Note: This is a guide aimed at getting a fast, semi-cheap, data/voice/text plan for Americans with unlocked phones traveling in Canada and information is up-to-date as of November 2013.
Whenever I travel to another country, about a week before the trip I hit up the prepaid SIM travel wikia page for info on cheap options with the most bandwidth for my phone. Having a data connection is vital when traveling, especially for parents. It’s not just about getting Instagram sunsets at the beach, I need to be able to find my way back to the hotel with my daughter and connect with my wife whenever we are apart in a different country. Maps, Yelp, and Google have been indispensable while traveling and I can’t imagine being in a strange place without their help.
My Verizion phone plan in the US charges way too much for bandwidth in other countries, even when you pay the extra rates (which, last I checked start at $20/mo extra and bandwidth costs extra on top of that, sometimes totalling hundreds of dollars for less than 1Gb of data). Other countries often have “pay as you go” and “prepaid” SIM card options that are ridiculously cheap compared to almost anything in America (a Gb of data can cost as little as $10). The problem with public wikis is the information gets out of date (some pages of that wikia site haven’t been updated in years) and even recent round-ups like this one on iMore are already more than a year old with pricing that doesn’t reflect current rates. I’m going to describe the exact steps I took to get online.
First step: unlocked?
First you’ll need an unlocked American phone, so that means either a Android Nexus phone purchased from Google or a iPhone 5, 5c, or 5s on Verizon (earlier 4 and 4s models can be unlocked by Verizon but it’s a pain as I found out in early 2012). I’m not sure if Sprint or AT&T iPhones can be unlocked. I had a iPhone 5s for my trip to Toronto, and I also had my wife’s unlocked 4s.
Find a Koodo kiosk or shop
I browsed a bunch of information online and decided that Koodo (a Telus subsidiary) offered the most bang for the buck because 1Gb of data was only $30. They won’t ship SIMs, MicroSIMs, or NanoSIMs to the US, so as soon as I landed, I only had free WiFi at airports or hotels until I could find a shop. Luckily, there was a Koodo kiosk in a mall close to my hotel, which I walked to soon after arriving.
You’ll want to ask for a prepaid SIM, and you can take it home and set it all up yourself on a laptop, tablet, or even your phone, and you might even save some money (there was a $20 credit when I was setting things up). Instead, I got my necessary SIM cards (NanoSIM for the iPhone 5 and up, MicroSIMs for earlier models) and paid for the cheapest unlimited text plan ($15), 100 minutes of talk ($10), and 1Gb of data ($30). With tax, each SIM cost me about $60 Canadian and I was given a special code to apply to the cards during sign up. If I could have gotten the SIMs for free and finished setup at home, it would have been $20 cheaper for each phone.
Activate the SIMs
I fired up my laptop and pointed it at https://activateprepaid.koodomobile.com/. You go through a signup process, and I was sure to pick the same options I already paid for. I applied my PIN from the sales receipt, and everything was complete. Armed with a paperclip from the hotel’s front desk, I opened the SIM door on my phone and slid the Koodo card in. In a few moments it was on the network and a quick test with WiFi turned off revealed that everything was working, and I had a new strange temporary Canadian phone number, which I stored on my wife’s phone (and vice versa) so we could contact each other. iMessage still uses the network, so texting between other iPhone users (including my wife) worked just as it used to.
The bandwidth was impressive for my short trip. In downtown Toronto, I found speeds of 10-15Mb downloads (and even uploads sometimes), faster than my hotel’s WiFi connection. You should monitor your bandwidth use at https://prepaidselfserve.koodomobile.com/ as I found myself using a couple hundred Mb of data each day (mostly Google Maps or looking up operating hours of museums and restaurants while uploading lots of photos along the way). For my short five day visit, a $60 1Gb plan worked out great and was much cheaper than the alternatives. I only ended up using 781Mb of data and made just one test phone call throughout my stay.
I published a little photo gallery of the entire trip on the new Exposure site, featuring photos I took all on my iPhone while out and about.
A few months ago, I picked up a GoPro Hero 3 camera and I recorded a few bike races on it. While playing with the integrated iPhone app, I noticed there was a time-lapse option so I decided to play around with it. After an hour of testing on a couple short drives, I tried it on two long ~9 hour drives going from Oregon to California and back. Here are the results:
A lot of people asked me how it was done, and what settings I used, so here’s a list of tips:
- You’ll need a Hero 3 camera, and then for mounting on a windshield you also need the suction mount, the Frame mount, a mini-USB cable and a USB car charger to keep the camera powered up for as many hours as you need (the built-in battery only runs for 1-3hrs). The whole setup looks like this.
