Friday, November 20, 2009

52 hours on the train within 6 days

As I’m typing these lines I’m sitting on a train going through Denmark at 200km/h on its way from Copenhagen to Hamburg. When I arrive in Hamburg I’ll have a couple of hours to wander through the city (which I had previously visited in 2002) before the final leg of my journey will take me back to Vienna where I’ll arrive on Thursday morning.

The reason why I went up north was that I participated in a very interesting workshop on “ICT and Climate Change” held at the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise, Energy and Communications in Stockholm on Monday. The workshop brought together about a dozen researchers and experts from across Europe to present their work, discuss various aspects within the larger context of ICT and climate change and suggest areas and topics which require further research.

(c) Serious Games Institute ( Yours truly during his talk

Since I had never been that far north I scheduled my trains so that I could spend a couple of hours in Copenhagen on the way to/from Stockholm, another couple of hours in Hamburg and an extra day in Stockholm.

So Tuesday was spent exploring the Swedish capital which I found to be a really nice city. Especially Gamla Stan (the Old Town) and Söderalm are great places to wander around or just hang out.

I also liked Copenhagen quite a lot even though I only had 2x ~4 hours there to more or less randomly walk around the city centre.

As ever so often Wikitravel turned out to be an excellent and very useful guide when it came to exploring these cities. Especially since I had saved pdf versions of the Stockholm and Copenhagen entries onto my XO-1 which really makes for an excellent digital companion when exploring cities.

The train rides themselves were all really quite relaxing even though it sounded like an insane undertaking when I bought the tickets. I simply enjoy travelling on trains a lot and still think it’s the nicest (but of course not necessarily the most convenient or time-/cost-efficient) way to get around.

Once I’m back in Vienna I’ll pretty much stay put there until Christmas. The only exception is a short half-day trip to Salzburg next Tuesday where I’ve been invited to give a guest-lecture about OLPC at Salzburg University.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mobile phone contracts for modern nomads?

While I had previously mentioned that I was looking for a new mobile phone I had totally ignored the fact that I would of course also have to think about which contract to get. At the moment I’m signed up with T-Mobile Austria where my 2-year contract is soon coming to an end. In general I’m quite happy with it though by today’s standards I’m probably slightly overpaying for the service I’m getting, especially considering I only have 100MB of data per month at my disposal.

Now the thing is that getting a new phone would also necessitate a new contract since (a) phones are heavily subsidized when you get a new contract and (b) 100MB per month certainly won’t be enough with my next phone (regardless of which model it will end up being).

However the issue I’m running into is the 2-year minimum contract. Both in 2008 and 2009 I spent several months living and working abroad where my Austrian phone was of very limited use to me. So basically out of the 22 months of my current contract I’ve spent 7 months paying my monthly fee without really using the service. That’s ~€250 literally going down the drain…

Now while I don’t have any fixed plans yet for the next 12 to 18 months I’m again very likely to spend at least half a year living abroad again. And no, I’m not particularly keen on donating another €250 to T-Mobile Austria.

Thinking about this issue for a bit I realized that my newspaper subscription has been very flexible when it comes to me being abroad. All I have to do is send a quick note telling them how long they should stop sending me the paper, regardless of whether it’s for three days or three months. It’s an on-demand service and that’s something that I really appreciate.

Of course T-Mobile Austria isn’t nearly as forthcoming and the nice call-center lady I spoke to basically said that people in my situation were out of luck. I mean seriously, how hard can it be for them to put my contract on hold for x-months, maybe charging me a small one-time or monthly fee for the service, and then simply let me continue the contract upon my return? Companies who are in the dead tree business can do this, why can’t businesses dealing with modern ICT offer a similar service?

At the end of the day looking at this situation really makes me feel like a 21st-century nomad stuck in the dark ages…