Google Voice

What Is It?

I wanted to document Google Voice as I have been asked about it by a number of my friends. Google Voice is still in beta, and thus is not generally available yet. However, when it is, I expect the service to become extremely popular. It changes several of the ways that you manage your phone. The screen below is the basic dashboard. Google provides you with a phone number which if you do not pick up the phone the number is directed to, goes to Google voicemail. The Voicemail transcribes the voice call (not perfectly, but pretty well), and allows you to read the voicemail. Since I have set this up, I have never had to check my voicemail by phone, which is a big time saver. (click the image to increase its size for a better view)

Because these transcriptions are kept, they can be searched months or years after they are recorded. Here you can see I am searching for someone who left me a message.

You can also send any of your contacts or people who called you an SMS in an easy pop up window.

In settings you can direct your Google Voice number to any number of phones. All phones will ring when the Google Voice number is called. However, if none of the phones are picked up, the call goes to Google voicemail where it is transcribed.

When you add a new number, it calls the phone you add, and asks you to punch in a code it gives you in the Google Voice web interface. This authenticates your phone and then includes it on your forwarded list of numbers. You can also delete that number from Google Voice at any time.

Also, for Google Chrome users (which is now my favorite browser), you can install the Google Voice Extension, and view your Google Voice account off of a drop down instead of bringing up the Google Voice interfaces in a separate tab. This allows me to easily check voicemail or leave an SMS without even opening a new tab.


Google Voice is the best thing to happen to my use of phones that I can recall. I allows me to keep one number, and simply forward to other numbers. I can also forward the number to where-ever I am staying, which due to the fact that I live out of a suitcase is really handy. Whenever Google Voice comes out of beta, I suggest everyone sign up and integrate the service into their telephone usage. Also, there are other things Google Voice does, but I have simply covered those features that I find useful.


I work on SAP projects for a living. On these projects, there is continual reference to “business intelligence” or BI. BI is an umbrella term that describes a bunch of data functionalities. I have listed a few of them below.

Importance of Excel

However something else I notice is that most companies use a combination of something like Business Objects plus Excel (usually exported to Excel) in order to do normal manipulation of data. Companies want more information and better reports of information, but are typically not very satisfied with what they have. Into this gap jump the BI vendors who promise sort of a data fantasyland where they will be able to have the information at their fingerprints. Sounds good, however a recent article by an expert on this topic brought up an interesting idea.

Many data warehouses are not used as decision support systems. And decision support systems or tools do not necessarily require the use of a data warehouse as a source for data. I assert that, by far, the most used decision support tools are spreadsheets not connected in any automated way with a data warehouse.

Actually there is relatively small amount of decision support going on. Analyzing data, no matter what tool is being used, is difficult. Whatever the vendors do, it will remain difficult. But it is an activity, when done well, can be quite beneficial.

In addition interfacing with reporting types is extremely irritating. Essentially the most technical and least business knowledge-able of resources and those with the weakest language skills migrate into BI. A lot of the work they do is in a way circular and has little to do with adding value or actually meeting the requirements of the business. I would like it if the major consulting companies hired people with business understanding into their practices that are BI focused.


The overcomplexity of BI projects is also getting old. I get extremely tired hearing the term “taxonomy” over and over again, while seeing the same old reports at companies that I consult with. The following quote is instructive….

However, the promise of BI is still elusive formany organizations.While there are many BItools and platforms available on the market,many are simply too costly to buy, too complexto implement, and too difficult to maintain. SoBI tools remain limited to specialists andanalysts who spend their time sifting throughdata and preparing reports. BI tools are still the luxury of organizations with larger budgets andstaff for implementing and maintaining thesesolutions. As a result, many decision makers arestill reduced to relying on manual, on-the-flyapproaches to BI, such as loading data into spreadsheets.

Companies recognize the need to getbeyond spreadsheets, and to be able to providemore sophisticated and automated businessintelligence solutions to more end-userdecision makers. However, most see theirefforts stymied by the historically high cost ofBI software, and the complexity of availablesolutions. For a sizeable number, the onlyalternative has been to limit usage of moresophisticated BI tools within their organizations. – Open Source Business Intelligence A 2008 Progress Report, Joe McKendrick

From the same report this was most instructive.

This shows that the BI solutions offered have just been too much for most companies. In fact too many of them overbuy what they need. As Pentaho, an open source data warehouse points out.

“BI Standardization” has emerged as a key marketing theme for proprietary BI vendors over the last decade. The idea behind BI standardization is that by selecting one vendor to address any and all BI projects within large organizations, that organizations will be able to use BI more strategically, and will reduce the costs associated with BI. The presumed incremental costs associated with deploying multiple different BI technologies are usually attributed to redundant training costs and skill-sets, reduced “volume purchasing” power, redundant hardware, and other items. – Pentaho White Paper – A New Business Model to Drive Business Intelligence Acceptance and Adoption


What has occurred to me is that BI is basically oversold. BI projects are difficult because its a difficult process to democratize reporting requirements, and most BI teams are not properly skilled to do it. For some reason I think that in 5 to 10 years from now, BI will be in the same place, with only marginally satisfied customers, but with more big promises about how BI can change everything.



