Posts Tagged 'family'

Guest Post by Beloved: The Tech of Talking to Loved Ones (II)

Here is the second half of  Beloved's guest post on how to videocall your loved ones without 
compromising your privacy. This is the practical part. If you would like to read some of the 
considerations behind his choice of software, visit part 1. 

Getting Down to Business
I did all my talking in the previous half of this post, now let's set something up.  There are 
two steps to setting yourself up for private phone calls.  The first is getting a free SIP account 
and the second is installing Jitsi and logging in.

Getting a Free SIP Account
SIP users have addresses that look like email addresses.  Your SIP account is independent 
of the software you use to talk SIP, in much the same way your phone is independent from 
your phone number.  I like the free service offered by so we'll be using that one.
1)  Visit with your favorite web browser.
2)  Click on the "Subscribe!" button in the top right of the page.
3)  Fill in your relevant information and be sure to lie for the 'first name', 'last name, and 
'phone' fields.  They don't need to know your name or your phone number - it's none of 
their business!  You'll need to tell the truth for the rest of the fields including email.  
Pick a username, password, and click 'I accept' on their nonsense terms of service like you 
actually read it and care.  Don't use a password you use anywhere else since they're going 
to mail it to you in unencrypted text for some stupid reason. Just write it down next to your 
computer if you don't want to remember it.(a)
4)  When you're done click 'Register'.
5)  Check your email for a message from  Click on the link to activate your account 
and you're done.

Installing and Setting up Jitsi
1)  Visit with your favorite web browser.
2)  Click on "Download Jitsi".
3)  Pick the right Jitsi download for your operating system from the stable category.
4)  Download and install the thing.  For more help see the additional resources near 
the end of this post.
5)  Start Jitsi.  Windows users may get a warning from a firewall program at this time.  
If you do, please allow Jitsi access to the network.
6) After starting for the first time you should see a screen for adding accounts.  Add your 
SIP user information into the SIP section of the add account screen.  If the username you 
chose on was "bob" you would enter "" as your username in Jitsi.  
Your password is the same password you wrote down from
7) Click "Sign In".

Communications software is pretty boring if you have no one to talk to.  So you'll want to 
add a contact after adding an account.
1)  Find someone you want to talk with.  Preferably this person will also want to talk with 
you, however this is not required.
2)  Show said person this blogpost for proper SIP/ZRTP/Jitsi indoctrination and ask them 
for their account name.
3)  Under "File" click on "Add contact…"
4)  In the "ID or Number Field" enter their contact information.  If they registered at 
with "jane" you would input "".
5) Click on "Add".
6)  They're now in your friends list and when you click on them you can choose to 
communicate with them via text, voice SIP call or video SIP call.  When they're online and 
available for a call the circle next to their name will turn green.
7)  Click on their name and then click on the icon below their name to make a secure 
video call.  If you see a green lock icon the call is secure.
8)  After a secure call connects, you might see some text and numbers below the video 
window.  If, for some reason, you and the person you're calling do not see the same text 
and numbers below your screens then there is a high chance someone is messing 
with your call.  Speak the text and numbers to the person you're calling and have them 
verify that they see the same numbers.
8) If you have no friends, or if your friends are slow and you really want to see this thing 
work, you can add the test user "".  Calling this user causes plays music 
back to you.  You can't call this user securely so don't worry if you don't get the green lock 

Additional resources:
Installing Jitsi on Windows(guide)

Installing Jitsi on Windows(Video)

Placing a ZRTP call with Jitsi(Video)


(a) I am not advocating that you always write down passwords next to your computer for 
every service you use online, just this one.  Proper operational password security is 
outside the scope of this post.

(b) If for some reason you don't get prompted to create an account the first time you start 
Jitsi, you can add your account by clicking on the "Add new account…" option under the 
"File" dropdown.  "File -->  Add new account…

A guest post by Beloved: The Tech of Talking to Loved Ones

Let’s take a break from our irregularly scheduled programming to spend some time talking about technology. Specifically, let’s talk about calling your friends and family if you’re half a world away and what software you can use for this purpose. You see, the first thing people think of, when they love you and you move far way is: “Can we Skype?” And you’d like to say yes, of course. But you’re married to someone who has forgotten more about communication technology than your entire family together knows, so there is no quick answer. 

