Category Archives: technology

France Germany law technology USA

Freedom of panorama in Europe

It’s no secret that I think European laws are a joke. Imagine the technologically illiterate politicians that we have in the US, but now imagine that they were actually effective at passing all the stupid laws they want.

There are many examples:

  • Their use of photo enforcement is unfettered by the rules of trigonometry.
  • If a website has cookies, it must display an annoying pop-up warning.
  • They required Microsoft to implement the browser ballot, a feature that was broken for 1.5 years before anybody noticed.
  • They required Microsoft to release an alternate version of Windows XP without Windows Media Player, a ruling that was so out of touch with the interests of the people that only 1500 copies were sold.
  • If you don’t like what somebody is saying about you on the internet, you have a “right to be forgotten” by Google.

Really any time the European Union or the individual European states pass a new law or make a ruling, it’s sure to be comical.

But today I want to write about “freedom of panorama.” This is actually an exception to copyright law, in that the person who designed a building has a copyright on its appearance. In the US, we have a scheme that considers most things that are outdoors and visible to the naked eye to be for public consumption and sharing. With minor exceptions (artwork, for example), one can take photos in public and use them as desired. There is a line, in that we cannot use a telescope to look in windows, for example. In my understanding, this scheme would not be considered true freedom of panorama due to the artwork exceptions. There are pros and cons, but a big positive aspect is that this is generally compatible with the realities of rapidly-advancing technology for taking and sharing photographs.

Now let’s look at Europe. Here, the right to share photographs varies by country. Germany is considered to have freedom of panorama, so outdoor public spaces can generally be photographed and shared as long as the photographer is standing on the ground. There are restrictions on sharing photographs of people. Also they have been drawing a strange distinction for large-scale mapping, and this is why Google Street view has a handful of blurred out houses in Germany. I don’t know the legal theory behind this, and it seems to be related to data privacy, but residents in Germany can opt-out of being pictured on Street View. It’s my understanding that one resident can even opt his entire apartment building out. Also, importantly, freedom of panorama does not apply inside buildings, such as museums.

In France, there is no freedom of panorama. People who own copyrights on buildings or outdoor art exhibits enjoy copyright protection even from small time photographers. A famous example of this involves the Eiffel Tower. In my understanding, the structure’s copyright has already expired, but the lights on it at night are considered an art installation and thus receive copyright protection of their own. Therefore, sharing photos of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night is copyright infringement if prior permission is not received from the organization that runs the tower.

My problem with all of this is practicality. These copyrights are being infringed all the time and it’s only going to get worse. The fact that freedom of panorama isn’t the rule everywhere shows a huge disconnect with reality. I complain all the time about the prevalence of cameras in public, but I’m not crazy. Tourists are not going to navigate a minefield of legal nuance when taking photos. So you’re either going to have broad copyright protection of outdoor sights and no compliance or very limited copyright protection of outdoor sights and high compliance.

Because European lawmakers are clueless, there have been recent attempts to eliminate freedom of panorama exemptions all across the EU. I understand that the EU is hot to increase consistency across borders, which may often be beneficial, but this is the wrong direction to go. For better or worse, the government is supposed to work for the people. The position of the people is clear.

France Germany technology USA

Cellular plans while traveling

When traveling in 2015, some of the biggest concerns often relate to cellular and data connectivity. I don’t have all of the answers here, but I do have some tips for a few given countries.

United States

When we travel to the US, we often have a lot of activities planned. In my case, in particular, I visit a lot of people in a lot of places. Having a reasonably-priced SIM with voice and data is thus very important to coordinate everything. I’ve tried a few and the winner for me is T-Mobile. For my length of trip, it tends to be the best deal among the major providers. There are, of course, small regional companies that lease airwaves from the big ones, but because my first stop in the US is not always in the same region, it has been too inconvenient to learn the best in each place. When I arrive, one of my first stops is always the local T-Mobile shop. Last time I went back, I was even able to save money because my old SIM had not yet expired (which happens after 3 months) so I just needed to top it up. Normally I get a plan in which I am forced to load the card with some amount of money and then a few dollars are deducted every day that my phone is turned on. I have to warn you: it’s not that cheap. I think there are cheaper packages if you order online, though I’ve never gone this route.

