Using Google Voice to Make Phone Calls

September 15, 10 by admin

Recently, I’ve been using the Google Voice product to place free phone calls within the United States and Canada to a land-based phone from your computer. I have been very impressed with the quality of the service and the convenience of making phone calls right from your computer.  Using a headset, I can easily talk to someone while working on my computer.  The voices sound so clear it seems to even rival my land-based phone.

Google has said that calls will be free to U.S. and Canada until the end of this year.  I hope that they decide to keep it free a while longer so I can continue enjoying their service.  It is also great for international calls.  Other popular countries like the U.K., Mexico, France and China only cost $0.02 per minute which I consider very reasonable.  Google seems to give you a $0.10 credit the first time you use their service.  So go out there and try it out!

http://www.google.com/voice/

iTunes U Provides Free Lectures from Major Universities

March 25, 10 by admin
iTunes University

iTunes University

I just had a chance to check out iTunes U (short for iTunes University) on the iTunes store.  I checked out an introductory Computer Science course from Stanford.  Actually, it is just the lectures that are placed online as far as I can tell.  The lectures are well done and include many major universities.  This information should be a great benefit to a large number of people if they are willing to devote time to it.

Lectures in the form of video podcasts seem to be the only content available through iTunes U.  However, the lectures often mention the website for the class which can be used for downloading assignments and handouts from the class.  This allows anyone to follow along with the class and perform all of the assignments.  However, even though you can do the assignments and projects, you won’t be able to submit your assignments for grading.  Therefore, there is no real way to measure your progress as you follow a class.

This is a major shortcoming of iTunes U and I think it is their biggest issue at the moment.  Without some form of mentoring system to guage students feedback, the value of iTunes U is diminished somewhat.  Doing some searching on Google, I did find that some universities have been addressing this issue.  Brown University has a page on their Wiki which summarized their discussions on the issue.

Maybe a community of users should get together and do mentoring of students interested in learning online.  This way people would be able to take courses online without official credit.  It would provide a free means of getting an education for many people.  Without any degree from an accredited university, the benefits may seem minor.  For technical professions such as engineering, it may be a great way for people to keep their skills up to date.

Back in the Saddle Again

March 17, 10 by kenrich

Aerosmith - Back in the Saddle Again

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone, hope that you are having a good one.  Today, my company is having a party.  Today is also the day I return to bloggins on this site.  In case you haven’t noticed, I have been away for quite some time.  During that time, I’ve been busy running my Hosting and Web Development company.  I have a lot of stories that I will be sharing with you here on this blog.

Another part of my return to writing will be authoring various articles which will be beneficial to both business owners and budding entrepreneurs alike.  Hopefully, my 10 years of experience in running my own technology company will help others to get started quickly and be more effective once they do start.

Our company today is providing us with a catered lunch from a local greek restauarant named Pat and Oscar’s.  It will be nice to have a free lunch from my company.  Hope that everyone out there has a safe and happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Star Rating AJAX Control

February 23, 08 by kenrich

Javascript Star Rating ControlRecently, I implemented a star rating system on one of my websites. The system uses CSS and simple javascript code to create a dynamic rating control. When the user rolls over the gray stars with their mouse, the starts light up in a gold color. For those of you who have seen these before, they are very simply to use and surprisingly easy to implement.

I added a rating system to my San Diego Business Directory so that users could add reviews of companies in the San Diego area. It works like a charm to enter ratings for businesses. I was able to add my own embellishments to the script that allows users to reset the control after the user has locked in their rating. This way users can make a number of changes in the process of editing the review before making the final submission.

You can test and download the star rating script at ReignWater Designs. It is very simple to add to your website and modify to suit your needs.

E-bay Checkout Totally Broken

November 09, 07 by kenrich

Just like much of the rest of the E-bay auction site, the checkout system is totally broken and noone is doing anything to fix it. E-bay has just recently launched a new checkout system which works with PayPal (also owned by E-bay) to process payments. By default the system asks you to deduct money directly from your bank account. After you enter your PayPal login, you will see a little box on the right of the screen (during step #3) where you confirm your payment:

E-bay checkout screen

You will see there are two options on this page. One for “More Options” that allows you to change to a different payment option and another to use your “PayPal Credit Card” to do this payment. First, lets try to click the “More Options” to change the funding source for our payment. When you click this, the following PayPal screen comes up:

PayPal “More Options” Page

Of course, this page is totally useless, clicking on “Click Here to Retry” doesn’t help at all either. It jus brings up the same page over-and-over. You would think that E-bay would have tested this feature before they launched their new checkout process. Of course, they probably don’t care, and probably prefer to only get money direct from your banking account so they don’t have to pay any fees. Remember, this feature has been broken for several days now, and nothing has been done to correct it.

Now, lets revisit the original E-bay checkout screen and this time try to change to “PayPal Buyer Credit”. This should use my PayPal credit card which I received over a year ago and I’ve already used to make purchases in the past. This should work right? Just click the link that reads: “Switch Now to Use Your PayPal Plus Card”. So when I clicked this button (and I have tried this around 20 times so far already on different days with different browsers and different computers), I get:

E-bay Payment by PayPal Plus Card

Okay, great, it looks like this is working, should be smooth sailing now right? So, I click continue to finalize my payment and up comes:

E-bay Checkout Totally Broken

Thanks a lot E-bay. Once again, you’ve proved your incompetence. I’ve always been dissatisfied with your service, because of your wreckless price gouging of your customers and endless fees and upsells. It turns out your service is not worth my time, and I have vowed never to use your services ever again. Your multi-billion corporate greed, has finally destroyed you and you will rapidly decline over the coming years just as Yahoo has fallen to Google.

