On Vacation With The Gadgeteer Article


Can you believe that I hadn’t been on a REAL vacation in over 6 years?! Sure,
I’ve gone on several training trips for my day
, and computer trade shows for The
Gadgeteer this year, but I’m talking about a real honest to goodness kind of
vacation. The type of vacation where you purposefully distance yourself from
work, or at least try to. Let’s just say that after 6yrs, I was in dire need of
a break!

I have just returned from a week in sunny "red rock country" Sedona, Arizona
and have to say that it’s been the best vacation that I’ve had in my life thus
far. If you want a low stress vacation, this might be the place you would want to
visit. Located in northern Arizona (the high dessert), this area had the most
gorgeous red rock mountain formations that you’ll ever see! Everywhere you looked
was a breathtaking view.

Being The Gadgeteer, I thought people might be interested in hearing about
the gear that I took with me on this adventure, and the gear I wish I would have
had with me!

Almost every vacation begins with three main tasks. First you book your flights,
then reserve a
rental car and of course you can’t forget living accommodations. Each of these tasks have information
associated with them that you will need at some point during the vacation. You
can keep track of this info in a non-geek way if you wish by writing notes on
paper <shudder>. Or, you can do it The Gadgeteer way, and use your PDA!
Throughout my trip, I used a very nifty program called Traveller from
Two Peaks Software. This is a Pocket PC
title (a desktop version is also available) that requires 519K of space and
costs $24.95. Traveller allows you to keep track of flight info, rental car
info, hotel info and much more! It can also keep track of expenses, currency
conversion, mileage between cities and frequent flyer miles. This program allowed me to keep all my important confirmation numbers and
flight details in one easy to find place.

Now, I don’t know about everyone else, but I tend to pack light when I
travel. I don’t like to pack everything but the kitchen sink in my carry-on
bags. I keep all my gadgets with me and never check them with my regular
luggage. Instead, I use my Sundog gear bag (sorry, I think they are out of
business…) to hold all the ‘stuff’ that I can’t get along without.

For this trip, I knew I just wanted to bring along one PDA to keep track of
all my travel info and regular contact data. I choose to bring my
Zayo Pocket PC instead of the
Sony CLIÉ NR70V. I picked the Zayo because
it is currently my main brain. I brought the AC adapter along too so I could
charge it when needed. Fortunately, the prongs on the adapter can fold down
allowing it to take up a little less space in my gear bag.

During waits at the airport and the 3-4hour flight, the Zayo kept me
entertained by playing MP3s and games. Some of the games that I took with me on
my 128mb SD card included
Emperor’s Mahjong, and

Since this vacation was chocked full of photo opportunities, I knew I’d want
to bring along a digital camera. Instead of taking my large Nikon Coolpix 990
though, I opted to take my little Canon PowerShot S110. Although it is only a
2.1 megapixel digicam, I could slip it in my jeans pocket for super quick
access. I couldn’t do that with the Coolpix as it was just too bulky. I also brought along a Sandisk
96mb CF card, a Kingston 128mb CF card, and a Sandisk PCMCIA CF adapter so that
I could transfer pictures to my notebook at the end of every day.

The notebook that I brought along with me was the Fujitsu Lifebook 2110
otherwise known as MiniMe. :o) This notebook made a perfect traveling companion.
Small size, great screen and long battery life were the three main reasons why I
bought this notebook. Tricked out with a 867mhz processor, 256mb of RAM, 30G HD,
DVD / CD-RW combo drive, and an extended battery, MiniMe weighs in at only 3lbs
11.1oz (1675g). This size and weight makes it super easy and quick to whip out
when going thru airport security checks.

People keep asking for  review of this notebook, so here’s a short one
that I hope will satisfy…

After having tried the Apple TiBook, I switched to the Fuji because I needed
something that I could more easily use with my Windows based products and
software. This notebook does everything I need when I travel. I don’t use it as
my main machine because I prefer a large monitor, a full-sized keyboard, and a
snappier processor for my everyday usage. That said, the Fuji is a great little

First of all, it has a fantastic screen. I would say that it compares to the
TiBook in crispness and clarity. Of course it isn’t as large. The SXGA TFT
screen is approximately 9.25 x 5.5in. (10.6in diagonal) It’s the perfect size
for watching wide format DVDs. The max resolution that you can set it to is 1280
x 768. I have no complaints whatsoever in this department.

Keyboard-wise, it takes a slight adjustment if you are used to a full-sized
keyboard and are a fast touch-typist such as myself. The keyboard is only
slightly cramped. In the middle of the keys there is an ‘eraser head’ pointing
button. You use this instead of a mouse to move the cursor. Buttons under the
spacebar emulate mouse buttons. When I travel, I use the eraser head. When I’m
at home, I plug in a USB mouse into one of the two available USB ports on the
back of the notebook. More about the other ports in a sec.

