Monday, February 22, 2010

Wow. I didn't see that coming.

This photo is a joke, of course. Suthunaz don't drink beer on birthdays...well, I mean they DO drink beer, but they don't' drink beer instead of eat cake. We do love our cake.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Suthun Review of MagicJack's Not So Magic Jack

Before I had an actual direction to this blog, I wrote about myriad and various things which interested me. This is one of those entries, concerning the Magic Jack. I have left it and added to it (Latest Update JULY 2017) hoping that by doing so I can help someone else understand how they work and what they do. It has become rather long, but it covers just about everything. The post is updated chronologically, so be sure to read the ENTIRE post to see how problems were fixed and to learn the limitations of the system.  This post may seem a bit long, but there is a lot of information packed in here, hopefully without getting too technical.  (I am a computer tech in my day job. I write for fun.) In the end, I've been using the Magic Jack for more than 3 5 7 8 years and will continue to do so.

Original Post (April 2009) 
There has been a lot of chatter out there about something called The Magic Jack. According to the website, you can save up to $1000 a year just by using this little gadget. Since saving money is always on my mind, especially when family (most especially the Mother in Law) live outside our state, this was a good idea. I did a lot of research and planned to pick one up. The main thought I had against the Magic Jack was the huge number of bad reviews I had found during my research phase. The line seemed to go down the middle, either people loved the Magic Jack or thought it was a piece of (insert your own dirty descriptive here). In addition, many had sent in returns never to get a refund. Still others canceled during the 'free trial' only to be charged and sometimes charged twice! It seemed like a crap shoot.

Finally, the MagicJack showed up at Walmart. Now, loathe as I am to be dealing with Walmart, I liked the idea of buying the MagicJack there purely for the ease of return. In fact, I even took one of the units up to the customer service counter and asked them about returns. (Walmart is sometimes a bit sticky on returns of electronic items.) They stated that I had the full 90 days, so long as I had a receipt. That did it. Ring it up! (Note, the price of the Magic Jack unit also includes the first year of service.  Worth checking out!)

The hardest part of installing the MagicJack is getting it out of the DAMN plastic case without drawing blood. I used a heavy pair of scissors and snipped off one side, making the unit easy to slide out. (Though I did cut myself on the plastic case...go figure.) The unit has a USB type connector which can plug directly into your laptop or desktop, and even has a short extension to use should there be space problems with the MagicJack  unit.  I use the short cable, no problems.  

The MagicJack unit I purchased was the original, mention of the MagicJackPLUS (New in 2012) is below. The Original MagicJack is plugged into a computer with a permanent broadband connection. (Cable or DSL - which means NO Dial Up.) The MagicJack works best when plugged into a powered USB port. Not all USB ports are powered, but it's easy to switch.  Once the MagicJack unit is plugged in, the user (that's you) need only wait (albeit impatiently) while the software is installed. (Software is built into the MagicJack unit and installs when it's needed - every time it's plugged in.) A very nice graphically appealing interface pops up on the screen which even gives you a log of calls. There are screens which allow you to select an area code matching your area and a place to register your name etc.  These are standard and easy to follow.

That's basically it for installation. Early models of the MagicJack came with software disks, which many people had trouble with. I had no trouble at all with this unit, and once I had waited through the MagicJack Software installation (a mere 2.5 minutes) I was able to plug a standard phone into the MagicJack and make a call. Quality was good, and I could tell no ascertainable difference between MaBell and MagicJack.

Testing involved one more step which I was hoping worked well. I disconnected the MaBell System from the house. In most homes, this is a simple matter of opening the box on the outside of the house and pulling out the modular connector. In MY house, this meant 10 minutes of laying on top of my big chest freezer while I worked with a connector box out of the 60's. Either way, I was able to disconnect the system. This meant that by running a standard phone cord from the MagicJack to the WALL that my ENTIRE HOUSE would be immediately connected to the MagicJack system. AND IT WORKED! I was able to take my standard phone into any room of the house, plug it in, and make calls.

I'm not sure why so many people had static, or bad quality on their MagicJack, and can only attribute it to the area (under power lines?) or equipment being used. (Note: We DID have problems, but only when the aforementioned Mother-In-Law called us from Arizona. Calls were garlbed, warbly and one sided. Oddly, this is the ONLY times the MagicJack gave us trouble.) Read on for a bit more on this.

Finally: The bad news. One of our phones did NOT work with the MagicJack system. That is a 2.4 Ghz cordless phone. A quick search on Google found no one mentioning this, and many even said that their cordless was invaluable in working with the MagicJack system. (Hooking the entire house into the MagicJack system would also work for every room in the house, as we have found, but I digress...) Many of the cordless phones being used, I note, were digital, so we plan to pick up a digital DECT 6.0 phone and see if this makes the entire system worthwhile.

