Category Archives: Technology

ESSENTIAL APPS AND GADGETS I USE WHEN I TRAVEL

 

iPhone

The smartphone is the epicenter of my travel apps and gadgets. From getting directions to making reservations, the smartphone does all the work. Of course this comes at a price. I subscribe to Globe’s roaming fee. There is a cheaper way though, albeit inconvenient and you will need as second phone. You can buy a local SIM card and transfer your Globe SIM card to another smartphone. This way you can get the full use of your iPhone with the local data plan and at the same time not lose any important call that may come to your Globe phone.

A second way to get around the problem of having data roaming is to buy a Mobile Wifi. I have a Huawei which allows many devices to be connected to its wifi. This way, if you travel as a group, you save a lot in data charges. The challenge of course is the group splits into two or gets lost in a crowd. A second problem is some countries, like Canada, do not allow prepaid SIM to be used for data plans for Mobile Wifi. The solution there, of course, is to make one of your phones a hotspot and share that with the rest of the group.

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I used Maps of the iPhone for direction. And if I use a car that has CarPlay installed, Maps is a very convenient app to use as it is Siri-enabled. It gives suggestions of locations to go – restaurants, shops, etc. It also has a “Significant Locations” service that learns significant place to me based on my location. This is convenient because I do not have to re-enter places I go in a city. Lane information also is given by Maps to make sure you do not miss exits.

The one drawback Maps has it that it cannot share directions with others, unlike Google Maps. Sharing directions is useful when you have two cars or you are a passenger and you just want to direct the driver where to go without having to dictate to him the address. I also use Waze, but for this recent trip to North America, I thought Apple apps would be more accurate. I do not know that for a fact, it is just an impression.

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Of course, because of the App Store, almost anything you need would be available in the store. You need find a Walmart Store closest to you, there is an app for that. You want to know the best Parking to where you are going, there is an app to that. It will even tell you. These are opportunistic apps, I call them as you call on them only when needed. The same goes for Viber, Skype, and, of course, Facetime. These are VOIP services that almost comes along naturally with your smartphone.

iPad Pro

I usually leave this in the hotel when I travel. I used to bring around a Macbook Pro. Ever since I gave mine away to my son and started using the iPad Pro, I have found increasingly less need to carry a laptop in my travels.

Primarily I use the iPad to answer emails and respond to chats. I find the. Small real estate of the iPhone too small to do these tasks except if they are urgent and requires immediate response. My other use of the iPad is to edit photos and share them in Facebook or other social media.

The iPad is also the gadget I use for writing my blogs. The Smart Keyboard obviously is easier to use than the screen keyboard of the iPhone. The iOS 11 drag and drop utility is also very powerful when I share photos and files between apps. In the remote possibility I need to edit photos,

The split view on the iPad is especially useful when I write my blogs with the Photo app. With the photos on one side of the screen and Day One 2.0 on the other side, I can write and drag down photos I want included in my journal. The floating apps also maximise the real estate of the iPad Pro. This especially convenient when I want to search for information in Safari while I am writing on one app with another app in the split view.

TripAdvisor

I do a lot of reviews of restaurants, hotels, and interesting place in TripAdvisor. I use the app primarily when searching for good places to eat.

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The app has a filter so you can choose the restaurants by cuisine, rating, cost, and even neighbourhood for certain cities. There are several main categories: “Cheap Eats,” “Best Restaurants,” “Cuisine,” “Breakfast”, etc. If you are like me that looks for local cuisines that locals go to, your best bet is always the “Cheap Eats” category. You then go to “Best Restaurants” and if the same restaurant listed in “Cheap Eats” is also listed as one of the best restaurants, then I would choose that restaurant.

I find it useful to read the “Terrible” ratings to check whether the rating (up to 5 “stars”) is justifiable. Remarks on the restaurant can be on the food, or the the service. One can discern if the remarks are consistent with the other “Terrible” remarks and if they are, then maybe it is not a good choice.

To double check TripAdvisor’s ratings, I use CultureTrip app. CultureTrip has professional curators of specific interests in food and travel. For example the app can point to “Most Romantic Restaurants,” or “Best Restaurants with a View.” If the choice I make in TripAdvisor cross checks with CultureTrip, then most likely I will choose that restaurant.

