Browsing Tag

review

North America, Reviews, Travel Advice

Riding The Rails Of The Verde Canyon Railroad In Sedona, Arizona

January 22, 2012 • By

Without a doubt, the expansion of the western states would have slowed to a crawl without the assistance of the railway system plowing its way through the plains. Today, most of those trails are fleeting memories, but some still live on in the form of the Verde Canyon Railroad.

There have only been a few times in my life that I’ve ridden a train, actually, I can count that number using one hand and still have a few digits left over. I guess I’ve always just wanted to get to my destination faster than what the rails could take me. When I got the chance to check out the Verde Canyon railroad as their guest during my trip in Sedona, Arizona this past June, I was ready to pull the train whistle myself and shout, “All Aboard!”.

READ MORE


Reviews, Travel Advice

A Guest Review of Tripsplitter, The App

March 13, 2011 • By
Tripsplitter

A pensive David Bennett

After reading my post about the 12 best apps to make traveling a breeze, David Bennett asked to share one of his favorite apps with the rest of you.  While it’s not free (you’ll have to spend a buck ninety nine on it) he felt it was important enough to sing its praises here after having found it useful so many times during his travels.

On a side note, I thought it would be a good idea to review this one because I remember the time when I had a meetup in Paris with some internet acquaintances.  I purposely did not order liquor (for two reasons, one…not a big fan and secondly, I was watching my budget).  Imagine my surprise after they had singlehandedly inhaled the contents of the establishment’s liquor cabinet that they announced to the waiter that we would split the bill six ways.  Oh, not so fast, grasshopper…..I was only paying for what I actually ate.  I wasn’t there to subsidize their drinking habits.  So, I paid my portion and bid them farewell.  I suppose some would say be a good sport and pay….you wouldn’t want them to think poorly of you, right?  I figured that there was a reasonably good chance I’d never lay eyes on them again, so I thought more about not being taken advantage of than popular opinion.  There, now that I’ve had a chance to vent…David…take it away!


Sharing expenses and working out who paid what is a chore that can become painful if it runs out of control.

Never is this more true than on a trip when there are a lot of other much more interesting things to capture your interest.

What is the best way to stay on top of this? Should one keep the receipts to sort through later? What about those occasions when you don’t get a receipt? Should you scribble the amounts down in a small book as you go along?

I know that my Moleskine notebook used to get a lot of use that way.

Whichever method you use to record expenses, eventually you have to add everything up and work out who has to pay whom.

My Expenses Nirvana
My wife and I run separate bank accounts and we try to be fair to each other with expenses.

However, sometimes we stare at an entry and wonder whether the amount I scribbled down refers to the groceries one of us bought or some other purchase that remains a mystery.

Of course, if I made a careful record of each purchase it would be different. But scribbling notes ‘on the run’ and keeping careful records don’t always go hand in hand.

So when I saw an app for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPod that made the whole process easy, it didn’t take me more than a minute to decide to get it.

Tripsplitter

How It Works
To start a new trip, type in the names of the participants.  Up to six people can be accommodated, as you can see here in screen one.

You only do this step once unless you start a new trip or change the participants.

Now the trip is set up.

Next time, when you click the icon to open the app, you will see screen two. Click the blue ‘+’ button at the top of the screen. That brings up screen three.

Choose the kind of entry you want to make (you can change the section names at any time), and that takes you to screen four where you enter the amount and the details of the payment.

Click for who paid, and click for who is going to share the cost.

It takes longer to explain than to do it!

Who Owes Who
When you want to see who owes who and what amount, turn the device sideways at any time and you will see the amount.

And if you want another record of your expenses, just email yourself a file straight from the app. Then at your convenience you can open that file in Excel on your home computer.

It really could not be easier. All the arithmetic is done for you and because it is so easy to enter amounts and type in what the entry is for, it has turned a chore into a pleasure.

I highly recommend it!

When not exploring the world of iPhone applications, David Bennett is a photographer and designer who together with his wife Tamara runs Quillcards – a travel, photography and card site.


Reviews, Travel Advice

One Traveler’s Review Of The Amazon Kindle 3

October 14, 2010 • By

This is the third in a series of infrequent articles that feature technology reviews for the budget traveler

There are never enough hours in a day, is it?  Between working a full time job, running three Blogs, traveling whenever I can; there is rarely time to think, much less indulge in things that I desire, but can’t due to time constraints.  Being busy is a good thing, however, when it keeps you from doing some of the simpler things in life, it becomes drudgery.

