Hey Lucy! Get the Phone!

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. Please note that any links to Amazon.com in this article are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of those links I will receive a small commission on the sale.

Anyone under the age of 40 may not remember the name, but at one time Crosley was one of the big names in radio receivers and early black-and-white televisions. Even though the original Crosley Corporation no longer exists, the brand name was purchased and is now used by Crosley Radio, a company that makes reproductions of products that are stuck in our collective memories – perhaps from finding them in our grandparents’ attics, or seeing them in old movies and TV shows.

Of course, these are only reproductions, and often not exact reproductions due to advances in technology. Such is the case with their line of telephone reproductions. No matter how much you might desire a perfect reproduction of an older model, the fact is that nowadays it’s not really practical to have a phone without touch tone dialing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come awfully close.

302 Telephone reproduction

The phones come in a small choice of colors that varies depending on the model – for example, you might want basic black in a wall or desk phone…

300 series wall phone reproduction

… but, it would hardly make sense to offer a black Princess phone.

Princess phone reproduction

I’m sure these reproductions aren’t perfect. For example, a real model 354 wall phone as made by Western Electric (in the USA) or Northern Electric (in Canada) has slots on the sides so that the ringer could be heard a bit more clearly. No slots on the phone in the above photo, but since it probably doesn’t contain a real mechanical ringer anyway, those slots would not serve any purpose and would just catch dust. Also, the phones come with an earpiece volume control, something the originals usually did not have.

Coin Telephone Reproduction

Want to buy one? Check out Amazon’s selection of Crosley phones (Amazon affiliate link).

I don’t know how well these actually work as phones (I’ve never actually used one, just happened across their web site), but I’d assume they work as well as other modern phones, and they sure look nice, especially that red 302 desk set reproduction. Crosley Radio (the new company) also makes reproductions of other nostalgic items, such as cathedral style radios and jukeboxes (which play CD’s, not “stacks of wax”), so you may want to download a catalog. So if you are stuck for a Father’s Day gift, and if Dad is into old stuff, set him up with a VoIP service and then plug one of these beauties into it. Of course, you can still find the real thing on fleabay, but unfortunately those old mechanical dials (besides having a tendency to lock up after all these years) won’t work with modern VoIP service.

Speaking of which, I wonder why no one sells a dial conversion separately – something that would replace the mechanical dials in those old Western/Northern Electric 300 series phones, and similar phones that used the same size dial (and there were many such back in the day). If they can do it in these reproduction phones, why can’t you purchase the dials separately and put them in the genuine item? Or would that be something no one (except me) would consider doing to one of those old phones? I somehow doubt that – for a while, people were making table lamps out of old candlestick phones, so I don’t think that replacing the old rotary dial with a touch tone unit would be that big a deal, unless you were looking for a museum piece. But, that’s just me.

Review of Ring Voltage Booster II™ from Mike Sandman Enterprises

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. In order to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I am disclosing that he received a free product sample of the item under review prior to writing the review.

This article was originally published in April, 2008.

Once in a while you run into a situation where someone wants to put a whole bunch of phones on one physical phone pair. This can often happen in a home with many rooms, where every room has been prewired with a phone jack. You start out with a phone in the kitchen or living room, then you want one in the master bedroom, then each of the kids wants one, then you want one in the workshop down in the basement, and so on. Okay, so granted that the above example would probably have been more appropriate 20 years ago (before all the family members started wanting their own cell phones) but you can still run into such situations, both in homes and in small businesses that only have one or two phone lines and a bunch of phones hanging off each line.

In the old days the phone company let you have enough current to ring five standard telephone ringers – 5 REN in telco-speak – and that was five of the old mechanical style ringers with real bells. But nowadays people have started replacing their old wireline lines with newer stuff, like VoIP, and VoIP adapters can be notoriously stingy with ring current. Sometimes when people convert to VoIP, they find that they either have to disconnect some phones (or at least, shut off or disconnect the ringers in those phones) or figure out a way to boost the ring current.

