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Back to the Real World

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Yesterday was a long day, up at 4am (Amsterdam time) for a 9am flight from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. Then a flight from Frankfurt to Ottawa (flying back over Amsterdam). We got out of the Ottawa airport at 4pm, and we were home ten minutes later (the advantage of living next to the airport). I did have a techie meetup scheduled for 6pm, but my 30 second nap lasted about seven hours.

On the flight to Frankfurt, it appeared that it was a plane load of gophers. As soon as the plane stopped rolling on the runway most of the passengers popped up and opened the overhead bins. We were still on the active runway. The cabin attendees had to make several announcements to get people seated so they could move the plane towards the terminal. Usually when I have seen this behaviour before, the plane was at the terminal and was NOT going to move again. Can people not tell the difference between a runway and a terminal?

At the Frankfurt airport I did get the impression that the Ottawa airport does not get any respect. The “gate” is in the basement. Once through passport control there are no washrooms. When it is time for departure, you end up getting packed as sardines on a bus and then have the fun of climbing up to the plane. Remember, the front stairs with the cover are for first class. Cattle class use the uncovered stairs at the back.

The trip above the Artic Circle was interesting, watching people getting bundled up for 5C temperatures. (There was one Canadian from Vancouver that insisted on wearing shorts for most of the trip). It did take some time to get use to the constant sun shine. For a week, the sun never set. During that time I was questioning the logic of paying a premium for a room with a view(it never got dark in the room). During those trips, the inside cabins (the ones without windows) should have carried a premium price.

As mentioned before, internet access on the ship was poor. I was extremely fortunate to help someone at the hotel who in turn gave me an access code for the internet. So on the last day I was able to download all the outstanding podcasts and load my Zune HD up for the flight home. For a few hours, it was nice to have decent internet speed. The Zune software still has a problem of wanting to download everything at once rather than sequentially. With fast access, that is not a problem,  but when it tries to do many at the same time, each download takes time from the others and you usually run out of time before anything is fully downloaded. At least sequentially, you may have a chance of at least one.

John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

August 18, 2011 at 2:52 pm

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Holland America – Disappointing Internet

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I am sitting on the Lido deck waiting for breakfast. This is the last day of the Artic cruise and still several hours before any of the passengers can disembark, but if I want to use the internet, I have to sign up for a new package. My remaining half hour has disappeared.

There also seems to be a change in the HAL account system. Rather than the customary New User/Returing User prompts is a User Name prompt that wants the code on the back of my debit card (What debit card?) to start a new session. Not a friendly request. At the start of the cruise, I was asked for my first name, last name and cabin number, but I have no idea what the username prompt is about. Possibly an updated system for the next cruise?

The system was probably reset at midnight for accounting purposes. Nice for accountants, but most travellers would like to do some last minute email checking or printing their boarding passes for their flights home. If the passenger had paid for certain number of hours, they should be allowed to use them while still on the ship. To keep the accountants happy, the user should be disconnected when time runs out. They seem to have no problem disconnecting the internet on other occasions.

HAL offers internet service of 100 minutes for $55, more than I pay monthly for unlimited use at home, with speed that made dialup look like DSL. Billing is by the minute so that help eat through the time. I did expect to lose the signal as we disappeared north of the artic circle and was not disappointed. I was not expecting that the internet signal would be lost on the last day as we sailed across the English Channel to Amsterdam.

For the curious ones, fjords up north are another great way to lose the signal (especially the ones that ran east west).

John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

August 16, 2011 at 7:29 am

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Zune HD going international?

