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Archive for the ‘My own jibber jabber’ Category

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!

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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.

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It’s been several good months since I’ve actively blogged and my excuse is lack of time. I have been teaching this year in adjunct status, both semesters, back to back, on top of my “day job.” I had to let something slide, and this blog was it. While it’s still a month away from the end of spring semester, I seem to have some energy to begin blogging again, but with a possibly expanded direction, or maybe better labeled a 90 degree turn.

I don’t consider myself the most knowledgeable or experienced techie around. In fact, I don’t deserve the title of techie because I’m simply self-taught and keep trying things. But I’ve received a number of requests from friends and colleagues who ask me to post tips on stuff I buy, try, learn, not necessarily in that order. So I think I’ll give that a try. It’ll be more of a personal potpourri diary, and not always what’s out there on the horizon in terms of elearning or academic technologies. But I will keep it mixed up a bit. Some professional – some personal and plenty of anecdotes and tips.

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35W Bridge Rendering

35W Bridge Rendering

 

It was just over a year ago when I began this blog and wrote about the collapse of Minneapolis’ I-35W bridge. I focused that post on the city-enabled wireless technology deployed within hours of the collapse, aiding communications to and among first responders (since the cellular networks were overloaded), and proivding an avenue for real-time sharing of information and videos with the rest of the world. Given that I live in the Twin Cities and the focus of this blog – in a round-about way, is about technology – I thought it a fitting post then and again now, to talk about the technology used in the new bridge. 

I haven’t personally traveled on the bridge yet, but have noticed significant relief from the congestion on nearby arteries, used as alternative routes routinely. I think all Twin Citians can claim a little less stress and time to commute cross-town now.

While not every last piece is completed, the builders, Flatiron Constructors Corp., say that substantial work has been done, with only the trimmings remaining. This will be carefully measured as the company’s $234 million contract included a $200,000-a-day incentive for each day the bridge was finished before December 24, 2008.

But back to the technology piece; some boast that the cutting-edge technology will make this new 35W bridge a model for future bridges, as well as a model for bridge inspection and maintenance. Here is an excerpt from a recently published Minnesota Public Radio article by Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio, September 16 (includes audio file):

The key to the new design is redundancy, that means it’s designed to transfer load between different parts of the bridge. If one section fails, the others will pick up the slack and prevent a collapse. But it’s the so-called Smart Bridge technology that really sets it apart. The new span is fitted with 323 sensors that will take regular readings on the bridge’s condition. Each one will monitor things like deck movement, stress and temperature. The data will be collected and analyzed by a team from the University of Minnesota. MnDot officials said the information will make bridge inspection and maintenance much easier over the life of the bridge.”

This may help skittish bridge goers feel a bit less apprehensive about traversing the Mississippi River over by the U of M, but I’m wondering where the funds will come from to repair the myriad other bridges in urgent need of repair. All eyes were on this one due to shocking nature of a very large section of a bridge going down in one huge hunk and the devastation it caused (or the potential fear it generated in wondering which bridge is next).

It’s always a catch-up game in the U.S., with domestic issues (let’s count them) being terribly underfunded. I am always hopeful that some day we can jettison our quick-fix mentality for a long term preventive strategy, but that takes a willingness to fund these necessary projects and yes, might just require an increase in taxes or a re-prioritization of our revenues.

Well, until we can stay ahead of the game, it’s back to whack-a-mole.

For additional information on the I-35W bridge collapse and reconstruction, here are some links.

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                                        Image of moving truck

Well, my first bout of guilt has hit me knowing that I haven’t posted for a while and time just keeps passing by. So here’s my bonafide excuse. Besides having the holidays upon us, I moved on December 27th. I took a few weeks off to get the job done and my blog posting went to back burner status in favor of packing and unpacking activities. I’m back at work in full swing now, so hopefully I can get past the catch-up hump (how many hundred emails), and return to posting. Don’t lose hope. And Happy New Year!

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