As an American, I have a Google Voice account. After buying a SIM, I immediately get on the internet and link my Google Voice number to whatever cellular number I have. Often, my first stop is Connecticut, so I have a SIM from that area code, but my friends around the country can call me using the same number I’ve had for years.

In the US, it is probably feasible to do without a data plan, as free wifi is fairly easy to find in most areas. The local coffee shops are hit or miss, but it is getting more prevalent. As much as I hate to do it, I often go to one of the chains, including Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Dunkin’ Donuts. They aren’t interesting (OK, well, I do like Dunkin’ Donuts quite a lot) but at least I don’t end up driving around forever.

There are some providers that I would not do business with, based on past experiences:


The reseller gave me incorrect information on what plan I needed and then he had to charge me some additional minimum to top me up so I could get my data working. This led to me overpaying by $5 which I had no use for once I left the US. His hands were tied so I contacted AT&T customer service, which was completely unhelpful. They had my money and weren’t giving it back, regardless of the questionable legality of their bait and switch. I complained via the internet, filed a case with the Better Business Bureau, and then was contacted by Don Arteaga and Jackie W. Sutton. Nobody cared.

A reply from Tina LeBlanc: “The account that you are asking about is no longer an active account. I am not able to issue refunds for prepaid services.”

Jackie Sutton stated, “the prepaid account was cancelled and any unused account balance was forfeited upon expiration. A refund cannot be provided.”

Obviously the account was no longer active. It was a prepaid account and they waited forever to respond to my problem. It’s not my fault the account they defrauded me on happened to be a prepaid account. I hope they’re happy they got their $5, because all my business since has gone to T-Mobile. So anyways, stay away from those guys.

Family Mobile from Walmart

A salesperson at Walmart once conned me into thinking this was prepaid. She was fairly dumb, so she might have believed it too. But it’s not. I immediately returned it and, though the contract wasn’t immediately cancelled as they said it was, the company (T-Mobile) actually made it right.


In Germany I have always just gone to Saturn (big electronics store) and bought a cheap SIM card just for voice usage. This is usually about EUR 10 and trouble-free. However, I had a lot of trouble the last time I was in Germany. It led to me paying for, but not having, data for the entire trip. The card was branded Fonic but it actually was from a company named Callmobile. I guess they are basically reselling O2 service at a lower cost. This particular trip I decided I also needed data. For whatever reason, the activation never worked properly and the messages I was getting on the phone were confusing and indicated I was not getting the package I chose on the website (normally you buy the card then activate it on the web). I contacted them via the webpage and they totally ignored my messages. I sent them a message each day for the entire week I was there and even now, six months later, I have never heard back. I guess they basically got my money and knew they screwed up so they weren’t going to bother with me. I contacted Fonic on Twitter but they disavowed any connection to this since it was sold by Callmobile. I told Fonic that it kind of is their problem if they let fly-by-night companies put the Fonic name on crappy products. I can’t exactly tell you how to know which card not to get (there is generally some fine print), so I’m going to just recommend not to buy any card from the Fonic brand.

If you are familiar with a town, relying on wifi might work, but the problem in Germany is that you don’t know where it is unless you are a local. Yes, it exists in many bars and coffee shops, but you just kind of learn about it as you live in a town. It’s not generally advertised. Of course Starbucks is also around. They have wifi and slightly better hours, so in extreme circumstances I’ll go there.


I’ve never needed a prepaid SIM card in France, given that I live here. A traveler could probably do without data and just use wifi around town, though business hours in France are quite limited. It is better than Germany though, in that the existence of wifi is usually clearly indicated with a sticker in the window. Around France, it is very easy to find restaurants, cafes, and bars that do have it.

Other considerations

If you have a proper European SIM (I’m not sure how this applies to prepaid ones), European Union law limits what a provider can charge when you cross borders within Europe. This often has the result that some aspects of the service (SMS is a common example) can actually be cheaper when traveling than they are at home.

