Keeping your iPhone alive in France — Part III

I’m back in France, this time for a leisure trip (my first real vacation in Europe since I graduated here as a Ph.D.) Yes, it’s Winter, but promenading through the streets of Paris without having to worry about the next meeting / deadline / academic obligation is a nice change of pace, cold and rain notwithstanding.

I’m skeptical about the concept of unconnected vacations — in my leisure time I still want to have access to the hive mind, lest my IQ drop a full 30 points. But having a decent data plan in France without breaking the bank is not necessarily obvious, as I’ve been exploring for some time.

mobicarte-holidayOrange Telecom, the main cell-phone company of France, has finally waken-up to the reality that 80M tourists come to France every year — 20% more people than the country own population of 66M. They now propose the Mobicarte Holiday, a pre-paid SIM card loaded with 2h of calls, 1000 SMS, and 1GB of cell data, and unlimited access to Orange Wifi Hotspots — at a price of 40€. If you already have a working Mobicarte you can buy a “Holiday recharge” for 30€. After you use all your credit (or after your credit expires) you can reload the Mobicarte with either the “Holiday” or a normal recharge.

That package is not exactly the cheapest, but it is the most convenient I’ve experienced so far : an offer completely adapted to the needs of the traveller.

Well, almost…

The first limitation is that you’ll probably won’t be able to buy the Mobicarte Holiday from Orange Online store — unless you have a French credit card. This prevents having it delivered directly to your hotel. To compensate that inconvenience, several Orange physical stores are open from Monday to Saturday, until 19h30. I had no difficulty in buying it at the physical store at boulevard Haussmann on a Saturday afternoon.

The second limitation is much more irritating : you won’t be able to connect to the Orange Wifi Hotspots — unless you have a French credit card ! In order to get access to the Wifi hotspots, Orange forces you to install an iOS app — “Mon Réseau” (My Network) — but that app is only available at the French App Store ! Here the synergy of Orange’s nearsightedness and Apple’s greediness creates the perfect storm, as you won’t be able to create an Apple ID for the French Apple store unless you enter a credit card valid in France. (My love–hate relationship with Apple has such a healthy dose of hate because of those things.)

Finally, the kick on the shins : the Holiday credit is valid for meager 14 days, so for longer trips you’ll have to keep buying recharges.

Is there any silver linings ? Well, the SIM card itself will remain valid for 6 months after the last recharge. The price of 20€ a week is still 3 times cheaper than the data roaming offer of my Brazilian operator (Vivo Telecom). You can get a Mobicarte in any one of the mini-, micro-, and nano-SIM formats : you won’t have to deal with SIM clippers (or worse : a sharp kitchen knife and a steady hand). In addition, the 3G Internet offer takes effect immediately (some previous Internet options of Orange took up to 3 days to kick in.)

The Mobicart Holiday is far from perfect, but it’s still the most traveller-friendly offer by Orange France I’ve experienced so far.

Keeping your iPhone (sort of) alive In France — Part II

I am again in Paris, meeting my colleague and former Ph.D. advisor Prof. Matthieu Cord at Université Pierre et Marie Curie as part of our ongoing cooperation. And again I’m fighting to keep my iPhone alive without breaking the bank.

If you’ve read my previous post, you know that you can buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card from Orange Telecom called a Mobicarte. It is still available, and many of the previous considerations are still valid, but some things have changed, most of them not for the better.

First, the (big) bad news : the monthly Internet Max for 9€ is no longer available (as you remember, it offered “unlimited” web access for 30 days, actually capped at 500 MB). In its place you now have an Internet Max day pass for 2€, with a cap of 50 MB. Boy, that’s per day, almost seven times more expensive than the previous offer, and even per megabyte, it is more than twice as expensive. It is still, however, more than three times cheaper than the best roaming offer of Vivo Telecom (my Brazilian company), even considering that I have to amortize the price of the Mobicarte itself (about 9€, with 5€ worth of credit) — so I sucked it up and went for it.

Now for the (silver-liningish) good news: the option goes into effect immediately, it doesn’t take the 48h of the monthly pass, so for shorter trips it could potentially be more advantageous. But there is still that 24h delay for the SIM card ID registration to take place, before which options might be refused at all. And POP/SMTP/IMAP traffic is still not comprised on web traffic (be careful with that), so you still have to pay extra 6€ for the — monthly — Option Mail(*). And that option still takes 48h to activate.

It is just one big ugly mess.

Mobicarte NouvelleThe clearly good news is that the Mobicarte now comes in a double mini/micro-SIM format. It comes as a mini-SIM with a micro-SIM inset, and the micro-SIM can be easily detached by hand, so you no longer have to worry about SIM clippers or sharp kitchen knives.

