Archive for June, 2008

New cell phone laws go into effect July 1

Monday, June 30th, 2008

July 1 is the day that many states implement new laws recently passed by their respective legislatures. This First of July is no different. Of particular note are new laws regarding the use of mobile phones in moving vehicles. In both California and Washington State it will be a crime to talk on a mobile phone without using a handsfree device. In Washington, it's a secondary offense, meaning that you won't get ticketed just for holding a phone to your ear: you'll need to be stopped for something else first, like driving erratically or running a red light. Not so in California, where law enforcement can stop you specifically for talking on the phone while driving.

There are plenty of options that can help you stay connected. Older phones can often use a wired earphone and microphone combination, or can operate as speakerphones. Most newer phones support Bluetooth headsets.

For a complete rundown on rules regarding mobile phone use in your car, visit the Governors Highway Safety Association website.

And remember to drive safely.

Local AMBER Alerts on your phone

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

The AMBER Alert system is set up to quickly disseminate information regarding child abductions in the US and Canada. Once the authorities have confirmed an abduction, there is a three-hour window to get the information out there; once that interval has passed, there is a roll-off in the effectiveness of efforts to make a recovery.

AMBER Alerts are broadcast via TV, radio, and even on electronic road signs in some areas. You can also sign up to receive them via SMS text message on your mobile phone. Go to and enter your cell phone number. You'll be asked about the area for which you want to receive alerts—you can enter up to five ZIP codes—and that's it. There are somewhere around 200 to 250 AMBER Alerts generated each year, so if one goes out that affects your area, you'll be notified. This service is available on most carriers, and there is not supposed to be any charge for receiving messages of this type, regardless of your messaging plan.

Make phone calls to an email address

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Jangl is an interesting service that allows you to make anonymous (unidentifiable) phone calls to anyone with an email address. Create an account, enter an email address, and you'll get a unique phone number for that address. You can now call that number and leave a voice message that will be forwarded along to the email address. This works with regular landlines, cell phones, or even VoIP systems. You preserve your anonymity, because when you call via that new number, the call will show as originating from within the Jangl network, so you don't have to worry about exposing yourself. Your message recipient is given a number—not your real number—to call back to reply to your message.

Jangl supports other services a well, including a web based text message platform. You can send and receive SMS text messages even if you—or your recipient—don't have a messaging-enabled cell phone.

A free service, Jangl works in over thirty countries in North- and Latin America, as well as the UK and much of Europe.

Free unlisted anonymous phone number

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Okay, so you need to sell something on Craigslist, or put a classified ad in the paper. You want people to buy your item, whether it's an old couch, or a late model used car. The only way you're going to find out who wants your stuff is to give them a phone number in the ad. Great, now whether you make your sale or not, you're going to be plagued with junk phone calls, because your number is out there in the wild. You can get throwaway email addresses to use in situations like these; what about throwaway phone numbers?

Freedigits is a service that lets you do just that. Not just another Skype knock-off, Freedigits provides you with an unlisted US phone number, where you can take calls from real telephones, and not just other members, like with Gizmo. After free registration and instant activation, you can download a "soft phone" for your Windows or Mac system, and start receiving unlimited calls right away. If you are away from your system, or don't want to pick-up in real time, no problem: integrated voicemail will email you an MP3 of any calls you've missed. You can even make 60 minutes worth of outbound calls for free, as well as unlimited toll-free (800, 888, 877, 866) calls as well. And hey, you know that your phone number shows up when you make toll-free calls, right? Even with caller ID blocking. Here's a number that isn't tied to you, so there's no way you're going to get junk calls back on it.

Freedigits is a free service.

Coupons on your cell

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Do you like to save money? No, of course not. But seriously, everybody likes to save, although not everybody has the time, interest, or discipline to read all the circulars in the newspaper, clip all the coupons, and the remember to take them with you.

Cellfire is a free service that lets you store electronic coupons on your phone. In a participating store, you just bring up the appropriate coupon and show it to the clerk to realize the savings. Or when shopping by phone, you can just read the information to the customer service rep on the other end of the line. Either way, you save the money without having to clip coupons.

Participating merchants include such varied outfits as Hollywood Video, McDonald's, Supercuts, and 1-800-Flowers. There are even some locations where grocery stores are included.

