|Ed Noonan||Moderator -- Publisher/writer, tailwinds.org|
|Mike Harris||Vice President, Par Technologies/Irez|
|Arnie Ramirez||President, MCE PowerBook Products|
|Mike Flaminio||Editor/Publisher, Insanely Great Mac|
|Trev Copland||Editor-In-Chief, MacLiving|
In the lexicon of mobile computing,
what is a "road warrior" and why is Ed Noonan identified
as a "road warrior?"
by Ed Noonan
In 1996, convergence of technology allowed me to do something that was never before feasible. While riding my bicycle 6,011 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska to Key West, Florida, I produced and maintained a World Wide Web journal (complete with pictures.) of my adventures, the places I traveled through and the people I encountered. A PowerBook 5300c, Casio and Kodak digital cameras, Adobe's PageMill software, together with my experience as a photographer, computer science instructor, lawyer/writer, bicyclist, outdoorsman and world traveler made my website effort possible.
In 98 days of riding, I traveled from the furthest north paved roadway in the United States (44 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska) to the furthest South point in the Continental US (in Key West, Florida), producing a 700 page journal complete with about 1,200 pictures.
N of Fairbanks, AK
Key West, FL
That was a tough test of delicate high-tech equipment. Overall, I rode over 400 miles on unpaved roads, experienced rain, snow, sleet, temperatures ranging from the twenties (f) to more than 110 (f) and even a couple of bike crashes. I faced generator power at lodges, no power or telephone connections for days on end, digital telephone systems, satellite telephones, numerous ISPs, battery charging hassles and security risks. I learned an awful lot about computing from the field.
I am humbled by the fact that millions of people from all over the world have accessed that website to share my adventure and learn about North America. A California college professor actually assigned my website to a graduate journalism class as exemplary of what one man could do in publishing his works without any publisher or printer.
Subsequently, and as a result of the astounding interest in my writings and photographs, I have taken similar bicycle trips around Lake Huron and across the Alps and have published digital diaries of those journeys on the Web also.
I now have better equipment, most notably, a 4 lb. NUpowr G3/240 PowerBook 2400c and an Olympus D500L digital camera (1024x768). I still use Adobe's PageMill as my primary HTML programming tool and Adobe's Photoshop as my primary graphics image editing software. Adobe is a sponsor, but I wouldn't use any other software for the work I do.
I recommend several products. [Note: unless specified, these opinions are mine alone and I have not received any sponsorship or consideration form any of the manufacturers of the products I recommend]
(Kensington) PowerBook carrying case: The nearly weightless form-fitting neoprene Wetsuit is perfect for protecting just the PowerBook, nothing else. I use the small pocket on top to carry my pc card modem, but there is really no extra room in the Wetsuit case. Where weight is my primary concern, that is how I want it. Despite the name, however, the Wetsuit does not protect the PowerBook from the wet; it is just good padding and a means of carrying the PowerBook away from the bike. I insert the PowerBook into the Wetsuit case and then the Wetsuit into a waterproof OR bag.
OR Hydroseal® Stuff Sacks (Outdoor Research): I use 3 OR waterproof Hydroseal bags to protect my gear (sleeping bag, computer) from rain, dust, dirt, etc. I pack my PowerBook, in two OR waterproof bags: one with the Velcro roll-top closure (advanced stuff sack-model) and one without (standard stuff sack). Despite torrential rains, not one drop of water ever got through to my PowerBook. And these bags seem to breathe just enough to avoid trouble with condensation.
Hefty OneZip® plastic bags: I store my power cords, modem, paperwork, cables, digital camera, microcassette recorder, cell phone and power supply "bricks" in Hefty OneZip® plastic bags. Instead of the usual groove closure, these plastic bags have zippers. The zippers simplify opening and closing and provide a very good waterproof seal (they're so airtight that you must open the zippers a bit to let air out before you put them in the panniers). I buy the freezer version; they are thicker and more durable.
At Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory, I had quite a scare. I plugged my PowerBook into an outlet at a lodge which was producing its own power with a diesel generator. The mouse and monitor seemed to show everything to be in working order, but there was NO response from the keyboard. I downloaded about 100 digital photos entirely with the mouse, nesting numerous "untitled" folders inside one another because I couldn't input anything from the keyboard. Initially, I thought riding over bumpy unpaved roads had dislodged the keyboard connector inside the PowerBook, but it turned out that the trouble I experienced was due to faulty power. When a PowerBook receives inadequate power, the power manager, a component of the operating system, isolates some of the hardware. In my case, it was the keyboard. When the human body is threatened by some unfamiliar protein, such as a bee sting, it does the same thing by going into anaphylactic shock.
Some PowerBook users are obsessed with wringing more time out of their batteries. Nothing you do (dimming the monitor, spinning down the hard drive, RAM disks, etc.) makes any appreciable difference in your battery life. I use sleep liberally and try to make the most of the time my PowerBook is running, but I've given up on conservation techniques. I carry only one PowerBook battery and look for an AC power supply every night to recharge it as often as I can. I now have a solar panel charging system from which I intend to fasten with velcro® to my panniers on my next major bicycle or kayak trip. The solar panel weighs about 3 lbs, but on a reasonably bright day, it should be able to recharge all my battery-powered devices: the PowerBook LiIon battery, the Olympus and Motorola NiMH batteries, and various AA and AAA NiCad batteries (GPS, microcassette recorder, flashlights, etc) as I ride. Connection is made via a standard, cigarette style, DC cable Any device that can be plugged into the DC outlet of an automobile can be recharged with the Sun Catcher Pro.
