A Geek Goes Caravanning in Spain

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This geek and his wife decided that as they were now retired, footloose and fancy free they should take up caravanning again. When we last went caravanning the internet wasn’t invented ;-0

Now for someone who is permanently connected to his devices and the internet how was he going to cope with a 5 week holiday in Spain?  Well this is a story of how I ‘survived’, what devices I used and which apps I downloaded.

Devices

First of all which devices (hardware) did I take with me:

  • Smartphone – Google Nexus 4 on Vodafone Eurotraveller tariff
  • Tablet – Google Nexus 7
  • Laptop – Samsung Q45
  • Radio – Pure One Classic (DAB & FM) Radio. Of course the DAB didn’t work in Spain but the aux input was great for playing music and internet radio from my smartphone.
  • Satellite TV – Took TV and satellite dish but didn’t use as Astra satellite footprint no longer covers Spain
  • Travel Router – Took Zoom travelling router but not needed as Vodafone ES was good enough
  • Activity Tracker – Fitbit Flex

Weather

One of the main areas of concern when camping or caravanning is what’s the weather going to be like. I found two services that helped enormously.

First was the Spanish weather service El Tempo Eltiempo.es This has superb temperature & precipitation maps and an Android app

Second was a seven day weather forecast for each campsite with a max and min temp graph on Eurocampings.co.uk . They have a mobile app (see below) which I did use but it doesn’t show the weather.

Money Management

How best to pay site fees? Besides cash and credit card I used the following:

  1.  Alan Rogers card to hold my electronic camping cheques (prepaid site fees)
  2. Moneycorp card a Visa Debit prepaid card with multiple wallets for different currencies. This was great especially for drawing cash in euros as there were no charges for drawing cash in local currency. The exchange rate is fixed at the rate when you load the card. You continually load card whilst away.
  3. My bank has an Android app so I could check my account balance frequently.
  4. Andromoney on my phone to keep track of & categorise my cash expenditure and used Microsoft Money on the laptop for card transactions.
  5. Vodafone has an android app which allowed me to see how much I was spending on mobile internet.

Site Finder/ Reviewer

Before going I checked out Caravan Club European Tours for possible sites enroute here is an example for 2014

The app I used the most was Archie’s Campings. It is a great list of Points Of Interest throughout Europe. It indicates if a site is an ACSI and/or Camping Cheque site, and you can filter by ACSI/Camping Cheque only sites. It also links to Google search for each site to find reviews of the site. You can add directions to the campsite using Google Maps or as in my case straight into my satnav Copilot.

Other directories of sites (with Android apps) I used are:

Google earth was great for viewing the local area and site and Street view for close up of area.

Journal, Record of Trip

For my own benefit I kept a daily log of our activities using Diaro on my phone/ tablet/ PC. This was wonderfully clean and simple to use.

I frequently check(ed)in at places we visited using Foursquare and of course all my photos taken with my Nexus 4 were geolocated.

I was also running Moves on my Nexus. This ran silently in the background keeping a tally of everywhere I had been and whether I was walking, in the car or other transport.

For security my family were able to track my every move, whether I was connected to the internet or not, using an app on my phone called GPS Tracking Pro. This provided real time location updates using GPS Technology.

Mobile Data & WiFi

I used a mixture of Vodafone mobile data and wifi. Mostly mobile data was switched off on my phone unless I needed it to check in somwhere (couldn’t resist most of the time).

Vodafone eurotraveller which cost £3 a day when I used mobile data up to my UK plan limits. In fact I soon used up my UK mobile data limit of 500Mb but was offered another 1Gbyte for £6 which I took. My Vodafone app kept me informed of how much I was spending

All the sites we stayed at had wifi. I used this a lot especially if it was free. However the speed could sometimes be lamentable and mostly they were not secure. I therefore use Virtual Private Network (VPN) app called Hotspot Shield . This I used successfully on my laptop, tablet and smartphone.

Maps, guides,

Getting from one campsite to the next was a doddle using a combination of Archies POI (see Site Finder section above) and my satnav CoPilot. I used Archies to find the campsite which then sent the location to CoPilot for me it to work out a route.

