June 20, 2009

A Month Back in the States

Today is the longest day of the year. There will be 15 hours and 36 minutes of sunlight today. Add the time of civil twilight and there will be 18 hours of light. I love the light; I love the summer. Up until a week ago, it had been very dry and cool. But last week the heat came. With the heat comes violent weather: thunderstorms and tornadoes. We have had our share of both. A tornado destroyed many buildings in Austin, MN. I do love the heat. I love the summer.

I have been back in the states for a month. I have tried to stay busy with gardening and other little projects. Yes the tomatoes and pepper plants are in the ground. The corn seed and bean seeds have sprouted. The annual flowers have sprouted. The perennials have been blooming since before we got home. Right now the poppies, daisies and Siberian Irises are all in bloom. The plum, cherry and pear trees have set fruit. We will get grapes and currants this year. Best of all, there was not much work to it this year.

Press HERE to see
Our Day at the Zoo.

Betty and Lucy
Betty and Lucy
Johanna and Bill
Johanna and Bill
Birgitta and Johanna
Birgitta and Johanna
Birgitta and Johanna
Birgitta and Johanna

I sanded down and refinished our dinning room table top. It looks stunning. I have a list of other projects to do this summer. The main project is to build ten cabinet doors. I love woodworking projects.

We have had Johanna over to visit several times. Just the earlier this week she stayed two whole days. I was not sure how well that would turn out. She is at a very clingy stage, hanging on to her mom for dear life. And up until this week, she wanted nothing to do with me. She hung on Betty's apron strings, just like she was hanging on to Birgitta. But she changed a bit this last visit. She really seemed to enjoy my company. Besides having Jo over, we have watched Lucy for an hour or two while Birgitta went shopping. We just have to pray that she does not get hungry, because she won't drink milk from a bottle yet. The other day we all went to the zoo. Marleta is in town, so she and Moriah were there, too. Birgitta's friend Suzie and her two kids came along, also. The best part was when the kids fed the giraffes.

We have seen several movies. The best was UP, a Pixar/Disney animated production. We brought Ebin, my eleven-year-old nephew. Ebin enjoyed it as much as we did.

I have been reading a few books. Two were pretty good. The reviews are on the left. I have been keeping track of my reads on a web site called GoodReads. I rate the books that I have read and write a very brief review. GoodReads is not only good for tracking what you read, but it is also good for tracking what your friends read. I recommend that real readers sign up on GoodReads.

Javier told me that I was a real high-tech traveler. I am not so sure about that, but I do try to use as much tech stuff as I can to stay in touch with my friends and family. I also use it to keep up on what is happening at home and around the world. He suggested that I write a bit about it and I have decide to do just that.

Key to saying connected is to have a good laptop with a good wifi receiver. Every year there are more and more wifi hot spots. And where there is no wifi, there is often a cable connection. In extremely remote locations, one can usually find an internet store front. With a thumb drive one can transfer info from the laptop to the store's computers. The smallest laptops are called net-books. They are so small that they can go into a purse or backpack. Recommendation #1: Get a small laptop for travel.

Black Wind (Dirk Pitt, #18) Black Wind
by Clive Cussler

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really like this series. I have read most of them. This is a good read: fanciful and fantastic all at once. If you like a good adventure read, try this one.

View all my reviews.
Blonde Faith Blonde Faith
by Walter Mosley

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good yarn, but not his best. My guess is that this book ends the Easy Rawlins series. I highly recommend this book and most of the other in the Rawlins series.

View all my reviews.
The Chameleon's Shadow The Chameleon's Shadow
by Minette Walters

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a very interesting story. The twists and coincidences are many and begin to tug at your ability to believe. In the end all is made clear and the killer is revealed.

View all my reviews.
Cruel Intent Cruel Intent
by J.A. Jance

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
A white-bread who-done-it. Jance has written may good books. This is at best so-so.

View all my reviews.

Everything that you use a computer for at home, you can use it for when you travel. Need a map to find an address in a city that you do not know; use Google maps to find it. Need to find a place to stay, Google it. One of the best ways to find inexpensive accommodations is through hotelz.com. It is one of hundreds of sites that can find you a bed. If you are young or carefree, then try couchsurfing. It is a social network of folk who travel and provide one another a place to sleep. Often it is in a real bed, in your own room. The fellow travelers can hook you up with local fun stuff to see and do.

