Posts tagged ‘technology’

The Charger Issue

22 years ago, on the TransAmerica bike tour, do you know how many rechargeable batteries I took? None.

But today, whether on a bike, car, or plane, there always seems to be a shopping bag full of electronics to lug along.

I decided that the following battery-powered devices were important enough to bring on this trip:

  • Camera
  • LED flashlights (2)
  • Cell phones (2)
  • iPod touch
  • Netbook
  • Cyclometer

The cyclometers use button cells that are not rechargeable, and merit no further discussion. The camera and LED flashlights both use AA NiMH batteries, so we must bring a AA charger. The iPod touch has a unique Apple connector. We have two cell phones, each with a unique charger. The netbook has its own power brick. This is the largest of the chargers, when the line cord is taken into consideration.


Clockwise from top left: iPod charger, netbook charger, standard cord for netbook charger, AA/AAA battery charger, Motorola cell phone charger, Tracfone charger

And here is what I’ll be taking:


Clockwise from top left: (3) USB wall plugs, iPod cable, netbook charger, shortened cord for netbook charger, AA/AAA battery charger, short Motorola cell phone cable, homemade Tracfone cable

I was able to find very short cables for the iPod and one of the cell phones on the internet. I couldn’t find a short charging cable for the tracfone, so I got a regular data cable, and shortened it These three USB cables plug into the wall adapters at the top left. If we had infinite time, we might get away with two or even just one adapter. However, having three will let us charge all our devices at the same time, and also, if one breaks, we won’t be dead, just slowed down.

The Panasonic battery charger I got at a flea market for one dollar. It works great, and has the feature of fold-in power prongs, so it packs nicely.

Nothing could be done about the netbook charger, which is already smallish for a laptop charger. However, I was able to pick up a spare cord for a dollar at a flea market (I get a lot of things for a dollar), and shorten that to about a foot long.

The final set of chargers is smaller, lighter, and has the added bonus of not having long cords to tangle.

TracFone Activation Experience


This has little to do with the bike trip, except that the trip was really the only reason for getting a phone at all. For $19.99, I got a Samsung T301G, charger, double minutes for life, and a 60-minute card. I ordered directly from the site, and shipping was free. Note that this is the same price as buying a 60-minute card alone. The phone was refurbished, but appears to work just fine.

The documentation for the Samsung T301G is terrible. All you get is a little card. And if you look on the Samsung site, the pdf is just that same little card. Thank God for the Internet. As long as someone in the world figures it out, Google will find their answer.

I actually bought the phone way back in March, to take advantage of a special deal. It sat idle in a corner of our bedroom until recently. TracFone minutes evaporate after a time limit, so I didn’t want to start service on the phone too long before I actually needed it. If I called their 1-800 number, I would get 10 minutes of time, and 60 service days. But if I activated on, I would get 20 minutes. So, I activated over the web.

  • The website said the activation was successful. It also said to turn the phone off and on quickly to establish a network connection, and that it would take a few minutes to work. There was a note at the bottom of the web page that said if this didn’t work within an hour, call the 1-800 Tech Support number. So for the next hour, I did the dance of closing and opening the phone, even taking the battery out and putting it back in, but the display still showed 0.00 minutes and 0 service days left. I tried to make a call but it didn’t work. I called Tech Support, but found they were closed until 8 am the next morning.
  • The next day, I got Lisa on Tech Support. She had a Filipina accent – it reminded me of where I grew up. She was very kind. After hearing my trouble, she gave me a long code to enter into the phone, maybe 32 digits. Voila! I had 20 minutes and 60 service days. That evening, I tried to make a call, but it didn’t work. I went to the menu to see if I had a phone number, but it was blank. By that time, Tech Support was closed until 8 am the next morning.


  • The next day, I got Nan on Tech Support. She had a Filipina accent, and was very kind. After hearing my trouble, she gave me a long code to enter into the phone, maybe 32 digits. Voila! I had a phone number, which handily spelled MADE-BLIP. Remembering the previous night, I immediately tried to make a call. It didn’t work. I got a message saying “THE SERVICE YOU ARE ATTEMPTING TO USE HAS BEEN RESTRICTED OR IS UNAVAILABLE. MESSAGE CA84065.”
  • I called back to Tech Support, and got another woman with a Filipina accent. She was very kind, and kept apologizing for putting me on hold while she asked her supervisor things. After checking their billing system and trying a bunch of things that didn’t work, she decided that I needed a new SIM. This was after 30 minutes of debugging. I waited to supply my address so that she could mail me a replacement SIM. Then she said to turn the phone off and on, and tell her what I see. Voila! The phone now showed a little orange icon to show that it was connected to 3G, and gave the expected “Welcome” message. I thanked her for all her work, and hung up.
  • Filled with hope, I dialed my home number. RING!! I hung up immediately, and no minutes were billed to the TracFone. I had lost my cool number unfortunately. In reprogramming the billing system, I got a new number that contained a 1 and a 0 – which don’t translate into letters. No matter – I was on my way.

