Sunday, April 21, 2013

Moved to Tumblr

I was not updating this blog for a while, as Posterous was my platform of choice (link).  Sadly, they are closing down so my new blog home is on Tumblr (  To keep things simpler (for myself, at least) I have migrated all seven posts on this blog to Tumblr as well.

As Google is becoming big, boring (dare I say,half-evil) company there is less incentive for me to host my content on their servers.  After all, they are search engine, right?

Monday, October 18, 2010

shipito: your web package warehouse

as i just received my new ipod touch 8g - the cheapest way to get free videoconferencing in my pocket - into my shipito account, it feels like a good time to gather some usage statistics.

For those of you who do not know, (which is a trade name for Nevada-based Easbiz Corp - a confusion source for you when reviewing your credit card statement) is a virtual mailbox service - a huge warehouse in Los Angeles suburb with a (slightly old-looking) website.

They give you physical address - something to ship goods to - and show your received packages online with their weight (albeit in pounds), size (again, in inches - not so much useful for European-minded folks like me) and allow to remail them to your address, typically outside of U.S. (although you can ship to U.S. too - i did a return this way once.)

Who is the audience of such a service? Primarily folks like myself - expats (or double expats) living, say, in Europe but ordering stuff from U.S. (see ipod above) You can subscribe to your favourite magazine and have it re-mailed to you automatically ($1 plus postage.) Or even a letter (although I would not recommend forwarding your entire U.S. mailbox to them - there are separate, cheaper and more specialized services for that.)

Speaking of prices, apart from mentioned magazine forwarding, your basic shipito account would cost you nothing to open - but you are stuck with high $20 labor charge per each package (Update: this is now changed to same $8.50 as virtual mailbox; the storage time is a week).

If you are remaining once or twice a month it makes sense to invest $50 for annual "medium-sized" account, called virtual mailbox, with $8.50 labor charge per remailing, which has longer storage term (45 days) and option of consolidating several packages to one. This is what I use.

There is also a $25-a-month "premium" account plan but I would only recommend it to professional shippers (or high spenders.)

After the labor charge, you pay actual mail (or courier) service cost. Shipito offers USPS and Fedex only. I typically use USPS - they are cheaper and there is insurance offered (actually, recent change on shipito website made insurance obligatory for some types of mail service and unavailable for others -- a change i personally hate, as $13.50 flat small package service, enough to remail that ipod with insurance, was way cheaper than $25 i paid now for full-blown priority mail shipment.) They also have their own "Shipito airmail" which looks like combination of airmail to intermediary address in Europe and then surface mail to final destination - my packages arrive in nearly three weeks this way, but it also cheaper ($2 or so is minimal rate, good for that special Apple adapter that costs $5 on ebay and $50 in local apple reseller store.)

Fedex rates are higher, and i suppose people use them for speed - but as I now reside in far corner of Europe it does not make any difference for me. Plus, post office is way closer to my flat than Fedex office.

There is also an exotic parcel service called Polonez (founded by Poles living in U.S. to ship gifts back home I suppose) - a container goes on a ship by sea and it takes over two months.
Probably good for shipping a lot of junk on ebay all at once, with very low prices per weight.

Now, as I have promised in the beginning, some statitstics -- since opening my account around Christmas last year, I have sent 20 packages (excluding one I have returned - otherwise, 21),
for a total sum of $510 - this makes it about $25 per package on average, with lowest charge at $10 and highest at $55.

There are unusual things they do, for example, opening a box and taking three photos, then posting to your account (costs $2 only, takes a day), fill out customs declaration for you (if you forgot what you bought and how much it costs - this would be a $8 job), and, most useful - consolidation. This works like a charm for used books or DVDs - you select packages you want to consolidate, confirm that you want just the goods themselves (without boxes they came in), and in a day, at $2 a original package, you now have a single box in your account to ship.

