You don’t know Magic Jack

I am inherently suspicious of products that employ the word “magic”. I can remember a certain Olympic Gymnast Barbie that came with a device that was billed as a magic twirling ring that would allow your Barbie doll to do all manner of amazing gymnastic acts… magically! Well, Despite it’s suggestive naming, this small piece of plastic contained absolutely NO dark powers derived from the occult. Barbie’s “magic” twirling ability was actually achieved through a combination of the principles of center of gravity, fulcrum, rotational velocity, and a child’s hand twirling the Barbie.

I can’t say for sure why we keep seeing the word magic used in marketing. It’s not magic, it’s science. My best working theory if that either the science behind these products has become so boring and mundane that people would rather believe that magic is the only explanation for why it works…

“This bucket holds water because gravity keeps it in place!”
“Yawn. Is that all it does?”
“(sigh) Magic Bucket holds any liquid, anywhere, for any amount of time! It’s MAGIC!”
“Holy crap! I want four of those!”

…or the science is actually so complicated that calling it magical is easier than trying to explain it.

“This new dishwasher uses a stream of high velocity zaphod particles to inverse-positively charge the particles of food on the dishes. Then it opens a zero diameter wormhole and the difference in the balance of electron pressures causes the food to be sucked away into a temporary universe that then ceases to exist at the moment the dishwasher’s sentient AI stops contemplating it.”
“(sigh) It’s magic.”
“That’s both comforting and logical.”

So it is a noteworthy occasion that I find myself having been taken in by a product calling itself the Magic Jack. And what is the Magic Jack? Let’s start with what it’s not (since it’s magic and it could do anything). Magic Jack does not magically lift your vehicle in the event of a flat so that you can change a tire. Magic Jack is not a system for mugging people with a +7 Glock of Intimidation. Magic Jack is not your uncle who is far worse at simple sleight of hand tricks than he believes.

The Magic Jack is a device/service that allows you to use your regular phone to make fuck cheap calls over the internet, through your home computer. It looks like a USB drive on steroids (but it never knowingly used steroids, it just let it’s personal trainer inject it with a natural herbal… something) The Magic Jack plugs into a USB port on your computer, and your home phone plugs into the Magic Jack. (Get it? It’s like a phone jack, but it magic!) If I remember correctly, the device was $40 and one-year’s worth of service was $20. So for less than my regular monthly Verizon bill, I’m getting set up to have virtually free phone service for the next year. My nipples are hard just thinking about it.

I bought and installed this thing about a month ago, and have been putting it through it’s paces. So far I’m satisfied enough to have given Verizon the kiss off (to which they put up absolutely no fight, strangely). When we signed up for the year of service we had to select a new telephone number, since Magic Jack doesn’t yet allow you to transfer an existing number. You can only select the exchange you want, from what they have available, and they assign you the number. We got one in the Amherst exchange, which is just next door, and we’ve already memorized it.

I’ve read plenty of online reviews of this product, and they fall into three categories. The first is OMG!!! I love the Magic Jack! it’s the best product EVER! The second is OMG! I fucking HATE the Magic Jack! It’s the worst product EVER! The third points out that the first know something about the workings of their own computers and the second are morons. See, the downside, if there is one, is that you’re plugging this thing into your computer. Sure your phone works just fine now, but that’s because it’s got absolutely no competition. It doesn’t have to share. It’s a spoiled only child. Plug it into your computer though, and it’s like putting that kid in a daycare. Now it’s gotta share time and space with the likes of a dozen programs running in your system tray, your email bullying it around, your Facebook hogging all the good toys, and all the way in the back of the room hiding in the old refrigerator box fort – your porn.

Faced with that it’s not surprising that your phone is going to throw a tantrum. Ours did. We’ve had two kinds of problems: echoing and what we like to call the bionic man effect. The echoing is hearing our own voices seconds after we talk, as though the sound is traveling from our mic to the person we’re talking to, then back to our earpiece. The bionic man effect is where the voice of the person calling us repeats like feedback. We never had any of these problems before, so they’re somehow connected to the Magic Jack installation. It’s not our broadband connection. Both these problems have happened when we’ve had a dozen browser windows open and been watching streaming video, and they’ve happened with no internet software running. I’ve already raised the priority level that the computer gives the magicjack.exe program to the highest possible, and installed software that keeps it there. I also purchased and installed a new USB 2.0 card, after confirming that the USB ports built in to the computer were the paltry 1.1 version. These fixed the frequency of the problems, but didn’t eliminate them. Right now I’m working off some techno know-how from a friend: that no matter how fast the USB is, the computer normally assigns a low priority to USB tasks, and that may be our problem. So I’m looking into tweaking things like IRQ and latency settings, (which I know nothing about. yet.) with the goal of lowering the priority for devices like the video card in favor of the USB card. More on that when I try it. If I don’t fatally cripple my poor computer in the process.

Bottom line: the Magic Jack does what it says it will do. You can plug in into a USB post on your computer and it will indeed (with successful registration) allow you to make and receive phone calls using a standard home phone. It just fails to mention that you may need to do quite a bit extra yourself. If all you know about your computer is that you click that icon there (or even worse, push that button on your keyboard) to get to your emails, then the Magic Jack is not for you. You will be sorely disappointed when you plug it in and anything short of a miracle happens. If, however, you accept that a little work on your part is worth saving at least 700 dollars a year then you should go for it. If you don’t even have a home phone, then why are you still reading?


One response to “You don’t know Magic Jack

  1. I have always wondered how Magic Jack did what it did. Thanks for the info!

    We need your new phone number.

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