Sunday, October 29, 2006

Spammers and Spitters

Where are the days that only the odd fool phoned people for “fun”?
I lived in a village where telephone numbers had only 3 digits after the area code. Our former number was 249.

The famous Dutch stand-up comedian
Herman Finkers told his devoted listeneres he lived in a village where only 5 people had a phone connection: the Mayor had telephone number 1, the Doctor no. 2, the Baroness a secret number, the Solicitor no, 4…….

SPAM”, a meat product in the UK got adopted in a Monty Python skit in which S
PAM was featured.
In this skit, a group of Vikings sang a chorus of "spam, spam, spam . . . " in an increasing crescendo, drowning out other conversation. Hence, the analogy applied because UCE was drowning out normal discourse on the Internet.

Nowadays, everyone who has been and still is connected to the Internet, at least received one Spam message in his / her e-mail box.
Fortunately there are great anti Spam programs. My favourite one is definitely
Mailwasher which I am using successfully for over 4 years now.

On Skype’s Forum we do read the occasional complain about being Spammed via Skype; “companies” sending ad’s as a chat messages. Something I dislike. Skype is an ad-free program, one (there are many more!) of the reasons I prefer Skype. If someone is sending me unwanted information about their product or telling me they want my bank account for a temporary deposit of 16.000.000 Dollars of a lonely soul who died in a plain crash two years ago (can you believe that the senders, 99% from Nigeria, still think we believe this story???), I am annoyed.

But there is a new phenomenon: Spam via VoIP, also called SPIT, Spamming over Internet Telephony.
This means that Spitters can now send annoying, repetitious advertisements similar to the Spam choking our e-mail inboxes but in pre-recorded voice format. Not only can they send you voice messages, but they can also take over your VoIP network and send messages to other users that appear to originate from you.

It isn’t only VoIP that’s under siege, also Skype if you can believe the media. But Skype isn’t VoIP, it’s Net telephony—Skype uses the public Internet, VoIP works over a closed user group (CUG). Also Skype is a P2P (Peer-to-peer) application while VoIP applications follow the client-server model.

We know of Skype users being under attack, receiving Spit voicemail messages but this is via a SkypeIn number. If it is a Skype to Skype voicemail message, the name of the other Spitter is visible as a caller and action can be taken. You can report this as abuse because Skype takes this very seriously. Send as many as possible details to

Spitters are going to be a new genration of annoying VoIP bulliers. How are we going to deal with them?

Read more about SPIT.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Using your “car” to navigate your PC, to call your Skype contacts and to listen to music?

Cars, I like them very much. My most favourite brand is Volvo. I drive and own Volvo’s since 1982 and will until I am not fit enough anymore to drive any car. Or maybe Volvo will have designed a 40 Km vehicle by then.

I rather talk about cars on birthday parties then about make-up, designer cloths or holidays in Spain.
I have been driving Volvo 444, 544, Duett, P1800 ES, Amazone, 245, 745, 850, V70, V50 and currently I own a V40. Volvo mad… or is it an illness??

Although not a Volvo, there is a “car” which is a mouse that can also be used to make calls over the internet:
Street Mouse VOIP, in the shape of the famous Beetle.

Street Mouse VOIP comes sporting its infamous sexy lines and sports car style, not to mention fully working LEDs in the car's headlights. While a glance under the bonnet will reveal a high quality ergonomically designed 800dpi optical mouse with two buttons and one scroll for easy desktop navigation.

But of course all that's just for starters. The feature which catapults this terrific novelty mouse to the daddy of all is its fully integrated mic and speaker which makes it perfect for making those low-cost VOIP calls that all the cool kids are talking about. Just connect your mouse via its USB adapter and you've got all the equipment you need to make phonecalls over the internet.

There's also some good quality headphones included which you can plug into the 3.5mm jack plug if you want to listen in private, while the speaker will also blast out your MP3s if you'd rather listen to music. All in all, the Internet Phone and Speaker VOIP Street Mouse is one sexy beast, but don't be deceived, it's much more than just a pretty face.

