How to change the format of the time and date in Ubuntu’s clock applet

 

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.

This is a quick-and-dirty post because it took me a long time to find this but in the end it was simple to do.  Note the graphic below – this is the top menu bar (part of it anyway) and the gconf-editor, which you can get to by entering the program name in a terminal window (in later versions of Ubuntu this appears to have been replaced by dconf Editor, which you may need to first install from the Ubuntu Software Center, then use the second screenshot below).  The important parts are highlighted.  First note the time display in the top menu bar, then note the highlighted settings that were changed to make it that way:

Screenshot of top menu bar and gconf-editor program

When in the gconf-editor, you need to go to /apps/panel/applets/clock_screen0/prefs and then change the custom_format and format parameters as shown (double-click on a parameter name to change the value). The original information was found in this thread.

Note this was done in Ubuntu Karmic, and may or may not be applicable to some newer versions. In more recent versions of Ubuntu that use dconf Editor, this is where the settings are:

Screenshot of dconf Editor program in Ubuntu 12.04

When in the dconf Editor, you need to go to /com/canonical/indicator/appmenu/datetime and then change the custom-time-format and time-format parameters as shown (double-click on a parameter name to change the value — time-format is not highlighted in this screenshot, but you do need to change it to custom).

My custom (time) format string is:

%A, %B %e, %Y  %l:%M:%S %p %Z

If the seconds don’t change (that is, if they always stay at 00) then scroll down (if necessary) in the prefs list and make sure the show_seconds or show-seconds box is checked.

If you don’t like my format and want to create your own, you can find the codes for the various parts of the date format here.

Note that if you are using the XFCE desktop, you need only right-click on the time, select “Properties” from the dropdown, and when the Clock Options come up, select “Custom Format” from the dropdown and then enter your custom format in the text box just below the dropdown.

How to stop people from leaving messages in your Google Voice voicemail box

 

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.

One irritating thing about Google Voice is their voicemail – they must be really proud of it, because they give you no way to turn it off (at least not that I can find), and worse yet, they don’t even let you pick the timeout before your Google Voice calls go to voicemail.  If people actually had to pay for their service I’m sure they’d get boatloads of complaints, but since it’s free and since Google doesn’t seem to care much what users think, we are stuck with their voicemail whether we want it or not. However, there are some situations where you really don’t want to have to check Google’s voicemail, so how do you discourage people from leaving a message?

The answer is simple, and probably 99.9% effective: Change your greeting to a busy signal! Most people, and even most automated calling equipment, will hang up after receiving a busy signal, and will not leave a message (and if anyone does, it’s probably a stupid robo-caller that you can safely ignore).

So how do you change your greeting in Google Voice? Glad you asked…

To start with, download this audio file (right-click on the link and save it to your hard drive). It is 24 seconds of North American busy signal, followed by the DTMF # button (the latter is needed to signal the end of the greeting).

Now, what you have to do is go to your Google Voice settings, Voicemail & Text tab, and in the Voicemail Greeting section click on “Use phone to record a new greeting.” I suggest you try this once or twice just to get the hang of how it works (you can delete any recording you make on the same page). Note that once you’ve recorded your first greeting, the button will change to say just “Record new.”

Google Voice - Location of "Record New Greeting" button

Now, the obvious thing to do here is to hold the phone up to your computer’s speaker and play the audio file after Google calls you to record the greeting. If you’re careful about your volume levels it might work, but I don’t recommend it.

A better method is to temporarily redirect your Google Voice callback so that it comes to a softphone on your computer, preferably one that has the ability to select audio inputs and outputs.  How to do that is left as an exercise for the reader, but I can tell you that the free version of Zopier will allow you to select inputs. You’ll also need an audio program that can play back .wav files and allows you to select outputs (an example for the Mac would be Vox), and depending on your computer, you may need a third piece of software that allows you to redirect the output of one program to the input of another (for example, on a Mac you can use Soundflower). On a Mac you’d go into the audio player preferences, set the output to go to the redirection software, then set the softphone to get its audio input from the redirection software.

Vox audio player output settings
Zoiper softphone audio input settings

After doing this, get Google Voice to call your softphone, answer the call and immediately click “play” on the audio player software (into which you will have pre-loaded the audio file) and if all goes well it will play the file and at the end, after the DTMF # tone is played, Google Voice should play back the file, and ask you to accept it or try again. If you hear some ringing tone in the playback prior to the busy signal, just click “2” on Zoiper’s touch-tone keypad to try again (when you are given that option) and then as soon as you hear the beep, click “play” again. When it’s right, click the “1” on Zopier’s touch tone keypad when given the option. You can confirm that this is set as the default from the Google Voice page mentioned above. Also, note that by using the Google Voice “Groups” feature, you can play this “greeting” only to certain callers, if for some reason you want some people to actually be able to leave you voicemail in your Google Voice voicemail box.

I know that Zoiper is cross-platform and can be used under all major operating systems, and I’m pretty sure there are audio redirection programs available for Windows and Linux, though I don’t know what they are called offhand (if you do, please feel free to leave a comment, provided the software you suggest is free to use — I’m not going to promote any commercial software for this purpose because I’m pretty sure there is free software available, and in any case, it may even be possible to achieve this function from the Windows sound control panel, but it’s been so long since I’ve tried to do anything like this in Windows that I don’t remember how it’s done, I just know it’s possible).

Related Link:
Proof of concept: Automatically transfer Google Voice voicemail to Asterisk voicemail

Link: Using FreeSWITCH to add Google Voice to Asterisk

 

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 (2018): This article is extremely out-of-date and in no way useful today, and will probably be removed from this site at some point in the future. You might find this article more useful: How to use Google Voice with FreePBX and Asterisk without using XMPP or buying new hardware.

For those of you using Asterisk, Bill over at the PSU VoIP blog has come up with a way to interface Asterisk with Google Voice, by co-installing FreeSWITCH (which also supports Google Voice).  Turns out that Asterisk and FreeSWITCH can co-exist on the same server, though you do have to change the configuration a bit so they don’t compete for the same ports.  Anyway, Bill has come up with a how-to on adding Google Voice integration to current versions of Asterisk, so if that interests you, head on over and have a look:

Using FreeSWITCH to add Google Voice to Asterisk

The bonus is that once you get FreeSWITCH installed you can play around with it and look at some of its other features, if you are so inclined. Of course, the Asterisk folks could backport the Google Voice support to previous versions and make it unnecessary to do things like this, but I’m not holding my breath.

EDIT (January 26, 2012): The Google Voice channel drivers in Asterisk 1.8 have become unreliable enough (in my personal opinion, anyway) that I just used the technique shown in this article, and I must say that it works a LOT better than Asterisk 1.8’s Google Voice support.  I also added some comments to that article (probably too many!) that among other things show how I got it working for multiple Google Voice accounts.  So I would now recommend using this method to bridge Asterisk to Google Voice in preference to using Asterisk 1.8’s native channel drivers (unless you are very short on memory and/or storage space) — it just works, and calls connect faster.  Read the article AND the comments under it first, so you’ll know what to expect, and do be aware that it takes a relatively LONG time to compile and install FreeSWITCH (compared to Asterisk).  At points during the installation it may look like it’s stuck in an endless loop, but it really isn’t. Just go away and take a walk outside or something, and come back in a while and it should be done.

How to forward a call if a remote extension is unreachable in FreePBX 2.x

 

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.

DISCLAIMER AND WARNING: This article contains EXPERIMENTAL code. DO NOT USE IT IN A PRODUCTION ENVIRONMENT until you have thoroughly tested it AND MODIFIED IT to meet your needs. It is guaranteed to NOT work (at least not in a way that will be useful to you) if you simply copy and paste it, and even if you read and follow the instructions below I don’t guarantee a thing (Asterisk can be funny, sometimes code that runs fine on one system will not on another). Anyway, you are NOT allowed to use this code unless you are willing to take ALL responsibility for modifying and testing it to make sure it will work in your situation. If you use this code and in some way it winds up not working and costing you money, don’t come after me because I’m warning you now that might happen, and it’s the risk you alone assume if you attempt to use this code!

FreePBX and Asterisk allow you to call forward a call on a busy or no-answer condition (as well as unconditionally), but there is no provision for specific forwarding if an extension (presumably an offsite one) is unreachable over the Internet. It is possible to do this, although in Asterisk 1.4 it’s not at all elegant. Some commercial VoIP providers offer a feature similar to this, calling it “Failover”, “Network Unavailable Forward” or just “Unavailable Forward”, “Network Availability Number ®” (Vonage trademarked that one!), or some similar name, but FreePBX and Asterisk do not offer similar functionality — there is no “Call Forwarding Unreachable” setting.  However, with a bit of work and a minimal amount of dialplan creation, you can emulate this feature.

