Technology Update

In the very first post to this blog, where we announced our plans to move abroad, I mentioned that I wanted to cut back seriously on the amount of time spent in front of the computer and in dabbling with various forms of technology. To that end I was considering, among other things, dispensing completely with an Internet connection at home and depending on public wifi here in Malta. So how have things turned out technology wise?

Internet

Well, I relented on the Internet connection. In fact, our kind apartment owner, knowing my background, ensured that fast broadband was up and running before we even set foot in Malta! Since the apartment is large (300 square meters), she actually had two separate local networks installed, with one router covering the front of the apartment and a completely independent one at the rear.

Dreambox (left) and 1st Router

I am however still trying to limit the amount of time I spend on here. Also it’s mostly entertainment items like facebook, blog-reading (RSS via Google Reader) and a little bit of blog writing. We are without a car for a couple of weeks (ours has only managed to get as far as Italy) so there is a bit more time for blog-writing at the moment!

Printer

I lasted two days before ordering a printer from Amazon UK. It arrived within a week and was up and running in almost no time. It’s not that we do a lot of printing (mainly just boarding passes) but we have got into the habit of scanning almost all documentation, storing it online and recycling the original. For example we had to keep receipts for some items we bought for the apartment. Rather than fiddling with pieces of paper we scanned them so that they could be emailed to the apartment owner.

I chose a wireless HP all-in-one that can do duplex printing if required.

Satellite TV

This was a must, in order to cater for Jaqui’s football obsession. Again, it was all installed by the time we arrived. But it’s not Sky as we know it in the UK! The satellite receiver is a Dreambox 500HD. There are 9000+ TV channels and 2000+ radio stations listed, most of which are not receivable. There is no overview of the programs available by group of channels. Also, even when reception for a particular channel is possible, it sometimes disappears unaccountably. Programming a group of favourites using the remote is a nightmare.

Finally I called up the installer and asked him for the root password for the Dreambox. After some discussion I managed to fool him into believing convince him that I knew what I was doing and he relented. So now I can operate the whole thing from my laptop, select and change channel with one click and also create groups of channels by drag and drop.(Did I say “groups”, of course I meant to say “bouquets” – they use the French terminology on Dreambox – all new to me.)

I’m using a free piece of software called iDreamX. Brilliant!

Apple TV

I’m in the dog-house with this one. We gave up our LoveFilm subscription a couple of months before leaving the UK and replaced it with an Apple TV as our source for movie-watching. It worked very well, apart from needing to wait for up to an hour while the movie downloads in the first place!

Being small and portable, the Apple TV would be perfect over here, especially since there are two flat-screen TV’s in the apartment, one of which is not connected to the outside world in any way. Jaqui is raring to go with some instructional videos she has on iTunes.

The reason I’m in the dog house is that I forgot the remote for the Apple TV. I immediately ordered another one on Amazon but it is the one thing that has so far failed to appear. :(

SatNav

Before coming out here I tried to upgrade the European map to the latest version on our Tom Tom, since it now includes Malta. However the Tom Tom refused to talk to the Mac and, when I reluctantly got the PC out of mothballs and fired it up, it refused to talk to that either. I’ve also been told by others that there have been problems with Mac and Tom Tom ever since the latest (Snow Leopard) release of the Mac software.

So we bought a Garmin. We are not pleased with it. The user interface is quite different from the Tom Tom and seems much more old-fashioned and less intuitive. For me the most irritating thing is the lack of information on the main map display. The Tom Tom can continuously display the time, estimated time of arrival, distance to destination and estimated driving time to destination all at once. I’ve become used to glancing down at the Tom Tom to get a feel for how the journey is going, even when I don’t need it for directions.

The Garmin only shows one of the above pieces of information at a time. if you want to change, say from “estimated time of arrival” to “distance to destination”, you have to navigate to another screen and choose the single piece of information required and then navigate back to the map display. Not advisable when driving either. Grrrr!

MacBook Airs: 11″ (hers) and 13″ (his)

These have been brilliant and we haven’t the slightest regret at the changeover from PC to Mac. They are simply a joy to use.

Skype

We have both invested in Skype pay-as-you-go accounts which allow us to call real phones in the UK, US and other countries for the price of a local call. This has been invaluable for the daily call to Jaqui’s mother and also to other friends who are not into Skype-proper.

If anyone would like a conducted tour of the apartment and a view over Malta from the front terrace just Skype us (preferably Jaqui on the 11″ machine) and we will give you one from the Macbook Air’s webcam.

Mobile Phones

Jaqui still has her UK Blackberry on full service from her UK number. This is a bit expensive but unfortunately she signed up for a 2-year deal on a new Torch last September, well before we had the brainstorm and decided to move abroad. (Actually, from conception-day, circa 15 November 2010, to moving-abroad-day, 1st April 2011, is pretty good going, if we say so ourselves!)

I said goodbye to my Blackberry contract with Carphone Warehouse/O2 at the beginning of March. I then discovered that I could have full Blackberry service for any calendar month in the UK on Pay-as-you-go provided I spent at least £15 on top-up in that month. A drop from £45 per month to £15 per month with zero change in service. A result! I have now packed away my BB in the UK and will reactivate it during visits home.

Over here it’s not been so good. Vodafone quoted €50+ for the cheapest phone and SIM before starting to buy PAYG. So I’ve decided to wait until our first UK trip at the end of May and pick up Jaqui’s old BB for use as a PAYG over here. Have not looked into the BB side of PAYG here but really I don’t need instantaneous email any more so I will be happy to use it as a simple mobile phone. It will be employed mainly for communications with “basecamp” during my walking trips on Malta and Gozo.

Bits and Pieces

We have our Kindles with us – indispensable when carless, as we are at the moment,  and doing lots of waiting for buses.

Also the iPod touch, which hasn’t seen much use but will doubtless eventually come into its own.

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One Response to Technology Update

  1. Werner Schwab says:

    Hi Larry,

    good to see you’re settling in……but as I gather from your blog, you only have electronic apparatus and no furniture? 😉

    S&F,

    Werner

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