Tag Archives: Travel

Keeping in touch while on the go

I was on vacation in India for the past 4 weeks with varying levels of internet access. I carried a laptop and my iPhone with me, but given the limited time I could spend on the Internet each day, I tried to be creative about keeping in touch while I was away.

Snail-mail: Someday, I’ll try and send my friends post card from every place I visit. But given my lazyness in handling physical objects and the fact that I have no idea what most of their mailing addresses are, makes this an instant fail.

Phone: I actually do have the phone numbers of my friends and acquaintances. I’ve meticulously collected them over the years and kept them updated, but calling friends in the US in the middle of their night to tell them I’m somewhere sunnier is probably an expensive way to piss them off. All my phone numbers and other contact information is still stored on my exchange server and (active)synced to my phone. How I wish there was an IMAP-like sync protocol for contacts so that non-ActiveSync clients could also download my contacts (SyncML?GroupDAV?).

Text Messaging: Refer to my earlier post on how I feel about text messaging: [the economics of texting]

Email: I have only one personal email address I check with any frequency (the @umeshunni.com one – all others forward to it) and (active)sync it to my iPhone. I had a data plan for 75% of the time I was on vacation, so staying up to date on email wasn’t a problem. The rest of the time, I use OWA to get to my personal exchange account. In the spirit of time away from work, I also chose to not check my work email and being religious about never sending personal mail from my work address made it unlikely that any friends would send me mail there anyway.

IM: Sadly, I have contacts I care about on just about every IM protocol. Since an open instant messaging protocol is still a bit of a pipe-dream, I have to rely on multi-protocol messenger clients. The best (free) IM app I could find for the iPhone was Fring, which is actually pretty good. It does all the basics – multiple protocols (AIM/Y!/MSN/GTalk), archiving messages etc. It even has surprisingly good Skype integration which I used once to make a few international calls over WiFi which worked like a charm. On the PC, I’ve been using Miranda and Trillian for some time now, neither of which are perfect but suffice for 99% of my IM needs.

Social Networks: Most of my friends are now on Facebook (and I threaten the rest that I will create profiles for them if they don’t). I mostly use the Facebook iPhone app to access Facebook on the go. During the past month I think I noticed a couple of times where the news feed displayed in the iPhone app was actually different from the one displayed on the facebook homepage. This is really strange since I always thought the iPhone app was just a different display layer on top of the same backend data. I’m not sure what the reason for this difference is (or whether it’s just something I imagined), but it’s odd if true.

I occasionally use Orkut, mostly to stay in touch with family members who haven’t made the upgrade to Facebook yet and over the past month or so, I’ve also started tweeting more frequently (inference: frequency of tweeting is directly proportional to the level of boredom). Orkut had a well done iPhone-enabled website and twitter has about 2,543 iPhone apps built for it.

So, this brings me to this little app called Digsby that I discovered while searching for a better solution to keeping on top of my communication needs with limited time. My review of this app is coming soon here.

News and Blogs: I’ve been a Google Reader user for a while now and use it on the PC and phone to keep track of all my favorite blogs and sites. I used google.com/reader/m while I had my WinMo phone and now use the iPhone version  (google.com/reader/i). I recently started using the Byline iPhone app which beside being a better front end for Google reader can also sync down upto 200 of your most recent feed items for offline browsing. This is super-useful for those long flights or other times where you know you won’t have Internet access. I found out that this actually works better than Google Reader’s own offline feature which doesn’t sync images or other RSS enclosure content.

For non-RSS news, I continued to use my.live.com (aka Windows Live Personalized Homepage) as my home page on the PC and also visit Google News, NYT and BBC every now and then. All of the above, except my.live.com, have excellent mobile/iPhone versions of their homepages too.

And with that, I conclude my quarterly blog update 😛

A mid-summer update

Once in a while I realize that I’ve been so behind on my blogging that I feel like I have to do a catch up post so that people who follow my blog (yes, that means all 15 of you) can know what’s happening in my life. Here’s what’s been happening in no particular order:

  • Work – Work has been chugging along fairly uneventfully for the past few months. Things look on track, no major fires etc. I was at a meeting the other day where Sid remarked “It’s been a while since I’ve been in a meeting with you. And that’s a good thing!”. That left me thinking the rest of the day about how a lot of our meetings are firedrills and all about crisis management. Maybe something Dilbert-esque like ‘ feel good and do nothing’ meetings are needed so that people feel better about attending meetings.


