Wednesday, March 21, 2007

moBlogging the Camino #4 - In the palm of your hand

Just in from David Russell, pilgrim blogger at Mendocino Camino, is his anticipated guest post on moBlogging the Camino using a PDA device, or PalmPilot.

Over at Wikipedia, they describe a PDA, or Personal Digital Assistant, as a handheld computer originally designed as a personal organizer but which has become much more versatile in recent years.


David tells us how, almost of its own accord, his PDA found its way into his Camino packing list and made itself mighty useful along the way...

________________________

I am a bit of a geek...

My first inkling of the Camino came when my father asked if I wanted to go for a bicycle ride. Oh yes, a 500 mile bike ride...in Spain. He neglects the details sometimes...

Since he was buying the airfare, I said heck yes. My two-wheel experience has mostly been on BMW models, the kind with a throttle. I have bicycled occasionally, but Dad is a real nut. My sister Ann, her husband Brian, and 11-year-old Tom also came along.

At first I thought of going cold turkey, no technology at all...then, a camera had to come, then, some way of checking email...oh...and backing up the digital camera chips.

So, my PalmPilot snuck on board as well. I have a Palm Lifedrive*.

Every night, I would take the three cameras we brought and, by inserting the cameras' chips into the PDA, back up our photos on the device and its memory chip.

I carried it in the handlebar bag, along with my camera, for easy access. Coming down the hill off the Pyrenees into Roncesvalles, I went over the bars, flew quite aways, but the gear was fine. It handled a large amount of jiggling without any issues. I was worried about charging it, but shouldn't have - there were electrical outlets in all of the albergues and hotels. I never came close to not having enough juice.

To blog, I used a program (purchased separately from Normsoft for USD$15) called Hblogger. It lets you compose your posts offline and also post photos. The software does not resize photos physically, but I can tell it to scale the photo down and the resolution remains the same.

You can save a post as a draft, so it will not be sent until specified. Kinda like an email program. Once I find an internet connection (via built-in WiFi), I open Hblogger and choose send. It logs into my previously setup account at blogspot.com and sends all saved posts. It supports other popular blogging platforms too, like MovableType and TypePad.

Posting by email is also possible, but Hblogger allows you to customise your post and photos a lot better. A big plus of using either Hblogger or email to post is that logging into your blog and posting that way requires you to be connected to the internet while you're writing the post, which drains the battery life big-time. Email posts and Hblogger allow you to write offline.

In various spots, I'd pull over and do a posting while waiting for the others, or while lying down in the evenings. At one pension, I noticed a man working wirelessly, so checked to see if it was unlocked and accessible. Bingo! My first free internet connection in Spain....but most of them, at least 75%, were secured. This means that there is an access password required to use the wireless connection. For me, posting was not that much of an urgent priority, so I waited for an unsecured one.

The bigger cities had more wireless signals available. In Burgos, I got a connection from the hotel window, in other towns I had to walk around a bit, looking. I had another software package called WiFi-Where, which quickly tells me what is available and what is locked. I could have found a cafe with secured WiFi and paid money but I prefer to find free! I had about 4 posts by the time I got to Burgos. After dinner, once I found a free, unlocked access point, I blasted them all out to my blog.

I typed my posts using the on-screen keyboard, not terribly easy, but not that hard, either.

All in all, it worked very well. The French>English dictionary saved the day several times, and the Spanish>English dictionary kept me at least slightly informed as to what my sister was saying...she speaks Spanish fluently. I also had all my ebooks with me for reading....but the Camino is about the surrounding experiences, so that was more important.

We stopped in Fromista and started cycling south towards Madrid along the canals. We decided to stay on the pilgrim's path, no matter how long it took, and stop when we ran out of time....and Fromista was where we ran out of time.

But we'll be returning to finish our Camino next fall. That's my family, me and the Palm LifeDrive...

Buen Camino!David
Mendocino Camino

*I did hack my Palm LifeDrive a little bit. Instead of the onboard 4 gigabyte microdrive hard drive, I switched to a 4gb compact flash disk. This greatly increased battery life and reliability. It also has a 4gb SD card for backups. Another modification was a 2500mha battery. These enhancements cost me a further USD$200

In summary:

Pros

  • 24 hour access to write posts/emails when you please
  • No need to find an internet cafe to blog
  • Nice size screen to work on
  • Easy way to back up your digital camera's photos
  • It is possible to add photos to blog posts
  • Email-sending, HTML net browser and Hblogger software means you can choose between emailing posts (see Part 1 in this series), posting by logging in to your blog in the browser or letting Hblogger do the work
  • Easy-to-read screen/legible typed characters
  • Device easier-to-use than your average laptop
  • Similar size to a cell phone - just a little wider
  • Includes MP3 player for music
  • Software available includes ebooks, travel guides and language/translation aid
  • Cost: out of production now, but available on eBay and other places for about USD$200
Cons

  • Touch screen keyboard with stylus, not as comfortable as a normal keyboard
  • A little tech know-how is needed to optimize the device
  • If unsecured WiFi connection not available, can be expensive to post via paid connection
  • No camera - photos must be transferred to PDA from camera for blog posting
  • No GPS or cell phone

__________________

[The abovementioned features are those that come with the Palm LifeDrive. David advises that his is a model not commercially available anymore but which can still be purchased at eBay and other places. Other PalmPilots and PDAs may come with different features. This post is intended as a general suggestion of PDA devices as a possible solution for pilgrims who wish to blog more easily from the Camino. It is not an endorsement of any particular product or its manufacturers. Other products on the market may be just as good or even better than the one mentioned here. If you're interested in comparing other PDAs or PalmPilots, have a look at sites such as: howstuffworks.com.

If you are familiar with any alternative PDA or moBlogging devices that you think would be useful for intending pilgrim bloggers, feel free to leave a comment below.
]



What are your thoughts? Share your views & experiences below.

1 comments:

huo c j said...

excellent read in my preparatory days,
wondering if the ipod or lesser will be a solution for a non geeky senior ;-)