Friday, July 23, 2010


It seems so simple. I just want to be able to receive calls on my computer using my headset. I also listen to music on my computer all day long, though, and I use the speakers for that. I don't want the headset plugged in all day, because Windows automatically switches everything over to the headset when it gets plugged in, so if I keep the headset plugged in I'll have to listen to my music (not to mention all my other system sounds and alerts) through them instead of the speakers. I want to be able to hear or see that my phone is ringing, then plug in the headset, and then answer the call using the headset.

Finally, VOIP provider sipgate got some more phone numbers (they had run out!), and I snagged one (I think it's in California, because there are no Oklahoma numbers yet, but that doesn't matter to me). I downloaded the sipgate softphone software and got it all installed and set up. I saw that I could set my USB headset as the default audio device... awesome!

So I got everything set up right, tested it (success! A crystal-clear phone call on my headset!), and then unplugged my headset and got back to my regularly scheduled work. And that's when the problem happened.

The next time I received a call, I heard it ring... on my PC speakers! No problem, I thought... I can plug in the headset real quick. After all, my other software switches over automatically when the headset is plugged in. Some of it (like Rhapsody, for example) doesn't switch until a certain point (Rhapsody will continue to play the song it's playing through the speakers, but when the next song comes on, it comes on the headset), but they always switch.

Not sipgate! The only way sipgate will work with the headset, it seems, is if the headset is plugged in both when I start up the software, and when the call initially rings. If the headset isn't plugged in on the first ring, no luck. It won't even switch when you actually answer the call; presumably the software keeps the audio device open the whole time, from first ring to the call is terminated.

Now, when the headset is unplugged from the machine, it automatically disappears from the Control Panel "Sounds and Audio Devices" applet's Audio tab selectors, so if the headset is the default device (which it is on this machine), it is the default device only when it is plugged in... when it is disconnected, another device ("SoundMAX HD Audio" - my speakers) automatically becomes the default, which means when I'm ready to get on Skype or WebEx, I just plug the headset in and I'm ready to go. But just to experiment, I plugged in the headset and then opened up Sounds and Audio Devices from Windows Control Panel and automatically set up SoundMAX HD Audio as the default Windows device. Then I made sure the Logitech headset was the default device in sipgate settings. My music was coming through the speakers (the default device), but, in theory, sipgate should use the headset, as configured on the settings page.

Guess what happened? My calls went to the speakers! The setting in sipgate was not honored at all. I would accept having the computer speakers as the default output and having to switch other software manually from time to time, but the sipgate softphone apparently doesn't allow me that option. I even tried out some software called "Virtual Audio Cable" which I was hoping would allow me to intercept traffic coming from sipgate and send it directly to the sound card, but I'm pretty sure even it won't do that for me... or if it will, it would be an advanced configuration of some kind, and I don't have the time to explore it in enough depth to figure that out.

For the record, the sound quality of sipgate seems very good. The features of the service look impressive. I could definitely see myself using it on an ongoing basis... I could even see someone using it as a kind of voice mail-only drop box that was never even used for outgoing calls. If my company ever starts looking for a PBX in the cloud, I'll definitely throw their name into the hat (assuming they obtain some Oklahoma numbers before then, or make it possible to port over existing numbers). Presumably, sipgate works exceptionally well with hardware VOIP phones (that seems to be a core of their business). But they're not making it easy for poor little me, with nothing but the softphone and a USB headset.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blue-Screen Mashup

Yesterday my computer started unexpectedly rebooting. At first it happened sort of randomly during sessions, but after four or five reboots, it became completely unusable. It would boot all the way up into Windows, but as soon as we tried to start up an application, the screen would go dark, then a blue stop error screen would flash up there for a split second, then it would go back to the BIOS screen and start again from scratch! I had no idea what I was going to do, until I remembered a suggestion I read years ago from Fred Langa. The suggestion was that you could document an error screen using your digital camera. Since the screen was gone before I had a chance to read it, I figured that was the only way I was going to find out what the error was!

After a few tries to get the timing down, I got this blurry-but-mostly-readable shot of the screen:

By zooming into the shot on the camera, I was able to make out enough of the text to guess that I had a full hard disk. This made me wonder if I would be able to boot into Safe Mode so I could clear out some space. The Safe Mode trick worked, but it turned out I was not low on space at all! I ran CCleaner anyway, and then rebooted, and after that the machine worked fine. I suspect it may have had something to do with corrupt files in the Prefetcher, but I don't know for sure... all I know is that after clearing out unnecessary files with CCleaner, the machine started working again. So even though the camera may not have directly helped me in the long run, it did help me get past the mental block of not knowing what to do. Try it!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Google Voice Desktop App

It all started back up in April, with a TechCrunch article. Either that or it started in November, depending on how you figure it. Sit back for a minute and I'll review things for ya.

Okay, let me back up. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I'm a HUGE fan of Google Voice. You also may remember the post when I discovered that Google had bought Gizmo5. At the time I speculated that Google was incorporating the Gizmo5 dialer into Google Talk, Google's (somewhat confusingly-named, since you "Talk" with your "Voice") IM client. (I didn't realize then that Google Talk is a Windows-only product... which probably has something to do with what comes next.)

This past April, TechCrunch broke an article that said that Google was "dogfooding" their upcoming desktop application for Google Voice (the term "dogfooding" taken from the phrase "eating your own dog food," meaning that they were testing it internally before "feeding" it to anyone else). Pretty exciting news! It made it sound like the app was right around the corner!

Hopes were dashed in June when statements from within Google made it clear that the desktop app was probably never going to be released, in favor of incorporating the Gizmo5 technology into Gmail. But then last week, TechCrunch somehow managed to get their hands on something pretty amazing: one of the internal versions of the application! For Mac, no less! Since then, there's been quite a buzz online about it, at least in tech blogs and news sites. There is even an online petition asking Google to release it (if you're interested, please visit and sign it!) Who knows if that petition and the online noise will even figure into Google's planning at all, but it couldn't hurt.

In the meantime, I've been looking for other options. I saw in this article that it was possible to simulate the Gizmo5 experience using a free service from sipgate (yay!), but then learned that sipgate is also out of commission (they're out of numbers... D'OH!) My other best idea is to use Skype with a free service called ring2skype to simulate the same thing. Sure would be nice to not have to do that, though. Come on, Google... let's have the desktop app!

update: Ring2Skype won't work with Google Voice... you have to key in an extension number to make the call to Skype. It's still a pretty cool service, though!