Archive for May, 2010

Skype as a Solution to Indoor Coverage

Skype as a Solution to Indoor CoverageThose of you who are not familiar with Skype should really have a look at this application. This post is about how Skype can help you when you have a weak wireless signal in your home. However there are many more benefits to Skype than this specific application we will look at during this post. Many people are using high speed internet in their homes. More and more are also connecting a wireless router to the high speed modem supplied by the cable company or the telephone company. This way they can connect to the internet from their PC’s from anywhere in the home. They do not need to have wires running around everywhere. This is by far the best way to use the internet and the most convenient for the family. Just make sure that you are properly password protected with a strong secure password.

Skype as a Solution to Indoor Coverage

Skype is an application that you download onto your PC and use as a VOIP phone on your PC. It works great as long as you have a connection to the internet and a PC to run the application. You can make calls all over the world to other Skype users as well as to any cellular and land based phone.

While you may have excellent wireless coverage from your wireless router for connection to the internet, you may have really poor coverage from your cellular phone because the cellular signal is either too weak or cannot penetrate the walls of your home. You may find that you are dropping calls in the middle of a call or cannot even initiate a call with your cellular phone.

Now this is were Skype comes in, providing that you have a smart phone that can access the internet via your wireless router. I know for a fact that an Apple Ipod touch can do this because I do this every day, however not all phones can connect via WiFi due to restraints or controls that the telephone companies place on their phones.

The trick here is to be able to download and install Skype on your smart phone, establish a Skype account and then use Skype instead of the cellular service to make your phone calls. If you can do this you are away to the races, since not only will you be able to make good quality phone calls from your home using your cell phone, it will be much cheaper as well.

Skype to Skype Calls are Free

If you pay as you go, Skype calls to other Skype users are free. If you make calls to regular phones Skype charges around 2 cents per minute for many calls. Some are more, but way cheaper than any cell phone.

Alternatively you can also arrange to have Skype phones installed in your home so that they always use Skype when you are making calls. If you follow this example, you may want to purchase a calling plan with Skype such as the $3.00 a month plan for free monthly calling across North America.

You can also purchase a telephone number that people can call and it will find you anywhere you are when you are connected to the internet. Voice mail can also answer when you are not available. so how does this all work into a solution for poor indoor coverage at home.

Once you have Skype installed and working, forward your cell phone calls to your Skype number and answer all of your calls on your Skype phones. when you leave remove the call forwarding and use your cell phone as would normally. If your phone has the capability to download applications such as Skype, use your cellular phone with the Skype application activated while you are at home so you never miss a call again or drop calls while carrying on a conversation.

The Ipod touch is a perfect example of how anyone can use a smart computer as a phone. Once you download Skype from the iTunes store for free, install it and you are ready to go. There are many free WiFi sites around which you can use to make phone calls. Your home can become a free wi-fi site or you can password restrict it with a password. Either way you can make phones calls from your smart phone as soon as you connect.

If anyone knows of other approaches for fixing poor indoor coverage, please leave your comments to this blog.


Maintaining Your Garage Door

Maintaining Your Garage Door is probably one of the last things you think about doing, however checking your garage door every 3 months can in fact save you a major repair bill or sometimes even having to replace the entire door. The garage Maintaining Your Garage Doordoor consists of several major parts. There are the panels which everyone sees, there are the rollers that slide inside the steel tracks and there are the steel springs which acts as counterweights and make it easy for you to lift the door to open it. These same weights will also stop the door from closing too quickly from it’s own weight. Many people will also have a garage door opener as well which opens or closes the door at the press of a button.

Maintaining Your Garage Door

Each of the panels are attached to each other by hinges which are bolted together and the rollers are held in place by clamps which are also bolted to the panels. So what are the basic maintenance things you need to do and why do you need to do maintenance at all on a garage door?

Catastrophic Failure of a Garage Door

Occasionally, I have seen doors come off the tracks and when powered by a garage door opener, the door continues to move and will get horribly bent out of shape. This situation can occur when the hinges become loose and separate from the panels or when the rollers which are held in place also fall off due to the bolts also becoming loose and falling away from the door. The garage door will quickly be pulled off course and as a result will be bent out of shape!

