Tag Archives: internet

Evernote Offline Notebooks

I’m a big fan of Evernote, the iPhone and desktop app used to for taking notes, photos and generally organising your thoughts. But one thing is bugging me a lot. Last year I paid about $50 for a premium subscription which for an iPhone app is bloody expensive. The main reason I paid up is that if you want to make sure you can read all of your notes when you aren’t near the internet, you need to make sure that the notes have been downloaded for offline use. This feature is only available via subscription.

Well, that feature does not work. It’s broken. A heap of crap. I could report the problem to Evernote and go through a problem isolation procedure, but I can’t be bothered. I paid $50 for the app to work, not to be dicked around by some tech support guys in order to help fix their errors. So… I’m writing this post just to air my grievance and to let anyone else that searches for evernote offline notebook problems know that the feature is indeed buggy and you have indeed done your dough. Never again will I pay money to evernote and I encourage others to follow suit.

That feels better. Back to regular viewing.

 

Foursquare Sucks

It’s a big call, I know. Millions of people use foursquare daily and I have the hide to dis it. Well I am. I’m dissin’ it. And I’m serious, because I’m saying “dissin'”. Foursquare has gained popularity as a tool to track your friends movements and… I don’t know what else. But people love it nonetheless and I don’t know why.

If I’m lashing out and saying Foursquare sucks, I probably should give some substance to my controversial claim by providing some hard reasons for not liking it. First of all, though, I will say that I do use the app. All the time. And I don’t even know why.

Without further ado, the top reasons for hating Foursquare:

Woeful Design

I really hate the design of Foursquare. It reminds of an IBM computer circa 1988. Or maybe even a microbee circa 1986. It looks really out of place on a device such as an iphone which prides itself on fantastic aesthetics. That blue and white interface with hard lines, flat lists and endless blandness… it’s awful! Oh and don’t get me started on squares. The app is full of squares and rectangles! I like pictures. Colours. Rounded edges. Get some of that in the app and it will start to look more interesting and feel better to use. As it stands, whenever I open the app I feel irritated by it’s boringness. Note: Shaving off the edge of a corner does not give the app the rounded edges I desire. It just looks like a sharp corner was chopped off.

Duplicates?

Duplicates are rare on Foursquare. Why? Because many spots are in triplicate, quadruplicate, quintiplicate, hexatiplicate and dodecatipilacte. In other words, the database is an absolute mess making it really demoralising when you find that the spot you’ve been checking into for months is actually not the one most people have been using. They’ve been checking into the one 100m away. Another problem with all these multiple spots is that it’s sometimes difficult to know which one to checkin to. Really destroys the experience for me.

Too Many Inane Spots

There are so many inane spots on Foursquare that crowd out the real spots. Like “my bedroom”. Or all the gates that are located within an airport. Checking into gate 48a within an airport isn’t really relevant in a location-based app. Terminal maybe. Airport yes. Gate number no.

Badges Suck

The badges in Foursquare really are awful. Firstly, the implementation seems to be a half-hearted attempt and adding a game feature to the app. But it’s half-baked. Many of the badges are for things that don’t mean anything (checking into 3 locations that have photobooths in them???), they very rarely scale based on how heavy a user you are (what about a badge for checking into 100 locations that have photobooths in them?) and they are ugly. Really ugly. I don’t want those badges. They’re embarrassing.

Spot Popularity Indeterminable

It’s really difficult to tell if a spot you’ve never been to before is popular or not. This might seem irrelevant, but on my recent trip around Oz, I often used Gowalla to look at spots around me to see if lots of people were going to them. There appeared to be a direct correlation between frequently checked into spots and the location’s awesomeness. On Foursquare, you have this flat list of messed up spots and duplicates that gives no hints about what nearby is cool. Even the new “explore” feature doesn’t work.

Tips

The tips feature is busted. Rarely is it used to give tips. It’s turning into a way for users to spam and add “humurous” comments. They’re rarely of any use. This feature needs to be deleted and replaced with a rating feature. Thumb up or down if you like the spot. Add a comment and it can be thumbed up or down. Simple.

They’re my main bugbears. The design aspect is the thing that keeps me away from it most of the time. As Gowalla improves its foursquare checkin procedure, I’m going to start trying to make all my foursquare checkins through Gowalla. Then I don’t have to use foursquare at all! This begs the question, though, why don’t I just delete the app altogether? Well, I’ve been asking this question myself and I think it’s related to my 1) hope that they’ll fix it, 2) fear of missing out on something.

If you use foursquare, give Gowalla a try for a few days and let me know how you go. Better or worse? Agree that Foursquare is a bag of crap?

Australia Roadtrip – Tasmania

This is the first in a series of posts about my 2011 roadtrip around Oz. Check out South Australia, Western Australia and campervan purchase!

