As some of you know, over the past 9 months, I’ve been heavily involved in the establishment of Humbug. For those who may not know, Humbug is a Call Analytics and Fraud Analysis SAAS. Now, differing from many of the current telephony SAAS projects, we are not based on Amazon EC2 or some other public cloud infrastructure, we build our own cloud environment. Why do we build our own cloud? simple, we need to keep your data secured and confidential. At Humbug, we see ourselves as a cross between Google Analytics – in our ability to analyze and handle data and Verisign – in our security and confidentiality requirements and methodologies.

Question be asked, why do people trust Verisign to provide SSL certificates around the world. What makes Verisign’s CA better than a privately owned CA – the answer is simple, it’s a third party 2 entities can entrust at the same time. Humbug aims to provide the same lever of trust, simply because we regard your data as sacred and valuable.

Since about 2 months ago, we’ve been contacting various Asterisk integrators around the world, inviting them to evaluate Humbug services. Now, while some integrators and vendors were somewhat reluctant, others were more than happy to join. We now have over 250 monitored systems around the world, with system being monitored and analyzed in Israel, USA, UK, Brazil and more.

The thing that amazed me in regards to some of the integrators who decided not to participate was that they claimed: “we provide our customers our own brew of fraud analysis service, we don’t require your SAAS”. Now, while I can accept the fact that an integrator would offer such a SAAS as an in-house service, I can’t see why a customer would rely on these services. In my view, relying on your integrator to provide fraud analysis services is like relying on the integrator of your alarm system to provide hired guard services – it just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why doesn’t it make sense? in Hebrew we say: “Go prove that you have a sister”. Imagine that your PBX integrator offer you such a service, then, in some obscure manner, your PBX gets hijacked and you get slammed with 50K$ worth of phone calls to Somalia. Now, your integrator would say: “Hmmmmm… that’s odd, we didn’t even get those CDR events to our system… you really got hacked bad…” – sure, if you only rely on CDR records to do your analysis (which is what 99.9% of integrators do). There is much much much much more to fraud analysis than just CDR analysis – if it all began and finished with CDR analysis, then by far Cvidya, Verint, NICE and many others would have been made redundant.

Allowing your integrator to provide you with fraud analysis SAAS is like putting the fox to guard the hen house, when things louse up (and they may), he’s the first one to bail out saying: “It’s not my fault”.

Humbug takes a totally different approach to fraud analysis, specifically, in the way we regards the various PBX systems and integrators. We are vendor agnostic and integrator agnostic – we will provide you with the clear and concise information you require in order to make an educated decision as to how you were de-frauded (if de-frauded) and provide you a faster alerting and response time. Our recent adventures had lowered our fraud alert response time from 60 minutes, down to 14 minutes in some cases. Most fraud analysis system carry a 24-36 hour turn around time, by that time, you can be out of 50K$ – our aim is to lower that number to no more than a 100$ in the worst case. Ambitious? yes, down right crazy? probably so, but we always say: “Aim for the moon, you’ll land on a star!” – so we know we’ll get there.

A Nokia E90 (open).

Image via Wikipedia

For those who had been reading this blog for some time now, you may have stumbled across my blog post from 2008, regarding me buying a Nokia E90 – http://www.simionovich.com/2008/06/06/i-finally-purchased-a-nokia-e90.

Well, it’s a fact, since the year 1998, I’ve been an avid Nokia fan. I think I’ve ranged from the old Nokia 51XX, through the 6XXX up to the E61, E62 and E90 – if it was some funky Nokia phone that gave me some new feature, I most probably had it. I guess that the time I spent at m-Wise, working closely with various mobile content technologies had put its toll on me – and I became a Nokia Cell Phone addict. For many years I couldn’t imagine myself digressing from the Nokia clan. Even when my friends moved from their Nokia/Motorola/Ericsson phones to a star spangled iPhone – I remained faithful to my old habits – and remained with my trusty Nokia.

Nokia 5800 XpressMusic showing Wikipedia's mai...

Image via Wikipedia

About two years ago I promised myself this: “If you ever decide to move to a touch screen phone, don’t go ala iPhone, stay for a Nokia phone” – so I waited. The initial Nokia touch phones came out. The first Nokia touch phone that came out, I believe shortly after the iPhone was the Nokia 5800, also known as the Nokia XpressMusic.

I’ve got one thing to say about this phone – “What the hell were you thinking???” – it’s a phone, not a bloody MP3 player – if I wanted an MP3 player, I would have bought an iPod. Apart from being the slowest phones I’ve ever encountered, its touch interface was annoying and disruptive.

So, I didn’t buy the Nokia 5800 – I simply had no use for it. At that point I decided to wait a bit more, and see what Nokia cooks up. Shortly after seeing the 5800 in dis-action, I met a new member of the Nokia clan: the Nokia 700.

