Volume 1 Issue 4- Monday August 4th, 2008
This is a continuation from the Chef Shane – The Culinary Globe Trotters’ feature article in the Chef-a-Go-go e-letter.
At the moment, Matthew is thinking the worst, cementing his “Chef’s frown” into place as he imagines me lying back surrounded by empty Angkor cans and admiring women.
In actual fact I am in an internet café, and only through choice of abode.
In my last place in Bangkok we had Wi-Fi throughout the building, so I could often work, play, tease, communicate, do business and move my finances in between buying food from street vendors, having a beer with friends, or watching a movie.
There are a lot of ways to benefit from “globalisation” whether you eat at McDonalds or not.
Staying in touch, getting and using money, phoning home, taking pictures, it has all changed.
I used to love having the email address and web space from my internet provider at home, but moving house or suburb often meant changing email address. As did changing internet provider.
In the old days, email on your home account was faster, more secure and with fewer limitations. Now it is the other way around.
There are some great options with web based email these days, and you can keep the same email address no matter how many times you move or change providers.
What is web mail?
Quite simply, email that you have to check on the internet.
The big ones are Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo.
I personally have used all 3 and recommend Gmail as it is the most reliable and functional with the most generous features and the fewest limits.
Gmail also offers free “Documents”- which allows you to view spreadsheets and word documents on any computer – even if it doesn’t have office software.
It also links to your blog, your online photo albums, your newsreader and rss feed reader, and your personal webpage.
Hotmail and Yahoo are also massively popular
What you are looking for with web based email:
- Fast loading and simple. Not too much fancy stuff
- Reliable and easy to use
- Large size limit for attachments (at least 2MB each. Better if it is 5 or 10MB ea)
- Large storage space (more than 5GB)
- It’s good if you can combine mail accounts, or check all accounts together
A lot of web based email allows you to download it to your computer or open/ check it with you usual email software (often Outlook Express, Outlook, Thunderbird, etc).
This means you can use your webmail as if it were “normal” email and store it on your computer.
Other web mail allows you to check all of your email accounts through your single webmail account.
Instant, accurate and flexible, email zaps across the globe in a split second and is adaptable to your needs.
It is also FREE.
It is easy to format and make text smaller or larger.
You can add sound to your email, and attach photos, videos and voice files.
You can link to a web album to show your photos instantly, but MORE importantly, a good free web email address serves as a constant point of contact for us, remaining stable even as we change jobs, houses, phone numbers, fax numbers, countries and more.
In the good old days, one could either be a wastrel and burn rolls of film on a whim – or camera shy, clicking only the most special moments.
Digital photography has eliminated the need for expensive film and developing, and allows relentless snapping and excessive experimentation with no financial penalties or disincentives.
I like to use mine for food shots at work, and other shots elsewhere.
Think about your usage and pinpoint the right model for you.
What to look for:
5 megapixel + – this is how many ‘dots’ make up the image, if one were to break it down into the crudest possible explanation. The more the merrier. Over 8 is a bit excessive and gives huge file sizes (fills up your computer with big photos more quickly). Less than 4 is lacking in detail.
Good quality lens this makes a big difference to the image quality, and NOT the brand.
Long Battery Life – I ALWAYS buy a second battery, it just isn’t negotiable. You WILL run out of battery at a crucial moment. Choose a camera with good battery life and buy 2 batteries and you will always be ready to go.
Zoom – Forget digital zoom. The optical zoom is the only one worth using. 3x zoom is standard on all cameras, 7x is standard for big cameras, 10-12x is very good if you can get it. A big zoom means a big lens, and a big lens can’t fit in a very small camera, so this is a trade-off right here – size for zoom.
Zoom is one of the most used features. Realistically, if you get a high definition compact camera, you can “zoom” by cropping the image in Photoshop or Picasa, but it is not the best or most efficient way.
Buy for your needs If you don’t know much about cameras and don’t want to, then buy a compact – a small camera with mainly automated features.
If you want to take pictures anywhere and everywhere, also buy a compact.
These small cameras fit in a pocket and can be whipped out with OK results almost anywhere.
Check the performance on night time or low light shots. I have problems there.
If you want to play around with settings, be artistic, or do some more advanced photography, have a look at digital SLR cameras, or there cousins with most of the features of a manual camera but slightly condensed.
Now you can get the same results as with film, and choose all settings as you would with a regular SLR camera.
Of course, if you get a semi professional camera, or one with a big zoom, it will be a LARGER camera which makes it less discreet and more difficult to carry and use.
Review it online
After you have the photos:
Software which is free and easy to use.
Even YOU can make your photos look good with Picasa.
The best features here – red eye removal, instant auto-fix with “I’m feeling lucky” and the amazing “straighten” tool which is easy and effective.
Another essential feature is the “export” function and the “email” function which lets you resize your photos for whatever purpose you want with 2 clicks.
Or – email the photos you have selected with one click, and it automatically makes them the right size and sends them off through your Gmail account.
You can also organize photos on your computer with Picasa, and store them online and share with friends – or not.
PLEASE re size your photos if you email them.
Many people have limited speed connections, or in the case of Chefs, limited patience.
Photos directly from your camera are LARGE. They should be 2-5MB each.
