One of the most difficult aspects of living in Singapore is being so far from my family and friends back home.
One solution has been using instant messaging and VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocal) programs such as iChat or the free Skype program. I also put money into a Skype Out account so that I could use my computer to call people's telephones. To get a Skype Out account, I just followed the link within Skype. I used a credit card to purchase ten euros worth of talk time. I'm paying USD $0.02 cents per minute when I call the USA. [NOTE: Skype Out is free until the end of 2006 for making calls from computers in the USA to telephones within the USA.]
Sound quality with Skype Out is better than it was with many of the calling cards I used to purchase in Malaysia. It helps that Kent purchased an Altec Lansing headphone/ microphone combination. It plugs into a USB port and greatly improves the sound. Without a headphone, the microphone would pick up the other person's end of the conversation that was playing through the speakers. This caused annoying echoes.
When I first arrived in Singapore, I discovered that my iBook G4 didn't play nicely with Skype when running on battery. It would work fine for a few minutes, but then the person I was talking to would suddenly not be able to hear me at all. I could hear them, but nothing, including hanging up and calling them again, would restore the sound for them. Kent didn't experience this problem on his Powerbook.
Recently, Skype became even better. There is a beta version out that allows people using Macs to video chat. Although it is a beta, we have found it to be stable and easy to use. The video capabilities have been available in the Windows version of Skype for a while, so it's good to see it finally available for the Mac.
In the past week, my life took a good turn. Since moving to Singapore, I had not had much contact with my parents. I did not yet have a telephone in my home, and my parents had virus-plagued, old Windows computers so they were not able to get onto the internet at home. Tired of this situation, I bit the bullet and purchased a refurbished iMac for my parents. A great friend back home configured it and spent a few hours helping them make it play nicely with their Comcast account. This is their first foray into broadband. This is also their first Mac.
The day she brought them the computer, I received a photo they snapped of themselves using the built-in iSight camera. I am now receiving regular emails from them, and they are having fun exploring the iapps such as iTunes.
The best part came two days ago. I had the pleasure of opening Skype and seeing that my parents were online. I called their computer and within moments, I could see them and they could see me. I was able to turn my camera around so they could see my apartment and watch the cats scampering past. I could see them sitting at the desk in my childhood home. All of sudden, Minnesota feels much closer to Singapore.