Of course Google maps was very helpful on PC, tablet and phone for planning but I found we were use the ViaMichelin maps a lot as they had a route planning option for caravans, good terrestial maps and tourist info on their maps.

I didn’t download any specific tourist guides for Spain although subsequently I found a number of apps that would have been very helpful. I stuck with TripAdvisor, Foursquare and Yelp which all had Android apps for local recommendations

A travellers wine guide to Spain

Language Learning

Travelling in Spain for 5 weeks was a good opportunity to learn Spanish. There are many, many language learning apps. What I wanted was a basic Spanish vocabulary, a phrase book particlularly if it spoke the spanish phrase, a dictionary and grammer guide. This is what I found most useful

Fitness & Health

Holidays are a good opportunity to improve ones fitness :-0 I am permanently attached to my Fitbit Flex which measures the distance and number of steps I travel and calories I burn in doing so.  It was quite easy on the the tourist trail to regularly do more than 10,000 steps per day without even thinking about it

I use my Fitbit in conjunction with MyFitnessPal which I use to record calories consumed and thus the balance of calories consumed less the calories burned.

For more details about my fitness devices and apps see my blog post ‘Quantifying Myself

Radio TV Podcasts Media News

Our main concern was getting the daily news and the weather (see above).

  • Radio: We could keep up to date with the BBC UK and World News via their android app and by using another app TuneIn Radio which I find easier than the BBC iPlayer for Radio.
  • Podcasts : Used BeyondPod to download my favourite podcasts when connected to WiFi and then play offline.
  • Music : used Amazon MP3 player for my music
  • Books : used Kindle App for books to read
  • News Feed : Used Feedly (an RSS reader) for mainly the latest tech/gadget news
  • TV : TV was always going to be difficult unless you wanted to watch local TV. However if the wifi signal was strong enough and you were running HotspotShield to disguise your location it was possible to use BBC iPlayer to stream or even download a programme. However there were very few sites that had good enough wifi or unchoked wifi to achieve this.

Finally 

I hope that has given you an idea of how to survive as a social media and gadget geek when caravanning.

If you want to see a log of the route we took, which campsites we stayed at and the places we visited then go to my log on Tripline

Quantifying Myself

So I have finally succumbed. I am now quantifying myself.

This is my current setup

My Quantified Self (1)

I decided to start with measuring my fitness, weight and blood pressure as I wanted to lose weight and my blood pressure is bit too high.

I bought a Fitbit One wireless activity tracker, an Omron MIT Elite Plus upper arm blood pressure monitor with download facility and I already had an unconnected set of Salter bathroom scales

The Fitbit tracker communicates wirelessly with a USB dongle on my PC and the Omron connects via a USB cable.  At the moment I have to manually enter my weight readings into Fitbit.com

I wanted all the data to end up in Microsoft’s HealthVault  along with my main health records. The Omron does this quite successfully via the HealthVault Connect software running on my PC. But the Fitbit tracker doesn’t yet talk to HealthVault. It does in the US but not yet in the UK (it is coming we are told). At the moment I have to manual enter my weight readings into Fitbit.com

To help with losing weight I needed to measure the calories I was consuming against the calories I was burning.  I chose MyFitnessPal to keep a record of the food I was consuming (and hence calories I was consuming) as it had a really excellent database of UK foods and would interoperate with Fitbit.com. Thus I could see the calories burned compared with the calories consumed in both Fitbit and MyFitnessPal. Fitbit does have this facility to record foods consumed but it is based on a US database of foods.

Could I have chosen better connected devices?

Well yes!  For a start I could have bought a Fitbit Aria bathroom scales and auto fed my weight to Fitbit.com over wifi.

An example of a more comprehensive connected set up would be the NFC enabled devices from A&D.  With an NFC enabled mobile phone you can just touch your device with your phone and transfer all the data to Microsoft HealthVault. A&D have NFC enabled Activity Monitor, Bathroom Scales and Blood pressure Monitor.

