What technology solution can I use to communicate from room to room?
September 27, 2010 4:28 PM   Subscribe

What technology solution can I use to communicate from room to room?

Mr. M has an office, I have an office. They are shouting distance from each other, but we are both tired of shouting, sometimes wear headphones, sometimes have doors shut, etc. It has become a real problem.

I need a solution that will allow us to get the other's attention that also meets our various technological needs.

Right now, if we need to get the other person's attention, our options are:

1) Shout. It's gotten old fast.
2) Get up and walk over to the person: interrupts everyone
3) Email. Works, but we may not both be in email ATM
4) Text message. neither of us have unlimited text messages and I just feel stupid every time (and he sometimes doesn't have his phone right there, which means I just end up getting up and walking over to bring him his buzzing phone)

What we can't do:

1) Gchat: he doesn't trust Google so he doesn't use Gmail. He will use GTalk, but that doesn't work with Gchat reliably. I also don't usually log into Gchat nor him to Gtalk unless we have prearranged to do so because we aren't online chat type people. We tried to make this work and it just didn't work.
2) Which means AIM is also obtrusive. (We don't chat with people online, as weird as that might make us.) I'm pretty sure I haven't had a chat program on this machine since 2 jobs ago when everyone used Yahoo Messenger so I had to install Adium.
3) I suggested Skype but he read an article about them that made him concerned for privacy so he won't install it. Even if someone here could give me a link that would assuage his concerns, I use Skype at work so if I logged in at home, I would get bothered by at least one obnoxious developer who has no boundaries.

We are on the same wifi network, he is on a PC, I am on a Mac.

When I worked at Huge Multinational Software Company there used to be the equivalent of netsend that would allow you to send a message to someone's computer if you knew the name of the computer. Something like that would be ideal, that wouldn't require us to remember to start up a program every time we sat down and would only do this one thing when we needed this one thing.

Does anything like this exist? Is there any other way to solve our problem besides a cheap pair of walkie-talkies? Some kind of wireless light system that we could push a button on? I already thought of a gong, but the headphones/closed door thing knocked that off the list.
posted by micawber to Technology (17 answers total)
Best answer: openfire (free xmpp chat software that you can host yourself) might be overkill.

How about - http://forums.applenova.com/showthread.php?t=13122
posted by devbrain at 4:35 PM on September 27, 2010

May be swatting a fly with a sledgehammer, but have you considered an internal Jabber server (e.g.: OpenFire) coupled with a Jabber client like Adium (that doesn't have to connect to anything but the internal server)? Might solve the security issues, since it's 100% open-source and can be run entirely in-house (and even firewalled off from the rest of the internet). Is an awful lot of work to solve a simple problem though.
posted by Alterscape at 4:36 PM on September 27, 2010

Do you have a landline? A lot of phone systems have an intercom function where you can place room-to-room calls in the same house.

There are wireless intercoms on the market, but reviews seem to be pretty lacking. That's pretty similar to walkie-talkies, though.

What's wrong with walkie-talkies?
posted by supercres at 4:37 PM on September 27, 2010

Do you have phones in all your rooms? Landline type ones? You could set up an intercom system through those.

Bluetooth with your cell phones?

Set up an encrypted Jabber server and use it with Pidgin/Audium? Seems excessive but you could probably find a good project to throw some crazy encryption on it.

I remember hearing about a crazily encrypted VoIP solution on the Cyberspeak podcast a few years ago, it was supposed to be able to detect if anyone not in the conversation was trying to decrypt it based on some fancy math or such.

Finally....tin cans? >.>
posted by Canageek at 4:38 PM on September 27, 2010

Well, if he won't trust Google or Skype, he won't trust AOL, Yahoo or any other third party service.

You could break down and install a Jabber server somewhere, and a Jabber client (or use a Jabber client with Google Chat).

There are other peer to peer chat programs, or you could go on IRC, or any of a number of things he'll probably decide to reject.