And if you prefer a TVR, please view the details
here. I wait for a Volvo ;-)

Main features Beetle:

· Unique ergonomic design and style
· Accurate 800 dpi optical mouse
· Internet phone for making VOIP calls - works with Skype
· Built-in mic - headphones included
· USB and PS2 adaptors included
· Suitable for PC and Laptop
· 2 buttons with scroll wheel
· Rear taillights and working LED headlights
· Available in cherry red and silver
· No mouse pad required

“Coolest Gadgets”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

My days….

…….start at 7 Am and end… well… if I am lucky, between 11 PM and 1 AM.

I start my day with making myself presentable enough to be allowed outdoors. Then it is feeding time for my animals. As a former Para Veterinarian nurse, I have a few, recently extended with my mother’s little dog “Cindy” Then breakfast and a walk with Cindy and my own dog Invandra.

On my way home a stop at Mum’s house. Not for the usual hot coco but to look after her house because Mum is in Hospital again. Unfortunately her health is worse. Her Heart failure causes a lot of fluid in her body and last Saturday her lungs filled up very quickly. She was rushed off to Hospital early evening.
It was heart braking to see her suffer so much, she nearly drowned in her own fluid.

Although they can’t get rid of all the fluid in her lungs anymore, right now breathing is easier.
We expect her home again on Friday. The Hospital and I are arranging a special bed and an extra nurse to look after Mum more often.

I live in a small community but the professional help for elderly and sick people is excellent.
Heads up for ‘our’ hospital "
Nij Smellinghe" and “Thuiszorg De Friese Wouden” who know how to treat every patient and their families with dignity. There are not enough words to express my feelings about the way they surround especially Mum, with all possible care.
I know Mum will not be with us for long anymore. The fluid problem will get worse and we all hope that her Heart will give up before she has to suffer more. And knowing there are professional people to help and to support, is so comfortable.

After I made sure that everything is alright at Mum’s home, the cat well looked after, I start my working day at my office with connecting to the Skype accounts of my clients so I can take their calls and reply to the chats.
Then I log on to Skype’s forum to do my Moderator job.

The administration of Varras is a returning daily job, unfortunately my Client file broke and we seem unable to repair it. I received new software and are busy updating with my old information.

My co-worker Stephanie and “
Tallstugan” are and have been working on a translation for “SDS Medical” and I just finished the translation of two Skype Plug-ins (“SkyDates” from Datalyrics and a new program of which I am also one of the Beta testers) . Waiting for me is checking another translation.

Skype’s closed Beta testing is also part of my day although I am less active as some of my Beta colleagues.

My contacts are very supportive and ask me regularly how Mum is doing. I appreciate this so much and are more then happy to reply to their chat messages.

In between I try to update my business and personal webpage as both need a new layout.

I also need to look after myself with the occasional meal and after my little house with housekeeping.
Before I know, it is 6 PM, time to walk the dogs and to go to the Hospital to hug Mum.
It is only a 30 minutes drive and although no visitors allowed after 7.30 PM, no-one ever asked me to leave.
It is so good to visit Mum in a relaxing atmosphere.

When returning home again, I first look after Mum’s cat and make sure the house is ready for the night.
Then back to the office (read home), ready for the calls from friends and family.

Soon it is 10 PM and time to finish the office work and a last visit to Skype’s forum.

Yes, I am tired when finally going to bed but thankful that I am able to manage the care for Mum and doing my work.
Soon Mum will be home again so I can spend more time with her. Not knowing how much longer she will be with us, I am going to make the best of our time together. With the help of all those loving people.
T-Mobile Pilots WiFi/Cell Service - news from Seattle

With little fanfare,
T-Mobile USA has launched its long-anticipated dual-mode WiFi-cellular service, known as "HotSpot@Home," in a pilot program aimed at residential customers in Seattle. The pilot, which got underway yesterday, marks a milestone in the company's drive to make good on CEO Robert Dotson's pledge to make traditional landline phones obsolete.