Overall, I still view the activation experience as positive. Tech support was very nice, and I’m a sucker for kindness. So, my advice for lonely old men who have no one to talk with is: Get a TracFone, and try to activate it.

A Few Other Tidbits that the Documentation Didn’t Tell Me about the T301G TracFone

The volume control on the side of the phone is only for the ringer. To adjust the speaker volume, you need to go to the menu, Settings -> Sound Profile -> Phone. If you have keyboard beep turned off for some reason, setting the volume will be grayed out. In this situation, you must enable keyboard beep, set the desired volume, then disable keyboard beep again.

You would expect the Voice Recorder to be under the same tools menu as the camera, but it’s not. To make a sound recording, you must go to the menu, under My Folders -> Audio. It’s not a super-convenient thing to do, if you want to use it often for voice memos.

This model has a speakerphone, but nowhere in the documentation does it say how to turn it on. The speakerphone only works during a call, and you press the OK button to activate it.

if you see this

…then my texting experiment worked. I’m just learning how to use T9. 😆


I posted the above via text message. Having just activated my cell phone a couple days ago, I’m an utter tyro at texting. I know there are abbreviations I could use to get more message for my characters, but somehow, a title of “F U C ths” just didn’t seem right.

I’m starting to worry about internet access on the trip. On my tour in the 80’s, being disconnected from my normal world was a refreshing break. But today, like a Borg on Star Trek, I find it hard to unplug from the collective. I want my blog access!

One of my friends (read about her adventure here) told me not to worry about finding internet access. But she traveled on Interstates and stayed in motels every night. Elliot and I will be riding on secondary roads, camping more often than not, and on some days might not see any towns with a populations of more than a few hundred.

So here is my strategy. We will take pictures, sketch, or write notes in paper journals along the way. At night, if there is enough power, I will upload pictures to the netbook we’re bringing. I can compose blog posts offline on the netbook using Zoundry Raven. Then,


  • If there is a LAN port for internet access (I doubt it), we’ll use it. My friend Clay told me that at one place he stayed, they had “free high speed internet,” but no wi-fi. If you didn’t have a LAN cable, you had to buy one for $9.95. I made a special foot long cable to take with us, just in case. With high speed internet, I can sync the posts to the blog. But if there isn’t a LAN port,
  • If there is wi-fi, that’s almost as good. That still suggests that we’re in a motel, a high-class campground, or a city. But if there isn’t wi-fi,


  • If there is a phone with free local calls, we can dial up to Yahoo as an ISP. I’m planning to print out all the local access numbers for the states which we will visit. The netbook has no modem, but I have a nifty USB modem. I’m still mulling over whether I can justify the weight. According to Clay, there were times when dial-up was his only option on the road. That was a few years ago – maybe things have changed. But if there isn’t dial-up access,
  • There is one last resort for blogging. I can blog by text message, if there is cell phone service. So if you see a very short post with lots of abbreviations, that’s why. I really have only about 125 characters for such a message, but quite a bit can be said with that. Think of it as the postcard of the digital age. I’ll enhance the post when we connect to the internet again. [Before I forget, I should thank this guy for the information on how to send an email with a Subject by text on a TracFone. I think his name is Mike Yates. Hopefully the trackback will reach him.] But if there isn’t cell service,
  • We will call our family by land line if we’re out of touch for more than a couple days. But if family doesn’t hear from us for several days,
  • Call the Forensic Squad!

I still hope to send out some physical postcards. Leave me your address if you’d like one!