Yet another problem with both certain makes of VoIP adapters, and even with some low-cost telephone switches sold to businesses, is that they don’t produce enough ringing voltage or current to begin with. That might be particularly true if the adapter or switch was designed to standards other than those typically used in the U.S.A. and Canada. In those two countries, phones and phone equipment have always been designed to expect ringing current at approximately 90 volts AC at 20 Hertz (cycles per second), but in some other countries both the ringing voltage and frequency can be quite different, causing equipment designed for the North American standard to not ring properly. Even with a VoIP adapter set to the correct voltage and frequency (not all are; it’s left to the provider to set those parameters on some devices), most VoIP adapters are only rated at 3 REN or less.

Ring Voltage Booster II™

Recently I discovered that Mike Sandman Enterprises has started offering their Ring Voltage Booster II™ – this is the successor to the original Ring Voltage Booster™ that Mike has been selling for several years now, and it looked to me as though it would be just the thing to cure those ringing problems. The Ring Voltage Booster II is used in series with a telephone wire pair entering the premises (or coming out of a VoiP adapter or similar device), and it senses ringing voltage on the line and increases it (actually regenerates it) to the North American standard 90VAC RMS at 20 cycles, and increases ringing current to 7.5 REN.

I wanted to obtain a unit and try it out. I did just that and I thought I’d share the results of my test with you folks, because I was very favorably impressed with the unit. If all you want to know is whether it works as advertised, I would say that based on my experience the answer is an unqualified yes (with one very minor caveat, which I will mention in a moment).

The way I tested it was this. I had a Sipura SPA-2000 VoIP adapter which was connected to the existing phone wiring in a home where the wireline service has recently been disconnected. There was already quite a collection of phone equipment on the line, and I hung a couple of extra items on to load it down. When we got through adding phones we had the following on the line: two modern phones with warble-type ringers, three old 2500-series touch-tone wall phones with real mechanical ringers, one old 2500-series desk set with a real mechanical ringer, and just for fun, one old Western Electric 302 desk set with original ringer and ringing capacitor.

I want everyone reading to pause for a moment and consider that, apart from the fact that this 1940’s-era phone has a rotary dial rather than a touch tone pad, it works great today with the original ringer and capacitor. I’ve had several computer power supplies fail on me in recent years, usually within a year or two of purchase, due to bad capacitors (in a couple cases, exploding capacitors!). For all the bad things about the old Bell System, they sure knew how to build a telephone that would survive just about anything, except the elimination of switching equipment that accepts rotary dial pulses.

Anyway, I had the aforementioned relatively huge load (well above 3 REN, no matter how you count it) hooked up to the Sipura SPA-2000, and I placed a call to it.

And darned if the phones didn’t ring!

I stood there open-mouthed for a moment. Granted the ringing was a bit weak, but all the phones were ringing. I really hadn’t expected that. I could tell I was putting a significant load on the SPA-2000, but not enough to make a very noticeable difference in the quality of ringing. Then it dawned on me – I remember reading somewhere that early Sipura adapters were conservatively rated, but such was not necessarily the case with their successor, the PAP-2 from Linksys. Well, I have one of those, too.

So I disconnected the SPA-2000 and hooked up the newer PAP-2, and placed a call to the PAP-2, and did that make a difference! With the same load as described above, the phones were still ringing, but they were really struggling. The W.E. 302 and one of the new warblers were having the most trouble, both giving only partial rings. The others were ringing very anemically.

I then inserted the Ring Voltage Booster II™ and placed several test calls. The ringing was clear and strong, in fact, each phone rang as if it were the only phone on the line, and the ringing seemed loud and crisp on all phones. Granted this is a bit of a subjective observation since I was, after all, listening to mechanical telephone bells ring, but I grew up with those and I know what they sound like when they are ringing as they should, and these were.

There were two other things I wanted to observe. One was whether the unit interfered in any way with Caller ID. Only one of the phones in this test had a Caller ID display, but it got the correct Caller ID information every time. The other thing was whether it would have any problem with a distinctive ringing signal, and again, I can report that it did not. I happen to have that adapter programmed so that when a particular friend calls it rings with a distinctive ring, since this particular friend seems to have a peculiar form of psychic ability – he always seems to call when I am indisposed (usually in the bathroom or some such thing). So if it rings with his ring, I know I can wait until I’m through with whatever I’m doing, then call him back and share a laugh over yet another occurrence of his weird form of E.S.P. So, in order to test distinctive ringing, I called him and asked him to call me back and let it ring, and once the ringing commenced I checked several phones and all were ringing with the correct distinctive ring cadence (two approximately one-half second rings followed by a one second ring, or at least that’s what it sounds like). Also, I could hear a relay inside the Ring Voltage Booster II™ clicking on and off in time with the distinctive ring patterns.

