It’s that time of the year when I head off to the wilds of Wisconsin to make my pilgrimage to visit my mother-in-law. I’ve been making the trip at least once a year for the past 14 years, and each time I go I’m thrown into a world that is both ahead and behind my normal level of technology. On the one hand, I see many more Macs, in shops, cafés and even opticians. On the other hand, my super-up-to-date quad-band telephone doesn’t work because they’re still using analogue mobile networks once you leave the beaten track. So it’s with some trepidation that I pack my bags for the dairy state.
Sometimes when I go on holiday, I like to travel light – no tech at all. Usually I’m semi-successful at this. I can live with just a mobile phone and maybe a camera. This time, however, I will be so bristling with technology that I’m practically guaranteed of not just tripping the metal detector at the airport, but of a full cavity search. You see, my regular trips to Wisconsin have left very little of the Door County area unexplored. Consequently, I must rely on my own wits for amusement – so here is my plan:
First in the bag is my laptop – actually my 15-inch PowerBook and my wife Heidi’s fancy new 12-inch model. This will be a lifeline for Web access and email, should I find a WiFi hotspot or even get to plug into a broadband connection. It will also serve as a charging station for various other electrical items. I’ll need a couple of power adaptors to get the PowerBooks charged, but that should be enough to power the other USB and FireWire things.
The plane ride itself will need additional entertainment. Despite great advances in in-flight entertainment, I find that having 40 naff films to choose from is no better than having two bigger budget ones. So it’s iPod to the rescue. I say iPod – I mean one 40GB iPod and two iPod shuffles (for Heidi; I’m unsure how she ended up with two). My iPod will carry all my music, plus the latest audio books and magazines from Audible.com. Heidi has one shuffle filled with Open University lectures, and the other with her special selection of music. That should keep us busy for the ten-hour flight.
Once we arrive in Chicago, we’ll have a five-hour drive up to Sturgeon Bay – and although we know the way, it never hurts to have a GPS unit in tow. The GPS also doubles as a recreational device when coupled with www.geocaching.com, a geeky treasure-hunt Web site. Geocaching is great because it gives purpose to a Sunday drive and meaning to a walk in the woods. It just might give me something to do in Door County.
If you’ve ever listened to radio in the US you’ll know that if you’re not a fan of country, red-neck rock or... no, wait... actually, if you are a fan of music, then the radio is pretty pointless. I like WGN, the Chicago talk and news station, but that fades out as we head north. Time to crack open the US street-legal iTrip, so I can tune the car radio to my own radio station.
While I’m on the main highways my quad-band telephone will work, but I’ve been testing a BlackBerry mobile (see page 50), which I hope will let me send and receive email on the move. I might even use the Web browser to get helpful hints when looking for treasure on a Geocache run.
Once we arrive in Sturgeon Bay we’ll be heading for a woodland retreat, which I take to mean somewhere very unconnected indeed. I’ll have a couple of tools in the old utility belt to potentially combat this. If there does happen to be a broadband connection in the vicinity, I will ask nicely if I can plug in my AirPort Express. If there’s a sniff of a WiFi connection in the air (however unlikely) my Intego WiFi Locator (November 2004) will find it.
More realistically, it will require a trip to the local coffee shop, Internet café, and de facto tourist information centre to get online. Last time I was there, they had a couple of eMacs plugged into a broadband connection. Perhaps they’ll let me plug in the AirPort Express for the week.
Later in the week, Margie (mother-in-law) will become an octogenarian, so cameras and camcorders will be at the ready. I suspect it will be a fairly subdued occasion, but it’ll be worth recording. Then it will be a race to the hotspot to get my .Mac site updated, and photos ordered. That way, the other family members that can’t make this milestone will be able to join in the celebrations.
So while in previous years I have travelled light, this year’s travel pack will include the following: PowerBook (x2), iPod, iPod shuffle (x2), Motorola V600 (x2), Garmin GPSMAP 60CS, BlackBerry 7100t, JBL OnStage, digital camera (x2) and video camera. Batman’s utility belt would shrink at the sight of my mighty tech power. I’ll be like a DIY RoboCop, a human transformer... the mightiest geek in the world.
Of course, normally I would be ashamed to admit the extent of this geekiness, but there are two things that let me tell you these details. First, by the time you read this I’ll already be gone and probably be home again, so mugging opportunities will have passed. Second, only in Wisconsin would such an affront to fashion, coolness and savoir faire be actually considered no worse than the average. In a state where you’re considered well dressed when head to toe in Green Bay Packers merchandise, it’s difficult not to be cool. Wisconsin is so dripping with chintz that if Ikea ever tried to open a store I swear it would be torched as a tool of the devil.
The fact of the matter is that if you find yourself in the quieter backwaters, forget your Boy Scout instincts. All you need is a ton of technology and you’ll have plenty of fun just trying to find a power socket.
While all around you are drinking in the views you’ve seen a thousand times, you could be emailing work to see if you forgot anything before you left. You know I could have sworn that sounded like a good idea before I started packing