It’s been three months (!!!) since I returned from Bali after completing my research and writing for travelfish.org and in the period of time that has passed I’ve been doing a few things… Namely planning a road trip with Heather of There’s No Place Like Oz and Nicole, Heather’s friend.

So a few weeks ago we bought a campervan, fixed it up and hit the road. The first couple of weeks were spent in Tasmania and the following were the highlights for me.

Freycinet National Park

 

Friendly Beaches
Friendly Beaches

This national park is located on the east coast of Tasmania and is home to long sweeping white sand beaches, dense bushland and heaps of wallabies. We stayed at a place called Friendly Beaches where there was free camping if you had a national park pass (you probably will need one of these at some stage in Tasmania unless you’re really scamming it) and the walk to Wine Glass Bay is beautiful. I was quite surprised at the crowds, but they didn’t detract too much from the experience.

Hobart

I’d already been to Hobart a couple of times before this trip so I knew what we were in for. We stayed for $20 per night at the Big4 tourist park next to the airport and cruised around some cool cafes, took a look at Salamanca Market and took a drive up Mount Wellington. It’s all pretty cliche for Hobart, but these are great things to do there. The best coffee without a doubt was at Doctor Coffee where they make coffee at a standard that is up there with some of the best few in Sydney and Melbourne.

Cradle Mountain

 

Close up of Baby Wombat
Baby Wombat

Most people visiting Tasmania visit the Cradle Mountain National Park and do one of the walks around there. It’s actually possible to hike from the car park near Cradle Mountain right across country to Lake St. Clair. That would have been a nightmare when we were there as it was freezing cold. One night it snowed and it was Summer. Clearly Winter temperatures are going to be cold all the time and it could be rather unpleasant! Highlights when going there for day walks as we did are the fantastic 5km long boardwalk where we saw a few wombats including a baby and its mother; the Dove Lake circuit and great pizzas served through into the evening at the visitor centre.

OK, now onto a lowlight. We thought Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm was disappointing. The coffee was bland and the French Toast literally looked like a toasted sandwich with raspberry jam on it — $15.80!!!

The last point to mention is that mobile phone coverage in Tasmania is VERY patchy. Vodafone have almost zero coverage outside of the Launceston to Hobart corridor and Optus are not much better. Telstra eclipse the lot and have coverage in most towns that tourists are likely to visit. It wasn’t a big deal for me, but I know some people can’t go a day without mobile phone/3G coverage.

How to Make Money from Blogging

There has been so much hype about how to “monetise”, or in normal speak “make money”, from your travel blog in recent months. So much so that I felt compelled to write something myself in order to get in on the action. All this talk about getting 1000 hits per day and that converting into $1000 per month and the like has got me thinking. Who is it that pays to advertise on a travel blog? Why would they advertise on a travel blog? And more importantly, who is actually reading travel blogs?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions with any certainty, but I do get the sense that for the vast majority of blogs, it’s travel bloggers that are the primary audience. We all comment on each other’s blogs, tweet and retweet other’s posts, promote each other and dream up wacky ways to get our message out there. It must feel great to consistently get 200+ views on your blog everyday (I don’t). But if the 200+ are just other bloggers like me, aren’t we really just preaching to the converted? Aren’t we just a self-serving community that spins stories to each other about topics that we all already know about?

Recently there seems to have been a greater push to make money from blogging and while the sentiment is great, let’s use some basic laws of business to put this notion into context. First of all we need to look at what our market is. Generally, people write travel blogs as journals and ocassionally publish something that might be useful to other travellers like “top 5 art galleries in Berlin”. Many travel blogs these days are the same as what LiveJournal was back in 2000. A diary that maybe a few interested people will read. Your average member of the public isn’t going to read because it’s not relevant to them and thus the market of the average travel blog is so small that it really has no business potential. There are a few high profile examples of travel blogging making people money, but those guys are on another planet and have just about got the market tied up. The rest of us can slog away to chip away at their market share, but there are so many of us doing EXACTLY THE SAME THING that it is impossible to get ahead. OK, so I just killed the dreams of about 50 people, but I think this is reality.

Let’s run some numbers on a best case scenario. Let’s say we actually did end up earning $1000/month from our blog. A whopping $12000 per year. Sounds fantastic! But to get the $12000, there is a requirement to be posting at least a few articles to the blog per week, a requirement to prostitute yourself on twitter and facebook and generally spend somewhere around the 50 hour mark per week working on the blog and working the phones. I reckon this is a poor use of time. I can go work at the grocery store stacking shelves and earn $30000 and I might even get 10% off my grocery bill! Oh that’s right, you can’t do that ANYWHERE in the world. You can teach English anywhere in the world and that pays more than $12000 per year even in poor countries. I think that’d be a better use of time. Anything would be a better use of time than spending endless hours on twitter and a blog for the sake of a lousy $12000!

