Greetings from Prague & a computer question


Cool, if a bit creepy, Prague street sculpture*

Welcome to my first “on the road” post ever!

Those of you who are regular readers know that, when I travel, I leave the electronics behind. In fact, even if you just read the last post you know this. The reasons are many.

Mostly, I like to travel light. Then, too, when I’m on the road visiting new and interesting places looking at a computer screen holds even less appeal than usual. Plus, if I’m honest, a big part is a reaction to my last job.

In those days I traveled for business quite a bit and, of course, carried a company laptop for the purpose. I always dreaded opening it. My inbox would inevitably be filled with corporate nonsense that inhibited productivity and impinged on customer satisfaction. And that last meant that, all too often, it was also filled with irritate customer complaints. Each more justified than the last and each my responsiblity to smooth over. So my associations with carting a laptop along on my travels are less than comforting.

But here I am, late this evening after a fine day roaming Prague writing this post on my daughter’s machine. She is much more attuned to the technology than I and she takes hers everywhere. I gotta say, it’s kinda nice.

When we bought our Apple a couple of years back, we choose the desktop Mac version with a nice big screen. The idea was that it would best suit our needs until we go more fully full-time mobile a few years down the line. At that point the plan called for selling the Mac and picking up whatever ultra compact but still functional machine they’d have come up with by then.


The Astronomical Clock in Prague’s main square*

But using this one here in Prague has got me thinking. My needs on the road are really simple: Email. Internet. Skype. I’ll bet the cheapest laptop out there would handle that and more. In fact a used machine a few generations old should do just fine. Right?

This summer the trips we’ll be taking will include lots of quiet, down time. For instance, my in-laws have once again graciously offered us the extended use of their Wisconsin beach house on the shores of Lake Michigan. Beautiful sand beaches lie just outside the door and stretch uninterrupted for miles in both directions. The summer days are long, lazy and warm.

We are also considering a long leisurely train trip across the North American continent.

Both should be perfect for some writing I’d like to get done. Perhaps some progress on the book I’ve mentioned that is in the works. But this means I’ll need a laptop in tow.

Truth is I know so little about this tech stuff it is amazing I can put together and publish these blog posts. But I also know there are any number of jlcollinsnh readers who are experts. So, let me ask:

What would you do?

What is the cheapest, easiest and simplest solution? The solution where if the machine gets lost, stolen or destroyed it is less bother than a mosquito bite? What should a basic machine cost new these days, and which one? Any need to get an Apple to match our Mac or, as I’d guess, does that not matter for my use? Is used the better path or does that just buy less reliability along with more performance I really don’t need? Any votes for dropping this silly idea and continuing to enjoy blissful technology breaks while traveling?


The church that houses the Astronomical Clock*

As for Prague: Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here. Everybody else seems to be.

This is a truly beautiful city but, boy howdy has it been “discovered.” The place is thick with tourists. To a degree I’ve only seen before in Venice, Italy — another drop-dead gorgeous city but so tourist saturated as to be almost like a Disney theme park. And I loath Disney theme parks.


Beautiful city quite filled with people there to look at it.*

Where Venice is an island and thereby isolated, Prague center has the advantage of being surrounded by a real Czech city that bleeds into it, softening the theme park quality. Yesterday we hopped on a random public tram and rode it to the end. Great fun to watch the city change as the blocks went by.

Still, wandering around the old town, you’ll find yourself trying to thread your way thru never-ending clots of tourists bunched up listening to some tour guide prattle on. At least one business man, British by his accent, lost patience and growled at a group to leave a path open for people to pass by. Rude perhaps, but open they did and we took the opportunity to follow him thru. Were I living here, my patience would fray too.

None of this is to suggest we’re not having a wonderful time or that Prague shouldn’t be on your short list if you are so inclined. Our hotel is delightful, the Czech people are friendly and the food is excellent. All of this set in one of the most walkable and picturesque cities in all of Europe. And that’s saying something.