  • Travel – I’ve done surprising little travel since our Bahamas & Florida trips back in May. I thought summer will be all about driving around the state, hiking and stuff, but we’ve done pretty much none of that. D’s parents were here for a month and we took them on a trip to NYC and Niagara Falls which turned out to be incredibly tiring with us missing our flight back, driving 14 hours a day to get from NY to Buffalo and back and so on. The only local trip of significance we made was a drive down to Cle Elum and the Columbia River Gorge a couple of weekends back.


  • Biking – As hinted by my expanding waistline, I’ve done almost no biking this summer. I biked to work and back a couple of times and biked around trails in Issaquah another weekend, but other than that I’ve used the excuse of it being too hot or too cold or too rainy to avoid biking on most weekends. Hmm.. better get on that fast!


  • Photography – Now there’s something I’ve done a lot this summer. As a matter of fact, I wrote about my recent photographic adventures in this blog post before it became too long and I decided to move it to another post.


  • Around the web – I’ve become a huge fan of Google reader over the few months I’ve been using it. It helps scan through almost a 100 blogs a day in no time, both on my desktop and mobile phone. Some interesting finds I’ve made recently:

That’s pretty much the gist of what I’ve been upto so far this summer. My plans of heading down to the Olympic Peninsula are still up in the air and so are my plans for the labor day long weekend and (looking further out) Thanks giving.

Vancouver again

I took three days off this week and joined Vikram and his brother on a trip to Vancouver and Whistler in BC, Canada. Ullas was here too and joined us on the trip. I’d blog in detail about the trip, but Ullas has written up the salient points in his blog. Some trivia about the trip:

  1. This was my third trip to Vancouver. I’ve now visited Vancouver once a year for the past three years.
  2. The weather sucked. It was cold, windy and rainy for most of the three days we were there. It wasn’t as bad as in Seattle, which had a couple of thunderstorms while we were out, but pretty bad nevertheless.
  3. All my trips there have had some connection to the (rather pathetic) movie ‘Fantastic Four’. The first time we were there, in Nov ’04, they were filming the movie a block from our Hotel. The second time we were there, the movie had just been released and we saw this huge flying ad for the movie while we were at Stanley Park. This time, I had the DVD of the movie with me when we were there. I know… lame…
  4. Vancouver downtown – especially the area between Gastown and Chinatown – is full of druggies and drunks. Even at 10am! The last time we were there, we walked from Gastown to the Chinese Garden at 6pm and thought it was just because it was after dark that there were so many of them there. This time, we saw drunks on the street at 10 in the morning!
  5. Some river near Vancouver was flooded recently leaving the entire city’s drinking water supply polluted. So, restaurants and hotels weren’t serving water anymore. We were glad we carried water, Coke and Capri-Sun with us from the US.

The trip itself was a lot of fun – Whistler was waay above my expectations and I will from now on look down upon every other ski resort, including Snoqualmie, with contempt for not living up to the bar that Whistler has set. We didn’t do as much skiing as would have liked – we started at 1 and were done by around 4.

A few pics in my flickr set.


DC was so freaking hot! It was 93F on Saturday and we spent the whole day walking from the Union Station/Capitol Hill end of the DC Mall to the Monument/Lincoln Memorial end. Some observations:

  • DC was a lot cleaner, neater and prettier than I expected. Somehow I was expecting a smaller version on Downtown LA there.
  • Everything in DC is Free! All the attractions, all the museums… everything. Quite a contrast from other towns where you pay 30 bucks a pop to go up a freaking mountain or walk on a bridge.
  • DC gets pretty hot in Summer.
  • Lots n lots of fountains along the mall.. I saw down at them with my feet in the water to cool down:

Dipping into a fountain

  • The White House is lame. All you can do there is to take photos from outside the gate:

White House

  • Indique: Great mango lassis! They had a stall at the Smithsonian folk life festival.


  • The Smithsonian Museum(s) rock! I’ll probably spend a day or two visiting them the next time I’m in DC. This time, I got to see only the Museum of Natural History.

Ichysaurus ?

