Category Archives: Blog

Computer Tips for Travelers and anything else that these Geeks feel like writing about will show up here! For additional articles on Picasa, see our separate site PicasaGeeks.com
. For additional articles on Internet Connections on the Road, see our separate site WiFiSavvy.com

What is Cloud Computing?

iStock_000019342228XSmallThe ‘Cloud’ is simply The Internet – but it is taking on special meaning as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others are offering accounts where you can have your own slice of the sky.  They also offer device independence.  If you can start a document with your computer, finish it on your tablet, and view it on your smartphone, you’re using Cloud Computing.  With names like DropBox, Google Drive, iCloud, or SkyDrive, it no longer matters what device you have in your hand because the application, and the content is in the Cloud.

The Cloud is the Internet

So, where is this cloud?  And who owns it?  Remember … the ‘Cloud’ is simply a synonym for the Internet.  The Internet is made up of thousands, maybe millions of Server computers, connected by millions of miles of cables, and thousands of routers.  It’s all linked together with an agreed upon system, an Internet Protocol.  Nobody owns the whole thing, although Google, Microsoft, and Apple do own some pretty large chunks.  It is the mother network of networks, it is vast and it is complex, so we need a simple analogy to describe it.  Pretend that the Internet is in the sky rather than in computers here on earth, and the term ‘Cloud’ fits nicely.  It also helps with terms like UPload and DOWNload.  UPload means taking something on your computer and sending it UP to the Internet … to the Cloud.  DOWNload means taking something that is on the Internet (in the Cloud) and bringing it DOWN to your computer.

Cloud Computing is using Computer Services from the Cloud Instead of your Computer

‘Cloud Computing’ means using Cloud-based services to store your stuff, rather than your own computer or hard drives.  For example, you can store all your spreadsheets in the Cloud and access them from wherever you are.  Cloud Computing also means using Cloud-based services for your software instead of buying boxed software.  For example, you can use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint on Microsoft SkyDrive rather than buying Microsoft Office for your computer.  Most travelers we know don’t have a whole lot of need for Excel anymore, but occasionally, you need to make a spreadsheet, or read one that someone else sends you.  Using SkyDrive, you can do that without paying for any software.

I could argue that I’ve been using Cloud Computing since the early 90s when I used CompuServe for communicating with friends on the Internet, or definitely since 2003 when I started using Blogger.com to post to my website – my blog.  But we didn’t call it Cloud Computing then, we called it Web-Based software.  The term Cloud Computing is taking hold because of services like Microsoft’s SkyDrive.  Using SkyDrive, you can create and store Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.  All you need is some device (computer, tablet, or smartphone) to access your SkyDrive account.  It’s like having a virtual computer in the sky with your name on it.  Some people think that the Cloud has something to do with Apple because they call their service iCloud, but no, Cloud Computing is a generic term.

What if you Don’t Have an Internet Connection? Synchronize!

imagesHaving a good, high-speed Internet connection is taken for granted in modern American households, but for those of us who live in an RV – we don’t take anything for granted!  That’s why we love the synchronizing (sync) feature.  Using Dropbox as an example, it not only stores your stuff in the cloud, but it synchronizes with a folder on your computer whenever your computer is connected to the Internet.

For example, we plan our travels using Microsoft Streets and Trips, we create a file called geektravels.est.  Let’s say that I created the travel plan and Jim says he wants to make some changes.  Before Dropbox, we had 2 choices:

  1. Jim could use my computer to make his changes, or,
  2. I would copy the geektravels.est file to a USB drive and give to him for his computer.  Now we have two files, one with my version of our travels and one with his – what a mess.

Now, we each have a Travels folder that has been set up with Dropbox and shared.  Whenever I make a change to our travel plans, I save it to my local copy.  Dropbox automatically notices the change and synchronizes it with the Cloud copy, AND, it also synchronizes the Cloud copy with the copy on Jim’s computer.  The next time either of us looks at the geektravels.est files, we will be looking at the current version even without a current Internet connection.  We are working with a local file, Dropbox takes care of making sure that both my local file and Jim’s local file are the same.  This has made our lives so much easier.

