I could use it only when I really needed to, otherwise it was simply not affordable to take calls. Buying the full year card, I had about 20 minutes a month to use, and the net cost was about $15 a month, including the phone itself. This works well for me because obviously I don’t use this phone very much.

The major drawback for me, though, is that I’ve lost the wonderful world of wireless data. To be able to uses the internet anywhere is a pretty amazing ability to have. The latest phones also have GPS all included in one device for all those times on the roadways that I inevitably get lost on.

These abilities of course come with a cost. Billshrink.com comes up with an excellent break down of the comparison of costs between the latest smartphones out on the market: The iPhone 3GS, the Palm Pre, and the Android G1. Ultimately, over the life of the contract (and hopefully the phone) the iPhone costs $3800 vs. $3150 for the G1, and $2600 for the Pre. This is, however, for unlimited service. Right now, with my raggedy pre-paid TracPhone, I would be paying about $15 a month. For the next two years, assuming the phone holds up that’s a grand total of $360.

$2240 is a significant investment for the functionality of the Pre and $3440 for the iPhone simply seems extravegent when compared on a dollar for value ratio.

However, there’s also a new plan out called Straight Talk, which seems to be a new branding mechanism for TracPhone. The idea here is that you pay $30 a month for 1000 minutes, a 1000 texts and 30MB of data with no overages. It seems to be offered through Wal-Mart, which is a bit of a problem since there are no Wal-Marts very close to New York City. Also, the web pages link to the phone selection is down, so you can’t see the upfront costs and phone selection. The way this plan works is that you can either have the phone automatically renewed for $30 each month, or you can buy additional cards to extend the service, but if you are not subscribed for a 30-day period, you lose your cell phone number.

This may be the perfect way to split the difference. $720 plus the cost of the phone over two years is still a lot less than the $2600 for the Pre.

At this point, I’m still torn between all of my options. If you have any ideas, please add them to the comments.

Should I stick with the basic Tracfone serive, upgrade to StraightTalk or go whole hog with something like the Palm Pre?

Decisions, decisions…

Grammar Rules for Twitter (Eventually)

June 6, 2009

Since it’s been almost two months since I’ve talked about microblogging site Twitter, I suppose it is time to go to the old war horse again. This time I want to discuss the language and grammar of Twitter and how with the help of a new non-profit could actually become codified.

On the Get Satisfaction message boards for Twitter I had posted a call for a Twitter grammar guide, or at least some official guidelines from the company. After a couple of bumps to get the subject noticed a friendly fellow user added what she had done as a presentation for work to get her company on board with Twitter. While it was a nice gesture and I agree with her conclusions, it lacked the official response for which I was hoping.

To quote her response here:

“I made this for a presentation at work:

Twitter = Platform
Twit = One who Tweets
Tweet = What the Twit is doing
Tweeps = Your favorite Twits
Tweeted = What the Twit did

“A twit is one who tweets on Twitter with their Tweeps” “

While I’m not very keen on Twit being someone who Tweets, the logical alternatives I’ve come up with aren’t very good either. (Twitterer? Tweeter? Twitter user?)

It is worth mentioning that this is not merely a semantic exercise as you can see how the grammar of Twitter can lead to embarrassment in this Stephen Colbert appearance on Today.

So what will save us from this grammatical abyss? A wiki, of course. The Microsyntax organization is hoping to solve these issues with their new wiki at http://microsyntax.pbworks.com/.  This wiki is a bit different from something like Wikipedia in that they are hoping that discussion will take place in the background before edits of people’s pages are done. I fear that this model may stifle the growth of the page, as I wonder how many people are going to be interested in doing the work necessary to succeed in “identifying, researching and finding consensus on information syntax.”

I do wish them luck, though and since they did get a posting about the effort on TechCrunch that may go a long way in getting them the attention they need to make this a success.

If you have any suggestions, feel free to post them in the comments and if you want to follow me, I’m @dustin_gervais on the site.