TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘travel technology’ Category

* A note about Orange and some excellent customer service.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 25, 2009

cell phoneOn our trip to Lithuania, our French mobile phones didn’t work. Actually, they did work, and Orange tried mightily to help us, but we did not take advantage of their help.

The phones worked fine in Perpignan when we were leaving and called Nikolas to taxi us to Girona. But in Girona, and again in Lithuania, they did not work. I couldn’t even check the remaining minutes and days, of which I was sure we had both.

We were receiving many text messages from Orange, in French of course, which I should have put into Google and translated, but didn’t.

The day after we returned, our British neighbor who has become fluent in French, putting us to shame, read the messages. It turns out that Orange had tried very hard to be helpful.

“Orange is with you in Lithuania, but you must dial 33 before your number”

“We have multi-lingual help available – call 244.”

That was unusually good customer service reaching out, taking initiative to help us, which deserves to be recognized even if we failed on our part to take advantage of the help offered..

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Posted in ... 2009, customer service, travel technology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

* Comcast messes up SlingBox … SEE UPDATE … no Comcast problems for several years

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 26, 2008

UPDATE 8/7/10 … This post is several years old. We have had very few problems with SlingBox since the issue described below, and none of these subsequent problems was caused by ComCast. SlingBox continues to be a valuable and generally quite reliable means of staying in touch while we travel.

On the day we left Collioure (May 15), I demonstrated Sling Box to Pat’s cousin Renee, who would, with her husband Gary, occupy our apartment for part of the time we were gone. A few hours later, Sling Box no longer worked. After 10 days away, it was still not working.

My first thought was that something was wrong inside our Key West home: the cable box had gone off during a power out and had not re-set; the new DVD recorder, through which our Sling Box video feed was wired, had failed to re-boot; the new cable box installed by Comcast had crashed and burned.

This is a serious matter. We use Sling Box to keep current with the news, and a few other regular shows (Meet the Press). The Democratic primary race continues; unbeknownst to us, on Dancing with the Stars, a winner has been selected.

I am particularly nervous because I watch Yankee games on MLB.TV, unaffected by any Comcast/Sling Box problems, but Pat’s viewing is all dependant on our Key West to internet TV connection.

Our next door neighbor Bill, who so graciously watches our home while we are away, was himself on an extended trip. We call our friend Paul, who goes to our house. We talk via Skype. He tells me what he sees, we try together to determine the problem. The Comcast cable box is on. The DVD recorder is on. Paul turns on the TV; there’s no picture on any channel. A message says this channel will be available soon. Paul, watching nothing, wonders if ‘soon’ means minutes, days or years. I ask Paul to turn on the TV in the guest bedroom, powered by a second Comcast cable box. Same story. No picture, ‘soon.’

Paul says he thinks the service has been disconnected. He turns off both TVs, leaves the cable box and DVD recorder on, and leaves.

There’s another piece of relevant information.

Some months ago, Comcast came out because the DVR feature of our cable box was not functioning. They fixed it. But when I looked at my next invoice on the Comcast web site, I noticed they had charged me for a service call. I objected, and they agreed it was a mistake, promised a credit.

When we returned to Collioure from Sicily, my checklist said to review my credit card bill to see if the credit had been processed. I also looked at my on-line Comcast statement. The credit had been issued.

But I noticed something strange. The billing address on my statement, for the Key West bill, was Stone Henge Drive in Fenton, MI!

I called Comcast (thank you again, Skype) and was told there was no record of any change in billing address for as many months as the representative could see. He couldn’t see much, because while he was telling me that, I checked my previous on-line statements and found that the billing address had been changed only for the most recent statement. He agreed to change it back.

Now we’re back to why Sling Box doesn’t work. Paul thinks the service has been discontinued. Pat concludes it must have something to do with the incorrect change of address. She puts it together intuitively like the courtroom defense lawyer she was. Someone who lives in Florida for the winter went home to Michigan for the summer, discontinued his Comcast service for the duration. Maybe it’s someone named Weinstein.

