Tag Archives: computer

Staying in Touch with Skype

Today’s post comes from guest contributor Lindsey Passaic, an American living in Paris with her husband. When she’s not going from boulangerie to boulangerie searching for the city’s best pain au chocolat,  Lindsey can be found chronicling her adventures living and working abroad on her blog American Girls Are.

by Lindsey Passaic

Brrrrring, brrrrring…

No, that’s not the sound of your landline or mobile ringing. That’s the sound of Skype connecting you to your friends and family near and far. Skype is a computer application that allows you to make calls to all those you want to stay in touch with while traveling or living abroad.  More useful than any travel trinket from Brookstone or SkyMall, Skype is a must have item for any traveler. You can say sayonara to complicated calling cards and expensive long-distance conversations. Skype not only connects you to the voices you wish to hear, but the faces you’d love to see–all for free!

Skype makes communicating easier than ever and with the application’s hassle free set-up and user-friendly design, there’s no excuse for not signing up. Follow these simple steps and before long you’ll be chatting away!

Before getting started, confirm that you have  the following requirements:

  • PC running Windows® XP, Vista or 7, both 32- and 64-bit operating systems OR Mac computer with G4, G5, or Intel processor, 800 MHz or faster (with Macs OS X v.10.3.9 (Panther) or newer);
  • High speed Internet connection;
  • Speakers and microphone—built-in or separate (Note: If you are not sure whether your computer has a microphone, visit Computer Hope.  The general rule is that most desktops do not have a microphone and most newer model laptops do. If you need to purchase a microphone, WebAudioAdvisor offers advice about choosing the right model for your needs.)
  • Web camera—built-in or separate — if you want to use Skype for video calls.

Setting Up Skype

1. Visit the Skype Web site at http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/home

2. Scroll over the button labeled “Get Skype” and click on “Windows” or “Mac” depending on which type of operating system your computer uses.

3. Click the button labeled “Download Now” and follow the instructions. 

4. Once Skype is downloaded on your computer, open the application and create a user account. You must create a Skype name, password, and submit an e-mail to complete the process. Remember to check that you agree with the terms of usage.

5. After your account is created, Skype will automatically sign you in for the first time.

Making Free Skype Calls

Skype calls are free only to other Skype users. To make calls to landlines and mobile phones, you must purchase Skype credit.  See below for details.

1. To video chat with another Skype user, you must search for their Skype name at the top of your Skype box. Type in the name you are looking for and click “Search for Skype Name.” A new window will pop up with your search results. If you find the contact you are looking for you, highlight his or her name and click “Add contact.” If you do not find who you are looking for, you can continue searching using the person’s full name or e-mail.

2. When you click “Add contact” a new window will appear displaying a message that will be sent to your new contact. Click “OK.” By clicking “OK” the message will be sent and your contact can then choose whether to allow you to see them when they’re online.

3. After clicking “OK” another pop-up window will come up saying that your contact has been added. Click “OK.” Once the contact accepts your request on their end, their Skype name will appear in your Skype box.

4. Your Skype box will list all of the contacts you add. A user is available to chat if there is a green check mark next to their name. If a green check is not next to their name, that user may be away, not available, busy, or offline. You can change your status by clicking the “Account” tab in the Skype toolbar and selecting “Change status.”  Scheduling time to talk is the best way to ensure that you are signed into Skype at the same time as friends and family.

5. To begin a session with one of your contacts, click the green phone button underneath their Skype name. By clicking the green phone button you initiate a call and a new call box will appear. The contact will hear ringing on their end and “pick up the phone.” A call is in progress when the top of the call box reads, “call with (contact name)” and displays the time you’ve been talking. You can continue your audio conversation this way for free as long as you like!

6. If you are equipped with a built in camera or Web cam, you can allow the contact to see your face by clicking the “Video” button. Within a few seconds your face will appear in the call box and that is what the contact sees on their end. To stop the video click the red “Video” button a second time. You can mute the call by clicking the microphone button, hold the call by clicking the pause button, and end the call my clicking the red hang up button. By clicking the starred “More” button you can view the user’s profile, begin a chat, send a file, or send contacts.