A final note for Americans: It is important to ensure that you have an unlocked GSM phone. For example, Verizon phones are simply not compatible with the network over here (unless you have a “world phone,” with a GSM slot). A phone from AT&T or T-Mobile, on the other hand, will generally work fine so long as you have it unlocked. Doing so will require you to call your provider. Laws and policies vary from year to year and provider to provider regarding if they will unlock your phone. Another consideration is which bands the phone supports. Often providers in a given region will utilize a couple bands and these may only partially overlap with those in use by your provider at home. This means that connectivity could be limited. If none of this works for you (wrong provider, wrong bands, etc.), you can also just buy a cheap flip phone for use only while traveling. For my first six months living in Germany, I was using a phone I bought from Saturn for maybe EUR 15. It was the cheapest they had and it actually was quite indestructible. After I replaced it with a Galaxy Nexus, it made a suitable phone for visitors.

car France law technology

The king’s tax collectors

The French government got me! They caught me driving by one of their speed cameras. Of course, the photo clearly shows that I was driving well below the speed limit. But what do facts matter when the real purpose is fundraising?

This ticket alleges that my car was traveling 97 km/h in a 90 km/h zone on the A6 down in Écully, just north of Lyon. Because there is a 5 km/h buffer to allow for error on posted speeds of less than 100 km/h (above 100 km/h, it would be 5%), this means I was formally charged with the crime of going 92 km/h in a 90 km/h zone.

I would never expect to have a good chance of success in fighting a ticket anywhere in the world. I’ve driven a lot, been ticketed, and fought tickets before. Interestingly, my tickets have been wrong more often than they have been correct. (My last photo citation showed somebody else’s car.) I am thus very aware of the uphill battle when wrongly ticketed, but I think it’s important to document these stories, even if we must live in places with such reduced liberté.

My case

I know society has a tendency to prejudge these situations (“Oh, he’s guilty, but he just wants to exploit some technicality. It’s a photo so it must be correct.”). I ask you to please try to forget those biases, and remember the following points:

  • There is no wizard! Technology isn’t magical. It has specifications that must be respected if you intend to get the desired result.
  • If you violate these specifications, in some cases the evidence can actually be evidence of innocence.
  • The roads do not become safer by wrongly punishing innocent drivers. Guilty drivers will generally be found guilty, even in a system designed to protect the innocent motorist.
  • It is more important to protect the innocent than to convict the guilty.

My argument closely mirrors that of this guy. I guess he won in court, but he’s French so he clearly has an advantage over me.

Here is the certificate (French) for the Mesta 210C speed camera. In the middle of page 2, it is clearly stated that the camera should be oriented at a 25-degree angle to the trajectory of traffic. This relates largely to what is known as the cosine effect, the idea that a car moving away from a radar looks faster than one moving across its beam, however it seems that this particular model has other reasons that make the discrepancy even worse.

Here is an official report from Metz (French) on the impact of improperly aligned cameras on reported speed. At the bottom of page 2, you can see a table showing the effect of small angular error on the reported speed. Note that the effect is very large for even a small deviation from 25 degrees.

Here is a photo from the certificate, taken from a properly configured camera at 25-degree angle from the trajectory of traffic. This angle can be verified with trigonometry (which I have done), but given that it comes from an official document just assume it’s correct.

An official photo with the car at the correct angle.

Below is a photo from my ticket. It is easy to see that the car is changing lanes and that this angle is different from that in the other photo. (Disregard the direction of travel, as the system works either way.) Trigonometry shows that this is approximately a 16-degree angle from the camera line of sight, but the difference is also very obvious to the naked eye. This difference in angle is so blatantly obvious that I don’t really need to type anything else to disprove this citation.

Speed camera photo of my car.

Some points to take away from these photos:

  • This ticket was issued in clear violation of the 25-degree angle in the camera certificate.
  • It is clear to the naked eye that this is true. Anybody who says otherwise has an agenda.
  • Based on the French government study linked above, this amount of deviation would lead to speed being over-reported by a lot.
  • It is unlikely that vehicle dynamics would allow for crossing lanes at a 9-degree angle while traveling at 97 km/h.

One more note, before I proceed to slam the system. The document regarding the government study stated that it is illegal to operate the camera in violation of the 25-degree rule. This means that the person who sent the ticket might be guilty of a crime.

Due process rights obliterated

The only thing more offensive than being found guilty of the crime, in which any bystander would have seen my innocence, is the complete lack of due process rights along the way. The entire system is set up to be as painful as possible for anybody attempting to challenge a ticket. This includes lost time, lost money, and stress (though, to be fair, this is most government interactions in France). Notice how long this process takes. There is no excuse for this slowness. The system is just incompetent and they probably like it that way, as a deterrent to those who might contest.

