Observations of a travelling geek

Angus Kidman would be proud; I’ve been travelling Singapore, France and the UK for the last few weeks and been giving my 15″ Apple PowerBook, Nikon D70 digital SLR camera and Sony Ericsson S700i mobile phone a workout.

I’ve made some interesting discoveries:

– WiFi hotspots are not all that convenient, especially as they’re not always easy to find just by wandering in countries like France. They’re often painfully expensive too – I paid 16 euros for 2hrs access (the minimum) at a hotel I was at.

jiwire200 – The JiWire WiFi finder widget for OS X 10.4 (Tiger) is exceptionally useful. I attracted many strange looks as I walked down Boulevarde Saint Germaine in Paris with my PowerBook open looking for shops that offered *cough* free WiFi access. (Some genuinely free; some free if you bought a coffee; others just *cough* free). It also provides some very useful info that OS X doesn’t offer like the signal strength for all access points within range to help you pick the best one or move closer to the AP.

– Accessing the internet on your laptop via GPRS (through your mobile phone) IS actually extremely useful and works almost everywhere except for small country towns in France. However, it is unfortunately extortionately expensive at 2c/KB on Optus. I used it for an hour to do some web browsing and accrued about 4MB of usage … that was an $81 session. I hesitate to call it a mistake because I knew the costs before I went online, but I wish I’d installed some ad and flash-blocking software before doing it to cut down on that precious bandwidth usage.

– Accessing email via your mobile phone using the phone’s inbuilt mail client and GPRS is an extremely cost effective way of staying in touch. I set my phone to only receive email headers (sender, subject, other basic info) and only retrieve whole emails if I opted to open the email. In my tests, an average send/receive took well less than 10KB. When roaming on Optus the minimum usage charge is 10KB, so you pay 20c per send/receive. If you consider a roaming SMS charge is about 50c in most countries, that’s comparitively good value.

– A camera phone is actually useful if you’ve set up email and GPRS on the phone. I’d always regarded them as a bit of a gimmick, however, it was a nice example of truly helpful technology to be able to take a picture from the top of the Eiffel Tower and be able to email it to friends and family right then and there. (Furthermore, sending an email to multiple people doesn’t accrue multiple data usage charges, making it far more cost effective than SMS or MMS.)

What I’d do next time

– I’d consider getting a Bluetooth camera. The D70 takes wonderful photos, but frankly connecting a card reader or using a PCMCIA card reader (I took both) is an inconvenience if you want to regularly download photos. And of course while the camera has a USB port, that’s another cable to forget.

Apple needs to make syncing photos with Bluetooth cameras easier though – at the moment, downloading files using the “Bluetooth File Exchange” tool is a very un-Mac-like process, more akin to uploading and downloading files by FTP. (It’d be fantastic if my Bluetooth camera phone’s photos to be synchronised automatically using iSync, or even better using iPhoto’s own import function.)

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