When this occurs there is very little chance that you will be able to restore the door to its original shape and will then need to invest in a new one which can cost hundreds of dollars. If you are lucky, the door will not bend and you can reattached the loose bolts, hinges and rollers and be back in business

How to Avoid Garage Failures

Routine checks are all it takes to avoid the above catastrophic failures. Start by checking each hinge on your door to confirm that the hinges and the bolts are not loose. If they are loose, use a suitable wrench to tighten up each bolt to ensure they are secure.

Next check each of the rollers. Make sure they are inside the tracks for both sides of the door and run freely inside these tracks. You may want to disconnect the automatic garage door opener from the door so that you can move the door by hand easily. Check your manual for the correct lubricant and add sufficient lubricant to the rollers to help them easily move back and forth in the tracks. Check the bolts that hold these rollers in place and make sure that they are all tight and secure. If not, tighten each one until they are secure and then recheck that the door moves freely in the tracks.

Check the Springs

A word of caution is in order for this aspect. These springs are high tension springs and depending on the location of the door can be extended increasing the tension levels. Check the springs and cables for any deterioration such as rust or fraying.  Sometime there will be surface rust, which you can ignore in most cases.  If any of the cables are frayed you should really make arrangements to get these fixed quickly before they fail and cause more serious problems.

Lubricate with Oil to Reduce Corrosion

This last step really depends on were you live. If your garage door is exposed to corrosive elements such as salt, particularly in the winter.  Salt filled snow can be tracked into your garage by your car. When it melts it runs out the opening of your garage. The salt water mix will come in contact with the bottom of your door. As with cars, the garage door will start to rust as the steel comes in contact with the salt water mix.

Consumers can purchase the same type of oil that is used to lubricate cars. This will help it resist corrosion in northern climates were salt is used on the roads. This oil comes in an aerosol can. It should be sprayed along the bottom inside of the door. This oil will spread and penetrate any surface scratches. It will protect the door from the effects of the salt.

Spraying on a regular basis will help to prolong the life of your door. Spraying with oil will delay the eventual corrosion that will take place.

Summary

These steps are relatively simple to do. If followed up on a regular basis will help to prolong the life of your garage door. These simple steps can ave you hundreds of dollars.

  • Check all hinges and bolts, tighten as required
  • Check all rollers and bolts, tighten as required
  • Review springs and cables for corrosion, replace as required
  • Spray bottom of garage door with preserving oil to delay the effects of salt corrosion.

Our next post will be about the garage door opener itself. We will cover how you can maintain it to ensure it lasts longer and save you money.

Feel free to leave your comments and suggestion. For a lot more maintenance details on how to maintain your home and save money, click here.

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Paint Your Windows

Painting your windows is one of the most important home maintenance activities  you can do for your home and for yourself. Many new homes are now built with vinyl frames and you do not have to paint them. Older homes, though still have Paint your windowswooden framed windows. Unless you paint your windows and give them the proper care, they will succumb to dry rot or wet rot from the elements. If you have ever had to replace windows, then you will know just how expensive they can be to replace. Depending on the size of the window, they can cost from as low as $200 to $1000 for larger windows. Complex windows can cost even more. Doing an entire home can literally cost thousands of dollars which most of us cannot afford. The alternative of paint your windows is far cheaper. Paint Your Windows is definitely the way to go.

What Happens if I Miss Even One Year

The answer to this question really depends on were you live and which direction your windows face. Believe it or not, the amount of sun your windows receive and the number of heating / cooling cycles your windows experience, have a huge impact on how long the paint will last on your wooden window frames.

Typically southern facing windows will undergo more heating and cooling cycles. The result is that the paint will after time, begin to bubble and break off. If you live in a location were you have freezing during the evening and above freezing during the day, the water will eventually get under the pain, then freeze causing the paint to bubble off. Even within one year the paint especially on the window sills can lift off exposing the wood to the elements and will begin to deteriorate very quickly.

We have found that vertical surfaces will be fine, while the horizontal surfaces such as the window sills will lose some of their paint exposing the bare wood in just 12 months. Once the wood is exposed or water can get under the paint, the wood frame of your windows is going to deteriorate and begin to rot. It might take only a couple years and your wood window sill is soft and not insulating the window in the manner that it should.

How Should You Paint Your Windows

If you really want your windows to last a long time and to avoid misting up between window panes, you need to take care of them. You may be able to get away with just painting the window sills each year and the rest of the window every two years. Some people will say you can go for 5 years, however do not believe them. You will be replacing the entire window within 15 years if you follow that rule.

