Moving US phone number to VOIP--long write-up

We moved out of the Seattle area (out of the country altogether actually). Since I had had the same 206 phone number for more than 15 years, I decided to keep the number by moving ("porting") it to a VOIP (internet phone) service.

Here's a write-up of my experiences.

I looked at for reviews and picked Set up an account, made some test calls, filed a customer service ticket to see how the response was. I'd recommend CallCentric (see below).

It's not great to rely only on VOIP software on the Mac, for a variety of reasons, the biggest one being that the phone doesn't ring when your Mac's asleep. The second is that I found (free) VOIP software for the Mac fairly disappointing, both in UI and in call quality. (For the latter, I didn't verify if that was possibly in part because of our wifi.) I couldn't get all software to work with CC and settled in the end on Zoiper, which is OK but not much better than OK.

I got a cheap (open box) ATA (Linksys PAP2T-NA), i.e. a gadget you can plug any old regular phone into and have it work with the VOIP service. This worked great. Be warned that the config screens for the PAP2T are endless--but there's good documentation online about what you do and don't need to change. Rumor has it that the "NA" model sold in North America will work just fine in other countries, you just may need to adjust some settings to make it work with local phone hardware. (Have not tried this.)

I went ahead and submitted my request to port my Qwest phone number. They required a scanned copy of a phone bill and a signed statement declaring that I had the authority to request the change. It took 2-3 days to get an "expected port date", and the actual port happened 14 days after the original request.

Now, our DSL service lived on the same phone with the phone number being moved, and without internet service VOIP doesn't work so well. This being Qwest, I could just see them dropping the DSL service on the floor along with the regular phone service. Several calls to both their DSL customer service and regular phone customer service lines assured me that this would not be the case… and indeed, when the port happened, DSL still worked. Ten points for Qwest.

We have a local landline at our new place, so I looked for a way to have both it and the VOIP line ring on the same handset. I settled on a Siemens Gigaset S785IP cordless phone that can handle both. It's a bit pricy, but I had trouble finding regular analog cordless phones that handle two phone lines, and wanted to get the situation resolved. I'm finding the Gigaset phones less easy to use than I think they could be, but so far they work OK. (Still need to figure out how you can easily choose from call to call what line it uses for outgoing calls; also need to see if you can tell it send incoming calls straight to the answering machine at certain hours--people calling our (206) phone number won't realize that we're 9 hours ahead and likely asleep when they call.) (I know I can do the latter in the CallCentric-side config, but then the messages to go voicemail at CC rather than to the in-house answering machine.) (Though a nice thing about that is that CC can email you your voice mail messages.)

I've been impressed with CallCentric's customer service--they responded quickly and intelligently to the tickets. It takes a few minutes to wrap your head around their products and which ones you're going to need--they separate subscriptions for outgoing calls from those for handling incoming calls. Since I expect our call volume to be low, I picked "Pay per call" and "Per per minute" respectively, giving us a grand total of $1.95/mo of fixed costs to have our phone number hosted there, 1.5c/min for incoming calls, and 2c/min for calls to the US and most European countries.

So our 15-year old 206 phone number now rings on a cordless phone handset in Europe, and I can move it anywhere else I happen to be. Even being a jaded technologist I find that pretty amazing.

So far, call quality has been good.

Misc notes:

- While VOIP services will not always let you take a phone number that originated with them to another service, documentation says that you can always take a number that originated with a regulated phone utility, i.e. a landline provider like Qwest or a cell phone provider.

Private blogging using Twitter authentication

I haven't been writing for a while as my attention got sideswiped by Facebook and Twitter. However, I find that I'd like to be posting longer items occasionally, mostly still privately.

Here is an outline of what I'm looking for and a proposed solution. I'm curious to get comments before I dive in to build it.

  • I don't want to blog fully publicly.

  • I don't want to blog on Facebook. Facebook is broken. [1]

  • Apparently, the verb "to blog" has finally crept into my vocabulary to replace "keep a weblog". Eek! Sorry.

  • If my blogging solution requires my friends to create a new account and log in to view my posts, they won't read my blog. (This covers both LiveJournal and a private password-protected site.)

  • There may be such a thing as authenticated RSS, but if one person gives the password for my blog to Google Reader, then its security is effectively null and void. (Right?)

So now what?

Proposed solution: distribute posts consisting of a teaser + read more link using a private Twitter stream. The link in each teaser goes to a (Drupal-based) website which shows content only to authenticated users--but people authenticate using their Twitter credentials.

So now people can find out about my posts using whatever Twitter client they like (and many friends already use one), and they don't have to create a new login to actually read them. They may even not have to give Twitter their password again if they're already logged in, just allow Twitter to authenticate them to my site with a click on a button.