As for speed, the Fuji won’t break any records, but it is fine for the tasks
I’ve thrown at it. The 867Mhz processor is a Crusoe chip which is more power
efficient. My desktop machine is an 800Mhz Athlon with 768Mb of RAM and feels
quite a bit faster at launching applications and performing some functions.
However, the Fuji’s system speed when surfing, emailing, and basic image editing
are all perfectly fine.

Battery life has been terrific! I have the extended battery which is rated
for 7hrs of usage. I like to run the screen pretty bright and tend to turn off
the energy saving features. Even doing that, I have seen 3.5hrs of use per
charge. No complaints here either.

Physically the Fuji is made very well. It has a magnesium case, but to me it
feels like more like plastic. The notebook is very solid. The right side has an
earphone jack (with simulated surround sound), one type I or II PC Card slot,
firewire port, and external monitor connector. The left side has the DVD (which
is removable), and the back has ports / connections for a microphone, bus mouse,
10/100 Ethernet, 56k modem, and 2 USB ports.

I also don’t want to forget to mention that the Fuji has built-in WiFi
802.11b. So far I’ve not used this while traveling, but I do use it at home.

All in all, I really love MiniMe!

Ok, back to the vacation stuff… Everything started out on a Saturday
morning. We packed everything up and headed to the Indianapolis International
Airport bright and early. The first ‘gadgeteer’ thing I did was scribble a note
on my Zayo to remind me where I had parked my car in the huge long term lot.
Next we were on a shuttle to the terminal and shortly there after bags were
checked and we were on our way to the gate.

The plane took off on time (YAY!) and soon we were headed west to Arizona.
Ok, let’s have a show of hands… who else gets bored on flights that last more
than 60mins? I mean, there’s only so many times that you can flip thru a Skymall
magazine right? ;o) Luckily for me, I had the Zayo! I spent the 4hr flight
playing Scrabble, listening to Puddle of Mudd MP3s and reading e-books. Before I
knew it, we had landed…

After waiting 5 billion years for our bags to come out of the carrousel, we
were off to the rental car pickup area. Again, I whipped out the Zayo and
retrieved the Enterprise confirmation number out of the Traveller application.
Badda Boom, Badda Bing, we were in a shuttle headed to the actual rental car
office and soon there after, were in a car headed north 125 miles to Sedona.

Our first taste of the Southwest was seeing the Saguaro cacti along
interstate I-17. I’d love to have one of these in my front yard! ;o)

2hrs later, we started seeing the red rocks that Sedona is so famous for.
This was really my first contact with real mountains of any kind. In Indiana, we
only have hills! Everywhere you looked there was an equally beautiful sight for
which there was only one word: wow!

Our motel was called the Sky Ranch
. To get there you had to drive up a pretty steep road that winded up,
up, up till it reached the top. This was a small ‘resort’ with great views and
relaxing gardens. Unfortunately, it did NOT have internet access. Fortunately,
MiniMe came with a free 3month MSN account. Within minutes of opening the door
to our room, I was unpacking my gear bag and dialing in to check email! Yeah,
yeah, yeah… I know… I’m pathetic. But hey, it had been almost 12hrs since
I’d last checked my mail! What do you expect?

Using the internal modem in MiniMe worked pretty well. During my stay I only
connected at a maximum of 26.4kps though.

After unpacking all the important stuff, we were starved, and decided to find
a bite to eat. Just a few yards down a dirt road was a small airport and a
restaurant. So we walked down the road, ordered food and started feeling
verrrrrry sleepy. About an hour later, we were done. By that time it was pitch
black outside (and it wasn’t even 6:30pm!). As we walked out of the restaurant,
we could see the hotel up ahead, but not the road… This was a problem because
I am blind as a bat in the dark. It takes quite a while for my eyes to adjust.
But, in true gadgeteer spirit, I remembered something that I had thrown into my
bag before leaving home: the

RoadWired Micro Light
! I pulled it out, pressed the button and we were back
to the motel in 2 mins!

Back in the room, I used
Pocket TV Browser
on the Zayo to look for something to watch on TV.

The next morning we walked back down to the airport restaurant for a quick
breakfast of eggs, pancakes and sausage. YUM! During breakfast we kept noticing
red bi-planes flying in and out of the airport in rapid succession. So after
eating, we walked over to the small building and saw that they offered different
types of plane rides. Although we had planned to drive 2hrs to the Grand Canyon
one day during the vacation, we opted for a 3hr plane ride over it instead.
30mins later, we were strapped into the back seats of a 5 passenger Cessna and
were up in the air! The flight took us over the Grand Canyon and allowed us to
see the amazing landscape. Unfortunately, the windows in the plane weren’t that
clear… so my pictures didn’t turn out all that great.

