Software / Internet

Quick tip: Cheap unlimited cellphone plan

I’m with T-mobile, so your mileage may vary.

Step 1: Sign up for T-mobile’s MyFaves plan. This allows you unlimited calling to five telephone numbers. These numbers may be in-network or out-of-network. In other words, they can be any five phone numbers.

Step 2: Sign-up for a free Google Grand Central Account and phone number. Grand Central allows you to receive calls at any phone via one number. It’s basically a free hosted PBX system with some nice extras.

Step 3: Forward all your inbound Grand Central calls to your MyFaves phone. In the Grand Central settings have all your inbound calls routed to your cell.

Step 4: Add your Grand Central number to your MyFaves plan as a “fave”. Any calls to and from your Grand Central number will fall under your MyFaves unlimited calling plan. With Grand Central you can make outbound calls by clicking a link in Grand Central, which will initiate the call and then will ring your phone to connect you.

Step 5: Give your Grand Central number to friends and family. Any calls to your Grand Central number will forward to your cellphone and will be calculated as unlimited calls.

Step 6: Profit!! (Well, not profit, but savings.)

Using AdWords for Keyword Monitoring

Keyword monitoringOne thing that’s difficult in search engine marketing is finding good data on search traffic: how often a keyword phrase is searched, how one keyword phrase compares to another in total search volume, how well your competitor is doing relative to you, etc. There’s no real way to get this from the search engines in any usable form as this is essentially their secret sauce. Google has a service called Google Trends where you can compare the relative strength of one keyword to another, but, as far as I know, Google does not provide the public with exact data on the number of searches for say, “hot tamale” or “Chris Sivori” (that’s me).

However, if you’re willing to risk a little money, you can use AdWords to monitor particular search phrases. For example, a while back I started an AdWords campaign to monitor searches for both “chris sivori” and “sivori”. I was curious as to how many times my name popped up in a search. Obviously, it wouldn’t be that often as I’m far from notable, but this made it an even more compelling idea as I would be likely to know whoever would be searching.

Here’s what you do to start monitoring your desired search terms:

  1. Create your campaign. Create an AdWords campaign and uninteresting ads (remember, you don’t necessarily want clickthroughs) for the search terms you want to monitor. Be advised, that popular search terms could result in you losing some money.
  2. Set an acceptable budget. Set your daily budget low enough to where if you suddenly get tons of clickthroughs you won’t lose a lot of money. My daily budget is $1.00 (the lowest you can budget), so the worst I can lose is $30 a month. Usually, it comes out to around $2.00 or so a month.
  3. Check the results. After a few days, log in to your AdWords account and view the impressions for every keyword your tracking. In this case, an impression is any time your ad appears. If your ad bid is competitive it is likely to appear for every instance of a search for your keyword phrases, so the number of impressions will give you a good idea of the total search volume for the keyword phrases you would like to track.

Keyword monitoring with this method will obviously work best with unpopular phrases. Obviously, if you wanted to track a popular keyword, you could spend a lot of money and burn through impressions pretty quickly without necessarily getting an idea of the total search volume. Another complication is that Google seems to mess with the default bids to keep people from using AdWords purely for this purpose. I’ve noticed that two equally inconsequential keyword phrases can have wildly different default bids. If I remember correctly, Google has a certain threshold for bids if the keyword is unlikely to be searched to prevent people from placing a bunch of five cent bids on long-tail keywords.

Other applications of this method:

  1. Track the competition. Imagine you’re working for the McCain campaign, for example, and you want to stay abreast of interest in Mike Huckabee. You could place an ad luring Huckabee supporters to your site from searches for “mike huckabee”, “huckabee”, etc. while also using the impressions data to gauge changes in interest in this candidate. If you monitored your AdWords impressions, you might be able to see a sudden peak in searches, which might indicate growing interest. If you used this method with geographically targeted PPC ads, you could monitor interest levels over time in various battleground states, for instance.
  2. See who’s clicking the ads. If you Google Analytics and add campaign tracking variables to the URL’s in your ads, you should be able to tie a particular ad clickthrough to a specific IP address, which will allow you to further drill down into the source of your clickthroughs and will provide information as to the time of day and specific information about the user including browser type, OS, screen resolution, ISP, company name, etc.
  3. Reverse stalking. Monitoring your own name can be useful in certain situations. If your name is Google-able, you might see a pick up in searches following job interviews, client meetings, conferences, etc. It can be eye opening to see how many times someone Googles you. I welcome the transparency, although I hope I never do anything I have to worry about showing up online.