Serious Mac-Yep Envy

I am going to create some serious Mac-Yep envy in you with this trick. However, I do not at all feel bad about doing it.

This shows the way to completely integrate your browsing with your Yep PDF database. Its so cool that it has got me thinking of creating PDFs from websites and managing them with Yep.


First show the bookmark bar by selecting show boomarks bar from the wrench.

Install the Yep bookmarklet at this link (simply drag the address to the bookmark bar in Chrome).

Get to a webpage and select the YepShot bookmark

This creates a document directly to Yep.

Add a tag to the document, and now that document is organized. No need to move to any particular folder because the document is tagged and can always be found by that tag.

File Management

One thing that is often compared is Microsoft Office vs. Google Docs. However, what is most often compared is the functionality, which is of course where Office clearly is superior. However, less often mentioned is how superior Google Docs is for maintaining and sharing files, which is where Google Docs has the advantage. After long term testing, we have found that the documents we keep on a server, be it Google Docs or Box.net, are more durable than those that we have locally. That is servers – or other people – seem to do a better job of making sure disks keep operating, and in not losing files than we do. Secondly, Google Docs allows for one file to belong to multiple folders, where as Office, and documents in general on Mac OS X and Windows are stuck in a hierarchical model of file management. In truth hierarchical models don’t really reflect reality. For instance a Mockingbird is both part of the birds family, and also the subject of several books. Therefore it could belong to both a file or category on birds and a file or category on books (among many other files and categories). Books are not a subfile of birds and birds are not a subfile of books. Using a hierarchical file management system (much like the tree structure for categorizing life) one has to twist oneself into a pretzel because the organizational design is not reflective of reality.


In this example one can see that we have created three folders, and that one of our documents is part of both folders. If a folder is deleted in Google Docs it does not destroy the underling documents, it just becomes folder-less. For these reasons and more Google Docs offers a superior way of organizing files.

File Management on Google Docs and Box.net

In an early post we described how Box.net provides better file management and organization as well as finding than any Mac or PC file manager we have ever used. Then we find that Google Docs does it better with regards to file management than MS Office. The question we are beginning to ask ourselves is why it is so much easier managing data on server file managers than local computers running Windows or Mac? Why is this?

We have lusted after the MacBook Pro for some time. We were on the verge of buying one, after we realized a few things:

  1. We don’t like typing on laptop keyboards
  2. We don’t like using laptop trackpads
  3. We don’t like the positioning of laptop screens
  4. We prefer portrait to landscape displays (we have found portrait displays better for work, and we do a lot of writing and web browsing, while landscape is better for media applications)

Obviously given all this, we are not very good candidates for a laptop. However, if one wants portability, what can one do? Well we came up with a portable solution with Mac that uses a Mac Mini. Here is the configuration:

  • Mac Mini
  • Shuttle portable monitor (which can be turned either landscape or portrait)
  • Both an external laptop battery like the one seen here:


While a bit more cumbersome than a laptop, for us its perfect. We would recommend the iLugger 17 inch carry bag, which is designed to carry the iMac, as our 17 inch Shuttle display would be too big for our Codi Laptop Bag. Here are the costs:


Mac Mini = $750 (4Gb of ram model)
Keyboard = $50
Mouse = $20
iLugger = $120
Shuttle Display = $300
Tekkon External Power = $90


However, since we already own the keyboard, mouse, and Shuttle display our cost would be $750 + 90 + 120 or roughly $1000 with shipping costs.

A little more setup buys us a more comfortable and portrait display computer in addition to more tablespace (we have to connect an external keyboard to any laptop, so for us laptops take up a lot of table space at the local Starbucks)

Google Blog Search

We do a lot of research online. Of course we use Google. However, one of the problems is there is a lot of business produced information which is mostly promotional and not truth based. However, blogs tend to be better. Unfortunately, companies are beginning to create blogs, which is a problem, becuase companies are not just blogging for the fun of it, but in order to get their message across. However, still, blogs seem to have better infromation than company websites. For this we have begun using Google Blog Search.

Blog Search

The Switch

Sometimes a switch happens with technology which is the result of several technologies underlying it. It can often mean a change in how we have done things for some time. When this happens, it can become easy to forget or gloss over how significant the change actually is. When we first performed searches on a new search engine over a decade ago called “Google,” we felt this it then. We have experienced a second change, and this time it relates to file management online and to a company called Box.net

The Old Process

For years we have been managing files on external disks. First with Windows Explorer, then with a variety of PC file managers such as ACDSee and many others. Then, when we transferred to Mac, we began managing data with Finder and Spotlight. Along the way, we think we have tried most of the file management solutions out there, and we created a DVD on the topic a number of years ago. Years of experience managing files and disks has brought us to a conclusion regarding the limitations of traditional personal data management.

