Monthly Archives: August 2009

Make Free VoIP Calls from Google Voice [How To]

Google Voice is great, but it isn’t an entirely free voice-over-internet service if you have to pay a phone bill to use it. With a few tweaks, though, you can talk to anyone on-the-cheap through Skype, or entirely for free with Gizmo.

Since we’re extremely cheap, we’ll start out with the Gizmo/Google Voice 1/2 combo, since you can use it to place and receive calls without spending a dime. If you’re particularly partial to Skype, we’ll demonstrate how you can integrate Gizmo, Voice, and Skype for cheaper Skype calls after we demonstrate how to get everything up and running with Gizmo.

What you’ll need

  • A comfortable headset: Mine’s a $30, USB-or-analog model I grabbed off the shelf at Target. If you plan to do some serious talking from in front of your monitor, read up on what works best for your ears and head.
  • Free Google Voice account: If you haven’t already requested an invite, do so now. They’re still dishing them out first-come, first-served style, and the line gets longer every time someone writes an article about the service (ahem).
  • Free Gizmo5 account: It’s a free virtual phone service that Google Voice officially supports and connects to. If you’re more of a Skype person, we’ll show you a relatively cheap solution for hooking up Gizmo to Skype.
  • Broadband net connection: Because you’re doing a good deal of data transfer and service forwarding, you’ll want a pretty good pipe for phone calls that won’t make you wish for your cell phone.

Hooking up Voice and Gizmo

Once you’ve finished signing up for Gizmo and Google Voice, head to, and log yourself in if necessary. Hit the “My” link in the upper-right corner to get to your settings page. The first box asks you to enter your Google Voice number and turn Google Voice calling on, which you should definitely do. That routes all outbound Gizmo calls through Voice, eliminating the need to buy credits for those outbound calls.

Three rows down, under the “Account Overview” section, copy your SIP Number, which you won’t need to memorize, or even use, except this one time. Head over to Google Voice, click the Settings link, then Phones, and paste that SIP number into the “Number” field. Give your Gizmo account a name like, say, Gizmo, then set the “Phone Type” to Gizmo. By default, your Gizmo/VoIP phone will always “ring” whenever someone calls your Google Voice number from any phone. I find that to be just fine, since “ringing” that phone doesn’t really affect any of your other phones, and I don’t leave my computer on at all times with the speakers at full blast. If you only want your virtual phone to ring at certain times on certain days, go ahead and tweak those settings in Voice, then hit Save.

Got those headphones handy? Plug them in, usually through a USB port or the dual red/green mic/speakers ports on your computer. Check that the headphones are picking up sounds and that the microphone is enabled in your system’s volume settings. Want to test out your Voice/Gizmo capabilities? Head to, then sign in with your Gizmo username. Hit the “Test” button for an echo test of your headset and connection. To try out an actual call, call your Google Voice number from a standard cell or landline phone you have handy, or open up Google Voice’s site in another browser tab and make a call to a phone number that won’t mind getting it.

It’s worth noting that since you’re using a VoIP service through another VoIP service’s routers, it’s fair to expect a bit of call lag. I haven’t noticed an audible difference between using Google Voice on my cellphone and through Gizmo but, then again, I’ve had seemingly worse lag experiences overall with Voice than others I’ve complained about it to. Your mileage will almost certainly vary, but if you’ve got an ultra-important phone interview for a job, consider stepping away from your headset. Otherwise, it probably works just fine for normal conversations.

Calling tools

If all went well between Voice and Gizmo, you’ve got a few options for making and receiving free calls through your headset with Voice and Gizmo:

  • The site: You can keep the page itself loaded in your browser, or click the “Open in separate window” link to keep it separate from your browsing work. When it first opens, your Flash plug-in will ask for access to your microphone and speakers, which you should grant and hit “Remember” to avoid future prompts.

    Want to reduce browser tab necessities and make Gizmo even more convenient? Check out Google Voice Tricks’ write-up on embedding Gizmo’s gadget into Gmail.

  • Gizmo software: Available for download for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, Gizmo the application is very similar to Skype, sitting in the system tray and popping up an alert window when a new call is coming in. It also tracks your VoIP calling separate from your Google Voice account, which can be helpful for client billing or other purposes. If you’re planning to keep Gizmo open to accept calls, you’ll probably want to import your contacts into it to recognize callers. You can only import an Outlook-formatted file into Gizmo, but that’s one of the formats most contact managers (Google, Apple Mail, etc.) can export to.
  • Google Voice site: You’ll still need to have some kind of Gizmo notifier running to receive calls, but Google Voice’s own site is pretty handy for making calls. Load up the site (or keep it loaded as a permatab), hit “c” to make a call, type in a contact name or phone number, then select your Gizmo number as the caller. Google will ring you at Gizmo, and once you pick up, the call starts ringing through to the intended receiver.