Bludgeon him into the modern era, and make him realize nobody at Monolithic International, Inc is going to care what you two have to say to eachother. Or install RF-controlled lamps or X10 home automation or something similarly expensive an unnecessary.
posted by Rendus at 4:38 PM on September 27, 2010

Best answer: Just use an IM client of your choosing (Adium is good for Mac; Pidgin and Trillian are good for Windows), and make sure it starts up and signs on when the computer starts up. That part is key: it sounds like if you have to remember starting a program, you guys won't end up using it.

With any of the above clients, you can sign into Google Talk, AIM, or just use Bonjour, like devbrain suggsted. Bonjour is completely local so you don't have to worry about your conversations flowing over other company's networks. Another option is using OTR encryption on top of either Google Talk or AIM to keep your conversations private, but that may be too much to get going. So just use Bonjour.
posted by zsazsa at 4:39 PM on September 27, 2010

Walkie talkies, seriously.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:43 PM on September 27, 2010

Buy phones that can act as intercoms. We have a set of Uniden DECT 6.0 phones that work just fine.
posted by donpardo at 4:45 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is kind of what IM (AIM, Gchat, whatever) is for.

Canceling AIM off the list because you don't chat with people online is wagging the dog a bit. The question makes it sound like you want a way to do exactly this. A tool for this expressed purpose already exists.

As for starting it up, you can just put it in your startup menu so it starts when the computer starts (for the windows user, I am sure there is some sort of Mac equivalent). You can use a client that minimizes to the tray instead of the task bar so you do not accidentally close it. You can just have each other on your "buddy list" so you won't be chatting with people online, you will just be messaging each other. Adium and Pidgin come to mind for this.

If you want a rube goldbergian system for it I guess you could do walkie talkies, or phones on different lines, or an intercom system, or some form of baby monitor?

I apologize for the snark in advance. It just seems like the privacy paranoia and internetaphobia is making your life less easy and convenient than it could otherwise be. Is the privacy issue a bigger concern than the convenience issue? I guess that is the question.

If he is ruling out all of the options, and you are the one that wants to communicate, maybe you guys need to have a chat about compromise and just agree on one of the simple hand-off, only does what you want it to options out there.

As a side note, there still might be a netsend kind of thing if you know his IP address. Others might be able to confirm that. If you guys have dynamic IPs, that will be a pain, but it is another of many possible solutions.
posted by milqman at 4:48 PM on September 27, 2010

You can buy a cordless phone with 2 or 3 handsets for $50-60 last time I checked at places like Costco. (They are actually very nice phones, basically very low-power cellphones and less like the full-duplex FM radios of yesteryear. It's not nuclear-bomb-secrets secure, but a lot better than older systems.) As a bonus they do not interfere with 802.11 wireless internet like many 2.4GHz systems do; they run on 6GHz instead.

Even if you don't use it as a phone -- which you might want to, as they're quite nice phones! -- you can use them as cordless intercoms within their range.

You'd just put the big main base station in one office with one handset, and the smaller remote base station with another handset in the other. Rather than dialing you could just press the intercom button.

A while back I did an old-school version of this with two analog, wired telephones. It's a much bigger PITA because you need to generate both the requisite line voltage and you need something to generate the 48V AC to make the phones ring. A fun hack and if you really wanted to there are circuit diagrams out there, but using cordless phones with an 'Intercom' button is a lot easier.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:50 PM on September 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another vote for Uniden cordless phones from Costco. Effective, trivially easy to use, very functional (speakerphone mode, room-monitoring mode, etc), inexpensive, good range, non-techy ... we've been using them for years around our place.
posted by anadem at 4:54 PM on September 27, 2010

While doing a little reading about the workings of DECT, I discovered I needed to make a correction ... "DECT 6.0" doesn't actually operate on the band I thought it did (I assumed they were rounding up a little from 5.8GHz, not just picking a nonsense arbitrary number) but actually on an exclusive allocation down in the 1.9GHz range. Marketers.