Start by checking each window and scraping away any loose paint that appears ready to bubble up or is loose. Once you complete this process, you will know how much of the window you will need to paint.

If you need to paint bare wood, it should be dry and you should use a primer first before painting with the proper outdoor paint.  Give the window you are painting a coat of paint, allow it to dry and then apply a second coat of paint. If you only paint the window sills, make sure that you have a good match in color. Even if using the same paint, it may be a different shade if there is a lot of fading due to the sun.

What if I am Afraid of Heights

Many people are afraid of heights and are not comfortable being on a ladder. Don’t take chances to save a few dollars. It is just nor worth it, especially if you have an accident and break something when you fall off the ladder.

Hire a window painter to do the job, but make sure you understand what kind of a job they will do. Some will just paint over the bubbled parts and it looks great for a little while , then the paint peels off within a few months and you have bare wood.

Make sure they will scrape first, then prime and then paint. Inspect their work at each stage and if your not satisfied, get them to do it over again. Before they start make sure there is a clear understanding of what work will be done, how it will be done and that you will be inspecting.

There are many door to door companies going around painting. Some are good while others are not. Choose with care and ask for references.

Summary

Check your windows every year for evidence of peeling and bubbling. Scrape first , then prime and then paint. If your concerned about climbing a ladder, hire a contractor, however be specific about your needs. A poor job is not worth doing at all will give you a false sense of confidence. If you can do it yourself, you will save hundreds of dollars and if you take care of your windows every year you will save thousands of dollars!

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End Appears Near for Minute-based Voice Plans

End Appears Near for Minute-based Voice PlansThe Rise of 4G means voice will soon run over all-IP networks. The technology platform that carriers use to provide voice services may change. It does not necessarily mean that the billing methodology will change for customers.  Some groups believe that once the conversion of voice to all IP networks is complete, the carriers will be forced to do away with minute based plans and move to data plans that are a combination of voice, data, text and video.

The white knight in this case is the rise of 4G wireless technologies such as WiMAX and LTE, both of which will eventually be able to deliver high-quality voice calls over an IP network rather than a traditional cellular network. This may mean that users might not have any monthly limit on the number of minutes they can talk on their phones; instead, they would pay a flat rate for monthly data plan that will encompass both voice and Internet services.

The wired world in the enterprise, voice has mostly moved to IP already.  In terms of wireless, cellular carriers don’t have enough dedicated bandwidth right now to support IP-based voice. But in future developments of LTE, it will all be over IP.

Redman notes that carriers are still likely to rely upon minute-based voice plans during the initial stages of LTE and WiMAX deployment, since it will take some time to make those technologies ubiquitous. Thus, users who don’t live in major urban areas will likely have to rely on cellular connections for wireless voice service for several years after initial implementation in urban areas. But once IP-based wireless networks are up and running around the country, it will no longer make sense for users to pay by the minute or at least that is the supposition of some writers.

What is evident with the new network technologies that are on the horizon is that it will be far cheaper to provide voice and data over these networks. The question will be whether these same networks will unlock the handsets to allow customers to make VOIP calls over competing VOIP carriers such as Skype and Truphone.

Even today, the Apple 3G  Ipod Touch can utilize WIFI to connect to the IP network and it allows calls via Skype to any phone or computer connected to the Internet. This is one of the first examples of mobile Voice moving to cheaper IP networks and avoiding the minute based plans that are currently in vogue. What really enables this particular solution is a handset that connects to the internet and is independent of any carrier service plan. Currently you cannot purchase a 3G Iphone which is essentially the same platform as the Ipod touch without also signing up for a voice and a data plan from the carrier.

Access to the network is the key and as long as the carriers own this access, they will be able to charge whatever they wish in the manner they wish, which includes voice based minute plans. If for example WIFI networks were to proliferate, then it may be possible to move to a data only plan or even a free network access plan. However even this scenario is problematic.

Most users do not want to look around for free access. They wish to have access at a moment’s notice were ever they are and this is the service that the carriers are so good at offering.  What is really needed is a competing carrier that offers a mobile service based on IP for a flat monthly rate regardless of what the content is. If a competing carrier were successful in capturing a significant portion of the business, the current carriers would be forced to change their plans and move from a voice based minute billing plan to a flat rate data plan.

We’re already seeing carriers’ revenue for long distance voice go down due to competing providers such as Skype and voice access decline in proportion to data while revenue for data goes up.

