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Travel Technology

During my ten days Poland, I shot more than 400 photos – and I transmitted them back to my webserver in Dallas every night, which allowed my friends and family
Nikon CoolPix 700
Digital Camera
back at home to follow along with me on my journey in "semi-real-time." I performed this feat by using a mixture of ultra-modern and somewhat archaic technology, at a somewhat greater expense than I had anticipated, and with gritty determination (and more than a little dumb luck).

Since many people have asked me how I captured, processed, and transmitted these images, I thought I'd document it here to inspire (alarm?) those of you who may be planning to attempt a similar project.

Camera: I'm not a photographer, so I wanted a camera that was easy to use. And I wanted a digital camera so that I could transmit my photos back to my website each day. After conducting a fair amount of research on the Web, I decided to get the Nikon CoolPix 700, a 2-MegaPixel camera capable of taking photos with a resolution of 1600x1200. This is much higher than the resolution of photos that are typically displayed on the Web, so I figured that I was erring on the side of safety by capturing a greater level of detail than I'd be able to display. The CoolPix 700 takes photos at several different resolutions and quality levels, and I found that I was able to switch back and forth between them with just a little practice. I was quite pleased with the quality of the resulting photos, especially since the persistent cloud cover made for abominable lighting conditions. Camera model numbers change constantly, and I suspect that the CoolPix 700 is no longer in production. But Nikon has surely produced successors that are higher in quality – and, quite possibly, lower in price than the $600 I paid for mine back in August of 1999.

Memory: The CoolPix 700 uses Compact Flash (CF) memory cards, which have pretty much become the standard in memory for digital cameras and other small digital devices (although competitive memory standards are also in use). The camera was delivered with one 8-MB CF card, which is capable (according to Nikon) of holding up to 200 photos – but that's at the lowest possible
Compact Flash (CF)
Memory Card
resolution and quality level, and photos taken with those parameters are of marginal value. I found that I could actually fit an average of only about 20 photos (of various resolutions and quality levels) on an 8-MB CF card, so I decided to buy more memory. I ended up buying two 40-MB SanDisk CF cards from Buy.com for about $85 apiece; each 40-MB CF card allowed me to store more than 100 photos, leaving me more confident that I wouldn't run out of memory just as I wanted to take another shot. (As I write this, CF cards are available in sizes up to 192 MB.)

PCMCIA CF Card Adapter: Even with all that extra memory, I still wanted to be able to transfer the photos to my laptop PC regularly. (For one thing, I planned to take more photos than could be stored in even the extra memory; for another thing, I didn't want to have only one copy of the photos in case the cards were lost or damaged; and finally, I needed to have the photos on my computer so I could transmit them to my webserver.) The CoolPix 700 came with a serial cable that allowed me to transfer photos directly from the camera to a PC, but that technique was painfully slow. The problem was solved with a SanDisk CF Card Adapter that slid into one of my laptop's PCMCIA slots. With the adapter in place, all I had to do to transfer photos was to remove the CF card from the camera, plug it into into the CF adapter in my laptop, and copy the photo files from the CF card to my hard drive, exactly as if I were copying them from a diskette (but much faster). The adapter, by the way, cost less than $7 from Buy.com.

USB CF Card Reader: I don't have a PCMCIA slot in my desktop PC, so how was I going to be able to transfer photos from my camera to my PC when I returned home? That problem was neatly solved by a SanDisk USB CF Reader (actually, it's a reader/writer) that I picked up from Buy.com for about $35. The reader plugs into my PC's USB port; as with the PCMCIA adapter, I remove the CF card from the camera, plug it into the USB reader, and transfer the photo files to my hard drive.

Batteries: The CoolPix 700 can be run on four regular AA batteries – but not for very long, especially if you use the camera's LCD monitor. (It's possible to use the camera without the
Maha MH-C204F
Rapid i-Charger
monitor, but it's very awkward.) So I invested in eight (two sets of four) NEXCell rechargeable NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries from Thomas Distributing for about $2.50 each. I found that I could take about 100 photos on one set of NiMH batteries, which was a dramatic improvement over the dozen photos I could take with a set of regular alkaline AA's.