Example of Skype box as it appears on a Mac

Making Skype Calls to Landline or Mobile Numbers

1. If you want to call a landline or mobile number, you must purchase Skype credit (starting at 2.2 centimes a minute). To add Skype credit, click the “Help” button on the Skype toolbar and then click “Buy Skype credit.” The amount of Skype credit you use depends on where you are calling and how long your calls are. The Skype Web site offers additional pricing options, including a monthly subscription plan and a premium plan. Skype allows you to design a monthly subscription package that is just right for you. You can pick the country or countries you wish to call and the amount of minutes you need. For example, unlimited minutes to the United States from France costs 5.74 euros per month. The premium plan, at 6.89 euros per month, gives you group video calling—an excellent option for getting all of your friends and family on the same call.

You can purchase Skype credit or a Skype plan using PayPal, VISA, Mastercard, Moneybookers, JCB, or PayByCash.

2. After you have purchased Skype credit or purchased a subscription plan, click the dial pad button at the bottom of your Skype box and enter the number you wish to call.

Sending Free Messages via Skype

To send an instant message to another user or start a chat conversation, click the blue text button underneath their Skype name. A pop-up box will appear and you can type your message at the bottom of the box. If you wish to send a text message (SMS) to a mobile number, you must pay using Skype credit or through a purchased subscription.

Additional Resources





Technical Difficulties

Time for another language lesson from ielanguages.com, an incredible, free on-line French language resource created by Jennie Wagner, an English lecturer at the Université de Savoie in Chambéry, France. Jennie has graciously allowed Posted in Paris to repost several of her tutorials. Make sure you follow the links in each post back to her site for the sound files.  Today:  some useful vocabulary for setting up a cell phone account and dealing with computer problems.

 Cell Phones

pay as you go plan sans engagement text message SMS
credit/minutes le crédit photo message MMS
to recharge your account recharger votre compte call waiting le double appel
contract plan le forfait caller ID la présentation du numero
extra charges hors forfait unlimited calls les appels illimités
payment plan le plan tarifaire PIN code le code PIN / secret
land line la ligne fixe SIM card la carte SIM
voicemail la messagerie vocale locked bloqué
account summary le suivi conso to download télécharger
empty / no credit épuisé ringtone la sonnerie


You can find the sound files here.


computer l’ordinateur scanner le scanner
disk la disquette laptop le portable
document le document internet l’internet
CD-ROM le cédérom internet user l’internaute
monitor l’écran online en-ligne
keyboard le clavier link le lien
mouse la souris bookmark le signet
printer l’imprimante e-mail le courriel / le mail
memo la note de service password le mot de passe
fax machine le télécopieur search engine le moteur de recherche
photocopier la photocopieuse chat room la salle de tchatche
typewriter la machine à écrire bulletin board le forum
software le logiciel homepage la page d’accueil
file le dossier website le site
cabinet le placard web browswer le navigateur
memory card la carte mémoire cable le câble
flashdrive la clé USB DSL l’ADSL
external HD le disque dur externe to sign on / off se connecter / déconnecter
attachment la pièce jointe to scroll up / down dérouler le texte
to attach joindre to download télécharger


Sound files can be found here at #95.

Free Wi Fi in Paris

Congratulations!  You finally waded through all the offers and the fine print and selected an Internet provider for your new home in Paris.  Not to be a wet blanket but it may take up to six weeks before everything is up and running.   “But the last tenant had Internet service.  Don’t they just have to flip a switch?”    Maybe.  Who knows really?  In the meantime, you might want to know where to find free Wi Fi close to you.

Paris Wi Fi:  The city of Paris has made a major effort to make Wi Fi available in parks and public buildings.   This service (theoretically at 54 mb although perhaps more realistically operating at 8 mb) is offered in 260 locations:  parks, libraries, town halls, and museums of the city of Paris.  Connect with your laptop to the Orange network and you will be directed to an access page.  Click on “SELECTIONNEZ VOTRE PASS,” fill in the form, accept the conditions of use, and you will be connected for a two hour session.   After that time, you can continue using the Internet; you just have to fill in the form once again.  Service is available only during regular operating hours, somewhere between 7 am and 11 pm, shorter for municipal buildings, longer for parks although gardens owned by the city of Paris also have closing hours.

Other options (plus sometimes the ability to plug in your computer to a power source)  include  McDonald’s and Columbus Cafe (where the coffee is presumably better, but certainly more expensive).   At this writing, you must pay to access Wi Fi at most Paris Starbucks locations.

