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CommunicationsConnecting - internet cafes, laptops, Palm devices, cell phones - how to connect, use, which one, and Bike to Bike and passenger intercoms.
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Is anyone out there an expert on how to deal with things like laptops, the internet, SAT phones, mobile phones etc whilst on the road. ANY tips would be much appreciated as this is not my forte and since my friend and i are going to drive from Bangkok to the UK in a few months its pretty important!
You are asking a "spoon feed" type question which is difficult to answer as I don't know which info is essential to you.
1) Harddrives are prone to break from the vibrations generated by a motorcycle, as well as elements like dust and moisture. Avoid fixing this type of equipment to the bike directly and running it at the same time. If you need to run this type of equipment, i.e. an ipod, wear it on your body (it will absorb most of the wibrations - but still not fool proof). If you for instance plan to build a motorcycle computer, have the computer or harddrive suspended by bungee cords. When simply transporting a laptop, you should wrap it in some type of memory foam or other soft material which will absorb the vibrations. If you do bring a lap top, IBM's harddrives offer better protection from dropping it, etc. Some people will tell you that they have had their ipod fixed directly to their bike with no problems. I'd say that they have either been extremely lucky or not been riding long enough, it will eventually break.
2) Sat phones may not work inside cars, buildings or tree canopies. Keep it turned off and save the batteries for emergency use only.
3) Attatch a sigarette lighter outlet to your bike to power your gadgets. Make sure that it is protected by a voltage regulator so you don't risk frying your equipment. Also make sure that it is attached to a circuit which will shut off with the ignition (or you may otherwise risk draining your batteries). Use a fuse.
4) The most common batteries you will use on your trip is AA and AAA batteries. There are batterychargers available that can both hook up to your 12V sigarette outlet and 230v house outlet. There are some that can also charge DV cam batteries. Some even have aligator clips and other attachments for different types of equipment. Such a charger may save you lots of space and weight and costs of batteries. Make sure you only use rechargeable batteries.
5) Running lots of auxilary power from your bike, i.e. to power electric wests, seats, boot liners, handlebars, etc, may require that you upgrade your stator (rewire or purchase a high output stator).
6) Changing bulbs to LED bulbs (not headlight) may save you lots of power, and you will likely not have to change a single bulb your whole trip (these last a looooong time). A special relay might have to be fitted for the turn signals.
7) For your GPS, purchase a lockable bracket, this way you don't have to take it off just to walk to the cashier to pay for your fuel. A GPS will never outperform regular maps for planning, etc. Bring laminated ones... and they will never fail due to lack of batteries, and are also less prone to be stolen.
8) An great alternative to a pc is a hand held pocket pc (pda/palm). You can find ones that have WLAN, 3g, Bluetooth, GPS, quad band gsm, web camera, high resolution digital camera, full keyboard... all in one! As these use memory cards for storage rather than a hard drive, they are less prone to break. You can save lots of space and weight. You can use these for e-mail, writing a diary, watch movies, play games, surf the web, place calls, listen to mp3, or whatever your hearts desire. If you need to do touch up on your photos or store massive ammounts of info, this is not your best bet.
3) If you are a freak about security, bring a backup device to backup your entire hdd (mirroring), or at least your files. You can also use CDR(W) or DVDR(W, burn your files onto discs. Keep one copy with you and ship the other home by mail. You can also load up your files by FTP to a server somewhere, but internet connections some places may be reaaaaaaaaly slooooooow.
4) You get sat phones that combine as a GSM. I don't see that this provides much necessety for most travellers. I'd say you only really need it if you got so far away from sivilisation that your life would be in danger if you broke down, i.e. in the middle of the sahara (even then it might not help you out of your situation, though people will know where ypu died... if you had the gps coordinates ant satelites were properly alligned for you to place the call).
5) You can effortlessly fully integrate your bike to bike radio, your phone, your GPS, your mp3 player, etc by using a communication system like the one offered by outocom (google it). Attach the circuitry to your brake light feed and it will shut off when you turn off the eqipment.
6) Purchasing a GPS, purchase one which has a transflective screen that you can see in the daylight, has exhangebale memory cards (allows you to store maps on different cards and not have to be dependant on a pc), it should ofcourse be weather proof. Remember that most GPS don't actually have a built in compass. The compass function is usually dependant on you moving in a single direction for some time to work. Some have built in compasses, but these are very small and inaccurate (bring a separate compass if accuracy is important). Your GPS should in addition to be able to autoroute you, be able to work as a trekking GPS. Buy a hand held GPS with these functions. The Garmin 60scx or 76scx is a good option.