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As I travel around the North Sea and above the Arctic Circle, I have enjoyed playing with my Zune HD, a nice little device, I have loved since I got it a few years ago even though It is an American device being used in Canada. Other than teething pains with the radio presets the only thing missing in Canada was the Social feature. Not something I really miss. The Zune team was able to fix an issue with Canadian call signs not being recognized for radio presets, but that does not appear to have been fixed for other countries. In the UK, the call signs do not show up as the four letter callsigns used in North America, but rather as BBC 1, BBC 2 and BBC 3. When the preset is made, the UK call signs are replaced (at least for me) with a Canadian call sign, CFJM, so it does not appear to be using the data transmitted by the station or there are some checks and the default value remains. Even Iceland had a few radio stations, but their station information seems to include other information. I did try to document the various screens, but taking pictures with my camera ended up being a CSI delight. Excellent detail on the fingerprints, but the images on the screen were washed out.With a touch UI, fingerprints wil always be a problem. So to make the Zune HD international, Microsoft needs to find out the standard of information that is transmitted by radio stations to identify their signals and use the frequency, call sign and hopefully the station’s catch phrase to make the radio presets. The information is displayed while the station is playing, so it is just a matter of properly catching it when the preset is created. One other point for making the Zune HD a nice traveling device is to remove the requirement for power when creating alarms. I have fell asleep many times listening to the radio, so the power drain for using the Zune HD as an alarm can not be any worse. I use a laptop to charge my Zune HD while traveiling, but like me it likes to sleep when it becomes inactive. The one downside I have had with the Zune HD is the cover I chose. On this trip, the magnetics in the cover have successfully wiped out my room card three times.

John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

August 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Posted in Travel, Zune HD

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Traveling light?

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One problem with traveling with high tech equipment is the amount of stuff you end up carrying.

Other than hiring a pack mule, the first step in reducing this burden is to lay out all the equipment you think you need to take and then start eliminating what is not really necessary. Sounds simple, but it is easy to overlook something that you thought you already packed.

If there are duplicates, are both of them required? Is the device really required?

When you have worked out the minimum requirement, make a list including dependencies. If you do not bring your camera, you do not need the camera battery charger.

So what are some ideas for traveling light?

Power Cables

For most chargers, they consist of a transformer brick and a removable power cable. To allow sales in markets with different power outlets, the manufacturers standardized on a 110/220 transformer and the appropriate power cable for the type of power plug used in that country. Unfortunately, these power cables tend to be about four feet long. So, the fewer the better.

The good part is that although there are many power plugs around the world, there are only three different connectors on the other end of the power cables and so far I have only run into two types in actual use in North America. The reason I believe there are only three is that I did a search for power cables and that was the maximum I found. They basically break down into two connectors – polarized, two connectors – unpolarized and three connectors.

I have also found the same thing for battery chargers for cameras. I have three Nikons, and all the charging cradles are different. Luckily, the power cables to go into the wall outlet are removable and Nikon uses the same cable.

So, if you need to save space, do you really need duplicate Power Cables?  For my cameras, I take the charging cradles and only one cable.

Shorty Cables

I have been lucky enough to find a few short cables and have added them to my cable collection. I have also made several shorty cables myself. I cut the cable down to 4 to 6 inches and add a new powerplug or I splice the cable. Considering the risks, make sure that whoever makes the cable knows what they are doing. So when I get bored, I usually make a few of these shorty cables. For some of my European friends, they love the shorty cables because they do not having to use their bulky plug, connected to a plug converter to use their laptops while they are in the US.

Think USB

For my Zune HD the charging cradle takes up space, but the Zune comes with a simple USB cable that can be used for charging.

A number of devices like cell phones come with USB cables for transferring information. These USB cables also supply power, so as long as you have the USB cable, you do not need your charger. For a while, most cell phones used a proprietary connector, now the industry appears to be standardizing on mini or micro USB connectors.

For one of my cell phones I picked up a data transfer package that included cables for several models. The bonus with these transfer cables was that the company had standardized on USB and the kit came with a standard length USB-USB cable and a series of short adapters. So I now have a 3” cable to connect my phone to my laptop for charging. Another charger eliminated.


Your need for carrying extra batteries may be dependent on whether you can afford the time to go to a local store for batteries or you have a large audience waiting on your pearls of wisdom.

This may seem like a luxury, but you should consider carrying a small battery tester. It will let you know if you need to change the batteries in your mouse or the device has another problem. Since batteries do not all die at the same time, it will let you know which battery needs replacing.

If you do consider carrying extra batteries consider a storage container to protect the batteries from accidently causing a short if they are in contact with anything metal rather than carrying them loose.  A small flashlight is a good storage device. Since you have to carry the batteries anyway, it is light and may prove useful.

Power Bar

When I travel outside North America, I bring along a power plug convertor and a power bar. To keep the number of items to a minimum, I have a power plug converter that switches between the various power plug types. Rather than a full power bar I use a small wall tap like this one




NET – stands for – Not Entirely True

John Marshall… Visio MVP

Written by johnvisiomvp

March 15, 2011 at 4:02 am

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