Blog Archives

Hacking Telcel Recharging in Mexico

So I walked into a Telcel Mexico office and went through the 15 minute process of signing up. Great! Now I’ve got a SIM card and a phone number. This costs $150 Pesos and you get about $60 Pesos credit.

Next step is to add some money to it. You do that by buying prepaid cards for a certain value. You need to know the value of the package you want to buy first. In my case it was the 3GB of Internet for $399 Pesos. So I bought 2x$200 Peso cards (called “fichas”). They can’t apply these in the store or over the Internet, you have to call and apply them manually. The number is *333 and there are voice prompts in English to walk you through it. No problem, right?

Unless the service is down. For several days. Great, now you’ve got a couple of cards that are essentially worthless until somebody gets around to fixing the *333 service. That’s no fun. Internet to the rescue! There’s a way to bypass the system and enter the card codes directly! Here’s how to do it.

Enter *134*<CODE>#
Hit Call/Send

So if the code on the back of your card (what you just scratched off) is 1234 5678 90123 you will type: *134*1234567890123# and hit Call/Send.

Voila! You have now deposited the credit in your account. You can check that on your Mi Telcel account through the Internet. That’s also easy to sign up for, you give them your number and they send you a SMS with your temporary password.

To check your balance you can dial *133# but that seems to cost about $1 Peso each time, so use sparingly.

My biggest complaint is that the upload speeds are pretty low. Normally that wouldn’t have a big effect, but they’re so slow that it effectively means you can’t use data. 60 bytes per second is about my average upload speed. At that rate you make about one webpage request a minute and apps are all but unusable.

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iPhone Maps Even Without Cell Service

You can use the iPhone as a map, even when you have no cell service. This is a trick I used abroad when I was going to a new country and knew I wouldn’t have a new SIM card before I needed to get somewhere. The trick is, you have to preload the maps.

The easiest way to do this is to pre-plan your route before you set off. From the train station or airport to your destination. Then you can scroll around a bit and download those maps. I usually like to zoom in or out just a bit and try and load as much of the map area as I can to help me out. I wouldn’t use this as my sole means of getting to where I’m going, but it’s pretty handy in a pinch!

When I get to where I’m going I can then access those maps even without a SIM card in the phone. This trick works even if you turn the phone off and back on and it should survive playing music and things. But don’t load other places in the map – you might lose some of the data you need. Also, the GPS is kind of spotty some places in Europe, and without Internet connectivity you can’t use the wifi or cell tower location services.

German General Weirdness

I’ve had an odd 24h in Germany so far. It’s mostly been experienced here in Frankfurt (am Main, nicht am Oder).

My first issue, and one I’ve had all across Europe, is that they have NO LAUNDROMATS in Germany. The hotels charge you a fortune ($3 for a pair of socks!) but the hostels will do it all for free.

Here’s another bit of weirdness: mobile phone data costs 220+ times here what it does in Poland. Now how does that work?! Germany is supposed to be a technological leader and yet the state to their east (whom they consider backward) has one of the cheapest and most reliable data networks I’ve found. In Poland it’s 0.02 PLN per 100kb on Heyah. The cheapest I’ve found here is 0.01 EUR per 1kb. And that is using my Irish SIM card! Other rates seem to be around 20-30 Eurocent per 1kb. It’s only $0.02 per 1kb to use my AT&T card from home.

Let’s talk logistics. I was trying to get from the Frankfurt (am Main) Hbf (train station) to my hotel last night. I took a cab because it was 3mi away and I was tired and it was late. I asked the cab driver if he knew the Sheraton at Lyoner Str. 44. He said “Yes” and so we went off to circle the Hbf a couple of times. 15 minutes later I figured the guy was lost when he pulled into the Radisson. Everybody knows that’s at Franklinstr. 65. But after I corrected him we were back on our way. Another 15 minutes later (and after having passed the Hbf again) we were at the right place.

