Conference Call Recording

I think we’ve reached the point where most businesses have a conference call service. Companies have found that a good conference solution comes in handy in the event of a foot of snow in Texas or in the middle of a volcanic eruption. With advances in conferencing technology, most services can provide much more than the standard conferencing ability, like out dial services and recordings. Recordings are a vital part of any service and you should know how and if your provider charges for the files. Once you’ve found that out, think about the different ways you can use recordings in your own business. Here are a couple of things I came up with:

  • Podcasts – You can call in to a conference line, record a podcast, and then post it on your website.
  • Replays – Did you host a conference that had a better turn out than usual? Have those that attended your conference told others about it and now they want to hear it for themselves? With a recording you can provide a replay of the conference that has everyone talking.
  • Snippets – Take the same recording and edit the MP3 to leave the most interesting parts. Use it as a marketing piece to showcase the highlights of your last presentation and entice people to sign up for your next.
  • Filing – Just keeping a record of a conference can be a good reference. If you review your files and find that you’re getting the same question a lot in your conferences and presentations, you can review and see what you’re missing or what you might need to word differently.
  • Back Up – Sadly, people do sometimes go back on their word. I once talked to a customer who used a conference call to defend her dissertation and told her that she had a specific amount of time to make some changes and report back. When they tried to give her a shorter deadline, she didn’t have a recording to back up what they had originally said.

When my customers don’t want to record, I remind them that it’s a free service with us. I always say that it’s better to have a recording and not need it than to need one and not have a copy. Conference calls are more than just picking up a phone to have a meeting and recordings are just one way you can make a service work for you. How are you using your conference service to make headway in business?

Google Unrolls Voice in Gmail

Google held a press conference today to discuss their newest feature: the ability for people to place VoIP phone calls with Gmail accounts through Google Voice integration.

The company appended the feature to the Google Chat window, which has previously allowed Gmail users to chat with their contacts.

Starting today, there will be a call/dialer function that will be accessible to all people with Gmail accounts. The feature is fully integrated with peoples’ email contacts, allowing them to call other Gmail users by selecting their names and pressing call.

Users can call people who are not sitting at their computers too. According to a Gmail Blog post today, people can call any phone from Gmail by dialing on a computer-based keypad. The blog says calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free, while calls to other countries will be billed.

“We’re rolling out this feature to U.S. based Gmail users over the next few days, so you’ll be ready to get started once “Call Phones” shows up in your chat list,” the blog says. It adds that users who wish to use the service will first have to install the voice and video plug-ins.

The service is similar to Skype, except that it’s integrated with email and charges for cross-country connections.

Google will sell its own credits for the program through Google Checkout, a shopping-cart application that users will have to pre-pay through for international calls.

Senators Concerned About Chinese Telecom Bid

Eight republican congress members sent a letter to the Obama administration last week asking that they closely review a bid by a Huawei Inc., a massive Chinese telecom corporation, to supply equipment to Sprint Nextel in the U.S.

The letter sites national security concerns as Huawei purportedly had business ties with Saddam Hussein and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran, which was previously sanctioned by the U.S. for its role in weapons of mass destruction proliferation.

The letter states, “A Chinese company with such a leading role in Iran’s economy, and close relationship with the IRGC, should not be able to do business in the U.S.”

Among the senators who sent the letter were Jon Kyl of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri. They expressed concern that Huawei’s position would be threatening because Sprint Nextel supplies equipment to the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies.

“Is there any concern that Huawei, if it gained any measure of control over a U.S. contractor involved with sensitive U.S. government contracts, would present a national security threat for technology leakage or enhanced espionage against the United States?” the letter asks.

The move points out a debate that has been taking place for some time now, where a balance is yet to be struck between open trade and national security—especially when Chinese companies are trying to invest in sensitive U.S. industries.

Huawei executives countered the letter saying that the company only wished to do business with its counterparts in the U.S., and that the Chinese government and military had no sway over the company’s dealings.

The senators dismiss this claim as posturing, pointing out the contracts between the company and the military and government, as well as saying the Chinese government may have directly funded Huawei.

The Senators asked the Obama administration to appoint an investigative team to fully examine the company, its dealings and the potential risks of a deal with Sprint Nextel.

Airport Security Testing Palm-Down Body Searches

With new, more aggressive pat downs being tested at Logan International Airport in Boston and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, privacy advocates have already begun lamenting the new levels of airport-security friskiness.

