■ 28 February 2014 by James Martin
I am past the age when a 13 inch laptop screen is readable. Luckily, large screens are relatively cheap. But what’s an expat to do about the computer end of the deal?
I have a computer that measures 4” by 4” by 2”. It’s NUC. It’s over there on the right. I5 processor, 8GB Ram, 120 mb solid state drive. Ubuntu Studio, which has all the editing I need for photos, sound and video—and it’s all free software.
I’m having fun with a computer that takes about 5 seconds to boot, is easy to update, and is relatively sturdy. I tested this sturdiness thing on our drive to Palm Springs recently. I was unpacking the car when the original box, which I used to store the NUC for travel, decided to open in my hands and the unit dropped about 3 feet onto the asphalt of the parking lot. Ooops.
Didn’t even ding the case.
Expats who travel between countries take note. For about $500 I have a darned powerful computer loaded with software I can travel with easier than carrying a laptop. As long as there’s a monitor, as there is at my Lunigiana love nest, I can just plug and play. Any television with HDMI input will do as well.
Italy Travel Toolbox
- All About Italy Rail Passes
- How to Ride Italian Trains (video)
- Italy Maps
- Italy Cities Climate and Weather
- Italy Autostrada Map
- Cinque Terre Hiking Map
■ 8 June 2012 by James Martin
Ladies and gents, I’m proud to announce the birth of a new travel app for one of my favorite places in the whole, wide world, the island of Sardinia! We’ve decided to call it Sardinia Inside Out with yours truly being a sort of outsider who labored in Sardinia’s hot summer sun to excavate a Nuragic village over several summers, and tour guide extraordinaire Paola Loi being the insider.
Sardinia Inside Out has 870 pictures and over 200 text entries, representing the best of Sardinia, from lace-making to sacred horse races. Each attraction is mapped on a Google map—and you don’t have to be connected to the internet to see the map. There’s a good deal about the traditional foods of Sardinia, recommended restaurants, bars, and where to shop for traditional goods, from rugs to lace to saffron (yes, Sardinia is a major producer of saffron!)
H4. Where do I get this bodacious guide to Sardinia?
Paola Loi is profiled in Martha’s Italy Travel page: Paola Loi – Personal Tour Guide for Sardinia. Paola’s husband Sascha contributed many of the fine photographs you’ll find in the guide, and is an expert on lodging. His guidance produced some very unique and interesting lodging recommendations you’ll find in the guide.
And me you know. Or maybe not. Here you’ll find some of the odd jobs I do and yes, that’s my bug-eyed fear of finding someone with a camera pointed at me in the courtyard of a Nuraghe. If you don’t know what a nuraghe is, you need our guide.
And perhaps you need our auxilarary web site, too: Wandering Sardinia
■ 23 February 2012 by James Martin
I do not usually bliss out. Not with headphones on, anyway. But there I am, with a pair of Ifrogz CS40s Chromatones wrapped around my sorry noggin, blissing out to the Joshua Redman Quartet.
The orange ones are purty, aren’t they? Everyone who’s walked into my office and has seen them has pointed this out. They come in 6 other color combinations.
I’m thinking that these would be ideal for the airplane. The AeroFoam cushions mold to your ears and attenuate noises without squeezing you uncomfortably. I’m looking forward to that application. I can’t stand ear buds. It’s like something moth-like is stuck in my ear and every nerve ending in my body is encouraging me to stick a finger in there to wedge it out. And they don’t really keep out the drone of an airplane.
Let’s talk about sound quality before you get queasy. I compared the CS40s to the earbuds that came with my iPod. No contest. You might expect that, considering the iPod earbuds, which retail for a suggested $29, often sell in the single digits. But the C40S Chromatones are listed at a mere $49, and you can get them for much less. I’d call it a bargain.
The bass response was fantastic, especially compared to the earbuds, where it was almost lacking entirely. Only at extremely high volumes did the bass get boomy. The 40 mm speaker drivers also did very well on the high end, while the midrange, as exemplified by Redman’s creamy sax on the album “mood swing” was very pleasant indeed. Amazing, actually, for $50 headphones.
