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I currently spend two months in Mozambique, working from here over the internet (and learning Portuguese). To be able to be productive a decent internet connection isn’t enough, I need to be able to call people in Europe, and be called – without having to worry about roaming costs (my carrier would charge €4,29 per minute).

With my setup I now can be called (almost) for free on my normal mobile number, and I can call any number in the world for just 5 to 20 cents/minute. All on my iPhone, just like at home.

 

This is what you need:

  1. A VoIP number from a Voice over IP (VoIP) provider. I got mine at Sipgate.at years ago. Mine starts with 0720 (<-- Austrian number range for VoIP). In Germany you can get a normal local number from the city you live in. The number itself doesn't cost anything. Incoming calls are free, for outgoing calls top up your account with, say, €20 credit.
     
  2. A smartphone and a VoIP app. I have an iPhone and use Softphone by Acrobits (€5,49). I also tried the (free) Sipgate app, but it didn’t work well with inbound calls. (Softphone doesn’t either as it turned out but I can live with it.) Further apps that I haven’t tested include Bria, iSip and 3cx. The Android world is equally rich in SIP apps.
     
  3. A local UMTS simcard and/or WiFi access to the internet. (In the beginning I thought I’d be having great WiFi at home and poor, if any, UMTS on the go. The opposite is true. I am on Movitel, a brand new UMTS provider whose Vietnamese owners are investing $400 million in infrastructure. I appear to be the one and only user of their 3G towers as access is roaring fast.) 1GB flat on (free) prepaid sims costs 600 Mts (€17), which should be more than enough for a lot of calls. (Despite common belief voice calls aren’t too bandwidth consuming.)
     
  4. Forwarding for all calls from your usual number(s) to your new VoIP number. In my case the 0720 number range is not included within my all inclusive contract at T-Mobile Austria (a fact I luckily realized in time) so I opted for an unlimited 0720 calling package costing me €2/month flat, and then forwarded all calls to my new number.

 

In plain English:

When I want to call someone in Europe I start up my “Softphone” app and dial. The call is routed via the internet from my phone to my VoIP provider’s servers, where they are forwarded to the telephone networks, on relatively cheap tariffs. Small downside: The called party will not see my mobile number on their display but the VoIP number.

When someone calls me on my normal Austrian number, the call is forwarded to my VoIP number. If I am online the call is routed over the internet and UMTS to my phone, my app rings. The call is free for me (besides UMTS data costs). If I am offline the call is forwarded to my Sipgate voicemail, from where I get messages by email as .wav attachment.

For calls within Mozambique I use my new local prepaid number. For SMS to my Austrian number (SMS cannot be forward for whatever reason) I have a second phone with me, where I put my Austrian simcard in.

That’s the theory. In practice when I am called while my app is running in the background (for settings see below) the calling party will hear me but I don’t hear them. I then ask then to call again immediately. The app runs now normally and I can hear calls received. (There are probably workarounds for this problem but I fail to bother. If you know any please post them as a comment!)

Call quality varies. It is especially good on UMTS (other side sounds like next door) but I noticed some delays and occasional short pauses via slower WiFi connections.

 

Tips and settings:

You probably will have to fiddle around with your settings. Make sure your app runs in the background and is allowed to send push notifications. Also there are lots of different apps and (possibly cheaper) VoIP providers you could play around with to achieve better results (mine are satisfying yet not perfect). There might also be a similar Skype setup (Skype doesn’t work on SIP protocols but on their proprietary one).

Make sure to test your setup while still at home. Remember the setup works all around the world, you just need to be online. So it should work at home, too.

Screenshots from my Acrobits Softphone setting screens (might come helpful):

 

Making and receiving calls on your notebook:

For when I am working on my laptop I can make and receive calls over the incredibly simple (and free) Telephone app for osX. My notebook and my iPhone will ring at the same time, so I can choose. This is great for calls via headset, while working. Keeps your hands free. Also a good backup should my phone be stolen. (His Noodleness beware.) The Windows and Linux world should offer similar tools.

PS: All this is the mobile carriers’ nightmare come true, They are being reduced to mere bit pipes. No revenue besides data traffic.


This great typogram by Aaron Kuehn (cc) now decorates the wall of our new office. (Looks a lot better than on the picture, that’s just a quick iPhone photo.) Here’s a tutorial for those who want to tatoo their walls, too.

Costs: <10 Euros.
Time: 1 day preparation, 1 day drawing.

1) The Motif

 
There is a lot of great artwork out there suitable for self-made wall tatoos. Many artists will be happy to allow you using it or have shared it under an open licence already. Use Google Images with b/w option or white color and size=large, along with approriate keywords (I used “bicycle typography”). Avoid shades of grey and too thin or complex lines unless you have some kind of artistic experience.

Make sure to give the artist credit, on the wall and online.

