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Vote for Me!

Wow. I have so not released something every week. I haven’t even blogged once a week.

This life stuff - it’s crazy.

But recently I have released two OpenVBX plugins.

What’s OpenVBX you ask? It’s an opensource web application you install on your own webserver. Connect it to a Twilio account and -- bingo, you have your own personal phone solution. Like google voice, or onebox - only it’s yours.

Back to the plugins. I’ve released two so far. The ‘Directory’ plugin does the standard phone system directory thing - letting the caller dial a few digits then offering to connect them to one of the matches. Pretty standard stuff there. If it were in a contest, I’d definitely vote for it.

‘Click-To-Flow’ lets you connect a web form to one of your call flows - allowing you to take one of those nifty ‘put in your number and we’ll call you’ forms and connect a person to a complex web of menus you’ve defined. Or you could just connect them to a straightforward automated system that does what they’d expect. It’s really your call there - that’s what open source is all about.

So what are you waiting for? Go vote for one of my plugins - since they were both nominated in Twilio’s OpenVBX Community Contest. Or just use them. Because that makes me happy too. Assuming you then tell me about it - because how else would I find out?

Tim Lytle [07/09/10 16:42:31] | 1312 Comments | Point

Health Un-Care

I yelled at someone. I shouldn't have. It doesn't matter that she was talking over me so I couldn't express my frustration in a reasonable way. It doesn't matter that she wasn't doing her job. It doesn't matter that she mistreated my wife.  

I'm a Christian. I'm supposed to be better than that. And I know better.

Here's how it started.

A few months ago - okay, that's a joke - back in January my wife was sent to the hospital lab for routine pregnancy tests. Our health insurance wouldn't cover some of them. Yes, just some.  Really weird - since they were all related and since they were all covered the last time around.

So we called people. A bunch of people. And the best help we could get was to ask our doctor for a letter stating that the tests were 'medically necessary'. I guess there are some people who ask for tests to be done. We're not those people. We don't understand those people. 

While making all those calls my wife came into contact with someone at the doctor's office that was supposed to help. She told my wife that there were a bunch of people having the same problems and that we didn't have to worry, they would be resolved.

Every time we asked for that simple 'medically necessary' letter, we were ignored, talked over, or told that it wasn't necessary, they would take care of it.

'Take care of it' is a funny phrase, considering that for the past three or four months we've been getting bills from the lab.

We gave the doctors office copies of our bills, copies of the itemized bill we requested form the lab. But we never got the letter we requested. And the repeat bills kept coming. 

I was told not to worry, they'd send the doctor's letter along. I asked for them to send a copy when they did. Never came.

Finally, today, my wife was told they spoke with the lab and all was paid. They also told her they had spoken with me. Again 'spoken' and 'paid' must have different meanings because then never called me and I just got a bill from the lab. I decided to call the lab. No payment on record. 

Wow. I just must not understand a thing about medical billing. Seems 'paid' means 'not paid'.

My wife told them I spoke with the lab, and asked they call me. When they called I was a bit frustrated. I tried to explain that I had just spoke with the lab and it wasn't paid. They kept talking over me. 

So I raised my voice. I'm not defending it, I know better. At that point the part of me I try not to listen to was talking. 

Of course they threatened to hang up unless I lowered my voice. So I asked - more calmly - if they would listen to me. They told me to listen to them and started claiming that they had spoken to me. They claimed they spoke with the lab today and that it was paid.

Somehow me calling them three weeks again, again asking for the letter counted as them keeping me in the loop.

Then magically there was a difference between the 'lab' and the 'hospital lab'. If the bill was coming form the 'hospital lab', then there was nothing they could do. 

Really? Then why didn't they tell us that months ago when we explained where the charges were from. Or how about a month ago, when we gave the copies of the bills from the 'hospital lab'? Or why didn't they just give me the letter I asked for months ago so I could handle it. I never once asked them to take care of it for us. In fact, time and time again we asked them to give us the letter so we could take care of it ourselves.