The Boston Herald reported that Transportation Security Administration screeners will be using the “enhanced patdown” method that lets screeners go palm-forward on the torso—instead of the usual backhanded approach.

The American Civil Liberties Union is questioning the procedure, saying that there seems to be a constant erosion of privacy as security grows more and more invasive.

According to the Boston Herald, passengers who have undergone the new searches feel overly probed and excessively scrutinized by Big Brother.

The story quoted several Boston-area travelers who narrated the screening processes as they recalled them.

One man, named Rob Webster, said there was “probing and pushing” of his genital area, and added, “if anyone ever groped me like that in real life, I would have punched them in their nose.”

The TSA defends their position, saying that it is a needed addition to enhance the multi-layered security approach—especially when terrorists are devising bombs that are undetectable by the magnetometers.

Looking ahead most airports will give passengers the option of the “enhanced screening” or full body scanners, which take x-ray pictures of peoples’ bodies beneath their clothes.

Stealing Through iTunes-PayPal-Bank Account

It’s been reported today that many people have gotten their iTunes account hacked.  While this in itself would be a minor--and puzzling--bit of thievery, it can have much larger implications.  Most people have their iTunes account linked with PayPal.com for purchases of songs and videos.  And many of those same people have their PayPal accounts linked to their bank account.

After hacking into an iTunes account, multiple transactions are made through PayPal purchasing iTunes products.  The PayPal account is quickly drained then, if linked to a bank account, the charges are passed on to be paid by the bank.

It is important for everyone to check their iTunes and PayPal.com accounts to see if there are any unauthorized transactions.  Afterwards, change your password on not only the iTunes account, but PayPal and even the bank account.  Choose a password that has no meaning, mixes letters and numbers, and even uses misspelled words.  Ideally, a password should look like this:  sd9ow8vlwr89n.  But that would be hard to remember.

Signs of a hacked iTunes account include a great number of identical purchases, and of course, any downloaded songs of the band, ABBA.

Credit Card Relief

A final piece of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 legislation went into effect, shielding credit card users from "unreasonable late payment and other penalty fees".

It’s a two-part benefit for credit consumers.  First, it puts a limit of $25 for late charges and other fees except in extreme circumstances.  Those circumstances include repeat offenders, and where it can be shown the costs of recouping exceeds the $25 limit. 

Another restriction now in place is that a late or overdraft fee cannot be higher than the charge in question.  Also, consumers cannot be charged more than one fee per infraction.

The second benefit to this legislation it it also encourages credit card companies to reconsider rate increases from January 1st, 2009.  While it doesn’t appear to be mandatory, the banking industry holds that it has already been modifying rates in accordance, especially since many rate increases were based on large fees that now do not exist.

However, credit card companies now may not raise interest rates on customers who pay their bills on time.  They must also give at least 45 days notice before any rate hikes or fee changes.

Face Time for Inmates

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that beginning September 1, 2010, death row inmates in the Virginia prison system would no longer be able to visit their families in the closest thing that can be considered face to face. Three years ago, the Virginia Department of Corrections banned what is called a contact visit from their death row inmates, requiring the inmate stays behind a glass partition during a family visit.

Starting in September, those visits will be purely done by video conferencing.  Virginia is following the heels of Kansas, the only other state to require family visits for death row inmates, and there are very strong feelings about the change from the position of the Department of Corrections, as well as the families on the inmates.

Officials who support the migration over to a pure video conference system feel like the change will help them to better use the staff on site at the prison systems.  Video conferencing will eliminate the need for searching inmates and visitors. Also, the facility will no longer have to be shut down to escort the inmate from death row to the visitation rooms. These visitations will also be recorded and provided to the family members.

Family members of death row inmates oppose the new visitation rules and say that the inmates are already on death row, and this change is only further punishing the inmates.

Supporters of the new visitation rules state that this will cut down on security concerns across the prison. Taking a death row inmate to a visitation is not as simple as walking them down a hall. They must be cuffed and chained, and the areas of the prison that have to be walked through must be put on lock down, requiring extra staff to monitor the other inmates. Not only would this measure decrease the need for extra security protocols, it would also lower staff costs.

The article did not mention the visitation circumstances surrounding procedures in regards to an inmate’s “last” visit.

The question really boils down to – is it the right place to beef up security? With reports of attempted and successful prison breaks on the rise, less physical contact with someone who could aid in an escape is a great idea, but there are two sides to every argument. What side are you on? 

