skype logo OK, I’ll admit it, I’m a little obsessed with Skype. I mean why wouldn’t anyone be a little obsessed with a piece of software that give you almost free long distance. Skype has another great service called Skype To Go. This lets me give free long distance to my friends and family to call me anywhere in the world, without a computer.

Skype has local Skype To Go numbers in a large number of countries. For example, I am in the Middle East, and my parents are in Canada. I set up a Skype To Go number in Canada on the Skype website. Skype To Go is part of my $3 a month unlimited US & Canada calling package. I register my parents home number online and give them the local phone number for them to call. They call that local number from their home phone, and select me from the call list with their keypad. Then Skype calls me on my cell phone, wherever I am. The cost of the call is added to my Skype account and in most countries is about 2-3 cents a minute. No cost to my parents, and no computer involved during the call.

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When traveling internationally it is always difficult to make long distance calls. Do you add one zero or two zeros? Should I add a 1 or not? Even when travelling in your own country some numbers are long distance when called from your home location, but if you travel to the owner of that number, it becomes a local call. How can you keep all this straight and make calling all these number far more easier?

It is simple. Just add a + symbol to the front of the phone number and then the country code. In North America the country code is 1. Most people think that 1 is what you are dialing for long distance, but in reality it is the country code. So for all North American numbers you would add +1 then the phone number with area code. You will no longer have to worry about whether the number is local or long distance as the carrier will figure it out for you. If you have international phone numbers for the UK, then you would add +44 then the phone number.

Wherever you travel you no longer have to figure out what to dial. You just select the person and choose dial. The carrier will figure out whether the call is local or long distance and dial the call accordingly.

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Bahrain_Grand_Mosque

As a Western ex-pat working in the Middle East you quickly learn that if you want everyone to show up for a meeting, don’t schedule the meeting during prayer time.

Muslims pray 5 times a day. 3-4 of these prayer times will be during work hours. What complicates things is that the prayer times are not at the same time each day. The times are based on the lunar calendar. The first prayer in the middle of the summer is at 3:30am and that same prayer in the middle of winter is at 5:30am. You should know that most of the Middle East does not change their clocks for daylight savings.

So, how do you know when it will be time to pray. I have utilities that I use to make sure that I don’t schedule meetings during prayer times.

As I use Microsoft Outlook, there is a plug-in, that will schedule the times of prayer times on your calendar. If you don’t want to have all of these in your calendar there are a number of prayer time downloads for mobile phones that will do the same thing. I use Salaat Time for Blackberry. I also use a system bar utility that gives a notification bubble just prior to the prayer time. This application is also handy at it will show that prayer times every day for the full year; it is also called Salaat Time .

You can use one or more of these utilities to help you schedule a meeting in the future.

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I have been in the Middle East for just over a year and it has been eye opening. Apart from the cultural adjustments, one of the things that has become a peeve is how Western companies do not recognize some of the differences that will impact their devices or their software outside of Western countries.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of RIM’s (Research In Motion) Blackberry. However, there are some things that should be considered when selling this product in the rest of the world. For example, the work week is different in the Middle East. Muslim religion dominates in the region and therefore Friday is the day of worship. Depending on the country, your other day off is either Thursday or Saturday. In some countries, they also work a half day on the Thursday. None of these can be accommodated by the Blackberry.

Although I can set Saturday as the first day of the week, there is no way for me to tell the Blackberry that Thursday and Friday are the weekends (or Friday and Saturday). This presents some minor annoyances such as viewing the month and the Blackberry shades the Saturday and Sunday. To some aggravating issues when it comes to having the alarm only active on weekdays.

It would be a simple change, as a screen that simply asks you to fill in some check boxes for weekend or weekdays.

Blackberry sales in the Middle East are growing rapidly. I have read that this is one of RIM’s fastest growing regions. There is both a status and fashion aspect to the Blackberry in the Middle East. Hopefully this will push RIM towards accommodating the the nuances of the region.

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Computers keep getting smaller. But one thing that will have to change if computers continue to get smaller, is what kind of interface will be used to interact with them. Keyboards can’t get much smaller and still be usable. Talking to a computer may be the future, but that is still a ways off to be practical. That reminds me of comical Star Trek movie segment where they go back in time and Scotty tries to talk to a present day computer.

But the most fascinating work that I have seen to date is being done by a young gentleman by the name of Pranav Mistry from MIT. He recently did a demonstration of his work at a conference. It is far too amazing to describe. It it best to watch the videos.

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