Got any other ideas? Suggestions? Leave a comment and let me know.

Google makes for a better Blackberry

Research in Motion (the company that makes the Blackberry) should stay on its toes. While I think there is room for multiple companies and I love the Blackberry, they need to keep innovating in order to compete in a market that now includes Apple’s iPhone and eventually some Google Android-based products. I hope every company who makes smartphones is losing sleep over the competition. That fear will drive innovation.

Both Apple and Google represent a new breed of competitor far different from Microsoft, Nokia, Palm, or any of the other incumbents in the field. They are companies with Vision and, more importantly, companies with the resources to realize their Vision. Everyone can dream up radical ideas and strategies, but few can execute them.

While Apple is making serious inroads with the iPhone, Google is the company everyone should worry about because they can touch everyone else without trying to get a slice of the same highly-contested pie. Leaving aside their Android project (a free smartphone OS), let’s look at what they do.

Even though the iPhone is closed to other third-party applications, Google provides native software for the iPhone (Google maps and a special YouTube-viewing application). They also provide downloadable apps for every other smartphone platform. On my Blackberry for example, I regularly use five different Google applications: the Google Maps for Mobile app with My Location (instead of Blackberry Maps or GPS), the Google Talk IM client, the Gmail app, Google Mobile Sync (which syncs the Blackberry Calendar and the Google Calendar. I use this now instead of Blackberry Enterprise Server and Microsoft Exchange, which has saved me $30 a month), and Google Mobile Updater (which checks for new versions of Google Software). This is not including the website I visit the most via the Blackberry web browser: Google Reader.

The truth is, Google improves my Blackberry experience. I don’t know if that should make Research in Motion or Apple nervous, but it is definitely significant.

Leaving aside any speculation on their plans for the 700 Mhz spectrum auction or the potential success of Android, it is not difficult to imagine that Google might eventually be the most important company in the smartphone universe by continuing to provide better and better tools to as many people as possible.

Google Calendar as memory

I’ve been attending to my finances in my typical feast or famine fashion. I sat down and looked through my records after ignoring everything for a few weeks… checked my accounts, analyzed earning / spending and tried to see where I can cut costs. I have two checking accounts (one business and one personal), two savings accounts, and a handful of different brokerage accounts (partly due to having a few different 401k plans over the years and partly from chasing after the lowest commissions). As a result, the process can get complicated.

One thing I discovered is that I had some additional charges on my cellphone bill due to receiving a bunch of text messages from a few people I’ve been following in Twitter. (This was a case of poetic justice as I unfairly maligned Twitter in the past.)

To avoid future surprises, I signed up for a bulk messaging package ($5 a month). Then I called to have the plan applied retroactively so I could save forty bucks on my past bill. Many people would not have done this, but I enjoy negotiating.

The whole point of this is that I found another nice use for Google Calendar. Normally after such a conversation, I might make a note of who I talked to and what was the outcome, so I could safely forget all about it. This time I dropped an entry into Google Calendar and included all the relevant information. If I need to reference the event down the line, I can use Google Calendar’s search function. As Ron Popeil might say, “Set it and forget it.”

You don’t need GPS

If I made a list of all the things I wanted for Christmas, it would include two items. A new laptop and a GPS receiver. Unfortunately, the laptop is a little more necessary.

There was some good news last week that made everything better. Google released a really cool update to Google Maps. Now that Google has released a new version of Google Maps for mobile devices (with My Location), I can do 70% of what I would do with a standard GPS receiver (Garmin, TomTom, etc.) on my Blackberry, which, unlike most other gadgets, I always have with me. Using this new version of Google Maps I can determine my position to within a few hundred meters; close enough for things like driving directions and finding the nearest Starbucks. The Google Maps application does this by using your cellphone to figure out where you are in relation to the nearest cell towers. It works very similar to GPS in that instead of determining position by triangulation against orbital satellites, it just asks your phone where the nearest cell towers are and figures it out from there.

Google was nice enough to put together an informative video about how it works:

Now I get it. I think.

