Archive for March, 2008

Google Send To Phone sends text messages from your browser

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Did you ever want to text yourself? You're headed out the door to some place you've never been before, so you dutifully looked-up the address and driving directions on Google Maps. It would be handy to send yourself a text message with that info in it, so that you don't have to drag along that printout of the directions.

Google Send To Phone is a Firefox extension that allows you to send SMS messages (text messages) to your mobile phone from within your web browser. Copy and paste whatever content you want from your page into the "text to send" field. If you're going long, the tool will automatically split your text into multiple messages.

Not only is this useful for texting yourself, but if you need to dash off a quick note to somebody else, you can do so as well. All you need is the phone number and carrier for your recipient.

Google Send To Phone is compatible with any system running Firefox version 1 or later. Sending messages through this extension is free, but charges may apply to receiving them; check with your carrier for details. Most major carriers are included in the list for sending.

Dial-A-Forecast from NOAA's National Weather Service

Friday, March 28th, 2008

It's always amusing to me how far we've come, and how far we have yet to go. They can put a zillion transistors in a chip smaller than a postage stamp; we can communicate instantly with somebody on the other side of the planet; yet when we go outside, we still have to decide whether we need to bring along an umbrella—a piece of fabric on the end of a stick—to keep us from getting wet.

Weather information is all around us. You can see forecasts on TV, you can visit sites on the Web, you can read them in the paper. Did you know you can also get them on the phone? The National Weather Service has numbers in many communities that will give you the latest official weather information from the folks that the weather gal on TV turns to for her information.

There is a huge list of numbers available on the Dial-A-Forecast site. Whether you're interested in New York City (631-924-0517) or Elko, Nevada (775-738-3018), or any place in between, there's probably a local number that's going to give you the updated weather info that you need. Forecasts for coastal communities include information about marine conditions as well.

Need to kick yourself because you didn't bring your raincoat along today? A quick call is all it takes to see whether you're going to need a towel by the time you get home.

USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

For over twenty years, the Department of Agriculture has maintained a food safety hotline to help folks prevent foodborne illness from the mishandling of meat, poultry, and eggs. You can call 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) (TTY 1-800-256-7072) and talk with a food safety specialist, many of whom have a background in home economics, nutrition, or food technology. The hotline is staffed 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Eastern Time, except Federal holidays, although they are appropriately-enough open for limited hours on Thanksgiving Day. Information is available in both English and Spanish. After hours, a large number of recorded food safety messages are available as well. You can also email questions to or visit the USDA's website.

An homage to the pay phone

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Hey, kids, back in the old days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and cell phones hadn't been invented, you could still place a call from a public place. You stepped into a box and stuck a few coins into a slot, and voilà, you could reach out and touch someone. Because of the coin activation required, these quaint instruments were called "pay phones."

While most pay phones have gone the way of the dodo, they were an important part of getting things done for many years. If you miss the ripped-up phonebooks, the funky smell, and sticky handpiece, or just want to reminisce about how things used to be, cruise by the Payphone Project. Whether it's stories of telephones of yore, or pictures of interesting examples of this style of communication, it's all here for your enjoyment.

Long on information about Common Short Codes

Friday, March 21st, 2008

What do they call those weird phone numbers that they want you to text stuff to during all the TV shows? You know it's not a regular phone number, because it isn't long enough, but they must work, because there's so many of them out there.

Common Short Codes (CSCs) are shorthand phone numbers you can use on your cell phone to vote in polls, enter contests, or otherwise access special content. You've seen them on TV: just text "1", "2", or "3" to some five- or six-digit number, or maybe a word spelled out.

So what do you do if you're eager to participate in whatever survey or promotion you just saw, but you totally missed that number? Will they ever hear back from you? Will your vote count?

There is actually an agency that is tasked with keeping track of all these numbers. An outfit called Neustar, who is under contract to maintain these numbers, has an official list but apparently inclusion in it is voluntary by the number owner, and it isn't always up to date. Another source for this information is located at The US Common Short Code WHOIS Directory.