We do a lookup on the Fenton, MI address. Guess what? Sheldon Weinstein, wife Rebecca. Unlisted phone. Next we do a search for Sheldon Weinstein in Florida; find him in Lake Worth, wife Rebecca, Lake Worth listed phone number, temporarily disconnected.

I call Comcast again. NOTE: this exercise took over 4 elapsed hours, perhaps 3 of that on the phone; with Skype, a cost of less than $5.00; without Skype, too expensive to do.

Comcast tells me that my account in Key West was put on seasonal suspension on May 9, effective May 15 through November 15. I say I didn’t do it.

“We verify street address, phone number, last name,” she said. “If someone else has that information, it’s not our fault. Do you want the number of our fraud unit?” Do we sound just a tad defensive?

“It’s not fraud,” I say. “Would someone use our information to suspend our service, for what reason I cannot imagine, and then leave his own summer billing address so he could be traced? Does that make any sense to you? Isn’t it more likely that someone at Comcast applied the seasonal change order to the wrong account?”

We all know that the people we talk to in customer service, at almost any company, are not particularly attuned to common sense. Some are smarter than others, some are ruder and more arrogant, but they all have their script. If your problem doesn’t fit their rote training, they don’t know how to talk to you. Thinking is not part of the job description. Same applies to supervisors.

“Could you check for me to see if a man named Sheldon Weinstein in Lake Worth is a Comcast customer, and if he also lives in Fenton, MI?” I give her both street addresses.

“I can’t do that. Lake Worth is a different customer service call center. So is Michigan. I can’t access those areas.”

“Who can?”

Silence.

“Can you reverse the seasonal suspension?”

Comcast does reverse the seasonal suspension, and some time during the night, Sling Box re-appears. They also give me a full month’s credit. But they will not admit it was their mistake. “Someone called, gave your address, and requested the change,” they insist. “You should call our fraud unit.”

I’m not going to call the fraud unit. Instead, I get the names and phone numbers of supervisors and their supervisors, as well as Comcast corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. I’ll make another round of calls on Tuesday (Monday is Memorial Day). You’ll be the first to know what I learn.

Posted in ... 2008, problems, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

* phones in France 2008 – a piece of cake

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 10, 2008

Last year, we had great difficulty understnding how to obtain French phones and add additional minutes.

This year, it was easy.

We had purchased new mobile phones in the US, so we decided to use our old US phones in France. To do this, you first have to contact your phone company and have the phone ‘unlocked.’ Once this is done, you can insert a new SIM card and use the phone with a new mobile account.

On our first day in France, we found an Orange outlet, purchased SIM cards, and added minutes while still in the store.

More importantly, we got clear instructions from an English-speaking sales person as to how to check remaining minutes,and add more minutes, procedures that were mysteries to us last year.

So far, so good.

Posted in ... 2008, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

* Citibank, how dare you reject my credit card?

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 10, 2008

May 1, 2008.

We arrived in Collioure after 24 hours travel, with no problems. Our first stop, after unpacking the car, was a pizza and beer in town, where we were greeted by our friend and waitress Sophie. The French pizza, as always, was excellent.

The next day, we used the rental car to shop for ‘large’ items and other things not available in our small village shops. At first, everything went smoothly.

The first problem occurred when Pat tried to purchase a bracelet at a small jewelry shop in Collioure. Our MasterCard, which had worked all day at other stores in and out of Collioure, was rejected. We tried again with the same result.

We first thought the problem was that this vendor, a new store, may have had the kind of credit card machine that only accepts cards with chips. (American credit card companies, apparently never having heard of globalization, still don’t have chips twenty years after they were introduced in Europe. More about this later.)

Then we went to buy some wine at the shop we frequented last year. They had the same credit card machine they had last year, but it, too, rejected our purchase. So it was not the chip that was the problem in this store.