In fact, the unit worked perfectly, save for one very minor nit: Sometimes, if I picked up a phone during a ring, it would continue to apply ringing voltage for the duration of that ring – in other words, it didn’t seem to always sense that the phone had been picked up and stop the ringing until that ring had ended. In all fairness, I’ve seen this happen before with other types of equipment, including real phone switches (particularly on long loops in rural areas, etc.). What this means is that if you pick up the phone at the very start of a ring and press it to your ear immediately, you could get a pretty loud buzz in the ear for a second or so. I don’t think this will be a major issue for most users, particularly since the unit solves a much greater problem (phones not ringing at all, or ringing very weakly). But for a few people, it might be an annoyance (Edit: One way to reduce this would be to always use a ring pattern that has rings that are one second long or less.  Some VoIP providers will let you set a “distinctive ringing” pattern for each line or each incoming number – if you pick one that has a two or more short rings instead of a single long one, you greatly reduce your chance of hearing the loud buzz when you pick up the phone.  Now that I think of that, I’ll bet that explains why many independent telephone companies used one-second long rings, instead of the two-second rings common in the Bell System).  I don’t know if this was an issue with just the unit I was using, or with all of the units of this model, but it was the only thing I noticed about the unit that wasn’t “perfect” – in every other way, it delivered all you’d expect from such a device.

There are a couple of other pleasant surprises about this unit. Neither the unit itself nor its power supply seem to generate excessive heat in normal standby mode (I did not test an extended ringing cycle lasting several minutes or more, because that would have required shutting off voicemail) – in fact the small “wall wart” was very cool to the touch a couple hours after being plugged in. That’s more than I can say about many of the “wall wart” power supplies i normally use, and as you know, heat is wasted energy, so I’m very happy that Mike is including what appears to be a quality power supply. But what really shocked me was the small size of the unit. Perhaps it’s because I’m an “olde pharte” that equates a ringing generator with, at the very least, a large steel box hanging on the wall in a basement or phone closet, but this thing blew me away because it’s even smaller than any of my VoIP adapters! The longest dimension on it is only about three and a half inches. You’re almost certainly not going to have any problem finding a place to put it.

Hookup couldn’t be simpler, but you must observe that you get the connections right to avoid damaging the unit – in other words, don’t connect the side that’s supposed to be connected to the phones to the incoming phone line, or you will damage the unit. There are only three connections, one for power, one for the incoming line (labeled “line in” – this is the side you’d connect to a VoIP adapter), and one to go to the phones. If you are connecting it to a VoIP adapter you can probably do it in under a minute, once you have it out of the packaging.

In summary, if for any reason you don’t have enough ringing voltage or current on your phone line (or coming out of a VoIP adapter) and you need to boost it, this is the unit that will do it, at least up to 7.5 REN. And if you have a ridiculous number of phones on one line, remember that you can connect some of them before the Ring Voltage Booster II™ (using the original ringing voltage and current from the line or adapter) and the rest after (using the regenerated ringing current from the Ring Voltage Booster II™).

One caveat, this unit does not increase the gain (circuit loss), talk battery, or loop current of a line – if you need to boost loop current then Mike sells a separate Loop Current Booster™ that will do that. But the Ring Voltage Booster II™ basically gets out of the way when the phone isn’t ringing, and should not have any effect whatsoever on transmit or receive volume levels.

Mike Sandman has been selling quality phone equipment for many years now, so I expected this to be a quality unit. Even so, I was very favorably impressed with it. If you have problems related to low ringing voltage or current, get this device. If you have problems related to wrong-frequency ringing current (something that’s putting out ringing current at a frequency other than 20 Hertz), I’m pretty sure this will solve that problem as well, though I did not test that personally. Here is one more link to the page that describes this unit (and some others) and please note this is a plain-vanilla link – I’m not making any commission or anything if you buy one. I hope this review helps someone that’s having a problem getting their phones to ring!

Disclosure:  I have not been and will not be paid anything for writing this article, and I do not receive any commission or other compensation from sales of this item, and the links in this article are not affiliate links.  I did, however, request and receive a complementary Ring Voltage Booster II™ for review purposes (which I was allowed to keep after writing the review, and for that I am most grateful).

