Tag Archives: Cell Phone

Internet On The Go

Writers today are not chained to a location. Some write at coffee shops, others on trains, some at home, and if you’re like me — any outdoor place you can drag a pen and notebook to. This mobility is great for finding distraction free writing spots, but what about research? Not so long ago, you would simply go to the library and sift through card catalogs, files, book shelves, microfiche, and an endless piles of dusty books. Today, the Internet is the primary research tool. Fortunately we can now take the Internet with us to most of our favorite writing spots.

I think most writers are familiar with using the free WiFi services offered at popular coffee shops and restaurants. This is the easiest and cheapest way to access the Internet when out and about. Some cities are now offering WiFi hotspots in select parks. I’ll take sitting outside researching a subject instead of sitting in a library any day of the week.

But what happens when WiFi service isn’t available?

Cellular companies offer data plans with smartphones and tablets. These plans aren’t always cheap. The big carriers start around $40 a month and move up in price, but this allows you to connect your smartphone or tablet to the Internet and retrieve data over a 3G or 4G network. However, surfing on smartphone can be tedious. Those little three inch screens are hard to use with aging eyes and big fingers.

Tablets are a good substitute. Much easier to use and you can purchase ones that are compatible with CDMA or GSM cellular technologies.But once you purchase a tablet using either technology, you’re stuck with it.

Cellular companies also offer an AirCard option but these can be restrictive too. AirCards plug into your laptop’s USB port or card slot. These offer a lot of flexibility, but they require a separate data plan. It’s also another piece of tech to keep track of. They can get lost, damaged, or stolen. An alternative to AirCards would be a technology called tethering. It allows you to connect your computer to your smartphone and access the Internet. Not all smartphones will allow this and not all carriers provide the service. The ones that do, charge extra for it. If you use tethering, be mindful of any data usage limits on your accounts. A browser designed for Windows, Linux, or MAC will consume more data than a browser designed for a tablet or a smartphone. You can hit that 2Gig limit fairly quick.

There’s another option that allows the flexibility of connecting any WiFi capable device. It’s called a hotspot. These are offered by every major cellular carrier. Again, they will require a data plan, but you can use these handy devices for anything. Most will accommodate multiple connections–there’s a cost in speed when using multiple devices–allowing you to share it with others. Select smartphones have the ability to be used as a hotspot thus reducing the amount of tech you need to carrier to access the Internet.

Some of the bargain carriers offer no contract hotspots.They offer scaled data plans allowing you to spend only what you need to and to use it only when you need to. Most do have a requirement that you use your hotspot once every six months or so. This is the option I use. My iPad is WiFi only and my wife and I both have laptops. When traveling I purchase what I think we’ll use. As long as we have cell service, we can access the Internet. It’s a great thing when flights get delayed and the airport doesn’t have free Internet. Or if you’re driving long distances. We drove to Florida in 2010 and had Internet access for almost the entire drive. There was one section in Mississippi that we couldn’t get any service. It was a grueling fifty minutes, but somehow we made it through.

I like the hotspot because I can pack a composition notebook, a couple of fountain pens, an iPad, the hotspot, an external battery pack and take off to any park or local hiking trail. All of it weighs less than five pounds and easily fits into any small backpack or netbook carrying case. This is great for getting away and doing some serious writing.

Taking the Internet with you does bring along all the distractions like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, email, and your favorite games. However, for me the distractions aren’t a concern. The Internet is along for quick fact checks.

Whether sitting on a hillside rock overlooking the city or a remote riverbank, great weather, scenic writing spot, pen and paper in hand, the only thing left to do is write.

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Transcribing Recorded Interviews and Notes

I’ll have to credit the topic of this post to John Wooley. During a recent presentation, he stated that transcribing takes four times the length of the taped interview. Did I hear that correctly? Taped? What are we living in, the 19th century?

It does take time to transcribe anything recorded. However, we have options and most importantly, none of them involve using tape. Today all you need is a cell phone, iPad, Android tablet, or digital voice recorder.

I’ve touched don Evernote in an earlier post. This is an amazing piece of software. It works on any platform and stores data in the cloud. I’ve recorded several meeting with Evernote. However, I must admit to never transcribing anything recorded. A quick search of Evernote’s Trunk reveals a service called Quicktate.  For a fee, they will transcribe your recordings. A word of caution about transcription services. While they save you time on transcribing audio, you have no control of what they choose to leave out. It could be something small, yet more significant than the main answer.

If you’re not into Evernote and wish to use a digital voice recorder. These are available from any online retailer or your neighborhood brick and mortar office supply store. I received an Olympus years ago as a gift. It’s a handy device. With it configured for basic audio, I can record over 70 hours of audio. Once done I can pop it into my laptop’s USB port and transfer the files. You should be able to find a DVR that creates recordings in your favorite file format.

Once the file is transferred, you’re left with the same issue of start, stop, back up, and type some more, that leads to such a long transcription time. Thanks to the world of dictation, there are solutions you can purchase for your PC. Olympus makes a kit that allows you to use a foot switch to control the playback so you can continue to type. This can be a huge time saver. But with all things that save time and increase productivity, it comes at a cost.

