Monthly Archives: July 2008


My friends, please let it be known that today, I am declaring Email Bankruptcy.

I first heard about this concept when Lawrence Lessig declared email bankruptcy in 2004. Fast forward to today, and I find myself in a similar predicament… As of this writing, I have more than 900 unread emails, and I do not have enough hours in a day to process all my incoming emails and my backlog… and so, I’ve junked my entire backlog of emails.

I am very sorry, but if you’ve sent me an email and never gotten a response back, chances are I never actually even had a chance to read it and a reply is not forthcoming. If it is very important, please resend it to me again and I should be in a better position to respond.

A Fresh Start

As Standout Jobs heads into its next stage of development, it becomes very important for me to have a clear plate and a clear mind. This also applies to Cat’s Corner, which is moving to a new location as of Friday August 1st.

Taking this drastic step will give me the fresh start that I need.

It remains to be seen whether I will be successful. I could easily spend all my working hours reading and writing email. But if I did that I wouldn’t be able to get any real work done; which, for a techie, requires long hours of concentration without distraction. So the logical conclusion is that any overflow email will continue to accumulate until I have to declare email bankruptcy again.

Email by its nature has its limits. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. If I could get away with it, I wouldn’t use email at all!

How to Contact Me

Again, my apologies if you’ve emailed me and never gotten a response. But now, knowing my non-preference for email, let me give you the secret to contacting me and actually getting a response… If you’d like to contact me, please try the following channels first:

  • Phone
  • Instant Messenger: I’m on Skype, MSN, gTalk, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM, and ICQ. (Protip: Use Adium to not go crazy with multiple chat clients)

And if you still absolutely must send email, please send them to the appropriate application-specific email addresses for a higher rate of response:

  • Standout Jobs Stuff: fred at standoutjobs dot com
  • Cat’s Corner Stuff: fred at catscorner dot ca
  • Social Life Stuff: Facebook messaging (Be warned that I will ignore anything business-y on Facebook.)
  • Anything else: fredngo at gmail dot com

Today’s TechCrunch article, Think Before You Voicemail, struck a nerve with me. I’ve very often felt the same way for the exact same reasons Michael outlined:

It takes much longer to listen to a message than read it. And voicemail is usually outside of our typical workflow, making it hard to forward or reply to easily.

The big problem with voicemail is that it takes a context switch out of your normal workflow in order to dial into the system, figure out how to fast-forward/delete messages, transcribe messages, etc. This might sound minor but it really takes its toll when you’ve already got a ton of things on your plate to deal with on a daily basis.

Other minor problems with voicemail include long distance charges to dial into my voicemail when I’m traveling, and the delay caused by my tendency to not notice that I have a voicemail until the next time I make a telephone call.

So today I’ve taken a big step toward escaping voicemail. I’ve set up my cell phone such that voicemails are transcribed automatically into text messages and sent to my email (and optionally SMS’d to me). How did I do this? It was not straightforward so I am repeating the steps here for anyone who’d like to do the same.

Without further ado, here’s how I set up PhoneTag with my iPhone running on the Fido network.

Step 1


The first step is to subscribe to a voicemail transcribing service. The service I ended up subscribing to is PhoneTag. There are several other services, including YouMail and SpinVox, but nearly all suffer from one big flaw — they do not work with Canadian numbers. (Don’t even get me started on how we always get shafted on technology in Canada…)

Fortunately PhoneTag does work in Canada, so they get my dollars. (Not much actually, only 35 cents per transcribed message; other plans available too.)

Step 2

Once you’ve set up your PhoneTag account, you have to instruct your carrier to use PhoneTag’s voicemail box when you don’t answer your phone. This is accomplished via Conditional Call Forwarding. In layman’s terms, you have to ask your carrier to forward a caller to voicemail when you 1) don’t answer, 2) are unreachable, or 3) already on the phone.

When you get a phone from Fido, it’s already pre-programmed to forward calls to the Fido voicemail. In this case, we want to switch to PhoneTag’s voicemail. Here’s where things get complicated a bit; I am using an unlocked iPhone on the Fido network, and unfortunately, I could not find a way to set Conditional Call Forwarding inside the iPhone’s interface. However, we can get around this by directly programming appropriate GSM Commands into the phone!

The GSM Commands I used were the following:

  1. Call Forwarding if No Answer: *61*[dest]#
  2. Call Forwarding if Unreachable: *62*[dest]#
  3. Call Forwarding if Busy: *67*[dest]#

where [dest] is the destination of the call forwarding, i.e. the phone number of PhoneTag’s mailbox. So as an example, if your mailbox’s number is 514-123-4567, then the appropriate sequence to program Call Forwarding if No Answer would be *61*5141234567#.

So, I opened up Keypad of the iPhone, typed in and called each one of the above mentioned codes, and voila; my callers are now directed to PhoneTag’s voicemail. (You’ll know you did it right if you see some status messages.)

Now voicemails are automatically transcribed into text and sent to my email, where I will see it the next time I return to my workstation.

Step 3

For completeness’ sake, rewire the Voicemail button on the iPhone to point to your new mailbox by issuing the following command:


In PhoneTag’s case, yourvoicemailphonenumber is 18007840457.

But of course we’ll never use that button again, right?

Step 4

Finally call Fido Customer Service at 611, and cancel your voicemail option, saving you a few bucks per month.

There you have it, escape from voicemail.

Now if only I could escape from email too, then life would be heaven!