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.

Microsoft Store introduces Video Chat with Store Reps

A few weeks back I was talking to a Microsoft Store rep over the phone and commented that I thought it was kind of silly that we’re all still using telephones to talk with companies that make products like Lync (soon to be Skype for Business) and Skype. I was in another call with a Google support person – and they also used the phone – instead of Hangouts.

I’ve been wondering when it’d become commonplace for people to interact with companies via video call and today we’ve moved another step in that direction.

While Amazon’s Kindle Fire has featured video support for a while via their 24/7 Mayday Video Support service, we see Microsoft joining in with a vendor called VideoDesk.

Here’s what it looks like…

Figure 1: The Teaser.

Figure 2: A quick demo showing what to expect.


Figure 3: The chat element minimized.

It looks like a similar service to LivePerson. I helped set up LivePerson at my employer, and later we moved to a less mature Cisco-based chat platform so it’s nice to see something like VideoDesk come along to fill that niche.

Microsoft had a FAQ that answers some questions about the service.

Ultimately I think the best user experience will come when I can use a Skype URI (click here to say “Hi” if you have Skype installed) on a website to join the chat queue for a call center (or is that chat-center?). Such functionality would be part of a Lync or Skype-For-Business offering, but currently this appears to be a long way off.

One way to integrate an older business with Skype (without maintaining a Skype account) is through Bing Ads call extensions. Skype users can click to call the business on their existing land-line. Seems like an interesting way to drum up call volume.

As for me, I just interact with businesses via Skype the old fashioned way – by asking the employees if they’re on Skype and if they’d be willing to answer questions about their products periodically. Occasionally the answer is yes – usually with smaller businesses and it’s been really convenient. The business owners seemed to think it worked well too.

Have you used Skype or another video calling service to contact a business? Or have you used video calling for customer service as a part of your business? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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.

“It’s awesome. We’re rebels!”

A pay-walled article in the Columbus Dispatch this morning described a stand-off between students and the Ohio State University Police who had expressed a desire to exclude non-OSU students from taking part in the annual plunge on the eve of the Ohio State v. Michigan rivalry football game

Fortunately, The Lantern, OSU’s newspaper also offers a detailed account.

Credit:  The Lantern, Kristen Mitchell / Editor-in-chief

Reddit users offered a summary of events, along with commentary:

Some random dude gave the Braveheart speech to approximately 50 students and then we all pretty much walked/ran in. (and then someone pushed down the fence too) The cops didn’t do anything. – /u/ffball/

Rather than subject themselves to arbitrary authority, students moved the Tuesday jump to Monday.  It’s unclear if there will be a second jump tonight for people who missed the first jump and would like to do so cattle-style with tacit, wrist-banded, fenced-in approval of the police.

As Redditor /u/werd713/ put it, “Go Bucks! Beat Pneumonia!

Columbus Law Overlooked in Criticism of Despotic Foreign Regimes

On the drive in this morning, I heard that Egypt is cracking down on protesting again. By reporting on the story, it seems that the local and national media view such laws as violations of human rights. That’s heartening, because they are. Here’s how the Los Angeles Times summarized the new law:

Egypt’s interim president on Sunday banned public gatherings of more than 10 people without prior government approval

It went on to explain:

Rights groups and activists immediately denounced it, saying it aims to stifle opposition, allow repressive police practices and keep security officials largely unaccountable for possible abuses.

“The law is giving a cover to justify repression by all means,” said Bahy Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, one of the local groups that had campaigned against the law.

The thing that puzzles me though is that we have the same kind of law right here in Columbus, Ohio.

Here’s the law right out of the Columbus City Code:

919.06 Permits.
(A) No person, in any park, shall participate in any meeting, parade or other organized activity involving more than ten (10) persons without a permit issued by tile director.
(B) No person shall fail to comply with the fee requirements or other terms and conditions of any such permit issued under the provisions of this chapter.
(C) All permits issued by the director must be exhibited in a clear and conspicuous location and produced upon the demand of any law enforcement officer.
(Ord. 1648-91.)

Go ahead, check out the source link. I’ll wait while you verify that this is actually the law in Columbus, Ohio.

The fact is that in Columbus you can’t play baseball – you can’t play football – you can’t play basketball – without a permit.

No exception is made for political protest in these public spaces.

Why do we have this law?

Same reason the tyrants in Egypt have theirs.

The law is giving a cover to justify repression by all means,

It’s great that the media think that this kind of law deserves attention. But how about we focus some of that attention at ourselves?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had freedom in the land of the free?

And by letting such laws stand here, don’t we give backward foreign regimes cover?

Quizzing the Candidates 2013

Each year as election time nears, I take some time to research the candidates. There are a number of great resources – probably one of the most detailed is the candidate questionnaire provided in the county League of Women Voters Voter Information Bulletin.

The LWV survey asks a few specific questions and I encourage you to review their responses, but I wanted to get a more general feel for their overarching mindset – a better glimpse into how they are likely to make decisions as they serve.

This is the list of questions I posed to each of them:

Personal Issues

  1. Government should not censor speech, press, media, or internet.
  2. Military service should be voluntary. There should be no draft.
  3. There should be no laws regarding sex for consenting adults.
  4. Repeal laws prohibiting adult possession and use of drugs.
  5. There should be no National ID card.

