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home > hints and tips > internet in India part 2

Taking the net to India -part 2

Page 1 2 3

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 for easy phone line connection  
A 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.

  teleclips make it easy to connect to hardwired phones
  Teleclips 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.

the teletester allows easy reversal of phone line polarity when connecting to the internet  
The 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.

The Powerbook 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

  Sport cases for the handspring PDA range
  Sport 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 out.

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 detergents.


Useful stuff for laptops

Mouse or trackball

  apple imac keyboard and mouse

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 or Tandy.

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


A Handspring Visor PDA with Targus Stowaway folding keyboard  
A 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 and Handspring 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.

Screen protectors

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.

Part 2 page 2: backup strategies >>

Article:  Woody 16 Sep 2003 << back next >>
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