* * *

One day one phone company will say to its users : “You know what — let’s talk the truth — there’s an international holding that owns our operations in 95 countries. So, since, it makes no sense for us to charge from ourselves, we will give you free data roaming in any of those 95 countries. Just don’t get too crazy on the downloads, ok ?”

And then pigs will fly.

* * *

Configuring the iPhone to prevent unwanted POP/SMTP/IMAP traffic(*) Alternatively you can go to the Settings App and select Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and then Fetch New Data. There you can Disable Push notifications and set data fetching to manual. Remember to go on the Advanced tab (in the end of the screen) and set everything to Manual as well, and that will probably prevent any unwanted POP/SMTP/IMAP traffic.

Talk at the I3S Lab, Université de Nice, Sophia-Antipolis

As part of my visit to the I3S Lab, I’m giving a talk on February 11th :

Title: Scalability Issues in Multimedia Information Retrieval
Where: I3S conference room (level 0)
When: Monday, February 11th, at 14h00

Abstract:
The Millennium marked a turning point for textual Information Retrieval, a moment when Search Engines and Social Networks changed our relationship to World Wide Web: gigantic corpora of knowledge suddenly felt friendly, accessible and manageable. Ten years later, the same phenomenon is happening for complex non-textual data, including multimedia. The challenge is how to provide intuitive, convenient, fast services for those data, in collections whose size and growing rate is so big, that our intuitions fail to grasp.

Two issues have dominated the scientific discourse when we aim at that goal: our ability to represent multimedia information in a way that allows answering the high-level queries posed by the users, and our ability to process those queries fast.

In this talk, I will focus on the latter issue, examining similarity search in high-dimensional spaces, a pivotal operation found a variety of database applications — including Multimedia Information Retrieval. Similarity search is conceptually very simple: find the objects in the dataset that are similar to the query, i.e., those that are close to the query according to some notion of distance. However, due to the infamous “curse of the dimensionality”, performing it fast is challenging from both the theoretical and the practical point-of-view.

I have selected for this talk Hypercurves, my latest research endeavor, which is a distributed technique aimed at hybrid CPU–GPU environments. Hypercurves’ goal is to employ throughput-oriented GPUs to keep answer times optimal, under several load regimens. The parallelization also poses interesting theoretical questions of how much can we optimize the parallelization of approximate k-nearest neighbors, if we relax the equivalence to the sequential algorithm from exact to probabilistic.

The talk will be in English. I thank my colleague and friend Prof. Frédéric Precioso, for this opportunity.

Keep your iPhone alive in France

I’ve traded my tropical Brazilian summer for what turned out to be a harsh French winter. My brain is delighted to exchange ideas with my colleague (and former advisor) Prof. Matthieu Cord at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, and my colleague (and old friend) Prof. Frédéric Precioso at the Université de Nice Sophia Antipolis. My nose, however, is complaining a lot.

* * *

I’ve heard that traveling with a smartphone makes for a much enhanced experience. Living it first-hand, I realize the huge difference some simple things make when you are abroad, like having Google Maps ready at your hands. Apps for specific destinations are la cérise du gâteau (the Parisian metro/bus company RATP has a terrific one, also available for Android).

However, keeping the gourmand smartphone alive without breaking the bank might be a challenge. The solution I adopted was buying a pre-paid local SIM card. Making it happen, however, is harder than it should.

As far as I know, none of the main French carriers offer interesting pre-paid Internet offers in micro-SIM format. Among the prepaid mini-SIM offers, Orange’s Internet Max is interesting : it gives you “unlimited” (actually something around 500 Gb) data access for a month.

  1. Having chosen to go with Orange Fr, and their pre-paid offer, the Mobicarte, I’ve tried to buy it online — so it would be waiting for me, when I arrived. Their damn online shop, however, would not take my credit card. Maybe you’ll be luckier ?
  2. So, one day after I landed, I went to a physical shop and asked for a Mobicarte (priced around 10€). They’ve asked in which phone I’d use it and I answered “oh, it’s an old Nokia — I was using a friend’s Mobicarte in it but now I have to return it”. (No, my pants weren’t on fire.)
  3. They’ve asked me for an identity document. I didn’t have my passport on me, but they accepted my Brazilian identity card. In doubt, I think it’s safer to bring the passport.
  4. I also bought some credit, around 25€, to complement the 5€ of credit that comes with the Mobicarte.

All that was incredibly easy —I kept reading stories round the net on how buying the chip is a nightmare —  maybe the secret is to feign ignorance : don’t mention the words “iPhone”, “Android” or “Internet Max”, and you should be safe.

Now, the difficult parts are : (I) to make the card fit in the iPhone ; (II) to be patient enough to go through all the hoops in order to activate the Internet Max options.