Comparison of Major Cloud-Computing Services

Cloud

Cloud-002

Cloud-001

Cloud-003

Free Space

7 GB

5 GB

2 GB

5 GB

$ for more $10/yr for 20 GB 2.49/mo for 25 GB 9.99/mo for 100 GB, but you can earn more free space $20/yr for 10 GB
Sync Method Download SkyDrive desktop app for Windows or Mac Download Google Drive for your PC or Mac Download Dropbox for Windows, Mac, or Linux Download iCloud for Macintosh, Windows, or AppleTV
Web Apps Included Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note, Excel Survey Google Docs: Docs,  Sheets, Slides, Form, Drawing None (3d Party apps available) iOffice: Pages, Numbers, Keynote
Mobile platforms Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, Android Android, iPhone, iPad, Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Kindle Fire iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,
Sharing with others Easy, including sharing with groups Easy Easy, you can even just right click a file and share via a URL Not so easy, iCloud is designed to synchronize all of your Apple devices
More Info SkyDrive Support Overview of Google Drive Dropbox Help iCloud Features

This article is meant to introduce you to the concept of Cloud Computing, any specifics about how these programs work is likely to change on a daily basis!  Jim and I, at Geeks on Tour, use Dropbox constantly to keep all our shared files synchronized.  We would be lost without it now.  We’ve also used Google Docs (which is now Google Drive) for a few years as a way to create and share online documents and spreadsheets.

If we were to start today and pick just one service, it would likely be SkyDrive … it has the most complete set of capabilities, the most free storage space, and it’s integrated with Windows 8.  We also like the Group sharing feature.  If you use any of these Cloud Computing services, we welcome your comments below.

Share a Map of your Travels with Google Maps

2012 TravelsEvery year that goes by, it gets harder to remember where we traveled.  So, I like to end the year by making a map that I can share using Google Maps.  I’m not going to cover how to plan travels and change the destinations or routes.  I’m also not going to cover making custom markers with your specific information, there is a video for that.  In this article, I just want to show how to create a quick and easy map of all your travels for the year, save it, and share it with others.

The first thing to understand in Google Maps is the difference between ‘Get Directions’ and ‘My Places.’  Get Directions is just a tool, what you see is temporary and will be wiped out when you ask for the next directions, or move to another web page.  My Places is where the maps you create are saved to your Google Account.  Be sure you are logged in with the appropriate account.  The quickest and easiest way to create a map to save is to start with the Get Directions, then save the resulting route to a ‘My Places’ map.

Get Directions

Let’s say that you started your summer travels from Corpus Christi, Texas, then traveled to the west coast via the Grand Canyon.  You traveled up the west coast a ways, then back east thru Idaho and eventually south, returning to Corpus Christi.  You can enter every major stop as a ‘Destination’ in the Get Directions portion of Google Maps.  It starts off giving you two fields, one for your starting point, and one for your destination, but you can keep adding destinations to your heart’s content.  When you have enough entered, you can click the Get Directions button.

route-stopsmap

Save the Map

Notice that Google Maps gives you information for the trip, it shows a total of 5,467 miles and it gives a complete listing of turn by turn directions.  We really don’t care about that right now though, we just want to save this map, with it’s markers and route line, to a permanent map.  Scroll thru the turn by turn directions, all the way to the bottom, and you will see a link to ‘Save to My Maps.’  In order to save it, you must give it a name.  If you’ve done this before, you will have a drop-down arrow listing all your existing saved maps.  At the bottom of the list is an option for ‘Create a New Map.’  When you click Save, your map will be given a name something like ‘Directions to Corpus Christi.’  To give it your custom name, make sure you’re on the ‘My Places’ screen and you’re looking at the list of your custom maps. Click on the Directions to Corpus Christi map and you’ll see a big red ‘Edit’ button.  Click that and you can change the name of the map.  When you’re done, click ‘Done.’

