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Monday
Apr212003

The Old Patagonian Express

The Old Patagonian ExpressI love travel writing. I thoroughly enjoy learning about far flung places in the world, their cultures, history, and people. For me it's a real treat to settle into a comfortable chair and experience the travels of a travel writer. It's also an educational experience for an amatuer travel writer, like me.

So what makes a great travel writer? In my opinion, it's primarily the writer's awareness of their surroundings and the ability to express their observations of places, people and events in a way that makes the reader feel as though they are right there, along for the ride.

One travel writer whom I feel has these abilities is Paul Theroux. I've read nearly all of his travel books and have enjoyed each one, though my absolute favorite is The Old Patagonian Express.

The concept of The Old Patagonian Express is quite simple: can someone take a metro Boston commuter train from North America, all the way down to Patagonia on the southern tip of South America? Theroux manages to pull off his goal (sans a few dangerous parts of Central America) while weaving a great yarn about train travel, interesting people and the colorful places he experiences along the way.

What I especially enjoy are Theroux's detailed character descriptions of the people he meets on and off the train, like the Raw Foodist on an Amtrak train in the US Midwest and Thornberry, a fellow American traveller Theroux bumps into while wandering in Central America. The book is filled with many interesting characters that greatly enhance Theroux's story of train travel in Latin America.

I should also warn you that Paul Theroux is often a bit grumpy on his travels, which sometimes gets him into trouble. However I find this gruffness part of his charm. I also like that Theroux bares his grumpy side for the reader, because it shows that a travel writer's life is not always sunshine and ice cream.

So, If you have any interest in trains, travel to South America, or travel adventures but just can't strike our on your own at the moment, I highly recommend The Old Patagonian Express. If you've never read a travelogue before, I encourage you to find a good one and give it a try. Reading about travels makes for interesting reading and can even teach the worldly traveler a thing or two.

Friday
Apr182003

One-Hundred-and-Twenty-GIGABYTES!

Firewire DriveToday, I received a nice box from the UPS man. Inside was an external FireWire drive with a 120GB hard drive inside. One-Hundred-and-Twenty Gig-a-Bytes! Think about how much space that is! How much? $236. That's incredibly cheap!

If you're a technology old-timer like me, then 120GB really is a massive amount for a portable drive at that price. I come from the days of 500k and 1.4MB floppies, days when 8MB of RAM was alot of space and where a 10MB hard drive once cost thousands of dollars! Some of the earliest computers didn't even have hard drives. If you're a young tech whippersnapper, well, you probably won't understand my perspective. :-)

What's cool about this new Other World Computing Mercury Drive is how quick it is due to FireWire (or 1394 to be precise). This afternoon I copied 5.9GB of imported DV camera movies from my iMovies folder and it took 5 minutes. That's 2GB more than the entire contents of my old Powerbook G3's hard drive in 5 minutes!

While it's wonderful that these huge hard drives are now commonplace, it also creates some problems -- like backing up all those Gigs. Getting a 120GB FireWire drive was a real necessity in order to backup all the work I save on my Powerbook G4's 45GB internal hard drive. My old 4GB DAT drive I had used for backup just couldn't cut the mustard -- it would take 11 tapes (and me there changing them) to fully backup that 45GB drive. Let's not even talk about how long a tape backup would take.

And at what point will we have enough? Right now Gigabyte drives can handle hours of digital video, thousands of MP3 encoded tunes, goodness knows how many plain text documents. It runs along with the idea about processor speeds -- exactly how fast does your computer need to be to type an email or surf the web?

But I'm not complaining... having all this space is wonderful, especially since I have peace of mind knowing my Powerbook is backed up and I've got the space to store raw DV video, iMovie projects and final movies of my son Nathan.

Maybe at some point Megahertz and Gigabytes will be so incredibly cheap nobody will even stop to think how much space or speed they have. You'll have a 3000Mhz computer with 120 Terabytes of storage and you know what -- it will still take just as long to type that email or for that webpage to load. :-)

Wishing you a great Easter weekend!

Thursday
Apr172003

Microsoft Smart Display = Apple iScreen?

Smart ScreenI've just learned today (thanks to Craig!) that Microsoft has already created a spec for with a Wi-Fi wireless Smart Display very much like the rumored Apple iScreen I mentioned on Tuesday! These Smart Display products are already available from Philips, ViewSonic, Fujitsu, NEC and TG. Smart Screens start at around $1000 and are available in 10" and 15" screen sizes.

So, it should be interesting to see if Apple really does follow through with the iScreen idea or not. If so, they already have competition, though some of the other tidbits I've read at O'Grady's PowerPage and Mac Whispers since Tuesday seem to suggest an iScreen may be more like an iPod with color 8" screen than a larger 15" monitor. We shall see!

Wednesday
Apr162003

Optimistic Wi-Fi Tidbits

Wi-FiIf you've been intrigued by all of the Wi-Fi wireless network related articles I've been posting here of late, I've come across a few more encouraging Wi-Fi related tidbits to share with you.

First, there's a great source of articles on getting unwired over at Wired Magazine. I especially got a kick out of Palm Pulls the Plugs on Palm, Inc's organic shift to internal Wi-Fi networks.

In other news, Kinko's copy shops and Border's bookstores have both announced Wi-Fi access across the US, in conjunction with T-Mobile's HotSpot service.

Finally, it seems Apple has already shipped more than 150,000 Airport Extreme base networking products, since its launch in January at MacWorld San Francisco. Airport Extreme is Apple's brand name for Wi-Fi 802.11g, which offers up to 5 times the speed of regular Airport (802.11b) while maintaining backward compatibility with older 802.11b equipment.

It's wonderful to see Wi-Fi increasing in popularity! :-)

Tuesday
Apr152003

Apple iScreen on the Horizon?

iScreenToday I came across a very interesting story from DigiTimes (via MacNN) and at the Register about Apple supposedly working on a 'wireless monitor' (I assume it will use Wi-Fi).

From what I gather, this 'wireless monitor' or iScreen would be about the size of a Tablet PC but will have no processing power other than monitor hardware and a wireless transceiver. It's also purported to come with a detachable keyboard but no battery (now that seems odd). It's unknown whether the iScreen will have handwriting recognition or not -- though I suspect it makes sense to include this feature to better compete with Tablet PCs.

So, this thing would be a wireless terminal in the form of a flat screen monitor. If you're an old-timer like me, you might remember that old mainframes followed this concept of a central computer CPU with multiple 'terminals' with access. It's unknown whether more than one iScreen could use a single Macintosh or not -- I'd guess it's a single iScreen per Mac .

Even though this is all speculation, the idea of an iScreen with optional detachable keyboard intrigues me. Rather than hauling a laptop around the house, I could just take the screen. Since there is no CPU on board, it's possible that battery life might be quite good compared to a laptop or Tablet PC -- assuming there is a built in battery.

Of course, these kinds of rumors about Apple device often lead nowhere, like the long running rumors of a mythical Apple PDA which have never surfaced in real products. This could also be a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless monitor you can hang on a wall or even a well-placed leak by Apple to divert attention. Still, a wireless monitor... that seems more in line with what Steve Jobs might consider a killer consumer device.

Here's to hoping for an iScreen! ;-)