Global Positioning Systems
One of the more interesting mobile computing products to come along in years is the global positioning system (GPS) satellite navigation receiver. A GPS receiver looks to a network of 24 satellites orbiting around 11,000 nautical miles above the Earth to calculate geographic position. To determine where you are, the GPS receiver compares the time a signal was transmitted by a satellite with the time it was received by the GPS receiver. The time difference tells the GPS receiver how far away that particular satellite is. Using distance data from several satellites (up to 12), the GPS receiver triangulates the receiver's position. With four or more satellites, a GPS receiver can determine a 3D position which includes latitude, longitude, and altitude. A GPS receiver can also calculate speed and direction of travel. GPS systems are capable of extreme accuracy (down to mere millimeters), but in the interest of national security, President Reagan declared in the early 1980s that highly accurate GPS receivers would be restricted to the military. A typical civilian GPS receiver therefore provides 60 to 225 feet accuracy (depending on state of national security readiness) but for most purposes that is quite adequate. I've used two different GPS units with my PowerBook and found them as accurate as 40'.
GPS sytems are in use by police departments, motor vehicle fleets (taxicabs, delivery vans, etc.), power companies. One of the featurees of GPS software is the ability to record a "bread crumb trail" showing where the GPS receiver traveled. Using GPSy a Macintosh GPS communications program that has sophisticated mapping, logging, and data transfer features, the user can map out the course of travel graphically.
The Garmin GPS III+®
The Garmin GPS III+ features a 12 channel receiver with an LCD screen display for vertical or horizontal orientation. It comes with geographic data (streets, rivers, natural features) for all of North America or Europe loaded into ROM. It can therefore be used stand-alone (Garmin even makes a bicycle handlebar bracket for the GPS III+). Even better, with GPSy, the user can download maps from various sites on the Web or maps scanned in and load them into the Garmin GPS III+ unit. for field use.
I have a friend who collects butterflies. He records the lattitude and longitude of each butterfly he has collected. A stand-along GPS like the Garmin III+ would allow him to log the collection sites as waypoints through the day. Last summer, I rode to the Munich airport through the German countryside in a CRT-equipped which had a a map generated by GPS. I wished I'd had one when we were lost in Switzerland. There are numerous map CDs and on-line maps that can be used with the Garmin III+.
Communicating on the road
Because my Alaska-Florida trip crossed some really remote parts of the Continent, I was forced to use several different Internet service providers. In order to avoid long distance charges from locations which had no POPs ("points of presence") for local number dial-up access, I arranged for toll-free 800# access in both the US (Earthlink) and Canada (as far as I can tell, no ISP currently offers 800# service in Canada). I also had my primary Michigan ISP (Voyager), an Alaska ISP ( ) and a Yukon Territory ISP (YukonWeb ). Even with all these choices, I had difficulty on occasion connecting with one or another of them and made expensive (as much as $53) long distance calls in order to perform my uploads. I also had trouble often with noisy (high static) lines.
Satellite phones: My initial reaction has been to turn to a satellite phone. The flexibility would be great, but right now they cost thousands to buy , as much as $3 per minute to use and they only transfer data at about 2400 baud, way too slow for Web publishing or even surfing.
I know several bicycle tourists who rely upon acoustic couplers for uploading their daily journals. An acoustic coupler covers up the telephone handset, "hearing" and "speaking" the data beeps into the earpeice and mouthpiece just as you do the words. Since there is no need to physically connect to the phone line, acoustic couplers are particularly well-suited for use with pay phones, digital phones and foreign phone systems, but, acoustic couplers are slow; typically not more than 9,600 baud, so they are not a rational choice for web publishing, only email.
Cellular Phones: My cellular phone proved worthless over most of my Alaska-Florida trip, so I sent it home from Jasper, Alberta. I learned that where there are no telephones readily accessible, there are usually no cells either. They are too slow too. Cellular phones are not much faster (if at all) than acoustic couplers. I can see my cellular tower out my study window, yet the only speed I've been able to get from my Global Village cellular-ready modem is 7,200 baud. That might work for email, but I sure wouldn't want to try uploading a dozen graphical images per day at that speed.
GSM: The European digital cellular standard supports data transfer at rates much better than US digital cellular phones.
I chose early to rely upon standard telephone lines for my uploads. My big worry was digital phones. Some motel telephone systems use digital phones, in which power flows through the RJ-11 jack in a configuration that could be fatal to a PowerBook logic board. I encountered several of these systems on my trip. I was lucky that I recognized the problem quickly each time. Don't rely on motel personnel to know anything about the nature of their phone system (some do, but most don't). I have an Inside Line modem adapter for business telephones (Radish, Boulder CO -- in the catalogs), which allows me to avoid the digital phone problem by connecting my modem to the telephone handset cord (RJ-9) instead of the RJ-11 cord coming to the phone. I didn't take it with me on my bicycle trip because it has an AC power supply "brick" that makes it too heavy. An essential accessory is a simple pen-sized device which plugs into an RJ-11 jack and checks for a digital line. I have one from Raod Warrior, but there are several other brands. One nice aspect of the Road Warrior line tester is the inclusion of a polarity reverser, a line1-line2 reverser, etc. which makes all you can from phone lines that are not digital but still won't work with a modem. There are very few pay telephones with data sockets, but you can usually find them at airports, especially in the airline club lounges.
MCE a mail-order vendor of PowerBook accessories. I invited Arnie Ramirez from MCE to serve on this panel because he and MCE have an excellent reputation in the Macintosh community. I have purchased everything from RAM, to hard drives from MCE without ever having any problem getting what I wanted at a resonable price.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to write me: <email@example.com>
© Ed Noonan 1999
More to come!