One week later:
Due to the expense of the DECT 6.0 digital phones, I picked up a 5.8 Ghz portable phone to test with the MagicJack system. We plugged them into the MagicJack System and discovered that the 5.8 Ghz is NOT powerful enough (or perhaps it's that they were, in fact, NOT digital.) We then took back the 5.8 and picked up the new 6.0 DECT Digital. We plugged them into the MagicJack system and SUCCESS!!


Ok, boys and girls. It's been 4 months of ownership with the Magic Jack and we've experienced several problems.

1) When the phone is in use, it's best to stay off your computer or you will have connection problems.

2) One Sided Connections: Sometimes the phone will ring and there will be no one there. The person at the other end can hear YOU but you cannot hear them. Other times you can hear them but they can't hear you.

3) During a storm, we cut off the computer. (Don't want any electrical spike harming our computers OR the magic jack.) We unplug the power AND the line to the Magic Jack. Now this means NO PHONE SERVICE during a storm. If the power goes out - same problem: no phone. How does one call the electrical company without electricity? (Note: land line AT&T phones carry their own power source and if the power goes out more often than not, the phone will still be usable. Not so with Magic Jack.)

Yes, I know your laptop has a power source of it's own, but your laptop battery will NOT run your router, or the internet modem. It's a nice thought, but it's not gonna happen. (If you're smart enough to have an Uninterruptable Power Supply or UPS for your computer and Modem and Router, you may be ok, so long as your broadband connection stays on.)

4) During a call, the signal may drop, gurgle, warble and spit. Best to just hang up and try again. Some areas we call have terrific connections, others do not. (As a backup for both emergencies and for work, we both have cell phones. How odd that the only place my cell phone does NOT work well is inside my own home....) With the recent upgrade on the MagicJack Software, this has been much alleviated. 

5) When Windows wants to reboot your system and you are on the magic jack, the system will reboot and your call will end. There is nothing you can do.  If your phone is next to the computer, you can, perhaps, delay the reboot until after your call, but this seems to be converse to your wants and needs.

6) Magic Jack has voice mail. It CANNOT be turned off. Make sure that your email of record is one you check more than regularly because all your voice mails will be mailed to your email (as WAV Files, playable on your computer.)    If you'd rather have an answering machine, you can go to the MagicJack site, and adjust the amount of time before the MagicJack Voice Mail picks up.  Set a longer time and you can now install your own answering machine!  A nice improvement!  (See more on Voice Mail and the MagicJack Site below.)

7) Though not a real "problem," it should be noted that any phone call you make will need the area code dialed with the number even if you're calling just across the street.

8) When you pick up your phone and say "Hello" you may hear a buzzing. This is the signal being sent from the MagicJack unit to your phone to ring the ringer. (This depends on the type of phone and type of ringer and may only happen with older bell style phones, but I list it here as it happens with mine quite frequently.) This just means that the Magic Jack unit has not 'discovered' that you have picked up the phone. If you pause until the buzzing stops (about 3-5 seconds) you can continue with no problem. What I do is to try and pick up the phone between rings.  This seems to work best on this one old phone.  

All in all, I'm happy to save money with Magic Jack, but the continuing problems make us really wonder if it is worth the effort. Not a week goes by without my wife texting me about some new problem with the dang thing. I will continue to use the thing because of a) the savings and b) it's already paid for until about April next year but come April, we will have to again decide if the savings is worth it.

Feb 2010
It is now nearly a year since I first got the Magic Jack. I finally got rid of AT&T land line. After a full re-install of Windows, I got my older model TIVO to connect through the computer, alas, not through the Magic Jack. It is connecting to the internet for it's daily calls through the use of a special Tivo LAN card which allows the Tivo to connect direct to my router.  I have a series one Tivo; newer Tivo's may not have this problem.

It is almost time to renew the Magic Jack for another year. It is going to be a close call as to whether we will want to or not. On one hand, the device is problematic. On the other hand, the new number is listed with various businesses and relatives (read: mother in law) and we may keep it one more year now that the software has had an update.

March 2011 -
2 years of MagicJack ownership. We had some problems, but with a call to MagicJack  we found a good solution. New Software. So, If you get the Magic Jack, be sure to get the Updated Software. This seems to have corrected all the audio problems I note above. If you have an older MagicJack unit, the new software can be downloaded from the Magic Jack site and it is easy to run and install. New units come with the new software built in, so no need to download. NOTE: It's a good idea to check your software version against the current download to be sure you are up to date. (Mine is ver. 4.1) The software does not (as far as I'm aware) update itself. This is something YOU have to do manually.

