SMS Texting via Skype

I was talking with some people about all of the neat technologies people could use – if only their mobile carriers allowed the technology to work and how Skype can be a great replacement when one of the participants asked “What about SMS, can I do that with Skype?”

Skype supports SMS… but it’s more than I’m willing to pay (presently 11.2¢/message to US numbers). Instead, I just ask the person to get Skype on their device (which is free and easy) and then when I send them IM’s they are encrypted. SMS is not.

Also, if you’re in the US and know the mobile carrier of the person you’re trying to reach, you can use the mobile carrier’s email-to-SMS gateway.

You can also give people a direct link to send a Skype IM to you (if Skype is installed on their device). The link looks like this:


Just replace {username} with your Skype username and you’re all set.

You can also start Skype calls with a similar link – just change the word “chat” to “call”. If you have Skype installed, try it by clicking here.

Battlefield 4 (Xbox One): Head tracking broken – how to fix it

I haven’t had a lot of time to play BF4 lately, but one reason to play on Xbox One as opposed to some other platform is the head tracking feature.  This feature allows a player to turn their head while driving a vehicle in order to look in directions other than the default view of what lies directly ahead.

The Kinect itself was working fine. Voice commands, gestures – all of that seemed to be working normally. It’s just that in-game head tracking wasn’t working. Voice commands seemed to work in game.

Between rounds, I did a voice search of the issue on my Windows Phone and came across two related posts – one from the Electronic Arts (EA) support website, and the other from the official Xbox forums. The most promising post on both forums was from a person that said that a “factory reset” did the trick.  Other posts explain that the factory reset described wipes the Xbox One and requires re-installation of all of the software.

I’d rather spend my time doing other things, so I looked for an alternative.  Since I can’t stand it when overkill is the most promising answer in support forums, I figured I’d post the alternative here for the benefit of the Battlefield community – since it worked for me and I didn’t have to use the nuclear option of performing a “factory reset”.

Instead of that, I did the following:

Press the Xbox logo on the front of the Xbox One for ten (10) seconds until it shuts down completely.

A Microsoft support site suggested un-plugging the power supply to the Xbox One, followed by unplugging the Kinect.  Neither of those steps were necessary in my case.

I powered on the Xbox One – if you shut it down fully you should get a green start-up screen. Then I started Battlefield 4 and went into the Test Range training map that is at the bottom of the list for multiplayer games.  When I hopped into a helicopter to test the head tracking, it was working again.

So, there you have it. It’s a pretty easy fix – and one that will hopefully become obsolete soon with upcoming software updates.  Until then, enjoy this fix instead of completely wiping and re-installing everything on your Xbox One.

Opportunist Legislator Proposes Senseless Law

Yesterday morning at about 2:00a an eastbound Norfolk Southern train derailed on it’s way from Chicago to North Carolina by way of the Sandusky Line – a portion of the newly renovated “Heartland Corridor”.  During the wreck, at least one tank car of ethanol (a highly subsidized commodity) ignited resulting in a huge fireball. Though it happened near downtown, the area used to be a rail yard so even though there was a one-mile evacuation radius it only affected about 100 area residents.

It didn’t take long for Democratic Rep. Robert Hagan, a state rep who is a railroad engineer (and union representative), to use the incident to push some new legislation to increase state regulation of railroads (regulation that would be preempted by existing Federal laws and regulations based on the Wabash Case of 1886).

Here’s the article: Proposed Law Would Require Rail Crews To Be Notified Of Dangerous Chemicals

I see a few problems with the statements in the article.  For one, they interviewed a guy named Brian Houser (a search online couldn’t find anyone by that name who lives near an active railroad yard). From the article:

Brian Houser said that the worst part of living in the shadow of a railway yard is the noise.

There isn’t even a yard at the accident site anymore – just empty land that is returning to meadow. A pair of tracks curve there and trains only travel through the curve at 25mph. There aren’t even any railroad crossings nearby – so unless trespassers are on the tracks there isn’t even any honking.