How to install Midnight Commander under Mac OS X (the easy way, using Rudix)

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.
Mc-screenshot
Image via Wikipedia

EDIT: New article for Midnight Commander users: Fixing Midnight Commander’s unreadable dropdown menus.

EDIT: This article has been revised to show the latest information as of 2012. Note that these instructions probably will not work unless you are running a relatively recent version of OS X. Also, you really should read How to install Midnight Commander under Mac OS X (the easiest way?) before using the procedure shown here!

I have to admit, I am one of those people who dislikes Linux for one major reason: Whenever you ask for help in any online forum, the knowledgeable people all seem to be command-line devotees, and they invariably give you instructions that involve typing long, arcane commands into the command line. I hate using the command line – if I had wanted to use a command line, I’d never have moved away from MS-DOS, and i cannot understand why Linux geeks insist on using it, and on trying to get others to use it.  Even users of Linux distributions such as Ubuntu have found that when they go online asking how to do some function that could easily be accomplished using one of the GUI tools, often some obnoxious twit helpful person will reply by giving a bunch of stuff (that makes no sense at all to the uninitiated) to type in at the command line. One of the things I like most about Mac OS X is that you almost never have to do anything from a terminal prompt if you don’t want to, and Mac users seem to have a healthy disdain for using a computer as if it were still the 1970’s.

Long ago, when I was using MS-DOS, there was one tool that I had to have on any system I was using: Norton Commander.  The original, dual-pane file manager that made it oh-so-easy to do typical file manipulations like copying and moving files, viewing and editing text files, launching executables, etc.  without typing in DOS commands.  Norton Commander was such a great program that it inspired similar programs on other platforms, such as Total Commander under Windows, and the cross-platform muCommander that runs on just about anything (if it has Java installed).  In the Linux world, KDE users have Krusader, and Gnome users have Gnome Commander.

Mac OS X users have a number of choices, including the aforementioned muCommander and Xfolders, both of which are free.  Possibly the best alternative today is XtraFinder, which is excellent and free — it add tabs and other features to the OS X Finder, and can display dual panes in either a horizontal or vertical alignment.

However, despite your best intentions, there may come a time when you find yourself working at a shell prompt.  Maybe you are working with a Linux server, or on a Mac, maybe you can’t get OS X to come up but you are able to get to a terminal prompt (in my early days of using a Mac, this happened to me twice after OS X upgrades). More commonly, you are getting a permissions error on some file and can’t understand why – that’s very rare on the Mac, but it happens, and now you find yourself in the terminal trying to remember how to change permissions or ownership on a file (by the way, in most cases you should be doing this by right-clicking on the file in Finder,  then clicking on “Get Info” in the context menu, and then using the Sharing & Permissions section at the bottom of the information panel. But there are occasions when nothing else seems to work, and you want to go a bit deeper into the guts of the system). It is at those times when Midnight Commander may be the tool you want.

However, up until now there has not been a really easy way to install Midnight Commander on a Mac running OS X (at least not that I’ve seen).  But now, there is a package by Rudá Moura called Rudix, which is described this way:

Rudix features a world class collection of pre-compiled and ready to use Unix compatible software which are not available from a fresh installation of Mac OS X but are popular among other Unix environments. Here you can find utilities, programming languages, libraries and tools delivered as standard Mac OS X packages.

Now, I hear some of you “cut-my-teeth-on-Unix” types screaming, “What about MacPorts? What about the Fink project?”  Those are all well and good if that’s your cup of tea, but they require a much higher lever of Unix “geekiness” to install, and they add a lot of code that the typical user doesn’t need.  Rudix will let you add a whole bunch of Unix utilities if you really want to do that, but if you only want a few needed utilities then the “Custom Install” button in the Rudix installation lets you select exactly what you want, and no more.

So here is how you would install Midnight Commander in Mac OS X, using Rudix:

Go to the Rudix mc: Midnight Commander page. Select the correct package for your version of OS (filename ends in .pkg) and click on the package filename. On the next page, click the package filename again to download it to your computer. When it has downloaded, double click on it to run it. You should see a screen like this:

Rudix - Midnight Commander installer
Rudix – Midnight Commander installer

Click “Continue” and continue to do so until it has been installed. That’s all there is to it!

