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Posts Tagged ‘travel

The first Friday of September is Teachers’ Day in Singapore.

Schools celebrated the day yesterday with half days and staff dinners. Today is a school holiday and an early start to a one-week break.

Teachers’ Day is great for businesses that take advantage of it. But quite a few teachers still return to school during the break to get work done.

Whether teachers get to enjoy a break or not, they might be thankful that they were not subject to the rules of the past.


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We do not need a time machine to travel back to the past in order to reflect on how much (or how little) has changed, and to appreciate what we have now.

We do not need to share exactly the same contexts (US or Singapore) to appreciate how difficult it is to teach or how much more difficult it is to educate.

I time travelled again about two weeks ago. How so? I had to apply for GIRO payments for my electricity bill the good old fashioned way.

When I jumped on the switch-your-utility-provider bandwagon last June, the provider, Sunseap, did not offer automatic payment by credit card. All my other utility bills — water, gas, Internet, digital phone line, mobile phone accounts — are paid this way. As are other payments, e.g., installments. It is a fact of modern life.

I resorted to paying by mobile. This meant scanning a QR code in my monthly e-bill. Sounds current, does it not? No, not when I have to remind myself to do this every month. If I had to remind myself to pay every bill manually, I would need to invest unnecessary bandwidth on things so basic.

Yes, this is a first-world issue. But can you blame me for expecting better of a provider that claims to be the first to provide solar-generated electricity to commercial and mainstream consumers?

I had to travel back to the past of printing out a paper-based GIRO form, fish an envelope from a dusty box, and buy a stamp from a post office. I had to do these things regularly when I started working a little over 30 years ago. But it was not a nostalgic trip down memory lane because it was inconvenient and inefficient.

The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed. --William Gibson

This experience was a reminder to me that the future is here, but not evenly distributed. It was also a reminder that one public facing group of an organisation can look progressive while other parts can be stuck rigidly in the past.

I have more time to reflect on this. It will take weeks for me to know if my GIRO form went through and the application got approved.

I reflected twice on getting a mobile connection while travelling in Malaysia. The first time I relied on a Digi prepaid SIM; the second time I went with Maxis Hotlink.

I just returned from a short trip, this time with neither a mifi device and nor a Malaysian prepaid SIM card.

Local telco providers have made it a bit more convenient to get connected overseas. Emphasis on “a bit“ and not on “convenient“.

If you are on a postpaid plan, you might have the option of applying for a data plan without removing your sim card and not breaking the bank. However, these options are not likely to be as cheap as getting a Malaysian SIM the moment you land in a Malaysian airport. The telco kiosks for such prepaid SIMs are typically positioned right before you hit immigration counters.

A better deal might be had with a Singapore prepaid SIM. I use StarHub and I could use my allotted local data overseas. I ensured that I had:

  • enough purchased data
  • activated the data roaming option in the app (see screenshot below)
  • activated the data roaming setting in the phone
  • ensured the APN was set correctly (see screenshot below)
  • at least $3 in the prepaid app’s wallet

Data roaming setting in StarHub prepaid app.

The prepaid app provided clear instructions and automated the APN setting. I only found out the minimum wallet amount after receiving an SMS from StarHub once I arrived in Malaysia.

$3 minimum wallet amount required in StarHub prepaid app for roaming.

Your telco might disable the tethering function. This means that you cannot share the prepaid data plan with other devices. This was the case with my prepaid plan with StarHub. However, I discovered that the tethering was enabled once connected to Malaysian providers. Your mileage might vary with the overseas country’s telco service you connect to.

It has taken years for us to reach this “seamless” state and I very much appreciate it. I can still remember a fellow traveller and I getting anxious about getting connected in Denmark just four years ago.

Note: I have not been asked to describe or promote the service by StarHub nor have I been paid by the telco to do so. I am sharing my experience as a reminder of my travel needs and to help others in their decision-making.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. -- Mark Twain.

This warm and fuzzy quote might elicit vigorous nods and stories among those who like to travel.

I like travelling, I nodded when I found and read this quote, and I can tell a travel-related tale if need be. But let us spare a thought for those who do not like to travel.

An acquaintance reminded me of how some folk do not travel well. Her travel mate packed instant noodles and three-in-one coffee in her suitcase.

I can raise that bet. I know of folks who will pack rice cookers and rice. And brag about it. That is their travel tale.

Travel does not guarantee a change in perspective. Organisations that require their workers to go on “learning journeys” often have that change goal in mind. Unfortunately, they underestimate how entrenched people can be. 

Just because the body travels does not mean that the mind and heart do. 

Something happens practically every time I return home from an overseas trip: My iPhone does not work exactly the same way it did before the trip.
 
The problems are varied, as are the solutions.

 
A few years ago, I recall that some WhatsApps contacts could message me while others could not. At that time I foolishly updated the WhatsApp app with my foreign SIM number while overseas. When I returned, I put my original number back, but some contacts in remained in limbo.

Now I try to make sure that I use my phone only to activate a foreign prepaid SIM and pop the SIM into a travel router as soon as I can. Foreign telcos often send profile updates to the phone to make sure it works with their system, but this can have unintended consequences.

iOS Messages toggle setting.
After my most recent trip last week, I found that my phone did not forward Messages (Apple’s text messages and normal SMS) to my laptop, desktop, and iPad like before.

I found out that I had to toggle Messages to each device off in my phone settings and then reactivate them one by one. This meant getting activation codes from my other devices all over again.
 