The article continues interviewing John Fonner of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The article said:

Fonner said that rail companies are not required to tell the government what and when they are transporting.

While this is technically true, under Federal Common Carrier law, the Federal Government actually requires railroads to carry dangerous substances like ethanol – and worse (for example liquid chlorine). What purpose would telling the Government serve when the Government is telling them to carry these materials in the first place – and also setting standards and procedures for the transport of such materials?

After a number of incidents involving liquid chlorine (which in a wreck can expand to form a toxic gas cloud) the Union Pacific Railroad opted to be exempted from Federal requirements to transport such dangerous chemicals. The Government refused the exception.

It even goes beyond that. In a 2005 wreck in Graniteville, SC, Norfolk Southern workers (who were distracted by regulations and penalties associated with Federal length of workday requirements) forgot to properly align a switch to a rail siding.

Eight people were killed after the mistake (caused by distraction about laws aimed to improve safety by reducing distraction) resulted in a tanker car of liquid chorine to be punctured.  This is a material that Norfolk Southern said it would prefer not to transport because in a wreck, if the tank is punctured, the chlorine boils to form a toxic cloud. Unfortunately, the Federal government requires the railroads to transport this chemical which is used in Government water treatment plants.

Since towns spring up around transportation infrastructure like railroads, it’s impossible to route this cargo around highly populated areas – and even harder considering that highly populated areas are the biggest customers for chlorine shippers.

To add insult to injury, after Federal regulations caused this crash and the Government forced the railroad to carry the chemical in the first place, after the crash the EPA sued the railroad for violating the Clean Water Act when chlorine from the wreck spilled into a nearby pond.

So what does Rep. Hagan propose? From the article:

Democratic state Rep. Roger Hagen, a veteran railroad engineer with 41 years of experience, said that crews are notified what their trains are carrying when they arrive to take the shipment. He has proposed a bill that would require railroads to notify its crews of what their trains are carrying at least 10 hours prior to departure.

The fact of the matter is that ALL TRAINS have hazardous materials on board (the locomotives alone carry thousands of gallons of diesel fuel) – and except in rare cases, having the materials on board do not change the way the train is operated. Moreover, as a veteran railroad engineer with 41 years of experience, Hagan should know that most trains aren’t even assembled 10 hours prior to departure.

I’m not sure what Hagan’s motives are, but it appears to be little more than pandering to organized labor and a public that is largely ignorant of railroad operations. I live about 4 miles from the crash scene – and within 500ft of this busy mainline, so of course I’m interested in safety for myself, my family, and my community – but pandering doesn’t help anyone. Not even the constituents who think they might benefit from this unenforceable feel-good resume-padding legislation.

The Return of 40° North

In college I started blogging and did so for quite a few years using Windows Live Spaces as my host. Unfortunately, Windows Live Spaces was shut down and they suggested that people move to WordPress as an alternate host.

I got part of the way through this process, but didn’t like the amount of customization available, so I made resurrection of my blog a low priority.

A few things have changed since then though, mainly my thinking on the use of social networking and who owns the content provided.  I’ve generated content for quite some time on Facebook and more recently Google+.  It’s my impression, from reading their terms of service, that they believe that they own original content created by you within their services.

So this blog will be my attempt at retaining a little control in that regard – and I can use my own Google AdSense instead of letting Facebook sell ads to view my content.

I’ll still be posting links to my posts along with snippets – so my friends on the various social networks will see the same traffic as usual where shorter posts are concerned, but for the more in-depth discussions, I’ll be posting them here.

Also, from time to time I encounter a technical issue that I feel is poorly documented on the Internet. I’ll be making note of those here as well in hopes that when I (or others) encounter the same issue in the future it will at least be a starting point for getting to the solution.

That said, it’s nice to have a home for my public thoughts again and I hope people don’t mind clicking away from their favorite social networks to read my stuff.