Category Archives: Ideas

Skype + Applescript = poor man’s voice web services

Skype is one of my favorite applications. I recently used Skype to call someone in Russia and it only cost a few cents. I’ve also been studying the Skype API, which opens some interesting possibilities.

On a Mac, you can combine simple Applescript commands with simple Skype commands to open a lot of possibilities. For example, this Applescript opens Skype and calls the best taco shop in Provo, UT:

tell application “Skype”
send command “CALL +18013774710″ script name “Call the best taco shop in Provo, UT”
end tell

Skype can be scripted to automatically make phone calls, chat by video or text, or send text messages. You can also pipe in any audio or record the phone call.

This has interesting implications for companies like MacMiniColo.net that use Macs as servers (disclosure: I’m a friend of its owner and staff, and I’ve done contract work for them in the past.) Combining Applescript, Skype, shell scripting, and the say command, your server could be configured to call your cell phone when there’s an outage and tell you what the problem is.

Jon Udell’s podcast about communications-enabled business processes discusses the integration of voice calls into computer processes. They discuss examples where a business process may need approval from a supervisor. With voice integration, the computer could call a manager with a “press 1 to approve, press 2 to disapprove” message.

Skype + Applescript is sort of the poor man’s version of VOIP web services, but it’s exciting that you could actually do something interesting with it today.

Postal rates go up, but not enough

forever_stamp.jpgOn Monday postal rates went up to $.02. In my opinion, it’s not enough. I still get junk mail.

I use stamps so rarely that even doubling the price of a stamp would keep my annual budget under $5. But for bulk mailers who send me junk, every penny increase is certain to hurt. I’m all for it.

One solution to junk email is to use more email addresses. If you own a domain name, you can use ebay@yourdomain.com for eBay, amazon@yourdomain.com for Amazon, etc. They all get delivered to the same place, but then when you receive junk mail you can tell who sold you out.

In Gmail, anything after a plus sign is ignored. Add “+” and any word and it still gets delivered. For example,

richard+ebay@gmail.com and richard+amazon@gmail.com both get delivered to richard@gmail.com

Maybe this would work for postal mail. You could write a Suite number on all the mail to your house. (Who’s to say you can’t divide your own house into suites?) For a credit card application, your address is 123 Maple Suite 1. For a magazine subscription, it’s 123 Maple Suite 2. For your paycheck, it’s 123 Maple Suite 3, and so on. Now you can track your addresses.

Who wouldn’t like more analytics on their postal mail? (Don’t answer that.)

Free e-book leads to book sale

Along the lines of my previous post, The Value of Free, I thought I’d point out a success story:

I found an essay called The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz. Turns out it’s an excerpt from his book by the same name. After sending around and discussing the essay with several people, my roommate bought the book.

By offering a free excerpt from his book, Mr. Schwartz earned a book sale he would not have otherwise had. He also shared his ideas with over a dozen people through me alone. For some people, sharing the idea is the most important part.

The value of free

I just bought Norah Jones’s latest single “Thinking About You” from Yahoo Music, a good song made better by the fact that it’s offered in 192 kbps unprotected MP3 format. That is, there’s no Digital Rights Management (DRM) to “control” it. The publishers take the risk that I’ll (illegally) share the song with all my friends and the world at large, while I Mr. Consumer enjoy the play-anywhere convenience.

The Wall Street journal reports that Yahoo Music General Manager David Goldberg favors unprotected downloads:

Antipiracy software on music isn’t helping the industry because the same music is already available without copy protection on CDs and through Internet file-sharing programs. What’s more, many consumers don’t like the limitations that copy protection imposes on how and on which devices they can listen to their music. (The Wall Street Journal)

This also allows Yahoo Music to compete with the iTunes Music Store since these unprotected MP3 files will play on any iPod.

This week on Forbes.com Cory Doctorow, sci-fi author and co-founder of BoingBoing.net, explains the value of giving away something for free. He invokes Tim O’Reilly who said, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

As a consumer, I have too many choices and not enough attention span. To win my attention, give me something for free. To win my wallet, make it easy to buy and consume your product.