Part I is a matter of having guts. I’ve heard of people who use their own (or a friend’s) micro-SIM as a template, and a very sharp kitchen knife, with good results. I’m not so brave, so, just before my trip, I’ve ordered this gadget on Amazon.fr : a mini-SIM trimmer, which performs the operation without requiring much adroitness. It arrived two days after I landed. You can check both the clipper and the results below :

SIM clipper used to convert a mini-SIM (a Mobicarte from Orange Fr) to a micro-SIM

One obvious recommendation is to clip and test the chip on the iPhone before loading the credits, so if something goes wrong you’re losing 10€ instead of 34€. I’m only emphasizing this because, as a good absent-minded professor, I went and loaded the credits immediately after buying them.

Activating the Internet Max is a matter of patience. First, chances are you’ll have to wait at least 24h after buying the chip, until the system identifies you. Otherwise you’ll receive a frightening message saying that you are not identified, and that your account you be cancelled, and that you’ll be guillotined at the place de la Concorde. Nothing like that will happen — ignore the message and wait another day :

Vous ne pouvez pas souscrire à l’option Internet Max car nous ne pouvons pas vous identifier. Vous devez vous rendre dans votre point de vente accompagné de votre pièce d’identité. Votre ligne sera rétablie quelques jours après l’enregistrement de vos cordonnées. Sans action de votre part, votre ligne sera suspendue un mois après l’activation de la ligne. Vous ne pourrez plus passer des appels et votre ligne sera résiliée deux mois après son activation.

Services menu of Orange Fr, invoked calling #123# Then, to activate the Internet Max option, invoke the services menu calling the number #123#, then choose the options :

4 – Mon space (My space)
3 – Ajouter une option (Add an option)
5 – Suite (Next)
1 – Internet + Mail
2 – Internet Max
1 – Suite
1 – Souscrire (Subscribe)
1 – Valider (Validate)

Or something like that, to be honest. The menu changes a lot, according to the current design and promotions, but you should be able to find your way.

Internet Max will cost you 9€ for a month, at current prices, but one word of warning : it doesn’t cover POP / SMTP / IMAP traffic, used for example, by most e-mail apps and e-mail push notifications. If you’re on a budget, avoid using those apps, and disable push notifications for e-mail. Otherwise, you can buy an “Option mail” (following instructions very close to the ones above, but changing the 5th step), that covers unlimited traffic for those protocols, for 6€. So, the real cost for “unlimited” net is 15€ per month.

Finally, the most difficult step : waiting. Beware, because the options max will not be activated immediately : that will take 48h ! With the identification delay after buying the card, that makes for a minimum of three days of waiting, so this solution is only practical for longer trips.

Big thumbs-up for the guys at VeloNomad — I’ve first learned about that possibility there. They seem to have a service that sends you a French SIM home, before the trip, so you can have your phone ready to communicate from day one. I’ve discovered that service too close to my trip for it to be useful — if you use it, I’m curious to find about your experience. They add those very good remarks  :

  • Disable the 3G/data roaming before you put the SIM on the phone, or the credits might disappear surprisingly fast (if you are serious about avoiding roaming charges, it’s actually a good idea to do it home, before turning off the phone in the plane) ;
  • Before diving in the net or mail, use it a bit and check if the credits are draining — if they are, the option is not yet activated ;
  • Obvious, but sometimes overlooked : ensure that your phone is unlocked before you leave home !

(Finally, my lawyer is telling me to reinforce that those instructions are provided in good faith, but that you should be careful, find information and make your own decisions : if you follow the instructions and your phone turns into a brick, or you are attacked by a flock of angry birds, I’m not liable.)

(Postscriptum : the intention here is having access to the web at reasonable cost, so to have a more enjoyable trip in France, not to cheat Orange Fr. Be reasonable : don’t go and tether all your party of 20 travelers on a single chip, don’t download an entire Hollywood worth of pirate movies, etc. In other words : be a conscious hacker and don’t spoil this for everyone else.)

Edit jan/14 — The Internet Max offer has changed, and not completely for the better. I’ve blogged about it in a recent visit to France.

From DocEng in Munich to LIP6 in Paris

I guess that for all people involved, DocEng’09 was a success. Like last year, the conference was small — I think that we were 60 or 70 participants — but the quality of the works presented was high, and the scientific exchange was extremely interesting. In DocEng, you get to meet everyone individually, something which is unfeasible at large-scale conferences.

Thematically, the conference has a broad scope, centered around the representation, processing, analysis, storage and retrieval of documents. My main research topic concerns the retrieval of multimedia documents, and is somewhat at the fringe of the conference theme. Nevertheless, people seemed genuinely interested and I’ve got many useful insights and suggestions.

* * *

I have just arrived at Paris, where I will meet my former Ph.D. supervisor Prof. Matthieu Cord, among other colleagues. I intend to advance our research on high-dimensional multimedia indexing and large scale multimedia retrieval. I am also giving a talk about my current research pursuits at the ETIS labs, on Cergy-Pontoise, next Tuesday, September 22nd.