A bright point of light in this otherwise gloomy story. The lady in the wine store insisted we take the wine without paying for it. “I know,” she said, “you’ll be back tomorrow.” We took it but didn’t drink any until it was paid for.

Now I’m on the phone with Citibank. I explain what happened.

“What caused the problem?

“It’s security checks,” the customer service representative says.

“But I told you two months ago we were going to be travelling, and every country we would be in.”

“It’s security checks,” she repeats, following the script.

“How do the security checks work?”

“We can’t explain it.”

Can’t? Or won’t?

“I think it’s the absence of a chip. Can you send me a card with a chip?”

“We don’t have one,” she says. “But we’re considering it.”

This is how to lose the international economic competition. Citibank, certainly a major player, is ‘considering’ chips! Right on top of things, aren’t we!

“So what are we to do?” I ask. “We’re going to be in Europe for the whole summer. Are we to live in constant fear of being embarrassed by having our Citibank MasterCard rejected in shops and restaurants?” There’s no answer.

“Did you change the security criteria for my account?” I ask.

“No.”

“You haven’t changed anything in 2008?”

“No.”

“Then why is it rejecting now when it didn’t before?”

“Well, the vendor is supposed to call us to get an ok on the card.”

“From France? And what language will the Citibank representative be speaking? And how does the vendor know he’s supposed to call? And what makes you think he’s going to take time to call when he has other customers waiting to be served?”

None of these questions are answered. But the Citibank customer service representative does say she will contact security, and they will ‘relax’ the security criteria so our card will not be rejected, at least not often.

“Can I please talk to your supervisor?”

The supervisor repeats the same unhelpful information, and casts doubt on the only solution proposed by saying they are going to ‘ask’ security to relax the criteria, but cannot be assured they will.

This is customer service that doesn’t serve customers.

This is a major American company out of touch with the rest of the world.

We have been Citibank MasterCard customers for years. We pay every bill in full before the due date. We informed Citibank about our travel plans. We don’t deserve to be treated this way.

The next day, we pay for the wine with cash. The following day, we try our credit card again –same store, same credit card machine – and it works. Is the story over? We’ll let you know,

Meanwhile, we applied for an American Express Blue card, a card with a chip.

***************************

For more information about credit cards without a chip, please see Frommer’s 11-20-07 article titled “U.S. Credit Cards Lose Their Cachet in Europe.”  Click …

http://www.frommers.com/tips/article.cfm?tipID=MONEY&articleid=4793&t=U%2ES%2E%20Credit%20Cards%20Lose%20Their%20Cachet%20in%20Europe

****************************

To get an idea how long this problem has been known, perhaps not to Citibank, check out this 2001 article in the New York Times, titled, “CREDIT CARD CHIPS WITH LITTLE TO DO.” It explains some of the reasons American companies, at least in 2001, had not adopted the chip. Click …

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F00E5D6103FF931A2575BC0A9679C8B63

 

Posted in ... 2008, legal & financial, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

* mobile phones in France

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2007

    

French mobile telephones (nobody in Europe, except us, says cell phone) are next on our list. We go to the Orange store, this being the France Telecom outlet, and also SFR, which is the French representative for Vodaphone. At SFR, we learn that they offer phones and you can “top up” minutes on the internet, through the phone, or at any outlet.

But the minutes you but have a limited shelf life, use them or lose them, which is not what we want. Our objective is to have phones which we will use infrequently, and we want to buy a small quantity of minutes to last for several months.

Back at Orange, we select phones and make our purchase. Nokia phones, with instruction books in English as well as French.

The next day, setting up the phones, I learn that Orange “top up” minutes are also “use or lose.” It takes only a second to realize that the clerk in the Orange store is not at fault. She would assume that everyone knew how minutes were sold, so there was no need to spell it out. And we didn’t ask. My next reaction is to return the phones. But maybe that’s not going to solve anything either. The cost per two weeks, or per month, is not that great, and we can buy minutes for when we travel, since we have almost no use for mobile phones while we’re in Collioure.

