• How to transcribe Bell Mobility Voicemail (AMR) using VLC and Word Online

    If you are a Bell Mobility customer and you get messages like this whenever someone leaves you a voicemail, here is how to get a transcription.

    This is not an automatic process and you have to manually do it for each voicemail received, but it can be helpful when you need to forward the voicemail to someone else or collaborate on a response.

    To do this you will need VLC and access to the online version of Microsoft Word.

    Step 1 – Get the file on your computer

    If you are an android user, the easiest way is to use messages.google.com which will allow you to send and receive text messages (and attachments) from your computer.

    Step 2 – Convert AMR to MP3 using VLC

    Open VLC and click File > Convert / Save

    Then click add and find your file

    Then click Convert / Save

    Make sure that the profile is set to Audio – MP3 and click browse to pick where you want the output file to be saved, and then click start.

    For voicemail files this typically only takes a second or two to convert so it might seem like it didn’t do anything, but check the destination folder to see if it worked.

    Note: this will work to convert any file VLC can open to MP3, including videos.

    Step 3 – Use Word Online to transcribe the MP3

    Open Microsoft Word Online in your web browser: https://www.office.com/launch/word

    Click Blank document under Create new

    Click the drop down under Dictate and then pick “Transcribe”

    In the Transcribe sidebar click Upload audio and find the MP3 file you created in step 2.

    This can take a few minutes, but when it is done you can add it to the document. For voicemails I typically pick “Just text”

    Note: if you use this for files with multiple people speaking, the transcription engine will try to label each person Speaker 1, 2, etc. and you can edit their names by hovering over a section of the transcript and clicking the pencil icon.

  • Electricity Cost of Electric Vented Dryer

    I live in Ontario and my electricity is billed on a time of use plan.

    Time of Use Table from https://www.oeb.ca/consumer-information-and-protection/electricity-rates

    I had assumed that one of my biggest electricity users was my vented electric dryer as it has a 240V/30AMP service, and my sub-metering system showed high spikes whenever it ran.

    Chart from IotaWatt Graph+ of the Dryer running

    I looked back over the past few days whenever the dryer ran and made a table of the kWh for the last 7 loads.

    Excel table of kWh used per load

    And based on that average, calculated the cost to dry a load of laundry at each of the three time of use rates

    Excel table of electricity cost to dry a load of laundry

    I was a bit surprised how cheap this was. Under 40 cents to dry a load of laundry at the highest time of use rates. It is double the cost to dry at on peak vs. off peak but it is only 20 cents more a load.

    Looking back over January it looks like we dried 14 loads of laundry, so if we did all of them off peak we would have saved $2.80/month which is $33.60 a year.

    So, drying laundry with an electric vented dryer, which is really the most energy intensive way to dry laundry is surprisingly cheap and while you can save some money by shifting your drying to off-peak times it really doesn’t amount to much.

    Also this calls into question the business case for a heat pump dryer as even if they used no energy to dry clothes, it would only save us around $60/year which likely doesn’t justify the additional cost of a heat pump dryer.

  • How to decrypt secured PDF files

    Here is how to unlock / decrypt (SECURED) PDF files on windows. This uses the excellent qpdf application.

    QPDF is a command-line tool and C++ library that performs content-preserving transformations on PDF files. “


    Note: This doesn’t work on PDFs that require a password to open. Just the (SECURED) ones that let you view them but stop you from printing/copying text/extracting pages/assembling them.

    Setup: Get qpdf

    Download the latest version of qpdf from this website: https://github.com/qpdf/qpdf/releases

    There are a bunch of different versions but the one you should try first and will likely work for 99% of people is the one ending with msvc64.

    qpdf releases at time of writing

    The exe file is an installer and requires admin permissions and the zip file is a “portable” version that can be run without admin permissions once you extract it.

    How to use qpdf

    What I like to do is copy the target pdf file into bin folder in the qpdf application folder. The default location for the installer is:

    C:\Program Files\qpdf 11.2.0\bin

    Now you need to open a terminal / command line and navigate to the directory. I find the easiest way is to go there in windows explorer and right click in the files pane and choose “open in terminal”

    Windows 11 File Explorer: open in terminal

    Now you just need to execute the following command, replacing inputfile.pdf and outputfile.pdf as required. Windows command line does do command line autocomplete so you can type the first letter of the file name and hit tab to cycle through all of the file names that start with that letter.

    qpdf.exe -decrypt inputfile.pdf outputfile.pdf

    If the command works there won’t be any feedback on the command line, but “outputfile.pdf” will be created.

  • How to get a cheap conference call number using voip.ms

    So, with this crazy COVID-19 pandemic it might be useful to have a conference call number to facilitate physical distancing.

    This is a how to set up a conference call number using the very cost effective voip.ms service.

    If you set this up using a local number it will cost you less than 1 cent per minute per caller. For example a call with 8 people dialing in that lasted 2 hours your cost will be under $5.