I should point out that this used to be a much more convoluted process, and there was a much longer set of instructions here explaining it, but all those old instructions are superfluous now.

Once you have installed Midnight Commander, you will realize that you can easily install many other utilities commonly found on Unix/Linux systems, if they are available in the Rudix package list. Personally, I would not go hog wild on this – I’d only install the utilities you actually need, as you need them. One package I typically install is wget, because so many scripts (such as those written in Perl) expect it to be present.

Edit March 28, 2008: I made an interesting discovery tonight.  Normally I use iTerm as my terminal program, and Midnight Commander runs fine in that. What it does not seem to run so well under is the Terminal.app program that comes with OS X. What specifically does not work in Terminal.app, at least on my system, is the mouse.  Under iTerm, mouse clicks get passed to Midnight Commander in the normal manner, but under Terminal.app that doesn’t seem to be the case. Another thing that you can do in iTerm (but not Terminal) is hold down the ⌘ (Command) key and right click on a file to select it. So, for the “best user experience”, so to speak, I’d suggest downloading and installing iTerm, which has a lot of other nice features you’ll probably appreciate (and did I mention it’s free?).

Edit April 1, 2008: If, for some reason, you want to modify the color theme of Midnight Commander, here are a couple of blog posts that show how to do that:

And, the Midnight Commander manual is another good source of information on this subject.

Command line haters of the world, untype!

BETA Perl script for Caller ID popups when using Linksys/Sipura devices

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

Creative Commons License photo credit: bcostin

PLEASE NOTE: This  article has been updated as of December 30, 2008.  This now works with a Mac or Win32 computer (and Linux computers with libnotify installed or readily available, such as those running Ubuntu) and has been updated to reflect that fact. Also, please note that previous versions may have failed on devices/phones with more than two lines – this is (hopefully) fixed as of version 0.7.

If all of the following are true:

You have a Macintosh computer with OS X installed, or a PC with any 32-bit version of Windows installed (basically Windows ’98 through XP), or any version of Linux with libnotify installed

Growl icon
Image via Wikipedia

You have Growl (if you have a Mac) or Snarl (if you have a PC) notifications installed (EDIT: There is now a version of Growl for Windows but at the moment I only have an experimental version of the script for that – see bottom of this page for more information.  It MIGHT work with 32-bit OR 64-bit Windows 7 – feel free to test it).

You have a Linksys or Sipura VoIP adapter on your local subnet or home network and receive calls over it

You would like to see Growl, Snarl or libnotify popups on your computer when a call comes in, showing the caller’s name and number, along with the line that the call came in on and the time and date the call arrived (in case you are out when the call comes in)

You have previously run Perl scripts on your computer, OR are reasonably good at following instructions and problem-solving

AND you are willing to run a script that comes with NO WARRANTY whatsoever (if it breaks, you can keep all the pieces)

Then download this file (now at version 0.92), unzip it and read the Instructions.txt file in the folder appropriate to your computer.

This script is being offered under the GNU General Public License, so if you want to modify it to work on other platforms, you can do that under certain conditions (see the Instructions.txt file for details). Mainly, I’d hope that you’d contribute the modifications back (and please leave a comment on this article if you do that).

I don’t have any kind of regular web page up for this yet, for one thing it’s very rough (very little error-checking) and for another I’m very tired, having spent way too many late nights trying to get this to work. So this post will be more terse than most of my posts, but I think most everything you need to know is in Instructions.txt (and for Mac users, the “How to run at login.rtfd” file) inside the .zip file. Feel free to repost this information to other forums if you think anyone else might be interested.

For those Mac users that wish this were an app: I understand that there is an app called Platypus that allows Perl scripts (and any other types of scripts) to be converted to OS X app bundles. However, what it does not seem to include is any way to specify the command line options, or to load any missing Perl modules. So for now, this script will probably only be usable by those with sufficient knowledge to run a Perl script on their Mac. If I were a bit more knowledgeable, I’d build a preference pane to go in System Preferences, and then have the script read that for its configuration options. But I still have no idea how to make an app install missing Perl modules, particularly when OS X does not come with “make” installed until and unless the Developer Tools are installed (adding something like 3 GB of stuff that is mostly useless to non-developers to your hard drive!).

