Back in 2009, I posted about my extremely positive experience in purchasing and using the MagicJack, when I decided to let go of more traditional land line options. About two years ago, I updated to the MagicJack Plus, once I heard it was out and no longer required being attached to a computer. It was the easiest thing to install and get working, and at the same low cost of the MagicJack. The unit itself is about $20 more expensive than the MagicJack but the annual phone service fee is still as low (around $20/year). The price of the MagicJack Plus, which includes first year service is around $70. Because I still have people asking me about it from time to time, I figured I’d do an update. I refer people to my blog posts for info on how to get started. So here’s the update.

The MagicJack Plus (MJ Plus) plugs into your router or modem, with no need to anchor it to a computer. That means you also don’t have to leave a computer on for it to work. Here’s what I wrote in my last post about the cons of the original unit – the MagicJack. The updates about the MJ Plus are written in bold after each item.

What are the downsides? There are several, so this is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

  1. You have to have high speed Internet and at least Windows XP. Still true with MJ Plus
  2. Your computer has to be on to pick up incoming calls. Otherwise, incoming calls go directly to voicemail. Not true with MJ Plus, since the unit plugs into your modem.
  3. The MJ software opens upon starting your computer. And a 3″ x 4″ window pops up everytime there is an incoming or outgoing phone call. There is no way to turn off the software. A small annoyance for me. Not true with MJ Plus. Nothing plugs into your computer and there is no software installed on your computer.
  4. The MJ phone service does not guarantee integration with local 911 emergency services. You’ll want to read the fine print carefully and see if that’s an issue for you. This may still be true. Best to dial 911 once, to see if it works. If it doesn’t, you can always return the unit to the store if you are not comfortable with that. I do get 911 services with it.
  5. This next one came via Ben S, who commented to this post. Alarm devices (home health care alert, burglar/fire alarm) that want to dial a central monitoring station will not be reliably able to dial out when there’s an emergency … particularly if you shut off your computer when you are away on vacation. Likely still true.
  6. There is no easy way to uninstall the software. “The process required to uninstall the software requires multiple Windows Registry edits and the removal of several folders on the Windows system.” (http://uninstallmagicjack.com/). No longer an issue with MJ Plus, since again, there is no software installed on your computer.
  7. I’m presuming MJ has a lean tech support crew, based on reviews. [Update 6-9-09: Have never needed to use them; everything has worked perfectly since installation.]. Still true, but I’m here to report four years later, than I have NEVER needed support from MJ.
  8. You have to get a new phone number with MJ. But you get to choose your area code and prefix, from a few choices, and MJ.com selects the last four digits. I received the most easily memorizable number that I’ve ever had. This is still true if you purchase MJ Plus without ever having had the MJ original unit. My MJ number switched over to the new MJ Plus unit, but I did lose my year’s subscription to MJ, and had to repurchase a year under MJ Plus. As I understand it, the licensing of it (your cost for using it) goes to a different developer, with a different pricing structure. Still even with the loss of maybe a half-year’s MJ annual license, I have captured a huge savings over other land line or other VoIP options.
  9. It runs through the Internet, which means you lose phone service if your Internet service is down or you have an electrical power outage. That’s what the cell phone is for…backup! Still true with MJ Plus.
  10. If you use only a laptop at home, the MJ and phone have to follow you around with your laptop, unless you get a dedicated computer for the MJ that lives in a permanent location in your home. You then have to think through how to add phones (see next bullet). I presently have a desktop in my office area, so that’s not an issue. If/when I replace it with a laptop, I’ll just keep it for the MJ connection. This is a non-issue with MJ Plus, since it’s connected to your modem, not your computer.
  11. You have to think through how to add extra phones, if you want more than one. I wanted to maintain the same distribution of phones that I had – one in every room. I came upon an excellent solution on how to keep all my existing phones using my existing wall jacks. I give credit to an Office Depot clerk who gave me the skinny on how to do this. I am leaving instructions at the very end of this post, if you’re interested. Still true for MJ Plus, but my solution in my original post is still effective for MJ Plus.

