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May 25, 2006

The coming VoIP insta-pricewar

A service provider I had mostly shelved for my VoIP experiments must have noticed that it was getting shelved a lot. Figures - that's what happens when your rates are higher than your competition, and you don't offer any other features... you stop getting business.

However, these folks have innovated, and come back with an interesting solution. They've published an API (and included example scripts to drop-in to off-the-shelf open source tools, in this case, Asterisk) that let you query their prices on a per-call basis. This, plus a new set of rates that are much cheaper in at least some cases, put them back on my radar.

I had to stop and think about the implications, though - they're impressive. Of course, it's only a matter of time until other providers start offering a similar instant price lookup service. Then, we'll really have an instant pricing market for VoIP services.... not getting enough traffic on the day? Well, drop your rates another fraction of a percent - thus getting more calls from more customers, but slightly eroding your profit margin. Continue this until whoever has the volume leverage beats out the little guys. Meanwhile, collect marketing stats as to which calling destinations you should be negotiating better rates for, given the query stream.

This makes for a lovely downward spiral - perfect market efficiency, on the spot market for VoIP call termination services. At least, until someone finally innovates, creating a new type of service, and shuts off the downward spiral. Here's hoping. I've mostly stopped with my aggressive VoIP experimenting, because, as a consumer, there aren't a lot of new building blocks with which to build new things. Right now, it's all just telephony replacement, and, well, I've replaced my telephone services with cheaper VoIP ones.

In case anyone wants to play with the current leader in VoIP rate erosion - check out VoicePulse connect.

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May 02, 2006

Google Calendars published to a website....

I've previously been using iCal + DAV + phpicalendar to publish my schedule to the web. I recently decided to try out Google Calendar. Here're some comments:

1) There's no way to remove the "default" Google Calendar. Doing so deletes your Gcal account. 2) There's no web view exposed of your calendars, even if you explicitly share them - a user receiving the share has to use some other tool (Gcal or otherwise) to view a shared calendar. 3) There are still a lot of "slow" spots in the UI

To fix #2, I brewed up a combination of my old PHP iCalendar view to suck data back from Google Calendar. How? This script:

#!/bin/sh

BASEPATH=/var/www/calendar
CALPATH=$BASEPATH/calendars

for NEXT in `cat $BASEPATH/.sources`
do
  NAME=${CALPATH}/`echo $NEXT | cut -d, -f 1`
  URL=`echo $NEXT | cut -d, -f 2`
  curl -L -f -o $NAME.ics -R -z $NAME.ics "$URL"
done

Then, of course, fix up the PATH lines as appropriate, create BASEPATH/.sources to contain a series of lines of the form "calendarname,Gcal ICS link", then set up a cron to run things. Of course, my phpicalendar install pre-existed, so that is left as an exercise to the reader.

Finally, because of a bug in Gcal, I had to comment out the following two lines from functions/ical_parser.php

$summary ='**PRIVATE**';
$description ='**PRIVATE**';

(just add // to the beginning of each line). These are lines 186 and 187 in the version of phpicalendar I have. Presumably, Google will eventually fix the way it exports events, so that this hack-around isn't necessary.

In the end, a handy web-view of my Google Calendar content.

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Now a Mountain View resident....

And, I love the Bay Area weather reports for this time of year:

Finally, the rain is over!