Here is Beloved, with part 1 of The Tech of Talking to Loved Ones

The purpose of this post is to explain how to communicate securely over the internet with voice and video for a non-technical audience. This post has been in the planning since well before the name Edward Snowden became famous, but it is even more poignant today. The original impetus that set me down to write was requests from family members and friends who were hoping to talk to SmittenImmigrant and me over Skype after we moved to the Unites States. Now I am someone who has been involved with VoIP(Voice over Internet Protocol) since 1999 and I’m not going to use Skype. I remember when Skype came out and I remember disliking them for not choosing an open protocol like SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for their communications. The fact that we now know that Microsoft spies on Skype IMs just strengthened my resolve to find an alternative. [Note from Smitten Immigrant: there may or may not have been veiled threats from Beloved’s father-in-law  as well].

You , reader, may have a variety of reasons for wanting to communicate securely over the internet. Maybe you’re worried about the NSA or maybe you don’t like your personal information being used for marketing. For me, as a life long initiate in the geek faring religion of openness, I simply do not want to use a closed proprietary technology when an open alternative exists. As a bonus, I also like the idea of the NSA having to store every VoIP call I make (which they do, since it’s encrypted and they save encrypted data). I want to make their job more difficult, so I promote encryption at every opportunity.

Choosing VoIP Software

I’m going to leave out much of the technical mumbo-jumbo in this article since I don’t want to bore you. But I do want to mention why I chose Jitsi as my VoIP client. There are dozens of VoIP clients that support SIP these days. So why did I choose Jitsi?

I started by listing my requirements.

– The software had to be easy to use. Most of the people who would be calling us are not geeks like me or even power users like SmittenImmigrant.

– The software had to be open. I wanted code that had been peer reviewed and that anyone could look at. Anything short of that in encryption software is essentially useless.

– The software also had to be free as in beer and free as in freedom. I didn’t want to pay for it and I wanted changes made to it contributed back to public domain.

– The software had to run on multiple platforms. I use Apple computers as well as Linux, but most of the people who want to talk with us use Microsoft Windows.

– The software had to be actively maintained and could not be abandonware. A large problem with open source projects is that, since the developers are all volunteers, projects have a tendency to languish unfinished or broken for extended periods. I wanted software that was being updated regularly by a core group of people.

– The software had to support SIP and ZRTP for encryption. I’m going to leave out the reasons why I believe SIP has a much better future for internet based VoIP calls compared to H.323 because I promised no technical mumbo-jumbo. So you’ll just have to trust me. I will get into ZRTP in the next section.

Jitsi meets all the above requirements and then some. It’s also rather old (Jitsi started in 2003) which in the world of software is almost always a good thing. New software is always buggier than old software.

An extremely short introduction to Encryption

Encryption is the stuff of hidden messages. It’s been around longer than Christianity and we have records of the Romans and Chinese using to secret codes to communicate. Since the development of digital computers encryption has increasingly become about creating ever more difficult math problems for computers to solve. Luckily we don’t have to care about math or solve and math problems. That’s all been figured out for us by people much smarter than we are. We only need to know one acronym and understand what it does for us. This acronym is ZRTP (Zimmerman Real-Time Transport Protocol).

ZRTP is a key agreement protocol developed and championed by Phil Zimmerman (an excellent example of a super smart human who figures out stuff so we don’t have to) to be used with real time streaming applications, such as VoIP calls. A key agreement protocol allows the calling parties to exchange encryption keys in a secure manner so that no one other than the communicating parties can listen to the conversation. Encryption keys are what the software uses to encrypt and decrypt our call data. Without the key you cannot open the lock, so to speak, and ZRTP is responsible for making sure that only the people who are calling each other have the key. With regards to Jitsi it means that Jitsi running on computer A will generate a key and use ZRTP to exchange that key with computer B which also generated its own key. Once computer A and B have each other’s keys the conversation can begin securely and no one but computer A and computer B can listen to the conversation.

To be continued…

Puppies minus one

Picture by Misserion under a Creative Commons License.

Continuing on the off-topic note that my last post started on: if all goes according to plan, there will be one dog less in the shelter next time I go in. Let’s refer to this dog as Greyface.

