All posts by DanM

Ruby developer, entrepreneur, hobbyist

best articles I read while traveling

I recently shared the books I read while traveling. I read a lot of longer articles while traveling as well. I thought they might be fun to share as well. If you are looking for some good things to read hopefully some of these articles will catch your eye. I read nearly all of these on my kindle, so I recommend using Amazon’s send to kindle. This will let you easily add any articles you find interesting to your reading list / kindle to enjoy later and away from the computer screen to be easy on your eyes. I am not sharing all the programming articles I read while traveling, as they won’t interest most friends and family, I’ll post them on my developer blog later.

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Reading while traveling

A Tuk Tuk taking us through Angkor city
A Tuk Tuk taking us through Angkor city

I have enjoyed to read while traveling for a long time. It fits in well with travel schedules and being away from easy access to media, but more than that I enjoy reading books themed to where I am traveling. We had quite a bit of time to read through some books while we were on planes, buses, trains, trucks, ferries, and tuk tuks. I wanted to share my reading list from our latest journey. I got through 14 books while we were traveling for about 5 months, not bad!

group_tuk_tuk
with friends tuk tuking through Cambodia

 

I know I will have far less time to read as I return to work. I do want to try to keep up with the habit so, I was motivated to sign up to goodreads reading challenge for the year. I am shooting for 18 books in 2015. I have a few in progress which should help me get there.

Beyond books I read a lot of long form articles some of the best I hope to share in a later post. I think a good mix of books and smaller articles is a nice way to keep current and dig deep. Anyways without further ado, my book list.

Sci-Fi Books

African Books

Asian Books

Other Books

Books In Progress

 

Travelers Beware, the case of the stolen SIM card

So, we survived our trip and really ran into surprisingly few issues. We both lost our Fitbits, we each ended up on Pepto-Bismol for a few days in a row, and we both caught a 40-day cough that started around Kenya. But, really, nothing major. A few days before the trip was up we kept discussing how shocked we were that not much had gone wrong (knock on wood) — no issues with Visas or border crossings, and nothing major had been stolen — but then we learned about the biggest FAIL of our trip. Luckily, it still falls into the category of #firstworldproblems, but it was our “travel disaster” — and something other travelers should be careful about — a stolen SIM card ran up about $1000 of roaming calls in Tanzania, Africa.

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TL;DR: We are on T-Mobile, which has great roaming and data in 120 countries. It worked great in Asia, but struggled in many countries in Africa. So, in Africa, we often bought local SIM cards since T-Mobile either didn’t work, barely worked, or had excessive costs. After swapping SIM cards at some point, we lost one of our T-Mobile SIMs. Someone found it, or or stole it, and ran up a massive bill.

We contend that we are not liable for the entirety of these bills for two reasons.

1) As soon as we had internet access once we noticed that the SIM card was missing, we suspended the lost card.

2) Though the unusual usage was not visible to us via the online system,  T-Mobile had noted the unusual usage, but did not notify us about it (as required to in the FCC’s bill shock agreement), despite the fact that charges were quickly adding up to 10X our normal bill. T-Mobile has both of our email addresses, and another phone line connected to the account. The only method of notification that they used was to SMS the STOLEN PHONE NUMBER about odd usage patterns! 

Legally, in this situation, T-Mobile has no further obligations and can pass the entire cost onto the consumer. After hours of back and forth, T-Mobile, as a courtesy, covered 2/3 of the charges, while we agreed to pay 1/3. Still costing us over 3X more than our standard monthly bill.

While our specific problem was with T-Mobile, this is a problem with all US mobile providers. There isn’t strong consumer protection laws for stolen charges, like those that exist for credit cards. There are ways to help prevent this, the best way is add a SIM PIN lock. You can read how to lock a SIM on Android, or lock a SIM on IOS. You can also avoid issues by having pre-paid SIMs which is what much of the world uses. T-Mobile, however, does not allow their pre-paid plan to be used internationally. 