The Nokia 700 was a totally new thing, not really a phone, not really a PDA – somewhat of a cross between the two. It was big and bulky, and I couldn’t imagine myself walking around with one of these – however, it showed some promise. Sure, it was big, bulky, slow and anything bad you can say about a device – however, it had one thing – it showed potential – something to look for. At that time, I decided that I needed a proper smart phone and purchased the Nokia E90 – and I was fairly happy with it till 8 months ago.

You are probably asking, why would an avid Nokia fan become displeased with his trusty E90 phone – the answer is simple – the plastics. The plastics are of such low quality, that after 18 months of usage, the paint job starts to peel away from the phone. As you run more and more applications, or store more data, the phone becomes sluggish and slow – to the point where you have to reset it.

So, 2 months ago I gave up, I said to myself: “that’s it, time to move forward and leave the Nokia clan” – but I still didn’t want to put myself with the iPhone clan – or to be more exact, the iPhone cult movement. While at the Amoocon convention, I came across some people who were using HTC phones, specifically the HTC Evo. Well, I was somewhat taken with this snazy piece of hardware. It was fast, it was fluid and for some funky reason, I felt at home with it. Could it be, have I found a new clan for my mobile needs? I returned back home starting to examine my options. The HTC Evo isn’t available in Israel, the next best thing is the HTC Desire.

The HTC Desire is also known as the Google Nexus-1, basically it’s the same phone. I tried using the Nexus-1, but I didn’t like it. Specifically, I didn’t like the fact that the four keys are touch based – on the HTC these are real keys, making my life much easier.

So now, I’m equipped with the HTC Desire, and apart from the occasional Android crash (not too often to be honest) – it is one of the best phones I ever had. It’s fast, syncs my life into a manageable construct and most importantly, it’s become a second nature to me. The only disadvantage of owning such a phone is that you need a massive Data plan with your carrier – this little machine can gobble up ten’s of megabytes on a daily basis. My old Nokia E90 was using 25MB of data per month, with the Desire, I consume that much in less than a day – that is an amazing number.

In order to get better into Android development, I’ve ordered an Eken M002 device. This is a 7″, Android based tablet PC. I’ll be posting information about that once it arrives.

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For those of you who know personally, you probably already know that last month I became a father. I guess the transition is something that I was more or less ready for, at least on the technical terms of the transition. However, the thing that completely surprised me was the mental transition – which isn’t even related to the somewhat lack of sleep here and there.

So, here I am, about a month and half away into the final touches to our new home, spending the weekend deploying over 100 meters of CAT-5 cabling in the house – yes the house is network rigged to the teeth. I’m sitting in my daughters room, clamping away the wall sockets for the network, thinking to myself: “hmmmm…. will Nitzan need a single network connection? or should I put at least two for future usage? … hmmmm…. well, I guess time would tell”. In any case, so there I was, spending most of my weekend being my own geeky self, thinking about wiring, networking, wireless exposures, access points, etc. I then go back home, and suddenly, all that disappears the minute I put Nitzan on my shoulder to burp her. It’s really funny, but with her on my shoulder, I guess everything goes away for a few minutes. My brother-in-law informed the house that he caught me burping Nitzan, while sitting at my computer answering emails with the other hand – Ok, so I can’t stop being a geek all together.

In any case, here I am juggling the various aspects of being a father to a new born baby, attending to the various tasks required to final touches of the house (painters, cleaners, air cons, dry walls, etc) and of course, attending to my customers – some of which are completely ambivalent to the fact that I’m under a constant lack of sleep in the past month. Well, I guess in a couple of months Nitzan will start sleeping better, and would make life easier for both me and my wife; in the mean while, we take comfort with the sleep periods my wife gets during the day, so that I can work and cater to my customers, while she caters to Nitzan during the nights – and I have to be honest about this, when it comes to the baby, my wife is the closest thing to a Jedi Knight, her ability to stay focused and clam even when the Nitzan is screaming is amazing – I can’t always do it.

Ok, enough about the house and Nitzan, let’s go back to been geeks for a bit. As you can see on the right hand side of the blog, I’ll be speaking at the up-coming Astricon. I’ll be giving a talk about how to build “IP-Centrex” like installations, utilizing Asterisk and tools like VMWARE, XEN and OpenVZ. However, while my talk may be interesting to you (I hope), my pre-conference tutorial will be much more interesting. I’ll be giving a full day tutorial, teaching people how to install Asterisk in a clouded environment (cloud computing), mainly the Amazon EC2 cloud computing infrastructure. For those of you reading this blog, you may have noticed that I’ve developed a distinct interest in the Amazon EC2 cloud, which I’ve written about several times and also lectured about at Amoocon. While my Amoocon presentation was mainly informational, at Astricon I’ll be primarily teaching you how to do what I did. Well, I won’t be teaching you the inner workings of the GreenfieldTech IVR API framework, although, if you’re gonna ask questions I will answer (especially if you ask the question 3 times, I can’t stand it when people ask the same question 3 times – I just have to answer it – nudge nudge).

