Monthly Archives: October 2012

Need a PBX for your Small Office/Home Office?

Having just returned from Astricon, I’m all fired up about the features and capabilities of Asterisk–an open-source, full-featured PBX system. We’ve used Asterisk in our office for years, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Here are just a few of the features we use every day:

  • A true VOIP (Voice Over IP) system. With appropriate security, you can set up remote extensions anywhere that has broadband web access. A few years ago, I set up a remote extension in our Moscow hotel room, when Jeanie and I were in Russia for an international adoption.
  • Built-in voicemail
  • Voicemails can also be delivered via e-mail
  • Built-in conference calling
  • Built-in directory-by-name capability
  • Call routing based on Caller ID
  • Fully-customizable Interactive Voice Response flexibility–for example, Press 1 for Sales, 2 for Accounting, etc.

To share our experience, and potentially add this capability to our list of services offered, I’m offering the following, for a limited time:

If your office, hotel or B&B is in Southeast Wisconsin and you’ve outgrown your current phone system, please give me a call.

I’m offering free installation and configuration of all the hardware and software needed to provide a premium phone system at a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.

You’d still need to buy the necessary hardware, but it’s not nearly as expensive as a proprietary phone system (we installed our new system for less than 1/2 of what our previous one cost).

Why would I offer this for free? My goal is to start building a list of satisfied customers who will be happy to recommend our ability and expertise in this area. All I’d ask is that you’d be willing to give an honest assessment of our abilities when asked for a reference.

Since we won’t be making any profit on the first few installs we do, I need to limit this offer to SouthEast Wisconsin businesses, (in view of travel time, mileage, etc.)

If you’re interested in exploring the possiblities, or want to see a demo of how we have our phone system configured, please contact me. There’s no obligation.

AstriCon 2012 in Atlanta

I’m writing this during a break from sessions at Astricon in Atlanta. It’s a conference hosted by Digium, the main developers of Asterisk. What’s Asterisk? It’s an open source Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone application that provides a host of functions and features for businesses large and small. Our Asterisk server currently handles a number of phone lines as well as our internal phone system. We use it to manage inbound and outbound phone traffic for the two companies that run from our office.

So far today, we’ve been reviewing the basics–how to download, install and configure Asterisk. Most of this has been familiar territory. But there have also been a number of neat tidbits that I’ll be able to incorporate as soon as I return to our office–maybe even sooner. For example, I’ve finally come to understand what a number of the settings in sip.conf actually mean–rather than simply hacking one of the sample files that ships with the software.

Going forward, I hope to expand I/O Technologies’ offerings to include VOIP installation and support services. The sessions and vendor displays serve as powerful motivation to get moving in that direction!

Is the Upcoming Election Responsible for Non-Decision?

Over the past month, I’ve noticed that the number of inquiries and requests for proposals has been on the rise–and significantly. Part of the reason for the increase has to do with ramping up our marketing efforts, to get our name out there and market I/O Technologies Inc more aggressively. Another reason probably relates to increased optimism about where the US economy is headed.

But I’ve also noticed something else. The number of people who actually pull the trigger on new projects is very low–at least for now. The only ones that have moved forward are crisis-level projects–something’s broken and has to be fixed right away. Otherwise, if a project can be viewed as discretionary, no decision is forthcoming no matter how many follow-up calls I make or emails I write.

Here’s my theory as to why: it’s the election, stupid. Regardless of their political leanings, I suspect that decision makers will continue to dawdle on making any commitments until after the presidential election. In all likelihood, they’ve carved out two alternative plans–let’s call them Plan O and Plan R. Our proposals most likely fall under Plan R, but would be modified or scrapped altogether under Plan O.

Granted, this is mostly conjecture on my part. I welcome your theories and comments on what other factors might be involved. At any rate, it sure will be interesting to see how this plays out in a few weeks, and what happens afterward.

Thanks for Doing Business With Us!

I really appreciate the folks who have taken the risk of working with a software company–oftentimes working with programmers they’ve never met in person–entrusting us with their data, business rules and trade secrets. Hopefully we’ve demonstrated that we’re worthy of your trust, and proven that our business relationship has been mutually beneficial.

Of course, I realize we’re not the only software developer available. Most days, I/O Technologies, Inc. probably isn’t anywhere near the top of your stream of conscious thought. But when you find yourself facing new challenges–whether that be responding to a new customer with unique requirements, complying with new government regulations, or changes in your way of doing business, please remember we’re ready and willing, any time you need us. We’re committed to helping you grow your company as rapidly and profitably as possible.

If you’ve realized tangible benefits from being associated with us, could I ask a favor? Can you think of a friend or business acquaintance who might benefit from implementing a tailored software solution? Would you be open to passing our name along to them? Or, how about posting a customer review on the Better Business Bureau’s web site?

Thanks in advance!

-Dave Martin

If You've Got the Project, We've Got the Programmers!