So, by all means visit. I can promise you won’t lack for company.



 Prague Sunset*

*all photos in this post courtesy of Jess Collins

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  1. sendaiben says

    It sounds like you could do all you need to on a Chromebook… cheap, cheerful, light, great battery life, and everything lives on the cloud (you can still use email and documents offline if necessary).

    If you lose it or it breaks, buy a new one ($200), log in and voila it’s all back again 😉

  2. Renee S says

    Those chromebooks are pretty awesome and it sounds like it would be perfect for you. Simple, easy to use and light. Oh, and of course…on the cheap side! Another idea that I had is to buy refurbished. I personally have always bought refurbished and have never had a problem. They usually come with warranties, too. is a great place to find computer deals, too. I found a toshiba on there for about $300 dollars and it’s been working great for years!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks, Renee…

      I’m gonna have to check out those chromebooks…

      and Used for my needs seems to make sense….

  3. Fritz Hahn says

    Beautiful city and we hope you have a great time!
    The New mexico Lobo can’t be of assistance as I still use my ‘palm pilot’…
    Remember those? Well, that’s not what I mean.
    When I’m out and about I just have my pen, the modern warrior’s spear,
    and I write on my palm.
    Out here in the Southwest we just ‘make do’…or is it ‘doo doo’.
    Sorry everyone – it’s early.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks, we have been. 🙂

      As for a pen, I’ve already got one of those. And, as a surprise, it’s one of these new-fangled “ball-points” so I don’t even have to add ink!!

  4. Amicable Skeptic says

    If all you’re going to do is internet, email, and a little writing you have some tempting options. One would obviously be the chromebook. Another might be to buy a tablet along with a wireless bluetooth keyboard. You can get a used ipad 2 for like $300 on amazon. The tablet will be nice in that the touch screen interface is about as simple as they come for consuming media. It may be less nice for writing because of the small screen and the separateness of the keyboard and the screen, but if you rig up a nice mount of the screen near your face and can touch type it might actually be nicer to write with.

    The other thing that is a cool potential option with either tablet or chromebook is getting on with 3G wireless built right in. This lets you connect to the internet in unfamiliar places that have cell service but no wifi. The cool thing about these plans is that they don’t lock you into a long term contract, so the one month you travel you can pay $20 to have cellular data service to your portable computer, and then shut it down the next.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      I should have mentioned I’ll definitely want a keyboard for writing. We already have a wireless one with our Mac so that should work with an Apple tablet, no?

      The tablet/stand/keyboard solution is what I had planned for when we dump the desk-top for our more mobile future life in a few years. But it seems a bit pricey for what I’d need/want now.

      Interesting about the 3G wireless. I’ve always shied away from those as I see them as expensive monthly internet connection/contract fee traps. I didn’t know you could buy it so cheaply and at just a month at a time….

  5. Mr. Risky Startup says

    I recommend iPad with Apple Bluetooth Keyboard. I use it daily and it is the lightest and cheapest way to go with added benefits of iPad. Battery lasts forever, you can use it without keyboard for most of the time (use keyboard when you need to write long emails and posts only) and you can download tons of apps to help you with your travels and writing.

    It will be maybe $400 when you include iPad, keyboard and case/cover that allows you to stand-up the iPad on the table (so that you can use your keyboard), but it is worth it. You can also pick-up used iPad 2 or 3 for less than $200 on Craig’s List. I recommend NOT going with iPad mini – screen size is okay for occasional use, but for us “older” people screen size matters 🙂

    Otherwise, check out store, look under refurbished computers and maybe spring $850 for a Mac Air.