XXX For example, i got a book, an ipod cable, and kindle case all consolidated for $6, and resulting package cost about $10 (plus $8 labor charge) to ship - a savings of almost 50%.

The service is pretty fast - most things are done within a day. If you have a balance in your account (it is all done on prepaid basis, by credit card or paypal), and you have set a preference for automatic mail out, your packages can be sent same day they were received.

Usually you have everything shipped to one address, but should you want to send a gift to a friend, you can change address on a per-package basis (requires manual processing.)

Overall, I highly recommend the service - but it may be improved somewhat, especially in web site interface. The fee structure is fair, but the 4% bank charge is inappropriate way to distribute costs among all subscribers - I would prefer to have discount for paypal or credit card payments and let wire transfer users pay costs of receiving money themselves.

I prepared this post about three weeks ago, and want to add couple of bits changed since:

First, new full-service warehouse just opened in Hong Kong. Before, theere were couple of other locations (Memphis, Oregon, and Nevada) to ship to, but they had limited service (no consolidation, slower processing time) and existed mostly to get around merchants which
do not ship to known commercial remailers (shame on them!)

Second, shipito interface is now translated to multiple languages (incl. Russian), so for people not quite familiar with English it is a nice feature. Also, the forums seem to be frequented by business owner who is quite often answering questions himself.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Vonage phone number ported to Broadvoice

SInce 2002, I have kept a VOIP number with Vonage, one of the first companies in US which had such service. Recently, after their locked adapter refused to work, and bad experience with theirBlackberry dialing application, I decided to consolidate this number to my Broadvoice account (an extra number costs a cent shy of $2 a month.)
Attempts to just close the number through Vonage customer servce were met with "this is another department, let me transfer you" line.

Timeline and Results

nov04: submitted online LNP request to broadvoice - no paper letter to send!

nov05: broadvoice asked for phone service address; replied to them

nov12: notified by Broadvoice about nov17 effective date

nov19: vonage account cancelled automatically after porting to broadvoice completed

Vonage Monthly Customer Count

In my account portal, there was an invoice history; based on that, somebody can reconstruct size of their customer base since company started offiering the service (I was within first 300 customers, it seems.)
Here is the link.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cragslist in Ukraine - finally

As a diligent user of Getting Things Done method, I regularly check my "waiting" list.

Anyway, today I found that it was over two weeks since my request to Craiglist to add Ukraine to its list of countries. Living here for over a year now (this is net time, taking into account occasional trips abroad), I greatly miss this easy to use method to find things for sale, apartments for rent, and of course missed connections (a fun to read.)

So, it is there - Craigslist for Ukraine, seeded with few posts with UAH in their subject (probably automatic procedure), plus a genuine Russian-language spam posted on November 11th (a day after my request), which I am flagging as I post, three posts about housing (hostel in Simferopol, hotel in Vinnitsa, and apartment in Yalta), some custom furniture maker in Kyiv, somebody looking for a pen pal (preferring non-smoker), and a genuine craiglist item, a used bicycle for sale..

Go on, fellow ex-pats, use it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

blackberry international calling - vonage mobile is not the way

This is quickly turning into blackberry-oriented blog - well, it would not be forever, but please bear with me as I fine-tune my device. Look for cost- and time-saving tips on calling in future posts.

On my unit, I use T-Mobile service, which allows to make free calls to US numbers via wi-fi connection - so-called UMA protocol. This is nice feature to use when calling to US when travelling -- you drink your coffee sitting outside somewhere by the sea, all while causally chatting to your friends sitting in their cubicles tied to Meridian switches.

But what about calling to non-US numbers? One solution I have right now is Telna mobile - a contract SIM card from calling card provider, previously called 3U Telecom, which integrates GSM SIM toolkit to intercept calls and convert them into callback to your number, then establish a conference to your destination. Rates depend only on country of residence, which is very budget-friendly (See telna mobile web site for details.) But what about a solution which does not require me to swap a SIM card (my blackberry serves me with email as well, and I do not want to carry two phones)?

