Travel Tech 101



March 15, 2007 -- The advances in multimedia and high-speed connectivity really gelled for me while I was on a week-long business trip to Taipei earlier this month. Throughout the transpacific trek, I used a wide variety of software and services to entertain myself, educate myself and stay in touch with my home and office.

Needless to say, this kind of connectivity and productivity is a far cry from life on the road in the past: being bored to death in a hotel room, watching CNN International regurgitate the same stories hour after hour.

I've covered several of these products in earlier columns, but the true test of their usefulness is if they still hold your interest when the novelty passes. These products all passed that test and, surprisingly, I wasn't overburdened with gadgets, power adapters and cables. Most of what I did was with a notebook computer, mobile phone and an iPod.

Here's a chronicle of what I did and what I used:
     · During an hour-long wait for my flight from Carlsbad to Los Angeles, I connected to free WiFi in the Carlsbad Airport waiting room and watched The Today Show live on my notebook computer using a Slingbox AV ($180) attached to my home television.
     · Waiting for my Tokyo/Narita-Taipei flight at LAX, I used Kinoma Player software ($25) on a Treo phone to listen to KOGO, a San Diego radio station. I selected KOGO from the thousands of stations available.
     · On the flight to Narita, I watched episodes of Prison Break ($1.99) and listened to free Podcasts of NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me and Leo Laporte's This Week in Tech. All of this entertainment was downloaded onto a Video iPod using iTunes.
     · During my layover at Narita, I connected to free WiFi in the United Airlines lounge and called home for 2 cents a minute. I used Skype with headphones plugged into my laptop.
     · On my flight from Narita to Taipei, I began a terrific audiobook, Words That Work, read by the author, Dr. Frank Luntz. I purchased it for $19 on iTunes.
     · In Taipei, I returned to my hotel room after dinner each night and watched television on my notebook computer. Using my TiVo in conjunction with the Slingbox AV, I was able to screen the evening news and other programs that I would normally watch at home. At other times, I played music on my 30GB iPod while reading--from a real book!
     · When I arrived back at LAX, I passed the time waiting for a connecting flight to San Diego catching up on the latest news shows. I used a Samsung BlackJack phone running Windows Mobile to catch up on the latest news using Slingbox's handheld client ($30).

I found enough material to keep me entertained and informed on the trip, but multimedia has a lot more potential. What we've seen so far is just a taste of the access we can have to a variety of media--video, audio and print--from anywhere in the world at any time.

The problem, of course, is the entertainment industry. It produces the content, but then makes it difficult to use without annoying restrictions on how, where and when we watch. Why, for example, do we need to set up a Slingbox to watch TV from a remote location? Why not just allow us access it online directly from the broadcasting company? Why should I pay both a cable company and a television network to see the same content at a different time in a different place? And why shouldn't we be able to download a movie from Netflix and take it on the road to watch?

The entertainment industry resists this flexibility because it assumes that we can't be trusted and will copy and distribute content to others. That fallacious reasoning was exactly the same mentality that the music industry adopted when Apple first introduced iTunes. But I purchased more music last year than during the previous three combined because of iTune's convenience and my ability to buy on impulse. Compared to bricks-and-mortar stores, iTunes makes it easier to find what I want, preview it and then purchase it. So I buy more.

Eventually, of course, the entertainment industry will wise up and distribute its product without all of the restrictions. Once the barriers fall away, business will soar. And maybe that FBI warning we're forced to sit through at the beginning of every DVD will finally disappear, too.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 2007 by San Diego Transcript. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.