EDIT: I read somewhere that you can install make without installing the bloated Developer Tools package if you instead install Fink. Then, from a terminal prompt, you can type fink -b install make and supposedly that will do the trick. However, I am told that Fink has not been updated for Snow Leopard, but there is a make package in Rudix that should work with Snow Leopard (mind your paths – Rudix installs make in the /usr/local/bin directory and by default CPAN expects it in /usr/bin, so you may want to adjust the path during CPAN setup, or make a symbolic link in /usr/bin). Since I have not personally tried either of these I have not updated the instructions in the download to reflect this, but if it works you can skip the whole process involved in installing the Developer Tools.

Because this is a Perl script, it lends itself to custom modifications. For example, let’s suppose you have this script running on a Mac, and you are sending Growl notifications to the Mac, but you also have a home theater PC that runs XBMC and/or Boxee, and you’d like to send Caller ID notifications to it as well.  Assuming that Boxee and/or XBMC is configured to allow control via a Web interface, at a fixed IP address and port (192.168.0.150 port 8080 in this example), you could add a line such as this to the script (this is all one line; select and copy to get it all if it gets truncated on your display):

eval {get "http://192.168.0.150:8080/xbmcCmds/xbmcHttp?command=ExecBuiltIn&parameter=XBMC.Notification(Call%20from%20%22$displayname%22%2C$phonenum%20calling%20$lineid[$count]%2C15000%2C%2Fhome%2Fusername%2Fphone.png)"};

The above assumes that you have placed the icon file phone.png (shown at right — right click on the icon and save it) in the user home directory on the destination system (the one running XBMC or Boxee), and that you change ‘username’ to the actual name of the user’s home directory. Note that the icon path requires %2F in place of forward slashes (therefore %2Fhome%2Fusername%2Fphone.png really means /home/username/phone.png) Phone icon - right click and copy imageand this refers to the icon directory and filename — if you choose not to use an icon then leave that part out, along with the %2C that comes just before it.  If you are running XBMC or Boxee on the same system that’s running the script then you should be able to replace 192.168.0.150 with localhost or 127.0.0.1. The above line should be inserted just above the comment line “# Make output string in chosen format” near the end of the Perl script. Keep in mind that this won’t work if you don’t enable control via Web server in XBMC or Boxee, and make sure the port number matches the port in your added line.  Depending on the skin you use, this is generally accomplished by going to Settings, then Network (and in Boxee, then Servers). Then check “Allow control of XBMC via HTTP” (in XBMC) or enable the Web server (in Boxee) and verify the port number is correct.

Starting in Version 0.7 there is a minimal logging function, allowing all detected incoming calls (whether answered or not) to be saved to a text file and/or a comma-quote delimited file. I probably could support other simple formats, but don’t even think about asking for anything more complex (like a rather humorous friend of mine who asked for MySQL integration – considering that he knows how little knowledge I have about Perl programming, and that I have even less knowledge about databases, I’m sure he thought it extremely amusing to make that request). The one thing I really don’t like about offering these scripts in Perl is that it requires the user to know how to install modules from CPAN (or an alternative source if using Win32), but I barely know how to do this stuff in Perl and don’t know any other languages (well, except for QBASIC under MSDOS, but that’s even less compatible across platforms than Perl!).

Starting in Version 0.9 you can use a plain-text file of number-name substitutions, so (for example) if calls from a particular number always display a cryptic Caller ID name, you can change them to say “Uncle Bob” (or some other name if Bob’s not your Uncle, or it’s someone else’s number!). Read the sample config file to see the file formats. Note that the plain text file of number-name substitutions is a separate file, not a section of the optional configuration file, and also note that you must enter the numbers exactly as your VoIP provider sends them (in other words, if they send 8005551234 and you use 18005551234 or 800-555-1234 it will NOT match!).

Starting in Version 0.91 you can use a plain-text file of number-path/file substitutions, so (for example) if calls from a particular number are always from Uncle Bob, you can display Uncle Bob’s picture as the icon whenever a call arrives from that number. Read the sample config file for more information. Note that the plain text file of number-path/file substitutions is a separate file, not a section of the optional configuration file, and also note once again that you must enter the numbers exactly as your VoIP provider sends them.