I was startled when my 18 year old cousin told me to “email” him on MySpace. I asked, “No, what is your email address? So, I can actually send you an email.” Email = MySpace? Since I’m not a user of MySpace’s closed garden, basic old-fashioned open-protocol email is how I get in touch with people. He had a Hotmail account, but couldn’t remember it. I was really surprised that he contacts his friends solely via MySpace and the cellphone. But, my guess is a lot of other people his age are the same way. After all, on MySpace only your friends can message you, right?

It just seems like a strange way to do things. I have a feeling a lot of kids these days are comfortable using the Internet, but that maybe they find aspects of it a little complicated so MySpace and Facebook have a natural appeal. It’s easy. No need to manage multiple accounts for blogging, photos, messaging, etc. Just sign up for whichever social network is hot and go crazy.

I take it for granted that not everyone enjoys the challenges that come with some stuff on the Internet. So, I get it now. I think. Social networks make the Internet easy by keeping everything all in one place. It’s like AOL, but not old-skool AOL, which is for old people. Is that it?

Cheap and easy way to go paperless

I read a good entry over at Signal V. Noise about how to go paperless by using an expensive duplex scanner from Fujitsu. While I still think this is a great way to do it, and I may even buy one of those scanners, a while back I came up with an easier and far cheaper way to scan my mail and documents into a digital form and have been using it for a while.

Most offices, like mine, have fax machines or fax copiers. I also have a fax to email service through my toll-free provider, Ring Central, where your fax documents are scanned and emailed to you as PDF attachments. If I ever want to archive a paper document into a digital form, I just fax it to myself and save the PDF to my computer. I also leave a copy in my gmail account where I can access the file from anywhere.

The only downside I have discovered is that the faxed PDF is not transformed into indexable text via OCR (optical character recognition) during the scanning process. I compensate for this shortcoming by giving each document a readily comprehensible file name. If you fax each document at a high enough resolution you may be able to perform OCR on the output, however the descriptive file naming used in conjunction with Google Desktop Search has worked well for me.

The Real Fleury Blog

My friend Phillip recently recommended the blog of Marc and Nathalie Fleury. Marc is the former CEO of JBoss, which was acquired by Redhat. Both Fleury’s are entertaining bloggers with a matched sharp sense of humor. Maybe it’s a French thing. Many of Marc’s entries are delightfully over the top like Fake Steve Jobs, but with the added bonus that it’s the real Marc Fleury. For example:

From Remember, I don’t give a shit:

And, while you’re at it, please address me as Doctor Fleury, and no, that’s not my DJ name. I didn’t suffer through ten years of differential equations to be talking on a first name basis with some random honky.

From Life After Marc Fleury:

And then I wonder, maybe Cameron is on to something. Could it be that all the ballsy visionaries are in one place and all the pontificating windbags are in another? Is it possible that Cameron is very happy at Oracle, just as it is apparent that Shaun is happier at Red Hat and I am only happy when I call the shots?

Good stuff.

Wake up like Bill Murray

groundhogday.jpgThe Blackberry makes a pretty good alarm clock. It has a weekend off setting, so you can leave the alarm set all the time. And, it’s portable and battery-powered so you can hide it on a shelf or behind something, so you have to get up and turn it off. It also makes an awesome travel alarm. Just stretch out, set the alarm and you’re good to go. Another good feature is the ability to set the alarm to play any sound file based on how you like to wake up. The other day I had the idea to create a ringtone from Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” to use as my alarm sound a la Phil Connors in the Harold Ramis classic, Groundhog Day. In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is jaded weatherman, Phil Connors. Trapped in time, he wakes each morning to a clock radio playing “I Got You Babe” to relive the same day over and over.

When every day can feel like a repeat of the day before, it makes the perfect song to wake up to. Download it to your Blackberry or cellphone.

Plano, Texas Library Lookup via Amazon

A while back I recommended a cool Greasemonkey script to check the library for the books you are browsing at It has saved me a ton of money (sorry Amazon) and has turned me into a regular library patron. Now when I click a link to Amazon, the script checks to see if my libraries have the book. Then I can click through and put the book on hold and grab it when I get to the library.

I was talking to this guy I work with about good books and I told him about this script and found out which library he goes to. Then I just edited the script to support his library. So, if you get your books at the Plano library, you can now use this script. (Remember to install Greasemonkey for Firefox first.)

While we’re at it, if you have a library and can’t find a similar script on, let me know what library you go to and I can whip one up for you.

For more on Greasemonkey, you can read Mark Pilgrim’s Greasemonkey Hacks in its entirety online.