Tierra Bella – Apr 17, 2010

Yesterday (Saturday) was the Tierra Bella, an organized ride near Gilroy. We registered far in advance, for the easiest route (60 km), thinking we should go with an safe warmup for the season. 3 weeks ago, when Elliot and I rode 75 km to Santa Cruz, I realized that the short route of the Tierra Bella might be a little too easy. It was…


Ample toilets at every stop

The Tierra Bella 60k turned out to be a be a beautiful route, following the flat grade of the Uvas reservoir for much of the way. There were toilets at every rest stop, and an assortment of good foods, including bagels, roll-up sandwiches, gorp, bananas, oranges, grapes, pineapple, energy bars, cup-o-noodles, hot and cold drinks, and home-baked breads.


Rest stop food every 10 miles or so

Elliot and Merrianne at lunch

We finished at about 1:00 pm, enjoying a delicious lunch of all-you-can-eat jambalaya on red beans and rice. They even had live music.

Live Music

By the way, I’m timing myself on this blog entry. I want to get an idea of how long the laptop will be on per night on the real trip, and thus, how long the battery will last. Everything, from turn on, downloading pictures, reworking things with GIMP, and synchronizing to WordPress took 38 minutes. That includes 4 minutes of figuring out to the Cupertino public library network, and 3 1/2 minutes to actually upload everything. Afterwards, I moved to McDonald’s and tried the connection there. Only 30 seconds to upload the same thing. This could work!!

Blogging on a Bike Tour – and other IT burdens


How I plan to post updates

The last time I did a self-supported bike tour was 1988. On that trip, sending pictures meant mailing rolls of film back. Calling meant finding a pay phone, and paying an hour’s worth of minimum wage for 10 minutes. Way too expensive, except for a weekly check-in call to my sweetheart Merrianne (now my wife). Journaling meant writing by hand in a physical book. And writing meant filling out postcards. Technology has certainly advanced, making it possible for someone to give a frequent and very timely update to an unlimited number of people. Aka, a blog.

I still plan to do some postcards, and keep a physical journal. But to do the blog, I’m going to need some extra equipment. I think it will be worth it, and hope you will agree. We’ll see.

My digital camera

My camera is an older, inexpensive digital point-and-shoot The high-end cameras have big lenses, and are too heavy and bulky. The small and very slim new cameras actually take more space, because each of those needs its own custom charger. My camera uses ordinary AA batteries, the same as some of our other equipment. So if the batteries go dead, I can borrow a couple from the LED flashlight.

Built-in flash reader

The camera also uses a plain SD flash card, which conveniently fits into the built-in reader in our HP netbook.

Yes, we’re bringing a computer. If this were a car trip, I could bring a regular laptop with all kinds of accessories, but bike touring demands scrutiny of every ounce of cargo. Elliot’s netbook is optimal, providing a flash card slot, large storage, a full keyboard, and built-in Wi-Fi. Ten years ago, my choice might have been a Palm III PDA, with portable keyboard. But technology advances.

My plan is to upload the day’s pictures to the netbook, and compose blog posts offline using Zoundry Raven. Come to think of it, I might even outline what I want to write on paper first, to conserve battery life. It’s possible that we will go a few days without seeing a power outlet. When we get in range of a Wi-Fi connection, I will send the posts to the website, for all of you to see. If we can’t find a McDonald’s, public library, or a coffee shop, we may have to leech off a private household’s wireless. I’d ask them first, naturally.

Keeping in Touch

Twenty years ago, we would simply agree on a place to meet if we got separated on tour. Ten years ago, we would use FRS communicators (walkie-talkies). Today, the solution is obvious. Elliot, being a teenager, has a cell. As of this writing (4/13/2010), I do not. Well, not really. I got a TracFone, but haven’t activated it, yet. For $20, I get the phone, and 120 minutes of talk time, good for 90 days. If I need to add more on the road, I will. TracFone time is still expensive (60 minute card for $20), so my calls will be short, and mostly to Elliot when we are separated. Any extended chatting will be on his cell phone.

Wall-Outlet1.jpgThe Quest for Power

We take electrical power for granted at home, and even on vacation. Motel rooms have outlets. Anyone with a car or motorcycle can plug into the cigarette lighter for power. But what to do on bikes, when we are camping most days?

Right now, I’m thinking that power, not Wi-Fi access, will be our limiting technology factor. Sure, we can connect to the net at McDonald’s, but there won’t be outlets for us to plug into (I already scoped out a few to check). Will a Starbucks, or any coffee shop for that matter, have outlets available? Maybe we can plug in at a public library? I’ve already discarded the idea of bringing a solar panel (too big, hard to use), and attaching a generator to the bike (too much work).