7)Cameras are essential on a trip! Just about any digital camera will serve you, but they are all really slow (you push the button and nothing happens for a secon or three). These cameras are not that good for capturing movement or immediate moments, they are not that good at capturing anything far away either. A digital mirror reflex camera with exchangeable tele objective lenses are the best. Only a few have a digital screen which also function as a viewfinder. These cameras are large and bulky and you might want to sacrifice them if you don't know how to utilise them. Most regular digital cameras can also capture short video flics, though not of great quality, good enough for web publication (requires massive storage on memory cards, but a great alternative to bringing another bulky gadget, the DV cam corder):
8) Bring a dvd camera and lots of film, and keep the film rolling as you can allways editit/cut the thing you captured that you don't want at a later point, but you can never reconstruct a "Kodac Moment". Purchase an oversized battery. A helmet cam rather than simply attaching the cam to the bike will allow you to film in the direction you turn your head. It will also be less conspicuous and allow you to capture moments you otherwise would not do (like border crossings... hmmm, still don't reccomend it). Do remember though that these cameras are extremely suceptible to wind noice, even the smallest of butterfly winds. Purchase a separate mike and wrap it in low density foam or looong furry material. Cupping your hand over the original mike while filming also work wonders. If using it on the bike, concider using the mike inside your helmet (will allow you to narrate while filming, but will block out engine sound, etc. It might be better to add narration at a later point using a computer software like windows mobie maker. You might want to hide your mike out of the wind, but at a location where it will still capture the engine sound... Remember that regular DV cams do not offer TV quality if your interest is in making some sort of production to be broadcasted. There are semi pro DV format cameras out there now that can do this, but three times the size and price of regular DV cams. There are also helmet cams with sufficient ammount of lines for tv broadcasts, even helmet cams that work under water.
9) As for electrical equipment going on your bike, you should try to get equipment that can run on rechargeable internal batteries as well as on bike power. If one fails, you've got the other.
10) If you have multiple equipment running or recharging by a 230V battery eliminator, you might want to invest in a universal one to save weight and space. In turn you have to sacrifice the ability to run/charge more than one gadget at a time.
11) As for storing photos or gps maps, I'd rather bring lots of memory cards and writeable/rewriteable cds/dvds. This way you save lots of weight and space, and are less prone to loosing your files from a broken computer or having it stolen (memory cards are easy to hide). Whenever you come to an internet cafe, make a backup onto your discs. Make two copies, one which you bring with you, the other which you mail home (using a courier if you are paranoid or in the third world). As for taking notes, a notebokk is great! No power needed, bring it to the beach, etc... and no one would want to steal it, and it will never experience a crash or blue screen (well, some might). Memory cards do cost a bunch of dinero though, but so does a computer... I'd only bring a computer if I had to work while travelling, edit home pages or video, etc. Hopefully these things can wait until you get home.
12) Another great underestimated are LED only flashlights with a head band. It runs forever on a small battery, weighs less than 60 grams and bulbs never need replacement. It also offer superior white light for working on your bike, cooking, reading maps, or whatever else. Your hands will also be free to do other things besides holding the light. These lights are however pretty useless for signalling others (use your bikes head light) or for illuminating things at a distance more than a few feet (for this you need a regular flashlight). If money was no object and I had to choose between a regular flashlight or a LED only one, I'd go for the LED only. There are ofcourse ones that do both, but these usually have a heavy and bulky battery pack,and odd size batteries that you will use for nothing else.
13) A short wave radio may prove useful to get the BBC or other broadcast where you can understand the language, or for music.
14) Ipods or other harddrive mp3 players offer themselves as a great backup device for your computer files. Purchase one with a large hard drive. It may very well be the only backup device you might need. Remember though, they are adored by theves and as they have a harddrive, are not a fully reliant backup device. Treat it like the egg of a species on the brink of extinction and you will likely be ok.
I could go on forever, but it is important to remember that technology is often a hassle. Bring only what you really need. Gadgets consume space and weight. They also lend themselves to frequent failure and consequent frustration and worries. Concerns for theft and their monetary value is another issue. Conciderable time and effort learning to operate them and utelize them may also take away your attention from more enjoying activities, like the scenery.
My priorities in terms of technology, in order of priority:
1) Regular road maps, compass and cheap watch
3) A cellular phone (any with SMS)
4) Digital Camera Equipment
5) Flashlight (any small and light, preferably one that I can carry on my head and one with LEDs.
6) GPS (but not in place of regular maps and compass).