  • What’s with the goat? One of those ‘what were they thinking when they put this exhibit up’ moments…

Taming a goat

  • That’s some pretty exclusing parking spots they’ve got here…

Pretty exclusive parking

  • Did I mention that it was HOT! It’s good to be back in the Northwest where it’s (at least slightly) cooler.



Yellowstone Road Trip Day 3: The Lake and more springs

By Day 3, we were all worn out and eager to get back… Nevertheless, we did drive out to Yellowstone Lake, stopping in between at the Grand Prismatic Spring area where we saw more springs and pools…

The multicoloured Prismatic Spring


The Opal and Sapphire pools:


The lake itself had nothing to do as we reached there well after all the neighbouring businesses had closed. Gull Point was a good place to get down and walk about… some interesting wildlife and birds around.



Finally, we drove back to the park entrance via the Mud Cauldron where we saw more bison.


Tiring day and we couldn’t wait to head back the next day.

We ended up getting up pretty early on the 30th and driving straight all the way back to Seattle. 770 miles in around 12 hours – stopping only for lunch, gas and coffee 🙂

Yellowstone Road Trip Day 1: Getting to Yellowstone and Ol’ Faithful

Dated: Saturday, May 27, 2006


Given how dead tired we all were after our 500 mile overnight drive, we woke up later than we should have and ended up leaving Missoula only at 11:30 or so. The drive through Montana was absolutely beautiful through green meadows, silken mountains and a long straight stretch along I-90. The weather was also a little worse today with the sun trying hard to peer through the low clouds.

We had a reservation for a cabin at the Howlin’ Mad Moon Resort outside of Cameron, Montana. We stopped at a small town named Ennis on the way where the waitress was shocked that people could survive without eating Meat.


We reached the cabin at 3 or 4pm (I was all confused by the timezone change and decided to stick to PST for all my time calculations from there on…), checked in, unloaded all our stuff into the cabin and headed out to Yellowstone.


(view from our cabin porch)


Our plan was to cover Old Faithful and, if possible, Yellowstone Lake today. Once we entered the park and headed over to the first set of geysers, the fountain pot.



Our drive within the park was punctuated with Bison sightings… while we were excited by the first few herds we saw, we soon got bored of seeing bison and longed to see some other, more exciting animal. The only other animal we say today were the mule deer which we affectionately referred to as the white-butt deer due to the color of its… posterior.


The geysers were totally out-of-the-world… like the Martian landscape you’d see in some cheesy science fiction movie. The whole area smelt of sulfur, but the view made it totally worth it. The weather sucked – the temperate was close to freezing and there were random bursts of rain and gusts of wind… in the end of May!


We reached Old Faithful at around 7pm CST and hung around at the Visitors center till its 8:10pm eruption. I came away rather unimpressed by the size of the eruption but the punctuality was definitely cool.




Yellowstone Road Trip Day 0: On to Missoula

Dated: Friday, May 26, 2006


Ambi, Nanda, Anusha, Deepti & I headed out today to spend our long weekend in Yellowstone National Park. Given that it’s a 770 mile trip, we tried to get a head start by leaving on Friday evening with the intention of getting to Missoula, Montana by around midnight and resuming the trip in the morning.


Nanda, Ambi & I headed over to downtown to pick up the mini-van we rented by around 4pm. Our original plan was to leave Seattle by 6-6:30, but we ended up leaving from my place only by around 8 since we had some stuff, and Deepti, to pick up. The weather out of Seattle was lousy with pouring rain all the way to Snoqualmie. We heaved a sign of collective relief as we crossed the north cascades into Eastern Washington and the rain gave way to clear night skies.


The drive on to Missoula through eastern Washington was smooth all the way into Spokane and we made good time. The folks who weren’t driving, i.e. everyone except me, watched ‘Saw’ on the mini-van’s DVD player while I cruised along at 80-85mph. (The ‘features’ in the mini-van  – a Pontiac Montana – and the odd placement of controls on its dashboard probably merit an entire post of its own).


We stopped to grab a takeout dinner at a Subway in non-descript town on the way and crossed the state border into Idaho close to midnight. Somewhere along the way, Ambi took over the steering and I fell asleep in the backseat with a vague recollection of winding through the mountains roads of Idaho.

It was 3am or so by the time we reached Missoula and checked into our Hotel err… Inn. Thankfully, they had free WiFi.