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How to make long distance phone calls for free

Zhigang Suo's picture

Like many other communities, we mechanicians are scattered all over the world, often separated from families and colleagues. The Internet has promised for years to make long dstances irrelevant: anybody anywhere is just a click away. While nothing will ever be the same as being together in person, many Internet services can facilitate distant communication and collaboration. For example, Skype, an Internet phone service, allows you make free phone calls around the world. The sound quality is excellent.

To call a friend, you'll need to download a small piece of software from Your friend needs to do the same. Of course, both his computer and yours need be connected to the Internet, although skype allows you to call from a computer to a regular phone, or the other way around, for a small fee.

If your computer comes with both a microphone and a speaker, as most laptops do, you can make phone calls without any other equipment. However, when you call your friend over a very long distance (e.g., from US to China), as the sound from the speaker of your computer feeds into the microphone, the time delay is long enough for your friend to hear echoes of his own voice. To eliminate the echoes, both of you should use headsets. Of course, you’ll need a headset if your computer lacks a speaker or a microphone.

Once you set your commputer up, making a phone call is as easy as a click, or maybe two. I have skyped my parents and bother in China, as well as colleagues around the world. To have an effective technical discussion, you may want to send powerpoint files to each other by emails, before or while talking.

Conference calls are free and just as easy. The other day, my wife made a four-way conference call with her two brothers and their father. If you are active in a committee, with members in several places, Skype will be a way to hold a committee meeting.


Henry Tan's picture

how to attach a file when posting comments?

seems there is no such option which is very needed.

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Henry:

Thank you for raising this question, which remind me of saying something more general. I'll return to your question toward the end.

Drupal, the software that powers iMechanica, treats comments very differently from a blog entry or a forum entry. You and I may feel that such differences are totally unnecessary, but I have resisted all temptations to modify the software for the following reasons:

  1. I don't have time and knowledge to modify Drupal, even though Drupal is an open-source software.
  2. Drupal has a vibrant community of developers, and have been releasing new versions almost every year. It is unwise for us to customize the software too much and make upgrading difficult.
  3. Drupal is a content management system (CMS), which, as a category of software, is under intense development. CMS, or its variants, will be better integrated with more familiar productivity software like word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software. Because such software enjoy huge user base, and are nonspecific to disciplines, I believe we mechanicians should refrain from spending our precious time and resources in this space, just as we should not spend time on writing a new word processor.  We would rather focus on Mechanics, rather than on a Content Managemement System.

Having said the above, I also believe that we ought to do what you have just done: express displeasures for the existing software and report bugs. These actions of users will help future development of the software. Our best gift to the Drupal community is to make creative uses of their product. To extend your actions further, we can

  • post tips on clever uses of the Internet and other new tools,
  • describe hacks that circumvent limitations of the existing software,
  • describe features that ought to be incorporated in future releases of the software (which I have begun to do on iMechLab).

I'm sorry to write this long-winded, tangential reply to your question. Now I should get to the point. One way to link to a file in the comment is to first write a new blog entry, where you can upload the file. The blog entry and the file have distinct URLs. In your comment, you can choose to hyperlink to your blog entry, or to the uploaded file.

The hack may be more cumbersome than you would like. But we are all hackers in pushing a frontier, and hacking has to be in our DNAs. iMechanica will co-evolve with software like content management system.

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