There are calling card programs -- one is called berrydialer (costs $20 but a cent) and anoher is free, installs in Options screen, and written by Titas Raha (somebody who was born in India, lives in US, and calls a lot.) I would try it later. (Update: it works great!)

I had used two voip carriers, Vonage and Broadvoice; the latter is priced lower, and allows use of SIP software phones, multiple registration points, and customer own equipment. I recommend Broadvoice to everybody who travels a lot and/or makes many international calls; the only problem with them is changing credit card on file now requires submission of authorization form with passport and credit card photocopy; fraud department policy I suppose. But this is a separate device (voip adapter plus regular phone handset, or computer.) As far as I know, nobody makes softphone app for blackberry. Perhaps there would be a truly integrated Google Voice application soon?

I had a phone number with Vonage since 2002; I was actually going to transfer it to Broadvoice (LNP now works, and one can even submit LOA elecronically with them.) When visiting their site, I found that they now offer separate Vonage Mobile service for Blackberry and iPhone. It is a prepaid account (auto-refill by credit card) which intercepts calls from phone UI, calls their US number, and conferences outbound calls in. Pretty convenient.

Well, the application is nothing but an brightly-orange disaster (yes, this is a color it uses to fill entire screen while placing an international call.) Sorry, but I prefer standard one - which shows clock, unread message count, volume and speakerphone indicators, etc. Here is a list of deficiences:

-- It does not detect call termination (hang-up) on remote end. So bad it is, I left it running for half an hour.

-- It does not work with conference calling, or call hold. Probably due to substitution of native UI with its own.

-- Did I mention bright orange?

-- It displaced my Google maps application in "Downloads" folder (overlapped with its icon position).

-- It requires reboot immediately after install, disabling native UI prompt (now or later.)

-- It does not have a "disable" option (for example, when I use local SIM card in my phone.)

-- they give you a trial credit of one dollar (nice), but every time I launch the application, it asks me if I want to refill. Nonetheless, the web site UI for adding credit card is broken (I use Firefox on Mac OS.)

-- After manual deletion of application through Options | Advanced options | Applications, and reboot, I found that my device generates exceptions during boot, and none of my email messages could be opened (application hangs.) To properly get rid of it, one have to delete the module too, see this advice on crackberry forums.

Thanks Vonage, just another reason for me to part ways with you.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

twitter integration: rememberthemilk, gtalk

My blackberry now is integrated with my google calendar and rememberthemilk todo list (both show up in built-in calendar app with two-way syncing.) I am going to use "rmilk" instead of rememberthemilk from now on.

Now I am going to add twitter - for rmilk (another way to add and query tasks), and general.

In rmilk, one have to add twitter "rtm" user as a friend (follow him), receive one-time confirmation code, and send it back via twitter as direct message. From now on, direct messages to twitter rtm user would be added as tasks, or can be used to query task list - see for syntax.

Now, how I can use twitter on blackberry - for rmilk, too? (faster than syncing tasks by MilkSync?)
For this, there are several clients, described at

For me, I think either Twibble ( and BBTweet ( would be best.

I can also integrate twitter into gtalk - a nice description of doing it for on desktop (firefox) and blackberry is at

To be updated.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

blackberry curve 8900 - first impressions

great screen; thin and light; round-shaped.

design, visual:
new icons too cold and mechanical-looking.

mechanical -
new trackball is better; charge and headset on right side bad.
micro-usb and new battery break my investment.

contact list has useless spaces between them - 6 on screen instead of 12 before; partial words search works - "a g" finds both and

wifi setup sketchy - did not detec my hotspot@home from t-mobile.

google set - gtalk and gmail (usual), maps (latitude included), sync (calendar only 6 months forward; contacts - no pics, birthdays, categories)
facebook - merges facebook notifications to messages screen; syncs calendar and contacts into blackberry apps
rememberthemilk - pending.