Author Archives: ari

This is a travel writer’s most important tool on the road

2017-06-13

When any professional, for instance, a digital nomad or a remote worker, who is working while traveling, packs for the next assignment or destination, there is always the question if something could be dropped from the travel kit. The number of electronic devices seems to be gradually growing in my travel bag, at least. Which tools are the essential ones to get the job done, if the assignment is to write on the road?
digital nomad working at a terrace near fruit farms of Murcia

Here is the set of key tools for a travel writer according to my experience.

Maps.

Both digital and paper maps are crucial for planning. For navigation on the road I use offline digital maps, but I have good printed map books as a backup.

Laptop.

Most writers type their manuscripts on laptops, and so do I. Nonetheless, it is quite amazing how little laptops have developed if you compare them to tablets and smartphones that have gone so far in such a short time. Where is the touch screen in laptops? Decent battery life? Protective cases for taking them on the road?

Smartphone.

The ultimate communication tool for keeping in touch with collaborators or calling tourist information offices of the world. The camera on the phone is also a very useful and important tool for a writer.

Tablet.

I use tablet a lot for planning (maps, distances between distances, routing) and researching background information on destinations. On the road, it is the in-car navigation device instead of the dashboard GPS. Tablet is probably the first tool that many other travelers drop from their toolset, but in the future, I may even choose tablet and keyboard instead of a laptop.

prepaid SIM cards for internet access
Local prepaid SIM card.

Some travelers rely on Wi-Fi hotspots to get online, but the best way to have Internet access when you need it is to buy a local prepaid SIM card with data plan. Insert the SIM card to your smartphone, 3G/4G Wi-Fi router, tablet or laptop.

Backup disk.

The next backup disk I am going to get is a portable, wireless SSD disk. In the office, I can continue using USB hard drives that can store terabytes worth of data.

Camera.

I write and take photos for books, but even if you wouldn’t take pictures to be published in an upcoming book, camera is a vital tool for a writer. Photographs have many functions: they show how a place looks like, they help a writer to remember details of a place, and they can document objects.

I just realized that paper and pen are not included in the list of key tools. It is very rare that I use the trusted and reliable note taking technology, but occasionally I do. Pen and paper are usually somewhere near to make notes, for instance, during a phone conversation, but they are not vital tools anymore. Another thing I realized is that occasionally I need help. Hubstaff Talent is a service for finding remote talent.

mirrorless SLR digital camera with zoom lens
If I had to choose only one tool from the list above, which one would be the most important for a travel writer? Camera.

Yes, a camera. I am slightly surprised by my choice, but if I had to select only one thing I can take along for the next trip, it would be a camera. By taking a photo, I can document details of things I would have to write down. Overview photos of landscapes and city streets help me remember how a place really was. I can quickly document information boards that highlight the key points of a sight or a protected park. Video clips of local markets, main squares and pedestrian districts remind me of the buzz and feel of the place. A camera is also a handy note taking aid: I can record a video clip with a note to myself. If it is my job to take the photos for a book or an article, those images have to be taken as well.

Naturally, when the time comes to start actually writing, a camera won’t help anymore. But the photos and videos will.

Nordic food and travel book Eight Arctic Seasons has won the Gourmand Award for the best Scandinavian title

2017-05-30

8 Arctic Seasons is a book that lives and breathes the sensitive Arctic environment as it describes gourmet meals prepared from local ingredients that often are enjoyed outdoors. The book also takes readers to exquisite adventures to the North. Above all, it is a beautiful book filled with photographs of the Arctic moments, meals and landscapes.
8 Arctic Seasons book in the snow with Liisa KokkarinenLiisa Kokkarinen, Editor & Co-author of the book took it for a spin near North Pole.

The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards were founded in 1995 by Edouard Cointreau. Every year, the best food and wine books (printed and digital), and food shows on television are being awarded.

In 2017 award ceremony in China, 8 Arctic Seasons: Discover – Taste – Experience was the Scandinavia Cookbooks category winner in the global Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.

