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Technology Today - June 2013
By Robert Sanborn

From Mt. Mitchell

Traveling with Technology

Having just recently returning from a driving trip from SC to NH; it was around 1400 miles not as the crow flies; it has made me take a second look at how I use technology on the go. The first thing I noticed was that in quite a few places along that trip, there were a lot of people using services that I could not.  Some, I looked at with amusement wondering that while it was a beautiful view, do you really need to spend all your time yakking or texting with someone on the phone? We started in Ashville NC and followed the Blue Ridge Parkway north into Virginia and I must say, the views along this trip were spectacular. It is a drive that you need to do sometime. Mt. Mitchell in NC is the highest peak east of the Mississippi river in the USA and while you can’t get to the top, you can come close at over 6200 feet high.  When I travel, I like to post images and comments along the way on Facebook so that my extended family and friends can see some of the things we do on the trip.  If you are traveling with an iPhone and haven’t tried the panorama setting, you just have to.

One thing to remember as you travel with a Smartphone, you need two kinds of service to use that device. One is the cell phone signal to make phone calls and many times on that trip, I noticed people making calls when I had no service; and the second is that to post the images on Facebook with the location indicator turned on, you need data service; whether it be from the cell phone carrier or Wi-Fi.   Again, many times, I see the dreaded “No Service” message on my screens.  But there is an app for that.

I found a pretty cool app for my iPhone called “My Altitude”. What it does is to tell you what is the elevation of the location you are sitting at among other semi useful pieces of information. It then lets you take a picture and shows that information on the image like I show you here.  One of the things I like about taking photos with my iPhone is all the information that is available to you about the image.  If you have transferred the image to a Windows computer, you can right click on the image, go to properties, click on details, and see the same information that was imbedded with the image along with a ton of other photo related information. If I do the same with the image that is taken with the app, that information is not available nor is anything to do with the camera or advanced photo. If you need to save that information, then I suggest taking the picture with and without the app.

Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

The tag to the right is the same from the picture above it.

Galaxy Tab 10.2

One question in the car that came up was what if we get stranded with no service and I chuckle to remember the times that I drove all over the Canadian Rockies without a cell phone and didn’t think at all of it; but we were much younger in those days.  I think it was the early 80s when I got my first portable bag phone. The other question that came up quickly while we were in and out taking pictures was the need to recharge the batteries and you definitely need the auto charger or multiple chargers depending on how many people are taking pictures.  I remember another long ago trip with my friends from NY out on a road trip; we had four guys, approximately six different cameras, cell phones and the like and they all needed a lot of charging. We nearly drained the car’s battery using multiple battery chargers plugged into a power strip plugged into a 12 volt power charging unit. We left the engine running a lot as the lack of gas was easier to deal with than dead batteries.

But back to the Smartphone service, the good news about most of the devices is that if the cell phone carrier is not available, or you simply wish to avoid a ton of data charges, you can also go Wi-Fi with your connection.  You do need to be careful about who you are connecting to. Because so many of the hot spots you connect to are not secured, you really need to be careful of what you are connecting to. When flying back from that trip, I am amazed to see how many available connections are available in the airport and some of them are just there to hack into your computer. You really are better off using a secure Wi-Fi connection (which is any that requires a password to connect to the service’s ssid) and if you are going to use one of the free connections, be sure you are connecting to the right one. Let me be a little more specific about this. If you are staying at a Hampton Inn (one of my favorites), they have free Wi-Fi service but it is not secure, all you have to do is to connect your wireless, and then log in with your room number and name as a guest to get connected. With some others, all you do is to agree to some terms of service which absolves them of all blame no matter what happens to your computer, to get connected. Again, no security, and that means with the right software, someone could be sitting in the next room capturing what you send across the internet.

Several years ago, I decided to switch away from Sprint because the cell phone coverage in places important to me simply was not available. It was difficult to find out who has coverage in certain areas but today that is much easier, just do a Google search on “check cell phone service coverage area” and you will find thousands of hits but more important, the links to the various carriers maps to see where their coverage extends to. The other reason I switched away was that I was traveling a lot overseas and needed cell phone coverage there and most of the USA carriers at the time would not work overseas, especially in the far east.  My solution there was easy, take the SIM card out of my old Motorola Razr phone, and buy a new one as soon as I got to China. Didn’t cost much, instantly got phone service, and worked like a charm.  Soon as I got home, replaced the China Mobile card with my old one, and just picked up where I left off. I still keep that old Razr around just for that reason.

I have long used Skype to make video calls to people all over the world and one of the neat features is something called “Skype Out”. It allows you to make calls to land lines all over the world for just pennies a minute.  You create a “Skype Out” account, preload the account with some money (in my case maybe $20), and that was enough to last us a phone call a day to China. I had the family call me usually around 7:pm each night which at the time was 7:am the next morning in China and they gave me a wake up call nearly every day. A fun way to stay connected and it was incredibly inexpensive. With today’s Smartphones and tablets, and the availability of Wi-Fi nearly anywhere, Skype is a wonderful way to stay connected.  You can even make it easier on those not connected very well by getting your own Skype personal phone number for them to call while you are traveling.  You still need to be connected to the internet and have Skype turned on and are limited to scheduling those calls but still, a great way to keep connected with those back home.

If you are moving overseas or staying for an extended time, one of my computer buddies recommended looking into Magic Jack to give you a phone line while you are gone.  I expect if you troll the web, you will see even more options.

 

Robert Sanborn

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