So for months they had been working on a problem they now tell us couldn't possibly be solved by them.

Makes perfect sense to me.

The call basically ended with me again asking for the letter, and them telling me they would send it. Or I should say 'yelling' at me. Then they hung up on me.

I'm not holding my breath for the letter.

But once that was all over, I decided to call the insurance company one more time. After all, I wanted to deal directly with them, I had spoken with them in the past, and they were the ones who told me to send a doctor's letter along with my dispute of their coverage.

When they brought up the charges they told me there had been some coverage changes and they would resubmit the claim and it would be paid.

I asked, "Would this have been paid if I didn't call right now? I was told it was already being paid, is that possible."

The answer - in no uncertain terms.


So for weeks the doctor's office had copies of our bills showing clearly what lab wasn't paid and what the charges were - and they accomplished nothing. For months we had been requesting a letter from the doctor. And got nothing. 

All the times I've called customer support for the products and software and services my clients and I use - I've never been treated with so much condescension, so rudely, or provoked to raising my voice. 

It was worse than Toshiba, and they arguably stole from me. It was worse than TASCAM, and calling their support is like volunteering to be roasted by the worse members of a no-talent local comedy club when they're in a bad mood. And if they hate you.

Someone's not doing their job here. Considering that the main contact at the doctor's office has been there 10 years, I'd venture that there are a few people not doing their job.

But what's the moral of this whole story? I'm not really sure. I'm torn between outrage at how my wife and I were treated and regret that I responded in a way that I know I shouldn't. My lesson is that I need to 'cast my burdens' in the right place when I feel my temper rising. 

How about HealthCare? Well, I think the more people and institutions that come between patient and doctor the less 'care' there is in the system. I'll leave it to you to decide whether any legislation passed or being considered will help in that regard.

Oh, and I think if more people were fired for not doing the job, the world would be a better place. And there would be jobs. Just not for people who don't do them.

But that's just me. 

Tim Lytle [06/24/10 17:03:31] | 0 Comments | Point

What's On Your Mind?

From time to time I dabble in graphic layout. Here's the latest foray in that world - a redesigned flyer for Haven Baptist Church. Four different version of one side, with the other side common.

Images hosted on, and yes, those are crop marks in the corners.

Tim Lytle [05/31/10 22:37:54] | 1 Comment | Point

Microsoft. Creative. Cakewalk.

I don't think I ever bought a retail version of Windows. No, I didn't steal it. But I'd use OEM, since I build my own systems, or I was covered by a corporate licenses. And then I switched to Ubuntu, and survived on XP when I needed it.

Until this week.

Concerned that changing my hardware might invalidate a rather expensive OEM Win 7 license that I only need for a single application, I decided to buy an even more expensive Retail license. Got the box yesterday. Went to install it. I guess that was my problem.

While I can attribute the agonizing wait before I even say a setup screen to the old IDE DVD-ROM I was using, that fact that Windows wouldn't install falls squarely in Microsofts court. The slow DVD-ROM just made troubleshooting. That. Much. Longer.

"setup was unable to create a new system partition or locate an existing system partition"

And then it told me to check the setup log for more information. 'cause there's a button that shows the setup log. Nope. A llink? Nope. Something? Nope. Nope. Nope.

Delete NTFS partition. Error. Format as NTFS. Error. Switch the boot drive. Error. Try each drive as boot drive. Error. Spend the night transferring files, and give windows its own drive - all to itself. Error. 

Physically disconnect every other drive in the system. Works. Now why didn't they just tell me that?

I need Windows for one application. Application as in 'type of things I do', not as in a single program I need to run. I use it for audio production. I have an professional(ish) sound card from E-MU that I originally used with a cardbus (PCMCIA) interface, but recently bought a new PCIe interface so it's compatible with my now much more powerful desktop. 

The drivers worked fine with Windows 7 Release Candidate. They don't work now. 

