Google Voice – Never listen to voice messages again.

I’ve been using Google Voice for several months and now that it’s available to everyone in the US (no invitation required) it might be a good time to take a look at it if you haven’t already.

First off, I’ll admit that I use Google Voice for one key feature – the voice message to text conversion. Sure, it’s nice to have an alternate phone number I can give out if necessary, but when it comes down to it I just really dislike listening to voice mail messages. By having Google Voice convert messages to text and send them to my email or via SMS to my phone, I rarely have to call in to listen to a message.

Now, like many speech-to-text tools it has limitations. If there is a lot of background noise behind the caller, they have heavy accent or tend to speak quickly, the conversion might not be as comprehensive as you’d like. However, it does give me a good gist of what the call is about and if it requires my immediate attention. If I really need additional details from the message, I’ll check the audio at a later time.

Google Voice reduces the time I spend checking voice mail messages from a daily occurrence to something that happens less than once a week. What more could I really want for free? Read more about it on the Google Voice Blog.

Oops.

Did you miss techbunny.com for a bit yesterday? So did I! Turns out time flies when you are blogging and I let the renewal of my domain slip away. Ouch.

Don’t know why I didn’t get an email reminder, but I was renewed pretty quickly and after a few hours everything was back to normal. But while I was logged into my domain registrars website (I use DotEasy) I figured I’d check out some of their domain management features.

First on the list is “Domain Lock”, which is an annual paid service that blocks requests to transfer the domain to another registrar or hosting company will automatically fail. This can be used to help prevent domain theft, hijacking or other fraudulent transfers of domain names. I usually pass on this service, because email confirmation and authcode requirements should make it pretty difficult for someone change domain registrars without notification.

In addition, if you are using a private registration service, transfer requests will likely fail. Private registration masks your personal information from WHOIS searches and the like. Private registration is sometime free depending on your hosting package, so I make sure to keep that on. The ones that allow you to keep official control of your domain name and just mask the information are the best. Seems worth it from an identity protection standpoint too.

Finally, check to see if your registrar offers automatic domain renewal. Obviously, every registrar would love to keep your business and automatic renewal is handy offering to make that happen. I turned it on for my domain after this week’s oversight and remember to mark my calendar so I won’t make this mistake again!

Put your money where your cloud is.

Cloud. Cloud. Cloud. Everything is about the “cloud” these days. Though for as long as there has been the Internet, there’s always been a cloud – it’s just a matter of how it was being used. And when it comes to the Internet, it’s a lot about what one can get for free and what is worth paying for.

First off, I’m a heavy user of Google services. Gmail is my starting point for email management and I’ve been pretty happy with the feature set and the service. Plus I love not having to rely on a specific client or specific machine to send mail and can access it from any computer and my phone. I’m not a big fan of Google Docs, but Google Voice is pretty cool too – and all of Google’s services are free, assuming you don’t mind targeted advertising. Plus the BlackBerry application works pretty well.

And let’s face it, there would be no WWW with web hosting services. There are several fine companies that offer free hosting for small sites if you use them for domain registration and don’t need any of the more involved features, like PHP or dedicated servers. I’ve been happy with DotEasy so far. It does what I need for several small sites I have to keep up and running on the cheap.

For file backup and document access, I use SugarSync. This service is free for the first 2 GB of data, but I’m willing to pay for the 30 GB level. Files are accessible via the web portal and there is an option to email documents to yourself that will then be synced to your registered computers automatically. If you want to check it out, use me as a reference and we’ll all get extra space!

Another cool online tool is Remember The Milk, a task management portal. The web service is free, but the tools to sync to mobile devices requires an annual fee. It’s a bit pricey when compared to what I spend on other services, but there is a two week trial period before needing to commit. The “pro” service also gets you priority email support.

Another cloud related application that I use daily is UberTwitter. This BlackBerry application is my connection to my favorite social media portal and is worth every penny of it’s nominal fee. Sure, Facebook has a free application for the Blackberry, but I find I’m happier the less time I spend there.