Here’s an example that may work in many situations (as written it works with SIP extensions only, but maybe you can modify it slightly if you need to use it with IAX2 extensions or some other type):

First, if you are still using Asterisk 1.4 or earlier, add the following code to etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf:

[custom-unreachable-test] exten => _X!,1,Noop(Testing for unreachable extension ${EXTEN})
exten => _X!,n,TrySystem(asterisk -rx "sip show peers" | grep ^${EXTEN}/${EXTEN}[[:space:]] > /tmp/${EXTEN}.flag)
exten => _X!,n,ReadFile(reachable=/tmp/${EXTEN}.flag,1)
exten => _X!,n,GotoIf($["${LEN(${reachable})}" = "0"]?extoffline)
exten => _X!,n,Noop(Extension ${EXTEN} is reachable - sending to *${EXTEN} voice mailbox)
exten => _X!,n,Goto(from-internal,*${EXTEN},1)
exten => _X!,n(extoffline),Noop(Extension ${EXTEN} is NOT reachable)
;This is where you enter special forwarding conditionals for each unreachable extension
exten => _X!,n,GotoIf($["${EXTEN}" = "1101"]?from-internal,18005558355,1)
;This is the fallover (voicemail) destination in case no special destination is specified
exten => _X!,n,Noop(WARNING - no unreachable destination specified for extension ${EXTEN} - trying to send to voicemail)
exten => _X!,n,Goto(from-internal,*${EXTEN},1)

If you are using Asterisk 1.6 or later then use this instead:

[custom-unreachable-test] exten => _X!,1,Noop(Testing for unreachable extension ${EXTEN})
exten => _X!,n,Set(reachable=${SHELL(asterisk -rx "sip show peers" | grep ^${EXTEN}/${EXTEN}[[:space:]])})
exten => _X!,n,GotoIf($["${LEN(${reachable})}" = "0"]?extoffline)
exten => _X!,n,Noop(Extension ${EXTEN} is reachable - sending to *${EXTEN} voice mailbox)
;This is where you enter special forwarding conditionals for each unreachable extension
exten => _X!,n,GotoIf($["${EXTEN}" = "1101"]?from-internal,18005558355,1)
;This is the fallover (voicemail) destination in case no special destination is specified
exten => _X!,n,Noop(WARNING - no unreachable destination specified for extension ${EXTEN} - trying to send to voicemail)
exten => _X!,n,Goto(from-internal,*${EXTEN},1)

In both of the above examples, change the number 1101 to match an actual extension number on your system and change the 18005558355 to the actual number you want to send calls to (note this could be another extension on your system, including a custom extension or a ring group). Duplicate the line containing those values for each extension you may want to forward, changing those two vales in each line appropriately (also see the comment section for another possible approach).

The above code assumes that if an extension is reachable, but is busy or does not answer, you want the call to go to voicemail (* + the original extension number — obviously, this would be easy to change if that’s an incorrect assumption). However, if the extension is unreachable, you want to reroute it to the user’s cell phone or some other number. In the above example, if extension 1101 receives a call and is unreachable, it would be forwarded to TellMe at 1-800-555-TELL (18005558355) – obviously not practical in a real-world situation, but it’s just an example. Again, note you have to duplicate that line in the code for each extension that might be forwarded in this way.

In order to make this work, you need to go into the FreePBX Tools menu and select “Custom Destinations”, then add a new custom destination. The destination must be custom-unreachable-test,${EXTEN},1 and the description can be anything you want (I suggest “Unreachable Extension Test” or something similar).

For each extension you wish to use this with, you must have qualify=yes (or set qualify to a valid numeric value) in the extension settings.

Finally, for each extension you want to use this with, create a Follow-Me (or edit any existing one) for that extension. You can leave the defaults as they are (or change them if you want – maybe you want to change the Ring Time, for example) but the one thing you must change is the Destination if no answer. Change that to the Custom Destination that you just created. Also, don’t forget to add the line in extensions_custom.conf to actually do something with calls to that extension when the extension is unreachable.

The reason I say this code is not elegant is because it relies on a kludge. It does a “sip show peers”, then looks for the pattern ${EXTEN}/${EXTEN} (e.g. 1101/1101) at the start of a line, which on most systems indicates the extension is connected. This may not be the case if you are using what is known as “deviceanduser” mode (which you probably aren’t unless you’re running a call center) so in that case you may need to use a different pattern match, for example:

exten => _X!,n,TrySystem(asterisk -rx "sip show peers" | grep ^${EXTEN}[[:space:]] | grep OK > /tmp/${EXTEN}.flag)

The result of the system call will be written to the file /tmp/1101.flag (or a similar file with a different extension number) and will either contain the full line from “sip show peers” (if the device or phone is reachable) or nothing (it will be an empty file). So in the next line we read the file in (actually just one character) and test the length – if it’s zero, then that’s when we do the unreachable processing. If it’s non-zero, we send the call to voicemail. EDIT: In Asterisk 1.6 and later there’s no need to create a temporary file.

I’m not saying this is the best way to do this, or the only way to do it, but it is a way that seems to work in VERY limited testing (at least on a system running Asterisk 1.4.35 and FreePBX 2.5).

This was inspired by a thread I saw on the PBX in a Flash forum, which also notes that there may be an even better way to do this in Asterisk 1.8, but since I don’t have it and VERY few FreePBX users are running 1.8 at this time, I’m not even going to touch that one.

EDIT: I did a VERY limited test of this (and made one change in the above code as a result) on an Asterisk 1.8 system running F—PBX 2.8. There are now two code sections above, one for those running Asterisk 1.4 or earlier, and one for those running Asterisk 1.6 or later (only tested with Asterisk 1.8). And before you try that “even better way” mentioned in the last paragraph, note that “Having chan_sip set HASH(SIP_CAUSE,) on the channel carries a significant performance penalty because of the usage of the MASTER_CHANNEL() dialplan function” and that Digium has “decided to disable this feature by default in future 1.8 versions” (see this page for more information). So, probably best to stick with the method shown here, if you can get it to work for you.

Review of FreeSWITCH 1.0.6 by Anthony Minessale, Darren Schreiber, Michael S. Collins (Packt Publishing)

 

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, and 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.
Cover of FreeSWITCH 1.0.6

In case you’ve never heard of FreeSWITCH, it is a “telephony software engine”, which means it’s in the same category as Asterisk. Over the years I’ve noticed that some Asterisk users have become frustrated with Asterisk due to unfixed bugs and design flaws that mean that the software doesn’t always work as it should. So, for quite some time, I’d hoped that a viable alternative to Asterisk might emerge, if only to keep the Asterisk developers on their toes. Competition between software projects tends to be a healthy thing, and from what I’ve read in this book, it appears that FreeSWITCH just may be the software product that eventually replaces Asterisk as the #1 open source telephony software engine.

Before I begin, as is my custom with such reviews, let’s start with a quick overview of what’s in each chapter (for the complete Table of Contents, see the Packt Publishing web site):

  • Preface
  • Chapter 1: Architecture of FreeSWITCH – includes notes on the FreeSWITCH design and important modules
  • Chapter 2: Building and Installation – how to build and run FreeSWITCH under Linux/Unix, Mac OS X, or Windows
  • Chapter 3: Test Driving the Default Configuration – here you learn how to control FreeSWITCH with the CLI and to make your first call
  • Chapter 4: SIP and the User Directory – includes adding users, setting up voicemail, and setting up a gateway to connect to the world (link is to sample chapter in PDF format at the Packt Publishing site)
  • Chapter 5: Understanding the XML Dialplan – this gets into the “meat” of FreeSWITCH dialplan creation
  • Chapter 6: Using the Built-in XML IVR Engine – here’s where you learn one way to build an IVR (auto-attendant)
  • Chapter 7: Building IVR Applications with Lua – really an example of using a scripting language with FreeSWITCH. A few other languages are supported
  • Chapter 8: Advanced Dialplan Concepts – if Chapter 5 was the hamburger, this is the sirloin
  • Chapter 9: Controlling FreeSWITCH Externally – explains the event system architecture, and how to read and send events
  • Chapter 10: Advanced Features and Further Reading – includes multi-user conferencing, billing, XML/Curl, alternative endpoints, and configuration tools and related projects

