Armstrong Adventures travel blog

"You mean you're stuck with Avril 24/7 too?"

Fellow Gadget Heads,

Glad to hear that more than a few of you get a kick out of my techno mumbo jumbo updates. So here's another one with a sad, sad outcome. Those not interested in my tech discoveries and woes, feel free to bypass this entry. No monkeys here, just bits n bytes.


While traveling, we've been buying Time and Newsweek religiously at every airport or major city. It helps us believe we are still in touch. And I certainly know more about Iraq and Kerry than I did before I left for this journey. Along the way, I've read more than one glowing article about Apple's iPod. It's the same story over and over again with nothing but praise.

Well, I now have a gripe about my iPod.

After having worried that the music would end due to an elephant slobbering on it, a streetkid swiping it, or God almighty dumping buckets of rain into it, it turns out that the music stopped playing due to my own user error. User error!!! I thought I was too click savvy to fall prey to user error. My arrogance has ended. I am humbled and the soundtrack of my misery is Avril Lavigne or The Corrs. Two records. That's sooo cassette!

Here's how it went down. In the small town of Sandakan in northern Borneo, our hotel, run by a meticulous Chinese man who would put rubberbands around any cord I left out in our room, offered laptop rental. This hotel was basic with unpainted drywall walls and the usual shower without a curtain or tub of any kind. The water just goes everywhere in the bathroom including all over the toilet seat. But the owner was a movie collector and had several hundred VCDs (like DVDs only on CDs) of popular movies which guests could watch for free on the VCD player in each room! We hadn't seen that before. The man had also networked every room with a broadband LAN outlet and rented out a new laptop with a CD burner which you could use in your room. I was in fantasy land.

It was my first opportunity of the entire trip to plug my iPod into a computer, add new music to it, and create new playlists based on my song ratings I'd been adding for several months as I listened to songs. I ran out and bought a couple of new CDs at the local music store, Avril Lavigne and The Coors' newest efforts. (Yes, I like chick pop.) While Dana watched "Love Actually" on VCD, I downloaded and installed the iPod setup program and iTunes. I carefully ran setup.exe first, then installed iTunes figuring I would need to install the iPod software as well as iTunes, the music management software. As it turns out, you only have to run the iPod setup program the very, very first time you pull your iPod out of the box. After that, that software becomes the devil.

It quietly, without any warning erased everything on my iPod and reset all the settings to the new factory settings. Imagine my dismay to find out I'd erased everything. My world went silent. The pictures I'd backed up on it were gone. Luckily, all the photos on it I'd also burned to CD and shipped home and they were received in Seattle prior to this happening. But the hours upon hours of digitizing my home music collection is not backed up anywhere here or at home and there will be no more country twang during my travels. All I have to sing me through my misery is Avril and The Corrs.

When you see me next, I will hate Avril and The Corrs and swear I never want to hear another melodic hiccup out of their mouths.

Having just read an article in BusinessWeek on how passionate iPod users are to the point that they reach out to try and improve the product, I sent Apple an email outlining how they made me feel stupid. Stupid in my silence.

I assume much of the reason it's not well documented or crystal clear how to hook up your iPod to multiple computers is because this allows super easy sharing of mammoth personal music collections. Apple probably didn't anticipate the "I'm traveling around the world without a computer for 9 months but want to add new music along the way" user scenario. They probably did anticipate the "I'm in college and walk down the dorm hall to each my friends' computers and copy all their music to my iPod, which I then loan to my brother to copy all of it too." I get that I'm a fringe case. But a sad one.

Tech Tips I've Discovered Along the Road

1. 75% of TVs around the world now have an audio and video IN jack either on the front or rear of the TV. If you're traveling with the right cable, you can plug in your digital video camera to review and edit all your pics on the big screen in the comfort of your hotel room. You can also plug your music player into the TV audio input to listen to your tunes while you relax. No need to carry your own external speakers. If you were traveling with a portable DVD player, you could plug that in too while you lay down to rest your back from schlepping too much techno junk around.

2. It's hard to beat the instant gratification of a digital camera. Reviewing your adventures each day is fun and showing photos of locals to them immediately after taking them is really fun. They love to see themselves, especially the kids, and they'll often ham it up more once they see how the pics are coming out.

3. You can use an iPod or your camera's Compact Flash memory as a portable storage hard drive.

iPod: Even on Windows ME, you just plug your iPod into the USB port of the computer and it shows up just like a hard drive. (You can't see your music this way. To see your music, you must install iTunes which only works on Win2000 or XP). This means I can create folders on the iPod and drag and drop stuff from the computer to it for storage. I've copied digital photos over this way for storage and could also copy over Word files, or whatever I wanted to save.

Compact Flash: Our camera uses Compact Flash memory. We have several 512 MB cards. To get the photos to a computer, we have a USB camera card reader from SanDisk (~$30). The camera creates a folder called "DCIM" on the card. From the computer, you can create any other folders you want on the card and save things there just like it's a floppy disk. The card will continue to work in the camera. For example, as we pick our favorite photos, we sometimes create a folder called "Best Shots" on the camera card and save duplicate copies of photos in it just to keep them separate. The long and short of it is, our camera card is 512 MB, my old Zip drive only held 100 MB. So why not use your camera card for some of the same temporary storage or portable storage needs you used to use a Zip drive for? And why buy one of the USB "thumb drives" when you might already own memory for your camera? Just a thought. For what it's worth, I bought our Compact Flash really cheap from Course, Compact Flash is far more expensive than blank CD-Rs for more permanent storage uses.

4. xdrive

XDrive is a service you subscribe to that gives you a "hard drive in the sky". You have a hard drive on a web-based server and can access this storage from any web browser anywhere in the world. Before we left, we put all kinds of important files, scans of documents, software, etc. on our x-drive so that we'd be able to get to it in case of emergency. Turns out we haven't really used it much but it's comforting to know it's there.

Now that my premium Yahoo Mail account allows me to store 2 GB of stuff, x-drive isn't as necessary as it once was but emailing yourself giant files, software, scans, etc. would be more tedious and take longer than uploading them to x-drive. And x-drive looks just like you're browsing your local hard drive with folders, subfolders, etc.

5. ACD See

This is an image editing/resizing/cropping software program that has appeared on several computers during our travels. It's apparently more bootlegged than Adobe Photoshop which I didn't think was possible. It's popular because it's so quick as compared to Windows XP's own image previewing feature. I'm going to look into it when I get home. And they're based in Victoria, BC so that makes em cool.

6. Handy things encountered along the way:

a) The public library computer in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah actually had Adobe Image Ready (Photo Ready?) installed which was very, very handy in resizing our photos for the web. They upload wayyyy faster if we downsize them a tad before sending them up to tripjournal.

b) Self-serve CD burners: the internet cafe I'm sitting at now in Chiang Rai, Thailand has a CD-burner on the computer. This is super handy for backing up photos. Love it.

c) Photo stores are often more tech savvy regarding CD burning and memory cards than internet cafes. If you get a glassy-eyed look from the teenager at the internet cafe, walk across the street to the digital photo store.

I'm all geeked out for now. Gotta return to the real world.

Keep double clicking.


This entry created in Chiang Rai, Thailand at three different internet cafes. 30 baht/hour which is $.75/hour. No a/c. Mostly Windows 98 here which means you have to install drivers for a USB device.

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