It also puts the Big Three U.S. carriers --
Cingular Wireless LLC , Verizon Wireless , and Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S - message board) -- that T-Mobile is willing to risk losing paid cellular minutes to unlimited, flat-rate calls over WiFi connections, in a bid to deliver seamless roaming over different sorts of networks with different types of service plans.

T-Mobile customers in greater Seattle can purchase T-Mobile HotSpot@Home products and services at the two dozen Seattle-area T-Mobile retail stores. Based on Unlicensed Mobile Access (UMA) technology, the service allows calls to transferred to and from T-Mobile’s cellular (GSM/GPRS/EDGE) network and Wi-Fi hotspots, either at home (with WiFi routers provided for free after a rebate) or in T-Mobile's extensive network of paid WiFi zones. The new service costs $19.99 per month on top of the customers' existing rate plans, as long as those plans cost $39.99 or more, and allows unlimited calling over WiFi connections.

Read more

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Tallinn? Oh….Estonia!

This still happens when people ask me where Skype’s offices are based.
Tallinn?” Yes, in Estonia. “Ah, yes. It once belonged to Russia

I blogged briefly about Tallin after
my short visit there, impressed by their new office and shop buildings. About Tallinn catching up with modern times.

As one of the the three Baltic republics who regained their independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia has managed to put itself on the edge of far more than just geography. The tiny nation of 1.36 million was the first former Soviet republic to introduce its own currency, and the first European country to adopt a flat tax system, now widely copied in the rest of Eastern Europe. It has also become one of the most technologically advanced places on the planet. You can use your mobile phone to pay for parking your car, buy bus tickets and check your children's school grades. More than 80% of taxpayers file their declarations online, wi-fi hot spots are ubiquitous — and free — and Skype which was acquired last year by eBay for $2.6 billion. That amount is slightly more than the annual output of the entire Estonian economy 15 years ago.The economy, once a basket case, is now one of Europe's most dynamic, racing along at a 12% growth clip — faster than China. Estonia is one of only two new European Union members to have a budget surplus, and its national debt will have all but disappeared by the end of the decade.

The country’s true innovative edge is believed to have more to do with the willingness of the public to use technology than with any particular national skill at developing it. Estonians are fast early adopters and very good at getting innovation to work. For example, the whole financial system leapfrogged into electronic banking in the mid-1990s, bypassing all messy dealings with checks and other paper transactions. And the government has done its best to boost computer literacy, including running free two-day classes that have been attended by 100,000 people.

Read more

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Skypers can Talk for Britain!

Free Skype UK to UK landline calls for next 6 months.

Skype is offering its UK subscribers free calls to UK landlines for the next six months, provided they buy a minimum of £10 Skype Credit.

“This “giving stuff away” lark must be addictive, because Skype just can’t seem to shake the habit.
Their latest freebie promotion for UK Skypers,
Talk for Britain, gives you six months of free calls to UK landlines if you buy some Skype credit.

That means you’ll be able to keep your Skype credit for other things: calls to mobiles, calls to overseas landlines, that kind of thing.
The offer starts today and ends on December 31.”

Skype Blog UK

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Off the Skype Record

I have been updating my blog with pure Skype related issues and hardware posts recently.
Nah, not because I am lazy. But more because there was so little time to continue e.g. my “gallery of special people” or to post about my Consultancy and my life.

Life is hectic, as you read in an
earlier blog post, my mother has been in Hospital. She is at home again (with a big thank you to all who were and still are so supportive) but not at all well. Her heart attack made her vulnerable and she is in a worse physical condition ever.

