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Voice activated services: ifbyphone

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 2-Nov-2006 23:05

A few years ago (more like back in 2000) I was looking into unified messaging. A single mailbox with voice mail, e-mail, fax and other services. At that time i found lots of such services, some even free, but something was missing in all of those.

The thing was that all services required you to use a Web browser to access the information. But we all know there are more mobile phones in the world than computers. So why not use those devices? The missing element was "voice". Voice activated services, such as text-to-speech and speech recognition are the key to access unified messaging services.

My interest on this subject was mainly because of some of the projects the company I was working for, Unisys, had in progress. Those included voice messaging, unified voice messaging, voicexml etc. I even wrote a sms-to-landline service and our team was involved in deploying a flat menu-based voice mail service. Alas those are things that run on mainframe hardware.

A few years later, I am still curious about those things. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 now provides an unified messaging paradigm (I wrote about it here and here), but not all companies or small businesses run Microsoft Exchange Server.

Today I got a tip about an interesting service, called ifbyphone. I registered to the free trial using my SkypeIn number in San Francisco (you can register from anywhere, but some services seem to be only available in the U.S.) and gave it a work out.

Ok, the flash introduction is a bit cheesy. But you can go over that. The registration requires a 10 digit number, which must map to a U.S number (hence using my SkypeIn number instead of my New Zealand number) and it's painless. You will be automatically assigned an e-mail address within the domain, with webmail access.

You can configure other external e-mail addresses with both POP3 and IMAP server types supported. The service allows you to call the access number and be automatically identified (if you don't block the Caller ID). After entering a PIN you have access to e-mail, headline news, weather alerts, reminders, notes, even RSS feeds you configure into your account.

You can press a menu option number on your keypad at any time, or simply say a command. Speech recognition is vey good, even with my funny accent.

An interesting feature is the e-mail keyword monitoring. You can setup the service to check your mailbox(es) and call your number if an e-mail arrives with any of the keywords. I tried this and it really works. Nice.

The service still needs a bit of polishing. Like some of the live menus play different voices (male and female). I'd like to have all a single voice style, perhaps being able to select via a menu to have one or another? Also all the menus are a bit confusing, but once you find your way around, it's ok.

Of course you can have some of these features if you use a Pocket PC and a program such a Fonix Voice Central. But then you are not using a simple mobile phone.

So there you go. It's what I was looking for, five years ago. Live now.

Native American listening iPod on Google Maps?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 31-Oct-2006 09:59

This is an interesting combination of nature and man made:

Native American listening iPod on Google Maps

On Google Maps (50° 0´38.20"N 110° 6´48.32"W). That's in Canada!

I will use Microsoft Foldershare, someday

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 28-Oct-2006 19:50

I am all for using Microsoft Foldershare... When they remove the 10,000 file limit per sync library. If you know any other similar service, please post in the comments.

Yes, I know about Good Sync, but I want something that works over the Internet.


Vodafone and Palm

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 27-Oct-2006 13:02

The Wellington Mobility User Group meeting last night was very interesting, with Vodafone New Zealand showing new Windows Mobile devices coming in the next three to four months. I am sorry if you missed the meeting, but I can't provide you details of these devices, but keep an eye on Vodafone next week (1st November) and in December.

After the event I had a meeting with Vodafone New Zealand and Palm. Dion Knill (Vodafone, Business Terminals) and Geoff Anson (Palm, Sales Director) gave me details on some of the work the companies are doing together. All will be revealed soon, but until then, here are some interesting facts I gathered from the meeting:

- Vodafone New Zealand is bringing 16 new "Handheld Business Devices" (HBD) soon, 8 of these being Windows Mobile devices, the rest are Symbian devices. All come with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync capabilities.

- Palm commisioned a study which showed the uptake of some common activities, before and after users moved to a Treo smartphone: 93% of users browse the Internet on the handheld device, against only 20% who used to do it with their previous device. SMS usage also increased from 52% to 87% and e-mail utilisation grew from 15% to 93%.

- Vodafone New Zealand is offering an one hour "Mobile Mentor" session when companies purchase any of the HBD with a business plan. Dion told me this helped improve the understanding on how these devices work, why use them and how to do it better.

- Vodafone New Zealand is running a "try and buy" programme for qualified customers. You use one of the HBD for a few weeks and then decide to keep it or return it. Apparently the "keep" rates are as high as 85%. How do you know if you are a "qualified" customer? Your account manager will let you know.

There you go. Some interesting mobility facts. More on this later.

Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs and Flight Simulator X

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 27-Oct-2006 12:13

The WarChiefs is an expansion pack for one of my favourite games: Age of Empires III. A friend of mine introduced me to the Age of Empires Series years ago, and I have had all titles since then.

One of most interesting things in all those series was the soundtrack. I recommend you visit the official website for Age of Empires III and check the soundtrack accompanying The WarChiefs. It's really cool music. The visual is great, and if you visit the site you can watch the video trailer. As usual great production!

