Travel update

In the first 6 months of 2018 I’ve made 20 trips to Asian countries from my base in Singapore.

Most important lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. If you are a US citizen get either a chase sapphire reserve or capital one card before you go. They have zero foreign transaction fees (some cards charge you a minimum of $5 per transaction plus a very bad exchange rate). These two cards have reasonable echange rates, and can notify you immediately of how much you’ve been charged.
  2. Just Joking 🙂 Most places in Asia require cash. That said, use the above cards for hotels, expensive restaurants etc.
  3. Unlock your phone before you go. Many US and European phones are locked to their carrier and cannot accept local SIMs. They are cheap (approx $10 USD for a one week phone plus internet).
  4. Move to Whatsapp. Use it before you go. Even with local SIMs you keep your original number and are always contactable.
  5. Use Google Fi as a phone carrier if you can. The downsides of Fi is that the US carrier is T-mobile, which has dreadful reception in certain areas (such as San Francisco). However, when abroad they are awesome. The Fi SIMs once activated are capable of working in iPhones. Fi also provides multiple data-only SIMs, for zero monthly cost. These can be used by multiple people when traveling abroad. You only pay what you use, and their global coverage is great. Only in Vietnam I had no coverage.
  6. Use money clips. They’re awesome to keep your foreign currency together and you can drop them in a drawer when don, ready for the next trip
  7. Airport currency convertors: avoid when possible. The street ones are better.
  8. Grab works well in SE Asia, use it when possible. In some places, they do not operate out of a legitimate fear of physical violence from local taxi drivers.
  9. Never get into a cab without having negotiated the final price.
  10. Only drink bottled water, where you personally validate the seal by unscrewing the cap. Get this wrong and your holiday is over before it begins.
  11. Carry USD. Many countries require you to pay your visa on arrival in USD.

Using Amazon Echo to communicate thousands of miles away

Amazon echo recently added a ‘drop in’ feature. While many use this intercom type system to communicate with devices in different rooms in their same home, it has many other possibilities.

My elderly mother who lives thousands of miles away can communicate with me now free of charge, merely by using the phrase ‘Alexa, drop in on Johnny’.

Unfortunately, there were ‘challenges’ along the way. As there were many, it may be a good idea to document them to make the path easier for those that come after me.


Getting the Amazon echo set up was the most challenging of it all. Errors 7:3:0:0:1, 10:2:5:60:1, 10:2:5:6:1 and 10:2:17:5:1 all made my life hell. Alexa was also trying to communicate with a Virgin broadband hub. Countless hours were spent evaluating all of the above errors, and only imperfect understanding and/or solutions were found: US devices conflicting on UK/IRL channels, 2.4GHz/5GHz drama, DDOS issues, adding it to one SSID then back to the original. But the basic problem is simply: out of the box, the Amazon Echo system has old firmware. If you can get that to be updated, your problems will be solved.

Of course, to get the software to be updates, you have to get it on a wifi network. In my situation I glued one together using my macbook air wifi, an ethernet connection directly to an old airport extreme (using ethernet internet sharing). Then the Echo had an internet connection.

Another issue is there is no way to immediately force a software update on the Amazon echo. The closest thing to do, once it is online, is to hit the mute button, and leave it for several hours. Luckily this worked (see under the about section. Originally it was version 4086).

Once the firmware was updated it connected to the original Virgin Media hub without a problem.


As I’m buying this device for my elderly relative, who does not have an amazon account, I am registering both devices to my own account 

There are two levels to this a) the device level and 2) the contacts level

Please use the Alexa app (for some reason the ‘Drop in functionality is not available at currently). First log in, then goto settings. Sequentially go to settings, then select the device, then select the ‘Drop in” feature. You can select ‘only my household’ or ‘On’ depending if you want others to be able to call.

Drop in will still not work at this point, as you have to enable it for your own account. The best description is on Tom’s Guide. It describes “tap the speech bubble icon in the bottom center of the toolbar“. to get to your contacts. However, then select YOUR Profile at the top of the list. There you will see the toggle to enable ‘drop in’


Ensure your Echo’s have easy to remember names: e.g. Mother, Sarah, Regina so the phrase ‘Drop in on Mother’ is easily remembered.,review-4534.html