Friday, June 30, 2006

Google Checkout - My Take

Google is taking the classic business wedge approach. Find a market that is making good money and is related to another market that might make money in the future; then launch a product into the market that's making money and expand into the one that might make money later.

Google can immediately grab some low hanging fruit by approaching businesses first. Their rates for merchant transactions are a full 1% point less than PayPal for all businesses except those doing more than $100,000/mo in processing. They're basically offering the processing near cost and using the service to expand AdWords revenue.

From a business standpoint, that's a terrifically smart thing since their primary profits come from advertising sales and investors will want to see those sales continue to expand.

For business customers, this is also a watershed event. Hopefully it will force PayPal and the regular credit card merchant account providers to reduce their internet transaction fees. The average merchant fee for small and medium sized businesses accepting credit cards through a company like is 2.35% + $.35-50 cents per transaction + a $20/mo gateway fee and a $25/mo minimum processing fee.

Small businesses wanting to sell stuff online should be all over Google's offering. It's cheaper than their bank and cheaper than PayPal. Plus they will see the AdWords thing as free advertising since they'd have to spend that money on the credit card processing fees regardless. So the deal works well in favor of small businesses.

Later, I can see Google expanding and testing the waters with person-to-person micropayments. That market is pretty much non-existent (in terms of a percentage basis) here in the US. Outside the US there is more interest but even in those places it's still in limited stages of use.

For the micropayments business to work here in the US, however, there have to be some fundamental changes to the way the banking system works. The fees to get money on and off of ATM, debit and credit cards are still too high to make business cases involving the handling of large numbers of tiny transactions profitable. Just as any small quick service restaurant (like local sandwich shop) who takes credit cards... they'll tell you how bad it hurts to lose nearly 2% of the bill plus 30-50 cents of every transaction to fees. That's why in many of them you'll see a sign asking credit/debit card users to please make a purchase of at least $5-10 when paying with their cards.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Skype with a Windigo powered USB dongle & BT headset

OK, so I ventured off into the world of Skype recently. Here's the first thing I learned: Bluetooth headsets on Windows XP SP2 suck.

But all is not lost. I finally cracked the code on my particular combination.

What I'm using:
Motorola HS820 Bluetooth Headset
Cyber-Blue Bluetooth EDR v2.0 Dongle

I first tried using it with the included software which comes on a little mini-CD with virtually no identification. It just says Bluetooth and V2.0 on the CD. No company name identification, no nothing. You can see that CD and the dongle over to the right.

The software on the CD sort of worked but not really. It worked backwards with Skype. When you connected the headset and it was ready to talk, upon dialing a Skype call it would disconnect. How annoying!

Then I tried switching to Microsoft's Bluetooth drivers. What a crock that was. That was when I learned that in their infinite wisdom, Microsoft does not support the headset profile in their Bluetooth drivers. How sucky is that?

Cyber-Blue's website was useless. They're an OEM and this unit is just their generic house model that's sold cheap. (What was I expecting from a $9 purchase at They don't have any supporting files or anything on their site.

So, then I figured I'd check out the software provider's website - Windigo Systems. Linked from their homepage is a Support page. On that page they provide "Blue Manager 3.1c". Well that would be great except for the fact that what I had on the CD that came w/ the dongle was 3.2b and I certainly wasn't going to chance using even older software.

Off to the Google I went again. I found few references to Blue Manager software. The only thing I found was another OEM who was offering Blue Manager 3.3 if you used a form to request it - problem being that you had to own one of their devices and report it's serial number to get the software. Stinkie.

Back to Windigo I go. This time I noticed they had a support email address listed. "What the heck" I figured. At least I'll have spent $9 and tried. To my amazement I got an email back in about 4 hours with a link to Blue Manager version 3.4d. Now why didn't they have that linked to their support page to begin with!?! Oh well. At least they were nice enough to email me back (in broken English, so I assume they're staffed with native Asian speakers so they can work w/ their Chinese and southeast Asian manufacturing partners).

For some reason I was unable to download anything from their website w/o getting a notice from my unzip program that there was a CRC error and the file was corrupt. Poey. But I was able to download it to my office PC (thanks to Logmein) and FTP it to myself w/o problem. I still have no clue why I wasn't able to download it over my Sprint/Embarq DSL connection. No matter, I had the software now. There was no stopping me. Or so I thought.