Posted in ... 2007, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

internet difficulties in Perth

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 19, 2007

We actually have two computers in Perth, the desk top which was left for us in our home exchange house, and the laptop we brought. The Ethernet cable works fine with our laptop. Skype works fine, but MLB and Slingbox reception is not great, which we think is related to a slower broadband connection than we are used to in KW or Collioure.

Computers and telephones are among the very difficult aspects of living in someone else’s home, or even in living abroad generally. People everywhere use their own phone by second nature, so they never think of telling you all the subtle differences, like when to use an extra digit or not, and it can be frustrating. We’re probably just as deficient, but we’ll try to be more precise, and to ask better questions. Better to use Skype.

One morning, we turn on the computer and there’s no internet connection. With three weeks left in Perth, this is a major problem. All of our communications, travel arrangements, and financial transactions depend on the internet.

Fran, our home exchange partner, has left a number to call for iprimus tech support in case of problems, and she also communicates with Iprimus to give permission for them to talk with me.

Iprimus advises there are no system difficulties, so the problem must be at the home. They lead me through a process that confirms the internet connection from iprimus to this location was functioning properly, and conclude that the problem is in the router connection. They give me a phone number for Netgear tech support.

I call Netgear, who agree that the problem was probably in the router. They lead me through an exercise which resets the router. Now all I have to do is log on correctly through the router setup program. The only problem is that the account name and passwords I have do not work. I call Iprimus again.

After confirming that my birthday is June 5, 1942 (thank you Fran for making me two years younger when you made up my birthday) Iprimus gives me the correct login name and password. I open Windows Internet Explorer, which opens even though it does not connect, type in the information given to me by iprimus, and the Netgear setup screen appears.

I enter the information provided by Netgear, select setup wizard and follow the steps indicated. When asked for account name and password, I enter the information provided by Iprimus. Voila. Internet access restored.

This is surely not a straightforward easy process, but if you keep calm and carefully follow instructions you can get there. Both Iprimus and Netgear were wonderfully helpful and patient. I cannot imagine doing this with France Telecom and Wanadoo in French, but I’m sure if I spoke French, they would be just as helpful. 

Posted in ... 2006, ... Australia, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

using our own laptop in Ajijic

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 13, 2007

The internet is a very important element of our travel, before and during. If we have no on-line capability where we are staying, we use the now ubiquitous internet cafes. A year or so ago, we were total neophytes, but now we are accomplished internet café users, able to get to our own home page and email without difficulty.

But it’s better to be able to use your own laptop. I would bring the laptop anyway, to use for my writing, but if there’s an Ethernet connection in the house, as there is in Anne’s house in Ajijic, then it’s just like being at home.

In this case, there was an Ethernet cable going to Anne’s desk top computer, and it took but a few seconds to disconnect it from her computer and plug intt to my laptop. Before we leave, we’ll reconnect her computer.

Once connected, we have our own email, Skype, and Slingbox available to us. This is not only useful for keeping in touch, it also allows us to make or change travel arrangements as we go, and to check the local weather forecasts.

Posted in ... 2007, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

baseball & mlb.com – the new season

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 25, 2007

Spring training has started and I’ve just ordered mlb.tv from mlb.com for the 2007 season. They raised the price to $89.95, but have added some features, including all of the pre-season games and access to the 2006 game archives.

Pat is thrilled.

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translating documents: google

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 23, 2007

How do we deal with French documents, since we don’t speak French?

We use a wonderful service provided on-line by Google which takes words, sentences, or whole documents in one language and translates them quickly into another.

(http://www.google.com/language_tools?hl=en)

To copy into Google translate, the input document has to be in computer readable form, so if you start with a hard copy, such as the real estate purchase agreement, you have to scan it first. 

My HP printer-copier-scanner-fax loads the scanned document directly into Word, from which it can be copied and pasted into the Google translate program.