And if you need a computer too, check out Heather Stimmler-Hall’s list of her favorite Internet cafes on her blog, Secrets of Paris.

Note: If you’re trying to pirate service from a neighbor and you come across a network called Free, it’s not.  Free is the name of a paying Internet service provider.


Map of all free Wi Fi locations made available by the city of Paris

USA Today’s listing of over 3,000 Wi Fi hotspots in Paris (many in hotels and not all are free)

Listing of cafes and restaurants offering free Wi Fi via the Wistro network

How to Find and Use Free WiFi in Paris  (from David Lebovitz)

Getting Your Computer Up and Running

This is the first in a series of posts by Rodney Wines, an independent computer consultant living in Paris.   If you still have problems with your own set up after what you’ve read here, send an e-mail to parisplaces@yahoo.com and I’ll send you his e-mail address.  I can personally vouch for the quality of his services.

by Rodney Wines

I unpacked my computer, can I plug it in?

 Surprisingly enough, the answer is probably yes.

 In case you haven’t heard, we’ve got globalization these days. The same companies that sell products in Paris, France also sell them in Paris, Texas and they probably build them in Asia anyhow. These companies discovered that it is cheaper in the long run just to install a universal power supply than to build a separate model of their product for each country. Most brand-name computer equipment (and much of your other electronics, with the exception of your TV) that you bought within the last few years will work here without modification and without an AC power converter.  (If you bought a special built computer from Bubba’s Computer and Bait Shop, then your mileage may vary.)

Although the end of the power cord that goes into the wall can vary from country to country, the end that goes into the computer or monitor is usually the same the world over. There are only a few flavors of these cords. If your gadget doesn’t have a detachable cord, adapter plugs are cheap and can be found at hardware stores and most of the bigger stores that sell electronics. Please note that there is a big, and possibly catastrophic, difference between an adapter and a converter, but more on that later.

The French plugs work in much of Europe except for Switzerland and the United Kingdom (UK), and some two-prong French plugs will also work in Switzerland. I bought local power cords for all of my equipment which has detachable cords. Okay, I scavenged most of the cords from equipment that was going to be scrapped, but don’t tell my former employer.

I have had very good luck getting equipment to work in both the US and France without voltage converters. Before you plug in anything, however, check the voltage information for the product. You should see a sticker (usually on or near the power cord or “power brick”) that says, “110-240 VAC, 50-60 Hz”. If it says that, then you should be able to plug it in (using only an appropriate adapter plug or a French version of the power cord) without a problem. If it does say that, you plug it in, and it smokes, please remember that I’m only a software person.

Some older products have a “110/220” switch somewhere. Even older products require you to open the case and change connections on the power supply transformer. I faced this problem when I first moved to Europe in 1992. If you have such a product today, beware of the dinosaurs. Electronically, you are in Jurassic Park. We are talking Stone Age equipment here. You’ll probably be better off just replacing the product.

One way to save money on adapter plugs is to bring a US power strip back with you the next time you visit the States. Then, you can plug all of your US equipment into this one power strip, and you need only an adapter plug for the strip itself. I do not recommend using US outlet strips with circuit breakers here unless you are particularly fond of flyaway hair with slightly singed ends. Okay, I suspect that all that’ll really happen is that the circuit breaker will immediately trip because of the excess (by US standards) voltage, but that is less fun to write about.

I couldn’t find that “240” wazzit.

OK, Fred and Wilma gave you this wonderful gadget that says “110-120 VAC 60 Hz”, and you’d love to use it here? It is possible, with the right kind of converter. (More about power converters, adaptors, and transformers here.)  I’ll just say that before you connect your prized gadget make sure that you are using the right kind of converter. Some travel converters are only intended for things like hair dryers and battery chargers and will not work at all with most electronics. A step-down transformer will change the voltage but not the line frequency; devices with motors in them, or devices that depend on the AC line frequency for timing, will run too slowly and could be damaged. Power supplies intended for 60Hz can run hot when you give them 50Hz even if the voltage is correct. I suspect that there are a lot of shops which would be very happy to sell you an expensive power converter when a simple adapter will do, so it is very much worth your while to look for that “240” wazzit.

But it doesn’t have a power cord.

