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December 30, 2004

A Cry for Engineering Help

In the never-ending quest to cut ten dollars out of my monthly bills, I recently decided it was time to free myself from my traditional phone service, provided by BellSouth. I'd been reading about Voice Over IP (VoIP) phone services for a while and I'd seen an increasing number of advertisements for VoIP from companies like Vonage, Lingo and Time Warner. After doing a little research, I decided that the price was right and it was time to bite the bullet and say goodbye to my Baby Bell.

**Aside: I could've decided to ditch my land-line entirely in favor of my cellphone but I decided against that path. For one, all my creditors have my land-line number and I don't want to change that. I also want to keep that number so that I'll have a number to give people I suspect want to telemarket me. Lastly, I went way over my cellphone minutes last month due to...unforeseen circumstances...and it would be nice to have an all-you-can-eat plan as back-up.

**Aside from the aside: because of my cellphone issues, I had to upgrade my current plan by $10.00 a month. For those of you doing the math, I just broken even.

I decided on the $14.99 a month service from Vonage because the plan gave me all I really need and they'll give me a month of free service for every person I refer to them and because Time Warner wants a ridiculous $39.95 a month for their service.

**Aside: if you want to try out Vonage's VoIP service, leave me a contact in the comments. It's a great service. Really. I wouldn't just say that because I get a free month for every sucker...I mean *friend*...that signs up for the service through me. Okay, one caveat is that 911 may not know your location automatically if you are ever in need. Oh, and the service goes down when you lose either your power or your broadband Internet connection. Other than that, it's really cheap.

Anyway, I signed up about a month ago and my phone number has been switched over to Vonage for about two weeks, but I still haven't gotten around to hooking up the service to my phone for one simple reason: I am out of electrical sockets.

In order to use any VoIP service, you have to have a router with phone jack connections. Vonage did a great job of quickly shipping me said router with all required cables and cords. This router is hooked up to your Cable or DSL modem which is hooked into your computer. The router, cable modem and computer all require power, as do your printer, your speakers, your monitor, etc. In addition to all this equipment, I also have a wireless router which broadcasts a signal I can use for my laptop.

I feel like I'm leaving something out here...ah, I have a lamp. I already moved my cell-phone charger to another outlet to make room for the wireless router. I ditched the zip drive some time ago so that leave us with...(add those two numbers, carry the one) devices to plug into two sockets.

Of course, like any rational human, I have a surge protector/power strip to protect my gear. That has six outlets. So I have seven outlets with which to work and seven devices needing juice. Perfect. I did have a nice battery back-up with eight outlets, but my wiring is old and doesn't have a ground wire. The battery back-up makes a noise like the stuck pig in "Lord of the Flies" every time I try to plug it in, so I eventually gave up on it.

For those of you who've followed the thread this far, you can see my quandry. I have an eighth device requiring power and nowhere to plug it in. Now the easy thing to do would be to just buy another power strip and plug it into the first one and give myself room for six more devices. That would solve a lot of problems, actually. I could plug in my new router from Vonage, I could put my cellphone charger back on the desk, I could get my old Zip drive out of storage (though I wouldn't use it) and I could get a cordless phone for my new phone service.

That would be the easy thing to do. But it just seems so inelegant and, considering my aged wiring, probably dangerous. I currently have seven devices with separate power cords. Hooking all these devices together easily requires twice that many cables and wires. It's a nightmare. I worry that a small child might squeeze into the six inch space between my desk and the wall and somehow hang him or herself. I want to reduce the number of cables and wires I have to deal with, not add to that number.

The solution that seemed obvious to me was to start combining devices where possible. Who needs a separate cable modem, wireless router and VoIP router? Just get a cable modem gateway that supports wireless and has a phone port. Somebody should make something like that, right?

Apparently not. After spending some time in Circuit City and Best Buy, the best I could come up with was a wireless-enabled cable gateway for $149.00 bucks. That is a little more than I want to spend seeing as how I already own a cable modem, a wireless router and a broadband router and it still doesn't do everything I want it to do. Similarly, I was able to find a slightly cheaper wireless router with two phone ports, but I'd still need the cable modem.