TIP: Neither the scan nor the translate works perfectly, so you’ll have to use a dictionary for backup to clean up the results.

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on-line photo galleries

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

It always adds to the fun to send photos to your friends and family.

When we took a picture of Greg Landis in the Tour de France at Carcassonne, we couldn’t wait to show everyone.

Same with our incredible apartment and the baths in Budapest.

Emailing individual photos is possible, but there are drawbacks. The files are large, so you’re limited in the number of pictures you can attach. Some people can’t open attached files, for security reasons.

A great answer is the on-line photo galleries like Snapfish, Kodak, and Shutterfly. We use Snapfish, so I’ll describe that, but I think the others are similar.

(1) set up an account, which is free.

(2) create an album and give it a name, say “Incredible Budapest.”

(3) follow the straightforward directions to select the photos you want to include in the album from files on your computer.

(4) add captions to each photo and your album is complete.

(5) don’t like something? It’s easy to change.

To share your album with your friends and family, type in the email addresses and click SHARE. Each new email address is automatically added to your address book, so next time you can just select from your prior list.

Those who get your email can, after they register, view your photos and, if they like, order prints for 12 cents each.

Our experience is that small albums with 10-12 photos are best received.

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internet research: expedia and google

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

The internet is our constant travel companion. We could not do what we do without it. Many of our friends, particularly seniors, tell us they are not as facile on the web as we are.

So learn. It’s trial and error, and repetition. Ask your grandchildren. It will be a bonding experience.

Here’s just a few of the things you’ll want to do …

weather  We regularly check the weather forecasts where we are and where we’re going. If you use a designable home page (we use My Yahoo), you can include the weather for all of your currently important locations, changing locations as your upcoming destinations change.

reservations  We make almost all air, hotel, and car rental reservations via the internet. We use the individual company sites and we also use discount travel sites, usually Expedia. If you pick one discount travel site, you’ll get used to it and be able to make reservations easily. Even then, it takes time. We frequently cross check before finalizing a booking.

TIP: It is very important to check cancellation policies before you book.

There is usually a penalty, sometimes a steep penalty, if you change air reservations. There is no penalty for canceling car rentals. Most hotels have a cancellation policy that changes by date. If you cancel, say, five days before, there is no penalty, but within five days, you may have to pay the first night’s charge. Ask, and pay attention.

destination research  We still buy guidebooks, but less than we did before the internet. You can learn almost anything about anyplace on the internet. We use Google. Enter the destination as specifically as you can. You’ll get more references than you want.

The first several listings pay Google to be up front. Sometimes they’re the ones you want, but often not. If you’re looking for a hotel, try to find the hotel’s own site, not the booking agent. The real site has much more information.

TIP: Always check the customer reviews, which can be very illuminating, either positive or negative; you never get the negative from the hotel itself or a booking agent.

look up events   When we wanted to see the Tour de France, it didn’t take long to get the route map and pick the closest location to Collioure, which was Carcassonne. We learned the route through town and the race schedule. Switching to the rail schedule site, we picked our train.

Posted in ... 2006, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

computer backup

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

We’ve all heard horror stories of a computer crash leaving someone without crucial files, or the ability to manage payments and receipts. If you travel, you also have the potential of dropping your laptop or having it stolen.

YOU MUST BACK UP YOUR FILES REGULARLY (AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK) AND KEEP THE BACKUP COPIES IN A SAFE SEPARATE PLACE.

Flash drive (USB stick)

The best way to backup new files on a daily basis is onto a USB stick. Also known as a flash drive, a USB stick is a small device that plugs into your computer, after which it appears under My Computer as a separate storage device.

You can drag and copy new files to the USB stick. When you’re done, remove the USB stick and keep it someplace apart from your laptop.

USB sticks with substantial amounts of storage space are now available at very low prices.

Get two.

Have a backup for your backup.

