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Technology Today - September 2014 - Travels in China
By Robert Sanborn

This is not a good time for Windows users. Just a few months ago, Microsoft pulled the plug on Windows XP and from my perspective, the rush to convert was not to Windows 8 but to WIndows 7 because the machines converted where usually two to fours years old. For those of you still waffling about getting rid of XP, you should know that the easy step up to Windows 7 is about to end for people buying Home Premium which is the usual path. Microsoft is pulling the plug on Windows 7 Home Premium the end of October 2014 while most curiously leaving Windows 7 Professional available which will cost you another $40 to buy.

I just returned from a trip to China and while i was amazed that the huge throngs of 20 somethings wandering the streets with their smart devices, i was also dismayed at the hassles of keeping connected was. Now granted that the throngs of people that i would see in the airports and railway stations are not representative of a large population of farmers, if you looked anywhere, you would see literally thousands of smart phones in use everywhere. Even on the streets, people are walking, riding, driving and texting and talking like mad.

What was the problem, was that westerners like me had some serious difficulties staying connected. I chose not to use a data plan with my smartphone and stick with WIFI mostly because the data plan rates offered by AT&T were priced just too high to deal with. In fact, I left my iPhone 5 in “Airplane” mode the whole trip just to avoid the problems of outrageous cell phone prices as unless I went over to the dark side to get the phone unlocked so that I could use a Chinese mobile SIM card, I was going to be stuck with AT&T’s pricing scheme. But I thought that would be ok as I had an old Motorola Flip Phone that was unlocked long ago and can turn it into a Chinese mobile phone while traveling and that worked out great.

China Streets

At a China Unicom kiosk, I was able to buy a SIM card that gives me a Chinese phone number and 80 minutes of international long distance talk time for a paltry 100 Yuan ($16 USD).  To get 100 minutes of international calling with AT&T would have cost me $120 per month not including any data plans. So, I went strictly WIFI. As to my phone, I had it forward all calls to my home number.

The good news is that free WIFI is available in far more places than I would have thought in China. The bad news is that sometimes it is difficult to get connected to it. In the Airports and train stations, the first thing they want is a Chinese mobile phone number to send the access code to. So it was a good thing I had my Motorola with me. Many of the hotels and restaurants we visited, even tiny holes in the wall, had free WIFI available. Just get the code from someone and you are connected. And for the most part, it worked out pretty well. There were a few times my phone told me I was connected but couldn’t get any pages but the next time I tried to connect using a different location, it worked just fine.

Temple

As it is in this country, there are also a number of companies offering hot spots all over if you have an account with the. China Mobile had hot spots in many places and if you had an AT&T WIFI account, could actually use that to connect.
Where the trouble comes in for us is that where we want to connect is often not available in China including Google, YouTube and over 2700 others at last count. You can see the details at Wikipedia’s site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Websites_blocked_in_China

My problem was that I wanted to post images and comments of my trip on Facebook so that my “real” friends and family to keep in touch with me while traveling as I was heading to areas of the country that are truly unique and beautiful. Well, Facebook is one of the blocked sites. The solution was to use a Virtual Private Network or VPN.

After a bunch of research, I settled on Vypr VPN from Golden Frog. http://www.goldenfrog.com/vyprvpn they do have a free trial but it is meaningless unless you already in China so it cost $10 per month which was just fine for me for the two plus weeks I was there. Normally what should happen is that you connect to the WIFI, then make sure it works with Safari or what ever browser you are using. Then you can fire up the Vyprvpn app and try to connect it to one of their servers scattered around the world. I don’t think they are really scattered around the world as the ip addresses all end with .vpn.goldenfrog.com. But it seemed that the deeper into China I got, the more difficult it was to connect and I had most success with the sites in Indonesia and Vietnam. Quite often it took several tries to connect and once I did I discovered that my Facebook and Google accounts would work just fine and I was able to post descriptions and notes to them. The one time I had a real problem with Vyprvpn was when at one hotel, the reconnection feature of the app kept on trying to connect when I was trying to establish the WIFI login and that got in the way and stopped everything. Once I figured that out, I was able to connect and reconnect manually and the Vyprvpn worked just fine. I just needed to remember to disconnect when I was turning off the phone.

Vypr VPN

Robert Sanborn

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