Forwarding to Skype

If you’re already set up with a Skype name and lots of contacts and you’d prefer to keep Skype as your go-to VoIP app, you can get Google Voice and Gizmo to route calls to Skype for notably less money than Skype charges for its call-out service. Alternately, if you only need to make the occasional Skype call and don’t want to bother installing software and getting a user account, Gizmo and Google are available there, too.

Gizmo explains all the potential uses and ins and outs at its OpenSky page, and also lists pricing. You can make free calls to Skype names and forward your Voice/Gizmo calls to Skype for anywhere from 1-5 minutes, depending on server load—fine for quick "Call me back" or "Here's the deal" messages, but not conversations. OpenSky claims a $20/year price for basically unlimited calling of up to 2 hours per call. We don't do a lot of Skype out calling, but that seems like a pretty good deal.

Whether you're going the free short call route or paying for some OpenSky credit, setting up a Voice-to-Gizmo-to-Skype connection is fairly easy. Head to your Gizmo5 settings page again, then head to the "Forwarding Gizmo5 Calls" section. Set Gizmo to forward all calls to Skype, then fill in your Skype username. That's it—when someone rings your Voice number, if you've got Voice configured to ring you at Gizmo, then you'll actually be rung up at Skype. The last thing you'll need to do is enable Skype to accept calls from anonymous callers—kind of a pain, but necessary, because Gizmo routes your calls through different Skype names from time to time.

That’s the starting point for integrating free (or very cheap) VoIP with Google Voice, but with such open, geeky services, we’re sure there’s a lot more that can be done. Post up your questions, suggestions, and neat hacks in the comments.

Hostel Hero iPhone Application Finds and Books Hostels in 150 Countries [Downloads]

iPhone/iPod touch only: Not everyone can afford to stay in four star hotels when traveling, which is why hostels are a great lodging option. Hostel Hero helps you find and book hostels in 150 countries straight from your iPhone or iPod touch.

Each hostel comes with its own description (which is available in five different languages) and photos. You can also use the application’s built-in Google Maps integration to help pinpoint the location of said hostel. Clicking on a select hostel offers you more details about the facilities including the above-mentioned photos and maps. More practically, the application lets you save and view the details offline, which will no doubt come in handy for more off-the-beaten-path type vacations.

To book a hostel, select the “make a booking” tab, then scroll through and choose your destination country and then city. Once you narrow down a hostel, book your stay using the app. Fair warning: To do so requires a 10 percent deposit and a booking fee to be paid in Euros, U.S. dollars or pounds. The remaining balance is paid at the hostel.

A quick search for San Jose, Costa Rica (arriving at noon on August 31, staying two nights, one guest) netted a list of seven hostels. As expected, the app does better with more popular destination spots like Sydney, Australia and Paris, France. A second search for hostels in Yerevan, Armenia, for example, came up empty.

Check out the above video demonstration for a quick rundown.

Hostel Hero is a free download for the iPhone and iPod touch.

Pingdom Uptime-Monitoring Service Now Offering Free Accounts [Site Tools]

The popular web site uptime-monitoring service Pingdom is now offering free accounts.

The free account provides monitoring for a single web site, 20 SMS alerts—you can purchase more if you need them—and unlimited email alerts. If you want to monitor multiple sites and have access to the advanced features you'll still need a premium account.

Check out the Pingdom site for additional information on free and premium accounts. Makes File Sharing as Easy as Sharing a URL [Sharing]

Need to share a file quickly and without the hassle of setting up a file server or other dedicated connection between you and the recipient? makes transferring a file as simple as pasting a URL.

Visit the web site, select a file you want to share, upload that file, and you’re given a URL. The URL is good for 24 hours from the time of creation. Anyone who visits it can download the file you’ve shared. You don’t need to be online, the file is temporarily stored on the servers. is a free service with no restrictions on the size of the file you can upload. Have a great solution for simple file sharing? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Folder Sharing in Google Docs

For some reason, Google decided to release a new version of the Google Docs List API before adding the features to the interface. One of the most important new features is folder sharing.

I’ve used a Python library to test the new version of the Google Docs API and I’ve managed to share a folder. As you can see, the “play” folder from the screenshot displayed below has a new icon.