There are also two appendices:

  • Appendix A: The FreeSWITCH Online Community
  • Appendix B: The History of FreeSWITCH

The  Packt Publishing web site also has this to say about the book:

What you will learn from this book :

  • Set up a basic system to make and receive phone calls, make calls between extensions, and utilize basic PBX functionality
  • Avoid common implementation mistakes and deploy various features of this telephony system with best practices and expert tips
  • Perform routine maintenance for smooth running and troubleshoot the system when things are not going right
  • Apply regular expressions to unlock unique and powerful call routing scenarios
  • Call your own application(s) when particular events occur and control FreeSWITCH using the powerful Event Socket
  • Set up multi-party conferencing facilities for your system
  • Interact with callers, gather information, and route calls to the appropriate recipient using the automated, built-in XML IVR (Interactive Voice Response) engine
  • Create a flexible dialplan, and allow third-party tools to be quickly and easily created using dialplan parsers other than the default XML Dialplan
  • Park multiple calls in a FIFO queue and unpark them in the order in which they were received, using the mod_fifo module
  • Record an entire phone call or session using the call recording feature
  • Create advanced call control applications with the Lua scripting language
  • Take a peek into the vibrant online community and history of FreeSWITCH

Approach

This book is a step-by-step tutorial with clear instructions and screenshots to guide you through the creation of a complete, cost-effective telephony system. You will start with installation, walk through the different features, and see how to manage and maintain the system.

Who this book is written for

If you are an IT professional or enthusiast who is interested in quickly getting a powerful telephony system up and running using the free and open source application FreeSWITCH, this book is for you. Telephony experience will be helpful, but is not required.

Now, here are my impressions. Please bear in mind that I did not actually attempt to build a working FreeSWITCH installation (I would need yet another spare computer to do that), but I certainly feel as though I could after reading this book. One thing that is somewhat uncommon about this book is that the author of the software is also one of the authors of the book. Too often, when you see a book written about a piece of software, the writer doesn’t fully understand the software and therefore makes guesses and assumptions about how it works, that may lead to problems down the road if you follow their advice. When the software author collaborates on the book, that’s far less likely to happen, and indeed, at no point in this book did I get the feeling that the author was struggling to understand the subject. I will even go so far as to say that this is one of the best written technical books I have read in a long time.

The biggest complaint I had about this book — and it is a very minor one — is that it could have benefited from another proofreader. Occasionally I’d see an obvious error that the proofreader should have caught — nothing major, and nothing I couldn’t figure out with about two seconds of thought, with one exception.  On page 91 of the book, it appears to me as though there is some missing text at the bottom of the page.  It’s discussing making a test call to Music on Hold and then, suddenly and jarringly, it jumps into a time of day example.  I think the disconnect occurs in middle of a sentence: “In our example, call the debug output is as follows:”  The sentence as written does not make sense to me, and it appears a block of text (perhaps a large one) may have been omitted at this point. But that is the only place in the book where I encountered an error of that magnitude. I have submitted the error to Packt Publishing and I’m hoping they will figure out what was supposed to go there and place it in the errata section of their web site.

One other point I will make about a software author writing a book on his own creation is that I think sometimes, it’s difficult for the author to correctly envision how end users will want to use the software.  As an example, virtually all the dialplan examples in this book are in XML.  There may be advantages to using XML, but it’s not going to be very familiar to someone coming from an Asterisk background, and I might have wished for a few non-XML examples.  On pages 158-159, the author notes that,

There is a common misconception that the FreeSWITCH Dialplan is based on, and requires, XML. That is simply not true. If you prefer flat files, you could use them to store your Dialplan configuration. If you prefer YAML, you could use that, too. You just need to load the correct C-based Dialplan module to interpret your stored logic for the particular type of configuration file you want FreeSWITCH to utilize.

This aside, the most common (and currently, the most robust) Dialplan processing mechanism in FreeSWITCH is still the XML-based Dialplan module. Most Dialplan examples that are shipped with FreeSWITCH, or those scattered on the Web are in XML, therefore, they will remain the focus of this chapter. …..

Indeed, there is even an Asterisk dialplan module, albeit with limited capabilities.  From page 199:

If you are used to the Asterisk Dialplan, some basic functionality is provided by the Asterisk Dialplan module, although it is not nearly as feature-rich as the XML engine. You can process contexts and route calls to phones using the Asterisk Dialplan. This module, again, is more of a sample on how to build an alternate Dialplan processing module and should not be utilized as a full, feature-rich Dialplan system.

Yet you won’t find examples using flat files, YAML, or Asterisk Dialplan in the book.  However, the XML examples were clearly written and easy to understand, so I don’t think that there would be a steep learning curve to start writing dialplans in XML, assuming you are a proficient enough coder to write dialplans in the first place.  And, I suspect that XML would be easier for a new user to pick up than any of the other options.

I mention the above to emphasize two points:  FreeSWITCH is different from Asterisk. If you are thinking about moving from Asterisk to FreeSWITCH, you need this book to get you up to speed on the differences.  And second, FreeSWITCH is both more capable than Asterisk, and arguably easier to use, once you get used to the differences (or if you have no prior experience with similar software). FreeSWITCH appears to have been designed from the ground up to avoid the issues that have plagued Asterisk, particularly those that cause Asterisk to fall to its knees under heavy load or heavy call volumes. Even if you’re a long-time Asterisk user, you may want to get this book just to see what you’re missing.  You might decide that it’s worth your effort to set up a test system using FreeSWITCH, to help you understand how much better the next generation of telephony software engines can be.

One other point, in case you are reading this review several months after I wrote it — the author notes this in the preface:

At the time of this writing this book, the FreeSWITCH developers were putting the finishing touches on FreeSWITCH version 1.2. While the examples presented in this book were specifically tested with version 1.0.6, they have also been confirmed to work with the latest FreeSWITCH development versions that form the basis of version 1.2. Do not be concerned about the fact that this material does not cover version 1.2—it certainly does. The FreeSWITCH user interface is very stable between versions; therefore, this text will be applicable for years to come.

There will no doubt be some of you who are reading this that wonder if there are any Web GUI “front ends” (dialplan and configuration file generators) for FreeSWITCH.  Indeed there are, and they are covered in Chapter 10, which briefly explains the differences between WikiPBX, FreePBX v3, FusionPBX, and 2600hz.  Even if you plan on using a Web GUI, there may be times when you find the need to write a bit of custom code, and in that case having this book available would definitely be helpful to you.

One other thing I personally found interesting in this book was Appendix B, “The History Of FreeSWITCH.”  This explains how FreeSWITCH came to be, and along the way offers further explanation on how it is different from Asterisk and why the developers felt the need to start a new project.  What I think I found most interesting (and perhaps unfortunate, depending on your point of view) is that FreeSWITCH could have been the basis for Asterisk version 2, had only the Asterisk developers reacted positively to the idea. I see this sort of thing happen occasionally in the open source community, where the lead developers of a project start to develop an attitude that does not encourage outside contributions (or, they treat contributions or suggestions for improvement as if they were piles of steaming dog poo on their doorstep). Perhaps this should serve as a cautionary tale to such developers that your project can always be replaced by something better, if you do not encourage contributions to your own project from those not currently in your “inner circle” of developers.

As you may know if you have read my previous reviews, it’s rare that I get wildly enthusiastic about a book.  In this case I’ll make an exception, because overall the book is that well-written (my comments above notwithstanding). If you have any interest at all in using FreeSWITCH, or are even just curious about it, you really should buy this book.  It’s available in both traditional softcover dead-tree format, and as a DRM free Adobe PDF eBook, and there’s even a package deal if you want both formats. Don’t forget that you can view a sample chapter (PDF format) prior to purchase. EDIT: Also, there is an online article by the book’s authors entitled FreeSWITCH: Utilizing the Built-in IVR Engine.

FreeSWITCH 1.0.6 by Anthony Minessale, Darren Schreiber, Michael S. Collins (Amazon affiliate link)

Related: Review of FreeSWITCH Cookbook by Anthony Minessale, Michael S Collins, Darren Schreiber, Raymond Chandler (Packt Publishing)

A Perl script to send Caller ID popups from Asterisk to computers running Growl under OS X on a Mac or Growl for Windows

 

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.
[notice]EDIT March, 2014: If you are running OS X Mavericks we recommend that you do NOT use the script shown here, but instead send notifications to a XMPP/Jabber account and use iChat to receive them, since the message will then display in the Notifications Center and you do not need Growl. See How to send various types of notifications on an incoming call in FreePBX for more information. You may also find this thread on the RasPBX forum useful.[/notice]

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post explaining how you could poll a Linksys or Sipura VoIP adapter or phone once per second, and whenever there was an incoming call, generate a notification popup on your computer, if you have the Growl notification service installed.  However, that method doesn’t work if you’re not using a Linksys or Sipura phone or device.