Seems like a nice arrangement.

Tech details: Twitter exposes an OAuth authentication API, and there is existing OAuth support for Drupal which hides Drupal's user registration/login altogether. People are sent to Twitter's site to log in--my site doesn't find out their Twitter password. Under the covers, Drupal will create a local user account linked to the remote credentials. Presumably my site will learn the visitor's Twitter username, so I can know who's who & let them post comments. If Twitter's authentication is some day completely compromised, I can turn off the OAuth integration, and my blog posts will still be private.

Am I missing anything? Comments?

Real Rhapsody login problems

Documenting this for others Googling for solutions.

If you're having trouble signing in to Rhapsody with the behavior that you submit your name/password and it just comes back to the login screen without an error:

In my case, the problem was that I use a Flash blocker (FlashBlock / ClickToFlash). Despite the fact that login seems to be implemented in Javascript, it just fails without errors if you block Flash objects.

Rhapsody technical support was fantastically unhelpful in figuring this out. Don't get me wrong--I don't expect them to suggest that this is the problem on a first inquiry. I do expect them to read the information I submit and not come back with asinine suggestions that make it clear they haven't read my comments AND are clueless.

An interesting side-note: because the login screen is not implemented as a <form> but using JS code buried in a separately loaded file, it's not easy to verify whether your password is submitted in plaintext or using SSL. This login problem seems to reveal the answer: upon trying to log in, I'm redirected to a URL with the password encoded in it in plaintext. (?username=xxxxxxxx&password=yyyyyyy) Niiiice. Remind me not to use Rhapsody when I'm at a public wi-fi hotspot.

Aaaand another complaint about Rhapsody: I haven't used the browser-based playback much in a long while and see that there are now ads in both the main browser window AND in the playback control window. Are you kidding me? I'm paying for this service.

I'm seriously thinking about ditching Rhapsody.

Combating global warming with white paint

Supposedly, we could combat a non-trivial chunk of global warming by painting all road and roof surfaces white. Even Nobel prize-winning Secretary of Energy Steven Chu champions this idea. He says "It’s the equivalent of reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years."

I was idly thinking about this, and wondering why this has any global effect. Sure, a white house will stay cooler inside than a dark one. But if the light is reflected into the atmosphere and trapped there by green house gasses, you haven't won anything. Similarly, even if a dark object absorbs heat, it'll radiate that heat back out when the air cools off. Is there a difference (for the planet overall) between reflecting it right away as light and radiating it later as heat?

First off, keeping the house cooler helps simply by reducing the need to spend energy on air conditioning or fans.

Second, it turns out that the atmosphere allows far more visible light through than it does heat radiation. (See e.g. here.) So heat radiated back out tends to stay in the atmosphere, while 70-75% of reflected, visible sunlight will pass back out into space.

The one bit left unaddressed is the cost of producing, transporting, and applying all that paint.

Questions about metabolism

Is it true that the maxim "eat less and exercise more" will help pretty much anyone lose weight? Is it physically harder for some people than for others? What does it mean for a human to have "a high metabolism"? The term is associated in my mind with people who can eat lots of calories without gaining weight. The implication seems to be that such a person burns more calories for the same activity level than others do. Why would this be the case? Is their resting core temperature higher? Are their muscles less efficient? Is it possible that their intestines simply absorb fewer of the calories in the first place, letting the rest pass through? Would that be the assumption under Occam's Razor?

Please discuss.

Mysterious water noise found and fixed


Friday afternoon an SPU crew showed up to fix the water leak. By that time it was getting to be a gusher. While the guy who originally look at the problem thought that the water main on our street itself might be busted and thus need to be replaced (requiring either the street or the sidewalk to be torn up), the leak actually was in the spur pipe to our house, making it a much smaller job. I was lucky that the leak was on the street side of our meter, as home owners are responsible for problems between the meter and the house--but this one was the city's problem.

With the leak fixed, the weird noise in the house has disappeared. Yay!

Water noise, continued

One day later:

(click to enlarge)

Yesterday I discovered a water leak out in the sidewalk planting strip; today it's increased to a small creek. (Note to the right of the red markings.) The noise in the house has been getting worse faster. The paint markings were left by the first two water utility guys to stop by after my call yesterday afternoon. In the next few days, I think we'll be seeing the inside of the sidewalk or the street.

If you have class, don't fly business class

When we were checking in for our trip to New Zealand, I was hoping that we might get upgraded for the long flight from San Francisco to Auckland. I'm tall, I have trouble sleeping on airplanes, so it'd be nice to have the better seats. We didn't luck out, and in retrospect, I'm glad.