My mother is 78 but lived an intense and full life. Now her heart is worn out leaving her so very tired.
I spend as much as possible time with her outside my office hours. I live only 65 metres away so can be there in seconds when needed.
A nurse is now looking after her during the mornings and evenings, friends are visiting her (making their own coffee and doing there own dishes, HUG!!) and yesterday the whole family was together to discuss the necessary bits around her eventual death.
Mum likes to be prepared, wants to choose her own text and music and who will receive an announcement of her death.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds but that is how we all are: we love to look after are own business until it is impossible :-)

For Mum the day was extra special as she could hold her great grandson who celebrated his 1st birthday last Friday.
But she was so tired after everyone left. I spent some extra time and left her shortly before the nurse arrived.

Varras Consultancy and my work as member of the Skype Community Team, takes time as well. Up till now I manage to combine this with many other little related jobs but skip any personal life for some time.
I am not complaining, my mother is a wonderful person and it is a joy to be there for her.

Varras Consultancy is growing, there are new future plans of which I will keep you updated when they are more concrete. I never imagined the wonderful “consequences” of starting my business but
as mentioned before, it is a business with a great sense of humour and I am so curious for the future.

I am blessed. Blessed in many, many ways; a very special and loving Mum, special family, friends and clients.
I think it is about time you ALL deserve a BIG thank you. You are part of my wonderful world.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Good news for the Jordan Skypers: Skype services back on track

AMMAN — The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission has decided to allow Skype services to resume a month after they were blocked.

Director of the commission's regulatory department, Al Ansari Al Mashaqbah, confirmed yesterday that the recent decision to block Skype had been reversed. The official told The Jordan Times that the security issues, cited as the reason for the block, had been resolved.

The commission had sent a fax to all Internet service providers in the Kingdom on September 13 to notifiy them of the decision to block the use of Skype.Technical support representatives at Batelco and Wanadoo confirmed that they had received word from the commission ordering them to block the Skype website and that all Internet service providers in the country had been asked to abide by this new policy.

The fax said Skype had been blocked because of security reasons. The popular software programme uses an encryption method that came under attack recently. Technical support representatives at Wanado said the reasons Skype was being targeted was because of possible terrorist activity, and the inability to monitor Skype conversations.

A similar instance in China's Shenzhen Province saw Skype services blocked for a short time until it abided by local laws. China Telecom, which ordered it blocked, reversed its decision after security issues were resolved. Meanwhile, Skype users in the country reacted to the order to block VoIP services with dismay. David DeBartolo uses Skype to communicate with colleagues around the world while living in Amman.

DeBartolo, a Fulbright researcher with the Binational Fulbright Commission, was one of the first to discover that Skype services had been suspended. Upon contacting the commission, he received a response that Skype services had been blocked for security reasons.
"Justification that it was blocked for security reasons is unfounded and absolute nonsense," said Omar Qawas, a professional in the IT business, who has been using Skype for two years to stay in contact with friends and colleagues around the world. Qawas told The Jordan Times that Skype was "a reliable alternative to using regular phones or mobiles, and much more cost-effective."

The Jordan Times

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Keyboard with integrated Skype phone

In an earlier blog I reported about the
Buffalo Skype-tafied Keyboard.

One of my UK contacts recently bought a similar product, the
IP-Talky Keyboard which allows him to call anywhere for free with Skype™. "I just plugged in the IP-Talky keyboard and dialed/connected to my contacts. Here are the details:

Free Calls to Anywhere
Compatible with telephony services
Compatible with telephony services such as MSN™, AOL™, Yahoo™, and Skype™
Compatible with telephony services
An easy and familiar device
It’s just like a regular house phone. Pick it up and start chatting.
An easy and familiar device
designed an a-shape look layout
Enhanced to prevent Repetitive strain injury caused from typing
designed an a-shape look layout
USB Digital Audio In / out ports
Replaced the normal AC97 sound card & ensures superior quality of digital voice transmission, integrated echo cancellation and noise reduction technology delivers life like sound quality
USB Digital Audio In / out ports
Excellent Voice Quality
Integrated echo cancellation and noise reduction technology delivers life like conversation quality
Excellent Voice Quality
Never miss a call again
Familiar built-in ringer when there is incoming calls
Never miss a call again
Multi Functional Internet Hot Keys
Support Multimedia Type Design, 17 Multi-functional Hot Keys can support Sleep, Volume Regulate , E-mail and Internet
Multi Functional Internet Hot Keys
13 Multimedia/internet hot keys
Powerful one-touch controls for instant access to your favorite music files and Internet destination
13 Multimedia/internet hot keys
Earphone/Telephone Switch button
On the bottom of phone, there is a switch button between the telephone and earphone for users’ personal preferences
Earphone/Telephone Switch button
Ultra-Slim Keycaps with laser printing alphabets
Reduces the common typing noise, enhances stability, and finest quality
Ultra-Slim Keycaps with laser printing alphabets
Perfect match with slim LCD monitors
Sleek / Slim / Stylish

