Friday, July 27, 2007

Guide to Watching Your Home TV Overseas

(This is a School of ROK Quick Guide--less of a blog post, more of a tutorial. I mean, why should you have to learn the hard way what someone else has already found out? You can find our other guides on our sidebar. Enjoy!)

When you're me--or just about anyone else from Pittsburgh, for that matter--you can't really live without the Steelers for a year. (Or the Penguins. Or the Pirates, if you're the suffering type.) But, while the network NFL coverage overseas is the best anywhere, if you want to watch a given team any given Sunday, most countries will leave you pretty much stuck. Factor in a weakness for House and a wife who can't get enough House and America's Next Top Model, and throwing oneself on the mercy of local TV clearly isn't the right choice. Thankfully, this School of ROK Quick Guide will show you how to watch your TV overseas--without spending nearly as much as you would for foreign satellite TV.

Friends and Family: They're Even More Important Than You Think

The single most important thing you need to watch your TV overseas is a stateside TV hookup owned by people who won't mind letting you mooch. (Though in some cases you may be able to bargain with some mutual moochage--see below.) Preferably, this hookup will be in your teams' local market, or will belong to someone who can actually afford to pay to see all the good games. The hookup can be cable or satellite, and it's best if the moochee has a cable box or satellite box in an out-of-the-way room that doesn't get too much use.

Tivo and SlingBox: A Killer Combo Explained

Step one to overseas TV goodness: buy a Tivo (or another, cheaper, inferior DVR) and a SlingBox, posthaste. The 80-hr Series 2 Tivo will set you back about $280 with a year's service prepaid, and a SlingBox AV, which you'll need for digital cable or satellite, will set you back about $150. (Note: Tivo is much cheaper when ordered directly through Tivo, but SlingBox costs about the same at Best Buy as it does through Sling Media's site.) Which means this little setup will cost a lot more than a year's worth of domestic digital cable, but a lot less than any package that would get you US sports and TV overseas. Especially if you can talk your moochee into splitting the costs of the DVR, or if your moochee already has DVR service on hand.

So this is how this works. Your Tivo enslaves one or two AV devices, usually your cable box and sometimes the TV itself. The Tivo stores the shows you want to watch on its hard drive and does a whole bunch of other really cool things that you can read about in the manual, because that's what it's for. (Hey, I'm not going to do ALL of the work for you.) The SlingBox, then, enslaves one or two AV devices, one of which should be your Tivo, and then streams the signals from those devices over the Internet, via the SlingPlayer software, onto any PC, anywhere in the world. And the SlingPlayer includes a little graphic of the enslaved device's remote, which you can use (albeit awkwardly) to control that device . . . again, from anywhere in the world.

What does this mean? It means that, as you sit in your apartment in Seoul, you can program your Tivo in Pittsburgh to record the Steelers game (2:00 AM kickoff Seoul-time) for you to watch on your laptop Monday after work. (Yes, AFTER work. Don't get any ideas.) You can tell your Tivo to collect episodes of, say, That 70's Show, for your daily postprandial entertainment. (Note: if you're in a time-zone close enough to EST, you can actually cut out the Tivo and just watch your TV real-time, provided no one at home is using the device you enslaved.)

Now, there are downsides, of course. There's a pretty hefty lag when you press a button on the SlingPlayer remote. Some of the resulting headaches can be resolved by programming your Tivo online, but the lag does render pretty much useless the stop-rewind-etc. functions while watching live TV. And the SlingBox will be subject to all the caprices of your moochee's home network, which means you'll want to make sure there's someone stateside at least tech-savvy enough to disconnect and reconnect all your wires. Finally, setup can be a fairly long ordeal, especially if you'll have home-network firewall settings to wrangle. But your reward is a steady stream of sweet, glorious, US TV.

(If you've enjoyed this School of ROK Quick Guide, you can find more on our sidebar or on our homepage at

Holy jeebus we're moving to KOREA.

In five days.

I think it just hit the both of us today.

When that guy showed up and put a good 80% of our worldly goods in his truck and drove off down the hill. To a boat. To KOREA.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quick Guide to Calling Home From Overseas

(This is a School of ROK Quick Guide--less of a blog post, more of a tutorial. I mean, why should you have to learn the hard way what someone else has already found out? You can find our other guides on our sidebar. Enjoy!)

So what if you're living on another continent. That's still no excuse not to call home! This (very brief) guide will help you keep in touch with mom--without busting your budget. All thanks to your friendly neighborhood School of ROK.

VoIP: Why You'd Be Stupid Not To Use (Something Like) Skype

Seriously, Skype is so totally sweet you'll think I was paid to write this. Skype, as you may know, is an international peer-to-peer VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) provider, which basically means it turns your broadband-connected computer, wherever you are in the world, into a dirt-cheap phone service. (This article goes into a little more detail on the technology, which is pretty cool--the peer-to-peer aspect is what helps keep the service so cheap.) Calls between Skype members are completely free--think voice chat over AIM. Outgoing calls from anywhere in the world generally cost about $.02-$.03 per minute. The Skype Voicemail add-on ($10/3 mo., $30/12 mo.) provides full voicemail functionality regardless of whether your computer is running, and the SkypeIn add-on ($18/3 mo., $60/12 mo.) buys you a traditional phone number on which you can receive completely free incoming calls.

Now, there IS a disadvantage to Skype and similar VoIP programs (thanks, Greg, for the tip): the lag on a VoIP phone call can be as much as double the lag on a conventional phone. Of course, this isn't noticeable on most domestic calls, but for an intercontinental call, it can be kind of a pain.

But still, the overall handiness of Skype can't be overestimated. Let's say you grew up in Pittsburgh--just hypothetically--and you wanted to give a bunch of friends and relatives there an easy way to keep in touch. With Skype, you could buy a 412-area-code number . . . and all your friends and family could reach you in, say, Korea, for only the cost of a local call.

. . . which is great, if you want to hear from your folks every weekend--and at odd hours, to boot. If not, of course, you're probably best off with an old-fashioned calling card, in which case you'd best pop over to Calling The rates are a bit higher than Skype's, but if you're not planning on calling home often, given Skype's roughly $90-per-year overhead, the savings are probably a wash.

(If you've enjoyed this School of ROK Quick Guide, you can find more on our sidebar or on our