Handoff from other device.
I also discovered that Handoff did not work between my phone and laptop or desktop. This was unusual because my iPad, which travelled with me, did not suffer the same travel bug.

After a bit of investigating, I discovered that my Bluetooth connection did not automatically reactivate after Flight Mode on my phone while it did on my iPad.

People like to say that you learn a lot when you travel. This used to be true mainly because of the new experience, culture, food, language, etc. that travel brings. We should add to that lot lessons from troubleshooting.

If you are reading this blog entry, this means that I was able to connect to the Internet a travel router I rented from Changi Recommends. (Full disclosure: I am not receiving payment of any kind to blog about this.)

Mobile router from Changi Recommends

I normally get a prepaid SIM card from the city I land in because this is almost always cheaper than my ISP’s ridiculous roaming fees and “special” packages. But since I was due to arrive late at night and deliver my keynote the very next morning, I thought it prudent to be prepared.

Reserving the router was straightforward. I filled in this online form and got both email and SMS notifications of my reservation.

You can also call, email, or use WhatsApp to make a reservation (see bottom of this page). Call only if you enjoy an automated voice wall.

Some plus factors:

  • There are collection and return counters that are open 24 hours a day at all three airport terminals in Changi. You must choose the collection counter, but you can return the device at any counter.
  • There is no charge for the first day of rental. This makes sense as you are likely to spend much of that day travelling to your destination.
  • The routers are preconfigured. Anyone who has used a mifi device should be at home with it. Anyone who has logged in to a public wifi hotspot should be comfortable following the simple instructions.
  • The package includes an external battery pack and international travel plug to keep the device juiced up.

Some minuses:

  • The extras bulk the package a bit. I like travelling light and every bit of space counts.
  • You cannot determine which provider you are on. This could mean that there are data caps you cannot control. There might also be dead spots depending on where you are (my hotel was in a 2G zone).
  • The administration panel of the mifi device is off limits. This means you cannot read the SMS that is sent to the SIM card.

As might be expected, the connection speed was good in main city areas. Expect spotty or effectively no connection elsewhere or inside old buildings.

On a more personal note, I find that old universities house not just old school practices, they have old houses that keep wireless signals at bay. It is a challenge to model connected strategies when I barely have a basic connection to the Internet.

I am adding to my irregular series on getting connected with prepaid SIM cards while overseas. Other entries in this series: DenmarkSwedenHoi An, VietnamNikoi Island, Indonesia.

My Denmark and Sweden entries get many views every day, so I hope the information I share below on UK prepaid SIMs (Three and EE) is useful.

Three
I was in London in January this year, but did not share my experiences with Three UK (amendment: I did share something about Three UK). Back then the £20 SIM cards were easy to pick up from Vendpoint vending machines at Heathrow Airport.

However, unlike my previous visit, the vending machines were only stocked with Lebara, EE, and one or two other brands. None were as good as the all-you-can-eat data plus 300-minute 3G cards from Three.

As Three SIMs were not available, my family and I made our way to the store on Oxford. Even though the Three staff are friendly, knowledgeable, efficient I would rather avoid the crowds at Oxford!

The process of switching to a Three SIM is straightforward.

  1. Pop out the old one.
  2. Insert the new one in.
  3. Wait for an SMS prompt to restart the phone. If all goes well, you should be connected to Three’s 3G network.

Notes:

  • The SIM is a modern multi-size one. Push out the size you need for your phone.
  • The connection is not 4G, but it is speedy enough. It might be a compromise for having unlimited data. (The new packaging says 4G comes free, but I have no way of verifying this as the SIM was in my wife’s phone while I used EE.)
  • There is no tethering with this plan.
  • According to a sales associate, if you have a dual-SIM phone, leaving the other SIM in might prevent access to Three.
  • Do not expect your phone to work in the Tube as tunnels are so deep underground. A few stations along select lines might have wifi (see EE note).
  • The fastest way to pay for a Three SIM packet from a machine is a contactless credit card, e.g., MasterCard Paywave. Tap card, select row and column code in machine, collect SIM package.
  • If you opt to use cash, you will need to use exact change in the form of £10 or £20 notes.

EE
We arrived late at Heathrow thanks to the airline schedule and an unplanned flight delay. I decided we needed data and texting should we miss the very last Heathrow Express train and I needed Uber to get us to our Airbnb-rented home.

I resorted to getting an EE 4G data-only SIM (6GB) for £30.

Setting up an EE SIM is not as reassuring as Three. On popping it in, you will receive an alarming text message informing you that you have “used up your data”.

The message will include a URL that you tap or click on to register the service. Tip: Provide as little personal information as possible. After registration, you should be good to go.

Notes:

  • The SIM is nano-sized. EE includes adapters in the package for devices with mini and normal-sized slots.
  • I inserted the EE SIM into my phone and it worked fine. It should also work in a slate, mifi router, or USB dongle.
  • When used with a phone, the data can shared with other devices, i.e., you can tether.
  • EE provides a handy site that helps you monitor your data quota.
  • Like Three, the 3G or 4G signal cannot reach trains underground. However, EE cards seem to connect automatically to their wireless network on some train lines. You also have the option of using Virgin Media wifi with your EE creditials.

I did not try other mobile services as they do not offer the same value nor were the walk-in stores as easy to find.

Addendum: Lebara stores were about as common as in Denmark. However, I did not enjoy my previous experience with them. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.


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