Since the driver disc they sent with the hardware is unreadable, I need to get my drivers online. But Creative doesn't list my hardware online. They don't have drivers for similar hardware (the PCIe 1616m or 1212m). So I end up downloading drivers for a PCI card instead of PCIe. Which seem to be the same drivers bundled for cardbus. 

I guess it doesn't matter. 

Not Windows 7 drivers, Windows Vista drivers. There are no Windows 7 drivers yet. Again, all this worked on the Release Candidate. Don't work now.

I try to contact support through their contact form. I get an error on submission. I can't find any phone number. So I tweet. They respond by having me e-mail someone. Once I send the e-mail I get an out of the office reply. 

Are you serious? They must be trying to be this bad.

I also decided to never buy a creative product again. Why? Well, they seem to have no desire to help linux developers create drivers - and now it seems they could care less about Windows as well. What exactly is their target platform? Amiga?

During this whole debacle I call Cakewalk to buy the rather expensive - but usually worth it - Sonar. Side note, if you call Calkwalk, press any numbers longer than usually. If you don't press the number long enough you're told that you should have dialed three digits. Seriously. To buy something press two - but hold it for a bit, that's the only way to get through.

I then wait on hold for what seems like a longer than normal time. When someone finally answers, I tell them I want to buy Sonar, and they put me on hold again. 

Really? You want me to take some time and think it over? That's what they teach at sales school? 'When the customer wants to buy something, make sure they have some time to rethink that decision.'

After another long hold time, the sales person explains that they can't get into the order system right now, so I'll have to call back later.

I ask when.

I'm told to call back around two or three. Then a pause. "No, make sure it's three, since we're closed from two to three."

Thanks for that. Creative would have told me to call at two.

And people say "it's just hard to do anything on Linux".

That why I use it. I love a challenge. 

Update: Yes, Creative/E-MU finally realized the support for was broken. No, I have yet to hear from anyone about the driver issue.

Update 2: Heard from E-MU, they said they have beta drivers. They didn't provide a link. However, I was able to read the original driver disc on a different system. Copied drivers and they work. Doesn't explain why the downloaded drivers don't work. But at least something is working.

Tim Lytle [05/13/10 13:58:19] | 2 Comments | Point


So that 'release something' thing hasn't gotten too much traction. But I got a thing or two, soon I hope.

I blame it on client projects, which is good, because - you know - they pay me.

So good stuff, even soon maybe.

Tim Lytle [05/01/10 22:38:33] | 0 Comments | Point

Why Venmo is a Win - for You

Last year we did this Shakespeare thing. It was cool. Don't knock Shakespeare - especially when it's three guys doing all his plays.  

Oddly enough, it was three of us that had seen 'The Complete Works' before, decided to see it again, and figured we could invite a few friends. We ended up with a group of 30.

Purchasing the tickets was a blast: "Hey, I'd like to order 20 tickets." 

The next day: "Yeah, I called yesterday and bought 20 tickets, can I add 2 to that order?" 

A few days later: "I was wondering if I could add another 4 tickets to my order of 22?" 

A week or so: "How about make that an even 30 - okay? Oh, and I get an extra ticket for large groups? Yeah, we'll probably use that."

As you can imagine, getting all the funds together was amazingly fun as well. Cash here, checks there, and even Paypal and Amazon.

Did you know you can send money with Paypal and Amazon using text messaging. You can, and it's cool. You know that time where no one has cash and you're trying to split the bill? Just text people the money. Easy as that. 

Well, there are a few catches. You need to setup your account to send money via text. But I guess that's not too hard. But there's only other problem.

They charge you.

That's right. If someone pays using a credit card - you're charged. Even though I had a separate PayPal account for business, and all Shakespeare funds were sent to my non-business, completely personal PayPal account - I still paid transaction fees on every payment. Because everyone funded the payment with a credit card.

Really? Who keeps a PayPal balance.

So much for splitting up that dinner check. It's cool to tip the server, but tipping PayPal too? Not so cool. I'm not quite sure how Amazon handles things, but from what I remember, it wasn't a smooth process either.

