Planes, Trains … and Soon Automobiles

The ability to computer on the move is becoming more of a necessity than a luxury, regardless of your viewpoint on whether that should be the case. The traveling workforce needs a pipeline to the Web, while the rest of us just want that connection.

One way to deal with maintaining open lines of communication is through your mobile phone’s data connection. There are drawbacks, including data caps, reception (particularly in buildings or other enclosed areas), and expense.

Another way to tackle the problem is via wi-fi, otherwise known as a wireless local area network, in which users can share a connection to the internet via radio broadcast technology. As long as you are within range of the broadcast signal, wi-fi represents a solid connection. While few devices (read, smartphones and some tablets) offer the ability to pull data over the cellular network, most small and large computing devices have the capability of connecting via wi-fi.

This is all well and good within your own home, where you can easily set up a WLAN off of your own internet connection, But what about when you travel? Some of the best downtime for multi-tasking is during transit – either in the station waiting for public transportation or while en route.

More and more companies recognize the need for widescale wi-fi access and many afford a wireless network for a fee. But, if you  are like me, you would rather suss out the free option.

Airports were among the first to offer wi-fi, but not all of the options were free. To locate airports offering free wi-fi, check out this list updated by users (link here).  Even awesome -er than airport wi-fi, airplane wi-fi is a bit more recent – I took advantage of a free wi-fi offer on Delta last Fall and, I have to say, the ability to surf the web at 30,000 feet was really, REALLY cool. Again, not all airlines offer free inflight wi-fi. But, you can at least check out which airlines offer infilght wi-fi at all at Trip Advisor’s Seat Guru site (link here). On a lengthy flight, the cost might be worth it.

My local commuter rail train, run by the MBTA, offers free wi-fi access in specially-marked train cars. And now, Amtrak has just announced that the Acela will be offering free wi-fi nationwide (link here). After demoing the service in the Northeast corridor and learning that close to 40% of passengers were logging on, they have spread the goodness to everyone. Tip of the hat to them! If you are at all interested in how they do it, check this quote from the article linked above:

Each train has a central system housed in a ‘brain car’ comprising up to eight data modems using all four major US cellular carriers; Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. A 5GHz wireless network connects the brain car to the rest of the train, providing speeds of 12-22Mbps between carriages with approximately 3.5Mbps total bandwidth available for passenger Wi-Fi connections to the Internet. The bottleneck in any train-bound system will always be the backhaul, so AmtrakConnect uses a quality-of-service system that segregates passenger traffic from on-board system traffic, and uses content filtering to manage bandwidth on a per user basis and block certain material including streaming video. The on-train system is augmented by multi-megabit trackside and in-station wireless broadband that offloads traffic from the cellular connections to platform-based infrastructure when a train is at the station.

And, top choice for most space-age option has to be in-car wi-fi! Several months ago, Ford announced that the next generation of its Sync system will permit Ford owners to plug a USB modem directly into a car’s built-in Wi-Fi, creating broadband Internet access for all passengers. Wow! iPad anyone? There are aftermarket providers too: Autonet Mobile and Waav design similar systems for cars. These gizmos may require a subscription based on the amount of data purchased – anywhere from $30 to $60 per month. It could still be a decent option if you travel a lot by car and aren’t planning to pick up the specific Sync-equipped Ford model anytime soon.

Or, you could just move to Ponca City, Oklahoma, where the entire city is wired for sound.

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The 2009 Holiday Wish List

Last year, I posted my holiday wish list in the hopes that my husband someone reading this blog would take note and respond accordingly. Readers who have slogged it out here on the Studio for more than a year may recall that my list for 2008 included a Flip Mino HD, an iPhone 3G, a 30″ Gateway monitor, the Wacom Cintiq tablet, the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen, the B & W Zeppelin iPhone / iPod speaker dock, the Plastic Logic eReader (still not out and available for the 2009 holiday season), the WildCharge wireless charging pad for small electronics, the Sentry Safe hard drive, and the Canon EOS 50D.

So maybe I was a wee bit ambitious. The list of “haves” versus “have nots” is decidedly skewed in favor of the latter. I did get a Bose Sounddock, which is pretty cool. And right after Christmas, I bought myself the iPhone as a present. Later in the year, I got a serviceable Fuji digital camera, opted to forego the Flip in favor of an upgrade to the iPhone 3GS, and still gaze longingly at the other gadgets whenever I get the chance.

So in the spirit of “if-at-first-you-don’t-succeed-try-try-again,” I am going to put my 2009 list right out there. Who knows? Maybe Santa is a Studio reader.