  6. Trish says

    Sounds like you’ve accidentally broken one of the 3 Laws of Travel….
    Travel off-season, when you have the place to yourself. Enjoy Prague anyway!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      yeah but it was done in honoring that other law of travel:

      Go when your daughter has the time to hang out with you! 😉

  7. RobDiesel says

    I snagged me an Asus TF700 tablet. Not the cheapest option, but not only is it just a tablet (which discourages long typing and screen use during travel) but I added the handy keyboard which the tablet clips into. The keyboard has a mouse pad, USB and SD card slot (for the pictures from your camera) and best of all, an additional battery in it.

    The tablet will always have the most battery charge. If the tablet has been used and you plug it in to the keyboard, it will pull the charge from the battery in the keyboard, even if it’s not plugged in.

    They claim about 16 hours of total use (tablet plus keyboard battery) which sounds about right from my use. Load up some ebooks and music and you have an excellent travel companion with less of a stolen-market appeal of the iPads. 😀

    No 3G in my tablet, but since my travels tend to always include visiting someone with wifi, I haven’t seen a need. I have no need to skype/email people while I’m actually on the road. I go old school “hey, I should be there around 4pm on the train”. If there’s an emergency I either have a local SIM card for my phone, or I pay the 50 cents to send them a text from my American number.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      seems this Chrome book has a lot of fans. I just checked out the link you provided and have a couple of questions.

      Seems there are several versions offered by different manufacturers. Any reason not to go with the cheapest?

      also, there is this line: “100 GB of Google Drive free for 2 years” Does this mean I’ll have to pay for this after two years? Do I need it? How much will it cost? What exactly is it?

      See, I warned you this was all mysterious to me…. 😉

      • Mr. Risky Startup says

        My only concern with Chromebook would be that a lot of functionality is tied up to having access to the Internet (most of the stuff is cloud based). In your travels you go to areas with slow/expensive Internet access and Chromebook may have some drawbacks for you.

        However, by being cloud based machine, everything you do is automatically backed up online, so losing one Chromebook does not mean loss of all data.

        I am a big fan, and my own laptops are all using Google Drive (cloud hard-drive), but you have to be aware of the difference between “real” notebook and Chromebook.

        • TheHappyPotamus says

          Actually, Google just announced yesterday that their Chrome browser can now do an offline sync. Apparently a lot of people share your concern about the functionality of the Chromebook being minimal because you can’t work offline. Here’s the article

          Also, jlcollinsnh, here is a link explaining Google Drive, including their pricing options on the sidebar

          Basically, as Mr. Risky Startup says, the laptop uses cloud storage. That means that all your documents get stored online. So, if you want to be able to save documents you will need at least some amount of storage on their cloud. You get 5gb free. Also, if you choose not to get more storage, you can still access all your old files, you just can’t create new files.

          There are certainly some drawbacks to the Chromebook vs some other laptops, and as the other readers point out, maybe you would be better suited by something else. But the low price, low weight, and the fact that none of your documents are actually on the machine if gets lost/stolen make me think that maybe it would work well for you.

        • jlcollinsnh says

          Thanks RS, HP & Greg….

          Very helpful.

          If I understand correctly, word processing and spreadsheets are now available on the CB, but not Skype? That last would be a deal breaker as Skype is one of the key features I need for this application…

          I like the idea of cloud storage, especially should the thing get lost or stolen…

  8. Giddings Plaza FI says

    About your question “What is the cheapest, easiest and simplest solution? The solution where if the machine gets lost, stolen or destroyed it is less bother than a mosquito bite?”
    Whatever computer you get, make sure to back your documents up in the “cloud”. If you use software running on your computer, back it up on a free place such as (there are other free storage places also). Or, forget that and just use Google’s free apps for writing and spreadsheets, as well as their free storage. That way, if your device is stolen, you still have full access to your documents from any other device.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks GP…

      I really need to be backing up my stuff. Do you have a link for Google’s free app? Can this be set to happen automatically?

      • plam says

        Dropbox is another alternative. When you install it, you get a “dropbox folder” on your desktop and you put stuff in there. That stuff automatically goes to the cloud and syncs with all of the other dropbox folders on your other computers.