If you are running Asterisk, there’s another way to do it, and that’s to get Asterisk to send the notifications directly. In order for this to work, the computer on which you want to receive the notifications has to be running Growl (under Mac OS X) or Growl for Windows. You must also configure Growl to receive network notifications. I will note here that if you are using a Mac and have never done that before, you may want to make sure that Growl network notifications work before proceeding, because it appears that under OS X, it’s pretty much a crap shoot whether Growl network notifications will work at all, and when they don’t the Growl folks apparently have no clue as to why they don’t. It seems to be a machine-specific thing – on some Macs they work fine, while on others they don’t work at all.

You must have the Perl language installed on your Asterisk server, and you must have the Net::Growl and Asterisk::AGI modules installed (I’m going to assume you know how to install a Perl module from the CPAN repository – if you have Webmin installed, it can be done from within Webmin). Chances are you already have Asterisk::AGI installed, unless you built your Asterisk server “from scratch” and never installed it, but if you’ve never installed Net::Growl you’ll need to do that first.

Next you want to copy and paste the following Perl script to the filename /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/growlsend.agi on your Asterisk server (to create a non-existent file, you can use the touch command, and after that you can edit it in Midnight Commander or by using the text editor of your choice). If this code looks somewhat familiar, it’s because it’s adapted from some code that originally appeared in a FreePBX How-To, which I modified.

#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;
use warnings;
use Net::Growl;
use Asterisk::AGI;
my $agi = new Asterisk::AGI;
my %input = $agi->ReadParse();
my $num = $input{'callerid'};
my $name = $input{'calleridname'};
my $ext = $input{'extension'};
my $ip = $ARGV[0];

if ( $ip =~ /^([0-9a-f]{2}(:|$)){6}$/i ) {
    $ip = $agi->database_get('growlsend',uc($ip));
}

unless ( $ip =~ /^(d+).(d+).(d+).(d+)$/ ) {
    exit;
}

open STDOUT, '>/dev/null';
fork and exit;

if ( $ARGV[2] ne "" ) {
    $ext = $ARGV[2];
}

# Define months and weekdays in English

my @months = (
    "January", "February", "March", "April", "May", "June",
    "July", "August", "September", "October", "November", "December"
);
my @weekdays = (
    "Sunday", "Monday", "Tuesday", "Wednesday",
    "Thursday", "Friday", "Saturday"
);

# Construct date/time string

my (
    $sec, $min, $hour, $mday, $mon,
    $year, $wday, $yday, $isdst
) = localtime(time);
my $ampm = "AM";
if ( $hour > 12 ) {
    $ampm = "PM";
    $hour = ( $hour - 12 );
}
elsif ( $hour eq 12 ) { $ampm = "PM"; }
elsif ( $hour eq 0 ) { $hour = "12"; }
if ( $min < 10 ) { $min = "0" . $min; }
$year += 1900;

my $fulldate =
"$hour:$min $ampm on $weekdays[$wday], $months[$mon] $mday, $year";

# Next two lines normalize NANP numbers, probably not wanted outside of U.S.A./Canada/other NANP places
$num =~ s/^([2-9])(d{2})([2-9])(d{2})(d{4})$/$1$2-$3$4-$5/;
$num =~ s/^(1)([2-9])(d{2})([2-9])(d{2})(d{4})$/$1-$2$3-$4$5-$6/;

register(host => "$ip",
    application=>"Incoming Call",
    password=>"$ARGV[1]", );
notify(host => "$ip",
    application=>"Incoming Call",
    title=>"$name",
    description=>"$numnfor $extn$fulldate",
    priority=>1,
    sticky=>'True',
    password=>"$ARGV[1]",
    );

Also, if you want to be able to specify computers that you wish to send notifications to using MAC addresses rather than IP addresses (in case computers on your network get their addresses via DHCP, and therefore the IP address of the target computer can change from time to time), then you must in addition install the following Perl script. It requires a command-line utility caller arp-scan so install that if you need to – I used to use nmap for this but they changed the output format, making it harder to parse, and arp-scan is much faster anyway. Call it /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/gshelper.agi and note that there are two references to 192.168.0… within it that you may need to change to reflect the scope of your local network, if your network’s IP addresses don’t start with 192.168.0.:

#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;
use warnings;
my @mac;
# Change the following lines to reflect the scope of your local network, if necessary
my @arp = `arp-scan --quiet --interface=eth0 192.168.0.0/24`;
foreach (@arp) {
        if (index($_, "192.168.0.") == 0) {
                @mac = split(" ");
                `/usr/sbin/asterisk -rx "database put growlsend \U$mac[1] $mac[0]"`;
        }
}

Make sure to modify the permissions on both scripts to make them the same as other scripts in that directory (owner and group should be asterisk, and the file should be executable), and also, if you use the gshelper script, make sure to set up a cron job to run it every so often (I would suggest once per hour, but it’s up to you).

Now go to this page and search for the paragraph starting with, “After you have created that file, check the ownership and permissions” (it’s right under a code block, just a bit more than halfway down the page) and if you are using FreePBX follow the instructions from there on out (if you are not using FreePBX then just read that section of the page so you understand how this works, and in any case ignore the top half of the page, it’s talking about a different notification system entirely).  But note that if you use the above code and have the gshelper.agi program running as a cron job, then after the first time it has run while the computer to receive the notifications is online you should be able to use a computer’s MAC address instead of the IP address.  This only works if you’ve used the modified script on this page, not the one shown in the FreePBX How-To.  As an example, instead of

exten => ****525,1,AGI(growlsend.agi,192.168.0.123,GrowlPassWord,525)

as shown in the example there, you could use

exten => ****525,1,AGI(growlsend.agi,01:23:45:AB:CD:EF,GrowlPassWord,525)

(the above is all one line) where 01:23:45:AB:CD:EF is the MAC address of the computer you want to send the notification to.  Once again, just in case you missed it the first time I said it, this won’t work until the gshelper.agi script has been run at least once while the computer to receive the notifications was online.  If for some reason it still doesn’t appear to work, run the nmap command including everything between the two backticks (`) directly from a Linux command prompt and see if it’s finding the computer (depending on the size of your network, it might be several seconds before you see any output, which is why I don’t try to run this in real time while a call is coming in).

If you are NOT running FreePBX, but instead writing your Asterisk dial plans by hand, then you will have to insert a line similar to one of the above examples into your dial plan, except that you don’t need the four asterisks (****) in front of the extension number, and if it’s not the first line in the context, you’ll probably want to use n rather than 1 for the line designator (and, you won’t be putting the line into extensions_custom.conf because you probably don’t have such a file; instead you’ll just put it right in the appropriate section of your dial plan).  In other words, something like this (using extension 525 as an example):

exten => 525,n,AGI(growlsend.agi,192.168.0.123,GrowlPassWord,525)

This line should go before the line that actually connects the call through to extension 525.  I do not write Asterisk dial plans by hand, so that’s about all the help I can give you. And if you don’t write your dial plans by hand, but you aren’t using FreePBX, then I’m afraid you’ll have to ask for help in whatever forum you use for advice on the particular software that you do use to generate dial plans, because I can’t tell you how to insert the above line (or something like it) into your dial plan.

Virtually everything in this article has already been published in one place or another, but I wanted to get it into an article with a relevant title and cut out some of the extraneous explanations and such.  There are links to all the original sources throughout the article, so feel free to follow those if you want more in-depth commentary.

Geolock — a Perl script for Asterisk or FreePBX users to enhance security

 

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.

I created the following Perl script and have been running it for a week or so, and it seems to be working well.  The idea is that this script runs once per minute, and whenever a SIP or IAX extension is registered with your Asterisk system the script looks at the IP address that the extension is registering from, and if that address is outside your home country (the United States by default), the IP address is immediately banned using IPtables.  So, your remote extensions could be anywhere in your home country and connect to your system, but if a hacker from some other nation penetrates your system and somehow guesses one of your passwords, they will (in theory) have less than a minute to do any damage before they are banned. And once they are banned, the rightful user of that extension should still have no difficulty connecting, as long as they are not coming in from outside your home country.