Battery Charger: Since rechargeable batteries are pretty useless unless you can recharge them, I went back to the Thomas Distributing website and bought a Maha MH-C204F Rapid i-Charger, which allows you to charge and condition up to four NiMH batteries in about two hours. The charger came with a another set of NiMH batteries (which came in handy) and set me back about $32. And since I knew I was going to be using the charger in Europe, I shelled out another $12 and picked up a European AC adapter specifically designed to work with the charger.

Laptop PC: I traveled to Poland with my nearly antique Toshiba T4600C laptop PC, which had served me well for many years, but which had a hard time performing this one final task for me. (The strain may have been too much for it, as it died shortly thereafter. RIP.) The T4600C was based on an ancient 33-MHz 486 Intel processor; it sported a 200-MB disk drive, 12 MB of RAM, and a 28.8-Kbps PCMCIA modem. Because my CF cards would not hold all of my photos, I had to transfer the photos from my camera to the T4600C every night. Unfortunately, the T4600C's small hard drive would not hold all of my photos either, so I had to transmit all of my photos to my webserver every night whether I wanted to or not. The processor was so slow that it took maybe 15 minutes for my graphics software to rotate photos that I had taken "sideways" – so after the first couple of photos, I just left the rest of them the way the were, figuring that the folks back home who were following along on my website could tilt their heads if they wanted to see the sideways photos that badly. (Don't worry, it's safe to look at the site now, I went back and rotated the photos after I came home.)

Internet Access: I'm in the web service business, and for various reasons (as explained above), I decided to transmit all of my photos back to my webserver every night via FTP on the Internet. (This is something that most of you could do even if you don't own your own webserver, by the way.) I use AT&T Global Network to access the Net while I'm on the road, because they have local access phone numbers all over the world. And indeed, I was pleased to note that they had a local number in Warsaw. And then I got lucky: on the GoPoland website. I stumbled across the info that Polish Telecom offered a free Internet access phone number that could be used from anywhere in Poland! (The number, by the way, was 0202122; I have no idea if it's still valid.) Between the AT&T Warsaw number and the Polish Telecom number, I was able to access the Net every single night, without exception. (Sometimes one number would work, sometimes the other number would work. From one hotel, I had to switch from tone to pulse dialing, but it worked!) Unfortunately, AT&T charges an hourly surcharge if you dial into an access number that's not in your home country. And even worse, local phone calls in Poland (and most other places outside of the U.S., I believe) are billed by the minute. And long distance calls (even within the same country) tend to be expensive. And hotels typically mark up both local and long distance call rates even more. As a result, I spent hundreds of dollars just to transmit my photos back to my webserver every night. Frankly, I think it was well worth it – but if you're planning to do
Phone Adapter
for Poland
something similar, I'd check around to see if you can find less expensive ways to achieve the same results. (For example: Do any cybercafes have CF card readers? Beats me, but it might be worth checking out.)

Telephone Adapter: Every time I travel outside the U.S., I first visit the Walkabout Travel Gear website and purchase telephone/modem adapters for the countries that I'll be visiting, for $13 each. Increasingly, I'm finding that hotels outside the U.S. (especially upscale hotels that cater to businesspeople) have RJ-11 jacks in the guest rooms, obviating the need for an adapter. However, most hotels still feature indigenous phone jacks, so you won't be able to telecommunicate from most places in the world without an adapter.

Graphics Software: I used to rely on Micrografx Picture Publisher, which was easy to use (an essential criterion for me, as I have no artistic talent or background whatsoever), but which did not do an especially good job of reducing the size of graphics. Since many of the photos I took were huge, size reduction was a critical element in the creation of this website. So at the recommendation of a friend who works with Web graphics for a living, I switched to Macromedia (now Adobe) Fireworks, which is also fairly easy to use, and which does an astoundingly good job of reducing the size of large graphics without also dramatically decreasing the quality of the result.

Web Editor: Finally, people occasionally ask me what Web editor I used to create this site. I do have Macromedia Dreamweaver on my development PC, and I think it's an excellent piece of software – but I started out by coding HTML by hand, and I've gotten very set in my ways, so I tend not to use Dreamweaver except in emergencies. So the answer is that this website was created not with a Web editor but with a text editor (Windows NotePad, in fact).

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