Don't miss out on all the fun.

Ping your friends with Pinger

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

In the world of computer networking, a "ping" is a cry into the darkness "hey, is anybody out there?" Technically, ICMP "echo request" packets are sent to another machine on the network, and then you wait for a corresponding ICMP "echo response" to come back. In the real world, when you "ping" somebody, you're just briefly touching base with them, seeing if they're there.

Pinger takes this "ping" to a new level. With Pinger, you can leave voicemail messages for your friends, and they in turn get a text message telling them that you called. They can then listen to the voicemail message on their schedule. It's more personal then a straight-up text message, but it's not as intrusive as getting that phone call at 3:00 am. Are you four hours ahead or behind me—I can never remember. Where your text message is limited to only 160 characters, you've got a good five minutes of voice message available. You can send your message to groups of contacts as well, so you can get the word out to everybody all at once, rather than having to leave a hundred voice messages.

How much would you expect to pay for all this? $50 a month? $5 a message? Wrong-o, SMS Breath, it's absolutely free. Well, regular air time and text messaging rates apply, but the service is free. It's available in the US and Canada, as well as several other countries in Europe, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim as well.

You can use Pinger by just sending a message. In the US, dial 858 2 PINGER (1-858-274-6437), or you can sign-up online at the Pinger website, which gives you access to more options, like an editable contact list, in-box browser, and other tools.

IRS Hotlines for Tax Season

Monday, March 17th, 2008

It strikes fear in the hearts of Americans everywhere: women wailing, grown men brought to their knees. Yes, it's tax season once again.

While it can be a major pain in the neck to go though this annual ordeal, the folks at the IRS do actually provide several services via telephone to help you make more sense of this time of year.

Their TeleTax service at 1-800-829-4477 provides information on a large number of tax-related topics. Sections on where and when to file, what constitutes income, and myriad other topics are covered. Think of it as an FAQ for tax-related questions. Also available through TeleTax is automated refund information.

If you can't find what you're looking for there, you can speak to a real person as well. Representatives from the IRS are available by phone. Dial 1-800-829-1040 (TTY/TDD 1-800-829-4059) for individual tax questions, or 1-800-829-4933 for tax questions related to businesses.

If you just need to order tax forms, you can grab those by phone as well. Call 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676) to order forms, publications, or instructions for this or prior years.

Many state taxing authorities offer automated or "talk to a real person" hotlines for tax related questions. Those numbers are generally available in your tax form instructions, or on their websites.

Hey, it's for you: the Highway Patrol is calling

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Cell phones are wonderful things. Now no matter where we are, we're never more than a phone call away from our loved ones, business associates, or folks we're trying to avoid. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

They're a great thing to have when you're traveling. Lost? Phone for directions. Going to be late? Let 'em know that traffic's bad (or you just couldn't roll out of bed on time). They do, however, come with their own whole set of problems as well.

As anybody knows who's seen their life pass in front of their eyes when they're cut of on the on-ramp by some nut just chatting away, cell phone use in a moving vehicle can be a real problem. While the whole area of "distracted driving" presents issues, whether it's listening to death metal at filling-loosening volume, or chowing down on today's dashboard dining entree, cell phone usage in moving vehicles has really grabbed the attention of the authorities.

Every jurisdiction has its own take on what's safe to do with a phone in a moving car or truck. There's a patchwork of regulations out there, seemingly ranging from "anything goes" to "don't touch that phone", and every shade of grey in between. The folks at have put together a guide to rules for automotive use of cell phones, titled aptly enough Rules Of The Road: Jalopnik Guide To Cell Phone Usage Laws.

Now we're not lawyers (and presumably they aren't either), but this seems like a good stepping-off point in trying to figure out what exactly you can and can't do with your phone in your car. For more specifics, you'll want to contact your state or local authorities, and of course use your own best judgment and don't drive distracted.