A former latin american exile writes about life..

Ok so I gave up a comfy boring life to go live in South America. Lots have suggested that I write about my experiences, so here it finally is.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Capitalized interest on student loans

If you're currently in college and have student loans you haven't started paying on, you really should google the term "capitalized interest."  Understand what the concept is and figure out if you could maybe pay even $10 a month (anything really) against that capitalized interest that's building while your loan is deferred.

Two of my loans just went out of deferred status.  The capitalized interest charges added to the principal were nearly $1000.

Think of it like those "no interest, no payments for (some time period)" offers at big box stores.  With student loans, it's just "no payments."  Interest is accruing that whole time you're in school.  Consider contacting your lender and ask how you might make payments to offset that!

The "answer this question to continue reading this page" trend...

Nah, I don't think so.  The answer is, "I'm going to hit the back button and go to the next search result."  Irritating...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

ipad3 does Palm Springs

4g LTE doesn't exist there yet on Verizon or the deathstar (AT 'n T).  So you're either on vzw's 3g or AT&T faux "4"g.

Testing was done with a Verizon-variant ipad 3 setup with month-to-month service.  I used an AT&T Elevate LTE hotspot, connecting the ipad via wifi.

AT&T coverage seemed a lot more consistent, especially in the southwest side of Palm Springs.  A weak AT&T signal was usable-ish where Verizon was nearly nonexistent.  Verizon also had no penetration into the basement levels of Hotel Zoso (downtown Palm Springs).  AT&T did, but service was s-l-o-w.

The 3g service on Verizon was perfectly fine for running Waze on the iPad - I had no problem marking the location of a police sobriety checkpoint, for example.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Kindle Fire for Mom?

Hmm.  I was home in Wisconsin this past weekend.  Mom drooled over my iPad 3, but I don't really want to buy her one.  I think the Kindle Fire might well be a good substitute.  It's only got 8 gb of onboard memory, but I doubt her entire music library is quite that large.  I'm thinking I'll get it, set it up completely with some sideloaded Android apps - heck, even mock up a wifi network with the same SSID and password she has at home so that it "just works" right out of the box.

But Mothers' day is too soon.  In another month for her birthday, I think.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Telcel howto for the yanquis

This information should demystify the process of using Telcel in Mexico for us Yanquis...  Includes info on getting a SIM, getting it active, provisioning your android phone for the right data APN (in plain English, get it on the internet!) and buying a data plan.
List of Telcel corporate owned stores in major cities:

A corporate store is the best bet for getting yourself an Amigo (prepaid) SIM kit, getting credit (saldo) put on it and getting a data package.

Note added 6/19/2012: there is no longer a requirement to register your SIM.  The Mexican government deleted the entire database in a public ceremony held 6/15/2012!

You'll see their logo all over the place in business areas but generally those are resellers. They may or may not know how to get your SIM activated using a passport as ID. A corporate store likely will. Otherwise you have to activate it under a Mexican citizen's "CURP" (id card number). It's unlikely anyone will volunteer theirs, a CURP has the same significance as a social security number in the US. For that matter it ties the phone to the person so if there's a crime associated with the person or phone, that's who they look for. The corporate stores are much more likely to know what to do to associate your SIM with your ID. You are not signing a long-term contract but simply associating your passport number with a prepaid phone number they're issuing you.

You can skip all the uncertainty of visiting a corporate store by buying a SIM on eBay, there are currently a couple of sellers who offer to ship you the SIM pre-activated for a little extra charge. Just understand that pre-activated means that it's tied to some unknown person's ID for better or for worse. I'd carry the whole package the eBay seller sends you on the small chance the police track "you" as being that unknown person who's ID is tied to your SIM.

For a phone you need a recent-model GSM phone, preferably ex-AT&T (USA) or Rogers (Canada) because data transmit/receive radio frequencies used by Telcel are the same. A former T-mobile phone will get data but too slow to be useful.

Be careful about phones sold online new as unlocked - they are often either downright mislabeled or intended for Europe/Asia. They will work for calls and texts only and unbearably slowly for data.

You can verify that an AT&T/Rogers branded phone is unlocked by putting a T-mobile SIM card in it, even if its an inactive SIM. So long as the phone isn't asking for an unlock code at power-up after you install the SIM, that's good enough confirmation that its unlocked. If you buy an activated Telcel sim card on eBay you could even check it out at home in the US - if it attaches to AT&T and shows roaming, you're past that hurdle.

Ok, so assuming you have an unlocked phone, you got a SIM, it has a number and so on... and if the store wouldn't program your phone with the network specific settings for data, generic instructions are at this website:

(click the generic android link on the page)

You don't have to wait to have the active SIM installed to program those APN settings, but there's no way to confirm they're right until you have an active SIM and you're receiving network coverage.

Check your balance on Telcel by sending a text message to short code 333 with the word SALDO or by dialing *133# send. (Note: a Telcel SIM will roam in the USA on AT&T and *133# send will work from the US, albeit for a small fee... but don't try to setup data from the US.)

You'll get a message back with a whole WALL of information. Your Saldo Amigo = cash balance. Saldo Regalo = it's only used for local phone calls and text messages. (regalo=gift) Saldo Regalo does not count towards purchase of a data package. You'll likely have a Saldo Internet too although it'll be small, plan to buy a data package.