Janne Honkanen and Liisa Kokkarinen, who were the key contributors to the book, have day jobs at Luxury Action Ltd. The company is based in Finnish Lapland from where it covers the entire Nordic region, including Greenland and even North Pole. Custom tours are planned with the environment and gastronomy in mind, a source of inspiration for the book as well.

The book is available both as printed edition (at Akateeminen bookstore) and as an ebook (check availability and prices here).

Still wondering what the eight Arctic seasons are? Starting from summer, they are: the ever-rising sun, Midsummer harvest, colors of autumn, the first snow, Christmas time, frosty winter, crusty snow and departure of ice.

An image from 8 Arctic SeasonsAn image from 8 Arctic Seasons.
8 Arctic Seasons book, food photo
Eight Arctic Seasons book in the North with Liisa Kokkarinen

The best smartphone for travel photography

2017-05-27

Smartphones, especially high-end models, come with so good cameras that even some professional photographers admit they use camera phones for photography. It is, after all, the one camera that is always with you when traveling, commuting or visiting friends. Different phone manufacturers use different camera components, and most importantly, different software algorithms that create an image from the captured bits of light. So, there are differences, but which smartphone camera is the best?
Google Pixel XL smartphone
Android Authority ran a test for high-end smartphones in order to find out the best camera. This time, they did not ask the experts, or measure the various aspects of digital images, but they asked the public. Anyone could vote for the pictures taken on each camera. The pictures can still be viewed on this web page.

The pictures of a camera that received the most votes was the winner. If professional photographers and camera experts had evaluated the sample images and chosen the best camera, the results would have been different. The public and the experts simply look for different things in images.

I remember when Sony was the number one television manufacturer in the era of CRT tubes, and everyone competed against Sony telling how natural the colors on their TV sets were. Many tests were organized where the public could choose the TV set whose colors they liked the best. Usually, the TV set with the brightest colors won. Having the brightest colors doesn’t have anything to do with image quality, but if that is what the public wants, that is what the public will get.

Anyhow, this is a refreshing way to rank cameras. High-end LG and Samsung camera phones have done well in all types of tests, and this test confirms it hasn’t been for nothing. The Apple iPhone didn’t participate in the test because it was meant for Android phones alone.

The results – the best smartphone camera is:

1. The winner was Google Pixel XL
2. Samsung Galaxy S8
3. LG G6
4. Sony Xpera Xzs
5. OnePlus 3T
6. Huawei P10

Google Pixel XL smartphone by HTC
View the test images and detailed results on the test page.

It would have been wonderful to have Nokia in this camera test as well. Recently, the company has introduced Android phones, and it had the best cameras when it was still the king of mobile phones in the 2000s.

What is the difference between the Kindle ereader and Fire tablet if I want to read ebooks?

2017-05-18

The Amazon Kindle ereading device and the Fire tablet have been designed for different tasks. Nonetheless, there is one application in both products that lets users to do exactly the same thing: read ebooks. If reading ebooks is the most important task you are going to do on your device, here are a few tips for choosing the right product.
amazon fire hd 8, 3 tablet colors
In June 2017, Amazon starts deliveries of new improved versions of two popular tablets: the Fire 7 and the Fire HD 8. Since they are priced very competitively at $49 (7 inch model) and $79 (8 inch model), and both can be used for ereading, the question is: should I purchase the Fire or the Kindle for reading books?
Amazon KIndle Oasis
Lets forget about the price for a moment and study the three key differences between the Fire tablets and Kindle ereaders.

1. Display.
The display on an ereader is designed to resemble paper and ink. It is black and white only and can’t display moving images. The amazing thing is that the E ink display commonly used in ereaders is actually better than paper and ink. For instance, in sunlight, it is difficult to read a book printed on white paper, but ereader screen is fine even in direct sunlight. You can change the text size on an ereader, but not on paper. A typical display size on an ereader is 6 inches. A tablet display has colors and it can show videos, but in sunlight there is not much hope. Common display sizes in tablets are 7, 8 or 10 inches.