For those of you that don’t have any extensions connecting from outside your home country, consider this another tool in your arsenal of defenses against intrusions.  Combine it with strong passwords, and Fail2Ban with IPtables for additional security.

NOTE THAT THIS SCRIPT IS NOT GUARANTEED TO DO ANYTHING AT ALL, other than take up space on your computer.  IT SHOULD STILL BE CONSIDERED EXPERIMENTAL until there has been more testing on it.  I believe it works properly, but have no way to do extreme testing on it to see if or how it might break. THERE IS NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND!!!

Prerequisite: Obviously, you must have IPtables installed and functioning properly, and you must install either the Geo::IP or Geo::IP::PurePerl Perl module (do NOT install both!). You can install one of these using Webmin (using Webmin’s Others | Perl modules page), or in any other way you usually install Perl modules (e.g. CPAN). The difference between the two was explained in my original article, as follows:

… there is a Perl module called Geo::IP, which calls the GeoIP C API. If you install that API (when downloading, I’d go into the test/ directory and get the latest beta) using the directions on the linked page, and then install the Perl module (you must do it in that order, or installation of the Perl module will fail), you could run a Perl script that shows the location that your off-site extensions are coming in from. If you don’t want to install the API, or can’t figure out how (not difficult if you follow the directions), you can use the Geo::IP::PurePerl Module which is slower, but does not require the additional C library. Just so you know, GeoIP puts its data file at /usr/local/share/GeoIP/GeoIPCity.dat and they suggest that you go to http://www.maxmind.com/download/geoip/database/ every month or so to grab the latest database (the full link for the country database is currently http://geolite.maxmind.com/download/geoip/database/GeoLiteCountry/GeoIP.dat.gz or you can get a much larger city-level database at http://geolite.maxmind.com/download/geoip/database/GeoLiteCity.dat.gz — just make sure you don’t grab a CSV version by mistake!). If you need them, there are installation instructions for the database, although they are primarily for the city-level database. If you buy an account, they’ll give you automatic updates, though I can’t imagine it would be that hard to write a script to do that (or maybe Google could help you find one, or see this message thread).

If the above is confusing to you, I’d stick with the Geo::IP::PurePerl Module. That should at least get you going. You also need the Perl Sys::Syslog module (unless you want to omit all the syslog-related instructions), though chances are you may already have that one.

Now, here is the Perl script. I called it geolock.pl (although you are free to name it whatever you want), and I put it in the /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/ directory and made it executable. Note this is in a code block so the long lines will overflow the column width, so you need to copy and paste this into a text editor. Also there are certain lines you will need to change, as explained below:

#!/usr/bin/perl
use strict;
use warnings;
use Geo::IP;
use Sys::Syslog;
my $gi = Geo::IP->new(GEOIP_STANDARD);
my ($ext, @peerline, @extension, $ipaddress, $country, $shellcmd);
my $flag = 0;

my @sippeers = `asterisk -rx "sip show peers" | grep -v 192.168.0. | grep ^[1-9] | grep -v "(Unspecified)" | grep / | sort -n`;
# change grep statements in above line to match your local IP range (1st grep) and first digits of extensions (2nd grep)
foreach (@sippeers) {
@peerline = split(" ");
$ipaddress = $peerline[1];
$country = $gi->country_code_by_name($ipaddress);
@extension = split("/",$peerline[0]);
$ext = $extension[0];
#    print "Extension $ext has IP address $ipaddress which is in country $countryn";
if ($country && $country ne 'US') {
$shellcmd = `iptables -D INPUT -p ALL -s $ipaddress -j DROP 2>&1`;
system("iptables -A INPUT -p ALL -s $ipaddress -j DROP");
openlog($0,'pid','user');
syslog('notice', "Banning IP address $ipaddress in $country because Asterisk SIP Extension $ext is connecting from there");
closelog;
if (index($shellcmd, "Bad rule") >= 0) {
$shellcmd = 'echo "This is an automated message - please do not reply. IP address ' . $ipaddress . ' in country ' . $country . ' was banned in iptables because Asterisk SIP extension ' . $ext . ' was connecting from there." | mail -s "IP address banned on Asterisk box" root@localhost';
system($shellcmd);
$flag = 1;
}
}
}

### INCLUDE THIS NEXT SECTION ONLY IF YOU HAVE IAX2 EXTENSIONS ###
my @iaxpeers = `asterisk -rx "iax2 show peers" | grep -v 192.168.0. | grep ^[1-9] | grep -v "(Unspecified)" | grep -v "iax2 peers" | sort -n`;
# change grep statements in above line to match your local IP range (1st grep) and first digits of extensions (2nd grep)
foreach (@iaxpeers) {
@peerline = split(" ");
$ipaddress = $peerline[1];
$country = $gi->country_code_by_name($ipaddress);
$ext = $peerline[0];
#    print "Extension $ext has IP address $ipaddress which is in country $countryn";
if ($country && $country ne 'US') {
$shellcmd = `iptables -D INPUT -p ALL -s $ipaddress -j DROP 2>&1`;
system("iptables -A INPUT -p ALL -s $ipaddress -j DROP");
openlog($0,'pid','user');
syslog('notice', "Banning IP address $ipaddress in $country because Asterisk IAX2 Extension $ext is connecting from there");
closelog;
if (index($shellcmd, "Bad rule") >= 0) {
$shellcmd = 'echo "This is an automated message - please do not reply. IP address ' . $ipaddress . ' in country ' . $country . ' was banned in iptables because Asterisk IAX2 extension ' . $ext . ' was connecting from there." | mail -s "IP address banned on Asterisk box"
root@localhost';
system($shellcmd);
$flag = 1;
}
}
}
### END OF SECTION ONLY NEEDED IF YOU HAVE IAX2 EXTENSIONS ###

if ($flag == 1) {
`asterisk -rx "restart now"`;
}
else {
openlog($0,'pid','user');
syslog('info', "Completed normally");
closelog;
}

These are the things you need to change for your local installation:

  • If you used the Geo::IP::PurePerl module then be sure to change the two references to Geo::IP to Geo::IP::PurePerl.
  • Remove the optional section for IAX2 extensions if you don’t have any of those (but keep it if you have any IAX2 extensions, even if they are only internal ones).
  • In the line(s) “if ($country && $country ne ‘US’) {” change US to the code for your home country if you are somewhere else in the world. You could also create a more expansive conditional statement here to allow multiple countries, or a more restrictive ones if you want to block an IP that doesn’t resolve to any country (I consider that a database error, but maybe you don’t). If you have installed the city-level database, you could even (in theory) test for something other than country, such as a state or province, city, time zone, ISP, etc. This line appears in the SIP section and also the optional IAX2 section, so make sure you change both lines if necessary.
  • There are two instances of root@localhost in the above script (in the SIP section and also the optional IAX2 section), which you should change to a valid e-mail address if you want to receive e-mail notifications when an IP address is banned. If you don’t want to receive such e-mail notifications, then comment out or remove those two lines in their entirety (they start with: $shellcmd = ‘echo “This is an automated message …) and also remove the following system($shellcmd); line(s).

The following apply to the two lines that begin with "my @sippeers” and, in the optional IAX2 section, “my @iaxpeers”:

  • Change “grep -v 192.168.0.” to a regular expression or pattern that will match it IP address of all extensions on your local network.  The pattern as shown works if all your local extensions will be in the range 192.168.0.x. Since you can use a regular expression, you could do something like “grep -v 192.168.[1-5].” which would match any local address from 192.168.1.0 through 192.168.5.255.
  • Change grep ^[1-9] to match the first digit of your extensions – as shown, anything starting with a digit 1 through 9 would be considered an extension.  The idea here is that we only want to look at extensions, not trunks (which you can restrict using permit and deny statements, if necessary). Most trunks don’t begin with a number (when you do a “sip show peers” or “iax2 show peers” listing from the CLI), so this is what separates extensions from trunks.  You may have to get a bit more creative if you have a trunk that starts with a number that overlaps your extensions. If you run the entire section between the backticks (the ` characters) from a Linux command prompt,  it should show you all of your connected non-local (that is, not on your internal network) SIP or IAX extensions (depending on which line you run), but no trunks, local extensions, offline extensions, or header information.

Sharp-eyed readers may observe that I first try to delete an iptables rule before creating it.  That’s because I don’t want to create the same rule multiple times (iptables happily accepts duplicates, unfortunately).  If I get an error when trying to delete the rule, then I know that what follows will be the first attempt to create it, and I should send an e-mail and restart Asterisk when we’re all finished.  Basically, it’s supposed to be a safety mechanism to keep from repeatedly sending the same e-mail, or restarting Asterisk once a minute if for some reason the iptables rule doesn’t “take” at first.