If you use Google Calendar you can save the date by clicking below:

Upcoming Talk: High-Dimensional Indexing and CBIR

I’m giving a talk on the workshop organised by the Digital Image Processing Centre — NPDI for the French-Brazilian project CAPES-COFECUB on Interactive and Content-Based Multimedia Information Analysis for Digital Video Applications.

My talk, entitled “Indexing High-Dimensional Data – Application to CBIR” explores my recent work on multimedia indexing, k nearest neighbours search (kNN search) and image identification.  Here’s the abstract:

“The troubles of multimedia information retrieval start at its most elementary operation: matching the high-dimensional feature vectors used to describe the data. In this talk, we will discuss how recent innovative methods are taming the infamous ‘curse of dimensionality’ and how they can be used in CBIR. The author will discuss his recent contributions to the advance of the state-of-art and his current research endeavours.”

My talk will be on Wednesday, April 8, at 14h30. It will take place at the UFMG Pampulha Campus, on the ICEx building, in room 2077. Registration to the workshop is free.

EDIT 14/4: The presentation, with narrative is available on my (brand new) talks and courses page.

Back to Brazil… and to an old research subject

The lack of recent updates has been result of the end of my Research Internship in France, and all the consequent rush in tying up loose ends there, and setting up new projects here. All this international coming back and forth (how much luggage can one reasonably accumulate in four months?!) will end up killing me.

A good piece of news, though: I’ve passed my qualification for maître de conférences (which basically means that the French government considers me apt to be a teacher/researcher).

* * *

I was in Rio de Janeiro for the Carnaval,  and I’ve had the opportunity to meet Dr. Eustáquio J. Reis from IPEA (the Brazilian Institute of Applied Economics Research), who is coordinating an interesting project to preserve and diffuse the Memory of Brazilian Statistics, using digitisation and the Web as the main tools.

Before I’ve got interested to the subject of high-dimensional indexing, the long term preservation of digital data (and its use to give access to cultural heritage assets) was my main research interest, as my M.Sc. dissertation reveals. So, it was with pleasure that I revisited the subject at an informal lunch, on the picturesque neighbourhood of Santa Tereza. We browsed important questions like file formats, standards for image acquisitions, search tools, the possibilities (and limitations) of character recognition, and the difficult balance between short term access and long term preservation every project has to achieve.

I am looking forward to see the new developments of this project, which concerns a type of cultural asset which is often overlooked, despite its enormous importance: quantitative data.

End of Winter Break

After the break, back-to-work under the snow in one of the harsher European winters seen of recent.

I am glad that I’ve got my seasonal flu before the break, since I have so much work to finish before coming back to Brazil in January 30. I intend to submit soon a journal article about multicurves (my high-dimensional indexing method based on space-filling curves), and I have some other results which I would like to submit to one of the conferences in the “first wave of deadlines” (ICDAR, January 22; ICIP, January 30; ACM KDD, February 2). And, of course, I have to accomplish my final role on the EROS 3D project, preparing the end-of-project report to be submitted later this semester.

Interestingly, an unusual lot of Brazilian colleagues have chosen to spend their Summer break in Europe (thus exchanging heat waves and tropical storms for snow and glacial winds), including two former teachers and two former classmates.  This unusual density of temporary “exilés” has been fortunate, in the sense that it gives the opportunity of many encounters, discussions, and… future cooperation!

Qualification

In France, public higher education has an interesting, but complex system of double-approving candidates for the positions of Maître de Conférences (roughly equivalent to Associate Professor) and Professeur des Universités (Full Professor).

First, you have to obtain a “seal of approval” from a national committee — this is called a “qualification”. The committee will check if your research / teaching / administrative experiences are compatible with your history, age and desired rank. Then, if you obtain the qualification, you can answer to job offers in the corresponding rank (when and if they are available) and a local committee (belonging to the concerned department / university) will evaluate the candidates.

The system is quite curious for foreigner eyes (even to me who have lived here for a few years). On one hand, it is as bureaucratic as it gets (bureaucracy streamlined by computers and the web, but still bureaucracy). On the other hand, it warrants a minimum capability level for all the candidates, precluding the very bad ones from securing a position just based on Cronyism. Of course, this system can’t prevent Cronyism from happening when sorting out the qualified candidates — but that’s another problem.

Another curiosity is that even if you are qualified by a committee in a certain domain of knowledge, for example, Computer Sciences, you are free to try job offerings on all other domains, for example, Mathematics (you are free to try, whether the local committee will choose you is another matter).
Once obtained, the qualification is valid for four years. Candidates can ask for a new one once the first expires, but they must convince the committee that their time was well spent.