        I’ve never actually used any of these things myself, mind you.

        • Mr. Risky Startup says

          I agree. You can even create entire “My Documents” folder to be a Dropbox folder. I have Dropbox installed on my Office PC, my Mac Air laptop, my iPad and even on my cellular phone. So, all files are constantly updated and shared between all devices.

          Most serious Apps on iPad offer integration with Dropbox, so you can have any file you work on backed up as soon as you are in the WiFi range.

          Alternative (which I also use across my platform to keep my main business separate from side business) is Google Drive. Works almost exactly same as Dropbox (I am actually surprised that Google did not buy Dropbox already :)…

  9. jpo says

    Several Chromebook reviews I’ve read claim that you need to be connected to the internet to do just about anything. Not sure if that’s really suitable, especially if you’re traveling. I think possibly a better solution would be to buy a refurbished Lenovo T61 Thinkpad for $200:

    The T Series Thinkpads are stable and capable. I have used several at different jobs as a software engineer and they generally perform well and don’t break.

    Also, and this might be beyond what you want to fiddle with, but I’d install linux on it, or have a friend do it. Once you’re set up it’s very easy to maintain. The Linux installers are very easy to use these days. A nice, easy distribution to use is Linux Mint, available through Unetbootin.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks jpo…

      Linux is beyond my comfort zone.

      I like the idea of refurbished, but doesn’t a Thinkpad store my info on the machine? Wouldn’t the CB and cloud be more secure in case of loss?

      • plam says

        I used to have T-series thinkpads, but they’re large. I travel with an X series Thinkpads these days. As I just said, Dropbox is one possibility for using a Thinkpad. But a Chromebook may be better for your needs.

        Thinkpads used to be more burly, I think, before Lenovo bought the brand. Not sure if there’s evidence for that or if it’s just a rumour. I have observed it anecdotally.

        I wouldn’t buy an arbitrary used laptop. Lots of them seem to be rather fragile and tend to self-destruct after not too long. Refurb might be OK.

      • jpo says

        You can still keep as many documents in the cloud as you like. The only “benefit” the Chromebook has is that it forces you to keep your documents on Google Drive (Google’s cloud).

        And although the cloud might be a better backup, I wouldn’t trust “the cloud” with better security, necessarily.

        Also, for what it’s worth… Chromebooks run a customized Linux. 😉

  10. CashRebel says

    Prague skids like a classy place to visit. Maybe ill take a trip someday once the tourists tire of it. When it comes to mobile technology, I’ve got dome suggestions.

    Last year I bout a $300 Asus 14″ laptop that travels well and works great. But a netbook might work well for you. They cost about $200-$250the and they are super light and will accomplish everything you need, though the keyboard is small. I’ve also heard about the chromebook. It sounds most similar to what you want.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hey CR….

      I definitely recommend Prague, especialy if you can find a less tourist intensive time to go. 🙂

      Sounds like the Asus 14″ is another fine option. But again, this cloud storage idea has me intrigued…..

  11. Faey says

    Hi Jim

    You didn’t mention if you are comfortable switching between iOS, android, windows and MacOS, as the case might be or are you OS dependent?
    Some of the hardware is OS dependent (Apple). Other might be able to run Windows, Linux or Chromium.

    In any case, just my two cents.

    1) If you want to go with Apple: you only have a choice between Macbook Air and iPad (grown or mini)

    a) MacOS: MacBook Air 11″. You can encrypt the disk using filevault: that should make it pretty secure even if it’s stolen.
    Keep your data in the cloud otherwise and make sure you use secure communication to the services (https).
    If you are using dropbox or such other services I suggest putting those on a separate disk/volume and encrypting them separately as otherwise they will not be readable
    by other devices

    b) iOS: iPad or iPad mini.
    – there are pretty good keyboards to go with iPad, e.g: the logitech one.
    which is pretty good to write on.
    If you mention your setup: what you use to write and manage your blog I – or someone else here – might suggest alternative apps.
    There are certainly more than enough.

