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Technical info for Luddites
We bought the smallest, lightest laptop we could find – the Sony Vaio. In deciding which model to go for, we also went for the cheapest, opting for life without the Pentium chip. So far, we’ve had no reason to regret that decision. As long time Mac devotees it was a wrench for us to move over to the world of the PC, but after anxiously awaiting the debut of the Ibook only to discover it was the size of a Sherman tank, we were happy to go with the Sony. We still can’t get over the fact that something this versatile is the size of an after-dinner mint. Windows 98 isn’t too bad an approximation of Mac OS either, but we’re still a bit unnerved by certain unpredictable non-Mac behavior patterns – since when did the space bar become the delete key?
After congratulating ourselves for making such a good purchase for the relatively cheap price of $1,400 (including the $100 rebate I had to drag out of an unenthusiastic PCMall), we realized that it was fairly useless without the corresponding CD drive, retailing for $300 a pop. We could have bought a much cheaper player, but were informed by a close friend that the official Vaio model was the only one which could effectively reboot the system software in a time of crisis. Mention system crash and we forget all budgets.
The sleek, glossy and expensive Sony CD drive proved immediately worthwhile by enabling us to install FrontPage. Like many people, we are not big fans of future galactic president Bill Gates, but have to admit that FrontPage is unbelievably easy to use, and it’s computability with Microsoft Office makes it even more attractive. As for our future web hosts, our friends at buz.net offered us 5 MB free, but being utter novices we had no idea how much space that really implied, and since other sites were offering five times that amount for free, (with the admitted proviso of ugly ads thrown in) we moved on. Theglobe provided 25 MB, but either we hadn’t properly figured out how to upload or they weren’t totally FrontPage compatible, so a quick look at FrontPage for Dummies at the library (Barnes & Noble) alerted us to Tripod. They offer 50 MB of free space, their ads aren’t framed at the top of the page, and uploading to them is a doddle. Thirty six hours after installing FrontPage, we had a site up. We had no idea it would be so easy.
Careful study of many RTW sites online led us to conclude that IPass appeared to offer the best global internet access deal by far, both in terms price and number of available lines. We thank everyone whose virtual brains we picked on this and every other subject, particularly Kris of wired2theworld who advised us on IPass and other important issues (see below), which we are passing on here.
The only problem with IPass was that we had to find an affiliate in our own area, which you’d think would be simple considering we live in New York. However, the local affiliates listed on the IPass site had either dead links of didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls. This does not instill confidence in what will effectively be your lifeline for a year, so we decided to pass on the local providers, and were about to pick a regional provider at random. Who cares where they’re based if you’re only going to use them as a gateway to IPass anyway?
Taking a last look at the IPass affiliate page, I suddenly noticed a small category at the top of the page labeled ‘National Providers’. Hmmmm. Too bad I didn’t see that one sooner. Buz.net had the most confidence-inspiring site and seemed to have a pleasant and knowledgeable staff, so we went with them. What a relief it was to finally put that issue to bed.
One of many nightmare scenarios running around our brains is the possibility of laptop theft. If our computer gets pinched, we loose everything - our journals, itineraries, hotel info, e-mail addresses, a hundred and one vitally important things. Worst of all, we’d loose our lifelist. Obviously, some form of backup is necessary. We opted for Xdrive – it’s free, the software is easy enough to download and install, and even one of limited intelligence such as myself can figure out how to use it. You can even open and read the backed-up files without downloading them. However, it did crap out a few times when I was trying to load too many files at once, which was quite frustrating – it takes a while to upload, so a crash equals time wasted. If Xdrive continues to be temperamental, tripod also offers a free backup service (Driveway), which we might investigate.
One of the coolest items we’ve purchased is a Grundig short-wave radio with the unfortunate name of Executive Traveller. It’s the size of a pack of cigarettes and weighs about a pound, but gets pretty good reception even in New York, so will hopefully offer pristine sound when we’re in the middle of nowhere. Heinrich Harrer, (author of Seven Years in Tibet), writes that in the Himalayas you get the best short-wave radio reception in the world, so we’ll be able to test that theory out for ourselves. More importantly, we’ll be able to listen to the BBC World Service wherever we are. I’m probably biased, but the World Service is a wonderful institution and offers great, informative programming. More important than its function as a balm to those suffering from ex-pat syndrome is the unparalleled news service which covers events in every corner of the world. If anything happens that might prompt us to change our plans at short notice, we’ll hear it from the BBC first.
We have also just purchased our first digital camera, the Fuji FinePix 1400Z. It's all very Blade Runner to one so old as myself, and testing it out is engendering the usual mixture of amazement and befuddlement. We'll see how it goes.
Roadwarrior offers an international connectivity kit that apparently enables you to connect from anywhere in the world. It contains every type of power and modem adapter you could conceivably need, as well as sundry other goodies. Well, I looked at their site and decided I could get a better deal if I purchased only what we needed a la carte. I would now advise against that route – I think I’ve ended up spending the same amount anyway, and also managed to waste a great deal of time. I figured out that I would only need a couple of modem adapters, so that was easy, but none of the information provided by roadwarrior seemed to match when it came to power adapters. It looked like we were going to need so many of them that it was simpler and cheaper to get the total global pack and then leave what we didn’t need behind. When the kit arrived I carefully studied the adapters, the website, their catalog, and the packing list, a frown beetling my furrowed brow as I realized that none of the lists and images quite matched. After much intensive research I discovered that, while we were set for Switzerland and Italy, half of Southeast Asia appeared to be out of our reach. Many long discussions with a kind supervisor at roadwarrior led us to the conclusion that one crucial adapter had indeed been left out of my kit, and it was dispatched immediately.
I should point out that everyone at roadwarrior was very nice, but they have recently been acquired by another company, and inventory numbers have not been rigorously transferred. Consequently, no one is quite sure what individual adapter relates to which country. I should also point out that I would go with them again in an instant – they fill a very important, though somewhat obscure, niche, and they seem to have the market cornered.
In fact I did go right back to them when Kris (see above) thoughtfully informed me that I was missing a modem line protector, a vitally important piece of equipment that I had no idea we needed. If we don’t have this, we stand a very good chance of frying our modem for good, so it’s on its way to me right now. I lie awake at night worrying what other crucial bits and pieces I might have overlooked.
That’s all the technical stuff for now. At the moment it’s all academic anyway, since we have naturally been unable to put anything to the test. I only hope our ignorance and technical ineptitude don’t result in us doing any permanent damage to our gear. That’s one reason why we love our Zeiss and Leica binoculars – you can throw rocks at them, drown them, do anything except get DEET on them - and they still come up roses.