Share the Map

There are several ways now to share this map.  You can send a link to someone by clicking the link icon and copying the URL provided.  Or you can embed a live copy of the map, also by clicking the Link icon, then copying the code for Embedding.  Geeks on Tour members can watch a video on how to embed the map into a blog post.

share-map

The simplest way to share this map is just to take a screenshot of it.  You can use the Snipping tool in Windows 7, or Command-Shift-4 on a Mac.  But, my favorite way is to use Picasa – just press the PrtSc key and Picasa grabs the screen, then you can crop it and even add text like in my ‘2012 Geek Travels’ above.  The end result is just like any other picture, you can share it on a Picasa Web Album, or on a Facebook or Blog post.  And, if you keep your map in something other than Google Maps, you can still use the Picasa Screen Capture technique to grab it and share it.

If you do this, we’d love to see it!  You can upload the picture of your 2012 travels to our Facebook page!  Just click in the space provided to ‘write something,’ click the Photo/Video link and select your map picture to upload.

Our Top Ten Picasa Articles of 2012

Chris Guld, of Geeks on Tour, writes a Picasa Tip of the Week.  She’s been doing this nearly every week since mid 2008, and you can see them all in our PicasaTutorials.com website.  If you subscribe to the email for Picasa Tip of the Week, then you’ve already seen these, but it’s nice to review.  Here are the top ten articles from PIcasa Tutorials this year:

  1. What happened to Picasa Web Albums?
  2. Upgrading to Picasa 3.9
  3. Picasa Tip: Resizing a Picture’s Height and Width
  4. Picasa Tip: Framing Photos
  5. Sorting Folders vs. Sorting Pictures within a Folder
  6. Adding Text to a Collage
  7. Is Picasa the Only Software for Managing all your Travel Pictures?
  8. Picasa Tip: Make a Collage for your Facebook Cover Photo
  9. Fun with Picasa 3.9 Effects
  10. Picasa Tip: Adding Lipstick

RVers Learn About Technology

Marion Kerns was not happy when her husband, Karl, said he signed them up for a computer learning rally.  She told him that she would just stay in the RV and do her quilting while he went to class.  But no, that wasn’t Karl’s plan!  He made her come to class along with him.  By the end of the week, Marion was seen carrying her iPad with her everywhere.

Chris helping Marion with Facebook on her iPad

With a little extra encouragement in a one-on-one session, Marion had learned enough to open her eyes to new uses for her tablet computer, but what she liked most about the rally was the small size.  With only 20 couples who shared breakfast and dinner each day of the rally, she said it felt like family by the end of the week and she truly enjoyed herself.  Good job Karl!

TechnoGeek Learning Rally is for RV Travelers

It’s called the TechnoGeek Learning Rally and it is co-hosted by Geeks on Tour and TechnoRV.  RV travelers actually use technology more than average seniors because it is just so useful to our lifestyle.  Whether it’s GPS technology for getting us where we want to go, or cellphone/smartphone technology for keeping us in touch wherever we are, RVers are quick to adopt.  And then there’s the photos!  We like to have good cameras and take lots of photos of our travels.  Learning about the different settings on our cameras help make those pictures better, and then using Picasa afterwards can improve them even more.

December TechnoGeek Rally1

Some people came to the rally to learn how to make a blog.  Larry and Marilyn Vanstone have already been keeping a blog about their RV lifestyle – The Amazing Vanstones.

December TechnoGeek Rally2

Larry writes about the rally:

Yesterday for example we first learned about the cloud before taking our first class on Picasa photo editing. Then an hour on smartphones followed by more Picasa, then Internet on the road.  I’ve used Picasa on my blogs since 2006 but yesterday I learned more in 90 minutes then I did in 6 years on my own.

Other attendee Blog entries about the rally include:

Smartphones and Podcasts

As more and more of us get smartphones, they are becoming our primary computing device, and there is SOO much to learn about them.

Kathy and John exercise their Smartphones

John and Kathy Huggins are no strangers to technology, they have been producing a weekly Podcast about their RVing lifestyle for several years.  It’s called Living the RV Dream.  They came to the rally to learn about their smartphones and whatever else they could pick up.  Listen to their podcast about the Rally to hear about their experience as well as a few people they interviewed.

Learning Should be Fun

Even the games had a learning slant.  One evening, the group played Jeopardy, where all the questions were about topics they were learning at the rally.

Jim plays Alex Trebek for our Jeopardy game

The last evening, each dinner table played ‘Catch Phrase’ using a free App downloaded to one person’s smartphone, then just passing the phone around the table.