    Apple products are still pretty expensive, so if you lose them or they are stolen you might
    weep 😉 – so you might want to have them insured.

    2) Windows
    If you are comfortable with windows then any light netbook will do. As you don’t mention any specifics, or what you mention doesn’t require a lot of computing power (gaming, video/image manipulation) I would just pick something
    light to carry.
    With Windows you can Bitlock encrypt the hard disk – same thing with the cloud storage -> keep it on separate volume/disk and encrypt separately (trucrypt or boxcryptor) .
    I use the samsung s9 series for that but I think Lenovo brought an lighter netbook out a couple of weeks ago.

    3) Chromebook. Chromium is pretty easy to use as everything is browser centric.
    The one for around 200$ is pretty cheap and should do everything you need. It’s probably the cheapest variant but not the most secure. No hard disk encryption, as far as I know and I am not sure if you can configure a VPN.

    4) Android: the ASUS transformer with the keyboard works pretty well, I had one for a while. I didn’t like typing on the keyboard as much as the logitech for the iPad but ymmv.
    Depending on the Android version you should be able to encrypt the device, but if you are using a SD Card > 32GB you are out of luck.

    All in all I guess it depends on how sensitive the data it is you are beaming around.

    If your device is stolen the dangers might be that you won’t be the only one accessing your data 8-).

    In any case …. there is nothing completely secure, not for someone knowledgeable and motivated enough.
    I think once you accept that, you just learn to minimize the risks.

    Get a VPN service for the time you are abroad, there are some pretty cheap (e.g: private internet access VPN service) and so you can use any free wifi without being afraid of your data being accessed.
    That service can be configured on android, iOS, MacOS and Windows, don’t know about Chromium.

    I hope this helps


    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Faey…

      very helpful.

      Right now I have a Mac and so am running OS. Just how important is it that any new hardware I get also run OS? That is, am I stuck with Apple?

      If I got an iPad is there any reason I couldn’t use the same wireless keyboard I use with my Mac?

  12. krullebol says

    My travel companion has been the Samsung NC10 netbook for 4yrs. We have been happpy together, even though the netbook category seems to be replaced (prematurely??) by tablets. I brought it for blogging during a 5000km bike trip last year (it survived). Now I have a Nexus 7 tablet. The tablet scores better on minimal size, but the netbook is probably quite a bit better for content production (mail, blog). 2nd hand netbook of a few yrs old should go for less than 100$. I still like my model, however in case of the NC10 you should verify that it does not have the white screen problem.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      First, very cool about your bike trip! When I was younger (and leaner!) I took several. Great times, all!

      Netbooks also strike me as being more durable in that the lid closes over the screen. Tablets seem vulnerable….

      I also like the built in keyboard….

      • plam says

        Tablets work pretty well but we haven’t been able to do content creation on a tablet, even with a Bluetooth keyboard. It seems somewhat laggy or something. (If you want to attach a keyboard to a tablet, it has to be a Bluetooth keyboard).

        We have a Nexus 7 tablet with a case, so that’s pretty much like a lid. Tablets are much more portable than even netbooks, even if you have a keyboard (because you don’t have to use the keyboard every time). They are also much easier to just whip out and start using. It’s hard to deploy a laptop in 5 seconds.

  13. Michael Baird says

    My mom and her parents are from Prague (they left in ’64 – much fun back then!), so I’ve spent many summers in the area. More recently, I’ve gone during my winter holidays, and it’s phenomenal. The crowds are less, more filled with locals, and the crisp air is so refreshing.

    If you go around Christmas and the New Year, the entire Old Town square is just awesome – filled with food (get the palacinky [Czech crepe] more than once) and drink (home-brew mead, wine, ale), songs, and lights everywhere. Well worth the trip next time you’re in the area!