After 4 years, I’m still a very satisfied customer. And I should add, no one on the other end of the phone has indicated any quality issues. Go MagicJack Plus!

McGraw-Hill via their new product McGraw-Hill Campus provides faculty unlimited access to the company’s entire library, regardless of whether they’re using Mcgraw-Hill textbooks. Resources include eBooks, test banks, PowerPoint slides, animations and learning objects. Students will also be able to access McGraw-Hill resources directly through their LMS  but only those that already provided free by MH.

MH Campus (mhcampus.com) is ingrated (at no additional fee) with most LMS products including Blackboard, D2L, eCollege, Moodle, Sakai, Shibboleth and others. This means there is no additional web site to log into for faculty or students who can access the materials directly from their LMS.

To read full article: http://campustechnology.com/articles/2011/07/18/mcgrawhill-campus-to-make-resources-free-through-any-lms.aspx#

Well worth the read for the K-12 perspective.

Abstract: “Directors of the federal Office of Educational Technology both past and present—as well as a range of ed tech leaders nationwide—predict what the digital revolution has in store for the next decade, while taking account of its impact to date. Plus: a timeline of learning technologies.”

2020 Vision: Experts Forecast What the Digital Revolution Will Bring Next

I’ve been doing some research on next generation library technologies and the future of acaedemic libraries. Marshall Breeding (Vanderbilt University) cites that of all the possible sources students can begin their search for data, only 4% of the responding students begin either with their college library portal or their library’s online database. 89% as we would well imagine, begin with search engines.

This only affirms what we’ve been advising our higher ed colleagues for at least 5 years; that Information Literacy is key to effective quality searches. Still, due to the ever-changing landscape of the social web web allowing users to generate and organize content (i.e., tagging, folksonomies, etc.), the manifesto of the next gen academic library starts with the following principles:

  • Organize workflows – processes and catalog interfaces – around the needs of the users
  • Students want/need to gain access to more of the academic literature with far fewer hurdles than the present-day library online catalogs permit (even as a University instructor, I resist using them when not necessary; simply because providing support to my students on how to access the article is persistently draining)
  • They want AmaGoogle search returns recommending multi-media resource options, with options to rate the items
  • And they want immediate access to the material (in librarian speak discovery and delivery). Forget Inter-library loans and holding physical items at the reference desk.

If you don’t believe me, watch this video which was filmed in East Melbourne Library and launched the 15th Biennial VALA Conference and Exhibition in Melbourne Australia.


I believe I mentioned in a prior post that one of the things I love about having an iPhone is that it serves double-duty as an XM-like radio. I can pull in ad-free radio stations (tons of them) on demand, for no extra cost beyond my monthly Internet fee.

One of my favorite radio applications is Stitcher Radio, for keeping up with technology. I find I no longer have time or patience to download podcasts to my portable device. I want them streamed, on demand. And with Stitcher, that’s exactly what you can get.

It’s free and is currently available for the iPhone and the Blackberry. Once installed, select the Stations button, then any of the choices which interest you. In my case, I’m interested in the Science and Technology option which then provides the following station/podcast choices:

  • Apple and Mac (TUAW, Today iniPhone, MAc Observer, EZMac)
  • GamerZone
  • Learning Center (Quick and Dirty Tips, Harvard, UCB, How Stuff Works)
  • Technology (TechCrunch, WJ Tech News)

In one spin around a St. Paul’s Central Park the other night. I learned why Microsoft might actually compete in the world of cloud computing followed by everything you might want to know about Open Street Maps.

Pretty cool stuff.