The next TechnoGeek Learning Rally is tentatively scheduled for March 24-29 in Bushnell, Florida.  If you’re interested, please leave a comment here.

Picasa Tip: Add Drama to your Skies with Graduated Tint

Evening SkyI took this picture at sunset time at our favorite RV park, Thousand Trails Peace River.  I love the beautiful, natural surroundings here.  I was particularly struck by the silhouette of the palm trees against the amber sky.  The sunset was creating a golden sky that night.  But, when I imported the picture to my computer, it didn’t even come close to the colors I experienced.  See the original below.  The colors are so drab, it looks like a black and white picture!  I swear that, what my eyes saw was a golden sky!

 

Recreate the Golden Sky with Graduated Tint

One of our (many) favorite features in Picasa is the Graduated tint tool.  You’ll find it on the 3d tab of editing tools – what used to be called ‘Effects.’  It is pre-set to make blue skies bluer, but you can choose different colors (like the golden sky) just by clicking on the color palette.

Blue sky before Graduated Tint

Graduated Tint, Sharpen

Blue Sky after Graduated Tint, with default blue color
Graduated Tint, Sharpen
Sunset Sky before Graduated Tint

IMG_4221-001

Sunset Sky after Graduated Tint, with chosen color
Evening Sky

If you are a Geeks on Tour member, you can watch these videos to learn more about exactly how this works.

  1. PIcasa’s 12 Effects
  2. *Add Color to Sky with Graduated Tint

*New!  Uploaded today – 12/14/12

Geek Week at Thousand Trails, Peace River

We first met some of you during our 2006-7 winter season at the Peace River Thousand Trails park in Wauchula, Florida.  We love that park!  We had a great time that winter, spending 5 months at the park and doing our computer training.  Check out this little movie that Jim put together back in 2006.  That was the year that “Geeks on Tour” was born, and we’re excited to be going back!  We have 3 ‘Geek Weeks’ scheduled this winter:

  1. December 11-17
  2. January 11-18
  3. March 11-16

Seminars in the Meetin’ House

Promotions1Each Seminar will be followed by 2 hours of lab time if you want to bring
your computer and questions. Computers are not necessary for just the seminar.

  • Jan 11: Picasa Basics – Managing Digital Photos
  • Jan 14: Seminar on Making Movies with Windows MovieMaker
    sample movie: Kayaking the Peace River
  • Jan 18: Seminar on Smartphone Photography
    —————————
  • Dec 12 1-2:30: Geeks on Tour Overview
    learn to use Technology to Plan, Preserve and Share your travels FREE
  • Dec 13 1-2:30: Picasa Overview
    a Free program for editing your photos ………………… $10 single, $15 couple
  • Dec 15 1-2:30 Smartphone Basics
    Understanding Android and iPhones ………………….. $10 single, $15 couple

Purchase tickets at the store, or pay at the door.

Using MovieMaker for your Slideshows and Videos

MovieMaker 2012 is a Free Tool for editing your Videos and slideshowsHow many of you have a camera that takes video.  A bunch, right?  Now, how many of you ever put that video together with pictures and music and made a movie that you can enjoy showing to others?  Not so many, huh? 

Let’s give it another shot OK?  Windows MovieMaker 2012 is really quite simple if you take it slow.  Don’t try to import 2 hours of video and edit it down to a 5 minute movie right away.  Start by learning how to do slide shows with your pictures.  Windows MovieMaker is a free program from Microsoft, it is part of what was called Windows Live Essentials, now it’s just Windows Essentials.  If you don’t already have it,you can download MovieMaker here.  Even if you do have it, check the version, it was upgraded and improved in August of 2012.  It is now version 2012.