If you attach 5 photos it can be 10MB and too large to send.
Using basic photo software to send or resize your photos makes them large enough to fill a computer screen in vivid colour and detail, but small enough to send and download quickly.
A solution to this if you WANT people to get the big hi def photos is to put full size photos on your web album on the internet, and invite selected friends to view them, (or make the album public so anyone can access it, as you prefer).
Then the people viewing the photos can look at a small version, and download the full size pictures at their own pace.
Those travellers’ cheques were always a hassle in the old days.
Cash was even worse.
Now we need only have our trusty ATM card or credit card in order to get cash overseas.
Bank ATM’s overseas
Bear in mind that the safest way to travel is with one or two CREDIT CARDS even if you do not wish to use the credit facility on them.
When you need funds it is faster, cheaper and easier to use the ATM than it is to queue in a money exchange.
The notes are crisp and clean, and the exchange rate is better than shopping around.
An ATM will usually accept visa and mastercard, and most major bank network ATM cards from around the world.
Definitely the cheapest and most convenient option.
CAUTION about having ONE source of funds.
If you have one card and it is lost or damaged, it can cause inconvenience.
Also – some debit cards and smaller bank debit facilities are not available in entire networks overseas.
A credit card allows you to use the ATM for debit and credit transactions as a rule, with the usual daily limit that applies in your home country.
You also have the option of taking an over the counter advance (in person, with passport as ID) against your credit card which is exempt from your daily limit.
If you are in a lesser known country with rare currency, don’t bring too much of it outside that country as you may not be able to change it back easily.
As many of us work in hotels, there is no need to say never exchange your money in hotels – the rates are exorbitant.
In the shit?
Western Union and Thomas Cook do international money exchanges at varying rates, so it is always possible to get and receive money overseas with or without banks and cards.
You basically need an ID and the cash.
You give the cash, your ID, and then the name of the recipient and any ID or security required.
The receiver goes into the exchange, quotes the reference number, shows ID and walks out with the money at the other end.
Western Union advertise “15 minutes” from one place in the world to another, but it can be up to an hour or two to fill out the forms, queue and get the transaction completed, so if you are in the snow at a kiosk in Moscow waiting for cash from grant to buy warm clothes, there could be trouble.
Also consider that many Muslim countries have Friday off and most others normally Saturday and Sunday, so already 3 days are difficult for same day transactions.
Most of these exchanges operate 7 days – although hours do depend on each branch and country.
Instead of currency
In the old days you could swap bottles of Black label Scotch or a pair of Levis for almost anything.
These days, even gold is hard to unload without hassles.
If you are having currency hassles between countries, carry USD$ or Euros.
Every country will be able to swap these two into local currency.
Matthew has now been put at ease.
I was grinning at this end, thinking of him pounding his fists on the table as he searched for me online, trying to get this completed e-letter from me.
I was on “invisible” on Gmail, but saw he was there and tapped out “Hi” and seconds later he had responded.
And that is just checking webmail.
IM or instant messaging is excellent, and the main ones are again Yahoo, Hotmail/ Microsoft and Google.
Google’s Gmail has instant chat on the Gmail window, so whenever you check your email you can see your friends/ colleagues/ family/ enemies and chat with them at will. No software is required on the computer you are using, but it only allows you to chat with others if they also have Gmail and are in your address book.
Yahoo and Windows both have IM programs of their own, called “messenger”
These are a little different, in that you need the IM program to be installed on the computer you are using before you can chat.
MOST internet cafes have both yahoo and windows messenger, and once you install on your own computer, that’s all you have to do.
You have to download the program.
You can even use this new IM called ebuddy which combines all the programs together and lets you chat with anybody on any messaging program you link up with.
There are a few programs which combine different IM programs together.
Very much like our friend “E.T.”, we can find ourselves overseas feeling a little estranged and out of touch.
As I was, last month in Bangkok munching nam sausage in between job interviews and reassuring calls to and from friends and family.
In the old days those wily telecom providers held our tender parts in their greedy hands, controlling every word through a breathtakingly arrogant pricing structure.
Since the internet, VOIP or “voice over internet protocol” has meant an opportunity for free or cheap phone calls and this is no longer a futuristic dream.
One company leads the market – SKYPE.
Skype is a small efficient piece of software which you download, set up and run on your computer.
To use its basic features, you need a microphone and headphones.
To use its video call feature you need a web camera.
Pricing is great.
To call anybody from your computer to their computer it is totally free for chat, voice phone calls, and video calls.
You can even do conference calls with more than two callers at once (like a group chat).
Both computers must have Skype.
If the other computer does NOT have Skype, or if there IS no other computer, you can use Skype to send and SMS or make a phone call to a landline phone, or a mobile phone anywhere in the world.
This is a charged service, but at a fraction of normal phone rates.
You need to open an account with Skype, and buy credit to make calls to phones.
It saves a fortune, and allows high quality, frequent calls for whatever purpose suits you.
Video call is GREAT for a couple of groups to hook up or for teams of old colleagues catching up, or to have a long lingering chat with that distant spouse or childhood chum.
Please Note- At the time of publication the above links were operational. I offer my sincere apologies in advance if you have trouble accessing the full story via the links provided.
Chef Shane – The Culinary Globe Trotter