2. Multipurpose product vs. single-use product.
You can only read on an ereader – and listen to music or audiobooks, but the whole purpose of an ereader is to give the best possible reading experience, nothing else. A tablet is a multipurpose computer that can be used for almost the same tasks as a laptop. If you will be using your device only at home, think of the way you are going to use it, and choose accordingly. If you will take the device along for your travels, which one is more useful for you: single-use or multipurpose product?

3. Battery life.
Typically, battery life of an ereader is weeks rather than days. A tablet has consumed the energy stored in its battery in a couple of days. Both times of course heavily depend on the way the devices are used. Both can be recharged via USB from a laptop, wall socket, or from a portable power bank.

Now, let’s consider the price. At the moment, Amazon has priced the products as follows.

The Kindle ereaders start from $79 and up to $300. All models have 6-inch black and white screen designed for reading.
The Fire tablets start from $49 and go up to around $100 depending on the configuration. You may choose between a 7-inch and 8-inch color display. If you are interested in differences between the Fire tablet models, here is a page that lays out all the details.

Don’t forget that the Kindle is not the only ereader in the market. For instance, Kobo ereaders are used across the world by book lovers who shop in other stores than Amazon, and read EPUB-formatted ebooks.

In addition, if you already have a tablet or smartphone, you can try how reading ebooks feels on it by downloading the Kindle reading app on your device. Simply search for the Kindle app from the application store.

Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet, 2017 model

Key features and technical information for the Fire HD 8 tablet

– 8-inch touch screen, 1280 x 800 resolution at 189 ppi.
– HD video playback.
– CPU & RAM Quad-Core: 1.3 GHz , with 1.5 GB of RAM
– 16 GB (11.1 GB available to user) or 32 GB (25.3 GB available to user) of internal storage.
– Battery life up to 12 hours of reading, surfing the web, watching video, and listening to music.
– Battery charge time under 6 hours using the micro-USB power adapter included in the box.
– Wi-Fi Connectivity.
– USB 2.0 (micro-B connector) to connect to a computer, or to charge your device with the included power adapter.
– microSD slot for additional storage space.
– Compatible with content formats: Kindle (AZW), KF8, TXT, PDF, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively, Audible Enhanced format (AAX), DOC, DOCX, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, Dolby Digital (AC-3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC-3), non-DRM AAC, and many video formats.
– 640×480 pixels front-facing camera. 2.0 megapixel rear-facing camera
– Location-based services via Wi-Fi
– Colors: Black, Marine Blue, Punch Red, Canary Yellow
– External volume controls.
– Bluetooth, A2DP compatible for stereo headphones.
– Speakers
– Microphone.
– Size: 8.4″ x 5.0″ x 0.4″ (214 mm x 128 mm x 9.7 mm)
– Weight : 13.0 ounces (369 grams)

DIY project: turn your smartphone into a scanner that converts paper books into ebooks

2017-04-29

People who read actively may have invested a significant amount of money in their book collections. Every time they have to move to a new place or want to take their library with them on a vacation, they have to ask themselves the inevitable question: why can’t I have all my books in digital format on my tablet, ereader, phone or laptop? Well, now you can. If you have any do-it-yourself spirit in you, it is possible to build a pretty fast scanning system for digitizing your whole home library.

Tiflic book scanner by Mohib
Anyone who has ever tried to scan a paper book one page at a time on an ordinary home scanner knows how hopelessly time-consuming effort it is. In practice, it is impossible to scan a home library consisting of more than a few books this way. If you have seen a video how, for instance, the very fast Google book scanning system works, it is impressive, but very expensive and requires pages to be ripped from the books.

