travel

Plug your laptop into your car's cigarette adapator

I recently took a road trip from Portland to Seattle and needed to keep my laptop and wifi access point charged along the way, so I could finish up some work while my wife drove.

Laptops and other devices run on 120V AC electrical power from a home or office outlet, whereas output from an automobile cigarette lighter is 12V DC power. It takes a power inverter to convert the DC power to AC power.

I found a DC to AC power inverter shaped like a coffee mug that slips easily into my car's cup holder. It comes with an adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter, and has a regular 3-prong grounded outlet along with a USB port for charging other devices.

This compact device cost me $25 and did a decent job of keeping me charged on the 4 hour road trip.

There were a couple of surprises though.

It has a built-in cooling fan, which I learned is a little noisy. Not loud enough to be heard over freeway driving speeds, but was noticeable when we turned off the car during rest stops.

The unit would also shut off occasionally, as if recovering from it's labors and waiting for a breather. Maybe because it was overheating?

You can buy different versions of power capacities for DC to AC inverters, with the lowest being in the 100 - 150 watt range like the one I bought.

AT&T socks me with over $400 of international data roaming charges!

I recently went to Zurich for a week-long business trip (training developers on Jive Clearspace). I knew I'd need to use my iPhone for a variety of reasons, such as email, web access, chat, and google maps.

So like any responsible employee I went into the AT&T office and spoke directly with a rep about what international data plans I'd need to purchase, and how much it would cost me.

I bought a 100 MB data package for $129.99, and paid a $5 international plan that brought phone calls down to $.99 a minute (otherwise they'd cost me $1.29 a minute). I reset my iPhone usage before boarding the plane, and watched it like a hawk the whole time I was there.

Here's what it looked like as I stepped off the plane at the Chicago airport for my connecting flight, on October 25th:

Figured I couldn't have cut it any closer, but was only about 5 megs over the limit, give or take a few megs that might not have been reported by then (although it was a 10 hour flight, so it should have been pretty accurate by then).

That next day, AT&T calls me to let me know I had a bill of $2350 from my data usage! I calmly explained that I had purchased the data plan and after a little digging and keyboard clicking on their end they were able to find that I had indeed bought the plan and only owed for the 14 MB of overages and owed about $54 extra for those kilobytes.

I wasn't sure where they came up with 14 megs, but the $54 didn't sound to outrageous and so I let it go.

Fast forward a week to November 1st. I go online to check my bill and find that they've tacked on $460 of data roaming charges. They're calling them mobile-to-web "calls" and told me I must have been in an area where roaming charges applied.

Stay connected with family and friends using video chat

I'm heading to Chicago tomorrow morning for another business trip, and really needed a way to stay connected with my family while I'm away.

Video chat sounded promising, and since my wife's laptop has a built-in web cam and I have a high quality web cam that clips onto my work laptop - I figured this might just be the solution.

With our laptops side-by-side, I tried AIM, Skype, and Sightspeed.

I wasn't able to get AIM or Skype working with my laptop's web cam, which is a 2 megapixel Creative Optia. It sits on top of my laptop and plugs into a usb port, and has a high quality auto-focus feature that makes video images look noticably better than standard 1.3 megapixel webcams.

I installed a free copy of Sightspeed on both computers and created accounts for my wife and myself. I wanted to make sure the software worked with our different webcams and computers before getting halfway across the nation.

Sightspeed lets you make video calls over the Internet so you can hear and see the person on the other end of the call.

Creating an account and downloading/installing the software only took about 2 minutes for each computer, and it automatically detected the microphones and web cams on each of our computers.

Starting a video chat was as simple as adding a contact and clicking the Start Video button next to the contact's account name in Sightspeed.

Traveling to London With My Blackberry Curve

I'm heading to London tomorrow for a week long business trip and will need to have access to phone, email, and internet on my Blackberry Curve (I'm the Education Manager for Jive Software and will be delivering 4 days worth of training on Clearspace, our collaboration application).

Phone calls are crazy expensive internationally, with rates of $1.29 per minute in the UK.

Fortunately I spend a lot more time on email and the web then I do on the phone, and AT&T has an international data plan that's $64.99 a month for unlimited email and internet. I'll be able to check email, browse the web (tweet on Twitter, etc), and text home occasionally.

When you sign up for the international data plan, it drops your phone calls down to 99 cents a minute. Still not cheap, but if I have to make a business call then Jive will reimburse me.

I'll switch back to the regular Blackberry data plan when I return home, which is only $30 a month.

I also have an Aircard for broadband internet tethering on my laptop, but the data plan for that was something like $130 - too much in my opinion, and the training facility will have high speed internet, as will my hotel.