I also check the restaurant’s website and browse their menu. Again, you can cross check what is being said in the website versus the remarks made in TripAdvisor or other apps like Foursquare or Yelp (discussed later).

Finally I check the restaurant’s location. You want to choose one where it will be easy to go to from the last location you intend to go. It is also useful to check whether parking will be available. Normally if it is for dinner, I take public transportation and I avoid driving.

 

OpenTable

While TripAdvisor has some reservation capability for restaurants, it is geared more for hotels. Their link to restaurants for reservation is not as extensive as OpenTable.

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This app manages your reservation efficiently. It helps you find a table, and tell you the times when the tables would be available. You can enter the number of persons as well and of course you contact details. The app then send you a confirmation and later on, a reminder, of your reservation.

The app allows you to modify or even cancel your reservation. With modification, though, you cannot do it as hour before your reservation. You would need to call the restaurant by then.

Yelp

This app has similar functions like TripAdvisor or OpenTable. However I find Yelp more useful in finding shops other than restaurants. I used it to find barber shops.  It can tell you the location and the opening times as well as the telephone number of these shops. You can input “cheap luggage” in the search window and click “open now,”  choose the location or neighbourhood, and it will show you the shops associated with that search pretty accurately.

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Yelp has categories for plumbers, electricians, and all other crafts, but it is a very helpful app when traveling. When you need to find a shop for your luggage, or have your shoes repaired, Yelp does the job.The comments are also very useful as they can tell you from real people how you would expect the place and service of the shop you intend to visit. It even has pictures giving you an idea of whether that is the shop you want.

Tripit Pro

Tripit puts together the details and timeline of your trip. You create a trip in the app and soon as you get email confirmations of your flights and hotel bookings, the emails are automatically retrieved by Tripit and recorded in the app. Tripit send you SMS for flight information like gate assignments, flight delays, and directions to your hotel, among others. The app even provides you alternative flights should you experience a delay or cancelation.

One important service of Tripit is that you can share the trip details with others. This is very convenient if you are traveling ina group or you want your office to know your travel schedule in case they need to make changes from back home.

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The app also can connect your you iCal calendar and this subscription will show all your trip details there. Tripit is useful also when you go through immigration. Normal questions like “when is your next flight,” or “which hotel are you staying,” or even “who is traveling with you?” can be answered by showing the app to the immigration officer.

GroupMe

GroupMe is a chat app that allows you to post messages, pictures, documents, or show your location.  This app useful when traveling in a group. Group announcements can be made here, as well as sharing interesting photos. One facility GroupMe has is polling. Have you ever had the problem of deciding what restaurant to go to when you are in a group? If you have a very democratic way of choosing restaurants, the polling utility in GroupMe can be very useful.

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These are just the essential apps I use. Of course I use other apps occasionally but I find that these gadgets and apps are enough to make one’s travel convenient and even safe. One piece of advice though, it is best to make all hotel or AirBnB arrangements before you leave and prepay them if possible. With so many variables that can change in a day’s travel, the last thing you want to happen to you is to sleep in an airport or bus station because your reservations went awry.

Finally make sure you have your personal information in your smartphone. There are apps that can keep your passport details or even scan your passport which is even better. Tripit can keep this information plus all the reservation details in your smartphone.

A really final reminder – an old school one – keep hard copies in the remote chance you lose your smartphone!

TRAVEL APPS 2016 IDEAS FOR TRAVELLERS

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Having just come from a long break, I would like to share with you the different apps I used during our trip in Tanzania and Cape Town. My hardware consists of an Iphone 6S+ with 9.3.2 iOS version. I also had with me, which I left in my room, my Macbook Pro to which I uploaded my photos and videos daily. And finally, I had a battery bank charger and a car phone charger to make sure I never ran out of juice during the trip. So here are my apps:

1. Day One [http://dayoneapp.com]

Day One is journal app that allows you to write down your thoughts and upload the photos you have taken while on the road. Its GPS is based on Foursquare locations so you generally can capture the name of the place you’ve just been from the dropdown menu. Because it is GPS-based, one can relate the thoughts you’ve written down to the place where you’ve been.

