Google has solved the photos problem

It is a long time since I’ve written anything here – its been busy! I wrote about this in our June 2016 newsletter and it decided it was worthy of expanding on.

The problem with photos (and videos) is we take a lot of them, they take a lot of space and often they are spread over multiple devices so we don’t always back them up properly (understatement). Also the photos are hard to find – I don’t know about you but I never seem to get around to organising them into logical albums all in one easy to find place. And the other problem is I occasionally like to show someone a photo or two and my phone just doesn’t have enough storage to keep a decent history of photos.

The backup issue is the big one – every year or so a friend (not usually the same one) calls up to say their PC has died and they have lost their photos. Everything else you can probably replace even if there may be a cost, but if the hard drive is gone and not recoverable and that’s your only copy of your photos then they are gone forever. Even if you do back them up say to a USB hard drive – how many of these do you have and where do you keep them? If you have a house fire do you still have a backup?

Google Photos solves all these problems in a free and easy to use way. It’s brilliant!

You go to the Google Photos link and follow your nose. Download the app onto the devices where your photos and videos are (PC/Mac/Phone), point it at your photos and let it go. If you have a lot of them it can take many hours but at the end of it all your photos and videos will be uploaded to google photos and they will be searchable and shareable.

There are just a couple of things to watch out for when uploading:

  • Take the option for high quality uploads (free unlimited storage) rather than original quality (limited storage). The high quality photos and videos are absolutely fine.
  • If you have a lot of photos/videos and you are not on an unlimited internet plan it may use up your data allowance during the upload – keep an eye on it. If you are on a phone do it over wifi.

At the end of the process all your photos/videos are backed up into the Google cloud – for free – and you can search them from your PC/Mac/Phone. I’d still keep a copy of the them on a USB drive in their original resolution just in case – in case your account gets hacked perhaps, or you delete some by accident.

For me the backup is the boring but necessary bit. The real power of Google photos is that it gives me access to all my photos anytime (that I have an internet connection) from any device, in particular my storage challenged phone – and the search is freakishly good.

It takes a few days for Google to analyse the photos but when done you can search on location, date or things like cat, car, beach etc;jm. You can also find people by clicking on a mug shot that Google generates. The search identified a person in a full face motorcycle helmet taken from 20 feet away. For the article on ANZ in the newsletter I knew I’d taken a picture of the ANZ sign being added to Hotel Intercontinental (when they should have been spending the money on their IT systems) but I couldn’t find it on my phone. A search of ANZ found nothing but using the term “hotel intercontinental” found it second in the list in Google photos.

No problem finding photos of the late and dearly loved Mr Cat either.

cat

And from my phone..

sky

So what have the Romans has Google ever done for us…?

  • Search
  • Gmail
  • Chromecast
  • Now Google Photos

 

Our VOIP Phone system updated

We switched our phones over to 2talk VOIP in 2010 and until recently haven’t touched them – they just worked.

In that time we have grown and taken on more staff including a new practice manager (Maryanne). Fairly early on Maryanne started suggesting that we needed better phones, phones where you could see who was on what line and transfer calls around with the push of one button instead of three or four. Also I’d recently added yet another Panasonic analogue cordless phone with a Cisco SPA and couldn’t get decent call quality out it so I decided to revisit the phone system and see if we could go with VOIP handsets rather than using SPAs to connect analogue phones.

The broad requirements were:

  1. Better quality voice calls (quality seemed to have dropped off as I added more cordless phones!)
  2. Easier method of transferring calls
  3. A way Maryanne can see which line is in use (so she doesn’t transfer calls when we are on the phone already)
  4. A cordless phone for Baubre

First up I called my friendly account manager Mat at On Networks and asked for his advice on phones (I know I could have just got Mat to install one of their excellent VOIP PABX systems but where is the fun in that?). Mat promptly told me more than I needed to know about phones and lent me one of their Cisco SPA 303 IP phones.

The configuration was similar to the SPA adapters I had so I set it up and gave it to Maryanne. That sorted out requirements 1 & 2 for her.

For requirement 3 (see who is using their phone) Mat told me to look at BLF (busy lamp field) on the Cisco phone. I did and set it up but no go – looking at the debug logs BLF did not work with 2talk – disaster. So I logged a call with 2talk and they came back to say it was something they were working on but not date as to when it would be available – it was released the following week and after a bit of trial and error following the 2talk instructions  I had Maryanne’s phone showing busy lines in red – the only problem was there were not enough lights on the 303 for one for each person, so back to Mat to buy a Cisco 508G with lots of lights. Requirement 3 solved (and Lucy got the Cisco 303 on her desk).

Last requirement – a decent VOIP cordless phone for Baubre. Back in 2010 I’d purchased a Gigaset from Nicegear and had to return it as compared to a Panasonic handset it felt cheap and more importantly Baubre didn’t like it.

I went back to Nicegear and found that Panasonic now had a DCET VOIP cordless offering, the KX-TGP 500B, and at a pretty good price. One base station could support up to six handsets (three concurrent calls). Reviews were good, Hadley at Nicegear liked them, so I bought a base station and handset (I knew Baubre would be happy if I replaced her Panasonic with a …. Panasonic).

I almost didn’t need to configure this one, just put in the details needed to find 2talk and it worked. Really nice look and feel and excellent sound quality once I changed the default codec to be PCMA/G711a. I bought a couple more handsets, one to replace my cordless and one for a roving phone. Last requirement sorted!

