A Geek Goes Caravanning in Spain

This is the story of how I ‘survived’, what devices I used and which apps I downloaded on my tour of Spain in my caravan

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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

The battle for your status space heats up

The battle for the place where you view the status updates of all your friends no matter what network they’re on has heated up.
Both Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live have just tightly integrated their updates with Facebook. You can see all the status updates of your Facebook friends in Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live. You can comment on them and update your own status all from within Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live.
We have for sometime now been able to see our Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace and Buzz friends status in our twitter clients such as Seesmic, Tweetdeck and Hootsuite and update our status in those social networks. But the integration in Yahoo Pulse and Windows Live is much richer. Perhaps we might see Google Buzz going down the richer integration route?
Another approach was taken by Digsby which like Yahoo and Microsoft gives you a richer experience combined with a live presence through integrated chat.
These new, richer experiences combined with the ability to pull in contacts from our other social networks, shows a growing trend towards social media interoperability rather than just data portability. We are now able to operate across networks rather than just import our other networks into the new network.  We no longer need to open several networks to keep updated and share. We are beginning to be able to do that from within whatever network we’re operating at the time, with Yahoo and Microsoft leading the way.

Geotagging your WordPress blog

Wordpress has enable geotagging on its blogs. Where does this take us on the road to the Semantic web

google latitude for iPhone
Image by [Dicky] via Flickr

Well WordPress has beaten Twitter to it. You can now Geotag your blog and your posts – see a Blog Near You

I have for some time been geotagging my Flickr photos and of course I have been exploring my location aware mobile phone and all those lovely apps that make use of my location like Google Latitude.  Most of these location aware apps will publicise your location in Twitter either directly or through Fire Eagle.  Latitude gets a bit complicated but even that is possible see my post about My Lattitude Location in Twitter

Now if you enable geotagging in your WordPress profile you can share both the location of your blog and the location of you blog post.  At the moment WordPress have not made any tools available that will make use of your location, although some are promised.  However as the location is stored as geo microformat, geo.position and ICBM meta tags, and GeoRSS and W3C geodata in feeds it should be discoverable by tools that recognise such formats.  If you use the Firefox browser you could try the browser plugins like Operator and Geo.

Gradually, step by step the web is being semantified, so that machines (software) can recognise the format of the data and can therefore be specific about what it is.  Location is just one such format. There are formats for places, people events and others that can now be recognised by the search engines. See from Tags to Meaning

The next step will be even more useful when we can link from one site to the next because we (or our software) can recognise the same data in each site and know that it is the same object.  The BBC has been doing this already with their artist links to MusicBrainz and DBpedia in this blog from OpenLink.

I have geotagged this blog and this blog post if you want to try locating me.

If you are using Windows Live Writer for your blogging then as yet it doesn’t pick up the geotagging feature.

The Web of Data approaches.

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Digsby Updates My LinkedIn Status

@Digsby updates my LinkedIn status

Digsby has been a very useful Instant Messaging (IM) client that also monitored your emails and social network feeds.  It has recently become even more useful with the ability to update your social network status including LinkedIn together or separately.

SomeTwitter clients, such as Seesmic or Tweetdeck, allow you to update your Facebook Status as well as Twitter but Digsby is the only one I have found that allows you to update your LinkedIn status.

It has always been difficult to update your Linked in status other than from within LinkedIn.  You can of course use Ping.fm which is a very flexible updater but isn’t itself a Twitter client so you have to run a Twitter client and Ping.fm.

This was made easier when you could include a ping.fm gadget in your igoogle page along with a twitter gadget and facebook gadget. Note no LinkedIn gadget.

Now Digsby is not just a status update.  It is much much more. I use it most of the time. It sits in a locked window on the right hand side of my screen.  It is constantly keeping me updated on my IM, email and social networks.

Digsby has three main parts.

  1. An Instant Messaging (IM) client handling Yahoo, Google, MSN, AIM, ICQ, Jabber and Facebook chat
  2. An email notification client. It sits there constantly updating you with the number of unread emails you have and shows you  Yahoo. Google, Hotmail, AOL/AIM, POP or IMAP
  3. A feed viewer and updater for your social networks – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and LinkedIn

The IM client is really very good as it not only handles chat very well but allows you to send emails from the chat window or make a voice call or start a video chat.

I still use Outlook and Seesmic but it is Digsby which is open all the time.

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My Google Latitude location in Twitter and FireEagle via Ipoki

Google Latitude has for some time been out there on its own in the big wide social world.  It’s a simple but effective real time location service to share your location and status with your friends.  But now it has been brought in from the cold by Ipoki another GPS based real time service.

At first Latitude was only available on mobile phones but was excellent at quickly determining your location either via your inbuilt GPS or via WiFi IP address or Phone cell ID. I use it a lot as the basic Google maps mainly as an A-Z in London with the occasional announcement of where I am to my Google Latitude Friends.  It is now also available as a gadget within iGoogle so as soon as I open up my laptop and connect to the internet, Latitude kicks in with my updated location without me having to do anything.

However this has all been a bit flat because Latitude didn’t link to any of my other networks whImage representing Ipoki as depicted in CrunchBaseere most of my friends were. Now ipoki has come to the rescue by enabling  ipoki to read my location from Google Latitude.  Ipoki is also GPS driven real time location service that can run on my laptop or mobile phone and is used by athletes, cyclists and walkers to plot their route and time their performance.

