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by Lloyd A. de Vries

Vol. 37 - We're Always Connected

This column was originally written in April 2006.

Your notebook or laptop computer can be indispensable on your stamp show trip. I'm writing this while sitting at the San Antonio airport after a five-day non-stamp vacation, and my laptop aided in this trip's success.
If you fly, the airlines all but require you to explore itineraries online, purchase tickets online, check in online and print out boarding passes. Yes, you can do all that without a computer or the Internet, but in most cases, it will cost you extra.

This morning, before heading out on our last activities and for lunch, I received an e-mail message from my airline that my flight was being delayed a half hour. That gave us an extra half hour to spend in the city, rather than at the airport.
I printed out my boarding passes before leaving home for the airport, but wasn't able to do so at the San Antonio hotel. However, I did check in online, then printed the boarding pass itself at the airport. I would have saved myself some grief, however, if I had written down either my reservation confirmation number or my frequent flyer number. [I did better my next trip, which was stamp-related.]

To familiarize myself with where we were going, I purchased the Frommer travel guide for San Antonio and Austin. Because we were only going to one of the cities, and I didn't want to carry half a book I didn't need, and because I wanted the book right away to help me decide on a hotel, I ordered it as an "e-book."

An electronic book can be downloaded within minutes of its purchase. The Frommer guide was in .pdf format, to be read with Adobe Acrobat Reader, a free program. Eventually, I printed out selected pages I thought I might need during the trip (such as a walking tour map and itinerary and restaurants near the hotel).

Later, I did run into a snag. First, I couldn't read the book on my wife's computer upstairs, even after transferring it on our home network, because our "Microsoft .Net passports" weren't synchronized. This is a security feature to prevent me from giving all of you illegal free copies of the Frommer guide.

I was able to read the book at work — strictly for use during lunchtime, I hasten to add — by going back to Amazon.com where had I purchased it and downloading it again.

Later, in San Antonio, I realized I hadn't printed out a page I wanted, so I downloaded it yet again from Amazon (by going to past orders) onto my laptop, where I could consult it at will. (You're permitted to save these e-books onto your hard drive.)

So there's the workaround if you want multiple copies on different computers: Download it separately to each.

Before leaving home, I watched the weather forecasts for San Antonio, and decided not to bring a raincoat.

What time did that museum open? The answer could be found both in the Frommer guide as well as on the museum's Web site.

During the trip, my wife and I were considering several restaurants, just as a stamp collector might do during a convention before going out with a group of friends. On the Internet, we found menus and even directions to the restaurants. (However, I had to translate the directions into "Pedestrianese." You can walk both ways on a "one-way" street. Doesn't anybody walk any more?)

Looking for a certain dealer at a stamp show? If it's a World Series of Philately or larger show, chances are its floor plan is on its Web site.

Also while here, I was able to check my bank accounts and transfer money between them; chat with my sons (one is in Ireland now for the semester; Instant Messenger is cheaper than telephoning); and keep track of my eBay sales, even though I won't be able to ship anything until I get home.

I even gave two e-mail interviews while I was in San Antonio. The Virtual Stamp Club, which I operate, was hosting the Washington 2006 Computers in Philately booth, and two stamp columnists wanted more information. Both were on deadline, but it only took a matter of minutes to answer their questions and fire off the e-mail.

Had this been a stamp trip, I could also have run up to my room (or plugged into a Wi-Fi wireless network) to compare prices, consult a want list, or even see if I'd been outbid on another copy of that enticing cover the bourse dealer was showing me.

The portable computer today is like that credit card in the 1970s: Don't leave home without it.

How do you use your laptop computer on stamp collecting trips? Tell us in our message board.

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