One of those simple things that I’d begun to miss was reading.  As a writer, reading is fundamental.  I couldn’t recall the last time that I had read anything with more pages than a magazine.  As a traveler, it’s important to have an escape from the real world and there ‘s nothing better at accomplishing that than immersing yourself in a good read.  So, I resolved to take a stand; to get back to the basics.  I had to do something dramatic, something that would force me to follow through on my goal.  My solution was the Amazon Kindle 3!  I had been a fan of the Kindle since its first incarnation as a white, much larger and more expensive electronic reader.

Amazon Kindle 3

Ta Da!! Here’s my Kindle in all of its glory!

I thought it was a cool invention spearheaded by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com.  However, at the time, I couldn’t imagine having to pay $399.00 for the reader and still pay for the books on top of that!  Well, patience truly is a virtue.  With its recent version, Amazon has decided to offer more features at a cheaper price.  The Kindle 3 is smaller (6”), sleeker (weighs less than 9 ozs) and your choice of either a lovely shade of charcoal grey or bright white.  The Kindle 3G Wireless Reading Device, Free 3G + Wi-Fi, 6 allows you to search the net wherever there is a Wi-Fi hotspot to be found and sells for 139.00.  The Kindle 3 with Wi-Fi and global 3G coverage allows you to surf the net whenever the spirit hits you, no hotspots needed and it sells for 189.00.  Each of those features (Wi-Fi and 3G) is free for the life of the reader.

Amazon Kindle 3

When not in use, the Kindle goes to ‘sleep’ and a screen saver shows up on the display.  You must slide the button on the bottom right to ‘wake’ it.

As luck would have it, it took a month to get mine as the sudden drop in price created a frenzy in the book-reading world.  Alas, the wait was worth it.  I am absolutely enamored with my Kindle!!  As of this writing, I have almost 100 books stored on it.  There are so many places to find free books online, that is probably where you should start.  Amazon offers various genres that can be purchased through their one-click ordering system.  It literally takes two seconds to buy a Kindle title on Amazon.  And literally 60 seconds later, that title is transported wirelessly to your own personal Kindle.  Be sure to do a search on free Kindle books in their Kindle store before you begin to pay hard cash for a book.

You can organize your books into collections. My collections are divided into author’s names mostly, but some are based on subject matter.

If you don’t create collections, you will have to scroll through pages of this…depending on how many authors you have downloaded. Yuck!

To group an author’s work together into a collection, click on Home, then Menu.  Scroll down to Create new collection.  A dialog box will pop up to allow you to name the collection.  Once you name it, you can click through the pages and select books to add to said collection.

While you can manage your Kindle library on your local hard drive, I prefer to use the freeware, Calibre E-Book management to organize, track and maintain my Kindle books.  It’s a quick download and very user-friendly.  Simply attach your Kindle to a USB port on your computer and as soon as it is recognized, you can transfer books that you have saved on your hard drive or a flash drive to your reader.  I like the way that it can usually locate and download book cover art work that you may be missing or how it can convert incompatible formats like E-Pub to a more usable format like MOBI so that you will be able to read it easily on the Kindle.  Additionally, you will be to edit author and title information if necessary.

Click on Menu and you will see where you can turn the Wi-Fi on/off, purchase more books, search or add bookmarks and/or notes.

It’s a good idea to pass on their offer to sell you a warranty from their warranty provider, Service Net, which warranties your reader for two years at 49.00.  You can get a better deal from Square Trade Warranties (search for them on the Amazon site) which protects you for three years for 39.00!  I’m not usually a fan of warranties, but the e-ink screen on the Kindle is thin and that warranty protects you if you drop it or if it gets wet….something that warranties do not typically cover.  Therefore, as a budgeter, I can justify this cost.

Ok, now here’s a tip that could very well void your warranty ( that includes the following: Amazon, Service Net, Square Trade, all warranties on the planet earth)….if you do this you do so at your own risk.  I will not be responsible should something happen to your Kindle as a result of your trying this tip.   PERIOD!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I found out that you can upload your own screen savers (assuming you are tired of the ones that has people who died centuries ago on it).

First, you will have to hack your kindle.  Once the deed is done, you can visit a site created by a really cool dude named Jason.  His screensavers are fantabulous!  Check it out here.  I now have about 30 screen savers on my kindle.  Woot, Woot!

If you want to use your own personal pics….of your baby, husband, wife….you get the idea….you can use any black and white picture that is 600×800 pixels.

