On the shutdown: call out bullshit, then question your own.

As you know by now the US government’s been held hostage by right-wing extremists. These people thought Romney was going to win in a landslide, so reality isn’t their forte. We should absolutely call them out on their bullshit, especially when the result of it is a government shutdown that’s going to cost the American people billions of dollars.

But while you do that, question what bullshit you might hold dear. Because there is some. All of our brains want, more than anything, to be told that we’re right. To be told that our ideas are legitimate, and that anyone who disagrees is immoral, misinformed or somehow inferior to our superior selves.

And we’ve all got personal internet bubbles set up. Facebook filters out people we don’t interact with, you only follow people you like on Twitter and even your Google searches are determined by what Google thinks you like. Our stupid brains love this, but reality becomes increasingly subjective as our filters grow to service them.

Again: only one party decided to use a basic government protocol to hold hostage a law passed years ago by a democratically elected congress and supported by a recently re-elected president. They absolutely deserve the blame here.

But the deeper problem is a cultural inability to agree on what is and isn’t true. This nonsense is only a symptom – albeit a batshit crazy one.

I’m So Angry At The NHL That I’ll Watch Every Freaking Game

Hockey’s back! To most of you this sentence means nothing, but for this Canadian living in Colorado it means life is more worth living than it was two weeks ago.

I shouldn’t watch. The season was delayed – and an outdoor game between my two favorite teams cancelled – because millionaires and billionaires couldn’t decide how to properly distribute my money. The last thing I should do after such an inexcusable event is watch NHL hockey, because it tells the owners and players I’ll keep watching no matter what stupid crap they do.

But….but….

I will keep watching hockey no matter what stupid crap they do. I’m stuck in an abusive relationship, but at least I admit it. That’s something, right?

Anyway…hockey’s back! So excited. I gave the league 50 of my dollars so I can watch every game. Tip: use the XBMC Gamecenter plugin and you can bypass every blackout, and get a better interface for watching to boot. HD picture, occasional buffering, no cable required.

Anyway, I hate myself for supporting the league. And am so happy the game is back. And angry. And happy.

Whatever.

How I pay only $20 a month in phone bills

You pay too much for your phone, assuming you pay more than $20 a month. Or, at least, you pay more than me.

That’s all I pay, and I have a cell phone and unlimited long distance. And no, I didn’t hack the phone system.

It’s quite simple, actually. By combing Skype, a pay-as-you-go cell phone (Net10) and Google Voice you can have a single phone number with unlimited long distance that you can use anywhere in the US…for $20 a month. Here’s the annual breakdown:

  • SkypeOut: $30 ($2.99/month w/ 15% discount for 12 months.)
  • SkypeIn: $30 (discount for purchasing the year subscription.)
  • Net10: $180 ($15/month)
  • Google Voice: Free (and awesome.)
  • Total: $240 Annually, or $20 a month.

With this, I get:

  • Unlimited long distance in the US and Canada, via Skype.
  • Better cell reception than most of my friends.
  • Convenient web-based voicemail via Google Voice.
  • SMS transcripts of voicemails sent to my cell phone.

Naturally you might want to modify my strategy a little, but if you want to learn how to copy this method I suggest you keep reading.

Step 1: Get Skype

The first step is to get a Skype account, which you can do easily at Skype.com, and it’s worth it. This program, known best for its free computer-to-computer webcam calls, is actually quite functional as a phone line. Over at bicycle-based IT company iSupportU we use a Skype phone to conduct practically all our business.

Once you have your Skype account set up I suggest you buy a subscription. The price is listed at $2.99, but if you commit to a year you’ll receive a discount bringing the price down to a round $30 per year.

Step 2: Get a Skype Phone

Making phone calls from your computer has its downsides, even if you’ve done all you can to fix low sound quality on Skype. The biggest problem, of course, is that you need to keep your computer on all the time to receive calls.

For this reason I own a Skype phone. I myself own the Belkin Desktop Phone (Buy.com, $69.99) but there are a variety of such phones on the market. Belkin’s got a pretty nice WiFi phone on the market for $179 (Buy.com), for example.

There’s are a few more to choose from, of course; check out Buy.com or Skype’s online store for more selection.

Of course, if you already own an iPhone or an iPod touch you’re good to go already; just download the Skype App and you’ve got a WiFi Skype phone already…even if you stop paying the bill to AT&T.

Step 3: Get a Net10 Cell Phone

Skype’s great, but even with a WiFi phone it only works if you have WiFi access. Cell phones can easily fill in this gap, but unlimited cell phone plans tend to be expensive.

For this reason I prefer cheap pay-as-you-go phones; the kind you see in grocery stores. I particularly like Net10, because it’s cheap and easy to use.

Don’t believe me? Check out how cheap the phones are and how cheap the minutes are. Even with the cost of the phone you won’t be paying much more than $15 a month for this service.

Just keep in mind: when buying time for your phone ignore the minute totals. Minutes don’t matter.

Why? Your minutes are bankable and, assuming you depend mostly on your Skype account for longer conversations, you’ll typically not even get close to using up all of your minutes in a given month. Use the cell phone primarily for quick “I’m coming home” or “Where are you?” conversations and you’ll be surprised how far you can stretch things.

So what does matter? Cost-effectiveness. Keep your cell phone active for the most days possible while spending as little money as possible. Doing this is simple if you know the formula: days of service divided by total price. Use a calculator if you need to, just make sure you understand which amount of minutes you need to buy in order to get the most Days of Service for your buck.

As of right now the best deal Net10 has going is the three-hundred minutes with sixty days of service card for $30; that’s fifty cents a day. Click here to buy a phone and get started.

Word to the wise: do not enable voicemail on your Net10 phone. You’ve got better plans.

Step 4: Combine Everything With Google Voice

Now that you’ve got two phones it’s time to get yourself a Google Voice account, if you haven’t already. Sign up here and you’re good to go. This service is amazing, but Google can explain better than I can:

All you need to do is add your Skype phone number and your cell phone to Google Voice to get started, but you can do a lot more. For example:

  • Set up Skype to display your Google Voice number for outgoing calls. This will make things less confusing for the people you call.
  • Set Google Voice to forward messages to your email and you’ll be less likely to miss them.
  • Set Google Voice to send you an SMS message when someone leaves you a Voicemail. This gives you a discrete way to check your voicemail.
  • Open SMS messages on Google Voice as much as possible. Net10 only charges you for texts if you open them on your phone!

Google Voice is well documented in and around the web, so I won’t get into it much more. Check out Google’s own Voice help page if you get stuck, and have fun!

Feedback?

I hope this guide saves you money; it’s saved me quite a bit. Do you have any more suggestions? Please Leave them in the comments below. Also feel free to leave any links to deals on Skype phones or pay-as-you-go phones. I tried to find low prices but things change quickly.

Also, I live in the USA. As such, this guide assumes people live in the USA. If you know of any similar guides for people abroad, or have tips, please include them as well.