  1. Managing disks is a pain. Disks die more frequently than any of us are lead to believe. (the failure rates listed by manufacturersare false )– This can and often does result in lost data.
  2. The search management of files on personal computers is still unsophisticated and limited in functionality. For all the talk around Spotlight, it is actually disappointing in terms of its results. Google Desktop is impressive in many ways, but has a very narrow set of functionality, and consumes significant computational resources to maintain its index. Furthermore, it is wasteful as the effort that the computer must spend in creating indexes, the number of times these indexes must be recreated and the overall maintenance of the system detracts from computing effort that could go to the user. It makes much more sense for a server to do this work instead.

Files Managed on the Web

We began using Box.net around 6 months ago. This was primarily for transferring files between multiple computers. We never really considered Box.net for our main file management solution until we started performing simple searches. The results below are one such search.

This search found all the files regardless of their directory location, and it did it fast. The speed and the thoroughness of this search was really impressive to us. So we started performing other searches, with similar results. From this we have concluded that Box.net has surpassed the searching capabilities any PC or Mac based system we have used. A second area that Box.net is the best out there is in interface design. The Box.net interface is fast, logical, deep in functionality and an actual pleasure to use. Try using the term “pleasure” and “file manager” in the same sentence.  People are out there raving about Spotlight, however are people raving about Box.net? Not really.

The Shift to the Web

We are entering a period where the functionality available online is beginning to surpass the functionality available on the local computer. The web has always been naturally more collaborative than personal computer based sofware, but it is beginning to beat it out in functionality as well.  As is evident from our previous sentences, one actually now loses functionality by not keeping one’s files hosted at Box.net.

The Built In Advantage of Web Delivered Software

The second advantage of using a hosted file management solution is that you get out of the disk management business. Professionals managing a large number of disks, can do a more efficient job of managing them (checking on them, removing those that are about to go bad, putting them in a controlled and cooled environment) than individuals can. We can speak to this, as we currently have 5 external disks on our desk. Three have recently gone bad (if not permanently, then they required a complete reformatt) after around 3 to 4 years of intermittent use, and one of the 5 only appears up on one of our Macs when it feels like it.

Why is Box.net A Better Solution?

Does hosting files on a server allow you to perform indexing faster and better and deliver more horsepower against file searching than a PC allows? Possibly. By being web based, Box.net does not have to worry about writing an application to work with Windows or OS 10.x, it can simply focus on its website and file management, and of course the tools it uses.m How it configures its servers is more controllable by the company than if they had to write a software package to do the same thing to run on a local computer that is not optimized for file searching.

The following rules apply for servers and why they are advantagous ver personal computers.

  • Servers can be optimized for specific tasks, while a PC or Mac is generalized for many tasks.
  • Servers have a lot more horsepower for doing thinks like indexing that does a personal computer


Furthermore, Box.net is collaborative, so files can be shared much better than keeping files on a local computer and then emailing files. With Box.net, the management of files as well as the distribution of files are integrated with one another. If you want to share a file you simply select the file, select share, and you receive a URL you can use to send to people you want to see the file.

Then you are taken to the download location. This is like having your own FTP server.

Disadvantages to Box.net

There are several disadvantages to Box.net, including the trust issue. There is also the time spent to upload the files, which is of course slower than using local disks Finally there is the expense – which while reasonable, is more expensive than managing disks. However, this cost analysis changes when you begin to count the direct costs and forget about the indirect costs, such as your personal time and effort. For us, with all things considered, Box.net is a slam dunk and an example of what is happening in terms of the competition between online and offline applications.

Operating Systems

There is a lesson here for operating systems. That is they can begin to lighten up in terms of depth and functionality. More and more of the functionality is going to migrate to specialized web providers. This means that Apple can shrink any further development into file management. Apple may have already figured this out, the release of Snow Leopard is 1/2 as big as Leopard (although much of this is due to dropping support for PowerPC). However, it is likely that Apple appreciates that a smaller operating system can be run on more devices, such as various mobile devices that use less of the device’s resources, and more of the web’s resources.

Microsoft Lost in the Woods

Microsoft still thinks it rules the galaxy, so every release of Windows is bigger than the last (Windows 2003 Server takes up 5 Gig of space, but Vista takes up 35 Gig of space, while offering negligible improvements in functionality.) Windows does not fundamentally “get” the web, and of course the web works against its packaged software model, so Microsoft will continue to lose prominance and market share for this reason (in addition to many other reasons).


Increasingly the OS will simply be seen as a way to assist the user in managing the disk and hardware of the locatal computer (notice Apples Snow Leopard’s new Grand Central Dispatch, which is focused on improving the management of multi-core processors), while providing a portal to the functionality that is out in the web. We have written about how corporate software needs to become more web enabled to take advantage of the benefits of a web centric approach.


However, this trend is just as prominent in consumer and operating system applications. Company after company in the software feild is missing out on this trend, and stuck in a rut with staid and non-innovative software development which is based upon a defeated model. The future belongs to software companies that totally web enable their applications, move to a subscription software model and dump the packaged software model.

Does this eventually end in pure web desktops? That will be the topic of our next post as we test out some of the options in this area.


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