Monday, July 30, 2007

Scan Your Mail, Save the Earth

Let's say you travel a lot or you've sold your house and you haven't yet found a permanent address. Wouldn't it be cool if you could somehow get your mail on the internet? At first this seems like a crazy idea. It doesn't really make sense to have that book from Amazon shipped to a virtual address. But for a lot of mail it makes sense.

There is a service called Earth Class Mail that allows you forward your snail mail to a post office box at one of their locations. When the mail arrives, they scan the outside of the envelope and send you an email. You can then log into their secure web site and deal with your mail. You basically have 4 options:

  1. Recycle it
  2. Shred it
  3. Open it
  4. Forward it
If it you choose option 3 they will open it and scan in the contents so you can come back later and read what was inside the envelope. If it's a note from your Aunt Sandy, you may just want to file it away at ECM while you ponder your reply. If it's a check from your utility company, then you'll probably want them to forward it to you, since you can't print out a PDF of a check and deposit it into your bank account.

I'm giving it a try. I'll report back after a few weeks and let you know how it goes. I'm thinking that the level of junk mail I get will be greatly reduced. We'll see if that actually happens.

I'm a big fan of a similar service called Paytrust, a part of Intuit, the folks that brought you Quicken. Paytrust is like Earth Class Mail except it's only for bills. With Paytrust you have all your billers send their bills to you at the Paytrust address in South Dakota. They scan in the bill and then send you email when the bill arrives. Paytrust has additional functionality in that they can pay the bills for you. For a lot of the bigger guys like American Express and Cingular they can retrieve and pay your bill electronically. For the little guys they can simply send a physical check. I do this with my local exterminator who sprays our house for bugs every few months.

One of the great things about Paytrust is that you can setup automatic payment rules. If the electric bill is less than $100 (I wish) then pay it automatically. You can also setup multiple checking accounts and have them pay certain bills from a predefined checking account. Finally, Paytrust will also send you a CD at the end of the year with all your scanned in bills and records of your payments. I always file this away with my yearly taxes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Call Me: 636-590-3578

Ok, so I just signed up for a free phone line from AOL. This is a pretty cool service, I have to admit. (Disclaimer: I get my paycheck from AOL.) They will configure a local phone number for you instantly. The number can only be used to receive calls in the AIM client or go directly to voicemail. You can, of course, setup your own greeting.

Like Skype and Vonage, the voicemail can be sent directly to your email so you can listen to it in your email reader. Unlike Skype and Vonage, the real phone number with voicemail is free. With Skype you have to pay for SkypeIn to get a real phone number ($60 per year). AIM Phonline also allows you to set up SMS alerts and, of course, AIM alerts when you get a voicemail.

As with Skype, you can pay and get outgoing phone calls. Unlike Skype's pay as you go approach, with AIM Phoneline you pay a hefty $14.95 per month for unlimited calls. If you talk a lot internationally then it could be worth it. Skype has an unlimited plan but it's only unlimited to the US and Canada. Make sure to check the country list, Skype's list is more comprehensive. For instance, I can't call Vietnam with AIM Phoneline but it's coverted with Skype.

So give it a try, my new phone number is 636-590-3578. Leave me a message, a joke would be nice.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Richard Florida on The Colbert Report

What do you know, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class
made it onto Comedy Central.

His book gave me the idea for the name of the blog you're reading.

Actually I was interviewed by Florida back at CMU during the Inktomi days as he worked on his research for the book.

Seems from the Colbert interview that he's not at CMU anymore. He mentions selling his house. I wonder if it was after moving from Pittsburgh.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Ruby API for Truveo

Time for a work related post...

At Truveo we're getting a lot of traction with our video search APIs. A few months ago we were working on a new release and I wanted to write a bunch of tests for it before we let it out the door. I decided that a good way to do this would be to write Ruby programs that would compare the new version to the old version. Since we have a public API, I just needed a Ruby mapping for that API. Thus, the Truveo Ruby API was born. Of course, building it for internal testing is a lot different than actually releasing it for others to use. I actually had do do documentation and figure out how to make a Rakefiles and create Gems. Well I've finished all that and it's up on RubyForge.

The nice thing about having the gem on RubyForge is that anyone with Ruby Gems can easily install it like this:

% gem install truveo

The Ruby API is open source (under the Ruby license). So if you want to take a look at the code or contribute to it, head over to the RubyForge Truveo Project page.

If you just want to try it out, take a look a the RDoc documentation.

This should also go up on the Truveo Developer site soon.

I'm happy about this for a couple of reasons. First it was fun to do and it's done well I think. It has been very useful for internal purposes and now more folks can get access to Truveo in yet another language. (We already support an XML HTTP interface, JavaScript, and Flash.) The second reason is that it's my first open source effort. I've always wanted to do a some open source contribution, and now I have.

So check it out and let me know what you think.