Flying is a huge part of my carbon emissions, and as it's often for vacation travel, it's discretionary and the easiest item to reduce to do my part in fighting global warming. When you fly business class, you're sitting in seats that have (by my guesstimate) about a third of the seating density of regular coach seats. That means you have three times the carbon impact.

It'd be truly decadent to triple the environmental damage for just a bit of extra comfort. If we're going to do fun things that are bad for the planet, we might as well be slightly uncomfortable and feel the pain. I'll stick with coach--until we're ready to pass on more flights.

And no, I don't buy the argument that the plane is going to fly anyway, and a few business class seats don't make any difference.

PS: this post may sound preachy, and I suppose in part I even intend it that way. I keep noticing that there's little discussion among friends about actual trade offs or sacrifices we're making in the face of global warming. I think it's time that we start talking about and gently start generating some peer pressure to be more thoughtful and occasionally make other decisions. Buying a hybrid is not giving up a piece of your lifestyle. There are tougher choices to be made. I think it would help if we had a sense that others around us (our peers) were taking these choices seriously.

The mysterious water pipe noise

I need "Car Talk" for houses. A radio show where you can call in to describe the sound your house is making and have experts tell you what's going on.

Months ago, I noticed an odd, continuous wooshing noise in the basement. It seemed to come from behind the cabinet of shelves mounted above the washer. But behind those shelves is nothing. I puzzled over this for a while, got SJ to listen to it, and periodically would notice it and scratch my head.

Since we've come back from NZ, the noise is now audible in the living room, coming from the exact same area. It's gotten louder.

I scratched my head some more, and stared at the cabinet a bunch.

Eventually I noticed that the shelves themselves seemed to be making the noise. Sure enough, when I touched them, they were vibrating a bit, like a sound board. Resonating with what? With, it turns out, the water pipes. The copper water piping for the washer runs along & is attached to said cabinet. The pipes are carrying a fair bit of vibration.

Meanwhile, we can hear the noise in the bathroom too; I think the water pipes in the stack (i.e. in one of the bathroom walls) are using the walls as their sound board.

It sounds like... well... it sounds like a damped rumbling noise. It sounds like the dryer is running downstairs. A bit like water flowing through a pipe, or traffic in a tunnel. It sounds like an airplane passing overhead. It seems periodic, like a running engine of some kind.

There's not much in the house that could be generating the vibration. The fridge? The boiler? The heating? 24/7? Nope.

I think the resonance is coming in on the main water supply pipe. But what the heck is generating it? And how do I figure it out? And really, would all that ground it passes through not dampen it?

XC skiing in Mazama

SJ and I spent a long weekend between Christmas and New Year's Eve in Mazama, the far corner of the Methow valley.

Mazama is on Highway 20, the North Cascades Highway, but in the winter you can't get there the short way: the pass is closed. So you experience the one negative aspect of going to Mazama up front: the 5+ hour drive, long enough that you could be going to Whistler instead. We got lucky with the weather and road conditions, and had a smooth trip over Snoqualmie Pass, then north on Hwy 97 to Wenatchee, on to Chelan, and then into the Methow Valley. (Side note: drove more miles on snow with the studless snow tires than ever before and am very pleased. (Blizzaks))

That long drive is the only negative of the trip I can report, really. We loved it. We stayed at the Mazama Country Inn, a 20-room casual lodge where the room rate includes breakfast and dinner served family-style at tables of 8, and guests hang out reading books by the fireplace in the living room. You get to know the other guests, many of whom have been coming back each year. Some for 20 years. (Apparently we were lucky to get last minute reservations.)

Mazama itself doesn't really amount to much as a town; it's said to have 100 residents, but all you find is the country store-coffee shop-gas station, the ski school/rental, a real estate office, the Inn, and some cabins. They've resisted development in the valley, and it shows in the undeveloped rural feel and wide open vistas. It's really beautiful out there.

The groomed cross country ski trails are right there at your doorstep, with the valley trail the backbone of a 150 km trail system that's groomed for both classic cross country skiing (which is apparently *completely* out of vogue) and skate skiing (which is the big thing now and has you going three times as fast--if you can manage the heart rate). Since we're fuddy duddies, we stuck with the classic style, took a lesson to start, and then spent the next three days practicing what we learned and improving our technique a bunch each day. By the third day I was getting a fair bit of 'glide' and not using my arms to propel myself, though also not getting the momentum that makes cycling such an efficient way to move. XC skiing seems more like low-intensity running. It uses muscles that I apparently have no other use for--I had wickedly sore hip flexors.

The trails mostly wind through snowy forests--winter wonderland, serene, very pretty. Sure, it's cold much of the time (20ish F). You don't feel it when you're moving, and besides, that's what keeps the snow really nice. After you're done skiing, there's not much to do other than showering, socializing, reading a book, and sitting by the fire place. It's great.

A+, would go again.