But that’s not all! The The single button microphone, while nothing to write home about as far as fidelity in concerned, is compatible with Apple, BlackBerry, and Android devices. So while you’re blissing out in that plane, you can stop and make a voice note on your iPod.
As in the picture, the headset folds up so that big head space isn’t empty when you try to cram the thing into your carry-on bag. Nice.
So I’m waiting until March, when I’ll board that big bird to Paris and on to Nice, to try these babies out under that horrible conditions they put you under in a modern plane. I’ll let you know if it all works out as well as I hope it will.
Psssst…Amazon sells these babies for under thirty bucks: iFrogz EarPollution CS40 – Orange Chromatone with Mic
Disclaimer: I was provided with this product for the purpose of review.
Popular These Days
■ 29 December 2011 by James Martin
Perhaps you’ve heard of Instagram. It’s a simple app for the iPhone and iPod Touch that makes your crappy cell phone pictures look like crappy old pictures through filters that change the color and framing. That’s an Instagram picture of yours truly up there on the right, looking all critical and curmudgeonly as usual. If you click the picture you can see it horrifyingly large. Do so at your own risk.
Picture sharing isn’t new, but Instagram does that pretty well, too.
So what’s special about Instagram and why would you add it to your travel story recording arsenal? I mean really, we live in a world in which a huge number of people on vacation choose to lug around massive SLR cameras with massive (and massively expensive) lenses screwed into them, a chiropractor’s dream. Most of these photographers are willing to debate the absolute perfection of their picture output right down to the last immaculate pixel. Who’d want manipulated pictures made to look like they were taken with outdated 1920’s technology?
Um, well, ok, look over there to the right. It’s a simple picture of a tree, reflected in a pond on a friend’s property. I’ve walked this property many times with a DSLR. I’ve never taken this picture with it. I’ve never even thought about taking this picture. Yet I love how it came out. So what’s that all about?
The combination of my iPod camera with its primitive, fixed-focus lens is like a comfort food we’ve enjoyed as children, a box camera un-boxed. Instagram’s filters are the gravy that links us from digital light storage back to chemical transformation of crystalline film coatings. Photography as a narrative medium is now reset back to its primitive beginnings. Images matter. Strong, graphic images—colors desaturated (or oddly oversaturated)—are the things of memory. It’s not about the beetles crawling on the tree’s perfectly rendered bark that you might get with $5000 worth of expensive digital photographic equipment, it’s about the soul of the tree, the symmetry of it, the power of it; it’s about nature as we might never have seen it before but nature as we remember it, low-def, dreamily unsharp. It’s your world, upside down.
The primitive nature of Instagram forces you to look at the common things around you differently. It’s not about forcing you to see in high-definition something you didn’t know you wanted to see—it’s about matching the environment of your own vision. It’s a whole different thing. The pictures, it seem to me, are evocative—if you think about it while you’re taking them.
That’s Martha’s fave on the left. It’s simply a tree hanging over Cache Creek. Nothing more. A darkness, the erotic and ominous dark of a winter’s day, is reflected in it. I hope it sends a shiver down your spine.
But what about this manipulation? It’s dishonest, isn’t it?
Art is all about matching the output to a vision. It’s never about the reality we believe in. Good art is about something else. It’s about different reality, a different way of seeing.
Take Ansel Adams. The magician with a view camera is responsible for getting a huge number of folks to believe that his output presented to you the absolute finest representation of reality you could possibly squeeze out of a big negative.
You can fool all the people all the time, you know. I once spent a day with Ansel Adams. There isn’t a photographer I can think of who didn’t spend more time thinking about new and better ways of manipulating a negative. The man spent an inordinate sum of money on electronics to measure what was going on in that chemical deposit altered by light. His dodging and burning instructions were legendary for their complexity. I’m not kidding, if you saw a straight print of “Moonrise, Hernandez” selling for $12 you’d probably walk right past. It’s not that good of a photograph. Really. Reality sucks sometimes.
So think what you can do with the limitations of a cell phone camera. It might make your eyes seek out better images. Who knows?
I can’t wait to get my low tech photo equipment to Italy. For now, here is the start of my Instagram gallery.
The app on the web: Instagram
(And, um, yes, I do seem to have a tree fetish. I’ll get that worked on. Promise.)