I set that solution aside for a bit and started looking for internal cable modems instead. That would at least get one device off my desk and reduce one power cord. This may or may not surprise you, but neither Best Buy nor Circuit City stock such a beast. You have to go online to find something like that. It looks like installing an internal cable modem would be cheaper, but I don't particularly want to open up my PC and fiddle with the delicate bits if I can avoid it. And it still leaves me with two devices that duplicate functionality to some degree.

After more browsing at Best Buy, I did find a cordless phone that billed itself as "wireless network friendly". Here, I thought, was a company that was ahead of the game! They are already making VoIP phones! If the phone can send and receive signals from my wireless router, there won't be any need for the new broadband router! I can cordless...dammit. Still need to reduce the number of plugs. Oh, and then I found out that "wireless network friendly" simply means that it won't interfere with my wireless network signal. Close, but no cigar.

All this frustration got me thinking. Does hooking up your PC and its various accoutrements really need to be this difficult?

**Aside: Yes, yes. I know. But I don't want to buy a Mac. Yet.

Why are all these companies behind the curve? Why can't I find a cable modem/wireless router with a phone jack? Or an internal cable modem on a store shelf? Or a phone that can talk to my wireless router for my VoIP service? Why didn't I buy that wireless-enabled printer when I had the chance? It'd be one less cord to deal with and I could print directly from my laptop rather than transferring files with my flash drive. For that matter, why can't we just broadcast power directly from a base station to a device? Wireless power would really make me happy.

I did notice some wireless media players while I was out shopping. That is a pretty cool use of technology if you ask me, but why separate it from my DVD player or digital video recorder? I know that some car companies allow you to hook up an iPod to your car stereo, but why not just build car stereos that accept digital media cards full of music? Or allow you to transfer music from your PC while they're parked in the garage? Why do we still have CDs in the first place? Why not just sell albums on digital media cards? Don't even give me mini-discs. They'll never sell. And downloading music trumps all other formats. Especially if you can do it wirelessly!

Where is all this stuff? If I can think it up, I am sure someone else can do me one better.

Hell, why am I blogging this on my desktop when I really wanted to blog it on my wireless laptop while I was out running errands last night? Of course, only Borders and Barnes & Noble offer wireless Internet access around here and they want $19.95 a month from me for that. Suddenly I'm twenty bucks in the hole as far as my monthly bills are concerned. Where's the free wireless Internet access?

I think Time Warner offers wireless Internet access on top of my cable access for an additonal $10.00 a month, but I still couldn't use that at B&N or Borders. What's the point if I can't use it?

My point is that I feel that we're somehow behind the technology curve as a society. Things just don't work the way they should, at least for those of us on the leading edge. I know that innovative products are coming that will address all of these issues but, like a kid waiting for Christmas, I don't want to wait. I want to be driving around in my hydrogen-powered vehicle listening to music I downloaded wirelessly directly into my car stereo while blogging my thoughts directly to the Internet or running up my minutes on my WiFioIP cellphone! Is that really too much to ask?

Posted by Kehaar at December 30, 2004 12:11 PM | TrackBack
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Your life sucks. :)

Seriously, you're trying way too hard for someone who isn't a natural technophile (you don't want to open your PC and have to deal with the delicate bits?). You also have some weird expectations.

Oh, and they already have wireless power transmission- trust me you don't want it. For an educational demonstration, put some metal inside your microwave oven and turn it on.

Posted by: Greg at December 30, 2004 03:49 PM

I would actually say I am a technophile and I don't think my expectations are extreme in the least, really. I don't WANT to open my PC, but I can and will if I must. I just don't see the reason that I must. If I can install a PCI card in my notebook computer by installing it in a slot, why shouldn't I be able to do the same for my PC? As far as I'm concerned, any computer sold in the last year should be equipped with an internal cable/dsl modem anyway. It would get much more use from me than my DVD player, for example. I just don't think computer or electronics companies think about these things as much as they might.

Posted by: Kehaar at December 30, 2004 04:01 PM

Okay, maybe I should've specified that I wanted power that was SAFELY broadcast throughout my home. I realize that is an unrealistic expectation for now, as is the hydrogen-powered vehicle, but still...

Posted by: Kehaar at December 30, 2004 04:03 PM
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