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Location is just one. Day One also takes note of the weather, as well as any tag you have created and assigned to the event or photo. Then from the journaled entries, you can share the entry to any of the social media or simply email your entry to friends and family. The new version 2.0 allows one, among others, to create different journals for your different activities.

I don’t really write journals on a regular basis. Travel does give me a chance to do so. And Day One is a great app to have.

2. TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com/apps)

I contribute regularly to TripAdvisor. So it was not a surprise for me to use the app of TripAdvisor to look for interesting restaurants and even to get directions. What is handy in this app is the Travel Timeline. Here, for as long as you are connected to the internet, the app captures the pictures taken as well as the names of your location. Very likely you take pictures of the restaurants you are in; so the app suggests the name of the restaurant. Then if you want to upload a picture or review the restaurant (or the site), then the app checks you in into the restaurant.

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3. Motion-X GPS (gps.motionx.com)

This is a great app to record the tracks to the places where you have been. It records not only the track, but also the waypoints of your trip. You can always name and even place a photo of your waypoints. This is good to trace back your route of your travel. I used this, for example, in tracking our sunset cruise, our wine tour, and our trip to the Cape of Good Hope. I missed tracking our safari tracks because it took quite a while for me to download the app.

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The app tells you the speed, elevation, elapsed time, and even your heart rate if you have a heart monitor paired with your smartphone. You can share your track “live” by having the app email your position to friends and family in case you just want to let them know where you are.

4. Waze (www.waze.com)

Waze is known to many and can indeed very useful. It’s not useful though in a safari where traffic is not an issue. And where known tracks or roads have not yet been populated by Waze users. It is, however, very useful for travelling in urban centers and in estimating distances and travel times.

5. FlightTrack/FlightBoard (www.mobiata.com/apps/flighttrack)

To get information on your flight, generally airports have their own apps and the information board is as accurate as you need it to be. However if you are like me who wants to have information on the palm of your hand, then FlightTrack is for you. There is a free version and there’s a paid app.

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FlightTrack allows you to search for flights according to routes, flight numbers, or by airline. It tells you whether an incoming or outgoing flight is on time or delayed. The downside here is that for minor airports, this information is generally not available.

Of course the other regular apps that I use FaceBook, LinkedIn, and other “built-in” apps of the iPhone. And the best feature of the iPhone 6S+ for me is the camera with the metadata that comes with the photo. I cannot complain about the quality of the photos taken, They are stunningly clear.

The Cape of Good Hope

I will have more on apps in another post. Before I go, one more thing – I am always connected to the the internet. I use Globe’s roaming service which, at P599/day is not cheap. However, because of the value of getting directions, posting photos immediately to FaceBook, or immediately exchanging posts with friends and family, I deem the cost reasonable.

Yet again, we did not have this 20 years ago…

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REVISITING THE PAST APPS

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Scenes such as these are still seen in many tourist places here and abroad. In the past, having a good number of films like Fuji or Kodak was required so you can have a whole day’s worth of photography. You bring your SLR and in a photography bag you will have your rolls of films and maybe even batteries.

If you happen to run out of film, these tourist stores become very convenient as they are located in the places where you should not run out of films. These stores also sell batteries just in case your SLR or flash is low on power.

After your trip, you run to the corner photography store to have your films “developed.” For those of you born in the 1990s, to “develop” a film meant bringing the spent film in a darkroom where the roll of film is then taken out of the canister very carefully so as not to “expose” it.

Once out, the film on which different arrays of light and shadows have been imprinted on by the various lenses in the camera, is treated with some chemicals to keep the image permanently on the film. The film, however, is the “negative” of the actual photo. The lights and shadows are opposite that of the actual, or “positive” image.

After the negative is done, you mount it on a machine that emits light through the “negative” and throws the image onto a photo paper. This is a delicate process as you need to expose the photo paper with just enough light, measured in time, otherwise the image will turn out to be too dark or too light.

As soon as the photo paper has been exposed, you put the paper on a tray with chemicals that will bring out the image from the film. Once the image is clear, you hang the photo on a line to dry.