    Enjoy your trip!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Hi Michael…

      We thoroughly enjoyed it!

      I can certainly see why you make your way back. Wonderful place and I’ll bet it is gorgeous around Christmas. But pretty cold, no?

  14. Statistical Deviant says

    Sounds like you’re having a grand time in Europe!

    Oh, I suppose I should introduce myself: G’day! It’s Raffy from DownUnder. I’m a long term lurker around here and MrMM, but since you asked a tech question, I thought I’d drop my 2c.

    Firstly, do you use an iPad or tablet? The basic functions you’ve described CAN be done with a tablet + bluetooth keyboard combination.

    Chromebooks (as people have already pointed out) are a good idea, but if you are travelling, will you have internet access everywhere? The problem with a cloud based OS is that being online is a necessity, not a luxury.

    If I needed a simple machine, I’d personally consider a windows 8 device, either the Microsoft Surface (the RT version) with a Touch or Type cover. It wont do legacy application support, but has Word built in, has SkyDrive for cloud storage and it can store things on the hard drive as well. Battery life is also pretty good and it’ll function quite nicely as a tablet.

    Hope you have an excellent (and safe) rest of the trip!

    • jlcollinsnh says

      G’day Raffy and Welcome mate!

      We did have a wonderful time in Prague and as you can tell, I am only now catching up on responding to all these helpful comments.

      I don’t have an iPad or tablet. My original plan was to buy the Mac we now have for the large screen since portability wasn’t important and them move to the iPad/keyboard when our life goes fully mobile in a few years. But now I’m thinking some mobility would be nice even now.

  15. Ben Levine says

    I travel with a Dell Inspiron Mini I bought about 4 years ago for around $250. Perfect for travel, fits in my boarding bag, great for email and keeping up with news in the US when we are in Europe.

  16. Eric says

    For my international travel, I’ve found internet access to be spotty. So I plan on not having it, and then treat the occasional WiFi as a luxury. Maybe it’s because I travel in less touristy areas, but usually it’s because of the lack of cellular internet. So I would not recommend the Chromebook as it might be too limited. I’m a Mac guy, so I would suggest used laptops from I’ve purchased quite a few items from them over the years and never had a problem. My personal rec would be a 13″ MacBook, Air, or Pro, which is a good size for using on airplane/train trays. I wouldn’t go with an 11″ Air as was suggested above. The screen is too small and I found myself arching my back to get closer to the screen. No good. Keep all your sensitive docs on an encrypted DMG file on the hard drive (don’t encrypt the entire hard drive). Then occasionally copy this DMG to an SD card or USB stick to keep in your pocket in case the computer is stolen. On my laptop, I keep this DMG in my Dropbox folder, so it’s always syncing over Dropbox when I have WiFi access. You can also do all this with a PC laptop. Not sure what apps you use, but most stuff is cross-platform now anyway.

    using “Find my Mac”, you can sometimes recover a stolen laptop or iDevice. there’s similar services for PC too. being prepared for it to get stolen is a good way to go. And don’t flash computers and tablets in public places, lest you become a target.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks Eric…

      I value your international travel perspective as that’s my need too.

      Good points on over-all and screen size. I’ll check out

      While I’m not an Apple fanatic, maybe it makes sense to get something compatible with the Mac I already own?

  17. Prob8 says

    Thanks for posting the pics, JLC. Brings back great memories of my trip to Prague a few years back.

    Thanks also to all of you who posted computer related comments. I didn’t even know Chromebooks existed. Based on what you’ve posted, I’ll probably make that my next computer purchase.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      My pleasure, Prob8…

      as you know I don’t travel with a camera or take pictures, but Jess was kind enough to share these.

      These Cromebooks seem to have a lot of fans and all the plus comments are turning my hear as well….

  18. Spartan Swami says

    Jim, just read about the explosion in Prague, hope you, your family and friends are alright.

