cell phone


Chinese Version

When we drove from Mammoth Cave National Park to Smoky Mountains National Park, we saw horse-drawn wagons on roads a couple of times. Amish Wagon in KentuckyWe knew they were Amish and, as we passed by, we curiously glanced at them. One time, it was a bearded man with a hat (see picture) and another time it was a young lady. Although I didn’t know much about Amish but I was aware of their idiosyncrasy of avoiding technology such as automobiles, electricity, etc. I remember thinking, “Hey, that is a cool way to travel; and I wonder if they need a driver license or has to be 16 to ride.” If they don’t, that seems to be a great way of getting around the laws.

Later on when we were on the East Coast, we ran into them a few times, on roads and at National Mall, Washington DC. In DC, there were a group of Amish folks there; wondered where they parked their wagons? Since then, I read a little bit about the Amish and found that they don’t mean to avoid technology like it is evil; they want to isolate themselves from the influence of other societies, shunning TV, radio, phone, etc. I guess that is one way to live. This got me thinking of the current technology trends.

iPod is a popular item. I see a lot of people carrying them but they are not cheap. I wonder why people buy them: because they really need iPods or because they are popular? I don’t own an iPod because I am afraid to lose it and I need time alone with my thought. I barely have enough time to be in a situation where I can be free of all out media attacks, TV, radio, internet, CD/DVD player… why pay a few hundred dollars to rob myself the freedom? But maybe I am turning into an Amish, resisting the latest technology, just like they resist television. Have I become close-minded? I hope not. Hopefully my 4 computers would spare me the label.

Now there is a 500 dollars iPhone on the market. Are you going to fork over your hard earned money? I know I am not. I really don’t need to be so connected all the time that I won’t know what to do if I am not at home or at office. Even my cell phone is secondhand that my friend didn’t need anymore. Maybe there is some Amish in me after all or I am cheap or I am just not cool enough or I am short-sighted. Oh well, at least my kids are still too young to judge me. I cannot imagine my life without a car: just this trip would have taken us at least a few years to complete; maybe someday people cannot imagine their life without an iPhone.

On the other hand, if I didn’t have a car, I would have found a job closer to home (or became unemployed) so I could ride my bike (or ride my horse) to work–be fitter and environmentally friendlier. And take a few years break for vacations: that wouldn’t be bad at all.

Let me know if you ever see an Amish carry an iPod or an iPhone.

Analog vs. Digital:

As I mentioned in the previous post and in another post about cell phone reception, our digital cell (AT&T/Cingular) didn’t work well in a lot of places on this trip. I remember a few years ago, I used my company’s dual-band cell phone at Grand Teton and was able to get reception on the analog band. Although we travel a lot, we don’t use cell phones often enough to know how extensive digital and analog services are. I would like to hear your cell experience on analog band vs. digital band. What is the best choice if we want to have a cell phone for safety purpose in remote wilderness? What would you bring instead?

To Have or Not to Have:

We do not use cell phone users often mostly because we don’t have the habit of carrying cell phones with us. For me, personally, I knew I would misplace my phone if I ever had it. And, unfortunately it becomes true when we decided to have them during Susan’s 1st pregnancy for safety reasons: I often misplace mine for hours if not days. Perhaps I don’t think it is important as I hardly ever misplace my glasses–I am legally blind without it. There are other reasons I didn’t want to have a cell phone: its convenience and its intrusion.

  • Convenience: I was afraid that I would abuse its convenience, therefore, becoming a less dependable person. Unfortunately, it becomes true in some respect as I am late more often now and will cancel the last minute because I know I can make a phone call to inform others as if having a cell phone gives me the right to do so now. I would hope my tardiness is more due to the 2 babies than my cell phone but it definitely contributes to some degrees. But I know it is not completely true as I would most likely not to be late if there was 1,000,000 dollars involved.
  • Intrusion: Most of us have been brought to be courteous and not to interrupt when others are having a conversation. Cell phones seem to give us the license to interrupt. Granted that the receivers do not have to answer but they often do even when they have company. Isn’t that rude? Does our life become so complicated and unsafe that we have so many emergencies now? Or have we become less patient now?

