Europe, Summer, 1998 - Tech Notes

The main computer used on the trip was a mini-notebook Toshiba Libretto 100 (code-named Libby). This is a light-weight (2.2 pounds) and small (size of a small paperback book) computer running Windows95 (2.1 GB hard drive, 64 MB RAM, 166 Mhz Pentium). Why not WindowsCE? WindowsCE has a number of advantages over mini-notebooks such as the Libretto, principally lower cost, longer battery life, and wider selection of models/features. For my purposes, however, WindowsCE was not the optimal solution, because I needed access to multimedia programs which do not (yet) run on that operating system. I also needed a way to store digital images, which the smaller storage capacity of WindowsCE devices makes problematic.

I also used an Apple Powerbook 1400 (upgraded with a G3 processor, and therefore rebaptized from Pokey to Phoenix). I might have skipped the Powerbook if QuickTime VR Authoring Studio had been available for Windows. On the other hand, if Apple had a Libretto-sized computer, that would have been a good single solution.

Sound was recorded on an inexpensive Radio Shack cassette player which includes a clip-on stereo microphone and a speaker (headphones can be attached as well). Sound was transferred to Libby or Phoenix using a standard mini-plug to mini-plug connection cable.

Most text was written with an Apple Newton 2100 MessagePad (code-named Newt). A PalmPilot would have worked well for this purpose as well. The advantages of these devices over laptops or mini-notebooks are portability, long battery life, and instant-on functionality. Both use handwriting recognition which have a high rate of accuracy. The Newton recognizes normal handwriting (assuming your scrawl is not too bad), while the PalmPilot uses Graffiti, which requires learning and using a defined set of ways to enter letters and numbers (which can be learned easily). There are other devices, including some Windows CE palmtops, which do handwriting recognition. On some computing devices, I find this method of entering text preferable to using the tiny keyboards, which for me result in more input errors (because of the tiny keys) than with handwriting recognition. Text from the Newton was uploaded to the Phoenix or Libby using a serial connection.
Pictures were taken with an Olympus D340-L digital camera, most at standard resolution (640 by 480 at 144dpi). Panoramas were generally shot at high resolution (1280 by 960), then stitched together using Apple's QuickTime VR Authoring Studio. Realia such as tickets were shot using the close-up function of the camera.

Pictures were processed with Adobe Photoshop (Mac/Win) and Equilibrium's DeBabelizer (Mac/Win). The latter is particularly useful for doing batch processing of images. This allows for automatic conversion of pictures to thumbnail size (100 pixel height) and standard screen resolution (72 dpi). DeBabelizer also has a "batchlist" function which builds an HTML list of images in a given folder, together with their height and width.

BBEdit (Mac) and NotePad Pro (Win) were used to convert the batchlists generated by DeBabelizer into HTML files. BBEdit's powerful search and replace functions (particularly use of "GREP" and "regular expressions") greatly faciliate that process. Of course, this is overkill if you are only dealing with a few images, but with a significant volume, batch processing is a great help.

Internet Connection
On the trip I needed an Internet connection available on demand. This required modems for both Libby and Phoenix (shared with Newt). After considering various options, I signed up with CompuServe, which has local phone numbers for most places I was going to be. There are many other options, including AOL, as well as global services from IBM and others. I did not actually want to use the CompuServe or AOL interfaces (for e-mail or Web, for example), but simply wanted to use the service to gain PPP-based Internet connectivity. Both AOL and CompuServe can be set up this way. This allowed me to use the same Internet programs I use at home (Netscape, Telnet, Eudora, WS_FTP/Fetch). On Newt, I used PT100 (Telnet) and LunaSuite (Web, e-mail, FTP). Internet software is avaialble for the PalmPilot as well.

One of the differences between phone service in the US and most other countries is that abroad local phone calls are billed according to time on-line. No free ride, as in the US. There are other options for getting Internet access aboard, including going to Internet cafes, book stores or even some department stores which make Internet service available. In general these work fine for Web surfing and e-mail, but not as well for file uploading (ie, sending digital images or HTML files back to your server).

Another difference in phone service is abroad is the dial tone. Some modems, including PC card modems, have built-in capabilities to handle different phone systems. However, the easist (and cheapest) solution is to turn off the dial tone recognition in the dialing software. One of the other problems in Germany is the black button on older phones which must be pressed after connecting (to initiate payment tracking); this poses a problem which can be solved by looping the phone into the modem and dialing manually with the phone. Quite a few phones in Europe (and elsewhere) are hard-wired to the wall. Best solution for that problem is an acoustic coupler.

Europe, 1998 - Gee-Jays - Bob Godwin-Jones