Greyface’s impending absence has left me with a serious case of mixed feels.

Greyface is an older dog who is not doing well in the shelter at all. He is too stressed, loses weight to a point where his ribs are showing and has worn through the pads on his paws from nervous pacing and jumping up against the fence. He’s a sorry sight and has spent several months in the shelter already with very few people being interested in meeting him.

I spent some time grooming Greyface last week, finding him quite an enjoyable dog, and asked the shelter staff if there was no option to put him with a foster family because he was so obviously miserable. When the shelter admitted that there was no foster family available, I offered that Beloved and I could take him until he found a new home, or until we moved abroad (in case you wonder – we had discussed possible fostering even before I started volunteering and I did make it clear to the shelter that unless Beloved consented to this particular critter, there would be no deal). Less than ten minutes later the shelter staff agreed that it would be a wonderful idea. We set up an agreement – Beloved should come in first to meet Greyface, to see if they would get along and then we would take him home a few days later, when we were done with our current home improvement project.

Saturday came, I took Beloved to the shelter and one look of Greyface’s slightly cataract-clouded eyes later, Beloved was sold. Greyface was totally welcome and we would work hard to give him a place with well-paced exercise, fun play and plenty of time to sleep and be a senior dog who needs to gain weight. I started making preparations – arranging for transport to take Greyface to my house from the shelter (because we’re car-free and he is a sizable dog who comes with sizable equipment), informing those who’d come to visit with their own dogs that there would be an unknown canine factor involved with their visit, copying Greyface’s schedule of six daily meals into my phone and .. well.. Even Beloved happily announced to some visiting friends that we would be fostering a dog and that they should expect cuddles. We talked about the rules we’d uphold with Greyface, about what walk-schedule to put him on and who would be responsible for what. I lost a fair few hours of sleep to happy daydreams of having fur stuck to the couch, saliva on my jeans and an irrefutable need to go outside four times a day, snow and ice notwithstanding. Beloved joked a litte about how he’d only ever seen people show this much anticipation over the arrival of a new baby. He may have been right.

I went back to the shelter to volunteer again, a few days before Greyface would come home with us. So many people expressed their happiness to see Greyface get a place outside of the shelter. We discussed updating his web-listing with pictures I’d take at home and writing him a new character description based on how he behaved. I offered to take Greyface back to the shelter with me once a week on one of my volunteering days so that the people who like him could see how he was doing. People offered me rides for those weekly trips (because, really, a nervous dog with stomach issues on a commuter train is just not all that great of an idea) and I graciously accepted. Everybody thought it was a great idea.

Less than an hour after I got home that day, I got a call from the shelter staff. Much to everyone’s surprise, someone had come in and expressed an interest in permanently adopting Greyface. I have not heard from the shelter since, and can only assume that the adoption process has been started and that he won’t be there when I next go in. Obviously it is great that such a senior dog can find a permanent home. I think that the people who adopt him will find Greyface to be sweet, obedient and all around awesome. I hope and believe that these people and Greyface will get along and get lots of love and enjoyment out of their newfound companionship. I hope we never see him again, other than in a picture attached to a card or e-mail about how well he’s doing.

So, all that is nice and splendid and I am happy.

But I’m also sad – perhaps ridiculously so, but so be it – that I don’t get to have this dog who I get along with so well to grace our house, if only for a little while. I’m surprised at how over-the-moon excited I was when it appeared that we would get to have a foster dog and I’m even more surprised at how genuinely, handkerchief-wettingly sad I am now that it has become so very unlikely to happen after all.

I suppose there should be a moral to this story – something about developing more empathy for other humans and the cycle of joy and sadness that comes with a hoped-for expansion of your family, or better understanding the importance of pets for the good of the human soul, or some wise lesson or other that makes my post anything other than a self-centered ramble of a woman who didn’t get what she wanted – but I don’t feel like twisting the story that way. I could write the moral and it would be true, but it wouldn’t feel genuine in this moment.

I’m going to make tea and feel sorry for myself for a little while. Soon enough I’ll be back to cleaning kennels and I’m sure the other pooches will be happy enough with my care that it will make me feel better. And if the unlikely happens and for some reason these people decide not to adopt Greyface after all, then I’ll take him home and give him the best foster home a dog could ever want.