Category Archives: Linux Applications

Keeping an Open Mind about Open Source

What is open source? It’s software you can download from the internet for free. But it usually requires some knowhow to get the software up and working.

For example, millions of offices around the world are using Asterisk, an Open Source PBX software.
We use asterisk at our office, and can configure it for other companies so they can have a very professional phone system at a very reasonable cost.

We can add customized greetings and menus (for example, press 1 for sales, 2 for accounting, etc).

We can configure asterisk to automatically send email copies of voicemails to one or more recipients.

And we can set up phones in remote offices or home offices—anywhere that has a good internet connection.
If you run a small office in Southeast Wisconsin and you’ve outgrown your phone system, contact me for a free quote.

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!

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.

G4L is slick!

After our new Qmail server was up and running and all the major issues were ironed out, it was time to clone the email server’s hard drive to a backup drive we can store off site. I decided to do this at around midnight, so that our day-to-day business wouldn’t be disrupted. The biggest challenge was actually finding a workstation that was big enough to house two drives and had enough available SATA power plugs. (I realize, you can also push compacted images up to an FTP server, but I was afraid our FTP server wouldn’t have enough space to accomodate the complete disk image.)

My biggest fear was that I would clone images in the wrong direction. In other words, copy the garbage image from my intended target drive over the top of my intended source drive. But the G4L menu now has an option that allows you to identify which disk is which. So with a fairly high level of confidence, I cloned disk1 (/dev/sda) over the top of disk2 (/dev/sdb). Not sure how long it took–I went home after verifying that the process was running.

So this morning, it was just a matter of quickly inserting the original disk back into our email server and firing it up. Then I tested the cloned image on a separate (but similar) machine. Woo hoo! It works!

Initial Post

After a fairly steep learning curve, I finally have WordPress up and running on a Slackware 12.37 box. It was actually easier the second time around, after I spent several days trying to install Qmail, then configuring and deploying it on a new machine (also running Slackware 12.37).

I’m sure there would have been an easier way than the one I took–deploying a barebones install of Slackware (deliberately NOT installing Apache, MySql or PHP during the setup), then manually installing the components. But for the life of me, I couldn’t get the three from the base install to peacefully coexist.

But hey, it’s working now!