Computers and Technology on the Journey

By Art on (with 0 comments)

Apple MacBook Air This journey has been predicated on a heavy reliance on computers for all sorts of tasks. For one, while we have our primary airports approach charts printed out, we are relying on the electronic display for an alternate airport on our laptops if we need them during the flight. While I once considered this a frail solution to the problem of having proper information in the cockpit during a flight, I have been doing it this way in the USA for the past several years and it's been working out just fine. On this trip using paper charts would have added 70 pounds of weight to each airplane as well as having the problem of trying to get the updated charts sent to us along the way and the hassle of filing all the updated information.

Having the ability to download updated information every few weeks over the internet to our laptops has made for a fairly effortless way to handle the problem. This plan, of course, was based on the assumption that we'd have access to high speed internet connections at our hotels. While it's amazing that we still do not have the ability to have high speed internet at our home (we do have it at our hangar), at almost every hotel along our journey we have had it. This has allowed us to keep our flying information updated as well as allowed us to keep our entries and photo gallery on our website updated as well.

Speaking of our website, it's hosted on our own Macintosh server back in our airplane hangar. I set up the hardware myself and wrote all the website software as well. The past year was spent in getting the system in place to allow us to update the website from anywhere in the world. The connection had to be very secure so that only I would be able to have access (lots of people out there want to do damage to servers and websites 'just for fun'). Aside from a glitch when the phone company thought I hadn't paid my bill and shut down the DSL line to the server for a few days (thanks to our neighbor Bill for figuring this out for us and taking care of the issue!) the system has worked flawlessly. When I get back, there's a number of changes I want to make to improve various aspects of working with the website remotely but for the most part everything has been really easy to use. By last count, we have over 500 people viewing our entries and photo albums so the server is holding up under the load perfectly. This is the first time Tracy and I have done entries for a trip and we have found it a lot of fun to do as well as a great way to document the nuances of our journey along the way. The online 'diary' has not only let others enjoy our journey with us but the postings will serve to help jog our memories of all the experiences we've had along the way as well.

As for my choice of laptop to bring along, I had to think carefully about the real features I needed. I've had many laptops over the years and for the longest time thought I needed one that could replace all the features and power I had on my desktop machine. Being a software developer I wanted to have my complete development environment along as well as programs for email, web browsing, as well as tools for working with the photographs I take while on the road. I thought I needed lots of RAM, lots of hard drive space and a really fast processor as well as video card. All of these requirements led up to buying a heavy and expensive machine. Before I 'went Mac', I bought Windows laptops every year or so constantly in search of having the fastest and newest units available. My first Macintosh laptop was the 13" MacBook which had 2GB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. It was a nice unit but the weight of it was only a pound or so lighter than the 15" MacBook Pro so I upgraded to the the larger unit with 4GB or RAM and a 120GB hard drive. I carried this around for quite a while and was happy with it until... the MacBook Air was announced. All of a sudden I had to re-evaluate what my real needs were rather than my perceived needs. At launch the MacBook Air was criticized for having a slower CPU, was fixed at only 2GB of RAM, not having enough ports, not being able to swap batteries out and a host of other features that people thought they couldn't live without. What I was attracted to was the weight (around 2 pounds), slim size and nice display. When I thought about what I would really be doing on the laptop while traveling, I realized this new MacBook Air might be just the ticket for me. I decided to bring it along on this journey but, since my airplane has lots of room, I would bring my 15" MacBook Pro along as a backup, 'just in case'. I also brought along my older Sony Vaio Windows laptop that I could use for airport charts if needed to (I hoped not!).

Broken Computer Seems that no matter where I go I get tapped to be the technical support guy for all matters relating to computers. There is one other Macintosh on this trip and it is used by one of the ladies for her photo gallery however all the other guys have Windows laptops along and over the course of this journey so far, I've had to work on most of them for some reason or another. This general unreliability is one of the biggest reasons I moved over to the Macintosh. Apple advertisements say "It just works" and it's true. You unpack it, plug it in and everything works perfectly. Pretty soon, when someone asks me to help troubleshoot problems on their Windows machines I'll be able to say, "Gosh, it's been so long now I really don't remember anything about Windows... sorry!". I look forward to that day.

As is turns out, the MacBook Air has been the perfect laptop for traveling and I have been able to do all my website development and website updating just fine as well as keeping up on email, web browsing for weather, etc. I run Windows on it as well using the Parallels Desktop virtualization software and it actually does a much better job of running Windows than any other Windows laptop I've owned! It has proven to be the best laptop I've every had for travel. The weight and size savings have been of huge benefit as I lug one backpack with laptop and camera equipment around all day. Saving 2-3 extra pounds of weight has been fantastic! As for the Sony Vaio, it has seen use by our journey director, JP, as he had an unfortunate accident with his laptop early in the journey when he inadvertently put it in an unpressurized aircraft cargo area for a long flight at FL270. We suspect the lack of pressurization caused a motherboard failure as it hasn't worked since that flight. Fortunately, I was able to loan him the Sony for the duration of the trip and it's worked well for him. The 15" MacBook has stayed in the back of the airplane unused but ready as my hardworking MacBook Air has been the star of the journey. I may upgrade, at some point, to a MacBook Air with a Solid State drive in it as the only problem I've had is not being able to use the laptop when flying at FL290 as the cabin pressurization is higher than the hard drive is rated to be used at (cabin pressure is 10,000' in the PC-12 and the hard drive is rated up to 8,000'). All in all, Apple has done a fantastic job of building a laptop that excels at what most laptops are used for, travel.

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