    As for your computer purchase, +1 from me for the Chromebook. I have the original CR48 from google and my tech hating wife uses it all the time. You would need connectivity though for most apps, I use Evernote for my writing which you can use only when you have connectivity.

    Another option is to use an Android tablet, like I do. Most writing apps on the tablet will work offline, though you would need to get used to typing on the screen or buy a cover with a built-in bluetooth keyboard. Ditto for an iPad though that could cost you a fair bit more.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks for asking SS…

      and yes we are fine. We left the day before the explosion. But the day before we were walking those very streets….

      So there is no word processing (or spreadsheets) on the Chromebook unless conected to the internet?

  19. John Gretzinger says

    If you hadn’t said you currently have Apple products, I might suggest a small netbook – oh hell, I will suggest it. I carry a 10″ HP on my motorcycles when I’m traveling or just going to be riding most of the day. I have a 15″ for work related things and a high powered workstation at home along with a network, Networked Attached Storage and a bunch of other stuff that is overkill for most folks, but I digress. The netbook is pretty cheap when found on sale. The upside is a real keyboard, a real hard drive for saving data locally and it does all the other stuff you want to do. All of them come with WiFi, so if there’s a Starbucks or McDonald’s around, you have web access. If you don’t mind Open Source (free) software, you can get a good office productivity suite from that will read and write Microsoft Word and Excel files as well as most MAC word processor types of files. That software will run on your Apple as well. Save things to the cloud and flash drives as backup. The downside is that the keyboard is smaller than standard and the computer itself is not a high powered unit. That sometimes gets a bit frustrating when I mentally compare it to my bigger machines, but then I take a deep breath and remember that was a given when I purchased it and for email, web surfing and light writing duties, it fills the bill nicely.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Thanks John…

      Netbooks seem to make a lot of sense. Built in keyboard and they close up to protect the screen during rough travel.

      Any reason not to have one in addition to my Mac?

  20. jlcollinsnh says

    Hi all…

    First, thanks for all the warm wishes for our trip. We had a wonderful time and we missed the explosion by a day. Although we were walking those very streets while we were there.

    thanks, too, for all the great input on my computer question! Seems the real problem is so many fine choices. Seems there are three basic options:

    Chromebook. “Cheap, cheerful and light” Stores info in the cloud, a good thing should it get lost, stolen or broken. Has a built in keyboard and closes to protect the screen during hard travels. But it only works connected to the internet and doesn’t have word processing or spreadsheets. No Skype. That’s a deal breaker.

    A netbook of some sort. Data should be encrypted (something I have no idea how to do) and saved off the machine should it get lost, stolen or broken. Has a built in keyboard and closes to protect the screen during hard travels. Has word processing and spreadsheets. And Skype.
    Easy to find used/refurbished.

    iPad or other Tablet. Data should be encrypted (something I have no idea how to do) and saved off the machine should it get lost, stolen or broken. Needs a wireless keyboard (can I use the one I have for my Mac?) The screen is exposed during hard travels. Has word processing and spreadsheets. And Skype.
    Easy to find used/refurbished.

    Have I a pretty good understanding? Any considerations I’m missing or mis-understood?

  21. plam says

    Again, I’ve never used a Chromebook, but it sounds like it just now works without the Internet, so it may be useful to you now.

    I also noticed that no one picked up on the cross-country train trip. We took a trip across Canada on Via Rail last year. There are occasional “express deals” with Via Rail (but none right now):

    Our train tickets from Toronto to Vancouver, in November 2011, were $500 each in a sleeper. It was a great experience, although there was no Internet. I’ve never ridden Amtrak for long distances, so I can’t compare Via Rail to Amtrak.

    • jlcollinsnh says

      Wow. That looks like a seriously cool website and well timed for me. Thank you!

      It also looks like the Toronto-Vancouver route is what we’d be looking for.

      Great views, I’m guessing. Is it tough to sag good window seats for them? Meals included?

