Taking the net to India -part 2
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The second of a three part series
covering the what, how and why of Internet net access on the road
in India. Part two looks at some useful accessories including carry
cases, tools to connect you to the phone line and keyboards for
PDAs, plus backup on the road and some software suggestions.
Net connection tools and other accessories
Connecting to the phone line
spool type modem cable reel
In order to connect to the net, you obviously have
to plug in to a telephone line. Most telephones in India now have
standard US phone plugs (RJ111) so a small extension cord to go
between the device and the wall socket is needed. There are plenty
of the "reel" kind on a small winding spool in various
lengths. 3 or 5 metres should be sufficient. They are available
in high street computer shops for about 5 UKP.
* NOTE Do NOT use the standard cable from
the phone to the wall by unplugging it from the phone unless you
have an appropriate adapter. Phone cables and modem cables use different
arrangements of wires and without a converter, the phone cable simply
will not work.
make for easy connection to older hard wired phones
For those hardwired phones that do not use a standard
connector (such as those often found in hotels or phones installed
years ago), it is possible to simply connect directly to the wires.
The line from the phone usually runs to a small junction box on
the wall. You can remove the cover with a screwdriver, exposing
the wires. Devices marketed by Teleadapt
among others have a RJ111 female socket on one end ( to connect
to the line to the computer), and a pair of crocodile clips on the
other to attach to the bare metal of the phone wires. There may
be more than 2 wires inside the box, so its a bit of trial and error
to clip onto the right ones, but the contraption comes with a small
plastic checker called a Teletester which will give a green light
to confirm the correct wires are selected. In case this indicates
a connection with incorrect polarity, its just a case of reversing
the clips on the wires till you get a green light on the checker.
It will also warn of excess current (from a digital PABX system
for example) in the line which could damage the modem. This crocodile
clip arrangement is about 6 UKP when bought from Teleadapt.
Teletester Pro allows easy reversal of phone line polarity
A more sophisticated (and expensive) device by
Teleadapt, the Teletester Pro allows easy checking and changing
of polarity by flipping switches on the front panel of the adapter.
It also provides surge protection and checks for excess current
and allows the use of standard phone cables, meaning you can simply
unplug the wire from the telephone handset, and connect it to the
modem via the Teletester Pro.
Laptop carry cases
This is really a matter of taste and how want to
carry the computer or Palm. India is not an especially theft prone
country, actually the reverse, although opportunist theft happens.
A discreet case is probably a good bet.
Most laptops are fairly robust (the older apple
iBooks as I mentioned earlier are especially well built), but
a case is fairly essential to protect them and keep out dust. For
laptops there are plenty of relatively subtle shoulder bags and
rucksack carry cases that don't scream "computer", and
are built of robust material, usually with a hard rim to protect
from knocks. They have space to carry other accessories as well.
The "smaller the better" would probably be a good rule
of thumb for travelling; something as close to the size of the laptop
as possible. A small protective bag can be carried inside a daypack.
For heavy duty protection a metal case, usually
of aluminium or occasionally titanium is about as good as it gets.
The problem is these are invariably expensive. Probably the top
of the line are from Zero
Halliburton at around 200 UKP (far cheaper in the US), but a
half price alternative is by Chameleon
and sold in the UK by PC
world. The case will often not be a snug fit for the laptop,
but a visit to a local upholsterer should procure you a few sheets
of some suitable foam which can be cut to fit the case and laptop
and provide useful protection against impact and vibration.
Zone has an excellent and up to date section with reviews of
current laptop carry cases. All kinds of cases are covered from
the discreet to the unsubtle, some with some user comments
PDA carry cases
cases for the Handspring range of PDAs
For Palm devices, there are a wide range of cases,
including some insanely expensive metal ones. The best bet is probably
one that carries only the Palm device, so that the accessories can
be packed among soft stuff in the backpack. The ones offered by
the manufacturers are usually the "executive" leather
models, and probably not very suitable for travel. I use a "Palm
glove" neoprene case which I found in a Dixons sale for 4 quid.
It offers reasonable protection against knocks, and keeps the dust
Additional moisture protection
A bag that protects against moisture is also a
good idea. The monsoon season in India is very humid, and doesn't
do electronics much good if damp gets into the innards of the device.