January 2012
Magic Jack has done away with the Original Magic Jack and now has an all in one unit called the Magic Jack Plus (aka Magic Jack GO.) It appears that it can be used with or without a computer. Much like the Original Magic Jack however is that you WILL need a ROUTER AND an always-on Internet connection (not Dial-up) Yes, a lot of people would realize this, but to the average Joe, maybe not, so I feel it needs to be said.   Magic Jack Go - when used alone - requires a full time (non-dial-up) internet connection AND a router. Not only that, but you WILL also need to hook the Magic Jack GO to a computer the first time in order to register it and set it up.

I've also learned that you can use your own message machine, but you must set the machine to pick-up the call after only 2 rings and before the 3rd ring. You can adjust the amount of time before MagicJack takes the message by going to and signing in. (Note:With MagicJack sending voice mails to your email, and email available from just about any computer these days, it may just be the MagicJack Voice Mail system is better. You can also call into the Voice Mail system and get missed calls)

May 2012
The yearly fees have gone up for Magic Jack from $19.95 per year to $29.95 per year. In the last year I have begun to use one of the other features of Magic Jack, namely the Call Forwarding. Perhaps one of it's best features, you can turn the Call Forwarding on or off or change the forwarding number via the internet. Now, to the uninitiated, this means a lot. Left the house on a trip and forgot to turn on call forwarding? You can do it from any computer - or any phone which can access the internet. This is a very nice feature. It's also good when you know you're going to be turning off the computers at the house due to storms or extensive travel. The calls can be forwarded to another number or to a cell number.  (You will use minutes on your cell for any call you receive forwarded from the Magic Jack.)  The Magic Jack calls are forwarded even when the MagicJack Unit is turned off or unplugged. The Magic Jack continues to be flawless in it's interface, too. 

June 2012
A comment below caused me to realize I had forgotten another tidbit about MagicJack. Does it work with 911 Emergency Services? YES, with a few known points. These are:
1.  911 Emergency Service REQUIRES prior activation on your part. You must register your current service address and update your registered address if you use your magicJack from another location. (You can do this in the MagicJack Software and the MagicJack Site gives you step by step instructions.)
2.  911 Emergency Service WILL NOT function during a broadband or power disruption/outage. If your power is out, your phone is out. I've noted this above. For this reason, a cell phone or alternate 911 access source is recommended. (A note for those who did not know this: Buy a used cell phone. Charge it and keep it around. According to law, any cell phone attempting to call 911 must be connected - even if that phone has no paid service! If the phone works, you WILL be able to contact 911 in an emergency.)
3.  911 Emergency Service WILL NOT function if the MagicJack is damaged or disabled. (Again this seems like an obvious statement, but it's important to note for those uninitiated in electronics.)
4. This is ALL subject to the limitations of the 911 emergency response system where your registered address is located. If your Magic Jack does not get you to 911, or there is a problem, Contact Magic Jack, not the 911 Operator. (Again, this should be obvious.)

December 2012
Another good point in a comment below.  The MagicJack unit is Portable.  This means you can take it with you, plug it in anywhere to any computer and be connected.  As the poster said, he can take the unit with him to the UK and make calls to any US number and anyone in the US can contact him in England through his US (Magic Jack) number.

I know of a traveling business person who keeps his MagicJack Unit with his laptop. If the laptop has a connection to the internet, his MagicJack unit works regardless of where he travels.  More on laptops far below.

January 2013 (5 years and counting)

Someone contacted me recently with some complaints which I felt needed to be addressed here.

Renewal: When the time comes and your MagicJack needs renewal, don't wait for an email or signal  from MagicJack. Mark the renewal time on the calendar and renew on time.  (If you forget, and the phone ends up not working, renewing on line is easy, direct through their website and your phone is up and working again quickly - usually within  the day.)

Porting:  You have a long time number listed in ads, or with hundreds of other entities and want to bring that to the MagicJack system. Someone told me that MagicJack won't even speak the words Porting, but a quick jump to their faq showed me exactly how to port a number over.  (You can only port over a number you own, and one that is still on.)  Porting can  be done on the website in your account, but note that there are fees.  (19.95 set up and 9.95 per year after the first year.)

June 2014

As of June 15, 2014, the yearly fees will increase from 29.95 a year to $35.  Those who already have a magic jack can still buy at the old rate until this time.  Remember, buying several years at once can save you in the long run.  $35 a YEAR is still the cheapest Voice Over IP (VOIP) rate around.