2) The Projection

 
I first tried a beamer with a measly 800×600 resolution. As soon as I was in drawing distance all lines were just pixels, with lots of anti-aliasing artefacts. I would have had to improvise a lot trying to get sharp edges, and probably have failed.

Someone suggested to go analogue so I asked for an overhead projector on Twitter and quickly found one to lend. Lines were great but it showed other problems: Heat and a not so solid construction let the mirror shiver and slowly drop milimeter by milimeter. I had to stabilize the projector and the table it was on by putting lots of heavy stuff on it. And I had to recalibrate the image maybe 50 times. An HD beamer would have possibly been better but I didn’t try.

Printing the image onto transparent film was also not so easy as the laser printer refused the film (despite being laserjet film). An inkjet printer produced a decent image, yet with many stripes and weak spots on it (see image on the right!), so I had to improvise often. (A great thanks to the folks from Sektor 5 for their printing support!)

To avoid visible distortion I to put the projector on a high position. To get the image straight I measured and marked the lower edge of both tires on the wall .

3) The Drawing

 
I bought ten permanent marker pens in black, different strengths. A Stadtler line width M proved most convenient. (One “RIM” on the very left is an F.) To my surprise one pen lasted the entire drawing, probably because I was too lazy to fill all the letters in the end (with the exception of my first letter, which I filled). And I liked it better that way.

For right handers it’s best to stark at the top left corner, moving down and right, as otherwise you’ll be wiping things you have drawn already with your hand.

The drawing took around six hours (including projector adjustments..), and preparation took its time, too.

4) The Sharing

 
Pictures or it didn’t happen!


At my company we use Basecamp every day for project management (also with our customers involved) and for internal time tracking.


Today a link to a survey popped up asking for feedback on how to improve Basecamp. A chance to improve a great product we use so many hours every day. Therefor I care. Basecamp is better than every other project management tool I have seen and tested, yet it sucks in some important aspects. Here’s the feedback I gave:
 

What do you like least about Basecamp? What are we completely missing?

 

1. No Meta Data for To Do’s

We have to write names and dates (!!) into the text field for to do’s in order to later know who to ask and how old an item is. You don’t have to clutter your interface with meta data – a simple tool tip would be enough.

2. Drowning in Emails

People from different companies will cc entire companies when they don’t know whom to contact. In consequence entire conversations often spam many people. A real problem!

Ways to deal with that:

  1. Promote the function field in profiles (and display those functions). When I add new people from other companies as admin I often don’t know their function. Make it clear to them when they sign up that the function field matters.
  2. Make it easy to unsubscribe oneself or other people from conversations. People often refrain from answering as they see that answer would go to too many people, yet they can’t influence the recipient list. (With email they can!)
  3. Equally: Make it easy to subscribe oneself or other people to conversations! People now cc everybody as there’s no way to later change the recipients.

 

4. Weak Findability

Basecamp feels like an obscure data dump. You know you saw that file or information somewhere, yet where? Fulltext search is slow, well hidden and doesn’t give very good results. And there are too many places where one can post something.

5. The Dashboard Sucks

 

6. Contact Information Missing

I regularly want to contact someone whose name I see (eg. on overview page), yet I can’t click their name to get a telephone number or something. I have to hunt that information down. Think hypertext please!
 

7. Time Tracking is only almost great

Time tracking is simple and can be attached to To Do’s. That’s great and the main reason we chose Basecamp. Yet if a project is owned by another company we can’t use it for time tracking (although we have a plan that includes time tracking). We have to replicate the project and its To Do’s, that’s crazy.
 

What are we doing well with Basecamp, but could improve on?

 

Ease of use. Basecamp is easy to use, yet could be so much easier.

 

If you integrate Files with Messages plus Notes with Messages (attached to To Do’s) that will boil down Basecamp to one single news feed. You could even easily merge the messages list with the overview list. See? Same functionality, yet half as complex.


 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

 

Basecamp is great. Really. But it sucks at most astonishing places.

I could rant about the poor integration with Highrise (which we also use) and many features that may be missing. But I don’t. Please don’t add new features. Just don’t. Simply streamline what you have. Not feature-wise, but process-wise. Think like someone with many lively projects and then start to remove those daily nuisances, make stuff easier to find, people easier to get in touch with and projects easier to get an overview of.

Thanks for making it easier to make our job every day. (You already do.)


A blog post of mine originally published on GlobalVoices (Translations: Russian, Dutch, Spanish, Chinsese simplified, Chinese traditional, Swahili, Aymara, Italian):

250px-Unibrennt-neuDid you know that at this very moment many universities throughout Europe are occupied by students? Thousands of them are sleeping, cooking, debating and partying in their auditoriums to protest against the under-financing of the educational system and the so-called Bologna Process, a European Union education policy.

What is so special about these protests is the fact that they have not been centrally coordinated by student unions but have been organized entirely bottom-up, with the help of online social media.