Yeah, I understand that card transactions have fees, and they're just passing them on to me. I'm not saying it's unfair - just that it makes 'paying by text' unattractive in most of the situation where it would be useful.

Enter Venmo.

They do the pay by text thing too. You can even pay by twitter user name. And they don't charge individuals to use a credit card. It's 'pay by text' that is actually useful, and easy to use. 

The interface is dead simple. You can pay a phone number, charge a phone number -- and here's an interesting feature, 'trust' a Venmo user. Trusted users can take money from you're account (you can review and reject), making splitting that check (or charging for that domain you registered for someone) even easier.

Venmo is currently in beta, but if you need an invite, just let me know. Yeah, I have connections. But more importantly, invites.

Tim Lytle [03/25/10 12:54:30] | 4 Comments | Point

Chile and RSS Feeds

So The Kid is in Chile. Nope. He didn't rush there upon news of an earthquake. He went the day before. Yeah, take that Red Cross.  

Needless to say he was surprised by the earthquake (no, sarcasm-intolerant reader, he didn't know that the quake was going to happen, ignore that first paragraph). However, sine he and others were there, they started the outreach and relief efforts pretty quickly. 

Understandably there were plenty of people back here wanting to know what was going on. Since The Kid knows I dig this internet stuff, he called me looking for some help. (As an aside, he called when I was in New York City at the headquarters hanging out when them, twilio, and other developers - see, he knew who to call.) 

The basic need was to relay reports via e-mail to those interested in staying up to date. 

Years ago I rewrote an e-mail list server that I originally wrote even more years ago. It somehow limps along. If you ever wondered why there are Twitter clients for every language, platform, and device around, but barely 5 e-mail discussion servers -- don't. Email is horrific. It's like FTP. Only not as old.

So setup a list on my aging list server. Arg. Yeah, doable. But pretty? Not so much. Not if you want to send photos. Video? I 'lol' in your face. 

But there are services out there - right? Someone does this - I now they do.

Enter posterous. No, I don't know how to pronounce it either. They take your lowly e-mail and turn it into a well formatted blog. Well, the content is well formatted, if you don't know how to clearly express yourself you're still out in the cold. But trust me, there are plenty of blogs like that - you'll fit right in.

So now we have a nice e-mail to blog conversion. Important because firing up the AJAX html editor on a phone probably isn't going to streamline the process. Yes, we've found what e-mail excels at, many clients, many platforms, dead simple to use. 

No, I don't know what FTP excels at. 

Those who want to follow a RSS feed, or check a site for updates are now covered. But what of those that want the updates e-mailed to them? Is there a blog to e-mail conversion? 

Of course there is. There are a ton of services, and posterous offers one internally. But - from what I could find - all of them are daily updates. Not real time. Not cool.

But wait. I have that e-mail list server limping along. I also have an rss feed. And from time to time I've been know to do this thing called 'programming'. Seems like this problem should be solvable - just grab the feed, and send the content as an e-mail. Oh, and probably should keep track of what has been sent. Don't want to resend e-mail every time we check the feed.

So a little while later, with a few lines of code connecting Zend_Mail to a SimpleXMLElement and we have it. A simple RSS to e-mail relay that e-mails the listserver new blog posts. But why is this better than sending updates to the posterous e-mail and the list e-mail? For a few reasons:

  • Blog posts can be added via the web interface and still be sent to the list.

  • The post converts all attached images to links, so HTML e-mail readers show the images without any attachments.

  • The e-mail's contain a link to the post online.

Not bad huh? If you're interested, here's the basic code

A more elegant solution would have been to setup a script to 'pose' as a blog, and use the posterous support of MetaWebLog to 'autopost' new content to the list. But that seems hard. And who wants hard?

Tim Lytle [03/10/10 08:54:25] | 0 Comments | Point

Text This Buster

So it's been busy. After declaring my intention to release something interesting every week, I'm stuck toiling away at my keyboard working on more things people will never see. Ah, it pays the bills.