Run this page on Telcel's site through google translate: http://www.telcel.com/portal/persona....html?mid=1118

That's everything you want/need to know about checking your balance. Typically a recharge/initial SIM will include some very small number (say 50, I don't remember exactly) of megabytes which would be used up very quickly.

Ok, so you have a phone, an active SIM, money on the SIM to buy a data package.

The data packages and prices are on this page:

Consumo Bajo = low consumption
(Medio= Medium, Alto = High)
vigencia = validity period
clave = keyword to send via text to 5050 to have that package's cost (precio iva incluido/price including taxes) deducted from your Saldo Amigo.

Look over that page for a sec and then look at the example below:

I.e. you send the word bajo15 to 5050 in order to buy 600mb of data that's available for 15 days (or until its gone). 5050 deducts $199 pesos from your Saldo Amigo.

5050 responds confirming your purchase, how much data you bought and when its expiration date is.

To put money on your phone outside a Telcel store, have the ten digit phone number on the sim pack handy and go to Circle K, Oxxo, whatever... and you can add credit to your account instantly. Scratch cards are available but they don't have instructions or voice/text responses in English.

You can manage your account online at https://www.mitelcel.com . Look for the blue button that says "ENVIAR" - put in your ten digit mobile number from the Amigo sim pack in the box to the right. You get a text on your phone with an activation code - initial password (contrase~na). Then you can login on mitelcel with your ten digit number and password. You can recharge your phone using a credit card or buy a data package through mitelcel, it's 100% self-service. And no, no option for English anywhere

Any android apps you have loaded for paid US services - Pandora, Netflix, HBO to GO - will very quickly detect you're not in the USA and not provide service. But facebook, flickr, whatever... all will work just fine.

Ok, so we come to the end of the lesson General stuff: Don't rely on only one bank card for payments while you're there, tell your bank(s) where and when you will be traveling before you arrive. It's not a good idea to login to online banking from a cybercafe or buy anything with a credit card through a shared computer (i.e. a cybercafe). There are some places that will offer you the "favor" of letting you pay in dollars (common in restaurants) or processing a credit card transaction in dollars (common at hotels). Often times this dollar price is based upon an unfavorable exchange rate - much better you pay the peso price or at least do the math on the proposed dollar price to see how close it comes out. Not a good idea to use your bank debit card (tied to your checking account) anywhere but an ATM machine at a bank or inside a Pemex gas station. NOT a good idea to withdraw cash from an ATM at night. Find out from your bank which Mexican bank they partner with for fee-free withdrawals in pesos, for example Bank of America partners with Banco Santander.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

I'm back...

Have decided I shall take up posting again. Current phone? HTC Thunderbolt on Verizon LTE. Alternate portable internet access? An AT&T Elevate wifi hotspot with LTE - but it's unlocked for use when I travel.

Use Telcel all the time in Mexico for internet or whatever, although phone dialing in Mexico is at best arcane.

I continue to live in the Phoenix area and have moved on to a very interesting new aspect of my career.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pharos 137 phone

This phone is OK, but when you take it out of the box be prepared to apply updates to its operating system. If you are not familiar with Windows Mobile you may have a bad experience.

Once the current suite of updates are applied the phone is pretty tolerable to use.

* The motion sensor support is flaky. It will work when it decides to.

* Do NOT hard reset this phone from the control panel unless the memory card and your SIM have been removed. I haven't experienced this but there are numerous warnings that on hard reset this phone will wipe both the memory card and your SIM (not sure if that's just contacts or the bits that identify your service!)

* Updates to the phone software may corrupt the SD card. Take it out to be safe. They've also had mis-cues with the updates not working in Windows Vista.

* If you're accustomed to GSM voice and EDGE data in marginal signal locations (i.e. on your previous phone that worked just fine at a particular spot) - you are giving that up by buying this phone.

Pharos seems to be quite responsive to user feedback. So far issues are being fixed.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pharos 137 Phone

I got another new toy I don't really need this week. Of course, I couldn't live without it now.

The specs for the Pharos 137 are widely available, just google 'em. I could write it all down but it would look like an eye chart. In short its the first Windows Mobile phone that supports T-Mobile USA's odd choice of frequency for a 3g mobile network.

The phone has some very appealing features. A GPS that gets its position fix pretty quickly (outdoors, naturally) and navigation software included. A VERY high resolution screen as well.

In a 3g coverage area the phone is a great little media toy. Slingplayer Mobile works flawlessly to bring in TV from home - say, to the office :) The streaming audio options that can be made to work on Windows Mobile work quite well - this may provoke me to finally ditch XM/Sirius, which I've been contemplating since their recent price increase. Viewing as well as upload to YouTube are supported. Xtube does not seem to be supported though I didn't try very hard. (It might work with that Skyfire browser)

The phone has one feature that may never work - the built in phone application supports "video calling." This is the reason for the phone's two cameras - one is front-facing. T-Mobile would have to implement support for it and even then a video call would only be successful to another 3g phone supporting video calls. Given that their own models don't support it nor does anything upcoming, don't hold your breath. But it's a button you can push all the same.

Awesome phone really! And yes, it works all over the world for low-speed data and voice calls.