Verizon is Dead (to Me). Long Live Virgin Mobile!

I travel to the U.S. all the time. I spent more than five weeks there in the last year. And when I do so, I need to remain connected, just like home (and everybody else around me).

Since late 2009, I was using a prepaid Verizon Wireless 3G USB stick. I wasn’t ecstatic about it, but I didn’t hate it and it saved my bacon quite a few times. I was usually going with the $30 plan, which gave me 500MB of bandwidth valid for a week. Quite expensive, but hey, I’m a tourist, I’m used to getting ripped off by carriers.

Being on vacation in Vermont for a week, I headed off to the local Best Buy to get a prepaid refill card (their web-based system won’t let you enter a country for your credit card, so there’s no other way). Once there, they only had $50 cards. Again, not that big of a deal. That was supposed to get me a gigabyte for a month, which I’d share with my wife and kids by sharing the connection on my Mac.

Only this time, I thought about verifying what those $50 would get me for some reason. After inspecting the packaging of one of the said 3G USB sticks (only place the staff and I could find the rates), it was revealed that $50 would now only get me 500MB… 250MB for $30. It seems Verizon has doubled the price of their prepaid mobile broadband offering! Prices which, by the way, are in contradiction with the ones currently advertised on their site (still more expensive than before).

Hmmm, I don’t think sooooooo.

So I just bit my tongue and upgraded to:

  • Virgin Broadband2Go: $50 gets me unlimited bandwidth for a month (they start throttling speed after 5GB). Lesser coverage is irrelevant to my U.S. travel patterns. I’m writing this from the deck of the Vermont lake cottage we’re staying at for the week, which is the most “remote” I really get in the States, and I’m getting around 1Mb/s download speeds.
  • a Mifi card: I forked off the extra money and moved on to a Mifi card, which makes it easier to share the connection with the family.

So far so good.

Of course, if carriers weren’t such morons, they’d just let me happily pay them to use Personal HotSpot off of my factory unlocked iPhone 4 and skip the Mifi card (built in to all/my account in Canada)…. But who am I kidding?

PS: I paid ~$30 for a month of prepaid 3G in Mexico, at similar speed, and that got me 3GB of bandwidth for my month there. I guess overblown data prices really are a 1st World problem.

Dilbert: Grandpa Box

See Dilbert comic strip for 08/03/2011. Found via Andy.

Especially valid in my household today since my sweetie just got herself an iPad 2 despite rocking my previous MacBook Pro. I wouldn’t quite qualify it as a work machine for her, but being a flight attendant, she’ll likely end up doing most of her work-related online tasks on it, plus have a lighter/smaller device to carry around in her luggage while on the go.

I, for one, have no desire for a tablet at the moment. I’m in heaven with my MacBook Air. Only thing that would make it better is built-in 3G. Then again, given how carriers go, it’d likely mean having to pay for two data accounts. I’m perfectly fine with using Personal HotSpot for that, through my iPhone instead. :)

Sharing 3G Internet Via Mesh Networking

As you probably know, my family and I are in Mexico for a few weeks. Because we’re here for close to a month, I’m working full-time for part of our trip while my wife and kids enjoy the goodness that is the all-inclusive Sandos Playacar (we’ll be moving in a villa for the last 2 weeks on the 24th). This lead me to acquire a TelCel Amigo 3G USB stick (comes with 3GB of monthly bandwidth).

Since this is the only constant internet connection we’ll have throughout our stay, I wanted to be able to share the connection so that I can also connect via wifi for our iPhones (unlocked, also set with simple pay-as-you-go local SIMs, but no data) and my son’s netbook.

If you happen to be on OSX, doing so is absolutely dead-easy.

  1. Connect to the internet via your 3G connection
  2. Make sure Airport (wifi) is on
  3. Go to Systems Preferences → Sharing
  4. Select Internet Sharing
  5. Select your USB stick’s hardware from the list of ports in the “Share your connection from” section (see screenshot below)
  6. Check the “Airport” checkbox
  7. Set a network name and WEP password using the “Airport Options…” button

Tada! You should be all set and now be able to see your mac-as-an-access-point from any wifi-compatible devices. Enjoy! :)

Update: Had forgotten to attach the screenshot I mentioned. See below.

Star Walk: Awesome iPhone Astronomy Application

I’ll admit to have been jealous of my good friend Xopher‘s Nexus One phone and its nifty Android-based, augmented reality Google Sky Map. But I knew I’d find a similar one for the iPhone.

Lo and behold, while in Seaside, a friend showed me Star Walk running on his iPad.

One thing the video doesn’t showcase is that the application makes use of the built-in compass, GPS and gyroscope. This lets you simply point your device anywhere and get a picture-perfect representation of what astronomical objects are in your field of vision as well as get all the details you could want about them.

At $2.99 for such a complete app, I think it’s a very good deal and entirely worth the expense.

Copernicus would be stoked. :)