Fireside / February 2015

A Tech Guide for Travelers & Expats

I miss the Internet.  Is that weird?  Of all the things I thought I’d miss when I moved to Spain nearly two years ago, the Internet was nowhere on that list.  So, you can imagine my surprise when I moved here only to discover that the Internet is practically nonexistent here.  It’s like the early 90s.  No one shops online, people prefer phone calls over emails, and magazines see no point in having online versions, so of course they don’t know what a blog is. ARGH!  I’m of course speaking specifically about Spain, though I understand a lot of Europe follows suit, except the U.K.  What would I do without amazon.co.uk?  I shudder to think.

Travel tech_image

My point is, tech is different across the pond and there are certain survival tools a girl from California has come to depend on for her sanity.  Here’s my tech survival kit for frequent travelers and expats:

MUST-HAVE GADGETS

  • Power adapter – These little gems work for any of your electronics. Don’t plug your portable blender in here though, they aren’t meant for anything with a motor.
    Stick to your phone, laptop, tablet, etc.  I have about a dozen of these floating around my house.
  • Tablets – Smaller, lighter and more portable than a laptop, it’s a great travel companion for travel guides, games for the kids, movies, maps, etc.  I carried an iPad on my last trip to Rome and it was a lifesaver.
  • Solar powered bags – If you’re outdoorsy, or plan to do a lot of walking on your next trip, this might come in handy.  It keeps your gadgets charged too!
  • GRID-IT – This is the best gift ever for the Type A frequent traveler.  Who doesn’t need all of their gadgets, tech accessories and cables organized into one tidy place?

WEB TOOLS

  • VPN – This clever service miraculously tricks the Interwebs into thinking you’re not in a foreign country at all.  In my case, it looks like I’m logging on from New York, so I can still feed my Netflix addiction, for example, or shop at JCREW.com and Anthropologie.com.  Enough said, right?
  • Milanuncios.com – This is Spain’s answer to Craigslist.  I know I just told you that Spain has an Internet deprivation problem.  This is an anomaly, trust me.
  • Squarespace.com – When traveling or overcoming culture shock as an expat, many like to share and record their experiences through a blog.  This is my favorite platform.  It’s elegant, easy to use, and you can build websites quickly and easily too.

APPS, APPS, APPS

  • Kindle – If you don’t have a Kindle, the app is the next best thing.  I have it on my iPad and use it to download my favorite books, magazines and travel guides when wanderlust strikes.
  • iTunes Radio – Pandora doesn’t work over here and though iTunes Radio isn’t as good yet, it’s how I reconnect with good ol’ ‘merikah whenever I get homesick.  I never used to like country music, but now listening to the Taylor Swift channel in the shower makes me feel like I’m back in the States eating corn on the cob at summertime.  Spotify is pretty good too.
  • WhatsApp – This messaging app is all the rage among our friends in Europe and is catching on in the States from what I hear.  It’s a great way to keep those exorbitant mobile costs down while traveling.
  • XE Currency Converter – I’ve been here almost two years and still need to use this for converting euros to dollars and vice versa.
  • Google Translate – An invaluable tool while traveling anywhere you don’t speak the language. As a hint, stick to simple terms and phrases.  Anything more complicated doesn’t translate accurately, as the algorithm is incapable of deciphering idioms.  This little app made it possible for me to fake some Italian on my last trip to Rome.  It also helps me communicate with my little one’s daycare teachers, who speak Catalan.
  • Google Maps – This is an obvious one, but beware. The GPS avatar has an American accent and doesn’t exactly have an ear for languages.  If you want to crack up, listen to her pronunciation on your next trip to Spain.  I swear she’ll get you lost just because you can’t understand what the heck she’s saying.
  • Skype – For keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family, or the occasional international business call for free.
  • Kayak Flight Tracker – This is an important one, especially if your trip involves multiple flights and cities.  And of course, for when you suddenly become more interesting because of your new and exotic address and the visitors begin to fly in.
  • TripIt – A startup I actually used to work with and now owned by Concur, this handy tool helps you organize all of your flight itineraries, car rental and activity info, not to mention restaurant reservations and more, all in one place.  No more multiple emails and pesky printouts.  We’re saved!
  • The Weather Channel – I can’t go out or even get dressed without checking this one out first.
  • Instagram – Add some extra life to those shots on the road.  This is especially useful for someone who’s not exactly professional photography material, like me.
  • Wi-Fi Finder – Whether you’re offline or online, this app helps you find nearby hotspots anywhere in the world.  You can find it in both the Android Marketplace and iTunes App Store.

And of course, a smartphone or phablet.  But that goes without saying.  What tech can’t you live without when away from home?

Happy travels!

The Enterprise of CES

Why should enterprises care about CES? It’s a huge trade show peddling the latest in consumer tech, right? How true, not to mention the fun of a trip to Vegas! As usual, CES came through with humongous TVs, super thin smartphones, cars that drive themselves, a few weird things one couldn’t possibly imagine having any purpose, really loud music and of course booth babes. But CES also gives us a good idea of what to expect in tech over the next few years and enterprises can glean something from that.

Here are five things that the enterprise world might find of interest, or at least amusing.

Samsung UHD curved

Cool TVs: The competition for the biggest, thinnest TV was on, but the 4K and curved TVs won the popularity contest. 4K TVs, also known as Ultra HD or UHD TVs, are the next generation of television picture quality, displaying four times the detail of HD, according to Trusted Reviews. CNET dismisses them as wasteful, claiming that the human eye can’t really detect such high definition.

The curved TV is exactly what it sounds like. Why would anyone want one? Apparently when you’re watching one, the experience is more immersive. Either or both of these options could be interesting in a conference room and some manufacturers are offering them in desktop monitor sizes, according to Network World.

Bendy phones: For companies that pay for their employees’ phones, or at least foot part of the bill, they will all breathe a sigh of relief when their teams start buying flexible phones, such as the LG G Flex 2, a bendable smartphone. Why? It’s obvious isn’t it? They’ll last longer, having the ability to resist scratches, being sat on, run over, etc.

Motivational desks: Okay, maybe that’s exaggerating things a bit, but they at least promote getting up from one’s desk every once in a while. The Kinetic Desk by a company called Stirworks moves up and down at the touch of a control surface and can be programmed to rise and lower based on a preset schedule. This is meant to force us to get up and move around, according to Network World. I’m not sure a moving desk would make me want to stand up, stretch and take a few laps around my home office, but there you go.

Super smart cameras: Ultra wide stitching cameras, such as the 360 Cam by Giroptic, are stationary cameras with multiple optical sensors and wide-angled, fixed-focal-length lenses that stitch together the images to remove distortions, an issue of previous versions. These devices have potential to be handy boardroom fixtures by adding a more inclusive experience for international clients or tele-conferencing employees, etc., who can choose to view multiple points, such as a PowerPoint presentation, or a particular person’s face.

New payment systems: Square has been the darling of mobile payments for some time and ApplePay has received some hype, but this new product is really cool and could be a very useful tool for small businesses and large brick-and-mortar stores. Loop Pay is a wireless way of paying for products that goes beyond NFC. It uses the credit card machine strip readers to transfer card data via a small chip in a phone case. Plans are in the works to embed this low-cost chip into phones, according to Trusted Reviews.

Did you go to CES? What stood out most for you that could benefit enterprises?

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