[Worldtrippers home] [Birthday walk home]

May 13, 2009
Preparations: Gizmos and gadgets

“The page you are looking for cannot be found due to unknown error 0x80072f78”
– Microsoft error message

The big question is: how will I keep this website updated as I walk 160 miles over two weeks?

If I had a lot of money, an Apple iPhone would probably address most of my challenges. The iPhone has internet access anywhere within cellular range. It has a built-in GPS, enabling context-sensitive maps and directions. It has email, instant messaging, and is – of course – a cell phone. And it provides entertainment: music when I’m walking, and games and videos when I’m relaxing with my feet up in the evenings.

Unfortunately, I do not have a lot of money. And I do not have an Apple iPhone.

When I set a goal of providing ongoing updates during my walk, I decided on these web blogs as the best vehicle. We first established the worldtrippers.com website during our world trip eight years ago and it has served us well ever since.

It’s amazing how much the online world has changed. Eight years ago, we used a Palm III PDA to send emails using AOL and PocketMail, a funky analog modem. This was the only mechanism that we considered reliable everywhere in the world. (In actuality, it wasn't. Africa and China were the big problems.) For website updates, we relied on Internet cafes and floppy disks.

A decade later, we have our choice of email, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook and any number of other social networking sites. There are Wi-Fi Internet hotspots all over the place.

Nevertheless, I am still committed to the web site. As a writer, I am sociologically opposed to social networking sites. I am not disposed to reducing my travelogue to sound bites, and my web blogs allow me to communicate, ruminate, meditate and pontificate.

The question is how to do this reliably. I estimate that 50 percent of my route will have Internet access. I need to have tools for when there are Wi-Fi hotspots, as well as tools for when there aren’t any.

My initial plan – another one of my crazy ideas – was to attempt doing this without a PC. I literally spent weeks fiddling with my four-year-old HP iPAQ PDA, which has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity in a device the size of a Blackberry. Windows Mobile 5.0 is an exercise in incompleteness, so I found additional utilities to manipulate photos and rename files.

The most difficult part was getting all of this to work together. I could connect with my web site, but whenever I tried to upload I received an error window courtesy of Microsoft: “The page you are looking for cannot be found due to unknown error 0x80072f78.” I discovered that the limited documentation for this error was completely irrelevant to my situation. After days of pulling my hair out, I was finally able to troubleshoot the cause: trying to upload files with names longer than eight characters.

I did an actual happy dance when I successfully uploaded my first file. (Note to Cameron and Joss: “I’m so happy! I never thought this would happen!”) Satisfied and optimistic, I ordered (online) a full-sized foldable Bluetooth keyboard. Without this, it would be impossible to write entire letters without spraining my thumbs.

I ordered the keyboard two weeks ago. It is now two days before my departure and the keyboard has not arrived. Gail has tried to contact the Houston-based etail company on my behalf. Their voice mailbox is full. Their fax number has been disconnected. And they have a profile of complaints with the Better Business Bureau. I don't think I'm going to get a keyboard in time.

It is obviously time for Plan B. With considerable reluctance, I am now working the logistics of bringing a laptop PC in my small (and formerly light) daypack. And while a laptop really is an easier and more versatile solution to my electronic challenges, it doesn’t fully solve them all.

The biggest question is: how do I connect to the Internet when my location doesn’t provide any Internet access? The answer is a technique called “tethering,” where you use your cell phone as a modem for your PC. You must still be in cellular range, but this is much more likely than being near a Wi-Fi hotspot.

A visit to my local AT&T office brought me more bad news. My cell phone, a Motorola V3 Razr, is an older phone that was not really meant for tethering. It can be done, but the only plan offered by AT&T provides a maximum of 50 MB a month for $40. Anything above that incurs a charge of one cent per kilobit. And by the way, there’s no way of knowing if you’ve approached your limit. (This is worse than Blockbuster's old trick of making all of their money through late rental return fees.)

Reluctantly, I purchased this package. It remains to be seen if it will actually work in the field.

In addition to a laptop, my limited space will also be filled by an MP3 player (a 2GB Sandisk Sansa), a digital camera (Panasonic with 10x optical zoom), my cell phone, and all of the power cords necessary to charge everything. (For our world trip, we opted for disposable batteries over chargers. For my walk, I’m opting for the opposite.)

The bottom line is that I hope to update this website once a day as I embark on my walk. I imagine this will be in the evenings. If a day or two goes by without an update, don’t be alarmed or disappointed. With any luck, a whole bunch of updates will occur simultaneously at a later date.

A PDA versus a laptop PC: which one would you pack for a 160-mile walk?

Post a comment here.


[Worldtrippers home] [Birthday walk home]