Unfortunately, the shared folder didn’t show up in the collaborator’s Google Docs interface, but he was able to find it by visiting this hidden section.

Sharing folders is more efficient than sharing a large number of files one by one and the best thing is that folders are treated just like documents. You can share folders as “read-only”, but you can also allow collaborators to add new files and to edit documents.

For now, folder sharing is only available using the Google Docs API, but it will be added to the interface very soon.

{ via Google Data APIs Blog }

From the Tips Box: Cable Organization, Cheap DIY Materials, and Gigantic Clocks [From The Tips Box]

Lifehacker readers show us how to organize occasionally used cables with coat hangers, where to find cheap materials for DIY projects, and how to repurpose old monitors into gigantic, easy to read clocks.

Don’t like the gallery layout? Click here to view everything on one page.

Keep Rarely Used Cables Organized with a Coat Hanger

Christopher sent us a picture showing how he organizes his unused cables along with this note:

I came up with a way to organize any cables you don’t use on a daily basis but want easy/organized access to when you do need them. All that is required is one metal/cardboard coat hanger!

Looks like all you need is a coat hanger and some tape or cable ties to keep everything neat. Our only concern is whether some of the cables with heavy adapters would get damaged from hanging like that.

Get Cheap DIY Project Materials at Non-Profit Shops

Photo by brewbooks

Justin chimed in to point out that there are cheap ways to get materials for projects:

I just started getting back into DIY projects and was rekindling my love for building stuff. I noticed that while almost every project on sites like Instructables would save you a ton of money versus buying something already assembled, some projects still seemed a little too expensive too justify. However, I took a trip to my neighborhood Goodwill store and I found tons and tons of materials (looking at things from an engineers point of view) that can be used for different projects. You can test electronics right in the store to make sure that they work and haggling will usually work, but bear in mind that it is a charitable organization and prices are already about $1-$10 for most things in the store.

It’s so easy to overlook some of the places to get cheap materials. Where do you go before starting a new DIY project? Garage sales? Second hand shops? Regular home improvement stores? Do you take advantage of places like the Goodwill Outlet stores which sell things by the pound?

Repurpose an Old Monitor into an Easy to Read Clock

Nathan solved a nightly problem in a clever way:

Like many people, I used to have a difficult time reading my clock at night. I tried out many different clocks, but none of them met my needs. I finally decided to make my own clock. I had an old computer and monitor lying around. I started by installing Ubuntu on the computer. I then installed dclock, a customizable digital clock, from the repositories. I ran dclock with the following options:

dclock -nobell -nomiltime -tails -noscroll -noblink -nofade -date "%a %b %d, %Y" -noalarm -seconds -bd "black" -bg "black" -fg "red" -led_off "black" &

I then toggled the full screen option for the window so that it covered the entire screen. The result was a large digital clock that I was able to read at night. This clock did not cost me anything to make, and it is much easier to read than all of the clocks I found at the stores. dclock also has support for setting an alarm for the times that I need it.

It’s probably a bit of a waste to set up and run a computer only for the clock, but let’s assume Nathan’s Ubuntu clock has some other great uses we don’t know about.

Make Fluffy Scrambled Eggs in the Microwave

Photo by avlxyz

1112 described how he makes scrambled eggs in the microwave:

I like microwave scrambled eggs because they are so easy:

  • Scramble 1-2 eggs and a bit of milk in a microwave proof bowl.
  • Put in for 30 seconds, stir and put in for another 30 seconds. Repeat until finished. Be careful it will dry out quickly if you overheat it, so the last couple cycles might be 10-15 seconds. Enjoy!

Sometimes I put a separate glass of water in the microwave to moderate the power level (since the power level control is usually a very coarse duty cycle setting.)

Clean or at least fill the bowl with water when you’re done or the egg will harden and make it difficult to clean.

Keep Information Easily Accessible with Google Voice and SMS

Angelina tells us about how she keeps information easily accessible:

I’m the kind of person who is really lazy and doesn’t like typing stuff into her phone, so when I need stuff (like addresses or reminders) I use Google Voice’s SMS function. I just copy whatever I need from my email or browser, paste it into a blank SMS for my own number, and send it along, and I’ll have it for easy reference later!

This is particularly handy for people like me, who are too broke to afford data plans.

Curb Impulse Micro Purchases with Wishlists

Matt wrote in to tell us about how his fiancée cuts down on impulse micro purchases using a method similar to one we’ve mentioned before:

Every so often I see posts about making wishlists to curb impulse spending, and these are some of my favorite hacks.