I just finished listening to a live stream of our state’s Governor (Pawlenty, Republican) discussing his plan to balance our state budget for this biennium. Admittedly I’ve been anxiously awaiting this announcement, as are my colleagues who work with me at one of the largest consortium of higher education systems in the U.S., and most definitely slated for a cut by our governor. Less selfishly, I am following the plans to balance the budget as I have a keen interest in following state and local governmental budgets, the legislative process, and the myriad agencies and hard working public servants attempting to help our good citizens, and the resulting impact decreased budgets have on services to our citizens. That should tell you which side of the political fence I sit.

The governor is using his special power called unallotment (a power granted to Minnesota governors back in the 1930s) to balance the budget.  This is the first time unallotment power is being used to balance the budget at the beginning of a biennium. This can be attributed to the fact that the state’s reserves disappeared due to our governor’s steadfast commitment to not raising taxes under his watch (6.5 years and ticking). And this biennium’s record-breaking deficit gets the same treatment. 

Per Pawlenty just 40 minutes ago, in referring to local government leaders and agencies, who have chosen to fund their gaps by increasing local taxes:

They need to get their head out of the clouds and stop increasing spending. This is the real world! And they need to do it [reduce spending] in the right order. Perhaps they didn’t understand that everyone else was living within their means, maybe now they will.”

Here is Pawlenty’s order (unallotment recommendations). Note: this is not a complete listing of the proposed reductions and shifts. It is just intended to summarize what I heard via the streamed announcement.

1.  Functions Protected (no cuts) : the military, the national guard, law enforcement, veteran’s affairs, and K-12 education

2.  Reductions in Local Aid $300 million as follows:

  • County Aid: reduction capped at 1.19 % for 2010, 2.14% for 2011
  • City Aid: reduction  capped at 3% of their revenues for 2010, and 7.64% for 2011
  • Townships: reductions capped at 1.71% for 2010, , 3.66% for 2011
  • Smaller towns and cities are exempt from reductions; this applies to about 50% of Minnesota’s towns and cities

3. Health and Human Services reductions: highlights

  • Inpatient services not reduced, exempt from unallotment
  • No adjustments to nursing homes in terms of rate payments
  • Puts on hold the formula adjustment (rebasing) to a later year

4. Reduction to Higher Education: $100 million, with $50 million reduction to MnSCU  (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities) and $50 million reduction to the University of Minnesota. Pawlenty indicated this represents about 3.6% of these two systems’ general resource revenues.

5. Reductions to State Agencies: 7.25%  across the board, with public safety, corrections, military, sex offender programs, (and some others) being exempt.

6. Miscellaneous adjustments such as collection of $100 million in revenues due us by the tax reciprocity arrangement with Wisconsin.

One last critique before I sign off this post. I agree with the brief post-announcement (democratic) analyst who said:

Pawlently is using a lot of shifts to balance the budget; he’s shifted $2 billion into the next biennium which means our next governor will inherit that. These are larger shifts than we’ve seen before and the deficit is larger than we’ve seen in Minnesota history. I wonder how his recommendations would have differed if he were running for Governor again. Would he have made the same recommendations and be willing to leave a $4 billion deficit on the table if he were running for Governor?

Note from me: I believe he is already running/posturing to run for VP for 2012. These shifts allow him to leave office and claim he never raised taxes and that Minnesotans lived within their means. The real budget balancing act is yet to come for 2012-3, and whoever runs for Governor knows going in, the state is facing a 4$ billion shortfall with no remainig gimmicks to use. 

So what happens now with the recommendations? They go before the legislative advisory commission (LAC) Thursday of this week, at the capital. After some consultation and feedback from various groups, final decisions [and cuts] will be implemented on July 1st or shortly thereafter.

With the news today that the iPhone may be offered by non AT&T carriers by next year, this might be a good time to post a personal review of the iPhone for anyone interested in what I have to say on the topic. However, don’t get too excited yet; there is plenty of evidence suggesting that AT&T won’t easily bow out of their exclusive contract.

