THE SKYPE HOOK

Making free international phone calls through the Internet is even more fun than we hoped. We were talking to a new contact in India through the free phone service called Skype when she suggested we talk to another SkypeSkype user she called “Peter of England.”

Peter of England turned out to be a retired printer in North Yorkshire, and while we were talking to him, he brought in Norm, who was taking it easy at home in the kiwi-growing center of New Zealand. We all chatted together in a conference call that was entirely free, because we all had downloaded the free Skype software from Skype.com. Norm of New Zealand, who is 85, said he prefers using Skype to a regular phone because he can turn the volume up as much as he likes.

We spoke through our computer using a Web cam; you can use video only for one-on-one conversations. Web cams turn out to be fairly cheap, and we bought ours for around $30. All of the conversation and the video came through very clearly, with none of the static or breaks we used to associate with Internet calls a couple years ago.

We accepted an invitation to join a virtual meeting of a group of Rotarians with 18 members: 10 in London, three in the United States, and one each in France, Switzerland, Portugal, Malaysia and Germany. On that day, they were visiting with another virtual Rotarian group in Iceland. The Skype screen display showed us who was talking and who was present at this conference call. If we wanted to, we could have clicked a button on the Skype screen and recorded everything. The whole thing was a kick and an international adventure. And it was all free.

The meeting in Iceland was a private conference, but there are plenty of public conferences going on all the time. These are listed in a column of “live” links on the Skype screen. The links also show what language is being used, and you can join in if you want. To create a Skypecast of your own, go to Skypecasts.Skype.com. If someone is obnoxious or turns out to be simply troublesome, the originator of the conference can click a button to mute him. 

Skype allows you to add all the participants in any conference to your contacts list. For that matter, the software can comb through your Outlook or Outlook Express mail and compile a list of those names who also have Skype. You can then make a free Skype call to any of them just by clicking on their name from within the software. Works with Windows, Mac or Linux.

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