Archive for the 'Useful Tools' Category

Google Voice goes live

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

After over a year in invitation-only Beta, Google Voice has finally gone live. Though it started life as Grand Central, it's grown beyond that. With a Google Voice number, you can direct calls to a "real" phone–office, home, cell, it doesn't really matter–or even send them directly to voicemail. And speaking of voicemail, your messages are automatically transcribed and can be picked up on the website or have them sent to you. When you give out your Google Voice number, you're not giving out the number for a real phone, so you don't have to worry about being stalked by your callers, and for that matter you can set up filters to kill calls from numbers you aren't interested in.

In addition to receiving calls, you can make calls via Google Voice as well. Just enter the number you're calling and pick the phone you want to talk from, and let the magic happen. The call is placed and rings back to your phone. Pick up and you're connected to your destination number. You can also send text messages, although SMS shortcodes aren't supported. Another often-asked-for but not-currently-implemented feature is sending and receiving faxes. Maybe some day.

FaceTime live demo

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

You got up at oh-dark-thirty and went and stood in line at the Apple Store. You laid down your hard-earned dinero, and walked out with your spiffy new iPhone 4. You take it out, fire it up, and call–who? All those nifty new features, but there's nobody to call, since nobody else has theirs yet. A brand new toy, but nobody to play with.

As luck would have it, Apple has taken care of this for you, at least for the FaceTime video conferencing app. All you need to do is to dial 1-888-FACETIME and a nice friendly Apple employee will answer and help you put your new phone through its paces. In addition, they'll give you "a few advanced tips." Who knows, maybe there's a secret handshake and a decoder ring as well. This service is available between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm Central Time. And remember to smile.

Leave a message to yourself with BrainCast

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Did you ever have a bright idea and no piece of paper to jot it down on? You may have had the clever idea of phoning yourself to leave a message containing that brainstorm. Good idea, but of course then your new message gets lost in the tangle of other messages in your voicemail in box. What if you had a separate place for those notes-to-self?

BrainCast is the tool for that. All you need to do is sign up for a free account, register a phone number or two, and start leaving messages. The number's toll-free, so it's not going to cost you anything to play along (unless your carrier charges you for air time). You can go online to check your messages at their site, which are saved off as WAV audio files. Categorize them, tag them, email them to other folks, just go nuts. And of course your strokes of genius are automatically emailed to you.

Since you have to register phone numbers to work with this service, you can't use this as an all-in-one voicemail inbox, but it seems like a handy way to keep those great ideas of yours from just disappearing like a puff of smoke.

Who WAS that masked man?

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

One of the handy conveniences of most cell phone plans is the fact that Caller ID is built-in. When the phone rings, you know who's calling. Typically, if that number matches one of your contacts in your address book, you'll see their name come up; otherwise, you'll at least get a phone number. But who is that unknown person that's calling? Or maybe they've blocked their number, but they left you a voicemail message that tells you to call them back just as soon as possible, but didn't bother to let you know who they are. is a free service that can help you answer those questions. Their database is built from user entries, people like you who got a call from goodness-knows-where. You can read what other folks had to say about the number—maybe they figured out who it is, or at least they can tell you what they heard when they called it back—and leave your own information as well. Now the spammers and scammers can't hide, and you won't feel so bad about not getting right back to them.

Manhattan restroom search engine

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

It's your big day out and about in The City. Museums, shows, public monuments, the whole thing. All of a sudden you get the call. We're talking about the Call of Nature here. Sure, there are those who think of New York as just a big public urinal, but that's not your style. You want a bathroom with all the amenities, like a door and all that. With that call urgently ringing in your ears—and other body parts—there's no time to waste.

Check out Diaroogle, which bills itself as The Premier Toilet Search Engine. Bring the site up on your smart phone or computer, enter an address, cross street, or neighborhood, and check out the list of public and almost-public restrooms. There's generally directions, a description of what to expect, and for some of them even a photo to check out what you're getting into. And if you know of a great heretofore undiscovered necessarium, they've got a Submit tool to add yours to the list. Good luck!