A SIM card for Australia

In October 2012 I visited Perth and Baubre is off to Melbourne when I get back – these days we seem to be taking separate holidays, got to keep the office open.

Before I left I went hunting for a SIM card we could use while in Australia. I was after a prepay SIM that provided some calls (say 100 minutes), data (1GB) and the ability to tether the phone so I could do a bit of work while traveling.

I ended up selecting a SIM from www.amaysim.com.au. The one I went for was the $40 per month pre paid no plan autotop up from debit card. It gives unlimited calling in Australia, 4GB of data and you can tether with it. It runs on the Optus network. Bonus is that international calls are quite cheap too, between 6c and 20c per minute to many destinations. There are cheaper plans and pay as you go options available too.

I decided to take a punt and order the SIM via the web to be delivered to where I would be staying most of the time in Perth. As this was Wednesday and I was arriving on the Saturday I opted for the $5 pay as you go SIM, with the idea being to upgrade the plan to the $40 if it actually turned up. If it wasn’t there I’d lost $5 and could buy one on the day somewhere … hopefully.

When you buy a SIM in Australia you have to provide ID, I didn’t need to do this when I ordered over the web but that may be because I used an Australian debit card that was set up using the same address the SIM was going to. I was also able to choose the last 5 digits of the number so I got one to similar my NZ number – nice.

I arrived, the SIM was there. I put it in the phone and it worked – already activated. All I had to do was upgrade to the $40 plan and then enable tethering via txting TETHER to 568. I then added another $10 credit for international calling and turned off auto topup.

Excellent reception and data rates in Perth and down to Margaret River and back. A really good result and cheap and easy. Plus an app to check usage.

Now why can’t we get this sort of value in NZ??

Our VOIP phone system – one year on

We have now had our VOIP phone system for one year so I thought I would give an update on how it has performed. I had this post sitting in draft almost ready to go and then a comment on the original post spurred me to finish it.

Regrets – we have none.

Reliability – generally excellent. In the year we have had perhaps 30 minutes of downtime due to the odd glitch with the cable internet and a power failure during the Wellington winter snows. Phone calls still came through to the Bria running on the iPhone.

Cost – Five local numbers including the fax, an 0800 number we use for voice conferencing, 6000 local minutes, 2000 international minutes and 150 mobile minutes all for $58 per month including GST.  We have never exceeded this.

Quality – excellent for the Panasonic handsets connected to the SPA’s.  For the Bria on the iPhone the quality has been variable over both wifi and 3G.  The office I work in has got rather poor reception for wifi and cell so I now leave the phone on 3G, this seems to give a more consistent result. I also find the battery life is better on 3g as when the phone is switched to wifi when it goes to sleep the wifi switches off and Bria has to re-register over 3g.

The voice conferencing over the 0800 has worked out very cost effectively. We were initially limited to eight inbound calls concurrently for the 0800 line, it is related to the lines on our plan somehow. I logged a call with 2Talk and they said as it was an 0800 number we could have extra concurrent incoming calls for no cost (usually you pay to increase your concurrent calls). So we now have a limit of 50 inbound concurrent calls for the 0800 number. I can’t imagine we will ever come close.

So yes I would definitely recommend 2Talk. If you have an IT person handy they can set it all up for you. I see that 2Talk have configurations for the SPAs that can be downloaded from their site.

Tethering the iPhone – Vodafone vs XT

The feature I most looked forward to with IOS 4.x was the personal hotspot. Great, I could ditch the T-Stick and finally get to use a chunk of the 3Gb per month Vodafone gives me on my iPhone plan. The hotspot works a treat but, and it is a mighty big but, the data speed when tethering is painfully slow. Dialup slow. Even slower some days. Unusabley slow. For a while I thought it was my phone, or the latest point release of IOS or my PC or my Mac, or the way I was holding my phone so I kept using the T-Stick hoping the tethering would come right sometime soon.

Six months on it is no better, in fact I think it’s worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(iPhone tethering on Vodfone)

Why so poor?

The data speeds on the phone itself are fine – not brilliant but good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(native iPhone  on Vodafone / Pocket Wifi on Vodafone is similar)

If take the sim out and put it into a Pocket Wifi (AUD $79 from dicksmith.com.au sometimes on special at AUD $39 and unlocked courtesy of www.zibri.org for approx NZD $25) then connect to its wifi network I get the about the same speed as the phone gets. Entirely adequate for working on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I put the T-Stick’s XT sim in the phone (set the data and tethering apn to internet.telecom.co.nz) and tether to the personal hotspot then I get T-Stick speeds out of it. Not flash but good enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(iPhone tethering on XT)

So what can we deduce from that lot?

The problem is with the Vodafone network. The official carrier for the iPhone in NZ can’t or won’t provide useable tethering for the iPhone, the unofficial carrier can and does. Actually this shouldn’t be a surprise, it was only with the quad band iPhone 4 that iPhone users could get any sort of 3G coverage outside of a handful of main centres with Vodafone. The iPhone 3s do get excellent coverage on the XT network but thats another story.

Can’t or won’t?

The conspiracy theorist in me says won’t but from the Vodafone forums it looks like can’t is the reason.

Just an old network with old software that is in the process of being upgraded. The latest update on the forum (as at 7 August 2011) is that it will be fixed for the Rugby World Cup. Don’t count on it.

Me – well my plan with Vodafone is up in December. If the problem is fixed and I can keep my 3Gb of data per month without signing up for another two years then I may stay with Vodafone. If not then it is XT4ME.

 

 

 

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