Hola Guadalajara

I’m drinking coffee in a Starbucks next door to an Applebee’s. Tough to tell that I’m in Guadalajara, Mexico.

The AppsLab reunion tour is here looking for new band members. Did you know that Oracle has a 450-person development center here in GDL? Me neither until I joined Applications UX a few months ago.

Mexico is a hotbed for talented software developers, and we’re here to find the next Rich (@rmanalan) before s/he hits it big and leaves the band over creative differences.

Yeah, I’m a little punchy, been a long week.

Anyway, some nuggets from my first trip to the land down under . . . Texas, Arizona, and small parts of New Mexico and California.

Internet is air

The right to internet access movement sounds noble to me, and as soon as I landed, I started to suffocate from lack of connectivity. So, now, I’m fully on board. Internets for everyone!

International data roaming is incredibly expensive, $10-15 per MB according to Anthony (@anthonyslai), so I left the States hoping to get by on wifi and by channeling me from 2007. You remember that guy who carried a RAZR, the pre-iPhone me?

I tried to find a Mexican SIM before I left the US. After all, I’ve been bragging about the international portability of an unlocked GSM/HSPA+ phone like the Nexus S GSM or the Nexus 4 that I currently carry.

Turns out this is easier said than done, at least before you leave home, and at least here, it’s not super easy even after you arrive.

The SIM adventure

All of us were carrying unlocked phones, and we quickly found out that SIM cards were scarce. Of course, we needed two sizes, regular and micro, making our search a bit more complicated. After trying three stores and kiosks, we finally were directed to a Telcel store inside a mall.

Rafa (@rafabelloni), one of the local Applications UX developers who had been guiding us on our quest for SIMs, made what I thought was an offhand comment about avoiding the Telcel store because it would take a while.

It wasn’t offhand. He was right.

The front of the Telcel store was very inviting, like any wireless store, with lots of phones displayed on glass and white surfaces. In the back was where you do the business though, and it looked just like a DMV office.

There was the obligatory maze for queuing people and about 40 counter stations, about three of which were staffed. We first explained what we needed via two interpreters, Noel and Rafa. We then received three SIMs and went to pay.

For the activation. In another line.

Once activated, we returned to the first station to have the SIMs installed, and then went to pay.

Again. For the service plan. In another line.

So, it took four stops to get us online, and even after that, we had issues. My phone and text services never worked. Noel had issues getting his plan working. Anthony ran out of data between the activation and plan steps. The SIMs came with a courtesy 150 MB, and I think his phone ate that up before we could pay for more data.

Or maybe something else. I don’t recall exactly because I was numb to the experience.

Luckily, we arrived at a calm moment, but it still took about an hour start to finish. Even so, Rafa was right. Thanks dude.

In the end, we got a nice deal for 1 GB of data for the week, even factoring in all the wait time. And wow, was it ever liberating to have data flowing to my phone again.

Pics, it happened.


The good news is that I now have a rechargeable SIM should I venture to Mexico, or at least to Guadalajara, again.

Random observations

I am very lucky to be traveling with a native Spanish speaker, i.e. Noel (@noelportugal). I’ve always meant to learn Spanish. I even bought Rosetta Stone years ago with that intention. Obviously, that never happened.

As soon as I finally got on wifi, Google fired off a suspicious activity email to my Gmail account, which was nice to see.

I’m horrible at metric conversions.

Google Now really shines when you’re traveling abroad, adding cards for currency conversation and translation to the other travel-specific cards, like flight details and tourist attractions. The workflow is still a bit wonky, i.e. pulling out the phone to convert prices and translate, but just wait for Google Glass to see these services really show utility.

Speaking of Google, two-step verification becomes a real chore when you’re using a different SIM. Why? The second step of the verification process sends a text to your phone, but if that SIM happens to be inactive, you’re stuck.

I had to burn an emergency wallet code at first, but then I realized that since my Portland number is tied to Google Voice, I could elect to receive a phone call with the code for the second step. Happily, that automated service repeated the code several times allowing voicemail to capture it. I could then listen to the voicemail via the Google Voice app.

Obviously, this only works because my phone didn’t force me to re-authenticate to Google when I swapped SIMs, which I suppose is an exploitable gap. An attacker could easily swap SIMs and pwn your phone and all its data, assuming the phone is unsecured or its unlock sequence is easily cracked.

I remember having a similar discussion with Matt (@topperge) years ago when he first started using Google’s two-step verification.

Larger point here: This is why no one uses good security practices, too damned hard.

And finally

The area around the Oracle office is very new and still under construction, including the structure next door, which is still a shell of steel. Whenever I got a little sleepy, I’d head out to the balcony on the ninth floor, which extends away from the building, to watch the construction workers do their jobs, largely untethered. Scary stuff and a great way to get the juices flowing.




  1. Your experience with finding a local SIM and a data package sounds familiar and one can easily end up spending half a day hunting for these – too much if you are in the country for a week’s holiday, for instance.

    Incidentally, just read this morning about a startup that plans to make this stuff a whole lot easier: http://www.arcticstartup.com/2013/03/27/one-sim-card-to-rule-them-all-ukko-mobile-from-helsinki-eliminates-data-roaming-forever

    Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip!

  2. @Joonas: It is a major bummer to spend so much time seeking out connectivity. I guess I assumed my use case was common.

    I’ve read about Goodspeed, but Ukko sounds much better. Europe will crack this nut first, given how many people need data and move between countries for work.

    Ukko should be fine providing data only. I was just fine w Google Voice after I had connectivity. I hope their magic SIM gets to production.

  3. Jake, buddy. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re doing it all wrong!

    You work for a huge company that has massive (and awesome) contracts with the major US wireless companies. All you needed to do was go to the internal procurement site and switch your cell service to the international plan. Big buckets of international roaming data (including unlimited!) are available for no more than you wound up paying for a local SIM. AND you would have avoided all that effort.

  4. @therealcmj: I tried to follow the use free wifi for data instructions that were recommended, but that didn’t work very well. Everyone who was familiar w traveling to the MDC said they didn’t switch plans bc it was only for a week at a time.

    So, I may have failed, but now I have a SIM I can recharge. It wasn’t for lack of trying to do the right thing.

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