  1. Import the pictures with the ‘Add Photos and Videos’ button
  2. Drag the pictures into the order you want
  3. Set your timing.  Each picture can have it’s own duration, or you can select all the pictures and enter the duration for all of them.  The easiest way to select all is with the Ctrl-A shortcut.  If you don’t set your own duration, the default is 7 seconds – much too long.
  4. Set your transitions.  Same thing, you can do them one at a time, or all at once by clicking ‘Apply to All’.  Transitions are on the Animations tab. Just hover over each one and you’ll see what it does.  Once you click it, the selected picture will show a gray triangle on its left side indicating the transition.  The transition can have a specified duration as well.
  5. Add music by clicking on the Add Music button on the toolbar.  You can select something that’s on your computer or you can download from the suggested sites.  You can also add multiple music selections, just position the playhead by clicking on the slide where you want a new piece of music to start, then choose Add Music, and then Add Music at the Current Point.
  6. You can also add beginning and ending title slides and credit slides and captions on individual slides, but you don’t have to. 
  7. Save your project, then Save your Movie – use the setting ‘Recommended for this Project’ or you can ‘Burn a DVD’ if you want to be able to watch this movie on a DVD player that is not a computer.

You now have a movie of your slideshow, aren’t you proud?!

Video clips work exactly the same way but with one extra editing piece – trimming.  Just bring in one clip and experiment with setting the Start Point, End Point, Trim, and Split.  My recommendation is to bring in each video clip, trim it how you want and Save Movie so that you end up with several clips that are already properly trimmed.  Now you can easily combine them with your pictures and go thru steps 1-7 above.  That’s what I did to create this video of a day we went scuba diving in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  Then I added one more piece … narration.  Check it out and see what you think.  The entire process for creating this video – starting with reviewing the raw footage – took me about 3 hours.

Have fun!  And, stay tuned for some Geeks on Tour ‘Show Me How’ tutorial videos on using MovieMaker.

RV Trip Wizard for Planning your RV Travels

We spend a fair amount of time using our computers for planning our travels and are always on the lookout for tools that will help the process.  The latest one that has caught our attention is RVTripWizard.com.  It is completely web-based.  There is nothing to download to your computer.  You must have an Internet connection, and then you can use any device with a web-browser.  I’ve tried it on our Nexus 7 tablet and on our iPad.  It works, but it’s a lot easier on the computer, just like most websites.

Notice, in the image below, that the maps come from Google Maps, so we already know how to navigate around that part of the screen.  It even includes the Street View ‘Peg Man.’  Also notice the yellow highlighting I added to the left side of the screenshot.  That area contains the details on each stop along the way – what has me so excited is that the stop list includes the date that you will arrive.  This is not a feature that everyone cares about, but we sure do.  Our travels revolve around being at rallies on specific dates and we have yet to find any other trip planning software that includes this logical information!

rvtripwizard-screen

Features  we like:

  1. Campgrounds show up as icons on your map – you don’t have to search.  As you zoom in to an area, more icons appear.  If you have entered your preferences into the program, then your preferred campgrounds will appear with their custom logo.  So, you will see at a glance if there is a park in your membership system near your route.  Here is a sampling of the preferences you can specify:
    campgrounds
  2. You can create, and save, as many trips as you like.  They will stay online as part of your account for as long as you have an account.  This makes it easy to look up a past trip and see where you stayed.  You can even write notes about the campground, the site, the local area – whatever you want.
  3. In addition to the dates (our favorite feature!) the program calculates miles and costs for each segment based on your settings.  You can also manually enter costs, so this can be an accurate report of your expenditures for any given trip.
  4. Printing: It’s so nice to have an overview of your trip to pin to a bulletin board, or tape to the refrigerator.  RV Trip Wizard prints out a nice map and listing of all your stops with the miles, number of nights, and DATES!  It does not include turn by turn directions.  That’s fine by me – I just want the one page overview.  We’ll still be using GPS Navigation to get there.
  5. Saving: the system saves your work after each thing you do.  There is no need to save – it’s already done.  Which is a good thing because if you leave the RV Trip Wizard screen idle for a while, it times out and goes back to a blank map.  No problem, just open your existing – saved- trip.

