About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

20 July 2007

Cheap Bandwidth?

We are quite used to complaining about the cost of bandwidth in SA. But are we always justified? After a week in Germany, I am no longer convinced.

Yes, when it comes to ADSL, our costs are much higher. But some claims by forums such as Hellkom are myths. For example, line rental. Germany has them too - yes, about 50% of what Telkom charges (using the lowest line rental price), and at a much higher bandwidth - but still it exists. And the cost of a connection is also much lower together with higher caps. But that is to be expected - compared to South Africa, more people in Germany can afford computers, and thus connection to the Internet; and Germany, like most of Europe, has a pretty high population density (on average) when compared to South Africa. All this makes the provision of broadband cheaper.

But where South Africa definitely trumps Germany is in mobile Internet connectivity. The fact is, for travelers and people intending to stay in a city or town for a short period of time (like me), ADSL and other fixed broadband services are impractical. In Germany, it can take 2 weeks or more to get ADSL installed - which makes it impractical for me in Berlin for example. And the cost of mobile broadband is astronomical (when compared to South Africa). Since the phone I am using was locked to Vodafone, I had to get a Vodafone service (or buy a new phone); so I can only confirm Vodafone prices. However, prices between the different operators should not differ widely!

GPRS costs 20 Euro cents per 10Kb! In South Africa, before the recent price cuts, we could get 1Mb for the same price! That's right - that is a full 100 times cheaper! And with recent price cuts, it would make mobile Internet connectivity in South Africa about 400 times cheaper!

The implications are quite interesting. Firstly, mobile broadband is not affordable except for emergency. it also means that mobile network applications such as Mixit or Yeigo have no place, as they are going to be uneconomic.

I am currently investigating other options (UMTS/3G based) but the prices I was quoted by Vodafone were very high (though much lower than just GPRS prices). Will have to investigate more on this. So, for fixed line connectivity, South Africa is behind. But when it comes to mobility, South Africa is far ahead!

17 July 2007

A brief note about keyboards

German keyboards have to incorporate four more letters: ö, ü, ä and ß. For this reason, the keyboard layout is slightly different to the normal US keyboard layout. And that is annoying - because it is not just the incorporation of different keys.

To start of, the z and y kes are swapped around. So, I often end up with tzping mistakes.

There are also other keys out of position ... ' and " are on different keys (both, have to be used with shift). And I am dreading latex usage on this type of a keyboard; {, [, ], } are all third keys, which are accessed with a combination of alt and a another key.

Forget langauge issues .... getting to grips with the keyboard seems more difficult!

16 July 2007

Ich bin ein Berliner

Ok, maybe JFK getting it wrong is an urban legend, and this is not a post about jelly filled donuts. Regardless it is one of the most famous statements made about Berlin, so a good way as any to start of the first post about Berlin. Unlike my previous trips in the last four years, this is the first time, I will stay in a foreign country for an extended period of time, and really "living" in the country instead of just visiting.

So far my knowledge (or the lack thereof) of German has not been too much of a problem, but I should probably make an attempt to learns some basics, as everything is in German. Except for CNN and BBC, everything on TV is dubbed, from the B and C grade American movies to the blockbuster movies, series and sitcoms. This extends to shops, where almost nothing is in English.

And talking of shops, things are more expensive that South Africa - but that was to be expected. For example, my first expense in Berlin was to acquire a monthly travel pass, which gives me unlimited use of the Berlin public transport (trams, buses, S Bahn (a intra city train network) and the U-Bahn (the underground train network) within the AB zone (the Berlin city zone), for 70 Euros. A day pass would cost 5.50 Euros, so it is a big saving, but expensive none the less. Except for Trams, I have traveled in all the other forms of public transport. So far, everything works like clockwork, and everything seems synchronised (for example, U-Bahn trains wait for trains on other lines that stop at the same station). The U-Bahn is very similar to other underground train systems, and does not have the complexity of the New York subway. One interesting point though: it seems that some lines are narrow gauge while others are wide gauge. Can't really confirm this - just commenting from the seating arrangements in the trains. It could just be a matter of perspective. Oh one more U-Bahn weird fact: the ticket inspectors (there is no enforced access control wear no uniforms (do carry id) and so blend into the crowd. Very cool!