      • plam says

        Yes, Toronto-Vancouver is the canonical Canadian route. Heck, it’s called the Canadian. The views are very good; we went near November, so there was less sunlight (but also less crowding). Something like April might be ideal, because I’d expect it to be not so crowded but also there would be lots of daytime.

        Meals but not drinks are included. We were saying that the train was a good machine for converting muscle into fat: it’s not so mustachian that way. They revamped the menus since I took it, I’d expect the meals to be even better now. They cook the food onboard.

        So about the seating situation: if you have a sleeper, then you can have a two-person berth which converts into seats in the day; between you, you can decide who gets the window. But there’s also the dome car where people usually hang out. That has a lounge area downstairs and a viewing area upstairs where you can see above the cars. There’s no reserved seating in the viewing area, but the staff encourage people to switch seats from time to time.

        I got a lot less reading done than I thought I would on the train. It’s somehow compelling to just look outside at the Canadian scenery.

        I do have to say, though, that yes, you do get excellent scenery views. However, I got far better views of the Rockies while walking through them, as in for example:

        (which isn’t a very hard hike, relatively speaking; it’s 5200 ft elevation gain, so only slightly more than Mt. Washington, but less rugged terrain in general).

      • Mr. Risky Startup says

        I am pretty sure they have packages where you can hop on and off the train for a few days. So, instead of one very long trip, it turns into train day trips with hotel stays in-between.

        I did not do the big trip yet, but I use Via often and it is much better than commuter train service. It is more like traveling in the golden days of trains (or planes). If you can, try to get a good deal on a business class ticket – then even cocktails are included.

        They also have unlimited passes (similar to Europass) – For example, you can take 7 one-way trips within 21 days for maybe $500. Best of all, one-way trip could be Quebec City to Toronto, but you can add a stop-over in Montreal and still count that as one trip. So, you could start in Vancouver, take ride across the rockies in 2 stages, then endure one long stage across the prairies, and still have 4-5 trips left to see Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and as a crown jewel, visit to Quebec City.

        • plam says

          I think the unlimited passes account for many of the people who take the Canadian in the non-sleeper (“chair”) class. Sure, hedonic adaptation and all that, but 3 days 11 hours is a long time to sit in a chair.

          As it turns out, we felt that the longest part was Ontario. It just goes on and on—very wide as a province, full of lakes and trees, and accounts for almost 24 hours of the trip. Quebec is probably quite wide too, but that’s a different train. The Prairies, on the other hand, go by quite quickly. Basically 1 day from Winnipeg to the Rockies.

          There are probably packages which allow you to hop off and on, but they’re probably more expensive (I don’t know this for sure). Usually the way these things work, too, is that you trade flexibility for cost. So the super express deals are cheap but totally non-flexible.

          I was just writing the comments earlier today on Via going to Montreal in fact. It is very good but a different service from the trans-continental service.

        • Mr. Risky Startup says

          Indeed, these Passes are exactly for that – you get 7-10 trips, each one could have a stop-over, so in theory, you could stop at 14-20 cities. I am suggesting that for someone with enough time, visiting cities along the way, combined with train rides would be awesome way to see Canada.

          Of course, if you are not going to stop along the way, sleeper cars are the way to go.

          As an immigrant from tiny Europe, I am still shocked by the size of Canada. I took driving trips from Toronto to Yellowstone Park for example, and was shocked when I realized that this trip is almost identical distance as northern border of Ontario.

  22. Mad Fientist says

    Hey Jim, I’m a little late to the party but I’d suggest getting a used MacBook or MacBook Air on Ebay. It may be a bit more expensive than some of the other options mentioned but at least the user experience will be nearly identical to what you’re used to on your desktop and you could probably get a good price on a nice machine, since Apple fans sometimes discard their old, perfectly good computers cheaply whenever a new model comes out.

    As others have mentioned, DropBox is a great (free) place to backup important documents so I’d recommend that for cloud storage as well.

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