But I haven't forgotten my pledge. So here's two things - one new and one old.

We'll start with the old. Arguably not as useful as when first released - because everyone has a smartphone now - I've updated the SMS 'ping' tool by moving it to Twilio. Sure, I'll bet your smart phone can already do this, but in case it can't - or you just don't want to find and install the 'ping' app, text an IP/domain to 215-703-7945. Don't worry, it's just a plain 'ol text message, it'll work with your iPhone

But what's the upgrade? Now you can text multiple ips/domains, just separate them with a space.

Now something new, tasked with finding a replacement for my grandmother's crossword puzzle solver, I entered the world of little handheld spell-checkers, dejumblers, and crossword solvers. And I failed. But we'll leave that for another time. It seemed to me that the functions of these little devices would fit nicely into an SMS app, so when Twilio announced SMS support I gave it a shot.

  • Text a word to get it spellchecked.
  • Text * and (currently) up to 7 characters to get them dejumbled.
  • Text a word with underscores for missing letters to solve crosswords.

And the number for that: 484-748-0996

Tim Lytle [02/16/10 09:28:14] | 0 Comments | Point

So What You're Saying...

Saw this article mentioned today, and found this section very interesting:

The most hopeful thing that could happen is health-care reform. If insurers were not able to pick and choose their clients and were responsible for everybody’s health, they’d have a strong interest in preventing every new case of type 2 diabetes. It costs $174 billion annually in the U.S. to treat diabetes.

So what you're saying is if we take freedom away from people (who, believe it or not make up insurance companies) we can control what they do.

Brilliant, glad we're on the same page.

Tim Lytle [01/27/10 23:55:06] | 0 Comments | Point

Release Something

One (of the seemingly many) things I do for, you know, work is web development. From time to time I'm asked for a portfolio of what I do. Here's a little sampling:

  • Web Scraping/Data Mining (Technical sounding, it just means a computer program that collects data from websites by 'reading' the page.)
  • eCommerce Order System (Did you know you can order from pizza hut online? I had nothing to do with that eCommerce site.)
  • Product/Inventory Management Back-end (Let's say you had a site your company used to track costs, markup prices, and generate reports. And let's say I fixed it.)

You see the problem with that list? It's hard to show off that stuff. There are some clients I can't even say I worked for (gasp, maybe I can't even say I can't say that), other stuff is just never going to be publicly visible (yeah, you're not going to be able to play around with some in-house inventory control system, sorry).

So what's a developer to do?

Release something.

Call it a slightly late new year's resolution. Or don't.

Here's the deal. I'm gonna try to release some kind of technology thingy (usually some kind of internet technology thingy) every week.

So there.

No, it may not be something new each week. Maybe just rolling out a new feature to an existing thingy, but I'll try to make it at least interesting. And maybe even useful. And we'll just see how many weeks I miss. 'cause I will miss some. 

Beat you to that one Naysayers. Yeah, you know who you are.

So what's going to kick off this little party? If you'd been paying attention on Twitter you would know. But you were Facebooking weren't you? See, that's what happens.

Speaking of Twitter, you should check out GroupCall. Just a little app that lets you host a conference call with your friends. The host and unmute/mute people, so when someone gets out of hand... Really, it's setup as less of a mob conversation, and more of a 'broadcast' tool. One speaker many listeners. An ideal use would be Q&A or instructional sessions - questions asked via Twitter and answered over the call by one or two people.

It's still in the 'alpha' stages. Or is it 'preview'? Not sure anymore. Either way it's defintly not beta. Because beta just means "we haven't figured out how or if we're going to charge for this yet". And I've already figured that out. There will be a charge. 

But in the rush to release something I didn't have a chance to implement a payment system. So it's free now, until my money runs out. Or I start charging. We'll see which happens first.

Bet you can't wait until next week now.

Tim Lytle [01/27/10 23:37:32] | 7 Comments | Point