Bought at
webplus.silicon-group for 23 Uk Pound Sterling."

(It is obvious he his happy with his new "toy"... :-))
Skype lands deal for Wi-Fi access in Europe

Skype's Internet calling service will soon be accessible at The Cloud's Wi-Fi hot spots across Europe, the two companies announced on Tuesday.

Although normal online access to Skype's voice over Internet Protocol services is free to those connecting via PC, access to The Cloud's Wi-Fi network
will require the use of a Skype-enabled phone from SMC Networks and payment of a 6.99-pound monthly service fee (about $13).
"We are delighted to partner with SMC Networks and extend the service we provide today with Skype to Wi-Fi-enabled handsets," Niall Murphy, The Cloud's chief technology officer, said on Tuesday.

"This agreement delivers on our commitment to provide the widest range of Wi-Fi services to customers across Europe," Murphy continued, adding that the deal "marks the start of a real low-cost alternative to traditional telecoms services."

Read more

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A no nonsense USB phone for Skype

Tiptel is my favourite brand for USB phones. I have several Tiptel devices: the USB
117, 118, Cyberbox 250 and the 217 wireless phone.
The 118 is quite “harmless” when it comes to handling it but it is not a phone you easily carry around.
It takes some space in your bag.

Tiptel Holland now, came out with a smaller “no nonsense” phone. Easy to use for everyone. Just plug and play and not taking much space in your baggage.

The 112 USB handset is ideal for people who don’t like unnecessary extras. It is plain and simple.
The only thing you have to do to place calls over the Internet is to plug it into to a USB connection on your PC.
Because it is a light weight handset, it is an excellent travel mate in your laptop bag or for your holidays to place cheap and simple calls.

Apart from the USB 112 handset, you only need a PC, an Internet connection and e.g. Skype.
The software can be downloaded from the website. No soundcard needed.

For now it is only available in Holland for the price of appr. € 15 including VAT.

Specifications in Dutch

(Varras Consultancy is official retailer for Tiptel NL)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Interesting Poll in the UAE

I blogged about Skype being blocked in the UAE before (
1 and 2)

A recent poll run over the past four weeks asked visitors to the popular technology portal, ‘Do you feel the current VoIP (voice over internet) restrictions in the UAE are limiting your business's potential growth?’.

Of the 1492 users that responded, more than three quarters (just over 77%) answered ‘Yes, very much’, with a further 12.1% confirming, ‘To a degree, yes’. Less than 11% of respondents thought the VoIP ban was having no effect on their organisation’s growth. VoIP websites, such as and, have been banned for months - and in some cases years - in the UAE.

Free "Pamela Pro" Skype Software for Every International Podcasting Expo Attendee

An offer you just can’t resist!

I am a very happy user of Pamela. I don’t joke when I call Pamela my PA (Personal Assistant).
She replies to chats when I am not available, leaving personal messages.
She records calls (with permission of the other side of course), video and keeps tracks of my chat history, and birthdays. Time scheduling is another great feature.
Others are: voice messaging, notifications, network, application logging, e-mail forwarding, PamCasting and blogging.

There is so much to do with and to explore in
Pamela. How did I ever live without this PA….

