Saturday, January 14, 2006

Skype

Ok, so maybe this is old news to most people, but Skype is really cool! What is Skype? It's a free computer program (for both Windows and Mac) that lets you make free voice calls to anyone else on the Internet (assuming they also use Skype). I had played around with programs similar to this years ago, but the quality wasn't so good and they were kind of awkward to use - you usually needed special hardware, which limited who you could talk to since the call recipient also need the same hardware. So, I was very pleasantly surprised when I tried out Skype today. I tested it by talking to a couple of friends of mine who live in London. The voice quality was amazing - it was actually better than what I had been getting on my regular telephone! And it's absolutely free. The wonders of modern technology...

There were only a few minor annoyances. One was specific to the laptop I was using. I was using the built-in microphone of my laptop, and this laptop has a variable speed cooling fan that turns on intermittently. Whenever the fan turned on, my friends on the listening end thought I had turned on a vaccuum cleaner. I imagine this really confused them given the fact that they know me fairly well and know I'm not one to do much vaccuuming (especially while talking on the phone). The other annoyance was with a friend's Mac laptop (also using a built-in mic). For some reason her microphone would echo back the sound from her speakers, causing a nice echo effect whenever I talked. It was very useful for allowing me to do imitations of those monster truck commercials, but other than that is was pretty darn annoying. Fortunately, after a quick Google search I was able to find the solution - there's an option in the Mac version of Skype (under Preferences) that lets you alter the audio settings. There you will find a check-box for enabling echo cancellation. After my friend checked that option, the echo went away.

If you have friends in far away places and they have Internet access and you are interested in talking to them for free, I'd highly recommend you check out Skype (www.skype.com).

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