You can sign up at their website, or by texting "COUPON" to 22888. Cellfire is a free service, but your carrier's standard text message rates may apply.

Federal Citizen Information Center

Monday, June 16th, 2008

People always talk about the wastefulness of government spending. Thousand dollar coffee pots, zillion dollar toilets; they make easy targets for criticism and questions about where our priorities are. Whatever your opinion may be on these types of items, there is another side of governmental expenditures. There is a wealth of information out there that they've collected, and it's yours to draw upon, if only you can get in touch with it.

The Federal Citizen Information Center in Pueblo, Colorado, is the clearinghouse for tons of useful or obscure information that's yours for the asking. Many of these publications are free. They run the gamut from cars and computers to housing and health. If you want to find out more about a topic, they probably have a publication about it.

You can order publications by visiting their website or by calling 1-888-8 PUEBLO (1-888-878-3256).

Foonz lets you contact a group of people all at once

Friday, June 13th, 2008

Foonz is a slick tool that lets you communicate with a whole group of people all at once. While there are other services that let you set up conference calls, Foonz lets you do it "on the fly". Sign up for a free account, and when you need to get in touch with a bunch of people at once, maybe to plan the evening or to touch base on an upcoming reunion, you call in and pick from your list of contacts. Foonz sends them a text message with a number to call that will connect them instantly with you. Or if you don't have time for a call, or you're giving out some non-time critical information, you can leave a message for your contacts all at once, rather than having to make a dozen calls and leave a dozen messages.

Foonz is a free service. You have to pay for the call, but even that is cheaper than having to make all those individual calls to everybody on your list.

Use your phone to send money with PayPal Mobile

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

I didn't know you could use your phone to make PayPal payments, but it's true. PayPal Mobile lets you access your PayPal account and do many of the things you could do online. Once you activate your phone, it's easy to check the balance in your account. You can send money by mobile web, if you phone is so equipped, or you can make a payment by text message. They'll even phone you back to confirm that you really want to make that payment. You can also request money by text message. Now when it's time to split the bill, you can pay-up in real time, instead of the ever-popular "I'll gladly pay you back on Tuesday for a hamburger today".

PayPal Mobile works with just about all cell phone carriers and most phones. There's no charge to check balances, send payments by phone, or to receive money into a personal account. Business account holders will be assessed normal charges for receiving payment. Normal charges from your carrier for air time used, text messages, etc., may apply.

USA/Canada phone prefix location lookup tool

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Where is that phone number from? Everybody knows that the US and Canada are divided up into Area Codes, three-digit numbers that help telephone switching equipment know where you are calling when you dial a number: 212 for Manhattan, 213 for L.A., and so forth. Within each area code are a number of "exchanges" that serve to further localize a given phone number. Put them all together, and you get NPA-Nxx (Numbering Plan Area – Central Office) system. With these pieces of a phone number, like 212-222-xxxx, you can focus in on the neighborhood that a phone number belongs to.

The NPA-NXX Geolocator is a phone prefix lookup tool that uses Google Maps to help show you where a particular phone number belongs. Type in the area code and prefix, hit the Search button, and you're whisked to a map of the location. Obviously you're not going to get an arrow pointing to a particular address—how would you dial "xxxx" anyway?—but it's going to put you on the map in terms of the area where the number belongs.

The information displayed here all comes from publicly-available sources, and there is a disclaimer about not using it for any kind of mission-critical applications.

Thanks to Mitch for pointing this one out to us.

Financial management via text message

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Financial management. The easiest variety, I suppose, is to have no money—not much to manage then. Nobody wants to be there.

For real money management, applications like Buxfer can help give you a hand. You can synchronize all your accounts, so you can stay on top of your bank and credit card transactions and balances. That's all good, but what if you're not sitting right in front of your computer?

For times like that, Buxfer allows you to interact with you account via your cell phone. Using a simplified interface optimized for mobile browsers, or even email and SMS text message, you can add transactions to your account or query balances. It can even send you back alerts when you go over budget. Need to make a payment? Buxfer uses Amazon Payments to transfer money online.

Buxfer is a free tool. You do need to sign up, of course, and you'll need to pay your carrier for any text messages you send back and forth to the application.