DIY: Skype-ology

Dana Hawco teaches you to reach out and touch someone… using the power of the interweb.

Christmas is that time of year when you make those big attempts to spend time with family, friends or that special someone. Unfortunately, sometimes the most awesome of people live in most of ridiculous of places. Like Sweden, or Baltimore, or Grand Falls. These people miss out on the unwrapping of gifts, the “special” spiked eggnog and the inevitable tipping over of the Christmas tree.

But don’t fret, because there is an easy way you can talk to friends and family that live in far away lands. All you need is a computer, a mic (maybe a web-cam) and an internet connection.

Skype has been around for approximately five years. Simply put, Skype is a piece of software that allows you to make telephone calls over the Internet. But what makes Skype really cool is it allows you to hook up your web-cam and actually see the person you are talking to.

So pour yourself a glass of that “special” spiked eggnog and turn your computer on…
The first thing you need to do is to head over to and download the latest version of Skype. They have versions for both Mac and PC, so everybody can take part in the geeky fun.

When the download is done, give the file a solid double click and the Skype setup wizard will appear like magic and guide you through the rest of the installation. After the program is installed you will need to set yourself up with a Skype name. To do this, you will need to start up Skype and click on the “Don’t have a Skype name?” link. Once your account is created, Skype will automatically log you in and you’ll be one step closer to making your first call. Woo!

It would be a good idea to check to see if your mic or web-cam is in working order. You can check your settings under your Skype Preferences. I also highly recommend having a set of headphones. Headphones will give you better sound quality and they block out any annoying voice echo that might occur without them.

So if your best friend John uses Skype as well, all you need is his Skype name and you can give him a call—for free! Additionally, you could call any landline or mobile phone through Skype. This service does cost money but its way cheaper compared to regular long distance prices. Find out more on subscriptions and pricing here:

The next step in this process is to add a contact to your contact listing. Click on the “Contact” menu and choose “Add a contact”. This option will allow you to search for a person by name, location and even language or gender. When you find the person you are looking for, click on their name and choose “Add as a contact”.

Once you do that, you will see that they are added to your main contacts listing. This listing will show you if this person is online. Additionally, it will tell you if they have a web-cam. When you click on the person’s name you can either choose the little speech balloon to send them an instant message or you can click on the telephone icon and give them a call.

If a person decides to call you, Skype will alert you with a sound and you can choose to accept the phone call or ignore it. Do note that sometimes random strangers like to call people up to have chit chat. But also be warned that sometimes people can call for a little random “naughty” talk. No matter the topic of the conversation—if you don’t feel like talking, Skype works just like a phone and you can completely ignore the call.

Once your friend answers one of your phone calls, a new window will appear on your screen. This window lets you know that a call is in progress and it gives you the option to mute or pause the call. As well, if you click on the little “camera” button, it will alert your caller that you want to start a video conversation with them. Once they hit “accept” on their end, they will be able to see you.

Skype is a great piece of software but with all greatness comes a little crapness.
Speaking on Skype is a little odd, and it will take some getting used to. There can be a delay in the sound and in the video. As well, sometimes calls get disconnected or the quality is just plain bad. But no worries—if the sound or video quality isn’t the best, simply hang up and call the person again. Usually calling back and getting a new connection can fix up those pesky problems.

So there you have it. A few simple steps to the best Christmas gift of all… great conversation.

Illustration by Kira Sheppard.