Upload and download media for your WAP-enabled mobile device

Monday, February 15th, 2010

With your WAP-enabled wireless phone, you can upload and download files the way that you do on your computer. That makes it easy to grab pictures, ringtones, video, and more for your cell phone. But how do you get those files out there so that you can download them to start with? One way is to check out Like many free file storage services, you can upload media files and other stuff from your desktop to their servers. The difference is that you can then download these files directly onto your mobile device.

When you upload a file, you get an item code. When it's time to retrieve the file, point your phone or PDA at the site, enter the code, and download your file. They've got a 2MB size limit on files, so you're not going to be able to use this for general purpose file storage, but it should fill the bill for getting stuff from computer to phone. Files stay on the site for 48 hours, so there's time to go grab them before they go away. is a free service. There may be carrier-initiated charges for data transfer, so be sure to check your service contract.

Finally understand what the kids are saying with transl8it!

Friday, January 15th, 2010

What are those crazy kids talking about? While that's a question that parents and other adults have asked of the younger generation since cave-man days, there have never been so many opportunities for the jargon of the younger set to go totally over the heads of all the old fogies out there. Along with just plain old conversations, there are a wealth of other venues for confusion, including text messages, IM exchanges, even cute little emoticons. If you're not living on the cutting edge, then you probably need a bit of translation to understand what they're talking about.

transl8it! is a free online service that helps you bridge the gap between what you saw/heard/read and what it really means. Just enter the text message, phrase, or emoticon, click the transl8it! button, and you'll get the English-language equivalent of the cryptic message. It works the other way too: enter what you want to say and it's translated for you from English into lingo. Everybody will be impressed at how on top of things you are–the most excitement in your life since you got those white bucs for the prom!

Create reminders, emails from your phone

Monday, November 30th, 2009

How busy are you? A little busy; crazy busy; so busy you don't have time to figure out just how busy you are…. So how do you stay on top of things? Spinning your wheels may be impressive, but it doesn't really accomplish anything.

Dial2Do can help you keep on top of your schedule, communications, and more, all from the convenience of your phone. Just sign up for a free account, and you'll get a number to call to access the system. Phone them up and you can set a reminder for yourself, "write" and send an email, or create a text message, among other things. With the email option, not only will they do the speech-to-text thing to get your message to your recipient, but they'll also include a link so that your contact can listen to your original voice recording, which might be important if your message is jargon-rich and includes a bunch of stuff their electronic brain might not recognize.

This free service is currently in Beta, which means that there are probably a few bugs still in there. That also means that you probably shouldn't rely on it for mission-critical stuff, like remembering your anniversary–yikes!

Smartphone application keeps you up to date on latest weather conditions

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Sun or rain? Hot or cold? You can always know the answer, even while you're on the go with Weather Watcher Mobile. Available in flavors that fit your PocketPC or Smartphone, this Windows Mobile app will keep you in the loop, weatherwise.

Drawing on the resources of The Weather Channel, this tool lets you grab current conditions, short- and long-term forecasts, and even severe weather alerts from The National Weather Service. Check out satellite- and radar maps for thousands of locations worldwide as well.

Weather Watcher Mobile is a free application. It runs under Windows Mobile 2003/5/6 and requires version 2 of the .NET Compact Framework.

Make free–but complicated–international calls

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

If you've got friends or family overseas, you know it can cost you a pretty penny to phone them. Even with many of the low cost services available, there are hefty mobile phone surcharges–often more expensive than the actual call itself. C'mon, in this day and age there's got to be some way to beat the system on that, right?

Jaxtr has a service available that lets you make free international calls. You give the service your number and the number of the phone you're calling, and the adventure begins. These folks send an SMS text message to your recipient, giving them a local number–local to them–to call in to. Once they do that, you're automagically connected to them. Since they initiated the call (to the local Jaxtr number) on their end, there's no mobile phone surcharge for you.

This free service is available to you on your landline or cell phone. You don't even have to sign-up, although if you do, there are additional options available to you.