Again, don’t forget to make the Perl script executable, and run it manually a few times to watch the output (uncomment the commented-out “print” lines during initial testing – you can remove them once you are satisfied it’s working as it should be).  After you have run it a few times, from the Linux command prompt do iptables –list and make sure everything looks okay there.

One thing you should be aware of is that when this script detects an intrusion attempt (a connection from outside the United States), after it bans the IP address it restarts Asterisk, which will interrupt any calls in progress.  That’s deliberate; I assume you want to throw the hackers off your system right now, even if it means your users may have to re-dial their calls. Howerver, if for some reason you don’t want to do that, then you can change the line `asterisk -rx “restart now”`; to `asterisk -rx “restart when convenient”`;, which will wait until there is no usage on your system to restart Asterisk.  In that case, good luck to you if the hacker just placed a call to some $100-a-minute destination! In theory IPtables will interrupt the conversation (no audio will pass) BUT that does not mean Asterisk will tear the call down right away – when an extension “just disappears”, Asterisk tends to wait a LONG time to see if it will come back, and if it never does, well that’s what we call a “zombie” call — it just won’t die (at least not until the other end disconnects)! EDIT: If you don’t want to restart the whole system but do want to throw the hacker off NOW, see the modification by “Florent” in the comments below — I have NOT tested his changes personally, but they may do what you want.

The final step is to make this execute once a minute.  I used Webmin’s “System | Scheduled Cron Jobs” to set this up:

cron job setup using WebminBut if you are more comfortable creating a cron job from the command line, by all means, feel free to do so.

Finally, I always say that suggestions for improvement are welcome, and also, if you want to translate this into some other programming language, you have my blessing. Please be sure to test it thoroughly before relying on it, because if someone manages to hack through anyway, I’m not going to pay your phone bill! Once again, the above should be considered experimental code and is not guaranteed to do anything at all.

Mini-review of Sangoma U100 USBfxo device

 

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.

This article was originally posted in June, 2010.

I recently had the experience of trying to help someone make a Sangoma USBfxo device (model U100) work on a server that runs FreePBX and Asterisk. The advertised features of this device are as follows:

  • Dual FXO ports
  • Easy installation, no need to open up computer to install PCI/PCIe card
  • Supports up to 2 simultaneous calls
  • Compact plastic enclosure
  • Low power consumption, takes power from USB bus
  • USB 2.0 compliant (compatible with USB 1.1)

The first thing I would note is that although you don’t have to open up the computer, it’s definitely not “plug and play.” At the very least you have to install driver software, and on an Asterisk server you will also need to install and configure DADHI or ZAPTEL (unless this has already been done). Depending on your level of expertise, this might be easy, or quite daunting. I would certainly take issue with the claim of “easy installation” although I can understand how a true Linux geek might consider it a walk in the park. It wasn’t so much that there were any major hitches in the installation as that it was time consuming and required quite a bit of mental effort to figure out what needed to be done — someone who has just set up a PBX using a “load and go” distribution like Elastix, PBX in a Flash, AsteriskNOW, Trixbox, etc. might not find it all that easy to get this thing working.

The major issue we had was with the performance. We initially discovered that it was “clipping” speech severely, causing audio artifacts that are difficult to describe in print, but unpleasant to hear. We got in touch with Sangoma customer support and finally traced the problem to the built in hardware echo cancellation. By disabling the hardware echo cancellation, the speech was clear, but of course we then had mild echo. Enabling echo cancellation in Zaptel fixed that on a temporary basis, but about a week later Sangoma customer support e-mailed us and suggested that we try OSLEC, the open source echo canceler. We might have actually done that had we not discovered another issue in the meantime, that made us decide we didn’t want to mess with this unit anymore.

This new issue was that initially, it did not pick up incoming caller ID on incoming calls. We discovered that this could be fixed by changing the gain settings in Zaptel, but even when we did that it still wasn’t 100% reliable (I’d say it worked about 90% of the time). And, the downside of that was that we had to reduce the incoming gain, so that it was harder to hear callers.

We’ve used Sipura SPA-3000’s before for this same function, although they are only single line units (they have one FXS port and one FXO port) and have never had any of these issues. The main reason we tried the USBfxo was because we wanted two FXO ports, and also liked the idea that it was powered off the USB cable, and didn’t require us to have yet another device with a “wall wart” to plug in. But the difficulties with Caller ID, volume levels, and the fact that Sangoma had apparently given up on getting the hardware echo cancellation to work without distorting the audio led us to get frustrated with this device fairly quickly. The non-techies that had to make and receive calls that went through this device were not very understanding of the issues, especially since the SPA-3000’s (now superseded by the Linksys SPA-3102, which is essentially an updated version of the Sipura SPA-3000) had always worked much more reliably. We finally gave in and found another Sipura SPA-3000 on eBay and put it into service, and within a relatively short time (part of which was spent locating and installing updated firmware) it was working like a champ. Unlike the Sangoma, it detects the Caller ID 100% of the time, and we can tweak the transmit and receive gain to comfortable levels.

My personal opinion is that Sangoma should be ashamed to put their name on the USBfxo.  The hardware echo cancellation, in a word, sucks.  And one of the big reasons you’d buy a brand like Sangoma in the first place is because of the supposedly superior echo cancellation.  Echo cancellation is supposed to cancel echo, not make it sound like your words are clipped.  My guess is that the hardware echo cancellation is far too aggressive and they don’t give you any way to “tune” it — you can either enable or disable it, but that’s all.  The USBfxo is a great idea, but it needs to go back to the drawing board. Sangoma’s motto (shown on their Wiki pages, etc.) is “Because it must work!”, but apparently that motto does not imply that it must work well!

Also, a note to Sangoma customer service — next time a customer is dropping hints that they’d like you to take your defective unit back and send a replacement, you might want to be a bit more responsive to that request. We were willing to work with you up to a point but the message came through loud and clear that you really didn’t want to replace this dog of a device unless you absolutely had to.  We didn’t sign up to be beta testers, we just wanted the damn thing to work. Given Sangoma’s (perhaps undeserved) reputation we really thought you’d be more agreeable to making sure that we got a unit that worked, not making us try a bunch of different things and then ultimately told to try OSLEC, effectively giving up hope that the hardware echo cancellation would ever work properly.

Another suggestion to Sangoma (or any other manufacturer that may be listening) — most of us who did not cut our teeth on Linux would probably prefer not to have to mess with ZAPTEL or DADHI.  The nice thing about the Linksys/Sipura devices is that they sit out on the network and appear as just another SIP-based device, and in FreePBX you configure them pretty much as you would any other SIP trunk.  I’m not saying that installing any of these devices is the proverbial “piece of cake”, especially if you have never done it before, but when you have to start installing and configuring drivers, that goes outside of the realm of what I would consider easy to install. What someone really needs to come out with is an inexpensive four to six-port SIP based FXO device that sits out on your local network, like the SPA-3000/3102.

If you are in need of one or two FXO ports for your Asterisk server, my advice would be to first try one or two Sipura SPA-3000 or Linksys SPA-3102 devices (following these instructions if you are a FreePBX user) — if those do not work the way you’d like, you can always resell them on eBay and then try a more expensive solution.  If your server doesn’t have card slots (as is increasingly the case, as users turn to small computers like the Acer Aspire Revo to use as small, power-efficient PBX’s) then your choices are limited to external devices such as the aformentioned units. However, if your system can accept internal cards, then you can buy cards that provide FXO ports from several manufacturers, including Digium and Sangoma (if you need eight or more FXO ports than I believe there are other external options, but they are quite a bit more pricey and I have not really investigated them, so I won’t comment on them at this point.  However, if any manufacturer would care to send a review sample, I’d be more than happy to give it a try!). 😉

The one caveat I will add is that not every device will work on every line.  If you have a very long line from a traditional telephone company, your requirements (and experience with a particular device) may be quite different from someone who is sitting 500 feet from the central office, or someone who’s trying to take the output of a cable company’s VoIP adapter and pipe it over to the FXO card or device using twenty feet of copper wire. Just because the Sipura devices have worked better for us does not mean they will for you. I’m guessing that some people have purchased the exact same Sangoma device that we tried and were able to get it working well enough for their needs, but I just cannot recommend this device — at least not until Sangoma fixes the echo cancellation, and makes it read the incoming Caller ID reliably 100% of the time, preferably without having to change the incoming gain in DADHI or ZAPTEL.

