Technology

Expat Travel Technology: Watch Hulu, Sports, Movies, Live Streams Abroad

Missing some of your favorite shows back in your home country? We’re not huge TV fanatics (we didn’t get cable or DirecTV hooked up the moment we landed in Uruguay, but I sprung for rabbit ears at the grocery store US$3) however we like to watch a few things like 30 Rock, House and an occasional sporting event in the States and elsewhere. The best access to these shows and many others is video stream via your computer. To access most video streams you have to be in the country where the program airs. Hulu, NBC.com, Fancast, CBS.com, and NFL.com all require that you live in the US to watch their broadcasts. Shows are typically available within 24 hours of their original air date. The problem is their websites know where you live; they will pick up your computer's IP address and say “Hey, wait a second, you don’t live in America. You don’t help pay the bills through buying from our advertisers.” I argue the contrary, but it will deny you access. What you need is a solution to convince Hulu and others that you are in the US or UK, Canada, even if you're in South America, Europe, Asia or Timbuktu.

StrongVPN

The solution is StrongVPN. Love it! I can establish a virtual connection to the States, in our case. Currently, we’re "in" Washington D.C. I’ve found that it has the best/fastest connection for the best video streams. After following a quick step by step tutorial from StrongVPN you will automatically be able to connect with one click any time you want to stream video. It will slow down your connection a little bit but generally it's fantastic.

The plan I recommend for most users is the 3 City Special PPTP US$55/year plan. It gives you access to San Francisco, New York & UK. I use the Lite Open and PPTP plan. It’s US$90 per year. It just gives me access to more cities and connection options. If you have a connection that’s not particularly fast one day to can switch to another. You’re allowed to change cities/servers 3 to 5 times per month without charge. You can also upgrade and downgrade without extra setup fees.

I have watched: various TV shows, NFL games (just caught the Giants/Dallas game) US Open Golf (it was a perfect Live stream in near Hi Def quality) The British and US Tennis Opens and many more.

Connect to StrongVPN and go to Hulu.com, NBC.com or where ever your program is available. Most of the video sites look like Tivo or YouTube. Use Firefox 3 as your browser. I’ve tried with Google’s Chrome and Internet Explorer 8, but Firefox is the best. Once you queue up your show, let it buffer for a little bit. Definition: Give the “Internets” a little time to load the show into the viewer. For Hulu, you will see a buffer gauge of one to five bars just like your mobile phone. The more bars the better. Once it gets to about 3 or 4 bars you’re usually safe to hit play. Sometimes you need to wait to 5 bars to get a good uninterrupted quality video stream. Hulu, Fancast, etc. usually run a 15-30 second ad every 10 minutes or so--a lot fewer commercials than you find on TV. The commercials are almost worth watching, since the advertisers don't have the FCC breathing down their neck on the Internet. The ads might screw up the buffer, so you may need to pause the show for a minute. Once you’re buffered up again, you're ready for your TV enjoying experience.

Quick Recap of what you need:

  • A computer with XP, Vista or Mac (Sorry don’t know about Linux)
  • Good internet connection. (i.e. not dial-up)
  • A web browser. Firefox 3 has worked best for me.
  • StrongVPN, Pick your plan.
  • Hulu, Fancast, or other site that is otherwise blocked for foreign users.
  • Enjoy!

StrongVPN: Other Cool Stuff

Pandora

Get Your Music Fix. Another little bonus is streaming music from Pandora.com. It's closed outside the US, but thanks to my US IP address; I'm able to listen to 30 hours free per month. There is an alternative, Last.fm. It's US$3/month to stream music without a US IP address. Although very much like Pandora--Pandora has a better mix of songs in my opinion. There are also some radio stations for both talk and music that are only available to US listeners. The stream quality of music is excellent and there is no notable difference compared to my experience in the States.