The International Podcasting Expo is October 20-22, 2006.
Dick Schiferli of Pamela Systems offers his flagship software for Skype, "Pamela Pro", to every seminar attendee during the International Podcasting Expo. The Podcasting Expo will present 40+ online seminars, workshops and networking events, as well as give away free podcast production tools to all seminar attendees. Paige Eissinger of 2 Smart Chix will offer training on the Pamela Pro software.

So, don’t think about going but go…..

Friday, October 06, 2006

USB Flash Drive

Usually my Laptop follows me everywhere. It is my office and I can think of worse ways then carrying a 2,99 Kg office around.

Since I bought my new Compaq Presario, I work with two laptops. Because the new one is still not fully updated, I user either an external disk (180 GB, do I love so much space….:-) ) or the wonderful SanDisk Cruzer® Titanium USB Flash Drive to move files from one laptop to the other.

If I don’t need my whole office with me but only a few documents and / or programs, the Cruzer is also my partner.
Not only because it has Skype installed (what would I do without Skype) but I do like the software. It is secure and easy to use. File transfer is done in no-time and downloading programs is a piece of cake.

But for those who still need software for their Flash Drive, there is another software for capturing and recalling digital information: EverNote 1.5.
EverNote software provides a single place for capturing, categorizing and instantly locating all types of information, such as typed and handwritten notes, web clips, emails, phone messages, addresses, passwords, brainstorms, sketches, photos and documents, and accessing them on multiple platforms and devices. The new version of EverNote software introduces data portability via synchronization with removable media, access to notes from other applications, new email clipping options, expanded security, data transfer via instant messenger and a number of other new options and improvements.

EverNote 1.5 software for Windows is available as a free download. EverNote Plus 1.5 software, which includes file synchronization and advanced digital link features, has a base price of $39.95. Both are available immediately at and through the company’s distributors.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Finally a female "colleague"!!

Being a female Skype SuperUser is rare.
I have been the only one for a very long time and I felt honoured.
But finally I have a "colleague". An even greater honour as I have always admired her Mac skills, her positive attitude and her valuable help on Skype's Support Forum.

I introduce to you Carola Clavo: Graphic Designer, only female Mac Translator, Mac closed Beta tester for Skype and Skype SuperUser as of today.

Congratulations Carola and welcome to the "Gang"

Monday, October 02, 2006

My new Laptop

My "oldie" is about to give up. I am certain she understood every word when I ordered my new laptop the Compaq Pressario V6066. Immediately after my phone call she messed up programs.
I tried to assure her she was going to stay with me for a long time, connected to the wireless 3Com router as I still needed her.
But she is definitely disappointed. She is showing that in many ways. The only things she is still doing perfect is running the Skype clients and their sound devices. I think she loves Skype as much as I do.

I have been working long nights to keep her going and to install the Compaq in the meantime.
During the day I have my business to look after plus my visits to my mother who unfortunately, went to Hospital on Thursday night with a serious Heart failure. (Hence my absence but I am back.)
Mum is doing better now although she is still on oxygen. So that is a relief as I love her to bits. She is a very, very special Mum.

Mum’s dog, a spoilt Maltezer, is staying with me again. She and my animals are good friends. But doggie also needs my attention. I told her that is a bit difficult at the moment. Does she understand? I am afraid not.... Nevertheless she has to get used to our normal daily life.

Back to the Compaq. Wow…. What a beautiful machine! Fast, quiet and good-looking too!
Most programs are up and running. Working on the Forum is even more nicer now with this speed.
Call quality is excellent. I phoned my aunt in Canada and it sounded like we were in the same room.
Oh, I can go on and on but will wait with a full report until I have been using it over a longer period then 3 days

I never complained about my old laptop. OK, it became a bit slow and needs a total clean. But not before the new one is fully equipped which will take some time. Still it is a huge difference with the new one.

In the meantime is working with two laptops not a punishment. It is apart from fun, also nice for using even more different hardware with accounts! My new toys….