Canadian book lover (and obviously a talented tinkerer) Mohib has spent a long time building a book scanner that is fast enough for mass scanning of books, but economical and easy to build at home. Now, Mohib’s Tiflic Book Scanner has reached a milestone where the system can scan 900-1100 book pages per hour. This is achieved without having to destroy the books. In effect, you are able to scan 2 – 5 books an hour. After the initial investment, you get that many ebooks for free every hour you have time to flip pages on the system.

How does the Tiflic Book Scanner work? It is not a fully automatic system, but you have to flip the next page for the scanner. But maybe you can read a book, listen to music or watch a movie while flipping pages. Other than, the system operates autonomously once it is set up.

The best way to get an idea how the scanner works is to watch this video:

If you want a Tiflic scanner, you have to build it yourself. Mohib has shared very detailed instructions how to build a Tiflic scanner here (a PDF document). Plenty of information and questions and answers have been posted on this forum page.

The main components of the book scanner are:
– A smartphone with a decent camera. Mohib used an Apple iPhone 4.
– Hardware that holds the camera.
– Page flip mechanism.
– Application for the smartphone to take photos.
– Bluetooth trigger for the smartphone for taking the photos at the right moment.
– Software for processing the photos, and perhaps an OCR application that converts images of pages into text.

Let us and Mohib know if you have managed to build a Tiflic scanner yourself. Maybe we fetch our paper books from a warehouse and build one for the Klaava office as well.

Via ActuaLitte.


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Fun and rewarding World Book Day 2017 experiences around the globe

2017-04-20

World Book Day 2017 is celebrated on Sunday 23rd April in thousands of locations across the globe. Also known as the World Book and Copyright Day, the purpose is the share the joy of reading (and why not writing, too) with other people. The story goes that the date was picked because in 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died on that day.

Unesco has a web page where you can register your own book or copyright -related event. There is also a map where you can view events taking place on the World Book Day. One place with a large number of events is Conakry, Guinea because it has been designated the World Book Capital 2017 by Unesco.

The best way to find even small events is to browse the event calendar of your home town. The usual suspects are libraries and bookstores.

H-P VIrkki interveiew at the Ebook fair in Helsinki, FInland
One of the most memorable World Book Day events for us took place in Finland a couple of years ago. Possibly the world’s first Ebook Fair was organized and streamed live via the Internet to book lovers who could watch interviews of authors at their homes and in offices. One of the interviewed authors was H-P Virkki who talked about his book Stunts, Scenes and Safety – Introduction to Movie Stunts.

Here are a few moments from past World Book Day events.

Go to DOnostia/San Sebastian

World Book Day in San Sebastian, Spain. Photo by Go to Donostia/San Sebastian.

North Ireland. Photo by Northern Ireland Executive.

A map of most popular books by country was created by backforward24:
Literature world map by backforward24

Literature map of Europe (backforward24 at imgur):
Europe literature map backforward24

Write with style: a retro keyboard for your tablet, smartphone or computer

2017-04-17

I have had a Bluetooth keyboard for quite some time, and have been very happy with it. I have connected the keyboard to an Apple iPad or Android tablet and usually typed notes or messages on it. It is a regular, light and thin keyboard without fancy design elements. It just works well. Elretron, however, has designed a gorgeous Bluetooth keyboard called Penna that also comes with additional features that regular mobile keyboards don’t have.
penna, retro bluetooth keyboard
The design of the Penna keyboard is beautiful and smart: anyone who has ever used (or even seen) a mechanical typewriter will instantly recognize that Penna is a writing tool. The Penna even has the handle that was used in mechanical typewriters to shift the paper to the beginning of the next line. The handle has another function in Penna: it is used for shortcuts.

In addition to the overall retro design of the product, Elretron says they carefully designed the feel of the keys and the contact they make with the unit. Company’s web pages explain all the details, but it is possible to order a Penna with different types of keycaps and key sounds. The difference in sounds results from different types of mechanical switches that connect the keys to the unit.
penna, retro bluetooth keyboard
The Penna has a slot where you can fit a 10-inch size tablet in landscape position. Larger tablets than that must be held in portrait mode. There are no mechanical ports or connectors from Penna to a tablet, phone, or computer, because the information is transferred wirelessly over a Bluetooth connection. Elretron says the keyboard is compatible with Windows, Android and Apple iOS operating systems.

