What’s all this Starbucks stuff?

I keep mentioning popping into Starbucks for web updates and email. That’s because its where we can get online with our Tablet, which has wireless Ethernet built in. Instead of having to sit in a cyber-café, using somebody else’s PCs, we can sit in a Starbucks and do everything from the Tablet. We needed to buy a subscription to the t-mobile service, which cost $40 for the month, but then we have unlimited web access from any Starbucks. This is pretty reasonably priced compared to a cyber-café, which typically costs $10 an hour here in the States (almost ten times the cost of Canada’s cafés).

Once we walk into a Starbucks, we just open our web browser, and it asks for a username and password, and once that’s entered we’re off – we can then surf the web (for example, to update the text on this web site), upload pictures to the website (more on that later), and check our email. Basically we use Outlook for email, just like we would on our home PC, and so every email is loaded down onto our PC. We can then check it later if we want – we don’t have to sit in the café reading them. In fact, sometimes we just sit outside the Starbucks in the car and send/receive our email – it only takes 2 minutes, and we can then be on our way.

Compared to ten years ago, the difference is amazing. I remember rushing to get to Bombay Post Office to pick up our post restante mail, as we hadn’t been able to get any mail for 7 weeks, and then we’d rush down to the nearest Indian Coffee House to read what we’d received. And if our schedule changed, we’d sometimes miss our post completely (2 weeks late and it would be sent back, a day early and we’d miss it arriving). It meant that we were always 4 to 6 weeks behind on what was happening at home, no matter how big or small the news.

Now, the same feeling happens when we get to a Starbucks after a few days without email – like when we had 6 days without around Yosemite. We sat out in the car at the Starbucks in Jackson, and got really excited to see half a dozen emails from friends and family. But now, they’re only days old, or in some cases hours old, rather than weeks.

The other advantage of the Tablet is that we can plug the memory card from the camera straight into it – so if we take photo’s during the day, I can load them onto the Tablet in the evening, and then edit them for the web straight away. I don’t do anything fancy with most photo’s – simply shrink them in size to make the thumbnail and the bigger image that you get if you click on them (the originals are too huge to load onto the website and would take ages to download – they’re all around 1MB, with a 2000×1600 resolution – the big ones on the website are 800×600, and typically come in at 75k). They may take a minute or so to download with a modem, but contrast that to last time we were travelling – we had our photos with us for 2 years, and then brought all 2,000 back with us to develop and look at in one shot.

The technology so far is proving to be very robust and reliable – I don’t think I could recommend any of it highly enough – the Tablet PC for its robustness and sheer cleverness (I get stopped by people all the time asking what it is and where can they buy one), the Canon Ixus 400 Digital Camera (when you buy one, buy a spare battery and a big memory card, as you can then take loads of photo’s and delete the duff ones when you get back to your PC) and the Sony PC9E Camcorder (its so small and light, its easy to carry every day). The only disappointing thing about the Canon camera is that it already looks ancient – the special new durable metal CeraBrite finish the camera’s supposed to have isn’t worth toffee (in fact, toffee may be tougher) – but just because it doesn’t look new anymore doesn’t affect how it works. The only bit of technology I’m regretting is the CESAR CD Writer, made by Archos. I chose it because it’s battery powered, and doesn’t need a mains adapter (a pretty important thing when it all goes on my back in the rucksack). But its proving to be very unreliable – I probably waste 3 CD’s every time I try to create one. I always get there in the end (I need to write the photo’s to CD so that I can send them home) but it’s a frustrating process.

So that’s what this Starbucks stuff is all about – being in touch, being able to find out what’s going on with friends and family, and being able to keep this website up to date. But that all stops when we leave America next week – goodness knows what Fiji will offer, and when we get to Australia we’ve got to work out how we stay connected when we’re touring the country in our campervan (there’s no national network of wireless access points there, so we may have to resort to a mobile phone connection!). We’ll see when we get there.

Categories: USA