    Step 1: Create an account at voip.ms

    Please use my referral link: https://voip.ms/en/invite/MjYwOTA2

    If you use the referral link we both get $10 in credits.

    Here is the non-referral link: https://voip.ms/login?redirect=/m/index.php

    Step 2: Add funds to your account

    Under Finances click add funds to do this.


    • You need to add a minimum of $15 to your account to proceed. If you used the referral link above you will get an additional $10 of account credit to work with.

    Step 3: Order (set up) a DID (phone number)

    Under DID Numbers click Order DID(s)

    Once your DID is set up, write down the number.


    • The cheapest option is a local number in your area, but you can also pick a toll-free number if you want at a slightly higher cost.
    • Note: You need to pick a per minute plan to use the audio conferencing feature.

    Cost examples:

    • A local number in Ontario Canada costs $0.85/month and $0.009/minute (that’s 9/10th of a cent) under the per minute plan.
    • A toll free number costs $1.25/month and $0.027/minute (that’s 2.7 cents) under the per minute plan.

    Step 4: Setup the audio conference

    Under DID Numbers click Audio Conferencing

    Click add a conference


    • Each Conference is like a room, anyone who is allowed into this conference is in the same “room”.
    • So if you are setting this up for multiple people to use at the same time you need enough conferences for everyone.
    • To control access you can assign participants on the participant tab. This list shows all of the participants for all conferences. If you have multiple conferences (aka rooms) then you need to review the settings for each one so that each participant is linked to the correct room. I would suggest keeping this simple and having a single participant linked to each room so that there is a 1 to 1 relationship between rooms and pin numbers.

    Step 5: Link your DID to the audio conferencing

    Click DID numbers > Manage DID(s)

    In the DID numbers table click the edit DID icon in the actions column for the DID you want to link to the conference.

    In the routing pick audio conferencing and pick the conference you created earlier

    Click the “click here to apply changes” at the bottom of the email.


    • You can also change a few other features here also. I would recommend turning on the caller ID lookup, it does cost $0.008 (8/10th of a cent) per lookup, but without you won’t know who is dialing in.

    Step 6: Test it

    You can now call the DID number and it will ask you for your pin that you set up in step 4.

    I would test that different people can call in using the PINs you established and that they end up in the correct “room” (conference).

    Optional: Check on how much it’s being used / costing you

    If you want to see how much this is being used, you can run a “Call Detail Report” under the CDR and Reports tab.

    Note, I don’t think there is any way to differentiate the usage by conference (rooms) or participants, so all calls to a DID will be charged to that DID and you can’t find out which room they used. If you need to separate costs for different people/groups you need to sign up for another DID.

  • R-Values do not reflect reality


    So this is really interesting. This company constructed two identical boxes, one with Glutex wood fiber insulation rated at R-5.7 and one with XPS foam insulation rated at R-10 and monitored the internal temperatures over a month. And if you are still reading you’ll probably guess what happened, the Glutex wood fiber insulation performed better, even though it is almost half the r-value of the XPS foam!

    Part of the issue is how the r-value is determined:

    Standard tests for R-value use a steady-state temperature (ASTM 2018), but our enclosures exist in a world of highly variable temperatures. Furthermore, R-value tests typically only include conductive heat transfer, missing any influence of radiant heat transfer, and are conducted under unrealistic conditions, such as 50 degrees F at the interior with 100 degrees F at the exterior (Bailes 2013).

    This scenario actually happens almost all the time. Someone notices a difference in how things perform (in this case insulation) and comes up with a way to measure the difference (the r-value). This method of measuring the difference is almost always optimized to be cost effective to test which means it usually is quick to do and/or is based upon a limited number of variables. (i.e. testing at a steady state temperature, ignoring radiant heat) Based upon this new way of measuring the difference, companies come up with new products that are optimized for profit based upon that measurement (i.e. highest r-value/inch) and given enough time, these products take over the marketplace, even though they do very poorly outside of the test conditions.

    Another great example of this is Polyisocyanurate insulation which has the amazing feature of being less effective at resisting temperature the colder it gets!

  • Why time management is ruining our Lives


    Here is a great article on the other side of time management. I’m a huge fan of the productivity movement but it’s good to read something like this once in a while to provide some context to what we are deciding to do when we focus on productivity as our top priority.

  • Think about what you could do

    Thinking about what you should do narrows the options down, instead try to think about what you could do in this situation to widen the potential options and come up with better solutions.


  • A year of progress

    A year ago (2018-01-11)
    Last week (2019-01-09)

    It’s pretty amazing what can get done in a year! We went from a dirt path to a two storey space.

  • Self Control Psychology Myth

    Interesting article on self control.

    The paper stumbled on a paradox: The people who were the best at self-control — the ones who most readily agreed to survey questions like “I am good at resisting temptations” — reported fewer temptations throughout the study period.


  • Landscaping Underway

    Landscaping underway at my Montcrest School project. The sidewalk has been widened based upon the City of Toronto’s requirements and there is a substantial amount of permeable paving going in to deal with the storm water on site. Photo taken on 2019-01-09.