I encourage everyone to flee from this sinking ship before it screws you over and steals all of your money like it did mine (that’s a topic for another day). I am developing a free auction site available at www.goswap.com which provides a free auction service for everyone. What E-bay has done is appalling and an insult to the world.

Microsoft Pays $240 Million for 1.6% of Facebook

October 25, 07 by kenrich

FacebookYesterday, Microsoft paid $240 dollars for a 1.6% stake of the social networking site Facebook. Ever since the success of MySpace, social networking sites have been the new investment darlings. The estimated company value is derived from companies such as Google, whose value is largely based on the large audience of web surfers it draws.

Social networking has been growing at an exponential rate. Initially made popular by teens in high school and students in college, it has grown to encompass all demographics. It has also been helped by the popularity of blogging, and to a lesser extend, Wikipedia. Many schools have configured their Internet filters to block these social networking sites because their systems are intended for educational purposes and not socializing.

Given the price paid by Microsoft, the total estimated worth of Facebook would be around $15 billion dollars. Not bad for a company started by a 23 year-old only 3 years ago. The application that Facebook has built is simple and easy-to-learn. It makes it easy for anyone to create a profile and connect with their friends. Although instant messaging and e-mails also accomplish the same goals, there is something special about putting yourself out there for the whole world to see.

Part of the deal that Microsoft made with Facebook allows them to partner on advertising displayed on the site. Microsoft will manage the ads and split the profits 50/50 with Facebook. This is a pretty sweet deal for Facebook, since the Microsoft advertising machine can get some high paying clients and allow Facebook to focus on serving their community. Only time will tell if Facebook can stay on top – if the history between Yahoo and Google is any indication, being the first to market is not the most important criteria for success.

Code Igniter PHP Framework

October 25, 07 by kenrich

Code Igniter PHP FrameworkAfter reading some discussion on the PHP mailing list, I noticed a lot of people were recommending the Code Igniter framework. So I decided to do myself a favor and go check it out. Code Igniter is a very lightweight PHP framework for building web applications.

So far, I’ve just been reading the documentation to get a feel for how it works. It has some nice URL rewriting features to help your site rate well in the search engines. It also uses a lot of object-oriented methodologies to manage code modules. I really like the fact that it comes with a lot of helper classes to do common things like build HTML code. This was one thing I had built into my own framework.

It uses a helper class to access the database as well. I’m not sure if this is beneficial or not because there appears to be some limitations in how you can use it.

Some people think that PHP is not ready for the enterprise because it lacks the backing of a major corporation and doesn’t have the support that some of the big players have. I have been developing for over 3 years now and I can tell you that’s just not the case.
If you are just starting out in PHP, I think the Code Igniter framework like this is just the ticket to get you started creating powerful web applications. Of course, a knowledge of MySQL database would definitely be a major plus.

San Diego Fire Storm 2007

October 23, 07 by kenrich

As you probably know, yesterday was one of the worst days for the San Diego firestorm. Our area was evacuated in the afternoon as a precaution. The fire has burned more than 130,000 acres and more than 1000 homes have burned down in the San Diego area alone. Our house was not affected since we were lucky and not in the path of danger.

My parents who live in Poway were nearly hit by the Witch fire which went through Poway. The firefighters did an excellent job of controlling the fire (as much they could due to the Santa Ana conditions we have here.) I’m looking forward to all of the fires being out soon. I hope this is the last of the big fires. Like most of the other areas of the country, San Diego has been experiencing a drought. We sure could use some rain in this area.

I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal. I should be going back to work tomorrow (barring any drastic change in the fire.) I need to catch up on a few projects that I left unfinished.

Welcome to Our New Blog

October 18, 07 by kenrich

Wordpress LogoI decided to move my blog to a new software. I switched from Movable Type to WordPress which seems to be the most popular browser these days. Maybe I’ll get back into writing more articles on the site. Recently, I’ve been pretty busy and just letting the whole blogging thing slide. I don’t have a large readership after all. This re-designed blog also represents a change in hosting to a load-balanced host with an enterprise-quality database back end.

Since I do need to keep on top of things, I really should be familiar with the most popular blogging platform. At least it is the most popular if you are going to host your blog yourself and not pay for a service like bloggger.com. Plus,

Another benefit is that this type of blog (with the theme I have installed) should make the entries much more readable. By that I mean the size of the text and the whitespace to format the articles is easier on the eyes. It may be rather boring to look at, but if you are a technical person like myself, you won’t really care too much for the frills and cutting-edge design.

Creating Theme Support for Our CMS

March 04, 07 by kenrich

I am trying to develop a themes module for my new PHP intranet that will allow me to easily install themes. I plan to create an update site which holds all of the available themes. Each theme will be identified by an XML descriptor file which contains all of the properties for the theme. On the update site, a service will scan all of the folders on the site and parse all of the XML descriptor files. The theme information will then be collected and summarized then stored in a global themes file. This way, when someone does an update, they can just retrieve one file from the update server to build a list of available themes to download.

I’m thinking of having two different types of themes. One set of themes will be for the public site while the other will be strictly for the control panel. Users are free to mix and match themes so that the theme for the public site doesn’t need to match the one used on the control panel. Although they share a lot of the same components, it’s better to keep them separate so there is no confusion over what elements are specific to the public and which elements are specific to the control panel (and which elements are shared by both.)

Another feature I would like to have is the ability to customize a theme. So if a user doesn’t like one particular aspect of the theme, they can use a web-based theme editor to tweak the parts that they wish to improve. This should provide maximum flexibility when working with themes. I’m really hoping to get the theme support done quickly so I can open up the demo site to everyone.