I may have missed or added a step or two, but as far as I can remember, this was how photos were “developed” in the past. My point here though is not to teach how to develop films but to point out how far different the world is today.

The apps of the past required a far more tedious process.

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Whether this is good or bad, no one can say for certain. I can imagine that for the photo enthusiast, he or she can now concentrate more on the art side of photography and would not find any worry on the technical side. For one, the entire film processing is gone. SD cards are now the films of today.

Second, one can always edit the photo taken in the computer. To “photoshop” is to tweak photos – change exposure, ISO, even time of day, and even faces! “Photoshopping” must put a pressure on real photography professionals as they must compete for space with amateurs who may have no qualms tweaking their photos using Photoshop.

A major change from the past though is the fact that today, your phone is your camera!

I used to hate it when I would carry an SLR, a video camera, and the bag with batteries, films, and other paraphernalia. And when cell phone sans the camera were new in the market, it was an additional burden when traveling. I am sure there are thousands of stories of tourists losing their cameras or video cams because their span of attention was so short that they forget one or the other.

Today I carry an iPhone 6+ with 164 G. I just uploaded my photos unto my Photo Library and realized that I had over 3,000 photos and videos. And my phone was not even half full. It also dawned on me that each of these photographs can be blown up into different and bigger sizes. If you travel around Europe, you will see a number of very large billboards with superb photography with one line on the bottom: “Shot with iPhone 6+.”

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This phone is also my map. My wife, Joy, and I used to travel by car abroad using Michelin maps or the London A-Z which even cab drivers use. We would stop by a restaurant before driving out and study the maps carefully taking notes on the highways to use and the numbers of the exits we had to take.

Today my iPhone not only shows me the map, it also tells me how to get where I want to go, with options depending on my preferences. Once I am set on my route, I can now share my route to either those who are waiting for me at my destination, or to my family at the other side of the world.

Revisiting past apps should be done often if only to appreciate what we have today. Surely a century from now our descendants will be wondering how we survived using only an iPhone 6+ – talking about this phone a century hence must seem like talking about using the Morse Code today.

In all these, one must be in awe with man’s ability to cope with change and be the driver for change and innovation. The store selling Fuji and Kodak films must have been there for the last 20 to 30 years. In spite of the disappearance of films, these stores are still there. This time they must be selling SD cards, or maybe even pre-paid SIMs. The technologies may have changed, but man’s need to travel, to look at history, and to use gadgets to memorialize the travels and visits, will always be there.

I am excitedly waiting for time travel.

Our Streaming Hero: Strong VPN

A screen shot of the StrongVPN Website
A screen shot of the StrongVPN Website

An important system that is adjunct to my SONOS system is my virtual private network (VPN). My VPN has its IP address in the US so that it will allow my to stream Pandora, Sirius, Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify streaming services. These are the more popular and reliable steaming services these days and they all form part of my entertainment system.

A VPN literally creates a tunnel from my house to an IP address in the US. Think of it this way: my house is in Pasig but I have an underground tunnel in my basement which connects to a house in the US. This allows me to receive newspapers, mails, and whatever else I need in the US from my house there. Whoever delivers in the US need not bother about the tunnel. As for as he/she is concerned, the delivered address is in the US. Then the occupant of my house in the US then scurries through the tunnel and delivers the goods to my house in Pasig.

There are, I am sure, quite a number of VPN providers out there. And I am not sure who is the best out there. I am, however, very happy with my own provider, StrongVPN. The company has been around for sometime and they have two major advantages for me:

> First, their live chat is what they advertise: live, fast, and knowledgable.

> Second, they have a partner with Sabai Technology, a router provider that provides an operating system (OS) that has been optimized to run StrongVPN’s protocols. I have a Linksys E3000 router with a Sabai VPN accelerator.

With my StrongVPN system my Apple TV setup is now more powerful. I can access its Netflix and Hulu Plus services. Streaming video around the house is fast and digital music streamed through my SONOS is of very high quality. All these hardware, however, will be nothing unless your Internet provider is giving you the bandwidth you need.

And this will be for another topic: the quality of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the Philippines.