I have put my 3G iPhone through an extreme gauntlet, tossing at it anything and everything I could, to see just how much it could flex, multi-task, and serve double duty. The latter has to do with maximizing the additional $30 Internet fee per month and eliminating my need to purchase other desired technologies, such as a GPS device or XM radio a la carte. Make no mistake – I have drunk the Coolaid and won’t look back. This little device suits my techno-personality to a tee and allows me the freedom to multi-task anywhere/anytime I choose to, using many of the same software products that I would use on my computer, in iPhone format. At the end of a long day, instead of firing up the computer at home after sitting in front of one all day long, I check my must-see items (Facebook and email) and am good for a long night’s rest.

You will note that I have many items listed below under the “My Dislikes”  and “What’s Missing” sections below, but that should be no surprise. As humans, we are all too capable of immediately locating faults and expressing our desire for fixes. The iPhone is only in its second generation for Pete’s sake, and the anticipated release of  the new OS this summer should incorporate several of the “What’s Missing” elements. So, I will be reasonably patient and await whatever enhancements come through updates and OS version releases.

My Likes

  • Great call quality (no complaints, can’t remember any dropped calls after 100 days)
  • Ease of use, smooth and very responsive finger touch, finger slide
  • Web material moves from portrait to landscape with phone rotation (not true for all apps, however)
  • Access to wireless 3G network wherever you get cell phone reception – that alone is pretty impressive
  • Doubles as a mobile GPS unit. Its built-in GPS function is simply awesome. It’s a mashup of an online search capability, retrieving search hits and respective addresses/phone  numbers, mapping software for all hits, and GPS. Plug in what you’re looking for, anything at all, and the phone will map it out for you, complete with a route and directions from your current location
  • Doubles up as an XM-like radio source so you can get streaming video or music via AOL Radio, Pandora, and satellite radio stations. I rarely listen to standard radio stations in my car anymore. With the MP3 jack in my car, I just plug my phone in and listen over my car speakers
  • Doubles up as an iPod, podcatcher, and mobile game device
  • Ability to search the Web while talking on the phone. However, this is about the only two things it can do at the same time; see dislikes for more on that
  • Having built-in keyboard and softphone (dial pad) pop up automatically when you need to use them.
  • Easy app download
  • Availability of so many apps, with most being free and the rest being quite inexpensive (between $2-3 for the most part; some are higher)
  • That the usual favs have already been designed in iPhone format (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, Google including the sub-Google functions, such as Google Reader and Google Docs
  • Free app updates 
  • Camera is decent enough for me for a 2 megapixel shooter, but you will find reviews which say otherwise
  • Although it took some getting used to, I do like the Contacts navigation by touching the letter of the person’s name and then easily flicking  to pinpoint exact location
  • Good output on speakerphone
  • Battery to date has been quite adequate, but some reviews say otherwise. To be sure, the rich media capability is a power hog. If interested in technical review, see link at end of this post
  • Super easy email integration with the built-in email app. You add your non-firewalled accounts the same way you would using Microsoft Outlook on your home computer
  • Great email-reading format
  • Data fields in emails integrate effortlessly with Contacts list. Anything that shows up in an email such as anybody’s email address (say in the cc: list) or phone numbers  – it all can be imported into a new Contact record or added to an existing contact record, eliminating the need to type any new info in. Awesome!