The timeline:

  1. October 25, 2013: “Infraction” committed.
  2. October 29, 2013: Ticket issued.
  3. November 2, 2013: I requested photos.
  4. November 12, 2013: Photos were sent.
  5. November 21, 2013: I paid EUR 68 “deposit” for the privilege of due process (early payment and admitting guilt would have only been EUR 45).
  6. December 13, 2013: I sent appeal letter by post.
  7. December 19, 2013: Notice was sent that file had been transferred to local tribunal de police.
  8. April 22, 2014: I requested information on the status of the appeal.
  9. July 1, 2014: Police sent letter requesting me to visit them on July 8 with info about driver’s license. (received on July 6, so limited time window to contact them about rescheduling)
  10. July 15, 2014: Police meeting. No translator was present, though I had called to request one. Because there was no proof of who was driving, I didn’t need to present my license to get points assigned.
  11. October 31, 2014: Written appeal rejected. (received several weeks later, but there a clock ticking on the 30-day limit to submit opposition letter)
  12. November 25, 2014: I appealed the written decision.
  13. December 19, 2014: I requested all details of the camera configuration via post.
  14. April 8, 2015 (4 months later!): Response to request for technical details was sent, though it didn’t actually have new information.
  15. April 27, 2015: I received service to appear in court. I had to go across town to collect this myself.
  16. April 27, 2015: I requested camera configuration specifications again, but never received response.
  17. June 3, 2015: Court date.
  18. June 24, 2015: Notification of decision.

Also note that, in the best case, the cost more than doubles if you fight it. In the worst case, the judge is free to impose a fairly extreme fine. You only fight one of these out of principle. The bureaucrats worked out the math so it’s always a bad financial move to contest, even if you are innocent.

The implications

This should have been a straightforward decision. Anybody can see that the car was changing lanes and it was therefore at an incorrect angle. The prosecutor, Lionel Gauthier, may very well have known his evidence was shaky, as he didn’t put up a serious fight in court. Though he was speaking too fast for my translator, it doesn’t seem that he ever really argued against the actual points I was making. The judge, Sylvie Lagarde, was friendly, but remember that traffic court doesn’t exist in any country to protect the innocent. The translator was nice, but it was her first time in court and she was unable to keep up just due to the nature of the interactions. Nobody was pausing long enough for her to get everything translated. So this alone was pretty unfair. The judge should have taken steps to ensure that every sentence was translated. As it was, 75% of what the prosecutor said was never relayed to me.

This presents a few problems for France:

  • This would be a hard enough process for a local to navigate, but successfully challenging a ticket as a foreigner seems impossible. Where is my égalité?
  • Because of the translator, I got to go first in court. The translation also meant that my appearance went very slow. It took about 35 minutes. When you have a courtroom of people waiting behind me on this, that has a negative effect on productivity.
  • There is a stereotype about French engineering. This ordeal is a data point in support of that. It’s troubling that a ticket with this problem was even mailed out.
  • The taxpayers lost money on this case. Yes, they charged me some money to fight it (in clear violation of standard due process principles) but they still didn’t make enough to pay all of the people involved:
    • People to process the multiple documents going back and forth,
    • Person to rule on written argument,
    • One hour of the translator’s time for the court appearance,
    • At least 45 minutes of the prosecutor time, and
    • At least 45 minutes of the judge’s time.

And you want to know why I recommend against living in France?

But, more seriously: Life is hard. I have a lot of legitimate stresses with respect to moving around and searching for jobs, etc. I want to feel like the government is there to serve the people. I want to feel like the government is there to stand up for the little guy and keep things fair. In general, I’m not anti-government. But when a government behaves like this, victimizing people for no good reason, it’s really upsetting and it leads to a lot of internal conflict about who the government is really there to serve. I know “life isn’t fair,” but in theory aren’t our interactions with the government supposed to be? Are we really supposed to sit back while the government randomly demands our money without any obligation to provide sufficient evidence of wrongdoing?

If the people of France want to reinstate the king’s tax collectors, they should just make it official.

Update (July 15, 2015): I’ve written a detailed description of the math and science behind these problems at

France technology

Replacing a Macbook power adapter in France

I wrote a long time ago about my good service at the Apple Store in Dijon. Now I want to briefly share another good experience, this time in Lyon, though it was actually Tiffany who went down there.