US Website Access

The reason I first looked into StrongVPN was to convince regular websites that I’m in the States. Since I operate a travel company, I need to shop the competition. I can’t have Expedia or Priceline thinking that I’m in Uruguay when I want them to believe I’m in the US. The sites are different abroad and you can’t always select a US version. I’ve also heard reports from Expats of rejected transactions by Amazon, PayPal , etc. even though their billing address is in the US provided through Earth Class Mail, family, or other residence. By using StrongVPN these sites always assume I’m in the US. It’s been great and is a small cost of doing business.

Email:

My email messages are less likely to go to spam folders when sent from a US IP address. It's kind of important that my clients receive my emails. ¿No?

Poor man's solution:

I do have a workaround, which is particularly helpful for live events that are not available online. I like to watch the Vikings. I can't find a free stream online, so I've had my Dad fix his webcam on a TV in his office where we usually Skype. We start a Skype Video call and I am able to watch the whole game. The quality isn’t perfect, but last week I was able to watch Brett Favre rip his old team the Packers on Monday Night Football. It was glorious.

I’ve tried several solutions and StrongVPN has been the best and serves the purpose of both business and pleasure. I’d love to hear any other solutions people have for watching their favorite shows while living or traveling abroad. Please add your comments.

The Weather

My life is tied to the local weather more in Uruguay than ever before.  Am I going to walk Geneva to the jardín or take a cab? Should I start the laundry or not? Should Alejandra clean the back patio today or will her efforts be washed away in a few hours? Do I start the fireplace now or wait? I find myself checking out the weather websites frequently. My favorite is Weather Underground.  You can see hour-by-hour forecasts as well as historical data for a day or month at a time. This is very helpful as we count the days until warmer weather. The forecasts come from a central location in Prado and the local conditions come from a variety of sources, including the Carrasco airport and the MADIS reporting station in Uruguay, and are as accurate as weather forecasts can be.

You can set your profile on Weather Underground with preferred cities, your weather icons of choice and Celsius or Fahrenheit (Brad's profile is in Fahrenheit, mine Celsius).

If there seems to be an inconsistency between what is happening outside and what is forecasted, we'll sometimes look up El Pais weather.  El Pais can occasionally have different information than Weather Underground, but usually the difference is just a few degrees and nothing major.

Weather in Uruguay tends to be consistently humid and breezy.  Winters are damp and cool (with very rare freezing) and summers are warm and sunny with infrequent bursts of rain. Note that if you're directly on the coast or even a few blocks in, the winds can be stronger than the forecasted and as a result, it can feel cooler.  The rain and thunderstorms that we've experienced this winter have come in waves and once started can last hours.

While I do plenty of looking at the sky to see what it the weather is like at a given moment, our wonderful technological tools can help when planning out a few days. Today it says it's going to be sunny and mid-to-upper 60's through Monday.... perfect!!

Expat Travel Technology: OMG! My Hard Drive Crashed! Now what?!

Well, if you don't want to answer this question- Get Mozy!  It's a small application that will back up unlimited data from your computer to an off site server in the USA.  You schedule a backup time and it  does it's thing. You don't have to think about it ...unless you want to. I've been using this service since Mozy launched

Expat Travel Technology: VoIP Phone Solutions

Lisa and I both need an inexpensive and simple way to speak with family and clients in North America and around the world.  The fantastic thing about this is that we didn't have to change anything to do it.  We have been using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for several years.  It's a phone system that uses the internet to carry conversation rather than regular phone lines.  There are countless

What We've Been Doing

We've been slacking on the blog.  Sorry. But our social calendars have been getting a workout!  Between Brad going to a Futbol (soccer) match on Thursday between Argentina and Uruguay, me being being double booked for Friday lunch, emailing with another expat about upcoming yoga classes, entertaining at our house on Friday night, and going to the Rummage sale at the American School today (we had 3 expats offer to give us a ride), we've kept busy.

17 month birthday

It was also Geneva's 17 month birthday this past week, which we always celebrate with a sign and lots of photos.

