Ahhh, the joys of having our own DSL. Until today, we’d been the beneficiaries of the (unintentional?) generosity of a couple neighbors who had left wireless internet access points open and unsecured. Thank you NETGEAR and richard, whoever you are. We don’t need you anymore, and now we are able to call home for free.
This surreptitious surfing is no longer necessary, since we finally have our own high-speed connection courtesy of the oddly-name German telecom, Alice. Besides having an attractive model on all advertising and software, Alice provides what seems to be the best deal in telephone and DSL service in Hamburg.
In addition to stable and guilt-free internet connectivity, DSL gives us our Vonage phone number. If you’re not familiar with Vonage, I would highly recommend checking it out. It’s a VoIP (Voice over IP) system, which means that it allows us to make telephone calls over the internet. The great thing about this is our phone number is a St. Louis-based number, but we’re in Hamburg. So, friends and family in St. Louis can call us for free, and it’s only standard long-distance for friends and family in the rest of the United States. Even better, we have unlimited calls within the United States and Canada included in our $25 monthly charge. This means I can have a two-hour conversation with my parents in Minnesota for free! It’s a good deal for anyone in the U.S.; it’s an amazing deal for expatriates.
One quirk in the setup is the difference between U.S. and European electricity. U.S. power is typically 120V/60Hz with two flat parallel plugs, while German power is typically 220V/50Hz with two round plugs. This can cause major problems. Fortunately, the AC/DC adapters for our laptops, our external hard drive, and my cell phone charger all are versatile enough to handle either power system. For those devices, we simply plug them into a standard U.S. power strip and plug that power strip into a cheap adapter that changes the shape of the plugs. It’s not so simple for the Vonage adapter.
Our Vonage adapter is actually a Linksys RT31P2 router, and that router’s AC/DC adapter does not handle the European power supply. To handle the difference, we needed a power converter, which is more expensive than an adapter. Unfortunately, we didn’t understand what we were doing when we came over, so we brought converters that didn’t quite work.
The power converters sold in the U.S. typically come in two categories: less than 50 Watts or between 50 and 1600 Watts. The RT31P2 requires only 23W, but we have other American electric devices that we want to use here (battery chargers, etc.). So, we didn’t know what was best for multiple devices. A sales idiot at Best Buy told us that he had just returned from a trip to Europe, and he had used all his devices by plugging them into a simple power strip plugged a 50-1600W converter.
I should have known better than to listen to him.
When we tested his theory out this afternoon by plugging a simple power strip into the 50-1600W converter, we had a new light source in the apartment: there was a soothing yet circuit-breaking glow emanating from the first outlet of the power strip. The power strip was completely fried.
So, we rode our bikes down to a Saturn store, and there we bought a three-prong converter for devices up to 100W. It works perfectly. We’ve been able to talk to friends and family for free all afternoon. It’s wonderful.
We just need to replace the power strip.
I know that the travails of finding the correct power conversion might not be that interesting for the casual reader of the blog, but we worried and read a lot before coming over about how to do it right for our devices. I wish we had known what I’m sharing here. Maybe it’ll help someone.