The keyboard is powered by two AA-size batteries. Battery life depends on the usage frequency, but in standby mode the batteries should last for six months.
penna, retro bluetooth keyboard
Elretron will start product deliveries in August 2017, even though it is still in Kickstarter. The funding goal has already been achieved, so we should see the Penna in the wild soon. At the moment, the product can be ordered for $99.

Promo video:


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Vast majority of Europeans read at least one book a year, publishers claim

2017-03-24

The whole media industry, including books, is in fundamental transformation from traditional media to digital products. It is fascinating to follow how some parts of the world adopt new media products faster than other regions. Cultural reasons, traditions, legislation, and the book industry itself affect the pace of change. Many end-of-the-world scenarios have been presented for books that have to compete over audiences’ precious time with other media, like movies and music.

The Federation of European Publishers (FEP) has drafted a report on the state of the book business in Europe. It was published in March 2017, and one of its conclusions is that books are doing fine despite very competitive media landscape.

In many European countries, 60-80% of people read at least one book a year. Czech, Germany, Estonia, Luxembourg, Austria, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland and Norway having the highest share of book readers. There are some exceptions, of course, like Portugal and Romania, where residents have something else more worthwhile to do than to read books.

reads one book a year, Europe countries, by FEP
The trend that people are reading less can be seen in the statistics, but it is not the end-of-the-world kind of thing. The trend is somewhat inconsistent: Italy and Germany show an increase in the number of book readers.

The same survey reports that the number of brick-and-mortar bookstores in Europe has increased. At its peak in 2010, more than 32 275 bookstores stocked paper and ink on their shelves for customers. A rapid fall followed that bottomed in 2013 (26 766 bookstores). Since then, new stores have opened, and the number of bookstores in Europe is on the rise again.

Number of bookstores in Europe by FEP
Here is an interesting question: the number of bookstores is growing in Europe, the market share of ebooks is growing, but people read slightly less. How does it add up?

There are many ways to assess and measure how the book industry is doing. One of the most innovative analysts is Author Earnings that primarily tracks sales of large online bookstores, like Amazon, Apple iBooks, Google Play and Kobo. The February 2017 Author Earnings report indicates that 42% of all book sales in the U.S. comes from ebooks, and in the UK, ebooks are 34% of all book sales.

A report published in March 2017 by the Federation of European Publishers (FEP) states that the market share of ebooks in the UK is 17% (in 2015). That’s a huge difference: is the correct market share for ebooks 17 or 34 percent? Two factors may explain a big portion of the gap in numbers: FEP doesn’t include independent publishers and self-publishers in its statistics, whereas Author Earnings tallies up them as well. FEP gets most of its sales data from traditional booksellers, whereas Author Earnings tries its best to get accurate data from big online bookstores.

This is why digital nomads, remote workers and everyone who travels must rely on offline tools

2017-03-02

Traveling professionals, digital nomads and remote workers rely on their computing devices to get the work done. One key thing workers take for granted in an office – Internet access – is not always available on the road. Once a nomadic worker realizes what it really means to be disconnected for a few critical hours or even for days, it becomes clear that the whole computer setup must be prepared for travel. It is a setup that relies on offline tools.
laptop on office desk, woman reads newspaper
If you stop for a moment and review all the applications and online services you are using, you may discover that being without an Internet connection makes up to 90% of your tools redundant. A vital application to get a job done becomes completely useless if you can’t access the Internet. This is a common situation for everyone who is traveling, settling into a new place, or is having problems with telecommunication connections.