However the upshot about noninterference to wifi (including 802.11a, b and g) still applies.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:01 PM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

phones as intercoms work well. It's very Mr. Drysdale/Miss Hathaway, but it works. I don't think you even need landline service to make them work as intercoms. (also a uniden user)

i've got the same setup here. we both work from home. my office is in the kitchen, naturally, and he works in the living room office, through closed doors. Used to be* that i couldn't tell if he was already on the phone (which is OFTEN) so I'd just yell out, "HEY YOU WANT LUNCH YET" and he wouldn't answer, so I'd have to get up and go see if he was even in the room and if he was, was what he's doing part of the subset of things that normal humans do when they're alive (such as breathing... because, why else wouldn't he answer me when i offered to fix lunch?)

*used to be = I bought us a pair of cordless phones, i keep the main-base by my desk, so i can see if the little red light is on, which means that he's on the phone and wouldn't answer me anyway. If the light's not on, i use the phone as an intercom.

bonus points for my special snowflake, as he's not only big-brother-Google-averse, but practically a luddite. if a thing has buttons, it is to be avoided! Once in a while i send him something by IM and i'd have to tell him that i did so he'd look at it. but if his cordless rings, he'll press the big green button and answer it.

It's hard for me, because, for chrissakes, he's in the next room, i have info that i want him to have, and therefore i should give it to him... but i've come to realize that he doesn't want that info in little dribs & drabs all day long. It's distracting to him, and it's not his preferred method of communication. I'm relating this because your guy might be passive-aggressive about avoiding interruptions, too.

so here's what i've learned to do: Act as if he's 1000 miles away and out of cell range. Now I go about my life like he's not available for chitchat. When it's time for lunch (as determined by me!) I make enough for both of us and set his out for him. If he's not busy, he'll eat with me. When it's time for dinner, we actually have stuff to talk about, the way normal people do, after a day apart at our respective jobs.

it kinda sounds broken but it actually works really well... for us.
posted by ChefJoAnna at 5:19 PM on September 27, 2010

Best answer: Look for a chat client that supports Bonjour, which is a technology designed to obviate the need for servers and just have stuff talk to each other. Macs come standard with it (Bonjour is Apple's branding of the zeroconf protocol), and Windows users can get it from Apple--iTunes at least includes the option to install it, and I believe it's available separately. Of course, he might not trust Apple either. Oh, Apple's built-in iChat uses Rendevous for discovery, but it doesn't mean it's going to be compatible with anything else that uses it--Rendevous is pretty much just to find computers/services, not to define how they communicate.

The open source IM clients Pidgin and Gaim supposedly support Rendevous.

Another possibility is IRC clients for the two of you. There are people out there that would be less paranoid about a IRC than the other alternatives you mentioned, though there's no more to stop the server operator from violating privacy than there is for the other alternatives. A disadvantage here is a rather high learning curve depending on the client in use, and of course you're connecting to a server somewhere else. But the stereotypical privacy advocate may trust it more since it's "less corporate".
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 5:22 PM on September 27, 2010

What kind of mobiles do you have? There are a few options for bluetooth walkie-talkie arrangements on symbian and ios.
posted by pompomtom at 5:27 PM on September 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody.

Mostly the problem is us communicating with each other. I dislike being yelled at, even if it's just to get my attention. I also don't like him turning up at my door and he's not fond of me doing the same. The problem is mutual.

We don't have landlines so that was dead out.

We already have Bonjour installed on his machine (it only took me NINE MONTHS to get him to do it) so he can print to my printer. So we'll go with this and a chat client and get IDs that only we know.

Thanks again.
posted by micawber at 5:51 PM on September 27, 2010

Technically you won't need a landline to use cordless phones as intercoms. The cordless handsets (especially newer DECT phones, or if they're from the same manufacturer) can both connect to the same base station, and when you use the intercom function the signal only goes through the base station and not through any landline. All you'll need is a power source to charge the phones at.

Alternatively, you may wish to consider installing a pneumatic tube system in the home.
posted by WalterMitty at 6:22 PM on September 27, 2010

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