Finally, I’d miss the ability to download content onto my Kindle wirelessly over the Internet. Amazon’s service allows me to catch up on the newspaper daily and purchase books without the hassle of having to make extra space in my bag.

It’s easy to get lulled into the idea that everything on the Internet should be free, but I’m willing to put my cash behind web services, features and related applications when they meet my needs. What about you?

RSA Conference 2010 – You gonna be there?

If you are looking for a reason to hang out in San Francisco’s Moscone Center in early March, look no further. It’s time for the annual RSA Conference on security. With meager a beginning in 1991 with 50 attendees at their first event in Redwood City, RSA has grown to attract over 10,000 attendees annually.
This will be the 4th RSA I’ve attended, though I’ve never attended the full conference. It always looks jam-packed and awesome, but security is only a small portion of my job, thus only gets a small portion of the training dollars I can lobby for myself. So I always opt for the Expo Plus Pass.
I think the Expo Plus Pass is a great way to get a taste of the conference, attend all the keynote speeches and even pick one breakout session to attend. For just shy of $300, I think it’s a great value over the regular Expo Only Pass ($100).
RSA is being held March 1-5th and you can register here.

Adventures with Gmail

Last week, I had a bit of a Gmail scare. I arrived at the office and did my usual routine of logging onto the computers at my desk, including logging into my Gmail account. I always have it open in the background, because let’s face it, I’m addicted to “the grid.” All was good for most of the morning. Then at about 11am, I turn around to do something on that computer and my browser window has a big warning message:

Account Lockdown: Unusual Activity Detected

The page also listed several possible reasons for this and indicated I’d be in the penalty box for up to 24 hours. (24 hours?!?)

According to Google, unusual activity includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Receiving, deleting, or downloading large amounts of mail via POP or IMAP in a short period of time.
  2. Sending a large number of undeliverable messages (messages that bounce back).
  3. Using file-sharing or file-storage software, browser extensions, or third party software that automatically signs in to Gmail.
  4. Leaving multiple instances of Gmail open.
  5. Browser-related issues.

It’s really hard not to want to panic in this situation, but what can you do? 24 hours seems like a really long time when it comes to email access and I didn’t just want to sit and wait. Ultimately, my access was restored in a few hours, and I learned a few things about the big “G” in the cloud.

My first concern was that my account might have been compromised, so I wanted to change my password. If my account had been compromised changing the password would likely stop any potential abuse (activity #2). I happen to use several Google services, which made it possible to change my password without having access to the email service. Since the “unusual activity” was limited to email, my account itself wasn’t locked, only it’s connection to mail. I could still access Google Reader, etc – any of those services have a portal to the account management. Using that I changed my password, which made me feel a lot better. (I might not have had access to my mail, but I was sure no one else did now either!)

The only devices connecting to my email at the time where the one work computer and my BlackBerry. Perhaps the BlackBerry BIS service was making too many calls to my account? I logged onto the website for that and disconnected that service. I believe BIS uses IMAP to connect (activity #1), so I figured that couldn’t hurt.

I cleared my IE cache, deleted all my cookies and ran a virus scan on my computer (activity #5). I even cleared the cookies and cache on the other machines on my desk even though I don’t usually use them for Gmail access. At this point I was pretty sure I didn’t have any other machines attempting to connect (activity #4). My home computers were off, my office computers were not connected and my BlackBerry service was removed.

I’ve been told the most common cause of this problem is a “cookie gone bad” or the potential false positive on Google’s side, which clear up in a few hours. I would have liked to have access to the Recent Activity page that you can get to from the bottom of your Gmail Inbox. You can use that to close any other sessions (from home computers, for example) and see the IP addresses from your most recent connection points. Turns out that URL doesn’t change, so bookmark it and it will load if you are logged onto any other Google service.