Now tonight I was at the same place trying to get back to my hotel and, wary of the cabs, I decided I’d take the S-Bahn. Well I knew I wanted to head to the Niederrad stop so I went to the ticket machine and looked for it. It’s not there. Huh, that’s weird. So I went to the map on the wall to make sure of the spelling and on this map they spell it as F-Niederrad which makes sense when you consider that it’s in Frankfurt. OK, so now back to the ticket machine to find it. Still not there. They have F-Ndr-am Edulching Str. and F-Nieder-Frankensense and F-Nieder-Umlat, but my stop is nowhere to be found. So I wandered into a bookstore and, upon finding an English version of a Lonely Planet Germany book, researched how to get around in Frankfurt, thus doing a service to my gender the world over by not asking. It turns out that since Niederrad is in zone 50, you just have to get a Einzelfahrt Erwachsene ermassigt and you’re all set. Then you can get on the S7 to Reidstadt-Goddelau, the S8 to Wiesbaden Hbf (by way of Russelsheim and not Darmstadt Hbf obviously) or the S9 to Weisbaden Hbf (although it only runs once an hour) from one of the 28 platforms from which they may depart and you’re practically there already. How silly of me to miss such an obvious thing.

When I got up to get off the train (picked a winner the first time, surprisingly!), a German guy of about 25 who’d been laying across several seats with his sunglasses on began shouting. At nothing in particular, just kind of yelling in general. Some people said he must have been drinking. Some simply stared. I just hoped the door would hurry up and open because he was laying very close to me with his shoes off for what must have been the first time in a month. Going down the stairs off the platform some guy tried to stick his foot out and trip me. Why, I couldn’t say, but he did. And talking to himself all the while.

With just a few more yards (or meters) to go before I reached my hotel I noticed Polezi motorcycles coming down the street in motorcade formation, with each rider racing to the next street to cut off traffic. I didn’t see any limousines or anything but then I started hearing a noise and seeing a flashing light like it was a biker with a helmet (not Helmut) mounted light. It wasn’t a biker, it was 3 roller bladers. And behind them followed about a thousand. Just out for a midnight rollerblade. So I stood and watched the procession as they passed – I could hardly do otherwise as they were obscuring my path.

Germany’s a weird place, man.

iPhone Abroad

I’ve jailbroken my 3G iPhone so I can use it in Europe. AT&T can’t seem to figure out how to make their service work over here (no matter how many times I call and they tell me I’ll be able to use it) so I took it upon myself to do it. With the tools from the iphone-dev team it’s a snap. Turns out the iPhone works great here.

It will even do WiFi channels 12 and 13, verboten in the US, but loved by the Euros – possibly because our eqiupment can’t pick them up. Who would have thought Europeans would be exclusionary? So while the cafes and hotels are unapologetic to the legions of North Americans (yes, Canada, you’re screwed too) who can’t connect, I surf happily, albeit limitedly.

The first thing you’ll need to do when you get here is to grab a new SIM card. Check rates before you arrive and you can probably grab your choice at the airport in many cases. But keep in mind that roaming to a different country can get expensive, so don’t put a lot of money on the card unless you think you’ll use it all in that country. Since data and calling costs vary from country to country, you’ll have to figure out how much is right for you.

There are also some quirks to European networks. For example, it’s cheaper to call the US than Ireland from some Irish carriers like Vodaphone. Here’s another quirk: The O2 network in Ireland will charge you between twice and infinitely as much as you should pay. After “topping up” (adding money to the SIM) by 10 Euro, I visited the O2 website – 100kB, according to O2 themselves – and all my credit was gone. After topping up again, I used 5 Euro while my phone was off.

Something I’ve run into here a couple of times is that the SIM cards don’t work on the iPhone for data. I finally figured out why and after a few configuration changes, I was up and running. It turns out that there’s something called “APN settings” which consist of an APN name, username and password – all of which are well known, and all of which are different for each network. If you don’t have these, you can’t get online. There are lots of tutorials out there, but most of them are complicated or didn’t work for me. So here’s how I did it.

1. After you’ve got the SIM card in the iPhone, go to Settings -> General -> Network.
2. If you have the Cellular Data Network menu, enter your details there (google for your SIM card’s APN settings if they didn’t come with the package) and you should be set.
3. If you don’t have that, don’t fret. Turn your phone off, put in your old SIM card, and power it on. You should now have the menu. What use is the menu on the old network?
4. WARNING: RISK INVOLVED. But I’m guessing if you’ve jailbroken your iPhone you don’t care about that. So pop out your old SIM while the phone is still on and replace it with the new SIM card.
5. Configure your new SIM’s APN settings – you should see the 3G icon appear. If not, you may have to restart your phone.
6. Now you should be on the Internet! Impress your friends and the locals!
7. Don’t contact me if you have problems, this worked for me and that’s all I know.

FYI, for a pay-as-you-go SIM card on O2 UK, you have to change the APN to payandgo.o2.co.uk – leave the login and password the same (vertigo/password).