Features that Needs Improvement

  1. GPS – this is not a GPS navigation program.  It is a trip planning program.  That’s OK, it’s a really nice planning tool and we have plenty of other navigation tools. My request is that it integrate completely with Google Maps.  I’d like to see this same set of marked points on My Maps in Google.  So, let me enter my Google account username and password and find a way to take the marked stops from RV Trip Wizard and save them as a map in My places.  That would be AWESOME – since My Maps is also on my Android smartphone and tablet.  See last month’s article: Google Maps from the Web to your Smartphone.  RV Trip Wizard has a form for suggestions – I think I’ll fill it out with that one!  They do have a ‘Send to GPS’ button where you can download a .csv file of all your stops and import that into Garmin devices using the POI Loader.
  2. Saving to your computer – I’m not sure if there is a way to do this but I don’t see any.  This is strictly web-based, I see no way to archive your trips to your computer for any kind of future reference.  I assume whenever you cancel your membership, then your trips will disappear.
    March, 2014 update: I now see there is a feature for “Print to Excel.”  This solves my issue perfectly.  The resulting Excel file keeps all my trip data, destination, arrival date, departure, travel miles, cost, and latitude/longitude of the planned stops.  

We’ll keep putting RV Trip Wizard thru it’s paces and get back to you in a couple months with what we’ve learned.

RV Trip Wizard costs $37/year.  They give you a 2 week Free Trial before any fees are charged.  For more info see the RVTripWizard users Guide.  If you try it, let us know what you think in the comments below.

Tablet Computers … which one to Buy?

tablet-shoppingA Tablet computer seems to be on everyone’s gift list this Christmas and the choices are overwhelming.  From generic, discount house Android tablets for $73 to fully loaded iPad with Retina display for $829.  If someone in your life has asked for a tablet, what do you do?  If they tell you exactly the type of Tablet they want, then you can just use the web and Google to shop.  Click on the image at right and it will take you to a Google search for shopping for tablets.  There’s no way we can compare them all, we can only tell you what we have and why.  But first, let’s talk about Tablets in general.

Tablets, Who Are They Good For?

For people who have never fully embraced computers, tablets are the best way to gain entrance to the digital world.  You don’t need an office, or even a desk.  It doesn’t feel at all like work.  You can hold them in your hand while sitting on the couch.  You control them by touching the screen.  No keyboard necessary, no mouse, no Alt or Ctrl commands to learn.  You see something on the screen you want to do and you touch it.  I know people who hated to use computers and have become hopelessly hooked on their iPads or other digital Tablets.  I couldn’t even send these people emails before they got a tablet and now they’re posting to Facebook several times a day!  I am amazed at the power of tablets to get previously computer-averse people involved.

For people who do use computers, Tablets offer complete mobility.  As travelers, we ditched the desktop many years ago and only travel with laptop computers.  But even the smallest laptop is much more cumbersome than a tablet.  A tablet can be used in a car, or a restaurant, or at a seminar.  You don’t need a desk, or even a lap!  They’re fabulous for showing pictures or videos. Take it with you to a party and have your entire trip’s slideshow ready to go, no wires or other equipment needed. I can take a tablet with me in my purse – a good reason for a big purse!  Tablets are good for consuming information – email, Facebook, web browsing, etc.  If you need to create information like documents, spreadsheets, presentations, or even manage a library of pictures, you will find the Tablets insufficient. 

For people who use computers and smartphones, Tablets are basically smartphones with bigger screens.  When you use a computer a lot and already have a smartphone, like we do, you have to think hard to come up with a reason to use a tablet.  When we’re at home (in the RV) we have our computers right there.  When we’re away from the RV, we have our smartphones with us at all times, so that is what we use to check email, browse the web, navigate around town, and post to Facebook.  We have to really think about it to find a use for our Tablets. 

They have become special purpose computing devices for us.  For example, occasionally we have a booth at a rally or trade show where we sell our memberships and DVDs and we need to be able to process credit cards.  We have the little credit card swiping device  that can plug into the headset port of our smartphones, but our smartphones are needed for other things.  Here is where our iPad comes in.  When we’re selling, the iPad is our dedicated cash register – because we don’t need it for anything else.  We also use our iPad during seminars as a document camera – the iPad is connected to the projector, then anything we can focus its camera on can be seen on the big screen.  We use this for demonstrating our smartphones.  Our Nexus 7 stays beside the bed as kind of a clock-radio, weather station, media center.  And we take it in the cab as a navigation device (using Co-Pilot) when we’re on the road. 

In other words, if you already have a smartphone and a computer, the Tablet becomes a special-purpose device, or it gathers dust.