Economic Issues

  1. End “corporate welfare.” No government handouts to business.
  2. End government barriers to international free trade.
  3. Let people control their own retirement; privatize Social Security.
  4. Replace government welfare with private charity.
  5. Cut taxes and government spending by 50% or more.

You may recognize the questions from the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, which I recommend taking yourself so you can see how similar your views are to those of the candidates.

So, over the next few weeks, as the responses trickle in, I’m going to try to share their results with you – to help you inform your own decisions with regard to these candidates. It will also serve as a bit of an archive since candidates views change. If I ask them again in a later election it will be interesting to see how their views changed on these key issues.

If a candidate doesn’t specifically say whether they agree or disagree with one of the questions, I’ll be treating those as “Maybe” responses.

Here’s a list of the offices and candidates I emailed the survey to on 10/2/2013 (I’ll be linking the names to their responses as I receive them – no link means no response):

Office Municipality/District Name
City Attorney Columbus Richard C. Pfeiffer, Jr.
City Auditor Columbus Hugh J. Dorrian
City Auditor  Columbus  Igor Ternovsky
Member of Council Columbus Brian Bainbridge
Member of Council Columbus Greg Lawson
Member of Council Columbus A. Troy Miller
Member of Council Columbus Eileen Paley
Member of Council Columbus Nick Schneider
Member of Council Columbus Priscilla R. Tyson
Member Board of Education Columbus City School District Michael D. Cole
Member Board of Education Columbus City School District Beverly J. Corner
Member Board of Education Columbus City School District Hanifah Kambon
Member Board of Education Columbus City School District Dominic Paretti
Member Board of Education Columbus City School District Ramona R. Reyes
Member Board of Education Columbus City School District Mike Wiles
Municipal Court Judge (FTC 1‐1‐14) Franklin County Scott Van Der Karr
Municipal Court Judge (FTC 1‐2‐14) Franklin County Kristen McKinley
Municipal Court Judge (FTC 1‐2‐14) Franklin County Amy Salerno 
Municipal Court Judge (FTC 1‐3‐14) Franklin County Gwen Callender
Municipal Court Judge (FTC 1‐3‐14) Franklin County James E. Green
Municipal Court Judge (UTE 1‐7‐2016) Franklin County James W. Adair, III
Municipal Court Judge (UTE 1‐7‐2016) Franklin County Dan Hawkins
Municipal Court Judge (UTE 1‐7‐2016) Franklin County Frank Macke

AT&T Changes Policy to Increase Charges–Offers Nothing in Return

Thank you for choosing AT&T. A representative will be with you shortly.

You are now chatting with AT&T.

AT&T: Hello.

AT&T: How may I assist you today ?

Me: Hi. I was wondering why I’m suddenly being charged an equipment fee on my AT&T U-Verse Internet account.

Me: It is a *new* $2.00 charge per month – with tax on top of that.

AT&T: I would like to inform you that its the high speed equipment fee charged in every customer account as per the new price changes.

Me: Can I expect to be upgraded to the latest hardware?

Me: If I buy my own hardware, will AT&T remove this charge from my bill?

Me: Also, how long have I been a U-Verse customer?

AT&T: As you are a valuable customer to us. Please do not worry about the charges. Let me go ahead and adjust the charges for you.

AT&T: Its been almost four years.

AT&T: please bear with me while I adjust the charge in your account.

Me: Sure. 🙂

Me: I just looked it up and I can buy a used 3800HGV-B router on Amazon for $26. AT&T wishes to charge me $24/per year to rent one. Had this policy been in place for the past 4 years, I could have bought almost four of them. Does that sound like a fair deal for AT&T customers?

AT&T: I really apologize for this.

Me: It’s not your fault. 🙂

Me: It is Randal Stephenson’s fault. 🙂 I’d like to pass along a message to him that while I thank him for allowing my bill to be adjusted, I think it’s a crummy way to treat customers – especially the ones who don’t know enough to contact the company and refuse the new charges. 🙂

AT&T: I would like to provide you the number of our customer relation center. So, that they can provide you with the best offers available to lower your bill.The number is 877-999-1083.

AT&T: Their hours of operations are Monday till Friday 8:00 AM till 7:00 PM EST and 8:00 AM till 5:00 PM every Saturday.

Me: Thank you very much. I’m already paying more money than I would for higher speed on RoadRunner – maybe they can do something about that.

Me: So to recap, I only owe $55 on my bill again?

AT&T: Yes, they surely will.

AT&T: You only owe $45.14. As I have adjusted $12.00 for you.

Me: Will that kind of adjustment be automatic going forward or do I have to contact the Customer Relation Center?

AT&T: You need to contact customer relation center. so, that your bill can be lowered for a longer time.

Me: Thank you for your help, AT&T. Goodnight.

AT&T: Thank you for being the best part of AT&T. We appreciate your valuable time & business with continued loyalty.

AT&T: Your feedback will be appreciated after this chat. You will receive the survey once you disconnect the chat.  Please click the RED X button at the right hand side of the chat window.

AT&T: Good night.

3/3/2013 7:00p AT&T U-Verse Billing Chat