My Dislikes

  • Being a Windows user, it’s not Windows-like. There’s no menu or back key for navigation. It’s a single “app-at-a-time” OS and therefore doesn’t multi-task well (by design apparently)
  • Browser pages are not great to view if the app isn’t formatted for iPhone. They work ok, but everything is quite small, especially finding and working with login boxes. But for general reading-oriented Web sites (blog posts, magazines and journal articles)  you can double-tap and the iPhone will resize the output to best fit your viewing window (very cool feature)
  • Can’t put app icons in folders to organize them (i.e., put all your news feed or music apps together). You can move icons, but it is ridiculously clumsy, especially moving icons across pages. As you download more and more apps, you have to scroll across several pages of icons to locate what you’re looking for. This has to be my worst complaint. Who invented this system?
  • The phone, while quite sleek, is slippery, evading a grip without some means of traction. This makes having a skin of some kind mandatory
  • You can only have one window open at a time; so whenever you jump to another application, say via a link,  your first app is automatically closed. I would really like to see cross-application functionality, via a back button or a minimize/maximize function
  • You need to be connected via a wifi connection to download apps or updates over 10 MB. But I’ve found when camping onto area wifi networks, I can’t get into the App Store for these big downloads. I get an error message, saying no connection to the App Store. So that leaves me generally unable to download large updates
  • Small keyboard resulting in making a fair amount typing of mistakes. It’s pretty much one-handed operation, rather than the old two-thumb mode used on prior phones. But I can go as fast as my old phone, so the speed isn’t terribly frustrating. Would like to see frequently used symbols placed on the alpha page such as the @ sign and . (dot). Now you have to toggle back and forth between a numeric page and an alpha page, but it’s still easier than button-type phones, I think. All of this could be augmented by having a landscape keyboard which would give the finger far more breathing room for less errors, and possibly allowing the frequently used symbols to co-exist on the alpha page. You can download a landscape keyboard for a small fee, but it’s only for emailing, not texting, and takes few more clicks to transfer your message to your email application
  • Touch is overly sensitive sometimes. If you don’t get completely out of an app you can easily find your phone calling someone or surfing a Web page unintentionally, as you move your phone from hand to pocket or purse. On the other hand, if you are successfully closed out of your Contacts application, dialing someone inadvertantly cannot happen, as it can with a button keypad phone
  • Touch is not sensitive enough in the car – exactly where you want it to be. Seemingly, the road vibration puts up a barrier to the touch recognition. Taking triple the effort to get the phone to accept your touch instruction, this delays the return of your attention to where it should be, on driving. Voice dialing would resolve that
  • Quite slow to load Web pages in spite of claims of faster browsing on the 3G network. I was expecting something closer to the speeds you get on a computer using a wifi network. Not so. I’ve timed page loads at anywhere between 20 and 45 seconds. When reading multi-page articles, that means multiple wait times between pages. Apple recommends always using an existing wifi connection if one is available for faster surfing
  • Lack of effective search results in the App Store when using search terms by subject or topic. Excellent results if you happen to know the exact name of an app. I’m glad I have a DVR when watching the iPhone TV commercials. They don’t tell you the name of the app, so I rewind and carefully watch for the name of an app just before the finger touches it. Their search enginge needs better tagging, to be sure 
  • The camera’s white balance can’t handle bright sunlight, but that’s not unusual for a camera phone
What’s Missing?
  • Video recording
  • Multi-messaging text (coming with next OS)
  • Landscape keyboard (coming with next OS)
  • Voice dialing, although you can purchase an app for this
  • Flash support for the Web browser (disappointing)
  • Memory card for file transfer
  • Built-in office software. To create documents, you’ll need to purchase Quickoffice Mobile Office Suite – $19.99. Or for read only access, use Google docs; a perfect solution for mobile document viewing
  • Copy and paste functionality (coming with next OS)
Beside the Phone, the Features I Use the Most (and in this order)
  • Retrieving email (personal only, as my workplace does not support the iPhone yet)
  • iPhone apps for Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feeds which include my favorite news sites and blogs
  • Streaming radio/music stations: satellite radio, Pandora, AOL radio, NPR radio (includes podcasts)
  • GPS – I can find my way to anything
  • Games – while waiting anywhere
  • Checking the DOW
  • Identifying songs/artists of music heard on the radio or played anywhere, even at a coffee shop (very cool software available to do this)
  • Watching streaming videos (YouTube, streamed TV clips, news streams)
  • Listening to my iPod tunes
  • Checking movie schedules – except during my annual Academy Awards chase, when this will definitely move into first place🙂

I’ll post some of my favorite iPhone applications in a future post.

CNET 3G iPhone Review