EDIT: For more comments/opinions on this device (and on this review), see this thread on the PBX in a Flash forum.

An overscan fix for the Sharp LC-42SB45U television set when connected to a computer with a Linux operating system (Ubuntu, etc.)

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which in turn was reposted with the permission of the original author from a now-defunct Macintosh-oriented blog. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to The Michigan Telephone Blog.

If you bought a Sharp LC-42SB45U TV, perhaps because it was on a super great (and very lightly advertised) deal at Wal-Mart back in November, and then later tried to hook up a home theater PC to it, you may have been disappointed to discover that unlike most flat screen digital TV’s it doesn’t have a “pixel-to-pixel” or similar 1:1 pixel mapping mode. The result is that when you hook up a computer to one of the HDMI ports, there is a serious overscan problem — for example, if you are running Ubuntu Linux (or some other version of Linux) you won’t see the top or bottom menu bars, because they are outside the visible screen area. If you use XBMC or Boxee, you can go into that program’s settings menu and apply overscan correction from within the program, but most other programs and video players don’t offer an overscan correction option.

The problem is not that there’s no “Dot by Dot” setting in the Sharp TV — it’s just that it’s a (very) hidden option, and as far as I know, there is nothing you can do using the buttons on the TV or on the remote to make it appear (I’d be very happy to be proven wrong on this point; if there is some sort of hidden remote control key sequence that can make the Dot by Dot option always appear, I wish someone would spill the beans so we can fix this issue the right way). But with one small tweak in a Linux configuration file, you can make it appear, like so:

Sharp LC-42SB45U TV showing Dot by Dot option

My first approach to this came at a cost: I read that if you could send the Sharp a non-standard vertical sync frequency (refresh rate) a bit below the normal 60 Hz, the alternate View Mode would appear.  That did work, and in my non-scientific testing, I found that 59.55 Hz was about the cutoff point.  Anything above that, and you get the normal menu of View Mode options when you press the View Mode button on the remote.  Anything at about that or below,  and you get the View Mode options menu shown above. However, this was certainly less than ideal because of the non-standard refresh rate. I got started on that path after reading a forum post that suggested a custom ModeLine in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file to give you a 1816×1026 display.  While this will work to fix the overscan, it also cuts down on the pixels available to programs, and makes things not quite as sharp (no pun intended) as they should be.

Now, the idea of using a custom ModeLine in your /etc/X11/xorg.conf file is not a bad idea, and the above-referenced post did contain some good information  (especially about disabling some unwanted Ubuntu packages that might cause your xorg.conf to be ignored).  So I tried the xorg.conf shown in that post, except I used the original ModeLine shown (which is correct for the Sharp LC-42SB45U as long as you don’t mind the overscan).  I then read in another forum post (on a different site) that someone had found that the Dot by Dot option would appear if the refresh rate were set to 59 Hz rather than 60 Hz.  However they were doing that on a Windows machine, not a Linux box, if I recall correctly.

But again, that had the disadvantage of a non-standard refresh rate.  I’ve read on several sites that the ideal refresh rate is 59.94 Hz (it’s very close to 60 Hz and is exactly twice the ATSC 1920×1080 progressive scan frequency of 29.97 Hz) so my goal was to get as close to that as possible. I then read that someone had actually accomplished this on a Windows box by changing the timing to something called “CVT reduced blank” (the procedure on a Windows box is to bring up the NVIDIA Control Panel, then click on Change Resolution, then Add Resolution, then Create Custom Resolution, then in the “Timing” section find the “Standard” drop-down box and select CVT reduced blank. Make sure the other settings look sane, click the Test button and go from there. Mac OS X users can do something similar using a program called SwitchResX — see Brian Semiglia’s comment in the Comments section for a link to instructions. The reason this doesn’t work under Linux is that the Linux version of the NVIDIA Control Panel doesn’t offer this level of functionality, and also, some might encounter this issue even if not using NVIDIA graphics). So my goal was to find a ModeLine that would do the CVT reduced blank but not use a non-standard screen size nor refresh rate. After searching the web, playing around with an online Calculator for video timings which I saved to a local drive and then hacked a bit to display four decimal points of precision on some key values, and generally spending more time than I intended, I came up with a working ModeLine.

First, let’s look at the original 1920×1080 ModeLine from the above-linked forum post:

ModeLine "1920x1080" 148.50 1920 2008 2052 2200 1080 1084 1089 1125 +hsync +vsync

If you change the pixel clock frequency value in a ModeLine (the 148.50 in the line shown above) you change the refresh rate, and if you change certain other values you change the other timings.  I cheated a bit and used Google to search for a working ModeLine that provided 1920×1080 at 59.94 progressive scan, and found one that was very close (59.93, actually) so I tweaked the refresh to give me exactly 59.94.  This is the final ModeLine I came up with:

Modeline "1920x1080" 138.5141 1920 1968 2000 2080 1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync +vsync

Okay, so you may think it ridiculous to specify the pixel clock frequency out to four decimal places, but hey, it works! So, this is what I’m now using for an xorg.conf file (by the way, if any of the ModeLines in this article are truncated on your display, just keep in mind that the last two values in each line are +hsync +vsync — if you copy and paste any of the long ModeLines, hopefully you’ll get the complete line).  Bear in mind that I’m using this with an Acer Aspire Revo, so some of these lines are specific to the NVIDIA graphics chipset, but the principle of changing the ModeLine probably should work with this model Sharp TV even if some other graphics chipset is used on the computer:

# nvidia-xconfig: X configuration file generated by nvidia-xconfig
# nvidia-xconfig:  version 1.0  (buildmeister@builder75)  Tue Dec  8 21:04:28 PST 2009

Section "ServerLayout"
    Identifier     "Layout0"
    Screen      0  "Screen0"
    InputDevice    "Keyboard0" "CoreKeyboard"
    InputDevice    "Mouse0" "CorePointer"
EndSection

Section "Files"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
    # generated from default
    Identifier     "Mouse0"
    Driver         "mouse"
    Option         "Protocol" "auto"
    Option         "Device" "/dev/psaux"
    Option         "Emulate3Buttons" "no"
    Option         "ZAxisMapping" "4 5"
EndSection

Section "InputDevice"
    # generated from default
    Identifier     "Keyboard0"
    Driver         "kbd"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
    Identifier     "Monitor0"
    VendorName     "Unknown"
    ModelName      "Unknown"
    HorizSync       15.0 - 75.0
    VertRefresh     55.0 - 76.0
    ModeLine       "1920x1080" 138.5141 1920 1968 2000 2080 1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync +vsync
    Option         "ExactModeTimingsDVI" "TRUE"
    Option         "DPMS"
EndSection

Section "Device"
    Identifier     "Device0"
    Driver         "nvidia"
    VendorName     "NVIDIA Corporation"
    Option         "ModeValidation" "NoEdidModes"
    Option         "HWCursor" "false"
    Option         "DynamicTwinView" "false"
EndSection

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "Screen0"
    Device         "Device0"
    Monitor        "Monitor0"
    DefaultDepth    24
    SubSection     "Display"
        Modes      "1920x1080"
        Depth       24
    EndSubSection
EndSection

Section "Extensions"
     Option         "Composite" "Disable"
EndSection

This seems to work well on a Acer Aspire Revo running Ubuntu Karmic Koala (EDIT: and I’ve also used it under Maverick Meerkat), though I imagine it would work with other Linux distributions that use an xorg.conf file (including XBMC Live), however as far as I know this trick only works with the Sharp LC-42SB45U TV and no other model.  With this xorg.conf I don’t have to tweak the overscan settings in XBMC or Boxee at all. It works for me, but it may or may not work for you.  Standard disclaimers apply – I’m not telling you to do this on your setup, and if you break something, you own all the pieces, but from me you’ll get nothing more than perhaps a bit of sympathy. Don’t even think of doing this if you are not willing to assume any and all risks.

EDIT: If you don’t want to go through all the hassle I went through to calculate the correct ModeLine, you can run the cvt program with the -r option from the Linux command prompt, like this:

cvt -r 1920 1080

That’s for a 1920 x 1080 display. On my system this generated the following output:

# 1920x1080 59.93 Hz (CVT 2.07M9-R) hsync: 66.59 kHz; pclk: 138.50 MHz
Modeline "1920x1080R"  138.50  1920 1968 2000 2080  1080 1083 1088 1111 +hsync -vsync

You’ll notice this is nearly identical to the ModeLine I generated (the vsync is the opposite, though — don’t know if that would be an issue). What I’ve read is that you paste the generated ModeLine into your xorg.conf file and make sure you also have the line

Option         "ExactModeTimingsDVI" "TRUE"

in your xorg.conf (to force it to use your generated ModeLine) and that may be all you need. Certainly simpler than how I did it, but I didn’t know about the cvt program. (End EDIT).

