Houston We Have a Problem 10



Houston We Have A Problem 111, 03/07/10


Blogging in the Bush

Later this year I'm travelling overland from Nairobi to Cape Town, passing through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana. During the trip I'm planning on writing a blog, which I'll update every few days. My idea is to take a USB dongle and use the cellular networks. However, it is proving harder than I thought to find out about coverage, and which of the UK networks have reciprocal arrangements with their African counterparts.

Mike Young, by email


According to my brother who lives in South Africa and travels around a lot, the only reliable way to access the Internet in most sub-Saharan countries is via Wi-Fi hotspots and Internet cafes. He says they are reasonably common in towns, however, they are not cheap and do not expect much in the way of technical assistance.


Network operators are working flat out to improve GSM coverage across the continent and there’s a lot happening this year but the lack of infrastructure, poverty and small populations means that vast swathes of land are beyond the reach of mobile phone networks. As a general rule there is good voice coverage in cities and larger towns but to date the only place you can reliably connect to a 3G data network is South Africa, but things are changing fast. Details are still quite sketchy but here’s what we’ve been able to find out so far.


Zain, Kenya’s second largest mobile operator is hoping to launch a 3G service in July and Vodacom in Tanzania is trialling a 3G service in Dar-es-Salaam.


In Botswana Mascom Wireless has recently launched a 3G network but it’s only available in the greater Gaborone area and download speeds are limited to 1.8Mbps. Coverage is being extended and is expected to include Francistown in a few months.


Malawi’s largest mobile operator TNM is rolling out a 3G service for prepaid customers in Blantyre and Lilongwe and this is going to be extended to urban areas of Mzuzu, Zomba, Mangochi and Karonga.



On The Right Track

Do you have any information concerning tracking devices that would enable me to keep tabs on an elderly relative who sometimes wanders off?

W. Shewan, by email


Without wishing to sound flippant elderly relatives are not that different to children, pets and keys. There’s a bewildering array of technology on offer, everything from websites that can pinpoint someone’s location from their mobile phone signal to sophisticated GPS trackers, but I think you should start off with something a little simpler.


It’s called Loc8tor and comprises a hand-held receiver and a miniature homing tag. Several models are available with LED indicators or an LCD screen that shows the subject’s approximate distance and direction. The range is around 180 metres and it can be programmed to sound an alert when the subject nears the limit of the safety zone. The basic Lite model with two tags sells for around £50, a more advanced version with an LCD screen costs £100.



Manual Labour

I have just bought a new laptop and the instruction book is a PDF file on the hard drive.  How can I print it out and do I need a specific program to do this?

Ken Davison, by email


Printing laptop instruction manual is a terrible waste of paper and ink. Beyond the general stuff at the beginning, covering the basics, features, controls and connections they tend to be of limited use. You can read all that on the screen. The point is they are not much help when something goes wrong, as the vast majority of problems you’ll experience will be software related and not covered by the makers manual. The only part that’s worth printing is how to use the available recovery options.


If you feel you must have a hard copy may I suggest a program called Foxit (http://tinyurl.com/242e5mj). It’s a fast and easy to use PDF reader with a good range of printing options. It will help you to weed out the irrelevant guff, and save paper with multiple page, page order and reverse printing options 



Laptop Loudness

The sound output from our Toshiba laptop isn’t very loud and DVDs playback is far too quiet. I have tried connecting the stereo output to my home hi-fi and the radio in our campervan. In both cases the output is still low, even with the volume turned right up. It’s really fuzzy when playing DVDs, and there’s a background whine. Is there anyway of cleaning up the audio?

Geoff Pell, by email


Clearly you cannot expect too much from tiny laptop speakers though Toshiba models tend to be better than most but I’m surprised that the sound is distorted and you are hearing a whine. The first thing to do is pay a visit to the Toshiba support website and download and install the latest audio driver for your machine. Next, check the audio configuration menu in Control Panel, make sure that the correct speaker type has been selected and you haven’t enabled an acoustic effects mode by mistake.


If the whine is still present there could be a fault but if the sound from the PC is clean (try listening to it through a pair of headphones) but it distorts when you connect it to your hi-fi try changing the lead. Also make sure you are plugging it into the hi-fi’s ‘aux’ or ‘line’ input, and not the phono or microphone socket.   



Roaming in the Alps

Could you suggest any French or Swiss pay as you go SIM cards for use in alpine areas; they will be mainly used to make local calls?

Robert Clark, by email


In a growing number of countries, and France is an example; it can be difficult for non-residents to get hold of PAYG SIM cards. It’s still worth pursuing if you have good local contacts but now that the UK networks have been forced by the EU to address the cost of overseas roaming, prices are falling. Check if your present provider has any add-on roaming packages or subscriptions. International or Global SIM cards are also worth investigating and there are some useful contacts and comparisons at http://www.roamingsims.com/




© R. Maybury 2010 0806


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