Berlin is a very cycle friendly city, with cycle lanes and bike racks everywhere! The fact that the city is mostly flat helps off course. I have yet to see more than a handful of cyclists wearing helmets though! Maybe they don't get knocked down too often. That does not mean that there are no cars on the road; but there is definitely less cars than other European capitals I have been to, especially Paris and London. As for cars, it is not much of a surprise to see Mercedes, BMW, VW, Audi and Opel being the dominant brands. However, that does not mean that there are no other makes on the road.

I am staying in a studio apartment, similar (from the outside) to apartment blocks I have seen in East Berlin (I am not sure whether I am in West or East Berlin). It is a big apartment block, with a very confusing door numbering system (they do not use the floor number followed by flat number convention); so working out where my apartment was took some time. While certainly not the lap of luxury, it certainly has everything I need, and I have sort of worked out most of the logistics - most because I have no idea where the laundromat is. Not required now - but will be in 2 weeks time! The complex also has a well kept garden, tennis courts, a braai area and my flat has an awesome view!

I went on a 4 hour free walking tour of the city (by Brewers Berlin Tour), a company that I actually stumbled upon, rather than intending to find them. It was a good overview of the main sites of the city, and I intend to go back to many of the areas for a more detailed visit. So, I will phlog according to subject matter rather than daily activities.

Welcome to my office

"Good evening sir, welcome to my office". This was the greeting by a toilet cleaner at O.R. Tambo International Airport (previously known as Johannesburg International Airport, which was previously known as Jan Smuts International Airport). While the airport has been improved considerably inside (after check in) at the international terminal, I think the domestic terminal is miles ahead with the other related infrastructure of shops, and commuting between different levels of the terminal before check in. I know it is the older terminal, but hopefully, once the new terminal is built the rest of the older terminal is remodeled.

Munich airport is all steel and glass - a far cry from Frankfurt. And for the first time, at any security check, I felt that the security staff actually knew what they were doing, and most importantly why they were doing it. So much so, that the lady behind me commented: "you are so much stricter than the US". I did not have any time to actually look around the airport: I had a very tight connecting flight.

Berlin Tegel is a much smaller airport, arranged in concentric circles, with the planes docking on the outside, the airport terminal building in the middle ring and the cars picking up people on the inside. My only complaint was the lack of clear signs to indicate where the information desk was (can't get into any city without a map!) - but people were courteous, and I was pointed in the right direction. For the record, there is an information desk by exit/entrance 12.

Movie: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This is probably the shortest movie of the franchise, yet the book is one of the longest. Thus, it is no wonder that there are numerous details missing from the movie. That said, the movie covers the important details, and covers the ground at good pace - a major problem with many of the franchise movies out this year (Spiderman 3 for example). And the things that are focussed on, are the real important stuff! Like previous movies, it is an excellent addition to the franchise.

Bomb Scare

I went to watch the new Harry Potter movie (see here) at the Musgrave Centre, in Durban, and half way through, the entire centre was evacuated due to a bomb scare. It was a hoax, but two points are worrying, and could have been fatal!

1) The general lack of panic: everybody I came across seemed to treat it as a hoax, and got into their cars, and then a massive traffic jam, and before clearing out. Some people even went to the loo before evacuating! If this was real, I am sure most of use would not have survived!

2) The general lack of information from the centre management. The security staff did not give much detail, just asked people to leave the centre. This was probably the reason why people were so apathetic in their approach: they had no real motivation for evacuating!

Don't get me wrong - the staff were courteous, and Ster-Kinekor did refund the tickets. But, in the age of terrorism and other such inflated fears, I am not sure the response was the most appropriate.