As anybody who owns a Macbook knows, the power adapters are horrible. The wire invariably frays after about two years. This problem has persisted for years, occurring on each of the four Macbook Pros I’ve owned. The good news is that in America I’ve found in the past that many, if not all, models have a service bulletin allowing for free power brick replacement even after the warranty/Applecare expires. The even more exciting news is that they honor this in France as well. Tiffany was told that normally the French must pay for replacements, but if the laptop was purchased in the US then the replacement brick is free. I’m happy not only because this policy exists, but also because the Apple Store in Lyon actually knows about it and honored it with no problems.

France technology

Futur en Seine

We just got back from another great weekend in Paris, which is currently my favorite big city. As usual, a work mission brought me there. I was in town to demo the project I work on, VARI3. It’s a challenging project, with a handful of French partners spanning industry and academia, in which we use an iPad Mini to interact with a virtual car model for purposes of design review at Renault.
Eric demoing VARI3 in Paris at Futur en Seine

I was surprised by two things. First, this was a very large event. It took us a few hours to see a mere fraction of the demos. Second, all of the demos we saw were of things I believe are neat and useful. A few notable examples:

  • KEECKER is a robot that travels the home projecting things on the walls or ceilings. The most basic purpose seems to be watching movies on whatever surface is convenient and bringing a movie with you from room to room, but really it’s based on Android so the possibilities are kind of endless. It’s easy to imagine remote home monitoring tasks, for example. At only about EUR 1500, it seems like a good price, given that a decent projector alone can cost EUR 1000.
  • Vinoga is a game in which the objective is to grow your own wine. I guess you get to choose the grape varieties and maybe the techniques, while purchasing various types of equipment. Their business model is interesting in that the game is free, but it is set up so that the resulting wine is always one of 50-something types, which they can then sell you from real producers (labeled with your own chosen name, of course). To be honest, this seems a bit silly to me so I doubt I’ll be buying wine this way especially given our refined tastes. But I might give the game a try to see if I learn something.
  • Art Graphique & Patrimoine is a company I’ve seen a few times before at such events and I’ve often chatted with one lady in particular. They make augmented reality applications for cultural heritage. This time, they were promoting a prototype application to augment an exhibit at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine museum in Paris. They were giving out free tickets to visit the museum and try the app on a loaner iPad. It was pretty cool, though a bit heavy. Once the iPad recognized a particular piece through the camera, it displayed a virtual church all around. This is not the first time I’ve seen such things, but it’s catching on and I believe it represents the future of museums. See the photo below.

Eric using augmented reality at Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine

There were also plenty of VR applications, though I didn’t try too many. There tends to be a line at those demos and it was quite crowded.

France law technology

Privacy Contradictions

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Europeans have some intense views on privacy, and this has some very real effects on photographers. There is this idea in many European countries that a person owns images of himself. I question the legal rationale behind this and it certainly limits the possibility of a free press. It also might be a little naive in today’s world. But, at this time, I don’t intend to really criticize this stance offhand (because, hey, I like privacy too). I don’t even really want to talk about the legal side but, instead, just the cultural side. I don’t feel that these demands for privacy are very principled, at least in France.

I think it’s generally good policy to respect people’s wishes. If a friend asks me not to share a photo, that’s basically fine. I don’t even question it. I myself shield my face in public when tourists are around. I am not overly shy about the camera, but I just find it disrespectful to take photos of people you don’t know. So I’m cool with this idea. However, I do find it a bit unfortunate when you take a photo with friends and then cannot share it because of one holdout. I see a subjective distinction between the case of some friends taking a photo together and a tourist snapping shots of random people.