I learned all this the hard way. I can still remember how it felt to land in a city where I had never been before, hire a car (without a navigator), and drive to a nearby city where a hotel room was waiting for us. Finding the right direction on the highway was easy by following the street signs, but when it was time to open the navigation application on the smartphone and get detailed instructions for finding the hotel, it didn’t work. The smartphone navigation app didn’t work because it required Internet connection. It was night already, and we were completely lost. In the end, helpful police officers showed us the way to the hotel.

Another painful lesson was during a customer project that I had started before traveling to another country. I had saved the project documents in Google Drive because I had used Google Docs for taking notes and drafting the material. I had reserved two days for finishing the project. I had the time, the tools, but no documents. Internet connection in the place I had rented for a month didn’t work. I contacted the agent who hired the place to me, but because it was weekend, she was off duty. No help. Those two days were lost in frantic search for cafés with Internet connection and prepaid SIM cards. In the end, I managed to buy a prepaid SIM card. Two days were completely lost, but the acquired SIM card proved valuable: it saved me from the same problem later.

So, perhaps contrary to the popular opinion, I am arguing that digital nomads, remote workers and anyone who needs to travel must give up Google Docs, Office 365 and similar cloud services if they are using those services for work. People on the move must rely on offline tools.

Essential offline apps

Here is a brief list of common apps that you must be able to run without Internet connection.

Word processor (for instance, Libreoffice Writer, Word or Pages)
Spreadsheet (for instance, Libreoffice Calc, Excel, or Numbers)
Notes / Journal / Editor application
Maps (Maps.me which runs on tablets and smartphones, but not on PCs is a good choice)
Navigation (Maps.me has been designed to run offline, which is why it is far more reliable and faster than running an online navigation app, like Google Maps in offline mode)
Password manager
Contacts
Calendar
Ereading software and ebook library (for instance, Bluefire Reader or Fbreader)
Photo editor
Dictionary

How to test that your key applications run without an Internet connection?

1. Disable Wi-Fi and mobile data on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.
2. Start every application, one app at a time, that you absolutely need on the road, and try out if you can use it without hindrances.

Using a smartphone for communications even when there is no Internet access

compose text message on Android smartphone
Just a reminder that even when you are offline, you probably have a smartphone that can connect to a mobile network. You should activate roaming for phone calls before leaving your home country. If you don’t’ answer phone calls or make phone calls yourself, you don’t have to pay any extra (to be sure, check with your telco). When roaming for phone calls is activated, you can also send and receive text messages (SMS) that are a low-cost way to communicate even overseas.

Do not activate overseas data roaming for your smartphone, unless you are absolutely sure what you are doing. Usually, it means that either you have a special overseas data package, or you have a EU mobile subscription and you are roaming in the EU region.

Minimum set of cloud services

Once you have secured Internet access, it is time to connect with the employer, clients, audiences, friends and family. The minimum set of online services a traveling professional needs:

Email
Cloud Backup
Social media
Skype or other teleconferencing and messaging service

What does the sharp separation of offline and online tools mean in practice?

Having a large selection of offline tools always available means that it has been possible for you to be productive during those periods without Internet connection. Once you manage to get your computing devices online, you have text documents, messages, photos, spreadsheets and presentations ready to be shared with your employer, clients or audiences.

Which online services are the best for a traveling professional?

The best ones are those cloud services that let you have full control over the access and access rights of your account. It may mean you have to pay for your email service and backup space in the cloud to ensure you truly own full control over the account and the data you have stored into the account.

Popular free services, like Gmail and other Google and Yahoo services are extremely risky for travelers. These services have full control over your account and data. It is their decision if they let you access your data or not. A login attempt – even with the correct credentials – from a new place is a red flag for the services, and they may lock you out from your account. Read more about the risks of Google and Yahoo services for nomadic workers in the article Why I quit Yahoo and Gmail when I started traveling.

Being offline isn’t the end of the world for a traveling professional who relies on computers and the Internet to get the work done. When you are prepared, you can keep working offline until you manage to secure access to the Internet. The fruits of those productive offline hours – or even days – can then be shared with the world.