Here it is, Martha’s WishList for 2009:

1.  Apple MacBook Pro

Yep, it isn’t cheap. But it sure is pretty. I have finally come around to realizing that I really need two completely different systems running herein the house. Perhaps it is the fact that I have fallen for the iPhone’s beautiful simplicity and design chops and am looking for a similar experience in my desktop / laptop. Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with my slick Lenovo. I just feel that I should experience all worlds in order to make a completely informed decision on the perennial geek question: who makes the better system? The 13-inch would be just fine for me.

2.  LG BD390 BluRay Player

As I spend pretty much all of my limited visual down-time watching movies, I have been getting more and more interested in BluRay players. From my research, this bad boy packs in an awful lot of features into its sleek black box. Streaming Netflix, YouTube and CinemaNow video (ondemand new release movies) wirelessly, and magically able to sniff out any visual media on your own home network, there is little this player can’t do. You can find it online for well under $300, which in my book seems a pretty cool deal. You listening, Santa? It’s cool AND cost conscious!

3.  Sony Bravia XBR KDL-40XBR6 40″ 1080p TV

If you are going to hook up a fancy player like the LG, you really need to have the proper viewing device. This slim profile 40″ set is the maximize size I can fit into my allotted TV screen space. I went to Best Buy to look at these sets and I can tell you that, to my eye, Sony has the most nature, best picture with the least artifacts. This particular set probably has more on it than I need, but this is a WISH list after all. I can’t wait to watch The Matrix in BluRay on this cool surface! Until the OLED’s get large and reasonably-priced enough, this one will do just fine.

4.  PowerMat Wireless Charging Station

Last year, it was the Wildcharge, this year it’s the PowerMat. You lay out the mat, equip your devices with the appropriate case, battery door or dock and simply place the device on the mat and voila! wireless charging! It comes in either a Home/Office or Portable version for charging on the go. Losing all of those proprietary chargers and cords littering my kitchen countertop is a beautiful dream and the PowerMat charger can get me there!

5. Plastic Logic Que

I still want this, and now it has a name: Que. Sleek, lightweight, with a gesture-based interface, Que is going to be sold through Barnes & Noble’s e-store. It will have 3G and Wi-Fi capabtility (at least as rumored). It is really being marketed as a business-savvy document reader, but that won’t stop me from downloading the recent best seller from B & N to view on its sexy “shatterproof” capacitance based touch-screen. Now, it just needs to come OUT onto the market. C’mon 2010!

6.  Motorola Droid

I am definitely a tech groupie so it doesn’t bother me this current darling of the mobile computing world to my list. I would love to check out Droid’s Google-y goodness, particularly Google Maps Navigation, despite all that macho male marketing bull-crap (yes, I just said “bull-crap” on my respectable legal tech blog). I like its looks and have been dying to try Android. I only wish I could justify a second personal phone on a completely different carrier, but maybe Santa can work a little Christmas magic!

7.  Microsoft Windows 7

I have been having a bit of a disagreement with my husband IT guy about upgrading our Windows-based computers to Windows 7. I really would love to do it, and not just because I like being a tech guinea pig. It’s faster, lighter, and more stable than its predecessors and I have heard nothing but good things from people I trust on this subject about the new system’s chops. I hear upgrading it can be a bear, though. Maybe I should just replace every computer in the house with pre-installed Windows 7 systems! What a concept!

8.  Touch Sensitive Rubik’s Cube

You know the famous line “All Work And No Play ….” etc. I have no interest in being dull, so I am throwing in this highly awesome touch sensitive Rubik’s Cube. I was a huge fan of the original low-tech version back in high school and used to be able to solve the thing in under 3 minutes (I have since lost my chops most likely due to the excessive amount of other less fun content crowding my overtasked brain cells). I think I could spend way too much time on this, but I do need something to fill my stocking.

So that’s it for this years modest list. Happy Holidays to all and to all a good gadget!

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What? You Mean I Have To Pay For This Wi-Fi?

Wi-fi – the lifeblood of the traveling professional – is often taken for granted in public locations and very often is accessible for free. Such access is de rigeur in hotels, where travelers meet for conferences, seminars and all sorts of other business purposes.

Apparently there is a strange inverse relationship between the amount you spend on a hotel room and availability of free in-room wi-fi. I personally had not noted this relationship but Michelle Highins at the New York Times Travel section has. In her article,The Price of Staying Connected Higgins reports the prevalent practice of high-end hotels charging from 9.95 to 19.95 per day for in-room access, while more moderate or budget hotels in the same line may include it free of charge.

How does this make sense? The article explains that absorption of the charge by the hotel is more likely in franchised properties, where the local owner is able to make the decision to put the service in place and absorb the charge and is not constrained by policies implemented at corporate properties. And budget hotels are taking full advantage of the marketing opportunity at a time when expense budgets are shrinking and there is greater scrutiny directed at costs.

I have no problem swapping the turn down service for free in-room wi-fi. If you are like me, check out HotelChatter.com for info on which hotels are charging and how reliable their service is.

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