That being said, my big problem with it is the inconsistency with other areas of French life. It seems OK to have a cultural shyness in which you don’t want to broadcast your activities to the world. However, if that’s how the French feel, I wish they would stop sending my birth certificate and passport all around the country in unencrypted emails. This is a huge problem in France. It’s even common for hotels to request credit card numbers via email. My requests/demands that people don’t do this with my personal information are generally shrugged off. My concerns are seen as unfounded and certainly not worth the hassle of finding an alternative. (Of course email is a huge privacy/security problem for personal information.) To me, this makes the whole thing less genuine. It seems like there is an indignation-laziness tradeoff at play here. They’ll get indignant about you trampling all over their privacy by sharing a photo, but using encrypted email or sending things by post? No, that’s inconvenient. Privacy isn’t that important.

food France Germany technology

Apps for travelers and expats

Technology allows us to travel and move much more efficiently than would have ever been possible 20 years ago. I do try to be as minimalist as possible in my technology usage. Having accounts all over the world can present security threats. Additionally, simplifying our technology means less to carry around when traveling and moving, and less data to be stolen or lost. But, that said, I also like to be prepared. I have a 3-year old Macbook Pro and Tiffany has an older Macbook. These are pretty versatile, light, and have good battery life. For phones, I use a Galaxy Nexus and Tiffany has an iPhone 4. We also have some external drives for Time Machine and storing TV shows and such.

Keep in mind that we don’t just travel, but we are also expats. Every day is sort of like traveling for us, so our needs are broad. I will be listing the apps we use for our Macs and our phones (the OS in brackets just tells where we use it). Also I will break them into categories for general travel apps, apps for traveling Germany, and apps for traveling France.


General travel/expat apps

  • Aperture [Mac]: This is important for me, because I take a lot of photos when we travel, and I usually post the best ones to Flickr. This is why I’ve included it, though realistically it’s generally the sort of thing that you just need once you get home. Aperture is Apple’s pro photo processing app. If you are serious about photography, I highly recommend it.
  • DEVONthink Pro Office [Mac]: We use this to manage our paperless office. There is a lot of bureaucracy in France, and a lot of paper. I scan every paper we get, use OCR in DEVONthink (available only in the “Pro Office” version) to convert it to a searchable PDF, and file it in the database. Tiffany and I are currently sharing the database using the built-in Dropbox sync feature which saves the “sync store” to a shared Dropbox account. Note that you cannot store the database itself in Dropbox as this can lead to corruption, particularly if you access it from two computers at once. The Dropbox sync feature locks the sync store during writes, to prevent corruption. Unfortunately this makes use of Dropbox’s “Apps” feature, storing the files in a directory that cannot be shared using the normal sharing mechanism in Dropbox. To get around this, we both share a single Dropbox account. I must say that we had a sync problem last week that led to some changes being lost after a really big revision on one computer. But, I think if we are more careful when making large changes going forward we will be fine. I chose this solution over others, like Evernote, because I wanted the ability to control the database for security reasons and because free solutions go away.
  • Dropbox [Mac], JottaCloud [Mac]: The cloud is important when traveling around. If my laptop is not handy, or broken, I may need to access files from another computer. You probably already have Dropbox (if not, click here for referral), but it’s a good way to have free cloud storage. The NSA undoubtedly has access, but it is more mature and stable than JottaCloud. I use JottaCloud for files that don’t change rapidly, due to past experiences with sync bugs. The nice thing about JottaCloud is that it has no operations in the US, meaning that the NSA will have a harder time getting access. JottaCloud doesn’t have a referral link, but if you ask me I can refer you with an email address.
  • Skype [Mac, Android]: I don’t like it much. It’s closed-source and buggy. But for some reason everybody uses it so it’s a must-have.
  • Google Hangouts [Android]: It’s horrible compared to Google Talk, which it replaced, but it’s my primary way of messaging from my phone (which I rarely do, really).
  • Wunderlist [Mac, Android, iOS]: As expats, there are always a lot of gears in motion to satisfy bureaucratic requirements. We use the free version of this app to sync our todo lists.
  • Tunnelblick [Mac]: This is an open source VPN app that I use with the VPNBook service. I also used Hotspot Shield for a while, but I didn’t like the ads. Sometimes things (videos, etc.) are blocked in certain countries or establishments. These apps can often get around that. They can also  I don’t have any loyalty to a particular app or service, but it’s a good idea to have one installed if living overseas.
  • Google Authenticator [Android]: This mobile app generates verification codes for 2-factor authentication on many websites, including Dropbox, Google, Linode, and GitHub. Security is extra important when traveling. If a laptop is stolen or data is intercepted on an insecure wifi network, 2-factor authentication provides great additional security to prevent unauthorized access to your accounts. Of course this means you should try not to lose the phone, but even if you do most accounts will still allow you to login from trusted devices for some time period before requesting a new code. In this way, you can likely still access Google from your laptop even after you lose your phone.
  • Google Maps [Android, iOS]: This one is kind of a staple and its use should be self explanatory.
  • Google Translate [Android]: This translation app even allows me to take a picture of some text, highlight it with my finger, and get a translation. Between this and normal keyboard-based translation, it’s very handy.
  • OnTheFly [Android]: ITA Matrix is the most powerful flight search engine, accessible via the web. You still have to buy the tickets on another site, but I know from first-hand experience that searching here can save you money. In my understanding, many other search engines actually use ITA Matrix under the hood. This is the mobile app. I don’t use it much, because normally I book from my couch. But I figure it’s a good idea to have for unexpected itinerary changes.
  • TripAdvisor [Android, iOS]: We use this to look at restaurant reviews almost every time we eat while traveling, though I guess it also works for other attractions.
  • Where’s My Droid [Android]: I’ve luckily never used it, but it should help find a stolen phone.
  • Undercover [Mac]: Again, I’ve never had to use it, but it helps locate stolen Macs.
  • Moni [iOS]: Tiffany uses it to categorize our expenses while we are traveling.