I had constant problems with my Handspring Visor flattening batteries
in two or three days even when it wasn't being used during an especially
muggy monsoon season. The damp must have been causing some minor
short within the circuitry. A distributor of Palm PDAs in Kochi
told me he had the same problem every year during rainy season.
Its possibly to get resealable zip-lock plastic
bags large enough to hold a laptop. Keep the computer inside one
of these, then inside the carry case when the weather is damp or
humid. Put a bag of silica gel desiccant inside the zip-lock to
remove moisture from the air inside the sealed bag. Silica gel can
be had from photographic shops such as Jessops in the UK. If you
are in Germany requests for silica gel will probably draw a lot
of blank stares as it seems to be practically unknown - at least
in Hamburg where I spent a fruitless afternoon looking in photo
shops for it.
India is exceptionally dusty, and your laptop or
palm will end up with a dusty screen, come what may. The dust is
often very abrasive and should be removed gently to avoid scratching
the screen. I found the best solution was a microfibre window cloth
bought from Safeway in the UK under the name of Spontex "wonder
window cloth". Blow off the excess dust, make the cloth very
slightly damp but not wet, and gently wipe the screen. Give the
cloth a good rinse through afterwards. Keeping the cloth in a zip-lock
bag keeps it dust free. Avoid cloths that are pre impregnated with
Useful stuff for laptops
Mouse or trackball
For those who loath the trackpad on most laptops,
a mouse or trackball is essential, especially if you are dealing
with your digital photos. A small mouse mat is also a good idea.
There are quite a number of computer mice available
that use optical sensors to detect mouse movements, leaving the
innards of the device sealed from dust and dirt. Older style mice
that use a rubber ball and rollers tend to clog up very quickly,
necessitating regular, fiddly cleaning of moving parts. The disadvantage
of optical mice is that they are expensive and don't work too well
in bright light.
Electrical surge protection
Indian mains electricity, like most of the rest
of the infrastructure, is much better than even 5 years ago. In
Manali in 1996, the power would be off all day, come on sporadically
at 6 or 7 PM with 100 volts or so, then gradually wind up to 180
volts by midnight with more powercuts than power. Lights were frequently
less bright than candles, and tape players warbled like a blues
singer who'd hit the bottle too hard. While powercuts are still
not uncommon, a cut of 6 or 7 hours is very unusual even in winter.
However, the power has a nasty habit of fluctuating
constantly, consequently causing "spikes" or "surges"
when the voltage peaks way over the supposed maximum of 240 volts.
These spikes can damage and even destroy unprotected electronics,
or cause data loss.
Its worth bringing a small surge protector to cover
your computer against damage by errant mains electricity, or even
surges caused by lightning. These protectors usually come in the
form of a small device that fits between the power adapter and mains
cable, or the plug and the wall socket. The ones that react the
fastest to surges are usually single use; after a surge they must
be replaced, so a spare may be a good idea. They are pretty inexpensive
from high street electronics shops such as Maplins
Mains plug adapter
Depending on where you are coming from, you will
probably need an adapter to allow you to use Indian wall sockets.
These are usually 3 round pin "5 amp" sockets. They have
an earth pin, but this is very often not connected up by the electrician
for a variety of complex sociological reasons. "Universal"
adapters are available from travel shops and usually airport duty
free, or can be found in some electrical shops in India.
Useful stuff for Palm devices
Handspring Visor PDA with Targus Stowaway folding keyboard
Inputting a 500 word email is fairly impractical
using the handwriting function that comes with most handheld devices,
but add on keyboards that are more or less full size when folded
out are available. Targus
make fold out models to fit most Palm
models, and several other manufacturers produce variations including
one or two "soft" keyboards that roll up. This is being
written on a Targus Stowaway keyboard and a Handspring Visor device.
Targus models are highly recommended; built with a robust metal
case they stand up well to life in a backpack, and fold out to an
almost full size keyboard with a pleasant key action. The folded
case is little bigger than the Palm device. Together they would
add little weight to a daypack or even pocket and can be used anywhere.
These are usually thin pieces of 'use once' film
that go onto the Palm device screen and protect the screen from
scratching and using the stylus in fact they also make writing
with the stylus easier. A good idea as India is a very dusty place.
They are usually specific to the screen size of the device. There
are probably other makes, but Belkin
seem the most common, and they can be had in most consumer electronics
shops, although I recall Staples the office supplies store were
half the price of everywhere else.
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