- Put as big of a storage card as you can into it. I have a 64Gb microSD card
- Pick your resolution carefully, the default is 12 megapixel, which become ~6mb images for every shot. There are also 7 megapixel and 5 megapixel options. 1080p video barely requires 1 megapixel images so you can go down in quality to get smaller photo file sizes (my time-lapses were shot with 7 megapixel Wide settings)
- Pick a duration between shots. For me, I picked once every 5 seconds because that would require about 7,000 images for the whole trip and I could only fit about 10,000 images on the 64Gb card. If I went down to 1 second or 2 second increments, it would have looked smoother but required lower resolution images or a bigger storage card (also the resulting movie would have been 2-5x longer in the end)
- Before you start driving, check the mounting angle and view through the iPhone preview of what the camera sees (don’t forget to “flip” the image since the camera is upside down). When you’re ready to drive, start the time-lapse with the your chosen settings (you’ll lose the live video preview at this point).
- Periodically check the GoPro using the iPhone app every hour or two. Make sure it’s still got power, and enough storage space, etc.
- When you’re done, stop the time lapse and connect the GoPro to a computer.
- I used GoPro Studio 2.0 to process/create video. You import the shots from the GoPro’s card and it will build a movie. I went into advanced settings to reduce the resolution to 1080p at 24 frames per second. Convert your videos to this format and they will be smaller than the full resolution movies.
- GoPro Studio has editing features on the next pane of the app but I found it buggy. Instead I simply imported the outputed movies into iMovie, added music and put titles over sections to point out things happening.
- WISHLIST: I really wish there was an easy way to grab the timestamp from each shot and put it in the corner of the video, but in hours of research I can’t figure out any way to display a real-time clock of the time-lapse (every second of video equals 2 minutes of time passing) using either GoPro Studio or iMovie.
That’s about it, get to time-lapsing!
For the past few years, there’s been a site called huffduffer (started by Jeremy Keith) that lets you link to bits of audio you find online and it shows you popular items across the service. I’ve always thought of it as Instapaper or delicious for audio, but I never found myself considering it a useful tool that met any of my own audio needs.
Last year I found Instacast, an iPhone app that fully replaced my podcast listening through iTunes. It works around Apple’s previous limitations that require you to sync your phone to a computer and requring wifi to download episodes. It’s a great app and keeps you up to date on everything you love, even when you’re on 3G.
What’s weird is in the years since podcasting came out, the world has changed and there are lots of different podcasts producing infrequent content. You also hear about one-off events or shows, or single stellar episodes in an otherwise established series. I finally found a personal use for huffduffer recently as a way to collect all the single podcast episodes I want to hear without the committment of subscribing to a podcast and having to download every one of its 100s of episodes.
Take for example the Marc Maron show. He’s at 339 episodes, many of which go beyond a couple hours, and though it’s an incredible comedy interview show you’re talking a pretty significant chunk of time if you subscribe to the show. On the other hand, I’ve had friends that listen to the show say there are 4 or 5 episodes you shouldn’t miss, and I’ve been happy to listen to those but I simply don’t have the time to follow 2hrs of new content a week from the podcast forever. Another example is friends doing a guest spot on a show I’ve never heard of, it’s a great way to just pluck out that single episode and save it to huffduffer. This also works the other way. If I hear three good single episodes of a podcast chances are I’ll subscribe to the full feed.
The final step in the puzzle is wiring your huffduffer feed to instacast. It’s easy, but I couldn’t find any instructions for this online so I’ll post them here. Sign up for huffduffer, use the bookmarklet to add single episodes to your account, then look for your personal podcast feed, which takes the form of:
Next, go to your Instacast client, hit the + button to add a new podcast, then click the link button in the upper left. Put your huffduffer podcast URL listed above and save.
That’s all there is to it, whenever you hear about an amazing episode of a podcast or someone you follow on twitter guest stars somewhere, add it to huffduffer, pop open your phone and enjoy.
Up until recently, my favorite text editor was TextMate, and I not only used it to write code for websites, I also used to write blog posts in it. It had this hard-to-find feature that would let you highlight a word, and turn it into a link that lead to whatever was in your clipboard (copy/pasted URLs). I started using Coda 2 more and more and missed this feature. When I asked the Panic guys about it, they explained it in a couple tweets and I made a little video to show you how to do it too:
- Make sure the sidebar is visible in your main window (check the View menu if it is not)
- Click the Home icon, then Clips
- Right-click to make a new Clip
- Type out the code for a link
- Click between the quote marks and put in the option for “Clipboard Contents”
- Click the area between the tags and select “Text Selection”
- Set a keystroke for it, I selected Control-Shift-a.