Click on the Home button, then Menu and you will be able to access this screen when you click on Experimental from the menu list. You can launch a browser to surf the net, listen to your book being read to you or or simply listen to some nice tunes that you’ve uploaded to the kindle.

To locate free books online check out:

Project Gutenberg

Feedbooks

Many Books

Free Kindle books on Amazon

Free E-Books

Aside from the Wi-Fi, 3G features, what makes the Amazon Kindle 3 so gosh darn special?

  • it can store up to 3,500 books
  • has a battery life of one month with a single charge when Wi-Fi is off; 3 weeks with wireless on
  • can be read in bright sunlight with no glare to have to contend with
  • has better contrast resulting in clearer text
  • has text to speech capabilities which can read English-language content out-loud to you
  • you can adjust the text size for easier reading
  • using the five- way controller button, you can place a cursor next to any word that you need to look up in their built- in dictionary
  • supports Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion.
  • changes page orientation to allow easier viewing of graphics and maps
  • stays cool and never overheats while you are reading
  • ready to use right out the box, no computer necessary
  • if you choose the Wi-Fi only version, you can get free access at any AT&T hotspot
  • has QWERTY keyboard that allows you to efficiently write and save notes
  • has password protection that allows you to safely lock your Kindle when not in use
  • has a 3 gig capacity for user content, so if you happen to have any room left over you can listen to MP3s as you read….just be sure to use headphones, otherwise it will sound like you are reading from a jukebox!

Be sure to buy a cover to protect your valuable investment.  I found mine on Ebay that was half the price that Amazon offered.  (UPDATE: I just saw my cover being sold on Ebay for four bucks and change with free shipping….Gah!!)  You will find that it’s handy to purchase a light to attach to the cover so that you can read at night, or on a plane or any public place without disturbing anyone.  I purchased this flex neck reading light from Amazon for 2.99.

Surprisingly, my flex light emits a lot of light, this time of year it’s dark during my commute to work, so this helps out a lot!

The dictionary feature is launched when you place your cursor next to a word and the definition will pop up either at the top or bottom of the page.

Hey, what are you waiting for? Go check it out!

Disclosure: I have included an Amazon link to this review for your convenience. Please note that A View To A Thrill does receive a small percentage for purchases made at Amazon.com when you click on the link.

 


Reviews, Travel Advice

One Traveler’s Review Of The 120 Gig Zune Player

May 28, 2010 • By

Zune Player

This is the second in a series of infrequent articles that feature technology reviews for the budget traveler

From the time my daughter asked about getting a first generation IPOD for her birthday many eons ago, I have been a devoted fan of the idea of selecting portable music of my own choosing.  Sure, there were plenty of  cassette players and walkmans that tried to turn my head along the way, but nothing surpassed the absolutely delicious prospect of downloading my own digital tracks to groove to while on the road.  Ummmm….yes, I said GROOVE!

While I can respect the innovative genius of the original Ipod, I must admit that I have a  preference for the Zune.  As most travelers can attest, long hauls on planes, trains or automobiles can turn even the meekest shrinking violet into a prime candidate for the ‘no fly’ list.  Variety is crucial when you are in a virtual holding pattern for hours on end.  The Zune allows you to not only download your favorite music, but if you need a change of pace, you can listen to the built in FM radio for your favorite disc jockey or sports/talk show.

Zune has a larger display screen which makes watching videos a bit easier (3.2″ v. Apple’s 2.5″) though some may not like the fact that the aspect ratio hasn’t changed accordingly; it hasn’t proven to be a problem for me.  One of the coolest features is that you can share music between players.  If your friend owns a zune, you can transmit songs back and forth….wirelessly.  You can also sync the songs that you’ve downloaded on your computer to your unit wirelessly or via USB cable if you prefer to sync and charge your unit simultaneously.  Zune has a subscription service called the Zune pass that allows you to stream and unlimited number of songs for $15.00 per month.  There is talk of that price decreasing soon, possibly as a response to Rhapsody’s lowering their subscription rate from $15 to $10/month.

The Zune’s ’rounded square’ navigational button rivals the ease and simplicity of the Ipod.  While it scrolls easily, you must take care to firmly press down on your selection, otherwise, you may end up not only selecting the wrong song, but possibly the wrong artist.  My advice is to always be sure to make deliberate, purposeful clicks when choosing your selections.