There are many models of DVRs made by a multitude of manufactures. Go to Amazon or Newegg and search for digital voice recorder. No matter what your previous choice of recorder, wax cylinder, wire recorders, reel to reel tape, or cassettes. None compares to the flexibility of digital devices.

You may be thinking that you can use your cell phone too. This is true. Most smartphones have recording capabilities. But they are geared more for recording notes, not lengthy interviews. How many times a day do you have to connect your phone to a charger? An hour-long meeting puts the smack down on my Android phone’s battery and electrical outlets are not always handy. However, I’ve had excellent luck with the iPad2’s battery. But if you have that all import interview that could go hours, nothing beats a DVR and a fresh AAA battery.

Microphones are another consideration. My Olympus DVR can pick up more audio than any other device I have. This includes making recordings while it sits in my shirt pocket. The mics on laptops and mobile devices can be hit or miss on quality. Some handle ambient noise better. Others may be too directional to be functional in an interview setting.

Do you use recording devices for notes or interviews? Please share any tips or tricks you’ve learned over the years.

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Don’t Sign That Contract!

Writers live on a budget. There are times when money is tight and you’re looking for a contract to sign. However, there is one contract you should never sign. That’s right by not signing a contract, you’ll be saving money — on your cell phone.

Over the years I’ve heard author after author claim this one particular piece of technology helps them manage the social networking aspect of being a writer. It’s used for Facebook updates, a blog reader, Twitter, Google+, email, texting, and believe it or not, a phone. But you don’t have to pay $80-$200 a month to get the service you need. And you don’t have to be locked into a restrictive contract. Yes, I’m talking about prepaid cellular service.

Before your imagination runs off with images of the worst customers Wal-Mart has to offer and a constant lack of bars, keep reading. You can purchase prepaid cellular service just about anywhere, including online and signal coverage can be as good as one of the big four cell providers.

A year ago I upgrade to an Android phone and switched to Virgin mobile. Their plan of 300 voice minutes and unlimited data/text fit my usage perfectly. Now I did have to buy the phone, but I waited until it went on sale for $180. The price for this plan, at the time I purchased the phone was $25. That’s right. I pay $25 a month for unlimited data and text. I’ve never gone over the 300 minute voice limit. So let’s compare.

(At the time unlimited voice and data averaged about $80/mo before taxes.)

Prepaid                                                              Standard Contract

Phone:    $180                                                     Free with contract

Service:  $325 (13 months at $25)                  $1,040 (13 months at $80)

Total:     $ 505                                                      $1,040

Savings: $535

I can go out and purchase another $200 phone and still be saving money compared to a standard contract plan. But you’re thinking, That was thirteen months ago, the economy has changed things. No one can get a deal that good these days.

You’re right, things have change. Virgin Mobile has raised this plan from $25 to $35. That means in 13 months you’ll pay $455 instead of $325. I don’t know about you, but that is still significant savings and could easily pay for lodging at the next writers convention. Keep in mind that voice/text/data contract plans are much more expensive these days.

You also may be thinking that the coverage sucks. Virgin rides on the Sprint network and I haven’t had any more coverage problems than my wife has had her ATT contract phone. If we’re out in the sticks, usually one of us will have service.

The Virgin Mobile plans may not be right for you, the company is geared toward the young crowd. Some of the other services out there are T-Mobile, ATT, TracFone, Net10, Straight TalkBoost, and the list goes on. Heck just Google “prepaid cell providers” and your eyes will glaze over before you can compare all the pricing plans. You can also check out Clark Howard, he always has the latest scoop on the cheap cell phones.

Most of the prepaid companies have agreements with Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile, and Verizon to use their networks, so you’ll want to pay attention to the coverage maps for your areas. Be brutally honest on how you use for phone. Some prepaid services will charge you a daily usage fee if you make a call. If you’re on your phone hours a day, this may not be an issue, but if you’re like me you may make one or two short calls a day, if any. The extra fee adds up quickly. Also, do not overestimate your data usage. Cell phones are fairly efficient on data usage. But if you must have unlimited everything, Straight Talk has a plan for $45 a month and Virgin has one for $55.

I’m not saying this is the best way to go and there are some draw backs. You have to buy the phone outright. You lose it, break it, or don’t like it after six months…tough. You’re stuck with it. Also the prepaid service doesn’t get the same data priority as the contract customers. For the most part this has not been an issue for me. However, if you are moving a lot of data, being throttled may cause problems. A huge draw back for some people is the fact you are limited on the phones you can purchase. You cannot go out and buy the latest iPhone off Craigslist and active it the next day. If you want an iPhone, you’re stuck with a contract. If you can use an Android or Blackberry you’ll have a few of options. And don’t just look at the specifications of the phone you’re thinking about. Read customer reviews. These can be found by searching for the phone model and the word reviews.

Smartphones are very much required tech for the modern writer. Are you paying over $1,000 a year when you don’t need to? Look over your last few statements. Pay attention to the voice, data, and text totals. Maybe you could save hundreds, over the course of a year, by dumping the contract and going to prepaid.

Now stop reading blogs and playing Angry Birds on your phone and get back to writing.

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