Here is how you can turn your smartphone into a 360-degree camera

2017-01-20

Often, the best ideas are so simple that you ponder why didn’t I think of it. Dunkam 360-degree camera is exactly like that: a small, low cost product that you attach to your smartphone and start shooting 360 photos and videos.
Dunkam 360 degree camera
This is how the Dunkam 360 works:
– Download Dunkam application to your smartphone
– Plug the Dunkam camera into the USB port on your smartphone
– Open the app and take 360 photos or shoot 360 video.
– You can share your videos directly from the app to YouTube and social media.
– The app also features some special effects if you want to spice up your videos.

When you are done, unplug the Dunkam camera and continue using your smartphone as usual. The Dunkam camera is so small that it is quite easy to carry it in a pocket or purse – even just in case you would happen to need it.

The Dunkam 360 camera requires two things: you must have an Android smartphone (Apple version should be available later), and the USB port on your phone must be OTG (On-The-Go) capable. If you don’t know if the USB port can act as a host device for the camera, there is an app for that in the Play Store.

Since the image processing takes place on the smartphone – using the memory and processor of the phone – it is a good idea to clean the phone from unnecessary apps and data so that there is as much free RAM and storage space for the 360 images as possible.

The Dunkam camera is a beta product at the moment, but it can be purchased for 99 Euros/USD directly from the company that is behind it.

A tech reporter of El Pais met with the inventor of the product Julián Beltrán who demonstrated how it works. Here is a video (in Spanish) where you can see the Dunkam camera in action.
Dunkam 360 camera for smartphone

Technical specifications for Dunkam 360

– Two 8 megapixel cameras
– For smartphones with USB OTG connection
– Android only at the moment, Apple version under development.
– Resolution 1920×960
– Streaming HD 1080p
– Filters, tiny planet mode, exposure control
– Size 2.6 x 2.2 inches
– Weight 63 grams.


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Why I quit Yahoo and Gmail when I started traveling

2016-12-28

A few years ago, when I started traveling for work, a strange thing happened with some of the web services I had been using. These cloud services, such as email, photo sharing and calendar refused to let me in to my account. I really needed to access them because my work processes relied on those services. Instead, the services insisted I was a hacker who had managed to discover my user id and password. The cloud services refused me from accessing my own account.

That’s when I quit Yahoo. Now, I am in the process of quitting all my Google services as well.
an office for a digital nomad in Bordeaux, France
In 2012 and 2013 I was on a long journey that took me to several countries in Europe. I was using Yahoo Mail and Flickr quite a lot when things started to go wrong. Every time I moved to a new place, Yahoo wanted verification after verification to prove that I was really me. When I had done it a few times, and had been locked out from my accounts once, and had very frustrating moments with Yahoo support, I was fed up. I decided to quit all my Yahoo services.

With the information that we have today (in December 2016), it is easy to realize that Yahoo may have been fighting with serious hacking problems just then, in 2013. Their solution was to make life hard for their customers without telling what had happened.

I decided to migrate my cloud services to Google. That decision I have bitterly regretted recently. I have been traveling in Europe during 2016, staying one night in one place, a week in another and a month somewhere else. Every time I have tried to access my Gmail, Google Photos, Google Plus, Analytics, or any other Google service, I have been treated as a criminal. Even after I have correctly entered my login id, password, and the required verification information, Google haven’t let me access my account. Instead, Google took the effort to send me an email message:
Google: someone has your password

“Someone has your password
Hi,
Someone just used your password to try to sign in to your Google Account [name]@[address].com.
Details: Saturday, [month], 2016 12:43 PM (Central European Standard Time)
[country]*
Google stopped this sign-in attempt, but you should review your recently used devices:”

The first time Google locked me out of my account, I spent quite a lot precious time trying to explain the situation to Google Support. Nothing happened. That was it. I had enough of Google. For my work that requires traveling, it is a waste of time to try and follow Google’s verification instructions – only to be locked out.

So, I am moving my work, business, and life away from Google.

