[Freelance]

Unca' Mike's geek-agony column:

Connecting your modem when you're abroad

A member asks: I need an international modem adapter kit so that I can plug it into most European and Scandinavian countries. All the ones I've seen only cover a few places - most of which I won't be going to. Do you know of anything?

Searching the Web with AltaVista for
"phone adapter*" AND kit AND world
I find a kit with 18 adapters for US$84.95 plus shipping. The trouble is, though, that you'd not be sure it contained the one you needed until you got there. An outfit called TeleAdapt do an all-Europe kit for £179.99 and a world kit for £299.99.

But, with a few theatre skills, you can manage for less than a quid a country. Allow yourself enough time to go shopping in each new country... an hour in a capital city should do it.

If your modem has a BT plug (the flat one with up to six embedded contacts, which is almost always white), get a BT-to-RJ11 adapter. "R-J-eleven" is a US-standard phone plug - squarish, usually clear plastic, four contacts with gaps for two more). My current ultra-cheapo modem has an RJ11 plug and needs an RJ11-to-BT adapter anyway.

Picture of plugs
BT phone plug (left) and RJ11 (right)

You can only buy BT-to-RJ11 adapters, or anything to do with UK plugs, in the UK and Ireland. Everywhere has RJ11-to-local-type adapters. Many hotels use RJ11 for the phones in the rooms anyway.

If your hotel does have a local-type socket, wander into the nearest vaguely-electrical-looking store. Wave the RJ11 under the nose of the apparently-least-hard-of-thinking assistant and mime plugging it into something and plugging that in the wall. (I did discover the Finnish for "plug" in the process, but I immediately forgot it and bought "ein Stecker" in mutually-broken German. (Which reminds me: there are at least four kinds of phone socket in Germany. Make a life-size sketch.)

Then, if they mime "we don't have it", mime walking to another shop, look questioning, and get out a pen for them to write down their suggestion of where you might get one. Usually the second or third shop has one. In some cities phone shops sell them. In others phone shops only sell in-country equipment but music shops have them; and yet other cities still have old-style electronics parts shops.

This has the added advantage that you feel you've been to the place in question, rather than just blatting in for the meeting/interview...

Beware that some hotels have digital switchboards which your modem can't talk to. (There are reports of these frying modems, too.) Ask at reception if you can see their fax machine, then negotiate plugging your modem into its phone socket. Do not try to explain the concept "email": tell them you want to send a fax straight from your laptop.

Send your questions to editor@londonfreelance.org - those which are answerable briefly will be published.


May/Jun 2000
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Last modified: 08 May 2000
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