I’m not sure if it ever showed up on Lifehacker, but my fiancée showed me the neat little hack that led to this one. Whenever she wants to purchase a track or album in iTunes, she drags the clips from the iTunes store to a playlist called “Wishlist.” Every week or so, she checks out the playlist to see if she still wants whatever’s there. $.99 (or $1.29) for a single song doesn’t seem like much, but when you buy stuff without thinking about it, it really does add up. This was great for me, as I didn’t know you could actually add the snippets to a playlist, and I always wondered why iTunes didn’t have a wish list feature.

I use Things for OS X and am getting started with GTD, and I was trying to think of a way to integrate wishlists for other things I’d like to buy but don’t necessarily need. I recently made a new project called “Wishlist,” and whenever I see something I want to buy, I add it to the project as a new task with any relevant details (price, URL, reason I want it) and a due date. I typically set the due date to two weeks from the day that I add it to Things.

If it’s something that I really don’t need, chances are I won’t think about it for a while. When it shows up for review two weeks later, I can decide if I still really want it.

I’m sure this would work with any system where you review your tasks daily or weekly. Cubicle warriors are likely to have Outlook, which allows for appointments or to-dos, and there are plenty of free solutions out there for the smart phone crowd.

Five Best Disk Defragmenters [Hive Five]

Your computer’s a busy beaver, rapidly accessing and utilizing files all in the name of bringing you what you want, when you want it. Sometimes it needs a little help tidying up, and that’s where these five disk defragmenters come in.

Photo by Alex Witherspoon.

Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite defragmentation tools and now we’re back to share the results.

For those of you unfamiliar with the problem of file fragmentation, a quick—and quite simplified—primer is in order. Files are stored on a hard drive in blocks of data. The larger the file, the larger the number of blocks it is composed of. As your operating system accesses files, moves files around, and so on, data blocks are not always arranged in the most effective manner. Imagine it like a messy office where as you opened file folders from your file cabinet you frequently placed documents from inside all over the room. You have a great memory, and you can find all the pages from each folder again if you need to, but you waste a lot of time just moving around looking for them.

In a perfect system the blocks of data that compose a file would be in the immediate vicinity of the file header, and your operating system would waste no time at all looking for the other pieces of the file. As it stands, however, on a badly fragmented disk the data can be scattered in pieces across the entire platter of the hard disk. The following defragmentation applications are specialized tools which will help you optimize your hard drive. Continuing with the analogy of the file cabinet, a defragmenter is the helpful assistant that comes in and alphabetizes all your documents in the appropriate folders and file drawers for you.

If you’re in the mood to dig into the more arcane aspects of the topic, definitely check out the Wikipedia entries on file system fragmentation and defragmentation. Now onto the top five nominees:

Auslogics Disk Defrag (Windows, Free)

Auslogics Disk Defrag is a simple disk defragmentation program. You can defragment multiple disks or select individual files or folders for defragmentation. Auslogics allows you to set the priority of the application and can tell your computer to shut itself down when the defragmentation process is complete—a handy feature when you want it to scan and defragment while you're sleeping but don't want to leave your computer idling all night. Auslogics Disk Defrag is a free and portable application.

MyDefrag (Formerly JKDefrag) (Windows, Free)

MyDefrag is an effective tool for defragmenting your disks. You can run it in default mode and get not only a defragmented disk but also optimized file placement; or you can tinker with it via scripting and further increase your disk optimization for your specific needs. Even without its script support, MyDefrag does an excellent job defragmenting files and moving them to the optimum place on your hard disk. Files that are frequently accessed together are grouped together in zones for increased performance. MyDefrag will even scan the space allocated to the master file table and will move files from that space back to more appropriate places (sometimes when pressed for space Windows will dump files there, effectively orphaning them from the rest of the system).

PerfectDisk (Windows, $29.99)

PerfectDisk is one of only two commercial entries in this week’s Hive Five. One of PerfectDisk’s biggest claims to fame is what they call “Space Restoration Technology”. On top of optimizing your disks during actual defragmentation, PerfectDisk monitors disk writing to ensure that future files are written in the most efficient way possible in order to cut down on potential defragmentation. PerfectDisk will also analyze your data usage and create optimization patterns suited for your style of file use and work. It can be scheduled or set to run when the computer is idle for continuous defragmentation.