Microsoft have a good HealthVault Blog item ‘Making Self Monitoring Easier’ about this interconnected system.

Closing thought

Could I have done all this – lose weight, lower my blood pressure and get fitter without any of these devices? But of course – but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun. There is nothing more motivating than seeing all those readouts.

Compare my Solar PV panel performance?

solar_pvI have been recording the output from my solar PV panels monthly since they were installed back in July 2010. I wrote a blog item about my solar PV rig and published my performance chart on Google.

 

But I have never been able to compare my charts with anybody else’s chart.

Onyourroof

Now a new service has arisen OnYourRoof which lets me do just that.

 

All I need do is enter my meter readings and voila I have a chart comparing my panel performance with other similar panels in the area.

To see my chart compared with others visit my Page at OnYourRoof.com and then click on any of the panel details.

I hope this post will encourage others to enter their details as the more details the better and the more useful the comparison becomes. Let me know if you sign up – then I can take a sneak peak

 

Flickr on my photo frame Part 3

The long running saga of getting my Flickr photos on my photo frame finally leads to a result.

As I predicted in ‘Flickr on my photo frame Part 2’ the Google Nexus 7 tablet has proved to be a stunner and all for £159.

So I didn’t need to buy another photo frame or subscribe to another service to replace the defunct framechannel.com I now have a superb screen on which to display my photos – when it’s not in use as my news reader and video player.

I also predicted there would be an Android photo app that I could use to to slideshow a selection of my Flickr photos. Well there is. I am now using FlickFolio. It allows me to select by collection, set, tag, gallery, favourites, groups, contacts and bingo its sits there pretending to be a photo frame.

G-HUB PropUp

 

All I need now is a upright stand that also acts as my Nexus 7 protective cover when moving it around. There is an ideal one available from Amazon the G-HUB PropUp case

 

 

In addition to all this convenient functionality it turns out that the authors of FlickFolio, Snapwood Apps, also have apps for Facebook photos, Picasa, Photobucket, SkyDrive and others – bargain.

DLNA

Furthermore with the correct app loaded the Nexus 7 will be DLNA compatible.  I will then be able to show photos off my network and/ or ‘throw’ photos at my TV for big screen viewing.  I have been using Bubble UPnP on my Android mobile so will experiment with it on my Nexus 7 for a while.

Note: There always seem to be some issues with DLNA so it’s a case of trying several apps to see which one best suits the devices on your LAN and the formats of the media you want to share (throw around).

Related items

Flickr on my photo frame 2

My Flickr photos on my WiFi photo frame

What now that YouView and Google TV are available

Having decided in May not to wait for YouView and Google TV am I now regretting that decision to buy the Sony Media Player?  No I don’t think so.Humax YouView Humax have a YouView/ Freeview HD recorder box DTR-1000 see the offer at John Lewis for £299.95  It looks good but I might just have to wait until my existing Freeview box is ready for replacement

Sony Google TV

Google TV on a Sony box. The NSZ-GS7 sounds a great idea but isn’t it just android in a box with Chrome browser – see BBC article. You can pre-order from Sony here. It will cost £199 whereas my Sony media player box only cost £79.

My home media network is already set up for DLNA compatibility. My recently arrived new Google Nexus 7 Tablet  will be able to ‘throw’ music at my TV and other devices – with the right app – and will only cost me £159.

Nexus Q

Then Google throws in a googly the Nexus Q an enigmatic box (sphere) that pulls everything direct from the Google Play store although its not available in the UK see PC World article It also needs an Android Smartphone or Tablet to operate it. We’ll wait and see how that pans out.

So am I going to be missing out?  I don’t think so

related posts:

Why wait for YouView or Google TV

My multi-room media shifting set-up

Why wait for YouView or GoogleTV

I knew as soon as I decided not to wait for YouView or GoogleTV that there would be an announcement and sure enough TalkTalk announced that YouView  would be ready about September which incidentally is about when GoogleTV is expected in the UK according to the Telegraph.