Business activity tends to be cyclical. Some companies get real busy during the summer and then slow down in the fall. Others are blessed with more work at the beginning of each month, or end of the year. Do you notice swings in the level of your business activity–where occasionally you’re very busy, and sometimes a little slow?

Although we don’t see a regular pattern, our software company also has its share of peaks and valleys. Sometimes, the demand for tailored software is extremely high. Right now, however, we’re all caught up, and eager to take on new projects.

So this is a great opportunity for you, especially if you’ve been thinking about automating a process or two, and need to get it finished quickly.

Like you, we strive for top-quality service and attention to detail. But right now we can dedicate laser-beam focus to your project, and turn it around with lightning speed!

Why NOW is a great time to explore your next tailored software solution:

  • You’ll get fast turnaround on your request for a free estimate.
  • Using Rapid Application Development techniques, we can quickly create a tailored software solution that’ll start improving productivity at your office immediately.
  • Your new website can be up and running in a matter of just a few days.
  • Your new desktop application can be ready for user acceptance testing before you know it.
  • Need help defining your project, or documenting the details? We’ve got the resources to assist with this, too!

Tailored software solutions can take the drudgery out of your workload. They reduce data entry errors, and improve productivity.

So contact us about that project you’ve been contemplating. You’ll be glad you did!

Spam Filter for Inbound Telemarketing Calls

Over the years, I’ve grown slightly more cynical and less willing to accommodate unsolicited sales pitches. I don’t try to be rude, or slam the phone down. But there are only 480 minutes in any regular work day. Too much of this time already gets chewed up in less-than-productive activity. So I try to save the telemarketer’s time (and mine) by getting to the point very quickly. In short: if they’re not responding to a request or product inquiry that originated from us, we ask them to send an e-mail to our general ContactUs address.

But some simply will not take “No” for an answer. Some try calling repeatedly, dialing different extensions at different times of the day–almost to the point of harassment. For these, we have the perfect solution:

At our office, we’ve written an application that displays our Asterisk phone system’s call history database. For any phone number that’s in the database, we select the record, then press the Blacklist button to add the phone number to our blacklist database. As a result, all future calls from these repeat offenders dump into our general voicemail box immediately. It would have been just as easy to simply disconnect the call, but we give them the option of leaving a voicemail just in case. Oftentimes they decide to stop calling of their own accord, once they realize we’re not going to waste valuable time explaining why we’re not interested.

An Idea for E-mail Security: myWhiteListPassword

I’m not sure whether there’s already an RFC in existence for this concept. I couldn’t find one, but frankly, didn’t spend a huge amount of time looking.

Anyway, consider this scenario: You purchase a widget from an online vendor, or sign up for a service. The vendor promises to send a one-time e-mail confirmation. But the e-mail doesn’t arrive immediately. You check your inbox again a little later, but still no e-mail. Then the phone rings or someone drops by for a chat, and you forget about it.

Meanwhile, your mail server’s spam cop took one look at the inbound vendor e-mail, and decided it was just too spammy to pass along to your inbox. So now what? Unless you’re in the habit of carefully reviewing the contents of your spam folder, that e-mail will be lost.

Considering how many legitimate e-mails are incorrectly rated as Spam, how about adding this protocol to the DKIM/SPF mix …

  1. Users log in to their mail server and update their profile, specifying a myWhiteListPassword. (Understand, this is a new field, so mail servers would need to be recompiled to include it, and mail programs like RoundCube, Outlook, SquirrelMail would need to be updated also.)
  2. Vendors add an additional field to their opt-in/shopping cart page. The new field prompts you for your myWhiteListPassword.

Here’s how the new feature would work: Let’s say you’re confirming your online order. In addition to providing your credit card number, shipping address, etc., you also type in your myWhiteListPassword. The vendor’s mail server includes that password in its outbound confirmation e-mail header. The first thing your mail server does is to check e-mail headers–comparing your e-mail address and your current myWhiteListPassword. If they match, the e-mail is whitelisted–bypassing further spam software intervention.

I realize this approach could open the door for spammers, if they sniff unencrypted e-mails for myWhiteListPassword values. When/if that happens, and you start seeing spam in your inbox, you’d need to change your myWhiteListPassword, and start using the new value when prompted for it online.

Or, maybe the mail server could offer several different automatic incrementing value schemes… Maybe it concatenates the myWhiteListPassword with the current day-of-the-month, or alpha day-of-the-week, or another hash. One example: specify a 12-letter word, like CONSIDERABLY or QUESTIONABLY. Your mail server concatenates the nth letter from that word to the front or back of your password. So in January, if your 12-letter word is CONSIDERABLY, the letter ‘C’ would be concatenated. In December, the letter ‘Y’ would be concatenated. And so on.

I’d welcome comments about this idea. Like I said, there wasn’t an RFC jumping out at me that promotes this concept. But maybe there are a thousand reasons why it wouldn’t work–and I just need to be enlightened.