I've also been doing tons of laundry since we have a few nice days again after three days of rain, I'm cooking a lot and just today started baking and crocheting a new project.  I am a domestic goddess after all!  Well, maybe not.  Read on:

We also interviewed a lady to come in and clean the house 2x per week.  She came very highly recommended by an expat we know and we met with Alejandra on Thursday.  She'll come on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for 80 pesos  ($3.33) an hour plus bus fare.  We do also pay taxes into the UY equivalent of the social security system as her employer.  Alejandra would also do some cooking and laundry, which we said we wouldn't need that at this point. She will also help us get set up with any of the equipment/cleaning supplies that we need.  We'll try it with Alejandra for a few weeks and see how it goes.

An update to other items:

We have yet another lead for a possible daycare.  Caminito still may work out in a couple of weeks, but we don't know for sure and want to keep the search going just in case.

We still have a water issue that is going to be dealt with this week.  The plumber has been here several times and installed a new kitchen faucet, toilet mechanism, and adjusted/repaired the temperature control on the water heater and we still have 2-3 liters of water on the bathroom floor every morning if we don't shut the water off every night. Jorge has been a huge advocate of ours and has been the one dealing with the landlord on this issue. I would rather they just break into the wall to see what's going on and get it done with.

Other than that, we're getting into a routine. Weather is turning colder and the heat is on in the bedrooms at night. That is the only heat that we have in the house and the other rooms are chilly.  No wonder I'm cooking more, at least then the kitchen is toasty warm.

Tomorrow we'll probably go to the Expat lunch at Old Maz which happens every Sunday but we also have tentative plans for afternoon/evening for Brad to help a family with some technology/internet issues.  The girls can play and we'll work for food and wine!

We've met lots of wonderful, interesting people so far and really value the information we've gleaned and the friends we've already made .

Expat Travel Technology: An Introduction

Get Your own Toll Free Number

There are many challenges in moving abroad.  One is technology.  What do I bring? How will it work?  Will it work at all?  Do they sell that in Timbuktu? If yes, do I have to give up my first born to get it?  The answer to that last one is...maybe.  Technology abroad--for the most part--is expensive.  

expat-technology-helpTech--as it's always been--is a blessing and a curse.  There are an incredible number of options, but at least we have options.  I give Lisa's mom a hard time for coming over on "the boat" in the '50s from the Netherlands.  They actually flew with several stops, including one in Greenland. Either way, it was no picnic.  So even if my computer crashes or my VOIP goes down...I did not have to come over on "the boat".  Again, options. We can communicate locally and internationally even if that means I have to walk down to the nearest restaurant or McDonalds with WiFi (wireless internet) if my Internet crashes.  WiFi is even available in the parks here in UY and some buses  I'll have to try that albeit discreetly --if that's possible-- as I don't want my computer to be relieved from my possession.  You can even sit down at the McCafe and have a "meeting" across the table via webcam.  So you can continue those Starbucks-style meetings if you like.

One challenge involves staying in contact with your "home" country.  For some this may not be an issue if they are severing ties to the homeland.  In our case, we need to work with clients in the United States to allow us to maintain our expat lifestlye and keep up with family.  Thankfully it has never been easier to maintain this connection as an expat.   Even three or four years ago this transition was far harder than it is today.

There are many issues to consider: receiving postal /snail mail, personal and business phone, computer hardware, backing up your computer, power supplies, what technology to bring, watching your favorite TV shows from home, hiring developers or independant contractors. Fortunately there is a tool, a download, a website, or a physically piece of equipment that can address all of these issues. Even if you're a baby boomer retiring abroad and technology is not your best friend, there are still many tools that are worth the small investment.  I will provide information on several of the travel technology tools that I use everyday in Montevideo... many of these we were using well before the move because they're just great services. The technology we use untethers us from a physical location and thereby is perfect for a traveler on the go or an expat...well...that's flat out gone. 

I'm sensitive to you Mac folks...I have not yet joined your ranks, but most of these tools play nice with Mac...probably better.  