Travelers Burdened With City Taxes

Travelers are seeing a new array of taxes levied on them, this time, from cities, which are facing budgets that are increasingly strict and porous.

According to a recent report by the National Business Travel Association, cities are shaking travelers for revenues through bed taxes, airport concession taxes and car rental taxes.

These taxes are being appropriated to fund tourism campaigns, bolster failing budgets and fund airport improvements.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that cities are trying to get lean in general, with some selling off their zoos, parking garages and airports.

When added to sales taxes, travelers can expect to pay an average of $28 in taxes a day on their cost of lodging, car rentals and meals in the nation’s top 50 destination cities, according to the NBTA.

The cities with the highest taxes on travelers were Chicago ($38.75), New York ($36.53), and Boston ($36.47).

The cities with the lowest tax burden on travelers were Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Portland and Detroit.

Does Technology Endanger Outdoor Recreationists?

Technology and the frontiers have a strange relationship.

Within the tenor of the city, cell phones, computers and other shiny devices abound. Within the hush of nature, the mind typically conjures a world infused with birds and beasts and a landscape experienced in fractal, one devoid of the devices employed to speed up our lives.

However, technology often helps people to forge deeper and more boldly into the wilderness. Lewis and Clark used the sextant to measure the angles of the stars and navigate Westward through The New World; the diver Jacques Ernest-Jean Piccard used a pressured bathyscaphe to dive over seven miles into the sea; and now SUV’s, cell phones and GPS devices are emboldening tourists to delve deeper into national parks, often into precarious situations.

The New York Times ran an article Friday detailing several accounts—many of which were pretty humorous—of people finding themselves in sticky situations, due, in some part to their reliance on or misuse of their technological devices.

One example recounts how hikers used an emergency button on their SPOT GPS device to summon an emergency helicopter because their water “tasted salty.”To add to the absurdity, the inept hikers summoned the emergency rescuers three separate times, the last one resulting in their leader being ticketed and the entire group being dismissed from the park.

On the surface, the NYT article seems to cast the blame on technology. Take the Headline: Technology Leads More Park Visitors Into Trouble. This title personifies the word ‘”technology,” rendering it an embodied figure leading park visitors by the hand off a precipice or into a bear den.

The article talks about people backing off cliffs while taking pictures, risking summits or rafting trips that they wouldn’t have considered had they been without a cell phone, and it even includes Youtube footage of people attacked by animals because they were too busy peering through camcorder lenses.

What the article doesn’t make clear is that the gap in the continuum between these people and Lewis and Clark or Jacques Ernest-Jean Piccard may be greater than the Grand Canyon itself.

Technology such as SPOT, which is a GPS device, is constructed with adventurer-safety in mind. The very intention is to help the situation of the endangered traveler, not to confound the problem through misuse.

Going into the wilderness carries with it a level of inherent risk, and the SPOT Web site is replete with S.O.S. situations in which death was averted because of the device. The majority of the accounts listed were of expert outdoorsmen who, despite taking several precautions, found themselves in trouble. It is hard to say these instances constitute a misuse; especially, as many of the adventures would have been undertaken without the device.

Write on North Korea’s Wall

Through the wonders of modern technology and a little social media network known as Facebook, it was possible for to “friend” North Korea for about a day.  Since it’s creation on Thursday, the profile for the country gained 65 friends.  But as of right now, the profile has been blocked.

It is not yet known if the website Facebook itself blocked the profile after it was discovered by the Associated Press.  More likely it was South Korea who also blocked the Facebook profile once before in 2007, as well as more recently blocking North Korea’s Twitter account.  The North Korean YouTube profile still appears to be up.  

The South Korea's Communications Standards Commission deems North Korea’s social media forays as illegal under the National Security Law.

"We are aware of the Facebook account and the police and the National Intelligence Service are currently investigating the site to verify whether it is indeed run by the North Korean government," Commission official Han Myung-ho said Friday.  "If we find that this Facebook account also carries content violating the National Security Law, we will do our duty of shutting it down as well."

Content on these government-run accounts are propaganda based, praising North Korea, degrading South Korea, etc.  The YouTube videos in particular are filled with North Korea denying any role in the destruction of a South Korean ship and the deaths of the sailors.  

Of course the information is for the rest of the world to see as most North Koreans are not allowed computers, let alone to access to such websites.