Ipoki also enables you to send your location and status to your Twitter. So now all your Twitter followers and your friends in your networks which absorb your twitter feed  can be told of your location.

What is even more significant is that Ipoki can send my location to FireEagle and thus opens Google Latitude up to all the location aware networks that can interoperate with FireEagle including Facebook.

My Location Social Networks

my earlier related items

my location aware mobile phone 2

my location aware mobile phone

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My News Sharing Set-Up

I have been experimenting with how I use bookmarking sites and news sharing sites.  I like to use more than one but also have a place where they are brought together.

I also want to discover what my friends are learning.

So far I have settled on Delicious  as my bookmarking service and Google Reader as my news sharing service.

I also occasionally I use the option to ‘Tweet This’ so that I share with my Twitter followers but I prefer to use Delicious where possible.

Both Delicious and Google Reader allow me share my choices with my friends and to see which topics interest my friends, but it is difficult create a community of friends with these two services and so really benefit from sharing knowledge.

So I now use Social Median as my knowledge community.  Both my delicious bookmarks and my Google shares are fed into Social Median and assigned to my interest groups within Social Median. This way I get to learn from others with similar interest  whether they are using Delicious or Google Reader or not.  Social Median can take feeds from other services should I take them up in future.

I also share my Delicious Bookmarks and Google Reader Shares with the activity streams in my Social Networks.

This is what my set up  looks like

My News Sharing Set Up 2

My Location Aware Mobile Phone 2

The second edition of “My Location Aware Mobile Phone.

Create once and make it available everywhere

I have been experimenting with a few applications that can capture my location on my mobile phone and share this with my social networks.  I was hoping to achieve a couple of ideals.

My first ideal is for the application to automatically pick up my location using the embedded GPS.  Then for it to create a Twitter post that includes my status and a link to a map which shows my location. The twitter post would then be fed into my social networks, Facebook, LinkedIn, ecademy, Plaxo and FriendFeed. This way I don’t have to persuade my friends to use the same location based software to know where I am.

The other lofty ideal was to be able to use any application that could update and read my location in FireEagle so that it didn’t matter which location based application I was using or my friends were using so long as it could work with FireEagle. In which case they would all update each other.

The overriding principle has been to create once and make it available everywhere or put more simply to manage content in one place and yet have it fed to all applications. I have been attempting this with all my content creation applications such as Flickr and Delicious (see my blog post Joining up my web spaces).

Neither ideal has been totally successful although I think I have achieved a workable compromise.

The applications I have been trialling are Loki, Ipoki, Rummble and BrightKite. Each has its advantages and disadvantages,  which I go through at the end of this post.

Each of the applications works with FireEagle but I have been struggling with getting each application to read a location in FireEagle that has been created by another. 

Only BrightKite will create a Twitter post with my status and a link to a map with my location. In fact I could probably survive on BrightKite alone. The only downside is that it has no means of automatically determining my location on my mobile.

So I have configured a compromise using EagleFeed and TwitterFeed. My location from FireEagle is read by EagleFeed which then creates an RSS feed that Twitterfeed picks up and posts into my Twitter.

This is how it looks

My Location Aware Mobile Phone 2

Comparing the four mobile location applications.

Each of these applications will work with FireEagle except that Loki cannot read your location from FireEagle.

With each of these applications you can determine the location of your friends and who is near you.

Loki

Location: Loki uses Wi-Fi to determine your location both on the PC and on the mobile. If you are not in the vicinity of a Wi-Fi hotspot then you have to manually enter the location. You have to download a mini app for the mobile to use the Wi-Fi.

Twitter Post: It won’t create a Twitter post. 

 Other: Loki also has a facebook add-in. You can use Loki to find nearby facilities.

BrightKite

Location: BrightKite uses Loki (on IE) or Geode (FireFox) to determine your location but only on the PC not on the mobile.

Twitter Post: It does create a Twitter post with your status and a link to a map of your location.

Other:  BrightKite has a facebook add-in. It will also find nearby businesses.

Rummble

Location: Rummble use Google Gears to determine my location I think it uses Gears to access my GPS or Wi-Fi from within the browser. There is no need to download a mobile app.

Twitter Post: It will create a Twitter post but not with a link to a map of my location.

Other: You can also use Rummble to rate various eateries and see what rates others have given and you can post an itinerary of a future journey. You can also create a blog of your journey.

Ipoki

Location: Ipoki uses the embedded GPS to produce a real time stream of your location, which is great if you want your friends to follow your cycle or walking route or car journey. You need to download a mini app to use the real time location facility.

Twitter Post: It doesn’t create a Twitter post.

Other: Ipoki has a facebook add-in

Verdict

I will probably stick with Rummble as I love the way it picks up my location and I am normally Tweeting from a local hostelry.  However most of my friends use BrightKite so if I want see which of them is near me I will have to use BrightKite.  Now if BrightKite were able to determine my location using Google Gears on my mobile then……

My mobile

My mobile  is a Vodafone v1615 aka HTC TyTn II aka HTC Kaiser which is a GPS enabled 3G phone with Wi-Fi The other networks have their own label version of the HTC TyTN II.  And no I don’t use an iPhone.

Links

see this excellent primer on location determination on TechCrunch

the first edition of My Location Aware Mobile Phone

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