The Tablets We Own: iPad2 and Google Nexus 7

IMG_4000We got the iPad when the second one came out because, well … just because.  We’re Geeks and we need to have the latest toys.  We didn’t jump on the bandwagon with the first iPad, but when the second one came out and had cameras included, we couldn’t wait any longer.  We bought the Wi-Fi only model  because it was substantially cheaper than the model with cellular connection capability.  I believe we paid about $650 at the time, and the Wi-Fi PLUS Cellular model was over $800.  We have our own Wi-Fi hotspot (with our smartphones) wherever we go, so we figured we didn’t need the cellular model.  We regretted that decision.  We learned the hard way that the Wi-Fi only model does not have a GPS receiver built in.  We had hoped to use the iPad for navigation – that’s not possible without a GPS receiver.  We’re glad we have the iPad – it is still the benchmark against which all other tablets are measured.

The missing GPS in our iPad is a big part of the reason we got a Google Nexus 7 tablet when it first came out.  For $249 we got this 7inch tablet with the Android operating system (similar to our much-loved smartphones) and it did have GPS built in.  It comes with Google Navigation which we also love from our smartphones, but that needs an Internet connection for its maps.  We use Co-Pilot on the Nexus 7 for navigation in the RV.  If we didn’t already have the Rand McNally RVND, we would use the Nexus with Co-Pilot all the time.

Can a Tablet Replace your Laptop Computer?

For us, the answer is clearly No.  We need our computers for managing our websites.  Although I can use our iPad or Nexus 7 to open the WordPress interface and make some minor changes, there are sometimes where something I need to click on just isn’t on the screen.  Besides, I usually use Windows Live Writer software for creating the content for our websites (like this article) and it is not available on any tablet.   All of my pictures are on my computer, and I use Picasa to manage and edit them.  Picasa is not available on any Tablet computer.  iPhoto on the iPad is pretty good, but I use Picasa and I don’t want to change.  Besides, I have 80GB of pictures, the largest iPad is a total of 64GB.  I also have at least 100GB of video files.  My laptop’s 500GB drive is less than half full.

Generally, if you use a computer to create content, or for any business related uses, you’ll find it very difficult if not impossible to do that on a tablet.  If you only use your computer for email, web-browsing, music, videos, then a Tablet is all you need.  It is the perfect device for consuming content – not so much for creating it.  That said, if you just need to create the occasional document, spreadsheet, or presentation – you will find apps that make it possible.

The Exception: The Windows 8 Tablets hold the promise of truly replacing your laptop because they can run legacy Windows software.  With a Windows 8 Tablet, you should be able to run Picasa, or Quicken, or Streets and Trips.  The current Microsoft Surface tablet is not Windows 8, it is running Windows RT which requires programming just for Windows RT.  Dell has some Windows 8 Tablets available now, but we have not seen any of them ourselves.  We’re waiting for the Microsoft surface running Windows 8 which is promised sometime after the first of the year.

Which One to Buy?

Probably the biggest factor is the operating system.  That means Apple’s iOS, or Google’s Android, or Microsoft’s Windows 8/RT.

  1. If you are accustomed to the Apple world, you’ll be much happier with the Apple Tablet – the iPad from $4-800.  The iPad mini gives you a bit of a price break ($329-659) from the full-sized tablet, and we hear it is just as good.  We like the smaller, easier to hold, size.
  2. If price is really an issue, then you’ll probably stick with the Android operating system because there are so many manufacturers, that competition drives the price down.  We don’t see how you can go wrong with the $199 Google Nexus 7 Tablet (16 GB)*.  There is now a Nexus 10, but we haven’t see that. 
  3. If you need to use Office productivity tools, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint – you owe it to yourself to look at the Windows 8 Tablets, or even the Windows RT Surface 32 GB Tablet*  since it comes with a built-in version of Office 2013.  It does not have GPS.
  4. What about the Kindle Fire or Nook?  I haven’t mentioned these yet because I see no need to get an Android-based tablet that is specially adapted and locked in to a retail store.  The Kindle is locked into Amazon and the Nook is Barnes and Noble.  If you want a Kindle book reader – there’s a Kindle App for any of the other tablets mentioned above to read Kindle books.  That said, the Kindle Fire HD has a lot of fans and it does have some nifty, unique features, like touch any screen while a movie is playing and it will tell you who the actors are and what else they’ve been in.   At $199, it also offers the best price for a tablet.  Realize that you will get ‘special offers’ – meaning advertising.  If you don’t want the advertising, the price will be $217.
    Kindle Fire HD 7", Dolby Audio, Dual-Band Wi-Fi, 16 GB – Includes Special Offers *

    *all links above that take you to Amazon, include our affiliate number.  If you buy after clicking on that link, we get a small commission, and you get our Thanks!