The one thing that really isn’t clearly notated is how to power your Zune off.  To turn your zune off, you will need to hold down the small button to the left of the navigation button and the bottom of the navigation button at the same time.  Press down until the display fades to black.  To turn your zune on, press down the small button to the right of the navigation button and the top half of the navigation button at the same time.  Of course, the Zune has more features than you can shake a stick at:

  • You can download pod casts
  • Store your favorite pictures
  • Download and play your favorite games
  • You can download music videos or those from your own personal vault
The headphones included with this version is markedly different from the previous 80 gig version which consisted of a premium and much more superior set of noise canceling ear buds.  I’m not quite why they chose to do this, but I opted to purchase the premium set and give away the other one.  You may want to save a few bucks and purchase all of your accessories from eBay.  There are quite a few reputable suppliers who sell Zune cases, screen protectors, ear buds, batteries, etc. for a few dollars and they offer free shipping to boot.  Of course, in the interest of fairness, I would love to hear from Ipod devotees about why they can’t do without their Ipods.  Please share!

Zune Player UPDATE: I am closing in on my first year of owning my zune player.  I hate to report that it is currently in the Microsoft service center being fixed for the second time.  This is not easy for me to admit, but at this point, I would NOT recommend buying this player.  There are major hard drive failure issues that are difficult for them to get a handle on.  When you send your unit in for repair, they do not send yours back but rather a refurbished replacement from another unlucky purchaser who had their own issues.  I’m fairly certain that I will have to replace it when it is out of warranty.  At that point, I will be spending my money on an IPOD.  Zune still shows much promise, however, until they work the kinks out, your money would be better spent elsewhere.

Source: http://www.cliczune.com/zune_120/

Product Features

  • Listen to your favorite FM radio stations and click to tag the songs you like for later purchase when you sync your device with your PC
  • Download millions of tracks, whole albums, or playlists with the Zune Pass subscription service; extend your subscription online or by purchasing a Zune Pass card
  • Connect to your home wireless network and remotely sync your Zune device with your PC collection from your dock, AC adapter, or speaker dock accessory
  • 120 GB capacity for up to 30,000 songs, 25,000 photos, or 375 hours of video
  • 3.2-inch color LCD with 320 x 240 pixel display resolution

Technical Details

  • Storage: 120 GB
  • Memory type: Internal hard drive
  • Display: 3.2-inch color LCD
  • Display resolution: 320 x 240 pixels
  • Audio support: AAC, MP3, WMA, WMA Lossless
  • Picture support: JPEG
  • Video support: WMV, H.264, MPEG-4, DVR-MS
  • Song capacity: Up to 30,000 songs
  • Picture capacity: Up to 25,000 photos
  • Video capacity: Up to 375 hours
  • Wireless connectivity: 802.11b/g
  • Wireless range: Up to 30 feet
  • Power supply: Built-in rechargeable battery, AC power adapter (not included), via USB port
  • Battery life (music): Up to 30 hours (wireless off)
  • Battery (video): Up to 4 hours (wireless off)
  • Charging time (AC adapter): Approximately 3 hours (full); approximately 2 hours (90 percent)
  • Charging time (via USB): Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes (full); approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes (90 percent)
  • Ports: Connector port, Headphone Jack/AV output
  • FM radio: Built-in with RDS
  • Languages: English, French, Spanish
  • Colors: Black, Pink, Green, Blue and Red
  • Dimensions: 2.4 x 4.3 x 0.5 inches / 61.1 x 108.2 x 12.9 millimeters (W x H x D)
  • Weight: 4.5 ounces / 128 grams

Reviews, Travel Advice

The Netbook, the Traveler’s Best Companion

August 13, 2009 • By

The Netbook

This is the first in a series of infrequent articles that feature technology reviews for the budget traveler

Most people, whether they are traveling for business or pleasure, want easy access to the internet.It’s a rare soul who wants to escape totally from the modern world.Whether you want to send pics home to family or friends, catch up on what’s happening in the world or review reports, we are inextricably tied to our electronic paraphernalia.

Technology has in large part satisfied that requirement with the advent of iPhones and Blackberries. While that may address surfing the web, it leaves a lot to be desired if you need access to spreadsheets and documents. The typical notebook is between 15-17 inches, bulky, inconvenient and costly. Sure, prices are falling as a general rule, but imagine having all of the functionality of such notebooks in the form of a 7-10 inch sleek chassis?

  • As a writer, I’ve found that a netbook is the logical answer for me during my travels. It fits easily in my large purse, isn’t cumbersome and has all of the programs that I require for live blogging or simply taking notes for articles. After doing a bit of research, I found that the 10.2” Samsung NC-10 would suit me just fine. It has glowing reviews and the following specs:netbook4

READ MORE