For one-on-one conversation, there is nothing like the telephone. If you have a cell phone that uses a GSM chip, then you can use it all over the world. The danger of cell phone usage is the cost. Check with your carrier before using it in another country. We do not use a cell phone outside the USA. The internet provides a great system to make phone calls. The system is based on a protocol called VOIP. Our everyday land-line is based on VOIP. Call me and you will be using a VOIP provider. The oldest and most stable of home service is Vonage. Vonage is not the cheapest VOIP service, but it is far cheaper than Ma Bell. The nice thing about Vonage is that all calls to USA, Canada and half of western Europe cost no more than calling next door. If you are going to be in one place for a long time, you can take your phone router with you. When we lived in Argentina in 2005, we had a Vonage router. If you are not going to be gone a long time, then you use your laptop or iPhone to connect to the internet and an online VOIP service. The two most common services are Gizmo and Skype. Both services are free for computer-to-computer communications. Just download their software and set up an account. The clearest communications require a headset and a good mic. Many laptops have good quality mics built in. Both services have free video conferencing calls. So, if your laptop has a built in camera, then you can see your friend too. You can use both services to call cell phones and landlines anywhere in the world. Most calls to the USA and landline calls to the rest of the world are very cheap. How cheap? It cost just a couple of cents per minute to call the USA. You can easily buy service credit to call real phones with a credit card. In order to use them computer-to-computer both computers need to be running the program. Most folks in the world use Skype, it is better for computer-to-computer calls. In the past we have used Gizmo and still have credit to use it more. However, we plan to switch using only Skype. I recommend you sign up for Skype. Once you are using the program, search my email and we can talk or text each other.

Staying in touch is more than letters and post cards. With the computer email becomes passť. Just create group with your email package and you can reach all your friends and family with the click of the mouse. Even without wifi writing a message or a blog entry is a breeze. The nice thing about the blog is that you can easily refer to old stories. Some blog systems have built-in notification lists. Once written you save it and any photos to a thumb drive and walk to the local internet storefront. Then you copy it from the thumb drive. If you like to write I highly recommend that you start a blog. The best place to set one up for free is at BlogSpot.

Another great way to stay in contact with friends and family is through a social network, such as FaceBook, MySpace and Twitter. I use FaceBook, and I like it. While we are travelling, FaceBook is what brings me info about my friends. You know, stuff about relationships, kids, grandkids and more. I just wish that my friends were writing more on FaceBook. If you do not use FaceBook, I recommend that you join. Once you have signed up, be sure to post a profile photo. I have been asked to join several networks. I have refrained from joining most, because it gets overloaded to have to check them all.
Finally, I want to mention that it is possible to start your own social network. A free service to do just that is Ning. If you are part of a bit network of friends and family this may be the route to go. It is an option that I am considering now.

I am an older guy, so I love the radio. With my laptop I can listen to thousands of stations. Of course my favorite is KNOW in Minnesota. It brings me right back to the shore of the mythical Lake Wobegon. The easiest way to do your listening in through iTunes or Windows Media Player. You can set up both to remember your favorite stations, so they become available at the click of the mouse. The other nice thing about iTunes is the ease of downloading podcasts. We have many set up to download on to my laptop. All of them keep us connected in English to the rest of the world.

What about television? Are you hooked on some particular show that will not wait to be seen on your Tivo or DVR until you return? There are many options that can bring that favorite TV show to your laptop. The only thing that will gum-up the works on video is slow connection speed, which is very common outside the USA. Hulu is the simple solution to see TV shows. Hulu lets you view any show on the network stations anytime you want. Check it out. The only problem with it is it does not work outside the USA, because it will know you are viewing shows from abroad. This means that you have to use a proxy server to get it to work. There are many such servers. To find a proxy server, just Google it. With a SlingBox, you can remotely control your Tivo, view anything recorded on it or watch your cable station live. We have both Tivo and a SlingBox and have used SlingBox to control and view Tivo recordings from half-a-world away. Finally, you can bring DVD's of shows and movies or better yet, download them to your laptop before and during travels. There are two ways to do this: one, rip a dvd; or two, use a bittorrent client and search the internet. This later method may be illegal, but it is effective. My bittorent client program is a beauty called Vuze. It is free and you can legally download lots of media using this system. To find you favorite TV shows, I recommend you use EZTV. Search your favorite shows.

Well, that is about it for now. I want to add a bit about iPods and mp3 players. They are simply wonderful. We put unabridged audiobooks on the computer and enjoy them as we travel. You can also put podcasts on them. Finally, some - like the iTouch and iPhone - have the ability to connect to wifi networks.

Posted by bill at 05:19 PM | Comments (2)