Power corrupts. Most of us do not have the power some of politicians have. If we were to become politician, can we stay neutral and not get corrupted? Behavior on small matters can foretell behavior on big matters. Would this hold true when projecting cell phone behavior to political behavior? Have your behavior changed since you have cell phones? Do you think you can be a politician with integrity? I used to think I can but now looking at how my behavior changes due to a cell phone, I wonder if I can now with that knowledge. Can you? What do you think?

If you find your life hectic because your cell phone constantly rings, I challenge you to put away your cell phone for a week. Let me know if that restore some order to your life.

Although we live in Silicon Valley, we have not been on the leading edge of technology, mainly because I don’t like to carry things with me as I tend to lose or misplace them sometimes. Also I find them to be restricting as opposed to be liberating: I yearn for freedom. However, for this trip, we decided to be on the safe side and, of course, to keep a lasting memory of our trip.

We decided to carry two cell phones with us. We had an AT&T/Cingular digital service. We thought we would be safer with them in case we would get stranded. As it turned out, a lot of places we went did not have digital signal (at least not AT&T/Cingular). I guess they only put cell towers where there would be a lot of usages (a.k.a. people). Well, if there were a lot of people, then we wouldn’t be stranded even if we didn’t have a cell phone. As we were driving through the country, there were lots of places we didn’t get any signal, especially in the Midwest where population density was low. Even in some National Parks, we didn’t get any signals. So don’t be fooled into thinking that you will be safe with a cell phone. Next time, we will bring a phone with analog capability.

As another safety precaution, we decided to bring a couple of GPS devices with us. Why two, you ask? It was because I already had them. Although I am not a gadget person, I have been using them for a year to keep track of places we traveled to. I also wrote software to display where we went, how fast we were traveling by distance and by time (great for bike riding) and where each picture was taken on a Google map. For this trip, we took both Magellan eXplorist 500 and Garmin GPSMap 60C. I liked the eXplorist for its small size, external memory support and unlimited track points storage but not its proprietary battery. I liked the Garmin for its user interface and standard battery but not its lack of external memory and only 10,000 points of track storage. Garmin has since released GPSMap 60Cx which has external memory support but from what I heard, it still has the limitation of 10,000 points. I also ordered an external antenna, Gilsson, for the GPSMap 60C so we could use it in the car as both devices did not get great reception in the car. The antenna worked great on the trip, allowing us to know where we were at all times (except in big cities like Chicago and New York).

It took me a while to figure out how to use both devices. After about a few weeks, I kept Garmin in the car to keep track of driving and carried the eXplorist 500 for hiking. I downloaded the Garmin tracks about every 4-5 days and uploaded new map regions to it and for eXplorist, I only had to charge it after 2-3 hikes as it had enough storage for me to save each hiking track. The downloading map part for Garmin was easy and fast; the downloading map part for eXplorist was slow and less flexible. However, it did have external memory (256 Mbytes) so I only downloaded one time where we would most likely go hiking and didn’t bother to download new maps to it again. It worked for us as we were mostly only using it to keep track of where we were going but not depending on it to find our destination. Always carry a compass and a paper map in the wilderness.

For software, we used Garmin Metroguide North America and Garmin MapSource TOPO USA for GPSMap 60C and Magellan MapSend TOPO for eXplorist 500. Because we liked the adventure of finding our own ways to places so navigation capability was not high on our list of must have. However, we did try to use the GPSMap 60C for navigation a few times with various successes and failures. We downloaded the route from Bryce Canyon National Park to Arches National Park but when I tried to activate the route on the device, it kept failing with an error of not being able to find a road. We also downloaded a route from Cleveland to my Aunt house at Columbus, Ohio. When we got close, it kept asking me to make a turn where there wasn’t any street to turn. However, when we were Vancouver, we had to make a detour because of traffic, I asked it to reroute me on the fly and it did a good job that time.

We did find the ‘FIND’ feature on the GPSMap 60C useful to look for gas station and grocery stores. However it would be better if it can list the gas stations in the direction where we were heading first as opposed to places we had just passed. Also it would be great if it can tell us where the cheapest gas was at. I know there are some services offering such service but we didn’t need to know the exact price just a general trend for the last year. It would be a good indicator. For example, when we crossed from one state to another state, we always found surprises. Some information was outdated but it bailed us out a couple of time looking for a gas station. Use them with the expectation that it may not work; don’t bet your life on them.