Version 0.92 sets a rather short timeout on page fetches (still much longer than should be necessary to get the data), in an attempt to resolve a problem where very occasionally the script would just go into a coma, not exiting cleanly but still using memory and CPU cycles, without doing anything useful. I have been running this version for over six months now and have yet to see the script go into a coma, as it often seemed to do in previous versions.

(EDIT added September, 2010:) NOTE regarding EXPERIMENTAL version to work with Growl for Windows.  You should still download the main archive to get the instructions and such, but if you’d prefer to use Growl for Windows rather than Snarl, you can try this experimental version of the script. If you do try it, please let me know if it works as expected (and thanks to Andy Singh for his help with getting this working under Windows 7). Please read the Perl source code to find the module requirements (mentioned on or near line 15 of the script) as they differ slightly from the Snarl version.

Linksys and Sipura adapter users – check your RTP Packet Size and Network Jitter Level

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog.

Edit: Reader Christopher Woods notes in a comment that the following is also applicable to at least some models of Linksys phones, e.g. SPA942 and SPA962.

Do you use a Linksys or Sipura VoIP adapter? Do the people you are talking to ever complain about your voice breaking up, or missing or dropped syllables, or unexplained clicks or noise?

There is an obscure setting in Linksys/Sipura VoIP adapters that is usually set incorrectly for most applications, at least on a factory-fresh adapter. Go to the SIP tab and check the RTP Packet Size – for most users, it should be set to 0.020 rather than the factory preset of 0.030. If you are running a connection where latency is critical (say you have a cable or satellite box that requires a phone connection to “phone home”, or you are trying to use a FAX machine) then you may even wish to set this to 0.010, which further reduces latency, at the expense of using a bit more bandwidth. In any case, the default 0.030 is not the correct setting when using the most commonly-used codecs. For more discussion of this issue, see this thread at DSLreports.com, which discusses how the RTP Packet Size and Network Jitter Level settings can be tweaked to achieve lower latency, along with the tradeoffs.

Be aware that the RTP Packet Size setting is found under the SIP tab, and that setting is applied to all lines served through that adapter. However, the Network Jitter Level can be set individually for each line, under the Line tabs. One interesting comment in the above-mentioned thread is that if a provider forces you to use a low-bandwidth codec, decreasing the RTP Packet Size may increase the quality of your calls, but again at the expense of increasing bandwidth used.

Changing the RTP Packet Size on one VoIP adapter resolved a few strange issues with audio quality. In this case the adapter was being used to connect to an Asterisk box on the same local network, so bandwidth usage wasn’t an issue. We set the RTP Packet Size to 0.020 and the Network Jitter Level to low, and it made a noticeable difference in the reduction of strange noises and breakups heard by the party on the other end of the conversation. However, changing the Network Jitter Level isn’t as critical as changing the RTP Packet Size, and in fact, changing the Network Jitter Level may be entirely the wrong thing to do on certain types of connections (probably not a good idea if your adapter is connected through a Wireless ISP, for example).

I must thank Paul Timmins for being the first to point out that the Linksys PAP2 has a default packet size of 0.030, which is incompatible with the uLaw (G711u) codec (or at least in violation of the standard). With that lead, I then discovered other articles (including the discussion thread linked above) that said essentially the same thing. So check those adapter settings, folks!

(And by the way, this advice probably does apply to some other makes of VoIP adapters, and even some IP telephones, but since I don’t have any readily available to look at, I can’t say for sure. If you know of any others that need to have a similar setting tweaked, please feel free to add a comment to this post).

Regular Expression Laboratory

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging.  It is reposted with his permission.

If you are like me and haven’t had to do much with regular expressions, but every so often encounter them (or worse yet, want to create one), you may find this free software useful. It’s called Regular Expression Laboratory and this is the description:

Regular Expression Laboratory is an assistant simple to use tool to help you learn and prepare regular expressions.

If you are a developer or just concerned with text processing tasks, the Regular Expression Laboratory is a tool that you need. In fact, you felt that you need a program like this but could not formalize your needs. We have done this job for you. Now you can construct your regular expressions with much ease and test them by applying to an arbitrary text.

Regular Expression Laboratory support the incredible size of a stored regular expression: 2MB!

This could be a useful piece of software for those that have pulled their hair out trying to construct, or to interpret someone else’s regular expressions.

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