August 2014
I received a bit of surprising news today and it has to do with the small original Magic Jack units.  A tech told me that she had allowed her Magic Jack to run out, yet when she tried to reactivate it, MJ would not allow her to reactivate unless she bought a new unit - one of the new computer-less units ( the no longer available Magic Jack PLUS.) This is another reason to pay for your Magic Jack unit yearly fees ahead of time and not let it run out.  They will send you reminders to your inbox WELL in advance, so keep it up to date. If I hear any more on this, I will, of course update this blog entry.  

January 2017
This will probably be my last update. I wanted to note to anyone who reads this that there  are continuing updates at the Magic Jack Site.  I still have my old version 1 unit and it still works great.
Here are the things I've discovered:

Software is now available for Windows, Mac and Android.  There may also be firmware updates for those techies who wish to attempt it. Contact MJ for further info on that.

Though I have not tried it, one user told me that he uses his Magic Jack unit on an old laptop which he connects wirelessly to his WIFI router.  This keeps his computers free AND keeps less wired connections required on the router.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Gotta Get your Suthun Priorities Straight

Suthunaz, unlike other parts of the country and yes, even the world, know how to put their priorities in order. This picture seems to show it perfectly.

There are a lot of areas in the South which are flooded every year, but I'm not talking about the flood. Floods are terrible and even in the most rainy season, unexpected and I have great empathy and compassion for those affected by such disasters. It's the single glimpse into the make up of the Suthun man (and woman) which makes this important.

This Suthun gentleman has got his priorities straight in saving what's important. He's got his wife (could be his girlfriend, since we don't see a wedding ring on that left hand, but we all know that means nothing...) He's got her up on what looks to be a piece of Styrofoam for insulation and he's taking care of the navigation in what we can assume is about 4 feet of flood water.

But most importantly, we see that he's got their most valuable items. That's right, the beer. Yes, saved from the ravages of the flood and from looters who've been known to steal valuable items from the most humble of residences, a full complement of cans of non-light beer. Oh yes, we can also see a Mountain Dew (a favorite sodie pop second only to RC Cola) and a few cans of some energy drink there at the back, but the beer there in front, in the place of honor, is protected and safe.

A man's got to have his priorities straight. I think Clint Eastwood said that, didn't he?

Monday, February 1, 2010

It Snowed Again. That's all we plan on getting...

It snowed in Nashville. You've seen all that snow on the news and on the Weather Channel. Texans up to their knees in snow, my fellow suthunaz digging out their cars and people bundled up like Eskimos. (There's a song in there somewhere, but that's a blog for another day.)

Snow is not really liked by the Suthunah. I've already told stories of how the stores fill up with people buying bread and milk in quantities for no known reason (a suthun friend tells me that it's in their genes, but he's not much of a scientist, so we'll take that with the proverbial grain of salt). The real problem for the Suthunah is the snow that lingers. Lingering snow in the south means ice. Actually any snow in the south turns to ice, the snow is a very wet snow.

Now, for those of you Nawthunaz who don't realize it, there are two kinds of snow. Colorado has that powder dry snow. Can't do much more than ski on it. Up by the great lakes they know wet snow and they prepare for it. Snow plows, sand with salt and people with snow blowers keep those sidewalks clear.

Which brings me to discussion of today's photo. See, when I was growing up in Colorado, the city had an ordinance which stated that each homeowner or business owner is responsible for keeping the sidewalk in front of their property cleared and must be cleared within 1 day of a snow storm. (This may or may not be true, as I suspect that could have been something my mother used to get us to clear the walks. I never heard of anyone getting a ticket or summons for NOT cleaning the sidewalk, but that really doesn't mean much. Again, I digress.)

Even though that wet snow is heavier than &*%$!!! I was out there on Saturday shoveling a path to the car. Yes, I know what it will do to my back and yes I know that the top of the snow is crunchy and will give me plenty of traction. What we see here is ingrained in me from my youth. Gotta clean the sidewalks. It's in my genes. We don't have front sidewalks out in my neighbor hood, so I just shoveled enough of a path to keep from falling.

Then, this morning, this is what greeted me when I got off the bus...and I work only a couple of blocks from the state capital. There is no ordinance for ice and snow in these parts. I know what to expect ahead of time, however and carry with me a set of studs I can attach to my boots. No slipping and sliding for me. They do look askance at me when I come into the building. I guess they don't want my studs scratching up their marble floor.

Suthunaz...gotta love em....