What about You?

As I mentioned above, we still primarily use our computers and smartphones.  I know we don’t make the best use of our Tablets.  Some of you probably do.  Let us hear from you in the comments below.  What Tablet do you have?  How do you like it?  What do you use it for?

Google Maps from the Web to Your Smartphone

Use your computer to mark places using Google Maps, and you’ll see them on your smartphone!  I love this feature of Google Maps – this is the appeal of ‘cloud computing.’  Use whatever device is most practical and see the results on any other device.

Let’s say I’m researching where to stay as we travel from Fort Lauderdale to Bowling Green, Kentucky.  I will use lots of different resources to do this: Streets and Trips with the POI Megafile is my first choice, then I’ll supplement that with websites for RV Park Reviews, Georgia State Parks, Passport America etc.  Google Maps may or may not be part of the tools we use to find places to stay, but it’s definitely a good idea to mark the places once we’ve made our decisions.  

How to Create ‘My Places’ with Google Maps

myplacesFirst, you need to go to the website for Google Maps – www.maps.google.com.  Have you ever noticed the other button, beside ‘Get Directions’, for ‘My places’?’  That’s where you need to be in order to mark your special places.  For this to work, you need to be logged in with a Google Account.  If you’re not logged in, then clicking on ‘My Places’ will take you to a login screen – you can also create an account here if needed.  If you are logged in, take a look in the upper right of your screen and check the account that is being used.  Lots of people have more than one Google account, you need to be aware which account is being used when you create content like maps.  I recommend watching the interactive tutorial the first time you visit here. 

When you’re ready, click the red button for ‘Create Map’ and give it a Title.  Let’s say you named it ‘Summer 2012 New England Trip’.  Now use the Search field to look for the point you want to mark, e.g. Elks Lodge in Poughkeepsie, NY.  When it has found the correct place, click on the marker to open up the dialog box and click the link to ‘Save to map.’  You’ll get a list of all your ‘My places’ maps.  Choose Summer 2012 New England Trip, and click Save.  You now have a saved marker for that place.  You should see a link pop up at the top of your map that tells you ‘Elks Lodge was saved to Summer 2012 New England Trip’ View Map.  Click on view map to see the results of saving this place.   Repeat this process for every place you want to add to the map.  When you’re done, click the Done button.

Viewing your Custom Map from Your Smartphone or Tablet

Here’s the real beauty … Google Maps, and ‘My Places’ can be viewed from any internet-connected device.  On my Droid Razr phone, I just touch the Google Maps app.  Once it’s open, you’ll see the icon for ‘Layers.’  Then choose ‘My Maps’ and then ‘Summer 2012 New England Trip.’  You will then see the same map markers on your smartphone as you did on your computer.  Now you can click on the marker for the Elks Lodge, and choose Navigate to start Google navigation directions to that place.

Collages12
My Maps
Summer 2012 New England
droidmap

With iPhone or IPad

Ever since iOS 6, Google maps does not come as an app on your iPhone or iPad.  Never fear, you can still get there by using your web browser.  Just open Safari and go to www.maps.google.com be sure you are logged in to the appropriate Google account, then you can use the buttons in the upper right – the drop-down arrow will show you a menu.  Choose My Places and then Summer 2012 New England Trip.  What you will see at first is a text listing of all the marked places, but if you tap on a place you will see it displayed on a map.

Once you get the hang of creating custom maps this way, there is a lot you can do with them.  You can even share them from your computer by clicking the link icon and sending the URL to your friends.  For more info, check out the videos on our Google Maps and Google Earth learning library page – you’ll need a Geeks on Tour membership to view most of them.