- Save it, and start blogging up a storm in Coda 2
As silly as this one feature is, I’ve found it has saved me gobs of time when writing long blog posts that have tons of links in them. You just switch to your browser tabs, hit copy, then add them as links in your text, and repeat. I end up using this feature 20x a day it seems so I wanted to make sure other people know how to do it too.
(you might want to view the video full screen to see it more clearly)
I've updated this with a lot more info over on my Fortuitous Blog: Everything I've learned about Podcasting
A lot of people ask me how I do the MetaFilter Podcast (warning: the podcast makes no sense to anyone outside of MetaFilter uberfans). I know they don't mean "how do you do it man, you're making magic over there every week!" but rather "what software and hardware does it take to make a decent sounding podcast?" After almost a year of regular podcasts and trying out different software and equipment, I've gotten the workflow down cold and I wanted to share the my way of making a good sounding podcast on the cheap. This works perfectly well for me being in Oregon and talking to my friend Jessamyn in Vermont over Skype, recording at both ends, then tossing it all into Garageband to complete the podcast. I read a lot of podcast how-tos when I set out to do my own, and almost all of them are mired in technical details about microphone quality and USB vs. mixer board audio wankery. Most every tutorial about doing a podcast interview focuses way too much on studio-like sound quality achieved through your equipment instead of through software and a bit of clever thinking. So without further ado: How to record a good podcast between two mac users on the cheap Software required:
- Skype (free)
- Call Recorder for Skype ($15/each or 3 for $30, plus free 30 day demo)
- Garageband (included with most Macs, or $79 for iLife)
- Logitech USB headset microphone ($35 from Amazon)
Though you might have heard bad phone interview podcasts with Skype before, having Call Recorder running on both sides of your interview will mean your interview partner will have a crystal clear recording just like yours. The cheap headset microphones are brain-dead simple to use on a Mac (plug-in, change audio prefs to use the headset for input and output, adjust the recording level) and produce perfectly good vocal recordings. I've used $250 higher-end microphones and had little audio quality improvement. This process assumes two people, each running Skype, Call Recorder, and having a USB headset microphone. The Interview Recording:
- Start a Skype chat between you and your partner
- Both parties hit the record button on their Call Recorder (I record on high quality, low compression AAC)
- Conduct your interview normally
- When interview is complete, end call, stop recording
- Call Recorder includes a directory of mini-apps called Movie Tools. Have your partner locate their recording file and tell them to drag it over the "Split Movie Tracks" application
- Have partner upload Track 1 of the split movie files to a server you can download the file from
Assembling the podcast in Garageband:
- Drag your copy of the interview recording over Split Movie Tracks to turn your recording into one file for each side of the Skype conversation
- Drag each resulting .mov file over another Movie Tools app "Convert to AIFF"
- Drag your partner's half interview (that you downloaded from them) .mov file over Convert to AIFF
- Open Garageband, start a new podcast
- Duplicate one of the vocal tracks (my partner is female so I duplicate the default female track
- Drag your own Track 1 AIFF track into a Garageband track (my goes into the default Male Voice)
- Drag your own Track 2 AIFF track into Garageband, perfectly aligned with our Track 1 (this ensures the timings are exact for each side of your own interview recording)
- Drag your partner's Track 1 AIFF track into the duplicated track in Garageband
- Garageband quickly analyzes each track and makes visual soundwaves to go with each track. "Line up" your Track 2 and your partner's Track 1 audio files. The peaks and flat quiet area should look really similar (click screenshot below, view notes on the image itself)
- Once your partner's vocal track is lined up (press play to hear all three tracks and your partner should sound like an almost perfect echo from their two tracks), delete your own Track 2 track. You now have two high quality recordings from each respective source, ready for continued editing into your podcast (you can level out the volume if one person was louder, clip out pauses and coughs together, etc)
How does it sound? To give you an idea of how it sounds, consider the following three sample recordings. The first is the worst possible: recorded Skype conversation where I dialed out to a phone and recorded the entire thing on my end (mp3 sample 1 96kbps) Second, here is what a standard recorded Skype call sounds like, where I recorded both sides of the conversation on my end, so my partner was recorded through Skype and even on my high bandwidth fiber connection, it does have artifacts (mp3 sample 2 96kbps) Third, here is the same interview segment as the second part, but with my partner's local recording track thrown in and my recording of her track thrown out. Much better and to me, sounds like we could be in the same room, even though we are 3,000 miles apart. (mp3 sample 3 128kbps) Conclusion The basic premise of this approach is you can record a Skype interview without actually needing/using Skype. You are actually recording audio on each end independent of Skype, so you won't suffer any sound quality problems due to Skype transport. So that's it, for about $100 or so, you can have a pretty damn good podcast that sounds like two people sat in a room together talking and recording, even if they're on opposite sides of a country.