If you’re still convinced that high-tech is the way to go as long as it easily slips into your pocket, the Canon Powershot S100, a camera I’m lusting over, is finally available on Amazon: Canon PowerShot S100 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 5x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom (Black)
■ 26 August 2011 by James Martin
Puglia has the right combination of grit and greatness; nobody is likely to mistake Puglia for a spit-polished Disneyland project, there aren’t enough tourists to warrant such hideous treatment. Puglia is a long way from Tuscany, a long way from the Renaissance, a long way from the glorious excess of a fat Tuscan beefsteak. Yet the carefully calculated and lushly sculpted curves of the southern Baroque carved into the soft surfaces of native rock is enough to captivate your eye, especially in the glittering sunlight, and the platters of seafood served up at modest, rickety-table trattorie laid out along the sea will more than keep the food-motivated traveler’s hunger at bay without breaking the bank.
Fish aren’t the only thing you’ll find to eat here; this land has been famous for vegetables forever. The weather in the Gargano allows for two harvests of its famous agrumi, the citrus fruit that finds its way into much of the cooking in these parts. And the olive oil production, once structured for cheap blending oils, has been improved greatly, and the focus is on quality oils that are stunningly good.
If you like American Zinfandel, you’ll love similar characteristics in Primitivo di Mandura. You can even visit a museum and get a jug of it filled from a pump to take back to your vacation apartment if you wish.
And you don’t have to stay in a boring vacation apartment; even the housing and farms of Puglia express a unique architecture. The huge family farms called Masserie , sometimes fortified against coastal pirates, are being converted to apartments and hotels for discerning tourists—at a price almost any tourist can afford.
How do you access all this? Where can you stay in a Trullo, the little beehive houses concentrated around Alberobello that everyone knows? Where can you stay in a Masseria apartment and take classes in stained glass? Where can get the real scoop on the local foods?
Well, it’s all in Martha’s app: Puglia Travel Guide – Sutromedia.com, just updated to be compatible with the latest technology in iOS 5.
And the Puglia Travel Guide is now ready for your Android device!
■ 31 May 2011 by James Martin
Lots of folks these days extoll the virtues of the automobile for traveling around Europe. Sometimes it’s because they own rental properties found at the end of a windy, gravel lane and it’s the only way you can get to them. But the Italian rail system, for all it’s perceived faults, works darn well for getting to any decent sized town, and is the best means of travel between big cities.
So where do you get information on such travel? Now, you’d think you can get it from the official trenitalia site and you can. But what if you just want to lounge around on the feather-bed in your hotel and dream of where in Europe you might go next? Perhaps you have an iDevice or an android phone in your paw. What do you do?
Well, for train travel around Italy, especially if you’re going on to other destinations in Europe, I always recommend the Deutsche Bahn, (or D Bahn, or DB site) to plan your train travel planning for folks willing to lug those outmoded computer thingies around with them in Europe.
Now DB has a series of apps that connect to their extensive rail databases. You can get them for just about any mobile device. There’s even a big-screen iPad app I’m using at this moment: DB Navigator for iPad – Deutsche Bahn
So you can be sitting there wondering where the heck the nearest station is and if you have location services turned on the app will return the location of the closest train stations right on a Google map. You can also program it to look for stations near, say, Aulla-Lunigiana and it will mark all the close stations on the map. This is darned good info for the train traveler. Travel dreaming train maps. I love it.
Although I’ve not tried it, it says you can also buy tickets thorough your device, although this isn’t available for the local trains, only the fast ones. That’s ok, because I never have problems just showing up and buying tickets at the smaller train stations near me in the Lunigiana. Then again, we live slower in the Lunigiana.
In any case, here is the link for Android devices: DB Navigator for Android
For iPhone: DB Navigator – Deutsche Bahn
Did you know that Select Italy provides train tickets to high speed trains with seat reservations so that you have it all together and don’t have to worry? This service comes at a cost, of course, but it’s reasonable for those who just have to have tickets in their hands: Select Italy Train Tickets
And finally, want to know about the rail coverage of Italy? Try our Rail Map of Italy
■ 19 May 2011 by James Martin
I’m not a big fan of Milan. Style town, big deal. I like high fashion about as much as I like highfalutin folks who think the Bible consists entirely of their personally selected favorite bits from Leviticus and delight in telling anyone who doesn’t agree that they’re going to rot in hell—except for the shavers and pig eaters, who evidently have an exemption that isn’t exactly in the manual. I like the castle in Milan though.