I begin to run the software. It wants to uninstall all the old software. Kaboom. BSOD! Yep, a nice blue screen of death. So I unplug the USB dongle and reboot. The second time I ran the software it wanted to uninstall the old software, so I let it try again. No BSOD that time. Oh, but it required the obligatory reboot before it could finish. I let it reboot then started the installer again (manually b/c it wasn't smart enough to start itself back up). Now the real install begins. It gets 3/4 of the way through the install and it tells me it can't finish without my Bluetooth dongle being plugged in. So I plug it in. Windows installs it again from scratch as if it were a new piece of hardware. Kaboom. BSOD AGAIN! Bollucks!

Ok, so I reboot with the dongle attached this time. Windows seems happy when it comes back up. I have the nice Microsoft Bluetooth icon in the system tray. I start the Blue Manager 3.4d installer again. I am asked by the software if I want to install the COM port for VoIP and data or for VoIP only. Since I don't have a Bluetooth capable phone yet, I go with VoIP only. The installer chugs along. It gets all the way through this time and the Microsoft Bluetooth icon disappears. That's the signal that Blue Manager has taken over control. Oh but wait... the software needs to reboot my computer again.

So... here were are 5 reboots later - 2 of which were planned. The software appears to have successfully installed that last time. I am able to start Blue Manager for Skype. Joy, it's a 2 step process to start Blue Manager so you can use your headset. Instead of automatically starting when Windows does - there's not even an option for that - you have to start Blue Manager for Skype and THEN start Blue Manager 4.3d so you can actually use the headset. Annoying but livable.

I put my Motorola HS820 into pairing mode (how stupid were the Motorola engineers for putting every single function on this thing except volume - and I bet they tried that in development! - under the control of the single button!). If you don't master counting your button hold time, you're destined for failure. Then I started the discovery process in Blue Manager by hitting Refresh. After entering the pairing password - "0000" - they paired. Yippie.

Now for the real test. Can I make a Skype call. It took a little fiddling b/c the new Blue Manager 3.4d software did not automatically set the headset as the audio device in Skype. To do that, in Skype go to Tools -> Options and set Windigo Audio BT device as the default for your incoming and outgoing audio. Once that was done, I was able to just hit the button on the Motorola HS820 and Blue Manager kept a connection open to the headset. It even kept the connection open after I hung up the Skype call.

All is not perfect in this arrangement. I can't use the button on the headset to answer or disconnect a Skype call like you can on a cell phone. You have to acknowledge the call using the keyboard and mouse as always. And if you forget to connect the headset by pressing the button before you answer the call neither party can hear anything.

The good news is that battery life for the Motorola HS820 is about 6 hours of talk time. So it's possible to just connect the headset while you're sitting at the PC and leave it connected. That also helps with knowing when calls are coming in. Unless you set the Skype option to "Ring PC speaker on incoming call" you won't hear anything to let you know a call is coming in if you'd forgotten to "connect" your headset or if the Bluetooth connection dropped (in cases like when you left the PC to go to the bathroom w/o taking the headset off).

Hopefully Skype will get a clue and help these headset folks or Microsoft get a grip on Bluetooth headsets. They way the work now is manageable. But most definitely not optimal.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The coffee revolution has begun.

Introducing the Melitta® one:one™ pod brewing system, the best thing to happen to coffee drinkers in decades. Its special pod brewing system is designed to deliver coffee bar quality right at home. No measuring. No mess. And the ultimate cup of coffee in less than a minute... every time.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Engage In Life!

There is nothing more dangerous than people sleep walking through life.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Feds Bust Major VoIP Scam

Duo made millions off of hacked VoIP deal

The New York Times is running an interesting story on two men who operated an Internet voice scheme that netted them more than a million in connection fees. It began with the men starting two smaller VoIP companies, and buying wholesale voice access.
"Instead of buying access to other networks to connect his clients' calls, Mr. Pena paid about $20,000 to Robert Moore, the man arrested in Spokane, to create "what amounted to 'free' routes by surreptitiously hacking into the computer networks" of unwitting Internet phone providers, and then routing his customers' calls over those providers' systems, according to the federal complaint.
The scam left more than 15 Internet phone companies with connectivity bills up to $300,000 each, without any revenue to show for it.