This poses a separate problem for carriers that have long feared being relegated to the status of “dumb pipes” that only transmit data and don’t provide any value-added services for their customers. We have already seen this phenomenon in the wired world with the decline of LD revenues.  Wired Carriers are seeing their only major source of revenue in the future will come from fees for users to access their networks. While carriers will still make money doing this, it is much less revenue compared to the sums they hauled in, in past years.

The mobile carriers will need to rethink their billing plans as customers have more solutions available to them. As loyal customers move from traditional networks to competing carriers who offer fixed rate data plans which include voice over IP, they will need to figure out how to replace these lost revenues. Will they move to advertising based solutions? Will they move to featured data solutions that add value to customers which they are willing to pay for? Voice mail applications, 3 way calling, conference calling, call display etc in the data world may still be chargeable in the VoIP world. There may be additional data services that customers will need which are still in the development stage. Whatever they are, the carriers will need to figure out a way to replace the lost revenue from minute based voice plans.

What it comes down to economically, is that it’s cheaper to do voice over IP and the questions is whether these savings will be passed along to the customer. Market competition will dictate how quickly this occurs and how much the customer will actually save.


Iphone vs Android Wars

Currently as of this post BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIMM) commands 41.6% of the market, according to technology data tracker comScore. Apple’s iPhone OS is is second place with 25.3%, and phones that Iphone vs Android WarsAndroid Nexus Smartphonerun Google’s Android operating system are in 5th place with 5.2% of the market. The smart phone data market has been heating up for some time, however with the introduction of Google’s android, the market is about to heat up and perhaps change the dynamics as well. A year makes a huge difference. We just heard that Android is outselling iPhone outside of North America and Apple is very concerned. Rim is now a distant third and not likely to make it in the next 5 years.

What is really interesting is that Google and Apple are getting a lot of press with the introduction of the Android platform and the Ipad respectively, however they are not the largest smartphone makers by a long way. RIM is well ahead of the pack with over 41% of the market! RIM is probably quite happy for these two to fight it out while they continue to focus on building apps and selling their products.

Iphone vs Android Wars

However the real question is what is driving traffic on the network? Turns out that data from smartphones and specifically Apple and Droid phones is driving 86% of the data traffic to these smartphones.  Apple I-phones and Ipod touch devices already have over 100,000 applications developed with more being added every day. Android phones now have over 20,000 apps and there is a huge army of developers developing more. Unfortunately Rim has only just passed the 1000 mark for apps that work on the RIM smartphone products.

Revenue Streams

The future appears to be the development of applications and they drive several revenue streams for many companies. The developer makes money when his or her app is purchased. Even if they are just charging a dollar a download, there are thousands being downloaded every day driving revenue into the developers hands.

Compelling apps also drive hardware sales of the smart phones themselves for Apple and for any manufacturer of the smartphone using Android. In addition Apple is taking a cut of the revenue for each app, while google makes money through traffic and searches that are conducted via the smartphones.

Finally the telephone companies who run all of this data over their networks are seeing traffic sky rocket through the roof. Although they are spending millions to beef up their networks they are also collecting millions on increased data traffic and smartphone monthly fees as more and more customers  purchase monthly subscription plans from them.

In fact while voice stagnates in terms of revenue growth on cellular networks, and landlines are sliding, data growth represents one of the few bright spots for the telephone carriers.

The Contenders

There appears to be 4 main contenders for the OS systems driving smartphones.  Apple’s OS , Google’s Droid, Rim and Microsoft’s Windows phone 7 appear to be the main contenders. Rim is improving their browser and making it more internet friendly. Apple currently leads the pack with over 100,000 approved applications, Android is approaching 20,000 and Rim has just surpassed the 1000 mark.

Apple has the momentum and needs to bring out more functionality in their OS and support even more applications.  Google with its droid OS is new and has momentum as well simply because of its size and deep pockets as well as the popularity of existing applications that work very well on the computers of today. The question is can they morph this success onto the smartphone and catch the leader ?

What Are Their Strategies ?

Google has made their interface open attracting many developers of applications.  The data traffic runs on three carriers in the US and on 10 smartphones.

Apple on the other hand has a close standards approach to approving apps. It can take several months to approve an app which turns off many developers although it can be argued that you have better higher quality apps as a result. The OS runs on 3 devices, the sG S,  3G Iphone, and the Ipod touch.

5 ways iPhone and Android differ

Google is carrier agnostic while Apple runs on ATT’s network only.