The gadget that would have been fun to have would have been a watch with an
altitude display. I think they make them…

After we landed, we went back to the motel for a short time, and then were
off again to explore the village of Sedona. We didn’t get very far though, we
happened upon a trolley stop and signed up for 2 1hr narrated trolley rides thru
the surrounding area. This was our first chance to see the local sights and take
some good pictures of the red rocks.

This was the day that we also learned that Sedona pretty much rolls up the
sidewalks at 6pm. Nope, no nightlife here folks! ;o)

The entire next day was spent walking the streets of Sedona’s shopping area.
Little shops featuring various items kept us busy all day. If you have any
interest in native American jewelry, this is the place for you! Later in the day
we ended up in another shopping area called
. Modeled after a Spanish village, this was a very cool area with
great shops and excellent restaurants.

But the end of that day, we were comforting our bruised credit cards, dog
tired and ready to collapse!

Tuesday was another day of adventure. This time it was a 3hr
Pink Jeep tour
through the mountains and to Indian ruins. This was an interesting tour that
yielded even more great picture taking opportunities. I was glad that I had a
digital camera, as another person on the tour who had been taking pictures had
her high price 35mm camera, had it lock up when the film was rewinding! EEP! I
also didn’t have to change film cartridges every 24 snaps like my traveling
companion did. My 96mb CF card allowed me to snap, snap, snap, over 140 pix till
it was full! At which point, I just took it out and popped in the 128mb CF card!

The only bad thing about the jeep ride was the fact that after it was over,
we had red dust all over us! I’m talking everywhere! It was even in my ears!

After the jeep trip, we went back to the motel to wash up a bit and then took
our life in our hands and drove on some dirt roads looking for more great
scenery. BTW: Chevy Impala brakes suck… or at least the brakes on the rental
we had.

That night, I tried to move the images that I had snapped on my Kingston
128mb card to MiniMe. For some reason MiniMe (using a Sandisk CF / PCMCIA
adapter) did not recognize the card at all. I’m not sure if it is the fault of
the CF card or the adapter. Once I got home, my regular reader was able to move
the pictures off with no problem. Has anyone else had this same problem by any

Before we could relax, it was another day and time for yet another adventure!
This time it was a train ride thru the Verde Canyon. First we had to drive
30miles or so to Clarksdale, AZ to the
Verde Canyon Railroad
. We ended up getting there about 90mins too early, so
we turned around and visited Tuzigoot
National Monument
. Another Sinagua Indian ruins, this one was way more
interesting as we got to actually walk thru the area and see it much closer as a
park ranger led us on a guided tour.


An hour later, we were back at the train depot buying our lunch and lined up
to get aboard. The train had several regular cars, but in between the regular
cars were open air cars that you could stand or sit in that gave you full view
of the red rocks. This 4hr ride was awesome. We even saw 2 eagles! And of
course, snapped way more pictures! The only thing I wish I would have had with
me that I didn’t, was a pair of very small binoculars. I need to put that on my
gadget wish list! Any recommendations?

After the ride, we drove back to Sedona and back to Tlaquepaque to the
Oak Creek Brewery for dinner. This is
where I tried pesto for the first time. OMIGOD, can you say YUM?! :o)

The week had practically flown by, and before we knew it, it was our last
full day in Sedona. Thursday morning found us visiting 2 very cool shops on our
way to the Oak Creek area for a day of hiking. We visited
Garland’s Navajo Rugs, and Garland’s
Indiana Jewelry stores. WOW, I wish I was rich! I really would have loved an
authentic Navajo rug. But, at $3000 or more for a large one, I think I’ll wait
till I win the lotto! I did end up buying some really cool sand art paintings

On the way to the hiking trails, we drove up and around some pretty scary
(height-wise) roads. I didn’t know I was afraid of heights till this trip!
Yikes! Again, it would have cool to have a watch that would have told me how
high up I was!

The hike was beautiful! I could really see myself living in this area one
day, I liked it that much!

Thursday night was spent trying to pack up all the stuff we brought and
bought into the same bags we arrived with. UGH!

Then Friday it was back to Phoenix to drop off the rental car and fly back to
Indy. My cell phone came in really handy when we got lost trying to find the
rental car return place. What a pain! >:o[

Once we finally got to the airport we were so happy (not!) to hear that our
flight had been delayed 2hrs. Good thing I had MiniMe with me to read the emails
I had downloaded from the motel before leaving, and the Zayo for e-books. Oh
yeah, I did have a couple regular magazines in my gear bag… but what fun are
they? ;o)

On the flight back home, my Sony MDR-G52 earphones that I received at
mobius 2000
came in really handy when they showed My Big Fat Greek Wedding movie (which by
the way, was pretty cute). They were selling little earbuds for $1, but I prefer
the around-the-back-of-your-head style phones.

Finally we made it back to Indy, drove an hour to Columbus and were home safe
and sound. The week went by quickly…. too quickly. But my gadgets helped to
make the vacation a success! I can’t wait till next year… We’ve got a mega
vacation in the works!!! :o)

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