Defraggler (Windows, Free)

Defraggler, from the same company that produces popular applications CCleaner and Recuva, is a portable defragmentation tool. It can scan multiple disks, individual disks, folders, or individual files for some quick, specific defragging. When Defraggler scans a disk, it shows you all the fragmented files and lets you either select sets to be defragmented or batch defragment all of them.

Diskeeper (Windows, $29.99)

Like PerfectDisk, Diskeeper is packed with features not usually found in free defragmentation solutions. In addition to the basic defragmentation tools, Diskeeper can, for example, perform a quick defragmentation of system files on boot to keep your operating system running as efficiently as possible. Diskeeper, like PerfectDisk, has a system for continuously defragmenting files and optimizing new files for disk storage while you work. When you defragment multiple hard drives, Diskeeper selects different algorithms based on the disk—for example, it optimizes your operating system disk differently from a media storage disk.

Now that you’ve had a chance to look over the most popular defragmentation applications, it’s time to cast a vote for your favorite:

Which Disk Defragmenter is Best?(trends)

Have a strong opinion about defragmenting? Can’t believe your favorite program wasn’t included? Sound off in the comments.

Make Comfortable Noise-Isolating Earbuds for Less than a Dollar [DIY]

Many people don’t want or need to spend hundreds of dollars on premium earbuds, but want to hear the ones they have more clearly. Turn some basic and inexpensive earbuds into a noise-isolating pair with this simple hack.

All you’ll need is a pair of earbuds with the plug-on-a-post design, as seen in the video below, along with some basic foam earplugs, and some basic tools like a pair of scissors. Watch the video below to see how to quickly and easily modify the foam earplugs to fit the earbuds:

One thing to keep in mind: foam earplugs are meant to be disposable and they will get cruddy over time. Not all earplugs are equal however; when you’re purchasing them take a close look at the material. The absolute cheapest foam earplugs are open-cell and will quickly accumulate dirt and earwax. Nicer, and barely more expensive, disposable earplugs are closed-cell and can be cleaned and reused.

The open-cell plugs will have a slightly porous look to them and a texture that feels somewhat like an eraser. The closed-cell plugs have a slight shine to them and have a much smoother and softer feel. Either way, we’d recommend buying a couple pairs and bulk making replacements for when the original set gets worn out.

Have your own trick for modifying headphones? Sound off in the comments.

WinToFlash Turns Your Windows Installation DVD into a USB-Based Installer [Downloads]

Windows: Want to turn your Windows installation DVD into an installation flash drive? WinToFlash can do that and more.

WinToFlash can transfer Windows XP, Vista, and 7 onto a flash drive as well as Server 2003 and 2008. WinToFlash can also transfer Windows Preinstallation Environments to flash drive.

The process is simple and mostly obvious. You tell WinToFlash where the installation files you want to transfer are located and either let the transfer wizard take care of things, or specify settings like what kind of format the flash drive will undergo. In our test using a USB 2.0 generic flash drive it took about 12 minutes to turn a Windows 7 installation DVD into a USB-based installer.

WinToFlash is freeware, Windows only.

Use a Tea Bag to Freshen Small Spaces [Clever Uses]

Need to freshen a small space without a can of Lysol handy? Don't buy over priced sachets and fresheners—just grab a fragrant tea bag.

The aisles of your local grocery have all sorts of scented candles, sprays, sachets of scented material, and other items to mask smells and fresh areas in your home. Why spend money on over-priced and chemical-laden scents? While traveling, writers for the home-centric blog Apartment Therapy discovered a simple air-freshening hack:

Yesterday we were flying back to LA from Seattle and had to take a series of smaller airplanes with just the one compact bathroom in the back. Normally these get pretty…stuffy early on in the flight and the people sitting close to it definitely have a worse flight. But on one of the flights we noticed that upon entering the bathroom it smelled kind of nice, but not like an air freshener, it just smelled pleasant. Shutting the door, we realized what it was.

There, hanging on the back of the door were 4 tea bags (Good Earth Spiced Tea to be exact). Because of the spices they held, it filled the tiny space with a natural aroma that wasn’t overpowering but just enough to absorb/mask the other smells. One of the flight attendants must have put the tea bags there to make it more pleasant for everyone. We loved how simple a solution it was using what they probably already had on hand. We plan to raid our tea drawer and try out some mint or chai tea in a hall closet or our own bathroom.

Tea is cheap, the scent of most tea is mild and pleasant, and you can easily refresh your little tea-bag sachet by tossing it and putting a new one in or with a drop or two of essential oil.

Have a trick of your own for freshening up small spaces around the home? Let’s hear about it in the comments below.

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