Sunday, June 05, 2011

Notes from a tech traveller

Sorry for the break in transmission, for the past three weeks I've been on the road from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal. Most of the time was in Tibet.


I'll write soon about the technology seen on the trip but while it's fresh here's some notes on what tech I took and how effective it was.

In general, my bag was too heavy, partially because of the wide range of temperatures (0 degree tent stays to mid 30C humid weather).

Here's the gadget list:

  • Tecsun PL-310 short wave radio
  • iPhone 4
  • iPad 2
  • Kindle DX with 3G
  • Mophie juice pack power station
  • Apple USB charger
  • Ricoh Digital III camera

Aside from the camera, the most used gadget was the PL-310 short wave radio which let me stay in touch with world news via the BBC and to some extent VOA. The BBC belted in each early evening on 17790kHz. The radio reports the strength as 53dbuV/m (with a noise floor of 24dbuV/m).

This radio is very compact, has excellent battery life, and I particularly like the automatic tuning mode which takes about two minutes to scan all of it's short wave bands and store the active frequencies. It would often find 60 stations on a scan.

Amazingly, the Kindle's free data service worked in Tibet (part of China) and as well as buying a few books (including a Lonely Planet) it meant that I could get to my email, although it's pretty slow and painful.


The iPad is great on the plane, I read and watched some movies, the flights we took had no personal entertainment system and the "big screen" movies were in Chinese so this was good. During the trip an eInk display, like the Kindle, is more practical for the packing weight.

The Mophie battery pack was good - it's the one with a USB socket, power went out quite frequently in both Tibet and Nepal which have regular "load shedding" power cuts.

Apple's standard iPhone/iPad USB charger is about the most practical USB charger around. I took both Australian and UK mains plugs but even then it was sometimes hard to get a good mains connection to the weird wall sockets available.


The iPhone worked well as a second camera and the HDR feature was very handy trying to get detail in snow capped mountains and bright clouds. Here's a straight shot:


And here's the HDR version:


Oddly the Telstra SIM didn't find coverage in Nepal but aside from that China Mobile's coverage is amazing throughout Tibet and right up to Everest base camp.

Internet access was pretty patchy. Some internet cafes do not offer WiFi so it was their virus ridden pirated Windows computers or nothing. Where we did get wireless internet it was very slow and unreliable but enough to check that no dramas had arisen at home.

So, for general staying in touch in low tech countries you can't beat a short wave radio even today. Rather than carrying heavy books a tablet reader makes sense in terms of weight.


Mike Fulgaro said...

I agree about your digital traveling partners and the different situations you use them.

My travel pigeon pair is a Kindle 3G and a Samsung Galaxy Android tablet...both have their definite positives.

I sometimes wonder which one I would give up if I had to give up one of's an agonizing thought, as they are both so useful in different ways.

Great post, Marxy...really enjoyed it!

KWG said...

Thanks for your blog. I'm riding the same route in Sep. Will I be able to buy a china mobile prepaid sim in Lhasa? Will there be pretty regular china mobile coverage?

Peter Marks said...

Dear KWG,

I'm not sure about getting a pre-paid SIM as a visitor, I know they are very common with locals though. I suspect you'll need lots of ID.

China Mobile coverage is extensive. Even at Everest there is coverage (and there's heaps of signs up announcing the fact).

I roamed with a Telstra SIM although data didn't work.

Have a great trip!

KWG said...

Thanks for your response. So Telstra on roaming should give god coverage? any idea I'f me blackberry (optus) would work on roaming, phone and data? appreciate your help

Peter Marks said...

I think you should check who Optus's roaming partner is. If it's China Mobile it will be fine in Tibet, otherwise I'm not sure.

Have a great trip.

supplement said...

Data if at all it works may also be very expensive. be careful of prepaid cards in any part of SE Asia.