Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2003 / 5 Adar I 5763

Traveling companions

By Mark Kellner | In case you were wondering, 3,000 miles - my driving distance (including stops and detours) from Los Angeles to a new residence in Montgomery County, Maryland - is a lot of driving to accomplish in a little more than five days. Especially when you're racing a moving truck to make sure that you're there before the driver arrives.

This mini-adventure last week, my third trans-continental moving/driving trip (one leg was by air), was a lot more fun this time, thanks to several bits of technology. There were also some frustrations.

AOL EVERYWHERE? It's fun to pile on AOL Time Warner, these days, but one of the things I have long admired about AOL, or America Online as it once was known, was the ability to at least dial into the network from just about anywhere on earth. I've logged on from Nairobi, Kenya and Cheju Island, South Korea. More mundane places such as Santa Rosa, NM and Ft. Smith, AR provide a different experience, however.

In both places, logging on to AOL was, well, impossible. I can understand this for tiny Santa Rosa, a town of under 2,800 people. But Ft. Smith, a city of over 80,000, with a metropolitan area large enough to merit its own Arbitron radio station ratings, apparently doesn't have an AOL dialup number this traveler could use.

AOL is still a great service for travelers, overall, but a little attention should be paid to smaller and growing markets as well.

AT&T WIRE-LESS. That hyphen is not a typo. Driving across much of I-40, in places like Arkansas, Tennessee, even a good chunk of western Virginia, my AT&T Wireless GSM phone was wire-less. There was no coverage. A PCS phone from Sprint fared much better, but the overall experience was frustrating, and would have been even more so had I only one device on which to rely.

It's reasonable to expect this issue will diminish as GSM systems proliferate, but it would be to the advantage of AT&T - let alone GSM peers such as T-Mobile and Cingular Wireless - to step up the GSM deployment, and pronto.

When it works, the GSM service is as good as anything out there - and you have the ability to use your phone on international travels. But during those vast stretches of nothingness, it's rather frustrating.

WIRELESS HEADSET: Anycom, a firm in Irvine, California, has come up with a wireless Bluetooth headset that works with the AT&T-based phone I was carrying, the Sony Ericssson T68i. No cords, no wires run between headset and phone, yet sound quality is clear and good for the listener (me) and, callers told me, pretty good for them, if with a slight echo. At $80, it's a neat little product (details at that has great potential. One potential improvement: the ear holder is a bit uncomfortable if the device is worn for very long stretches of time.

Bluetooth technology, however, holds great promise in this regard: cutting the cord is very helpful, especially in the small confines of a car.

THANK HEAVEN FOR XM. I've sung the praises of Washington, DC-based XM Satellite Radio before, and I'll do it again now. Having the service in the car was invaluable, first as a way to avoid the blandness of local radio and second to keep up with the news and weather as we went across.

Because of another device in the car, of which more later, I had to used a small, low-power FM transmitter to send the audio from the XM receiver to the car stereo. It worked well, with a slight learning curve, and resulted in our being able to follow the news of the past seven days - sadly, including the Columbia story - without hassle. For those traveling regularly over long distances, a satellite radio service is a must. That's probably why truckers at the Petro Truck Plaza in West Memphis, AR, were clustered around a table where XM was being sold.

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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.

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