The Stolen SIM Story

As we traveled around, we were swapping our SIMS often. We are on a 24 day overland Safari that went in and out of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. One evening when swapping SIMs we noticed that we couldn’t find one of our original T-mobile SIMS. Considering we had been moving bags every day as we setup and tore down our tents, we figured it got left in the tent of left in one of our bags. It was dark, after sunset, so we figured we could search for it tomorrow. The next day with light we sorted through our tent and bags but couldn’t find it. We decided we should deactivate it just to be safe. Although we couldn’t do that immediately because driving around east Africa means you are often out of cell reception. Later that day we suspended the SIM and noticed no odd usage being reported online with our T-mobile account. We thought no worries we likely just misplaced it and it will turn up… It didn’t , but with no usage showing and it being suspended we didn’t worry about it.

Fast forward about a month when we have better internet and are checking our bank accounts, bills, etc… Logging into T-Mobile we notice our bill is for about $1000, which is around 10X our normal bill. The usage shows tons of roaming charges over 3 days or so in Tanzania up until we suspended the number. At this point we are in South Africa, and afraid of using T-mobile in case we incur further excessive charges. We use the T-mobile online chat to contact them. Originally offered a $50 credit adjustment, eventually explaining the case a bit further we are offered a $250 credit adjustment. We claimed they need to be responsible for consumer protections and contact us opposed to allowing the completely abnormal usage. We are told they sent a abnormal usage warning as a SMS to the stolen phone number. Considering the overage usage notice is legally enforced, I feel like T-Mobile isn’t fulfilling their requirements in contacting us. Opposed to SMSing the stolen number, we have two phone lines and two emails on file, I consider messaging the stolen number both insufficient and incompetent. The number they contact is always the primary number on the account, so if you loose a phone or SIM card, it is just dumb luck if they will contact an appropriate other number. After using online chat, twitter, and calling T-Mobile when I got back in the states, they accepted my offer that we could stay customers and not cancel our account if they would cover 2/3rds of the cost while we would cover 1/3. I do assume some responsibility because we should have contacted them sooner — though where we were in Africa without power or internet it was very difficult to do so. While traveling, we also definitely should have PIN locked our SIM cards (I didn’t previously know about that). So in the end we had an extra 3.5X mobile bill to cover, which considering all the craziness of travel isn’t too bad.

Why frustrate your happy loyal customers?

I really blame the mobile industry for most of this mess. The one thing I entirely blame T-Mobile for is how poorly they handle the customer support for this situation. My chat transcripts are almost comically sad, and are just this side of someone trying to cancel a Comcast account. The time we spent trying to deal with T-Mobile to come to an agreement was almost more annoying than the charges. As they offer to buy out contracts to acquire new customers at $350 per line. They didn’t seem willing to put $600 towards keeping two customers happy. In the end, after lots of escalating discussion while trying to pack up and return to the US,  we ended up where I wanted to be. I had suggested the 1/3 and 2/3 break down about a hour into our first discussion, we wasted days of back and forth and and stress before we could reach a agreement. At one point in a odd move, a support rep tried to revoke a offer $250, credit and only offer $50, because he thought all the charges should be valid. This was an absolutely terrible move, which nearly made me cancel both lines on the spot.

Protect Yourself

1) Make sure you know which number is your primary account and if anything happens to that phone or SIM card report it immediately.

2) If you are swapping SIM cards or traveling set up a PIN lock (lock a SIM on Android, or lock a SIM on IOS). If you can use a prepaid mobile service (I was using prepaid T-Mobile, but switched to post-pay because pre-pay doesn’t include ANY of the international roaming).

3) If you end up having what you consider unauthorized charges that your provider is forcing you to pay, file a online complaint, as the bill shock protections means they should have at least notified you about unusual billing. Also, it is hard to estimate how much mobile providers are overcharging customers until the FCC gathers enough complaints to have a better idea of how common this is. From the bill shock site, “If you have tried to resolve a billing issue with your carrier and cannot reach an acceptable resolution, you may complain to the FCC.”

Final Thoughts

I still think T-Mobile is actually one of the best mobile companies in terms of consumer friendly policies. T-Mobile’s 120+ roaming free countries is pretty amazing. It isn’t always as fast for data and doesn’t always have the best coverage, but it worked very well for us, especially in Asia. It saved us from having to deal with and buy SIM cards in every country and considering we were in some countries for less than 5 full days, that is really helpful.

I don’t blame T-Mobile for the bad policy and protections specifically. I blame ALL US mobile providers (lobbying as CTIA).  I think the entire mobile industry is exploiting the weak consumer protect laws and profiting on stole phone and SIM charges. Offering inadequate, inconvenient, and poorly implemented consumer protects to prevent charges like this from occurring. If you are curious and want to know more, or how to help improve protections take a look at the various links, resources, and stories below.