Any device that draws its power directly from your computer, such as an internal hard drive or a device which draws power from its USB or FireWire connection (iPods and quite a few external hard drives, for example), will work just fine here. You can buy these devices in either country and safely connect them to (or install them inside) your computer. If you are used to installing hardware inside your computer, then you probably knew this already.

And yes, battery-powered devices work fine, silly.

It is broken.  Is my warranty valid?

As is so often the case, this rates a rousing “it depends”.  First of all, if you bought one of those Best Buy, or equivalent, extended warranties, and the vendor’s standard warranty has expired, then your only recourse is to ship the product back to the States for warranty service.  It is my belief that the major manufacturers will honor their standard warranties on products bought in the US, but I have never had occasion to test this hypothesis. Check the fine print on your warranty. However, dealing with a multinational company outside the US can be like dealing with an entirely different company than the one you dealt with in the States. The French version of the company may not know about your warranty registration in the States, so you may have to spend a bit of extra time getting help.

I’ll pay to get it repaired. What do I do?

I would start by checking with the vendor, or your owner’s manual, for the location of an authorized repair center in France. The major stores such as Darty, FNAC, and Surcouf will also repair many products.  If you are an Apple customer, Apple opened their first store in Paris in November 2009.  It is in the Carrousel du Louvre, and it is impressive. There is even a YouTube video of the store. It is my understanding that Apple is planning other stores for Paris and other cities in France.  Editor’s note:  Apple service is by appointment only.  You can make an appointment by phone or on-line.

If your computer is on the fritz, and you don’t want to take it to the big stores, there are technicians who advertise in FUSAC who will make house calls. I have no experience with any of them (friends and acquaintances have had very mixed, and sometimes disastrous, results), but you can have a reasonable expectation that anyone who advertises in FUSAC speaks English.  Please note that the FUSAC web site address is “fusac.fr”, and not “fusac.com”. The fusac.com site is not affiliated in any way with the FUSAC paper. In my humble opinion, the folks at fusac.com are being unethical, but they didn’t solicit my advice.

And, if your problem is a very simple one, I work for food. I do not charge for phone or e-mail help. If it is more complicated, my rates are reasonable.

It is time for an upgrade.  Where do I shop?

That is an easy one. If you stayed awake through the section on globalization, you’ll know that you can buy most things in the US and save some money (but don’t tell French Customs that I told you this).  If your income is in dollars, then you might want to shop for big-ticket electronics and computers in the US unless you got a very generous relocation package.

If you do decide to shop here, then most of the usual suspects are available in France; Dell, HP, Apple, and amazon.fr have Web sites where you can order direct, and I mentioned the Paris Apple store above. You might pay a bit more in France, but at least you’ll have a local merchant to deal with if there are problems.

There are quite a few large French online and bricks and mortar stores as well. I won’t try to list them all here; you will see them advertised everywhere. I have the most personal experience with the Apple store, FNAC, Darty, amazon.fr, and Surcouf.

For the geek, Surcouf is probably the biggest. They claim that their store on Avenue Daumesnil gets more visitors per day than Versailles. I can believe it. I take advantage of my  unstructured weekdays and go there during off hours. They seem to have a bit of everything, and I enjoy wandering around the store. When my French fails me, I have always found someone who speaks English. In the surrounding neighborhood, like pilot fish around a shark, there are dozens of small shops that take advantage of the foot traffic that Surcouf generates. I haven’t shopped at any of these, so I don’t know anything about their prices or quality.

Those French keyboards sure look strange.

Keyboards are generally named for the five keys on the row above the left hand “home” keys (“QWERTY” and “AZERTY”, for example) except for “Dvorak” which is named for its inventor. Don’t ask me why.

In the US we use QWERTY keyboards, and in mainland Europe they use AZERTY keyboards. Unfortunately, things are more complicated than that. There are also US QWERTY keyboards and UK QWERTY keyboards (and French, German, etc. AZERTY keyboards). If you buy a computer in France with an “English” keyboard, you’ll probably get a UK QWERTY keyboard. That’s okay for most situations, but there are a few differences; the “double quote” and the @ keys are reversed between the two keyboards. I have so far been unable to find a decent American keyboard with a € symbol on it.

If you are a touch typist, then you can lie to your computer and tell it that you are using the keyboard type of your choice regardless of the keyboard type that is connected to your computer. Otherwise, you’ll have to adapt to one of the keyboard types available here or get a keyboard (without a € symbol) from the States.