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A few notes from the road...

I've been in London since the end of last week, and we're flying home tomorrow. I've been meaning to write up a few tech-related notes about the trip, been thinking about it, and, well... here we are. Leaving tomorrow. Better get moving on that one. :)

Tech triage from the trip
Travelling with kids, I know to bring along a bunch of things to keep them occupied. This was even more important for this particular trip, since we were traveling to London during the day (thanks, American Airlines) instead of the typical overnight trip. In other words, the kids would be awake the whole time and expect to be entertained.

To this end, I always bring at least a second laptop that they can use for watching movies. I spent a crazy amount of time before the trip re-ripping their DVDs into decent quality H.264, and loaded up the Macbook with them. I brought the HP Tablet PC for myself, and I have to say, I'm really hating this machine. More on this later, but I'll be getting rid of this piece of crud as soon as I can.

I usually bring at least a couple of iPods. They're small, they get great battery life, and while it's true that you can't beat the screen size on a typical notebook, iPods, especially the iPod touch, work great in a pinch and work just fine in cramped coach seats. In fact, thinking through the (ahem) value proposition, it occurred to me that a $400 iPod touch is, in many ways, a much better investment than a second laptop battery, assuming you can get a couple of years of use out of it. I ended up loading up an iPod touch with some kids movies, and my kids were all over it. I suspect that part of it was the fun-new-gadget thing, but they clearly preferred it over the Macbook. That said, both got a nice workout. Annoyingly, I caught them watching the same movie on two different devices at one point. We always bring an audio splitter. Kids.

I read a bunch on the Kindle (yet another Robert Ludlum book) and listened to some audio books on an iPod classic. The sheer number of charger types I've juggled, along with the various UK power adapters required here, has been somewhat humorous. But it's worked out. We should be set for the flight home.

Where's the iPhone?
I've been to Europe twice since the beginning of the year, once to Paris and once here in London, and aside from my own iPhone, I haven't seen a single iPhone here. Well, that's not strictly true: My friends in Paris both had iPhones, but they're Apple fans and it's not clear they represent the general population. (They're moving to Toulouse, so we jokingly refer to them as the "two losers," i.e. "the Toulousers," get it? Nevermind.) It's sort of astonishing how many people have their face in phones over here, but none of them are made by Apple. I'm sure it will come.

Speaking of the iPhone, I'm glad that Apple has implemented the international data access warnings and blockers I suggested last summer when I spent a month overseas, but the feature is hard to find (it's buried in settings) and hard to figure out. (Does turning this feature "on" enable or disable data access over EDGE?) This should be easier. But it's better than nothing.

I love London. Actually my kids do too, which I was interested to see. It's a huge city with lots of amazing sites (most historical in nature). Like Paris, the people here love to read: There are all kinds of books and newspapers open on the train, which is nice to see, though some of the papers here are notably horrible. Indeed, some of the ugliest parts of American culture are surprisingly prevalent here: The horrific reality shows, the babbling morning hosts, all that stuff. I enjoy the language differences. I was happy that two people asked me for directions at different points and I was able to help both. It's a great city.

In the London Underground, there's a huge amount of advertising, as with Paris, and much of it is video-oriented (unlike Paris). And yep, these animated screens run Windows, as evidenced by the two error screens I saw. (Older versions of Windows, of course.) Here they are.

HP Tablet PC
I like the size and weight of this Tablet PC I purchased recently (and temporarily) for the "Windows Vista Secrets" revision. But man, what a piece of junk. The battery life is horrible. (Maybe 2.5 hours max.) It uses a clearly inferior AMD processor that is surprisingly slow (not as bad as those awful Transmeta chips, but pretty close), even when plugged in. It's so slow, in fact, that it can't play a full-screen video without stuttering while on battery power. That's atrocious in this day and age. Also, it's loud: The fan runs pretty constantly. It's the ultimate combination of speed, power, and ambient noise. Just not the good kind.

And while I'm not sure this is an entirely fair point to make, comparing the two laptops I brought on this trip is interesting. The Macbook is sleek, quiet, and gets decent battery life. (3-4 hours.) It's attractive, has no extraneous ports, and uses an elegant Magsafe power adapter. The HP, meanwhile, is full of ports and holes, bright blue lights, and weird do-dads like a pop-out remote control and Tablet PC pen. It's loud and tired, and gets bad battery life. The DVD drive is a flimsy pop-out draw, not the integrated internal slot-loading drive used by the Macbook.

To be fair, the HP has a number of useful features the Macbook lacks, not including the Tablet PC stuff. It has a multi-function memory card reader. It can boot into a dedicated media player without loading Windows. You can disable the trackpad if you want. Two dedicated headphone ports. It has an ExpressCard slot and more USB ports.

And yet. I get the attraction of Apple's products. They're just nicer. They do sacrifice functionality for looks. And my guess is that a lot of people are going to be OK with that. I see no reason why Apple can't keep gaining market share. And the Macbook is a fine Windows Vista machine. The best of both worlds?

Working from the road
Problems aside, I don't mind working off the HP, especially when it's plugged in. The long weekend (Presidents Day) enabled me to spend more time than usual not working this week, which was nice, but when I did work I split time between the room (no viable seating) and the so-called café/restaurant downstairs. The food is atrocious but there's beer and I got to write during a soccer match yesterday that was loudly enjoyed by the locals. As in the US, you can get wireless access for a price that gets more reasonable the more you purchase. One hour is exorbitant, a full day is decent, but a week is like the cost of two days. I've been playing with remote access to my Windows Home Server. It works fine, but it's slow. I recall traveling in the past with a silly number of backup DVDs. I don't do that anymore.

The only thing I really have to backup at this point is my local version of the SuperSite, and even that will be a thing of the past soon, as Penton is moving the site to Community Server. (Presumably it will be faster than this blog.) That will be updated all remotely. Nervous? Yeah, but if it works, life will get even easier.

Anyway... I upload photos to PicasaWeb for backup purposes. I can download Kindle subscriptions (newspapers like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal) daily to the laptop, and then copy them over USB to the device. This is a nice feature because you can't access the Kindle's free EV-DO network from Europe. But that doesn't mean you can't get access to your content. Sweet.

OK, I know I'm forgetting something, but that's most of the tech-oriented stuff I've been ruminating over this week. I think. :)

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