Industry Profiting from Stolen Phones, SIM cards, and unauthorized billing

The Consumer Union (part of consumer reports) has been calling to limit liability for lost and stolen phones for years.

a stolen phone leads to a £1,700 Orange mobile bill.

a stolen phone leads to a $1000 Vodafone bill.

T-mobile fined for cramming charges on bills.

AT&T fined for cramming.

Sprint sued for cramming charges.

AT&T has phone insurance that doesn’t really cover what you think (like theft).

by not protecting customers, mobile carriers push insurance policies and 3rd party solutions putting the cost back on consumers.

Mobile Industry Pushing Weak Consumer Protection Laws

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, requested the FCC look into mobile providers services. The FCC found 5 issues, the first two are (1) the potential liability for unauthorized charges using prepaid or stored value products; (2) the unfair billing practices on mobile carrier bills; both of which the CTIA, has been dodging since 2011 at least.

The CTIA has been pushing against cellphone kill switches for years, and profiting about 2.6 billion a year from stolen phones.

Lobbying against net neutrality for mobile providers.

The CTIA (mobile provider lobbying group), has been avoiding cramming on all providers for years (what is cramming?).

The mobile industry has bad fraud protection on calls and now is pushing for mobile payments without protections similar to credit cards.

Mobile industry has lots of warnings about the lack of consumer protect for mobile payments.

in fact the Consumers Union is calling for better protection including limited liability for lost and stolen phones (and being able to set a monthly cap which cuts off costs).

Opposed to having laws that might limit them, they push weaker voluntary commitments as the solution to these problems (which means when they fail you have no actual legal recourse).

In fact the often cited in this post bill shock consumer protections, aren’t a law but another ‘voluntary commitment’. Which really weakens consumers legal standing.

The protections on mobile charges has been stalled since 2011, even with advocates pushing for improved consumer protections. It varies wildly contract to contract and state to state.

Follow various FTC complaints about the mobile industry.

Do something about it

Seeking the Lion’s Head, Cape Town, South Africa OMG

So as we were planning our trip, a tweet from @gingerale, whom I follow, popped up.
original_tweet
The tweet linked to a photo posted by @EarthPix
An amazing shot at the top of Lion's head
An amazing shot at the top of Lion’s head
It was an amazing photo, and inspiring to me, as I was thinking about our upcoming travel. Since I knew we had South Africa on our list, I decided I needed to learn about this hike and plan a visit. In fact I replied to the tweet saying, I needed to do visit, and added it to my travel checklist.
tweet_reply
Well it only 160 days later and mission accomplished. I am nothing if I am not good at completing todo items 😉
standing on the edge
Standing on the same rock from the original photo
 Oddly enough, finding the original photo so I could link back to my inspiration was a bit hard as @EarthPixs has since removed the photo. Luckily, nothing is ever really gone on the internet and a few google searches turned up the photo. However, I still don’t know who exactly to credit for the photo, so I will still just refer to the no longer working @EarthPixs post.
Anyways, it is an amazing hike. It’s actually more what I would call rock scrambling. There is a nice standard trail for about 3/4’s of the hike, then it splits to the easy route or the chains and ladders route. Both routes are reasonably difficult and will require climbing with your hands and feet. The chains and ladders is more popular, but was very crowded so we only use it on the way up, opting for the less popular ‘recommended’ route on the way down. Some of the ladders are just metal hand holds bolted into rock. Others are legit ladders secured into the rock face. There are still many places you will be ‘scrambling’ up with hands and feet together over slightly challenging terrain. Besides a few overcrowded moments where we were are forced to stand with a crown by a cliff face, this is my favorite kind of hike, a mix of walking / climbing.
a partial pano from the top
a partial pano from the top
The spiral climb is amazing because you get to see the view from all sides of the mountain. It still has nothing on the 360 degree panorama you are treated to if you reach the peak. I was really happy to have to chance to experience this ‘todo’ item. It took us 3h40min because of crowds and a picnic lunch in the shade of a cave on the way down. Going our normal speed without crowds it would likely still take 2h30min.

Finally the beach you see below our feet is Camp’s Bay Beach, which was so beautiful that we had to make it our next stop. Down the mountain and straight for the sand. The view of Lion’s head, which we had just summitted, from just outside out beach umbrella was impressive.