Ok, back to fatherhood and Nitzan stuff. The mental transition that I was referring to before is something that I felt last night in its most force. My wife and I decided to go to one of the malls, not far away from our house. So, we entrusted Nitzan with my in-laws and drove to the mall. The mall I’m referring to is called “The seven stars mall” and we like it. It’s not a big mall, but its got this shop called DOMO, that carries these high class cooking ware (my wife and I really like to cook – my chilli con-carne is well known). So, here we were walking the mall, after I ordered a pair of shoes that I needed. So, my wife comments: “You know something, let’s see if there is some sale at Super-Pharm.” – and then we ended up purchasing baby formula, pacifiers and baby wipes. I then asked my wife if she maybe wants to walk into DOMO, but we both didn’t really think about it – suddenly, something that was like a default prior to Nitzan is no longer a default – interesting isn’t it?

In any case, this is how my life looks like at this point in time – and I have to admit that I kind’a like it. Sure, I don’t get as much sleep as I got before, but hey, I’m happy with it – so I just keep on smiling and go on forward.

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Michael Eisenberg is a well known VC partner (Benchmark Capital) and an avid blogger. In one of his recent posts, Michael refers to 8 different approaches to raising a start-up company, in the midst of an economic crisis. The full blog entry can be found at his blog, however, after reading it myself, I would like to comment on it. The below section will also be commented to Michael’s blog for reference:

“Everyone in the company is a salesman – Your R&D team should be selling too”

This is an interesting approach, however, R&D people are R&D people because usually they don’t do sales well. Actually, most of the R&D people I know are the worst sales people I’ve ever met. To be honest, in my previous position, our R&D Manager basically screwed a 500,000$ deal that we worked on for 6 months, because I said something in the form of: “It’s possible to do, however, I can’t really say what would be required to do so.” – R&D people can easily sell products that are closed, not products that are under development. As start-ups are constantly in the development phase – this is a BAD idea.

“Hire sales people on commission only”

YES! This is a great idea, although, it means that you’ll need a hell of a lot more sales people to manage. When a sales person works on commissions only, it means that while he’s selling your stuff, he’s selling other stuff too. It requires a certain degree of finesse and agility to be able to manage such a team, but the general idea is good, actually it’s GREAT!

“Virtual company”

Michael’s idea of a virtual company isn’t new, dozens of companies around the world utilize this methodology. However, this methodology sometimes requires quite some resources. For example, according to Michael, the utilization of sites like oDesk and rent-a-coder may assist in your quest to lower general spending. That is true, however, it automatically poses a problem. Let us imagine that I develop a service that is made of 3 distinct areas of expertise. I hire all coders from oDesk, now, I need to remotely co-ordinate them all, so that the code I’ll get is manageable and well documented. If not, the end result will a running service that becomes stagnant, as no one can go into the code and continue its development (seen it happen to 2 of my customers, both start-ups).

“Choose Self-PR over paid search”

Hmmm… I can’t really comment on that, as I practice it – and can honestly say, it’s very hard.

“Focus on product”

Killer applications in the web are a must, if it’s not a killer – your service is dead in the water. Killer services like PokeTalk have a great potential to become the next big thing, but they highly rely on the company’s ability to market the product correctly within the available channels.

“New distribution channels”

Michael talks about the creation of affiliate programs – that’s not as simple as it sounds. Many companies made a shitload of money out of building distribution channels and affiliate program management systems – affiliates are a wonderful idea as long as you are capable of managing these in a proper manner (See my comment about commission only sales people).

All in all, Michael surely has some valid points, however, these require delicate work and proper management in order to work right – if executed improperly, will not only end in failure, may also send you down debt country.

Ever since the introduction of JaJah to the world, the world of free telephony services had been booming with various solutions and services. While each service concentrated on a different market niche, none of the services really is free of charge (at least not in full). For example, JaJah requires you to register and purchase additional air-time, RebTel operates under a similar approach, so does TruPhone and others alike.

Over the past 10 months, I’ve been working closely with a company called Parrot-Media, who operate the PokeTalk.com website.

PokeTalk Website

PokeTalk Website

PokeTalk is a free international calls service, allowing users to make international calls FREE of charge. The service allows a user to make up to 50 free calls per month, of up to 10 calls per calls (that’s 500 of FREE minutes per month). Judging from normal ACD traffic around the world, a normal call duration is around 5-6 minutes, thus, the service is a great solution for making phone calls for FREE.

According to the PokeTalk economic model, the calls are being funded by the advertisement on the website. So, while you watch the ads on the website, the advertisers are paying for your call – it’s as simple as that.

As you may have guessed, the service utilizes the Asterisk Open Source PBX (after all, this is what I do). In addition, it utilizes a highly advanced, high-speed, highly-reliable Asterisk based dialer framework – enabling the system to initialize up to 140 calls per second, and sustain a total of 1200 concurrent phones calls across the entire platform. All in all, a fairly big and robust platform for a new service.

To enjoy the service, simple point your browser to http://www.poketalk.com, regsiter, and start making calls to your loved ones.