So how can you make money from surfing the internet all day in some cheap 3rd world country where living expenses are low? Find a point of difference. It’s the same as setting up a cafe in a strip of shops. If you set one up just like the others, you’re hardly going to make a fortune. If, however, your menu is innovative, you have the best coffee, your staff are the friendliest, you have the best fit-out or you are the cheapest, you create a reason for people to visit. That needs to be the case with a business on the internet as well. Writing a travel blog in the same manner that 1000s of others do is not creating a point of difference and most travel blogs will fade into relative obscurity.

So what’s the answer? I think the answer is that if you want to write a blog, it’s needs to fill a niche and it needs to be factual. None of this “top 5 restaurants in Sydney” business. The niche needs to be smaller than just “travel”. It needs to be something like “round the world travel by bike” or “Sydney Tourism Blog” or something that you are an expert in and something that you have lots of useful information on. Sit Down Disco’s Lifestyle Design, Travel and Food is not going to make any money. And if you’re not aiming to make any money from a blog, then it doesn’t really matter how wide your audience is.

The other idea is to go out and get a real job and save up the hard way. Not sure I’m keen on that myself.

Agree? Disagree? Load of rubbish?

Bali Misconceptions

Bali misconceptions — there are a few. And a lot of them depend on where in the world you’re from and in which parts of the world you’ve travelled. The main one for Australians is that it’s a beachside destination full of bogans, chavs, trailer trash, etc. The main one for people coming from other parts of Asia is that public transport is going to be cheap and easy and therefore the best way to get around. The other that has been bandied about on twitter and the internets is that internet access in Bali is poor. So it’s time to clean some of this rubbish up.

Bali is a Bogan Haven

Bali: Kuta -- A great place for sun, sand and cheap booze -- It's not all like this
Bali: Kuta -- A great place for sun, sand and cheap booze -- It's not all like this

As with many myths, there’s an element of truth to this. And it’s usually confirmed by those that don’t extract themselves from the one bogan-centric place on the island — Kuta/Legian. Yes, there are plenty of bogans, chavs and trailer trash here, but they are having a great time drinking cheap beer, eating cheap meals and lounging by the beach or hotel. I say good on them. I actually enjoyed doing some of this for about 2 days as well. I saw hundreds of other backpackers partaking, despite claims of it being “unauthentic”. Of course, it’s not for everyone, but it is only one tiny spot on an island that takes 4hrs to cross so you do not have to be trapped by boganism for a minute longer than you can stand. Most people choose to go to Ubud to avoid bogans, but usually run into bus-loads of other foreign tourists and hordes of monkeys which they inevtiably whinge about too. Me, I love Ubud. But if this is still too touristy, head to other places like Amed, Pemuteran, Yeh Gangga, Munduk, the Bukit. Anywhere. In fact, Bali has so many places that are hardly touristed at all that calling Bali a bogan haven is rubbish.

Public Transport is ALWAYS the Best Way to Travel in Asia

Bali: Public transport is not always the best option
Bali: Public transport is not always the best option

Bzzt. Sorry filthy backpacker that did it tough in India for a year. The same doesn’t apply in Bali. Sure, it’s possible to get from the airport to Ubud by public transport, but it will probably take you 4 hours and about 4 or 5 buses. The price will be more than the price of hiring a motorbike for the day. If there are two of you, the price will be about the same as a rental car. Ubud to Amed? Sure, you can do it, but the costs are going to be running at about $5 each and will involve at least 3 buses, but probably more likely 4 or 5. Estimated time of travel, the better part of a day. Yes yes, it’s authentic, but it cost you more than me in my hire car, your luggage got wet on the roof, I’ve been snorkelling while you’ve been crammed in the bus and I don’t smell like you. So while public transport is definitely a viable option in Bali, it’s often quite inconvenient and you need to pick your battles. Forget the notion that it is always going to be cheaper than the alternatives. It only is for point-to-point travel or short journeys requiring few changes.

Internet in Bali is Crap

Bali: Trunyan -- 3G internet blazing along even in a tiny village across a lake inside a volcano crater -- GREAT internet!
Bali: Trunyan -- 3G internet blazing along even in a tiny village across a lake inside a volcano crater -- GREAT internet!