I don’t think I’ll ever know if I was unintentionally abusing the system, but I can’t help but to feel the punishment was punitive, even for a free service. Google is excellent at collecting data – I’m sure they could tell that my account was not newly created, I was a daily user of the service and I had no prior history of excessive usage patterns. Since I do have an alternate email address in the system, a warning notice or a post-lockdown follow-up message giving me some actions to take would have been helpful. I would have happily performed some remediation checks and then clicked a link to have my account rechecked within a hour. The suspension system is automated, so automating a recheck after the user responds to a message shouldn’t be so difficult.

If I was truly a spammer or if I was someone who wasn’t a daily user of Gmail, I may not even care that the service was suspended for 24 hours, but for those of use the service regularly, a little tech support love can go a long way.

Today is Safer Internet Day

Organized by Insafe (a European network of Awareness Centres), Safer Internet Day is held annually on February 9th to promote safe and responsible use of the Internet, especially by children and teens. The topic for 2010 is “Think B4 U Post!”

Speaking of online safety for teens, check out this PSA video by CyberTipline. And for more information about staying safe on the ‘web, check out Microsoft’s safety website or follow them on Twitter @Safer_Online.

She’s Geeky: Day 1

Today I attended my first “She’s Geeky” unConference. I didn’t know what to expect, but after today I highly recommend checking it out if you are a woman who works in technology (or mention it to a woman you know in the math, science or tech fields).
Lots of women were willing to talk about the areas that interested them in technology, so the day was filled with a variety of topics ranging from using social media to “green” technology, programming and development to Internet privacy and identity. (I even managed to make some time to present an overview of Windows 7!)
The privacy and identity talk was lively and full of ideas about one’s online identity(s) and how managing those can be different for women for a variety of reasons. Managing online privacy is only going to get more important as data continues to be collected, stored and mined, regardless of gender.
Notes from all the sessions will be compiled and available online, so I’m looking forward to being able to recap what I’ve learned (or missed) at the end of the weekend. While not everyone does the same type of “tech” it was a great experience to spend the day with other women who were all passionate about whatever thing that made them “geeky”.

UberTwitter – Beta 6 Released

I was happy to discover that 2010 brought an updated release to my favorite Twitter client for the BlackBerry, UberTwitter. This release supports some of the new features of Twitter, including lists and the updated retweet function. In addition to the added functionality, the UI has been updated to make it easier to access your DM and @ replies. The application icon looks a little too close to the Facebook icon on the BlackBerry for my taste, but perhaps that was done on purpose.

I’ve been using the free version, which has some advertising, but decided to spent the nominal fee to upgrade to the paid version this year. Since I’ve been using Twitter more and more to communicate with other tech-minded folk and get news, I figure it’s the least I can do.

See you in the Twitterverse!

Who’s Geeky? She is.

Happened across the She’s Geeky conference while surfing around the web. “She’s Geeky” is an event specifically for women interested in and/or working in the technology, math and science industries. Actually, it’s an “un”conference – 3 days of geek-minded women gathered together with a daily agenda of tracks and sessions generated fresh every morning.

I’m always up for an interesting tech conference, plus it’s hard to pass up an event being held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. Seems like a great chance to check out the Babbage Engine, too!

IT Roadmap at Moscone Center

Yesterday was the Network World IT Roadmap in San Francisco. I had the experience of being the user case study presenter for the virtualization session. If you happened to catch it, I apologize for talking too fast. I’m working on that!

Other sessions covered application delivery, green IT, IP communications, data center, cloud, network management, security and compliance and WAN, LAN and mobility. Phew. Network World offered a lot in one day, plus several additional keynotes and the expo hall. My co-worker caught the WAN, LAN and mobility session, so I’m curious to see what trouble he’ll be looking to cause in the office next week.

There was some twittering happening related to the conference, but I was disappointed to see that the @itroadmap Twitter handle didn’t tweet at all during the event. They had advertised Twitter on the conference site as a way to stay connected during the conference yet didn’t reach out to that audience once. Twitter is becoming a popular way to interact as things happen – several attendees were tweeting during sessions – so it seems like Network World missed out on an opportunity there.