By the way, if you want to hack that Calculator for video timings, just save the HTML page to your local hard drive, open it in a text editor and look for this section (it’s very close to the top):

function TwoDecimal(number) {
 number=((Math.round(number*100)/100));
 return number;
}

Change that second line to

number=((Math.round(number*10000)/10000));

Then load the page into your favorite browser (with JavaScript enabled). That will display a couple extra decimal points on some of the critical values.

Mini-review of Beginning OpenVPN 2.0.9 by Markus Feilner and Norbert Graf (Packt Publishing)

 

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, and 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.
Cover of Beginning OpenVPN 2.0.9

I have previously reviewed the title, “Review of OpenVPN: Building and Integrating Virtual Private Networks by Markus Feilner“, and this is the updated and expanded version of that book. The publisher says that all examples in the book work with version 2.0.9 and 2.1 of OpenVPN. Since the original book was released in 2006, it was definitely due for an update!

Here’s what the publisher wants you to know about the book (my comments will follow):

In Detail

OpenVPN is a powerful, open source SSL VPN application. It can secure site-to-site connections, WiFi, and enterprise-scale remote connections. While being a full-featured VPN solution, OpenVPN is easy to use and does not suffer from the complexity that characterizes other IPsec VPN implementations. It uses the secure and stable TLS/SSL mechanisms for authentication and encryption. This book is an easy introduction to this popular VPN application. After introducing the basics of security and VPN, it moves on to cover using OpenVPN, from installing it on various platforms, through configuring basic tunnels, to more advanced features, such as using the application with firewalls, routers, proxy servers, and OpenVPN scripting.

This is a practical guide to using OpenVPN for building both basic and complex Virtual Private Networks. It will save you a lot of time and help you build better VPNs that suit your requirements. While providing only necessary theoretical background, the book takes a practical approach, presenting plenty of examples. It starts with an introduction into the theory of VPNs and OpenVPN, followed by a simple installation example on almost every available platform. After a concise and ordered list of OpenVPN’s parameters, we dive into connecting several machines in a safe way. The last third of the book deals with professional and high-end scenarios, and also mobile integration. After having read the whole book and followed and understood all the examples, you will be an expert in VPN, Security, and especially in OpenVPN Technology. This book was written for version 2.0.9 of OpenVPN, but all examples have been tested and run smoothly on version 2.1 too.
Read the full Table of Contents for Beginning OpenVPN 2.0.9

What you will learn from this book

  • Install OpenVPN on Windows Server, Vista, and Mac OS X and also on different Linux versions and FreeBSD
  • Learn basic security concepts necessary to understand VPNs and OpenVPN in particular
  • Take a look at encryption matters, symmetric and asymmetric keying, and certificates
  • Connect Windows and Linux systems and safely transfer the necessary encryption keys using WinSCP
  • Learn about OpenVPN, its development, features, resources, advantages, and disadvantages compared to other VPN solutions, especially IPsec
  • Discuss non-standard and advanced methods of installing OpenVPN by compiling the source code provided by the OpenVPN project
  • Create an encryption key for OpenVPN and use it to set up an OpenVPN tunnel between two Windows systems in the same network
  • Create X.509 server and client certificates for use with OpenVPN and learn how to use tools to debug and monitor VPN tunnels
  • Create and administer certificates that have to be transferred to the machines that are supposed to take part in the VPN
  • Configure two different firewall networks that connect to each other through the secure OpenVPN tunnel
  • Install and use XCA and TinyCA2 to generate certificate revocation lists that are used to block unwanted connections by formerly authorized clients
  • Install OpenVPN on Windows Mobile and Smartphones running embedded Linux, like Nokia’s Maemo platform
  • Analyze the flow of datagrams between the VPN servers and the connected networks with tools like ifconfig, ping, traceroute, and mtr

Approach

This book is an easy introduction to OpenVPN. While providing only necessary theoretical background, it takes a practical approach, presenting plenty of examples. It is written in a friendly style making this complex topic easy and a joy to read. It first covers basic VPN concepts, then moves to introduce basic OpenVPN configurations, before covering advanced uses of OpenVPN.

Who this book is written for

This book is for both experienced and new OpenVPN users. If you are interested in security and privacy in the internet, or want to have your notebook or mobile phone connected safely to the internet, the server in your company, or at home, you will find this book useful. It presumes basic knowledge of Linux, but no knowledge of VPNs is required.

Now back to my mini-review. If you read my original review (which explains why I think a VPN can be an important part of securing private VoIP networks, among other uses), you know that I found Mr. Feilner’s original book quite helpful in giving me a grasp on VPNs, a subject I’d known very little about prior to that point. There were a few things I thought could have been covered better, though, so I was interested to see if those things had been addressed in this updated edition.

As I had more or less noted, the author seemed to slightly prefer SuSE Linux over other versions of Linux, and the Shorewall firewall over other Linux firewall solutions, and (in my opinion) the new book still uses more pages than are really necessary talking about how to set up and configure Shorewall, but at least now the authors do provide some minimal information about the far more popular iptables firewall tool (a little over three pages). It would have been nice to see a more in-depth treatment of this subject, because sometimes setting up iptables correctly is one key to getting your VPN to work as you want it to, particularly if you need or want to do anything more complicated than a simple VPN tunnel. It’s a minor nit, to be sure, because there’s plenty of information on the web about how to set up and configure iptables, but I personally would have given that topic more than three pages.

Then I discovered they’d made one addition that I really wanted to see: A totally new chapter on OpenVPN GUI tools, and in particular, a section on Webmin’s OpenVPN plugin. My disappointment again was that this was not a more exhaustive treatment of the subject. Actually, it’s little more than a mention that the plugin exists, and a few screenshots.  Granted that this was more than appeared in the original volume, and just informing readers of the existence of that plugin is no small thing, but when I did my series on Setting up an OpenVPN tunnel using a CentOS-based system as the server and a router flashed with Tomato firmware as the client, it took me two parts to explain how to configure the Webmin plugin.  That same chapter also talks about some client GUI’s for Linux, but doesn’t spend more than a page or two on any of them.

I’m not really faulting the authors here — it’s very apparent that they write about what they know, and they definitely know their stuff when it comes to OpenVPN, whereas they may not be quite as familiar with Webmin or iptables.  That said, Windows users should find all the information they need to set up an OpenVPN tunnel and then some, and Linux newbies get enough information to at least point them in the right direction. As for Mac users, the coverage there is about the same as in the previous edition, which is to say that there’s about three pages on how to install Tunnelblick.  However, much of the information in the book is not OS specific, and those with some experience with Linux or OS X should have no trouble at all following along.

On a positive note, there are many examples and screenshots in the book, and in this one the screenshots are actually readable (well, I did need my reading glasses for a few of them, but then I’m getting to the point where I need my reading glasses to read the cooking directions on a frozen dinner!). And, the authors’ writing style is clear and easy to understand. Also, there’s a totally new (albeit relatively short) chapter on Mobile Security, which may be of interest to some of the “road warriors” out there.

So, my recommendation is this:  If you read Markus Feilner’s previous book on OpenVPN and liked it, you’re almost certainly going to want to read this one, just to get up to date.  If you didn’t read the previous edition but just want to get up to speed on OpenVPN, this really is one of the better books on the subject, provided that you understand that at times you may have to supplement the book with a bit of additional research on the Web, particularly if you are running OS X or Linux as your operating system (but at least you’ll have a much better handle on topics for additional research).

The reason this is a mini-review and not a full review is because due to personal/family issues I haven’t had time to do much more than skim through the new book, rather than give it a complete read as I normally prefer to do.  But since Packt Publishing kindly sent me the book over a month ago, I feel as though it’s a disservice to both them and to the readers of this blog to delay mentioning it any longer. Despite my comments about the paucity of additional pages on the particular topics I’d hoped to read more about, this is still a great book for those who need to set up and secure an OpenVPN tunnel, particularly if you’re just starting out and know next to nothing about VPNs and/or OpenVPN.

Beginning OpenVPN 2.0.9 by Markus Feilner, Norbert Graf (Amazon affiliate link)

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