Oh dear. How this has been bandied about on the interwebs recently. Bali does not have poor internet access. Firstly, I’d like to put some context to the argument that internet in Bali is bad. Bali is located in a very poor country and local 6 day/wk wages are approximately $100 per month. This fact is indisputable as it is set by the Government, regency by regency as the minimum wage and most businesses in the tourist industry tend to stick to this. Some of the better resorts might increase this by 50% and provide free health insurance. Many of the cheaper joints will simply pay their staff what they can afford. Some as low as $30 per month. These people don’t need blazing fast internet, yet in larger towns, ADSL with speeds of 1mbit is readily available. This means that many cafes and guesthouses in tourist towns hook into an unlimited ADSL plan for about $90 per month in order to attact more business. Most of the time it is fast, but as with a lot of infrastructure in Bali, you have occasional blips. If you’re frequenting a place with lots of blips, find another place. I always found Roma Amor in Legian to have fast internet. Likewise Casa Luna in Ubud. Further afield where fewer tourists travel, this sort of free wifi situation dries up and I was left to rely on the mobile phone network. Well, I’m happy to report that in the vast majority of rural Bali — the places where many many poor people live — 3G broadband internet access works like a dream and is CHEAP. Occassionally I’d take a wrong turn and end up in a cloudy valley on a dirt road and my signal would drop to GPRS, but it was still internet and I could still make phone calls. In Yeh Gangga in the hotel I was in, internet was poor. No phone signal most of the time, but that could be rectified if I could be bothered to head up the road to the local mini mart. Plenty of free wifi in tourist towns and great 3G access everywhere else. So in the context of a 3rd world country, the statement that “internet in Bali is crap” is just…

As you can probably tell, I’m extremely sensitive to criticism — particularly of Bali. Happy to argue these points.  🙂

Myanmar (Burma): Overview

After recently travelling through Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) with a friend of mine, I felt compelled to write about my experience.  It was one of the most intriguing places I have ever visited and over the coming weeks I’ll be providing more detail about the political situation there, some of the sites and perhaps some photos of this nexus between India and South East Asia.  Truly fascinating.

Lost in Time

When first arriving in Myanmar, the first thing you notice is that there are a lot of old vehicles driving the streets.  Particularly buses.  It’s the first indication you get that this place is stuck in some sort of weird sanction-imposed, poverty-induced time warp!  As you travel further and further into the countryside, you begin to see many more ox and cart arrangements straight from 3000 years ago and comparatively very few horses.  Motorised cultivation seems to be light years away which is astounding because this method of agriculture is widespread even in what many people would class as a poorer nation, Laos.  The number of times you find yourself saying “old school” in Myanmar is amazing.

Myanmar: Old Bus
Myanmar: Old Bus

Transport

Much of the tourist transport in Myanmar is the same method as the locals use.  That is, coaches and mini-buses.  Because the roads in the most part are very poor, it takes a long time to travel from place to place and it means that visiting the main tourist destinations in the country will require at least three overnight coach journeys which can be horrendous.  Worse still, arrival times of coaches after these journeys is quite often between 3am and 5am, so you can arrive at a guesthouse absolutely shattered from a bus journey, but still have to wait for a room to become available. (It’s all part of the oppression)

Cost of Living

Myanmar: Cheap Food
Myanmar: Cheap Food

The local currency in Myanmar is the non-convertible Kyat (pronounced chee-at).  It means that it is almost impossible to buy or sell Kyat outside of Myanmar.  Furthermore, there are no ATMs within Myanmar to access your money from.  So you are forced to carry as much US Dollars as you will need for your entire stay with you at all times and then try and exchange it on the black market.  The black market is in full swing in Myanmar, so guesthouses will routinely exchange money for you at reasonable rates.

Once you have your Kyat, living expenses within the country are generally very low.  Most meals were averaging $1.50-$2 plus drinks.  This average was based on us eating what we wanted and not trying to resort to the cheapest item on the menu.  If you did that, you could get away with less than $1 for every meal.  Also, breakfast is seemingly always included in room prices meaning another saving on meals.  And accommodation costs are ridiculously low for the quality provided!  Most rooms were about $6 per person for the better quality varieties.  Some rooms were as little as $3-$4 per night.

All in all, when including the cost of transport, food, accommodation, some tourist access fees and miscellaneous expenses, I spent about US$20 per day.  CHEAP!

Internet Access

Internet is inexpensive and available fairly widely in Myanmar, but it is apparently heavily monitored by the authorities and many sites are simply blocked.  So there can be some issues accessing email accounts such as hotmail – I wouldn’t go there expecting to be able to email freely.

Myanmar: Tilling the Fields
Myanmar: Tilling the Fields

Climate

Myanmar is a hot place.  I visited in March/April and the temperatures were regularly above 40C (104F) with less humidity in the North than the South.  These temperatures really take their toll on your body when walking around town.  But more importantly, at night some rooms can be unbearably hot!  So air conditioning in some places is a wise investment, even if the electricity supply is erratic.

Myanmar is a tough country.  It wears you down.  Many travellers I met in Myanmar compared it to India, but felt that India was much more in your face whereas Myanmar wore you down more.  Perhaps its the oppressed national psyche which imparts itself on visitors leading to more depressed feelings – a negativity which you can’t put your finger on.  Whatever the case, Myanmar is a country definitely worth visiting as an interesting look at how a country in a unique geographical location copes with the lunacy of a despotic regime.