So if I am not going to wait which box should I go for. There are so many to choose from. There’s the Roku , the Boxee, Apple TV, WD TV Live to name but a few. A lot depends on whichInternet services (channels) you want access to, remembering that the channels in the UK differ from those in the US. 

In the end I went for the new SONY network media and internet streamer the SMP-N200 which was only recently released and only £80 at Amazon.

SONY SMP-N200

The channels that Sony in the UK provide access to are shown in this interactive graphic

So if I was to ditch my laptop mashup what was I wanting from my box?

Physical
  • Well it would be nice just to have a small box that is always in situ ready to roll and was a lot less expensive than a laptop or nettop.
Internet Streaming
  • All I really needed was a half decent movie service. With the Sony I could get LoveFilm Instant for £4.99 a month and Sony Entertainment Network for PAYG movies.
  • Oh and any CatchUp TV services I could get. The Sony gives me access to BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 & the possibility of ITV player and 4OD to follow.
  • Access to YouTube channels would be good too and with the Sony I can sign into my YouTube.
  • Maybe even some social media? The Sony has Facebook and Twitter. I would have liked access to Flickr and/or Picassa but you can’t have everything can you?
Network Media
  • What about access to my NAS (LaCie LaCinema HD) where I store my photos, music and videos  – it can do that as well.
  • Does it do DLNA so I can pick up media on one device an play it on another.?  Yes it does that too. See the item My multi-room media shifting set-up on this blog
  • What about an Android app to manage the box and my network media. Yes it has that as well the Sony Media remote. Although I prefer a combination of the very neat Sony remote control and the much less bloated BubbleUPnP for catch and throw.

Flickr on my photo frame Part 2

Everything was going so well.  I could view a sequence of my photos from flickr and from my friends on Facebook interspersed with National Geographic photos, the Weather and Clock/ Calendar – see my earlier blog. Then Framehannel withdrew from the market and not only Framechannel but Frameit.livecom as well.

So all of a sudden I was left with whatever Kodak had to offer.  OK so they have a site at which I could store my photos and view them on my photo frame, but who uses Kodak’s site for storing and displaying their photos. Friends could still email my photo frame directly but none could be bothered. I had to resort to viewing my photos stored on my NAS drive my LaCie LaCinema – see my blog item My multi-room media shifting set-up

Thus began my search for another cloud service or suitable wifi photoframe.  Toshiba, Kodak and Samsung all had photo frames which could use the now defunct Framechannel. So what’s left:

  • Kodak Pulse and Sony W frames use Facebook
  • Samsung frames use Windows Live & RSS feed

But no-one was offering Flickr

MeeChannel with MeeFrame

Meeframe

However I have discovered another service that although not directly similar to Framechannel would allow me to access a whole load of my social network content on a photo frame.  That service is Meechannel.com It’s a Dutch service (use Google Translate in Google Chrome to read it) and is in Beta, but looks very promising.

It gathers together all your Photo, Video, RSS streams and makes them accessible from one stream.  What’s more is that they even have a photo frame the Looqs MeeFrame specifically to stream content from MeeChannel. It can be bought in the UK from Langton Info Services

So with this service I could stream my Flickr (or Picasa) photos, the weather and clock/ calendar but not photos from my Facebook or my friends’ Facebook.

Meeframe-setup

Top Ten Reviews of WiFi photo frames for 2012 puts the Kodak Pulse at No3 and Meeframe at No 4

What about a Tablet

What I would prefer is to be able to access MeeChannel from my Kodak Easyshare photo frame.  It would seem a shame to have to buy another one.

Would you want to spend about £200 on a touch screen photo frame when there rumours that there could soon be a cheap Android tablet on the market. I could  then use the tablet  as a photo frame when not using it for surfing the web and accessing my emails and social networks.  I would need an app that could run a stream of photos.

Note

Note that this blog is UK based so the content is directed at services that are accessible from UK or products that can be bought in the UK. There are other photo frames that can access Flickr but they are not available in the UK.  The comparison site Top Ten Reviews puts Ceiva Share and Pix-Star FotoConnect at No1 and No 2. Both can access Facebook, Flickr and Picasa but neither can be bought in the UK.