Google is carrier agnostic while Apple lets carriers take a cut of the app revenues

Google is offering Android on more phones with varying price points, while Apples OS runs on 3 proprietary smartphones.

Google has an open standards approach while Apple is my way or the highway approach to smartphone apps.

Google’s strategy isn’t about keeping one carrier happy but about enabling mobility, hardware and software to a variety of different tiers, while Apple has focus on one carrier only.

Who Will Win the War

It is much too early to make a call on who will win the smart phone war.  Rest assured there will be lots of new smart applications  for consumers to play with and incorporate into their everyday lives. The main contenders are not going to sit back, they will do everything they can to grab their portion of the data market.s

If you are planning to purchase one of the new smart phones along with the monthly data plan, take the time to assess just how many apps you will be using and how much data you will send or receive. Data traffic with these smartphones will become the single largest expense on a monthly basis unless you have an appropriate plan from your carrier.


Do It Your Self!

Do It Your SelfThe theme of this post is ” do it your self” ! This is by far the best way to save money on home maintenance costs and annual upkeep. Consider that if you need to pay someone to do something around your home and he or she is charging $50 an hour plus dispatch fees etc, you are really paying approximately $70 or $80 and hour before taxes. In other words depending on what tax bracket you are in you have to earn this much in pre-tax income to pay for a handyman to come around and do this work for you. Can you do it yourself safely and meet the quality level that you and your family look for? How about learning how to do this yourself?  Can you teach yourself how to do this work yourself?

Most people can answer yes to these three questions.

Most trades people are very competitive and you can sometimes negotiate how much they will charge, however recognize that there is usually a dispatch fee plus an hourly rate after they arrive. Sometimes the dispatch fee will include the first hour. The dispatch fee or call out ( they use various names ) can be as much as $100. Before asking tradesmen to come over, if you decide to go this direction, make sure you understand the costs first so there are no surprises!

Do the Math When You Decide to hire a Contractor

Now if you are quite rich and can afford it or you can make this much and more at your work, while the handy man is doing what ever you need, then it is a different scenario. For most of us we cannot make $70 or $80 and hour and so it makes sense for the average consumer to do the work themselves!

Another major advantage is the satisfaction of completing something on your own and doing a great job at it. There is a real sense of achievement in completing a small project at home which many people find rewarding when they are finished.

I do not Know How to Do These Things

But, many will say they do not know how to do this type of work. There are so many ways to learn how to do basic repairs that most people can pick up what they need to know to do most jobs. Sure it may take you a bit longer to complete a job, you may need to buy some extra parts or tools, but the combination of reward and reduced costs to you more than pays for the extra time and tools you need.

The internet is an unbelievable resource to find all kinds of basic help on a whole variety of tasks.  Some people though need the confidence of actually talking to an expert to completely understand how to complete a job. While others may have a specific situation that needs some discussion and thought about how to complete the job.

Most home improvement stores such as Home Depot, and many others have experienced staff that have spent many years doing this type of work. For example, if you are changing a tap, there is a plumber who has hung up his tools to work in a Home Depot store and will be more than happy to give you some pointers on how to complete your task. They will even help you pick put out all of the parts and the tools you will need to complete the job.

If you are tackling a more major activity such as laying hardwood floor for example, most of these same stores will put on training courses from time to time, based on demand to show people how to properly set up hardwood flooring installations and complete the job.

Do It Your Self! – Making Mistakes

Of course you are going to make mistakes! If this is the first time you are trying to complete a repair on something, drywall a basement, paint, install wall paper or lay hardwood floors, you are going to make mistakes. This is just part of the learning process and it will depend on how much preparation you do and how much training you get in advance.

There will be some extra expense due to your mistakes since you may need to buy extra tools or parts. However in most cases this extra cost will not come anywhere close to the cost of labor. If you have to purchase tools, you will have these tools for many other jobs. Their costs are not wasted in any manner.

Summary

Doing the work yourself can save you lots of money. Especially when you take into account what it costs you in before tax dollars.  Always find out the charges will be if you do decide to call someone in to do the work. The money you save will more than pay for the tools and the parts you need. Learn how to do various tasks by talking to the experts. A good source can be found at many hardware stores like Home Depot. Even if you make mistakes, it is ok. You have saved more than enough money to fix your mistake in most cases.

For more do it yourself ideas and general maintenance ideas, click here.

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