It all started in Vienna, Austria on October 22, when a small group of students met for a flashmob in the city center to protest, and then headed to University of Vienna where they spontaneously occupied the Auditorium Maximum. By the time police arrived, the news of the occupation had already circulated on Twitter, mobilizing so many supporters it was impossible to clear the hall.

Within days, the occupiers – to their own surprise – put in place a remarkable organizational structure: Mobilization and communication was organized via the Twitter “hashtags#unibrennt and #unsereuni (”university on fire” and “our university”).

A 24h webcast from the Auditorium Maximum was put in place. Organizational tasks from cooking to cleaning were structured via a wiki, and a website communicated with the public. Twitter, blogs and Facebook (32,400 fans so far) were used to spread the word.

This had two effects:

Soon the protests infected other university cities in Austria and abroad: Today, less than a month and a half after the first protests, almost 100 universities in Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Albania, Serbia, France, Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands are occupied or have seen other forms of mass protest.

On Wissen belastet, Max Kossatz, a blogger and media observer from Austria, has analyzed [de] the Twitter stream: 66,379 tweets by 6,780 different usernames have been published on the subject in the last month. 1,043 pictures were posted on Twitpic and produced 125,612 views – see this Twitpic photo mashup on Youtube. And especially interesting, is the following map of tweets that illustrates how the protests spread over time (watch in HD and fullscreen to get the full experience):

Gerald Bäck of Bäck Blog, who works in the media observation business, found out that the gross reach of the tweets, i.e. the unique number of followers exposed to them, was 386,860. His analysis [de] shows who the key influencers were, what URLs were most linked to and what hashtags were used most.

In his blog, smime, Michael Schuster, a blogging specialist in semantic analysis, contributed an overview [de] of the “old media” covering the events. He counted 2,700 articles and identified four trends lasting roughly one week each: “Protests take place”, “protests continue”, “protests widen”, and recently, “ok, enough now.”

Luca Hammer of 2-Blog, a student and technical mastermind behind the Viennese web activities, has published a field report [de] of how wikis, Twitter and webcast were used to get things rolling.

It looks like the case of #unibrennt may become an early milestone in the transformation of Austrian politics by the use of online social media. It has created wide attention – and confusion – among established media and political structures, and created a spirit of empowerment among students and digital leaders.


Four and a half years ago I wrote a post called RSS Usability Guidelines (on a top position on Google ever since) which to my surprise was widely referenced in the blogosphere and quoted by the likes of Robin Good, Stephen Downes or Lockergnome. It’s even been translated to Spanish by someone but the page seems to have vanished.

RSS has somehow gone mainstream by now, and there are plenty of great tips for feed publishers out there. Right from my feed reader: 10 useful RSS hacks for WordPress.

It’s still amazing how useful that technology is, and yet how few people really use it.

Iran, a Nation of Bloggers

December 1, 2008  

(Via Johannes Kleske, via Rivva)

The Austrian Take: Obamoida!

November 6, 2008  

Bam Oida, Americans! Much better than last time.

bam oida

(Shirt from the Tupalo Shop)


Seen on Slideshare:

In case you wanted to know what the financial crisis was after all, just watch this brilliant piece of conversation:

(via soulsoup)


Auf Techcrunch ist ein lesenswerter Beitrag zum Thema PR 2.0 für Startups erschienen, mit 12 konkreten Tipps. Die Nr. 10 zum Thema Corporate Blogs:

I’m sure you’ve all read that having a company blog is critical to maintaining communication with your community.

First, don’t under estimate it. Second, don’t over estimate it. A blog is the voice and the soapbox for thought leadership, vision, solutions, milestones, and advice. At the very least, it contributes to the personality of your corporate brand. The best blogs become a resource and a destination, which helps improve your bottom line. For example, Google’s official blog is number 16 in Technorati’s Top 100 list of popular blogs.

pr

In a world of building relationships with bloggers, reporters, analysts, partners and customers, your strategy simply can’t rely on only contacting everyone when you have news. Relationships require cultivation and nurturing. The company blog can help.

Prior to and in between announcements, make sure you’re out there actively commenting on relevant blog posts. But don’t leave short, irrelevant, kiss-ass, or angry comments. Contribute to the value of the conversation and make sure it links back to your blog. Also host relevant conversations on your blog and link out to your most valuable contacts wherever possible. They do pay attention.

Maybe this goes without saying, but I’m going to mention it anyway. Don’t break your news on your own blog!

Like press releases crossing the wire, breaking news on your blog makes the news less valuable if others haven’t yet had an opportunity to break it for you first. It’s like the new car analogy. The value of the car drops the minute you drive it off the lot. Time your post for after when the news breaks and link to everyone who helped cover the story.

Am Grenzpfosten findet übrigens gerade eine Umfrage Blogger vs. PR statt (via Ritchie), bin gespannt was da rauskommt.

Photo (cc) by ohhector.

Common misspellings: Farnberger, Fahrenberger, Farenberger, Fahnberger, Fahrnleitner, Fahrngruber, Fahrnberg.
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