Moto Computing: Travelling on two wheels and staying in touch - motorcycles, computers

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Moto Computing

What to bring, what to leave home

No one we ever knew used a set of ROK Straps to connect a desktop PC to a Goldwing, but there were times when you know someone must have thought about it. But like I said - no one we knew ever did - which, mind you, doesn't mean it didn't happen.

If you like to hit the road for several days or weeks at a time but need to get on the internet or use photo and office applications, the number of choices you have today as opposed to a decade ago are many. From simple to sophisticated, ultra-compact to small, the trick is to figure out what gear is right for you and carry just that. But let's begin with no gear and take it from there. Your options begin with the ...

Internet Café – A simple way to access email, internet café's abound in all major cities and most hip little towns from Hood River to Bellingham, Post Falls to Eugene and along the road throughout most of the world. For the price of whatever a location charges by the quarter hour you can surf the web, pick up email and stay in touch with the office. The most obvious benefit is you don't need to carry an ounce of computing hardware with you. The drawbacks are many including restricted locations, hourly fees that add up, lack of work-related software and ability to do things on the fly while you're on the road. But if casual email, reading your local paper, checking sports, weather and stocks is about all you'd want to do it's not a bad way to go.

Cell Phone – We're taking simple cell phone stuff here. The PDA part comes up later. Cell phones nowadays have lots of capabilities. Aside from making calls anytime (provided your provider has decent coverage), for additional fees you have the ability to pick up a local weather report, news headlines and do email. The drawbacks include a tiny screen, funky navigation of the keypad and no office applications. But the size aspect is enticing by virtue of how little space this appliance takes up.

Cell Phone/PDA – A cell phone with a PDA takes it one step further by providing a slightly larger screen and the ability to run office applications. For many of us who may need to edit a Word document or Excel spreadsheet on the road, a unit with this capability is a must.

Wireless Access Points – Before we get to the next applications, it's important to note that there are many places in the world with wireless access points. They range from free wide-open access at the local espresso bar to pay-as-you-go programs like the ones that Starbucks and TMobile have built. In between there are many motels and hotels with free access and most of the better campgrounds around the US provide free or pay-by-the-day access.

Another wireless access point may very well be your cell phone. The advent of Bluetooth technology has made it possible for us to link with our cell phone and acquire internet access via your provider's web service or a modem dial-up which you can configure between the phone and a PDA or laptop.

With all that in mind, let's go onto the more useful pieces of hardware for the two-wheel traveler.

Pocket PC/PDA - A PDA with wireless and Bluetooth abilities may be just what the doctor ordered for many of us. The units allow us to connect with nearby wireless networks, or Bluetooth connect via our cell phone to get web access as was just mentioned. The screens on PDAs without a built-in keyboard are larger and easier to read than any cell phone or cell phone/PDA combo. The little hand-held wonders run office applications, have MP3 players built in and battery capacity is reaching beyond 7 hours at a charge on many now. The latest version of both Palm OS and Microsoft Windows Pocket PC OS make it easy to navigate your way through a maze of options and do many of the things you can do from your desktop computer at home.

If using a stylus or thumb type keyboard annoys you, there are several options of full-size keyboards that fold up compactly. While some you'll need to plug into, there are now Bluetooth wireless versions available that run on AA Batteries . What's important to remember is that if you're using an option full-size keyboard and plan to link with your cell phone via Bluetooth at the same time, in most cases you'll need to go with a hard connection to the keyboard since many appliances only allow one Bluetooth device to communicate with it at a time.

The more you pay for a PDA, the faster it should be and the more internal storage you should have as well as external storage options. The HP iPAQ 2790 in my tank bag has two memory card slots allowing me to travel with eight additional megabytes of storage. That means I can transfer images from my camera to the PDA for storage and free up the space I need on the camera card for the next round of pictures along the trip.

The war continues between Palm and the rest of the computer manufacturers as to who makes the best PDA but the fact is they're here to stay and are a great option for the motorcyclist who doesn't want to go so far as to carry a laptop. And, in most cases, why should we?

Notebooks & Laptops – That's right – in most cases why should we carry a notebook or laptop? Well, there are several of us out there who are in the category of 'power user.' Taking a notebook PC with me last summer on a 10-day trip to Utah was very handy. Each night I was able to edit my photos from the day, work on articles for several magazines, create and edit PowerPoint presentations that needed to be done upon return and recreate some artwork for a client while out on the road. With the exception of the articles, which could have been done on a PDA using an external keyboard, the rest of these things wouldn't have been good to attempt on anything other than a laptop or notebook computer.

Notebooks are laptops to be sure, but laptops are not always notebooks. The HP ZD8000 laptop in my arsenal is so big no one has any business trying to stuff it into motorcycle luggage with it's 17" monitor and 12 pound carrying weight. However, its other little brother, which is also part of my computing arsenal, is a HP DV1000 notebook computer. That notebook does everything its big brother does with a smaller 14" screen weighing in at just 6 pounds. When I ordered it, I went for the 12 cell battery over the 6 cell so now it averages 8 hours of battery life on a single charge. Way more than I'd use in a day on the road, but handy if my next campsite turns out not to have electricity nearby.

Both of my laptops have wireless and Bluetooth technology built right in so there's no need to carry extra PCMCIA cards or USB adapters. The hard drive storage is a plus because I can unload my camera card and have it free for whatever comes along the next day.

Where's the Music? - Just about every device we've talked about here will play music. So do iPods and MP3 players, but most don't have Bluetooth yet. More stuff to bring along? Perhaps, but for some of us the PDA with Bluetooth may be the best music player. It does all the same things, has pretty good capacity and the Bluetooth option allows you to update your library of tunes from, say - your notebook computer that's in your left saddle bag …next to the tent!


NiteIze Cell Phone and PDA Holsters – Practical cell phone and PDA holsters that provide options for other everyday necessities such as a flashlight, leatherman, pen, credit cards, lip balm or Bluetooth ear pieces. Use them on your belt, clip them to your waistband or onto the adjusting strap on your coat.

Otter Box Waterproof Storage for Cell Phones, PDA's and Laptops – Keep your gear dry with these boxes. A bit bulky, but worth saving your appliance to be sure.

Seattle Times Text Site – Includes headlines of the day and it's free!

Sound RIDER! PDA Site – Includes a full directory of every motorcycle dealership in the Northwest. Handy when you're on the road. Bookmark it on your PDA, Danno.

Seattle DINING! PDA site – Coming into Seattle to get a bite to eat? Search for restaurants by name, neighborhood or food type on your PDA or cell phone.

Energizer Energi to Go – A small, nifty unit that allows you to recharge cell phones, PDAs and MP3 players when you're on the go using AA Batteries .

Ride Safe, Ride Light and Ride Often

PT/Winter 2007

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