I will also talk about some of the challenges of limiting the interuption to my business while navigating the set up process in a foreign country.  There have been pleasant surprises and of course headaches.  I will share it all here.  I may not be able to wait until Monday...there's so much good stuff!!!

We're in!

Well, it's been another interesting, exhilarating, wild 24 hours!  I wouldn't have it any other way!! living room-move inWe're in the house.  A cute little furnished one level on the border of Pocitos/Punta Carretas.  There really is just about everything within 8 blocks.  For the last 24 hours though, that has not included running water.  What????  I said the same thing.  No running water. We got all the boxes and suitcases moved and we were starting to get things unpacked when the water in the kitchen sink slowed to a trickle.... and then stopped altogether.  I thought the water must be shut off to the building. No, all the lines were on.  What could be going on?  I called Jorge, he'll know what to do (thankfully we have Jorge!) Well he tells me that half of the city is out.  A main burst and they don't know when it'll be restored.  Hmmmm.  Okay.  The Disco (supermarket) is 2 blocks away. We'll get a few 5 L jugs of water, but no shower, no flushing toilet and no hard-core cleaning of this place before we unpack.  

Here it is 24 hours later and still no running water.  El Pais (newspaper) says they are working non-stop to fix the problem, but it was a 40 year old concrete main that is very deep.  They hope to have it repaired by the end of today.  All of the coastal and downtown neighborhoods are affected including: Buceo, Pocitos, Punta Carretas, Parque Rodó, Barrio Sur, Palermo, Cordón, La Blanqueada, La Unión, Parque Batlle, Tres Cruces, Centro, Maroñas, Flor de Maroñas, Cerrito, Villa Española, Pérez Castellano, Larrañaga, Bolivar, Brazo Oriental, Jacinto Vera, La Figurita, La Comercial, Villa Muñoz, Sayago, Peñarol y Retiro. 

Happy Earth day!  We're conserving water!!

Other than the *minor* water issue, we are thrilled to be in the house.  It is working out really well for us, and we're getting into our routine.  Internet was set up this morning and Brad will comment on that. I met with the security company who came by to make sure we understood the system. There was a technican with very good English as well as another "translator" that they sent with. They left a manual for the system in English and also gave us the phone and email information for an English speaking customer service agent in case we have additional questions.  I appreciate the English help but certainly didn't expect it. Talk about service!  The technician also stopped by again this afternoon to make sure he got the monitoring setting correct.  After he left, he said that he was questioning himself if he did the final setting and he hadn't.  At home, I would have expected a phone call to set up another time to come by a week from now or something.  Wow. 

Next thing to arrive this afternoon should be our two furry friends, Pablo and Paloma!  I am thrilled that after a month they will be part of the family again.  I should learn all of the Spanish commands that they have been hearing from their temporary family.  For a month stay for both dogs I think it ended up being 7000 pesos ($280 or so).  Plus we had a minor incident with a need for a vet visit  and antibiotic shot for Paloma's bladder infection and a refill of her perscription food.  Still not nearly the cost it would be in the US, and the vets come to you instead of you carting a sick animal to them.  Seems more humane to me. 

So that covers the gamut:  House, water, technology, dogs.  There is so much more to say but I have to leave something for later.  

Please send good vibes this way that can fix water mains. We need water soon!!

Here's a weird little story...

When we started this blog  we had to choose a theme...and we did.  A theme provides the look and feel of the blog. There are 1000s of themes available for Wordpress. Lisa and I came across Minimahl by Ahlera. We knew the moment that we saw it--we have to use this!  It was new, fresh and clean. We happily plugged it in and away we went. The next day I thought it would be nice to see who designed the theme. I went to the website and saw an Uruguayan flag and phone number in the corner immediately. Are you kidding me!?  So I shot off an email.  Below is the story from the developer Daiver. We will be grabbing drinks very soon. I might even line up a tennis match on the clay courts.

15 APR 09 Minimahl’s most impressive story yet Posted by Daiver Pedemonte

Last week we released Minimahl, our free WordPress theme. We thought it was bound to bring interesting stories to our studio, mostly because of the wide variety of themes of blogs. We were curious to see who would adopt it and what modifications people would make.