This time gamers will engage in epic warfare in the Americas where they will lead native American civilizations (Sioux, Iriquois and Aztecs) to expand their empire and fight for control of the Americas.

Age of Empires III: The WarChiefs

Other game just released here in New Zealand is the Microsoft Flight Simulator X. For you guys who like fliying, this is a must. Check this screenshot:

Microsoft Flight Simulator X

By the way, if you want some good posts about gaming in general, check geekpulp.


Convergence Oceania 2006 and Connectivity 06

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 27-Oct-2006 11:41

I will be in Auckland on the 7 November, attending the Convergence Oceania 2006, an event organised by the New Zealand Wireless and Broadband Forum.

My plan is to fly in and out the same day. Unfortunately I will be arriving about 9:30am in Auckland, so I am going to miss the keynote speaker, Hon David Cunliffe, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, and the session with Andrew Seybold.

I am just looking at the stands layout, and noticed that both Telecom New Zealand and Vodafone New Zealand are not listed. Does it mean they won't be there at all?

Also since the organisation has changed from "New Zealand Wireless Forum" to "New Zealand Wireless and Broadband Forum" I am intrigued for the lack of presence of our local ISPs. The main appearance is from technology providers and service integrators.

Where are the broadband (wired and wireless) providers?

If you are planning to attend the Convergence Oceania 2006 event in Auckland, please ping me, and let's have a chat.

I also just received an e-mail invitation to the Connectivity 06, happening 21 - 22 November 2006 in the Christchurch Convention Centre.

This is its third year and the organisation claims it is one of New Zealand’s top trade shows for electronics and software companies. The schedule of events includes trade exhibits from 50 companies from thoughout Australasia, product demonstrations, industry cocktail function, keynote speaker presentations, and lots of networking opportunities.

Registration for business visitors to the trade show are now being taken through the event’s website at

It's a shame I won't be there - great opportunity but my monthly travel budget is not that large, and I have already commited with the tickets to the Auckland show. And I going to miss meeting Chiefie, one of the Geekzone moderators once again.

MSN Soapbox invitations available

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 25-Oct-2006 19:08

If you have visited the MSN Soapbox site and are curious to know what's behind the signin button, wait no more!

MSN Soapbox

I have 10 invitations for the MSN Soapbox beta program. If you want to join the fun, leave a comment here. Make sure to use a valid Live ID (Passport account) as your e-mail when posting the comment. No need to post the e-mail, just use it in the appropriate field in the comment section below.

Developers test your applications with Windows Vista, it is coming!

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Oct-2006 11:04

Since I've installed Microsoft Windows Vista RC2 on my desktop, completely replacing Windows XP Pro, I have had good and bad moments.

I can say that the majority of bad moments came courtesy of developers, who are not working to have their software updated to run under the new Windows Vista model.

Windows Vista

Before I continue, I will go straight to self-proclaimed "pundits" and "zealots": yes, there are changes in the way the software is supposed to work under Windows Vista. No, don't blame Microsoft. Remember, Apple does it all the time. Mac OS 9 versus Mac OS X. Even Mac OS 10.2 versus Mac OS 10.4. Or PowerPC versus Intel.

Now that we have this clear, let's go back to the topic. Windows Vista Beta has been around for a while now. It's almost being launched. Some say it will be announced in Canada no later than 23 November. Still some companies rather cry than fix their products.

One company I contact via e-mail replied with "We haven't installed Windows Vista to test our product yet". Another company told me when asked about their software conflicting with UAC "It should be something we can work out when Microsoft signs off on the OS and ships it to the public in a non-beta format".

As for Windows Vista faults, I have been doing my part as a beta tester, and reported whatever I find. And I do get feedback on my posts. And I've seen fixes and changes due to user input and requests.

The OS is almost here. Are you ready?

Windows Vista ReadyBoost with a Nikon D50 digital camera

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Oct-2006 10:05

Do you remember my previous post about using my internal SD card reader with a high-speed SD card as a ReadyBoost for my Windows Vista desktop?

Today I plugged in my Nikon D50 digital SLR camera to my desktop running Windows Vista, and it showed the dialog to select what action to take. As usual the options to see images, open folder were there, but the last "General option" was a surprise:

Nikon D50 as Windows Vista ReadyBoost

Yes, Windows Vista recognised the (also high speed) SD card in use with this camera and offered to use it as a ReadyBoost device. Neat.

Dress up your Vodafone vodem

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 24-Oct-2006 10:00

Have you received your Unlimited magazine yet? Inserted in the current issue (November 2006) you will find a gift to Vodafone vodem users:

Dress up your Vodafone vodem

This is a set of stickers to dress up your vodem. Check it out. I will apply to my vodem soon.

freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
New Zealand

I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I work for Intergen and I'm also the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums.

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If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

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