If you ever have a chance visiting Cape Town for Lion’s Head hike, I highly recommended it. Just might want to visit during a less crowded time than Christmas and New Years, as everything is packed even the trails.

These little piggies went to the beach

Just a view of the beach from Cape Coast Ghana, at castle restaurant. A nice moment to lighten the mood. After our very depressing tour of Cape Coast castle one of the largest exporters of slaves. A place made even more famous, when Obama visited a few years ago. I will say both tourists and locals come to the tours and seem to leave believing in a better future than our past.

image

Discovery Channel Live

There are far too many thoughts, to really ever sum up our safari in one post. I am sure we will make a couple posts over time about specific parts of the trip, or reviewing G adventures whom we did the trip with. In the end though, there is an overwhelming amount of feelings and thoughts that you have over a 24-day overland Africa trip. I won’t begin to try to cover it here, but I did want to write out a few thoughts before they fade from memory. (From Erin — the long and short of it is that it is awesome and you can totally hang. [Even we totally hung, and if you ask around, you will find that I am not low maintenance.] If you are thinking of doing a 24-day overland African safari…just do it…it will be amazing. Sure, sometimes you will be uncomfortable, but mostly, it will be just fine. We had a good time on our G Adventures tour — one awesome guide and one fine guide. We are guessing that other operators do it just fine too. Find an operator with a sale going on, and just book it.)

1. A safari is like a really long unedited version of Discovery channel.

Seriously, all the things you see on animal planet are real, and common — not even that hard to find. You can find a sleeping lion next to it’s kill with baboons taunting it for fun, while a jackal tries to creep in and steal some loose meat from the kill.

2. You will appreciate zoos a bit more

I am not talking about sad zoos that mistreat animals. I am talking about ones with breeding programs for endangered animals. Ones that are helping study animal behavior in responsible ways. Even things like Disney’s animal kingdom, which is massive, and really simulates open wild game parks. There are tons of animals in the wild having their habitats split up and destroyed in ways that will decimate the animal populations. Without study and intervention, some species will die because we don’t understand their migration patterns and we destroyed a part of it.

Some of the breeding programs are the best bets to help some animals survive. Also, when an environment is built really well it can help study animal behavior in less invasive and destructive ways than completely invading the space of the few remaining wild groups of animals.

Finally, having seen some animals in a zoo and as a child, I thought the animals just laid around boring like that because they are in captivity — so not true. Free and wild lions will sleep 20 hours a day, and really don’t give a crap about tourists or most other animals if they aren’t hungry at the moment. So, what you see in a good zoo is a pretty accurate sample of their lifestyle. If you are at a humane zoo, you can see real animals behavior without hours in a hot truck. I am not saying that zoos are the same as safaris, or that we don’t need protected parks if we have zoos, I am just saying that good zoos can be part of the overall solution to protect and fund habitats for the planet’s animal population.

3. Everything is 50/50 in Africa.

  • Is it going to rain? 50/50
  • Will we reach camp before sunset? 50/50
  • Does the campsite have hot water? 50/50
  • Will we be chased by hyenas when we try to make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night? 50/50

4. After the Safari I have come to appreciate some things much more than I used to, a few examples below:

  • hooks (particularly in bathroom showers)
  • hot showers
  • showers that don’t electrocute you (we ran into slightly electrocuting water faucets at two different campsites)
  • flush-able toilets (although I will still take the “long drop” over a flush-able squat toilet)
  • traffic laws
  • a back-lit kindle
  • good headlamps or lanterns
  • a real bed
  • non-instant coffee (thanks Joel, for the coffee pot filter trick)
  • really cold beer (this one is for Mauricio)

5. You will watch something amazingly beautiful and brutal at the same time

Probably the most interesting thing we watched on safari was a leopard that carried it’s Red Buck kill across the road and then up into a tree. It was pretty incredible to watch and  it seemed a bit odd to so casually watch the rawness of life.

celebrating its victory
celebrating its victory

“When you see a herd of animals with a predator nearby, you always cheer for the prey. ‘You can do it, run, run…stay together… ‘ but once it is obvious that the predator is going in for the kill, you begin to cheer for the predator, ‘kill, kill,’ because you realize that the lion is hungry… and you want to see it happen.” -Erin