Without a question, the weirdest story came via email from a guy named Brad.

Here’s an excerpt of the email we got from him:

My wife and I just chose your Minimahl theme for the first version of our new blog — urmovingwhere.com. The blog is about our recent move to Montevideo, Uruguay! We just checked out your profile to find that you’re in Uruguay! Of all the themes that we could have chosen–we chose one by a developer in MVD/BsAs area!

This coincidence is really weird, especially considering that the theme had just been released after several delays, they had just arrived at Montevideo, and they had just started the blog. Seriously, what are the odds that they pick out a first theme that shared so much with them?

Anyway, Brad and I have become good e-buddies as we share several interests regarding the Internet. I would have never expected something like this from a free WordPress theme, and certainly not so soon after the initial release.

As I write this, I’m sitting down in front of a developer (we’re working late) and he just commented, without knowing that I was blogging this, about the whole situation and how strange it was.

Anyway, we’re happy to have Brad using Minimahl and very satisfied to see that so many people have adopted it as their theme.

As of right now, Minimahl has been downloaded over 900 times from WordPress’ official site. If you want to take it for a spin, you may download the latest version here: http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/minimahl

We’re already working on version 0.9.8, so expect that soon.

Hooking up the "Internets"

So after much deliberation as to the provider of our local Internet service; We've chosen Montevideo COMM.  They are a reseller of Antel and come with higher praise for their service level than Antel directly.  Both an Expat and a local Uruguayo that does website development pointed us in this direction.  We have "blazing" speed of 4096k down and 512k up.  This likely means nothing to many, but it's as fast as you can get in Montevideo and more than sufficient for our purposes.  The set up is not much different nor much more expensive than the 7 Mb down that Qwest offered back in Minneapolis for business DSL.   Montevideo COMM

The process of getting set up

Missing Home

It's been 2 -1/2 weeks since we left MN and I am homesick.  Not homesick like I was when I left for Europe when I was 16, but homesick nonetheless.    When I was 16, I was with a school trip, had a few calls home and a few postcards that I mailed out.  I felt like I was on the moon, everything seemed so different

This time around, we are the grounding force for our daughter, we are home for her.  We've been here before as well and are comfortable with the area, people and atmosphere.  The main reason that our homesickness is kept at bay though is because of our great connection to home through techology. The same stuff that allows us to live and work abroad allows us an unbelievable connection to our family and friends in the US that wasn't possible just a few years ago. 

Facebook has been amazing.  Nothing like having a network of your freinds and family seeing your photos and reading your updates on a daily basis.  Not like waiting for a letter or postcard via airmail anymore. 

While we use email, it is simply not the main tool of communication anymore.  We use it for specific notes to family members or to communicate links to a group that may not be on facebook.  

Youtube has been the main tool for posting video and sharing with people, via facebook or email.  One thing I don't like about Youtube is when sending a video marked as private (viewable by only 25 people who you send the link to) those people have to set up an account to view the link.  Seems like an unnecessary step.  The link should be enough, in my opinion. For example, we sent a private video to family with information about the house we will be living at. 

Skype for video calls to the grandparents and possibly even to have Easter dinner with the family in MN.  We'll see how that goes!  We gave 4 webcams to family for Christmas so we can keep in touch.  It was a great gift that allows us at least to see each other in real time.  Quality is great and will just keep getting better.  We're currently using Skype with our wireless connection at the hotel so we can't wait to try it with a wired line at the house! Not quite like being there, but it's the closest we've got.

What's with the name? An Introduction

As we were planning our move abroad, we encountered the question almost daily,  "You're moving where?!?!?!?"  We thought this would be the perfect name to use when chronicling our life abroad.  If you're reading this, you may just be curious, you may be family or friends keeping up on our adventures, of you may be planning you own life abroad and fielding the question yourself, "You're moving where?!?!?"