I also like the area around Porta Ticinese because my Sardinian friend Antonio said to go and eat there.
See that’s the thing. When folks who hang out in big cities tell you where to go, you go and have a good time. I would have taken me years to find the area called Porta Ticinese on my own. The tourist maps don’t exactly have a big, red arrow pointing to it.
Of course, you can lug one of those big ‘ol guidebooks around, but they’re not random enough. Unless you read the whole danged wad of dead tree, you’re unlikely to find something that you didn’t know existed. And the bulk of the internet is comprised of ad-pockmarked sites which want you to be content with the top five things you and everybody else will just have to do in Milan or God will strike you down even before the rapture (coming soon to a theater near you!).
See, the thing is, maybe it’s best to have a bunch of nice pictures and icons on a map and make the whole thing interactive so you can tap away at your device with jagged enthusiasm like someone who’s had too much coffee. Then, even though you didn’t know you wanted to go to a cafe, you might find one that has Jazz on a Wednesday and pretty soon you’re grabbing your sweet honey and heading toward Semplione park to the ATM office which has been transformed into a bar with a bigger than life happy hour and Jazz starting at 6:30 so that us old farts can have our fill and be in bed by ten to get our beauty rest. You’ll find all this in Marvelous Milan, the mobile app of which I’m speaking.
Yep, the ATM bar is in the app. And you probably wouldn’t notice, but the place has eco-friendly paintings! That’s in the app, too.
And you know what? There’s a Blue Note in Milan. Just like in New York! Jazz, baby! The app sez it right there. And there’s a nice a place to sample a brew from Milan’s first craft beer brewer. Yum.
Heck, do you know how much I want to rush out right now and hop a plane and get off in Milan? The plane I mean. I’m warming to the notion of a looong vacation there as I write.
Yes, if you are even just turning the notion of a visit to Milan around in your stressed-out noggin, $2.99 will give you advice on where to go, maps, eye candy in the form of pictures (2200 of them it says in the lit!) and even advice on getting out of town. Pavia, Cremona, great destinations!
And I can almost guarantee you’ll want to go when you start playing around with this app. Got an iDevice? Wish you had one? Click the graphic below to find out more or buy this amazing app.
Author Stef Smulders operates the Bed and Breakfast Due Padroni in the Oltrepo Pavese and has done a bang-up job on Marvelous Milan. If you’re going to Milan, skip the $19.95 guidebook that weighs half your baggage allowance on that budget carrier you insist on using and spend less than three bucks on this app. Even the trees will thank you. After all, they are people too, just like corporations.
It’s an odd time to be alive, isn’t it?
■ 3 March 2011 by James Martin
Ladies and Gents, I am proud to annouce version 1.0 of my mobile app, Tuscany for Foodies. There’s over 130 places to get good grub in bella Toscana. There are instructions on how to deal with an Italian waiter so you can get exactly what you want (even if you didn’t know you wanted it). There are over 150 purty pictures of where the food comes from. There’s even some video to click on. And it’s all available for a mere $2.99.
But wait! There’s more! The app will be continuously updated with new stuff. And, it’s a native iPad app, so when you buy that new iPad 2 you can see everything on the big screen. Of course, it’s also available for your iPhone as well.
So let’s say you’re driving around Tuscany, enjoying the views at every turn and then, suddenly, your stomach growls. It happens. Just turn on the app and find the fine, hand-selected restaurant, gelateria, or meat market closest to your car (automatically—as long as you have internet access).
There are even some foodie agriturismi listed, in case you need a place to bed down for the night and want to do it in a place that raises fine livestock humainly and has some good olive oil for your consumption.
And it’s all wrapped in the fine, if oddly rendered and occasionally convoltuted prose of the author of this blog post.
Get it today. Even if you don’t have an iPad. You never know when you’ll win one, and Christmas is only 9 months away…