7) Spare memory cards
8) Backup CDRs
21 Entertainment (mp3)
42 Bike communication
3741 Sat Phone
Ask yourself why the hell you want/need a sat phone. What problems can it actually solve for you? A phone is usually not too far away, and if it is, don't think for a second that a sat phone will likely get you out of trouble... unless you got lots of money or superior insurance, then maybe... Though it might be nice to have on x-mas eve in the desert to call home...
Nice to have? Need to have? NO!
If you post more specific questions I might be able to guide you further...
I ride quite a bit each year (about 20K miles), and can't escape having to tote an IBM T42p laptop around with me - due to work demands, I have to be able to both stay in touch, and complete projects on short notice.
I've never had any problems with the computer in 5 years / 100K miles of doing this. I have a custom-made bag that I constructed with about $5 of bubble wrap, I just stuff the laptop in the bubble wrap bag, and put the bag in the pannier. One year a part (modem card) wiggled loose - I just went to the IBM service depot in the country I was in and they fixed it free. I make a point of only buying IBM machines (now Lenovo) because they have a worldwide service network - plus, they are tough laptops.
I test GPS devices for Garmin, and always have a GPS with me. The GPSRs that are intended for automotive use are tough enough - just be sure to get one that is rated 'waterproof'.
All I bring for communications is a small cell phone. I can find wireless internet anywhere - if all else fails, I just head for the most expensive hotel in a town, and buy a coffee in their lobby, and use their wireless service.
I wouldn't bother with sat phones - that too 'over the top', I think. GSM works just about everywhere.
Wow. That is an amazing post Wheelie. I think I would agree on pretty much everything except for digital cameras being slow. We've had a few digital Canons and there seems to be almost no delay at all. Those would be the A40, SD200 and an S2 IS. I've looked at a couple of older Olympuses and they were both very slow, waiting 2 or 3 seconds before the "shutter" worked. Maybe they're better now though.
Another vote for the PDA concept. I've got an old Palm IIIxe (simple LCD screen, uses AAA batteries that last a month) and a portable keyboard that folds up into about the same size as the Palm. A neat advantage with the Palm is getting e-books. I can download a book in English at any internet cafe in the world. Though it is fun trying to hunt down an English language bookstore in a foreign place! Besides keeping a journal I also use the Palm for tracking fuel/repair/maintenance on the bikes.
Thanks Ekke and Pan European for your posts, again really helpful Seems that IBM and Garmin are the ones. We are travelling in a tuk tuk (see www.tuktotheroad.com) so should have less problems with vibrations than on a bike.
Thanks again and interesting to see you guys are from Canada - I lived there for 6 months doing a travel guidebook and loved it, particularly Vancouver Island. What a place.
I use a laptop with garmin GPS as the receiver. This is in a 4x4, so driving like yourselves, rather than riding.
If you use a laptop remember to take all of the program CD's as well as a rescue CD, there's nothing worse than a corrupt file when you've got all the gear.
A hand-held GPS can be used away from the vehicle which can be useful. What will you use as the power source. Easiest in a car is an inverter for the laptop and cig. lighter for the GPS. If you can get an inverter in the Tuk then it is useful for charging rechargeable AA batteries when not powering the laptop.
If you use a laptop then you don't really need a fancy GPS.
I know a lot of this has already been said above, just thought I'd add a little.
Hey, GOOD LUCK with the trip.
First of all, your trip sounds fantastic, good luck with it all.
To reply to your question, my advice is to keep it simple. We are about to leave on a big RTW trip and spent a while thinking about what to take etc. We decided to keep it simple, a couple of mobiles, one with UK SIM, one with local SIM, an iPod, digital cameras.
The more you carry, the more you have to worry about and losing expensive equipment is a nightmare. If you've less to look after you can relax more.
If you need to post diary entries and pictures, write them longhand and write them up in internet cafes, that's what we plan to do... most towns, even in developing countries, have shops where you can download pictures, bung them on a disc and then upload them to your website also in an internet caff.
The other issue is, if you're not an expert with this stuff (like me) and it goes wrong, it's another headache.
Enjoy the ride!
[This message has been edited by Em & Hame (edited 06 March 2006).]
I advocate going the PDA/phone route. I use an Orange SPVM2000 phone PDA combo running tomtom 5. All plugged into my Autocom system. The thing has a camera, a MP3 player, WiFi, Bluetooth, everything. I can go to a free WiFi zone and use SKYPE for free phone calls home! brilliant. Can send photos home, rec' EMails all in one unit! Got the thing free with a phone contract. Mounted in a Touratech PDA zipper bag on a vibe proof Touratech mount! Seems the best option to me!
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