I don’t wear a belt and suspenders, but we’re talking computers here, and the cost of losing your work can be dreadful.

more permanent backup

Beyond the USB stick, you should also make a more permanent backup, to another computer or to a CD or DVD. I do all of those things, periodically copying all of my files to Pat’s laptop, and also creating permanent CD or DVD backup disks, carefully labeled and stored someplace safe.

If you do all these things, and disaster strikes, you can be back in business quickly. If you don’t, it can be an unholy mess and can spoil your trip, or worse.

Posted in ... 2006, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

laptop computer

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

You must have a laptop to do what we do.

If you’re getting one for the first time, get it long before you travel and give yourself time to transfer all needed files and make sure you know how to do what you need to do.

Practice, practice, practice.

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Derek Jeter is alive and well in France!

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

I have been a New York Yankee fan since I was 8 years old and my Italian neighbor in Camden, NJ told me that Joe DiMaggio was the best player in baseball. This was about a week before my other neighbor told me Ted Williams was the best, but it was too late for the Red Sox.

I had resolved that I would do without the Yankees in Key West, and surely in Collioure.

But then I learned about mlb.com.

For $79.95, I bought internet access to all major league games for the entire 2006 season. The reception on my laptop is excellent, and I can watch ‘live’ or later via archive.

Derek Jeter is alive and well in France!

Posted in ... 2006, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

broadband and internet cafes

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

Most of what we do on the internet (when we travel as well as at home) requires a broadband connection rather than dial-up. We have installed broadband in Key West and Collioure, and sometimes when we travel, it is available where we are.

But if not, we use internet cafes. We just learned about internet cafes last summer, and it took some trial and error. We are almost always the oldest people in any internet café we are in.Basically, an internet café is a place with a lot of computers where you can connect to the internet for a modest charge. The minimum time is usually 10 minutes, but you’ll probably need more. You can make the internet café computer look exactly like your own laptop by bringing up the same home page, in our case My Yahoo. Make sure you know the password. On your own computer, My Yahoo recognizes you but this is not the case on a different computer in an internet café.

Once connected, you can do the same things you do on your own computer, including bank transactions, if needed. I prefer not to do bank transactions on anything but my own computer, so I plan ahead and try to get everything done before leaving a home base. But if you need to do it, it can be done and it’s probably safe.

email at an internet cafe

Email is a little different at an internet café than it is on your own computer. Most email providers (we use Comcast) have a web-based email system. Maybe that’s what you use all the time, but we, on our own laptops, use an email program called Eudora. When we travel, however, we use the Comcast web mail system. Again, make sure you know your ID and password and have them with you.

email settings

You can set the options with your email provider to leave mail on the provider’s server (in our case Comcast) or have it deleted after you download your mail. If you’re at an internet café and want to later download your mail to your own computer, you have to set the option to leave the mail on the server. You may periodically want to delete that mail from the server if the volume gets large.

You may also want to keep a record of mail you send from a computer at an internet café. One way is to set your options to keep sent mail, so you can look it up later on your home computer. The other way is to send a copy to yourself, to be retrieved later on your own computer.

Posted in ... 2006, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

remote financial management

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

It is possible, and not difficult, to receive and pay all of your bills over the internet, no matter where in the world you happen to be. There are three basic approaches.  

credit card payments  Arrange for vendors to automatically charge your credit card. We do this with repetitive vendors with whom we have a trusting relationship. But still, we check. You can go on line to view your credit card charges, payments and statements. No paper. No bills in the mail. Each month, I epay my credit card bills, over the web, from my home bank account.

automatic epay   Most banks have on-line banking, whereby you can view all transactions and make electronic payments. Epay (electronic payment) can be automatic, if you authorize a vendor, say your mortgage company, to charge each month directly to your account. If you do this, you should check your bank accounts periodically, on-line, of course, to reconcile charges to date and to assure that you have sufficient funds to pay upcoming bills.

directed epay  For other bills where automatic payment is not feasible or not desired, you can arrange to receive bills by email, set up a vendor payment account on your bank’s site, and then enter the payment details manually through your bank’s on-line site.

epay considerations

Get everything as organized as possible before you leave home. But, if you have Skype, you can call your bank and/or vendors whenever there’s a problem or question.