I understand and really hope that services like Yahoo and Google have security measures in place to prevent hijacking of accounts. If I login to my account in Edinburgh today, and in Dublin tomorrow, it is perfectly all right to ask verification for proving that I am really me. What I don’t understand is why both Yahoo and Google fail to recognize the credentials I am entering. For instance, Google’s verification process can send a message to a backup email address stored on the account. Going through this process doesn’t help. I am still a criminal to Google.

I understand that Google has other ways for verifying customer’s identity, but whatever they are, I can not trust Google anymore. Google does whatever it wants with my data. I don’t have any hope to have any control over the data I have stored on Google’s servers. The risk with dealing with services like Yahoo and Google is simply too high. The critical moment when I need information stored on my account, or access communication services I have relied on my work, the services fail. They have been designed that way, and nothing I say or do will change it.

Since I will be traveling (and writing about it), I have started a long process of creating a whole new cloud working environment for me and for people I work with. It takes time and effort, because some choices prove to be wrong and as painful it is, switching to another tool is better than limping ahead with an unreliable or unsecure tool.

What can a traveling remote worker, or digital nomad, who doesn’t have tools provided by corporate IT department do without Google or Yahoo? Here are some suggestions. I may update them as my migration process progresses:

– An email account from a reliable ISP (hosting company). Many ISPs give a large inbox (up to 1 GB) for the price of a domain name. Annual cost around 10-15 USD/Euros.
– Flickr is an excellent photo service – if you can login to your account. I am still looking for a replacement for it (won’t be Google Photos).
– Some hosted email services come with a calendar, some ISPs charge extra for it. I have been trying out Sunrise and Moxtra that are free.
– Google Plus social media service can be important for some people, but it wasn’t critical for me. Goodbye Google+. Other social media services, like Twitter or Instagram have co-operated smoothly with me on the road.
– In addition to backing up data to an external drive, find a cloud backup service. Forget Google Drive, and pay a few euros/dollars per month to a company that really knows what they are doing. I am traveling in Europe, so Hubic servers in France are never far away from places I am staying.
– Google Analytics can be difficult to replace as the web site analytics tool, but we are trying out Piwik and Open Web Analytics at the moment.

Why am I discontent with Google and Yahoo services alone? Surely, I must be using social media services as well? Yes, I am. It is just that, for instance, Twitter, Dropbox, Skype, or Instagram have made life easy for customers who are traveling. They know someone is accessing your account from a new place, tell you about it, ask if everything is all right, and act accordingly. The difference with Google and Yahoo is that these services just work.

Online security is not easy. Customers want to be assured that their accounts are in safe hands. For a service provider, it means balancing between ease of use and requiring customers to take a few extra steps. Yet, even tight security can be implemented so that customers who prove their identity are not locked out from the services they rely on their work.


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Sweden’s book city: Gothenburg

2016-12-19

Stockholm is the capital and the most populous city of Sweden, but Gothenburg on the country’s West Coast features the largest annual book show of Scandinavia. Maybe it is simply because Denmark, Germany and Norway are not far away from Gothenburg, or maybe the city has traditions in book business.
bookcrossing, slottsskogen, gothenburg, sweden, europeIn the large park of Slottsskogen near the city center you can find books on trees. It was a rainy day when the photo was taken, so someone must have saved the books from getting wet. The message on the plastic box encourages you to change your book to a new one.
bricks-and-mortar, book shop in Gothenburg
bookstore in gothenburg, sweden
Akademibokhandeln bookstore in gothenburg, sweden west coastBookstores in the city center.

book show, gothenburg, sweden.The annual Book Fair in September in Gothenburg attracts visitors and exhibitors primarily from Scandinavia, Baltic countries and Germany.

If you are planning to travel to Sweden or Gothenburg, it is worth knowing that the West Coast region next to Gothenburg is the second most popular vacation destination for Swedes. This travel guidebook covers the essential places, sights and activities in the city and the region.