Germany apps

  • DB Navigator [Android, iOS]: We can search for trains all around Germany, purchase the ticket, and just show the conductor a QR code on the phone’s screen. When I last used it, I had a German bank account. I’m not sure what the payment options are if you don’t. However, the app is extremely valuable even if you must go to a machine and buy paper tickets. For example, an ICE ticket can be used anytime in a given day so this app makes it easy to search for alternate trains if you miss one or one is late/cancelled.
  • VBN [Android]: This app allows me to search and plan tram and bus routes all over Bremen.

France apps

  • FreeWiFi [Android]: If you live in France, Free is an inexpensive choice for home internet (also TV, phone, and mobile phone). The home internet package comes with a router that can broadcast two SSIDs, one private and one public. If you have Free and enable the public SSID (I have, but my box must be broken because I don’t see it), you can access Free hotspots all over the country. This Android app saves time by automatically signing me in.
  • TheFork [Android]: This is the mobile app for LaFourchette, a restaurant search engine that is used around France. In the big cities it can be used to find discounts. It is easy to save 30-50% at a nice restaurant in Paris, for example, if you book through the app.
  • Voyages-SNCF [Android]: This allows for searching and buying train tickets in France. We don’t travel by train much here, as train service is much worse than we are used to from Germany, so we don’t use the app much. I recall that you can only buy tickets through the app if you have a French phone number.
  • SNCF Direct [iOS]: This tracks trains in real time.

One final tip: I always keep scans of our passports and visas on my phone.

France technology

Very happy with my Apple Store repair in France!

In spite of what I have heard about Apple customer service/repairs in Europe, my recent experience was great. I had been experiencing intermittent lockups for around a year (sudden graphics freeze even with light load, necessitating a hard reboot) and in the past month or so my trackpad seemed to be less sensitive to physical clicks. I delayed addressing the problems due to the stories I had read about European Apple support. But, because my Applecare expires soon, I decided to finally get it looked at.

First I called the American Applecare phone support. The agent was understanding, but ultimately he claimed to have no ability to help me overseas. He said to ship it in I’d have to send it to my parents or somebody in the US first. This wasn’t really acceptable for me because it would take a lot of time and cost a lot of money to ship and insure it. He did say that the Apple Store here might help me, though curiously he did not make any guarantees that they would be willing. He tried but was unable to search for stores here, though I found one with no problem on Google.

I made an appointment for 9AM on a Saturday at the Apple Store in Dijon (La Toison d’Or location). The repair guys spoke sufficient English to understand my problems. They made me leave it but they let me take my SSD (they didn’t want it because it was aftermarket). A little after 5PM on Monday they called to let me know it was ready. We made an appointment and drove there immediately to pick it up just before closing, which is 7PM in France. They apparently replaced the trackpad and, though they didn’t replicate my problem, replaced the logic board for good measure (logic board would have been my guess as well). This took less than two business days and I’ve gone over a week now with no crashes. This is undoubtedly anecdotal, but it’s been a more successful repair than most of my past experiences with Apple Stores in the US. I’m really not sure why the Applecare representative didn’t just tell me to go to the store in the first place.