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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 11 - Traveling Computers

At Stampshow 2000, one collector or dealer after another came to the Computers In Philately booth and begged to check lots on eBay or another online auction.

Yes, begged. Pleaded.

They weren't interested in online discussion groups, or the Philatelic Computing Study Group, or database software recommendations, they just wanted the latest quote on a lot.

By Stampshow 2002, the PCSG was offering Internet access, as it will again this summer at Stampshow 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. If you can't make it through the show without an Internet fix, come to the booth and you can surf for 5 minutes for $3. (The five minutes are free for PCSG members.)

I like to think I'm not that bad, that I can go a few hours without checking my lots, but I can't imagine going to a stamp show without bringing a laptop computer and dialing into the Internet, at least once a day from my hotel room. (Okay, okay, twice a day, when I wake up and when I lie down, when I rise up...and three times if I get a chance to sneak back to my room.)

I also bring the laptop on vacations, visits to my wife's hometown, heck, anywhere except visits to my hometown. Come think of it, I did use my mother's computer to log on last time I visited; maybe I am that bad.

At first, I rented a laptop each time I went to a major show. It cost about $300, and I had to install (and then uninstall) my software each time. Several times, I couldn't get the laptop to work properly, and paid for on-the-spot servicing or long-distance tech support calls.

So I bit the bullet, pooled several of those (future) $300 rental payments, and bought my own machine. It wasn't the fastest, biggest, prettiest, spectacularest laptop even when I bought it, but it keeps me in touch with the online world on the road, and I've had far fewer problems with it than I did with the rental computers.

It's only a 133mhz, but is adequate for e-mail and web surfing. I'm thinking of replacing it now. There are all sorts of used and refurbished machines, or even new-but-superseded machines for sale on the Internet from reputable sellers.

Here are some tips I've learned about traveling to stamp shows with my laptop:

  • Look up your service's Internet access numbers for the area to which you're traveling before you leave home. (I often forget this one.) Install them before you leave home just in case you forget the list.

  • Have a back-up Internet service provider (ISP). If yours is a local company, it may not have a local telephone number, or the one it has may not work or may be busy all the time.

    Say what you want about America Online, it has local access numbers everywhere. Log into AOL and leave it running in the background, then open your usual World Wide Web browser and e-mail program. AOL makes a fine dial-up ISP ("Internet Service Provider").

  • Look up local dial-up numbers even if the hotel promises "high-speed Internet access." I stayed at a hotel recently and requested one of the 9 rooms with that service. It didn't work. The building engineer went home without coming to my room to either fix it or explain what I was doing wrong. I dialed into my employer's Internet access number, and worked at 26,400 bps. Hey, it was better than nothing.

  • Not only do I bring my own modular telephone cable with me, I often bring two, plus connectors to use those two cables together and a "Y" connector that provides two jacks from one. I've been in hotels where the advertised "dataport" was simply a modular telephone jack nowhere near the desk. (One was behind the bed's headboard.)
The alternative is to call home and ask your son or daughter to please stop yacking with friends on AOL Instant Messenger for a minute and look up those eBay lots for you.

I'm not that much of a masochist. I'd rather bring a laptop.

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