Social security and retirement annuity income can be automatically deposited to your checking account, and IRA and other funds can be electronically transferred from other accounts. But you need to keep all of these transactions in balance.

I no longer keep a written bank book. Instead, I have set up a spreadsheet where I enter all receipts, payments and transfers. I reconcile my spreadsheet bank book to the web balance at least twice a month.In addition, I enter upcoming receipts and payments in chronological order, calculate what the balance will be, and transfer any funds needed to make the payments.

We have made the same arrangements with our French bank and French vendors (telephone, electric company, etc), and once established, it works fine.

TIP: monitor automatic bill paying very closely, especially in the early months, to assure everything is as you directed.

Posted in ... 2006, legal & financial, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

Slingbox: your own TV anywhere

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

We’re far from constant TV watchers, but we do like to watch the news, an occasional movie, and a few programs. If there’s a big story breaking, we want to know about it.

We were with our friends Eileen and Ron, and happened to mention that we would miss watching U.S. television while we were away in France.

“I have the solution for you,” Ron said. “Get Slingbox.”

Ron explained that Slingbox is a small device which costs about $200.00. You connect the Slingbox to your cable box and install the associated software on your laptop.

Off we went to Circuit City. The Slingbox instructions are reasonably straight-forward, and there is customer support if needed.

NOTE: You must receive your cable TV and internet on the same cable, in our case from Comcast.

Once Slingbox is installed, from wherever you are in the world, you simply click the Slingbox icon on your laptop. In a few seconds, you’re watching your own television … on your laptop. You can be in your living room, outside on the deck, or anywhere else in the world, such as Collioure.

A replica of your TV remote appears on the screen and you use it much the same as the real one. You can change channels, record programs (if you have DVR), play what you’ve recorded, and use In Demand for pay-per-view.

Voila! Thanks, Ron.

LEW 

Posted in ... 2006, travel technology | Leave a Comment »

Skype: call anywhere for 2.1 cents a minute

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

“Grand, I can’t see you!”

The video takes a few seconds longer, and 4 year olds are impatient.

Pat and I share 6 children and 4 grandchildren (so far), and being able to communicate with them and share in their lives as best we can from a distance is extremely important to us, as well as to them.

When we talk with other seniors about how we travel, the issue of staying in touch with friends, children and grandchildren is always of paramount important. For us, the answer has been Skype.

Skype is one of several internet-based phone systems. You go to http://www.skype.com and download the software – which is free – and follow the straightforward instructions.

Once installed, you can call other Skype users, anywhere in the world, for free. You can talk and listen on the microphone and speaker built into your laptop, or you can order an ear piece/microphone from Skype.

In addition to free computer-to-computer calls with other Skype users, you can also call just about any landline in the world for roughly 2 cents per minute. Last year, all year, we used about $25.00 of SkypeOut time, and we made a lot of calls. 

Next, there is SkypeIn. You can buy a phone number in just about any U.S. area code for about $30.00 per year. We bought a number in the area code where four of our children and several grandchildren live. So for them, calling us is a local call, no matter where we are in the world. The phone rings on our computer and a small voice says, “Hi Grand. Hi Pop-up.”

This year we added web cams. We bought Skype web cameras ($40.00) for each of our children. Now we can see each other when we talk.

From France, or anywhere else in the world, we will see our grandchildren grow, and they will see us so we won’t be strangers when we get together.

LEW 

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travel technology

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 21, 2007

Speaking of technology…I would imagine the growth in the technology industry over the past few years has really made the possibility of living abroad much more attractive and feasible. It would be great to have more in depth information available about how to make it all work. Which technologies have you used successfully? Which ones did you try and didn’t like? What hasn’t been developed yet that would make your life easier?

I would love to see more on that. If you have the time to include it 🙂  KERRY

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