Modularize, modularize, modularize


Our gear in the livingroom corner is neatly stacking up during our regular late night pre-packing sessions. It’s starting to seem possible to pack our lives into one car and head off for a year. I still have not come to terms with leaving my two boxes of books behind so I wait patiently by my inbox hoping I will get the go ahead from Fulbright to ship a few boxes to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala. Parting will be sweet sorrow with my books, but it will force me to use my Kindle more and now that I have a Kindle feedburner, I’m good to go. For the next few days it’s all about finishing up my Future of Peten video, doing what I can with taxes deductions and cutting my clothes bag by at least 25 %. I did, however, take inspiration from Brad’s “modularize, modularize, modularize” slogan and packed my first office box in an oh so modular way.

Mapping the route into Guate

We mapped out the homestretch of our trip last night. It took an adjustment to go from the expansive terrain of Mexico to Guatemala’s small yet crazy curvy highland interior. Hey um, where’s Antigua?

The Mini-Me solution

I spent an hour with AT&T’s international department today and worked out all my anxieties about data access from the road. They even sent me an email summarizing the FAQ of international data plans and cellphone telephony.

While I’ve been madly unsubscribing from all listserves, email lists, groups and newsletters– in fear of having to pay per kilobyte as I did a few years ago when I went to Mexico City to report for the AP– this time I’m more informed on the data plan front. Here’s what I signed up for:

  • $64.99 per month gets me unlimited data access anywhere in Mexico, Central and South America
  • It’s cheaper for me to send and receive emails than to send SMS texts
  • It’s free to receive text, but 50 cents to send a text message. Those texts still cost me money to send even though I have the $15 a month plan for 1, 500 texts The AT&T representative whistled when she saw the total  9, 035 texts usage last month
  • 160 characters =1 50 cent message. If longer than it’s considered another message
  • $5.99 a month – World Traveller plan means I can get and make calls for 59 cents a minute in Mexico, $1.99 in Guatemala
  • I still have my 450 minute plan- that rate plan is $39.99 per month
  • The option exists for me to make my phone a data machine, meaning I get ride of my calling plan and ask for a “Data only plan” which mean AT&T would remove the voice plan and I would be paying the data plan only. I can set it up with voice or have voice restricted. I would still keep my cellphone number. Sorry, the data only options does not yet exists for iPhones
  • If I forward my calls, I can still make calls out, and I can still send and receive texts
  • Number to call internationally from cellphone, free call: Dial +1-916-843-4685

My next line of attack: setting up my forwarding of calls to my GoogleVoice or VOIP and tethering my blackberry to my MacBook. Adelante!

Road books: what war?

I don’t know why I’m still buying books, since I have my Kindle now, but this one was totally worth it:

5185JxA1i+L._SS500_“I am a survivor of the Guatemala civil war.” In 2004, Laurie Levinger left her home in Vermont for Guatemala where she planned to teach English to Maya university students. But on the first day of class, Levinger became the student instead of the teacher when a young man named Fernando introduced himself by saying “My father was killed when I was four months old. I am a survivor of the Guatemala civil war.” Shocked, Levinger’s first thought was “What war?” Beginning in 1960, fighting between the Guatemalan military and guerrilla fighters raged across this Central American country. By 1980, this violence-which began with a CIA-backed coup and efforts by the United Fruit Company to protect its financial interests-turned into the massacre of Maya people in every corner of Guatemala. By the time peace accords were signed in 1996, over 200,000 Maya people had been murdered, “disappeared”or forced into exile by their own government. Levinger’s students had been young children when these atrocities were committed. Many lost their parents. Many had relatives who “disappeared.” All had suffered the loss of their culture, their family ties, their sense of safety, their personal identities. As a clinical social worker, Levinger believes in the importance of bearing witness, of speaking the unspeakable out loud. After her initial trip,she returned to Guatemala, this time with a tape recorder and a mission: to record the testimonies of her students, to document their enduring love for their Maya culture, and to honor their unflagging search for truth. In What War? Levinger brings us stories, told in the spare and eloquent language of truth-tellers, reminding us all that the true cost of war is borne by the survivors. And so is the hope for peace.

El Norte mix

Check out this DJ mix I just recorded for promotional purposes in Latin America! Yeah I know– Guatemala isn’t exactly one of the epicenters of electronic dance music but still– I gotta represent. This mix is bigger and clubbier than what you may have heard me play in the past, with a nice stretch of Latin-influenced tracks in the middle.

Digital trails

Since I spend more than 12 hours online everyday, having mobile online access is up there with food, air, water and this thing called sleep. In preparation for the trip I’ve been debating leaving the AT&T money sucker behind, switching the cellphone number to my Vonage VOIP service and just buying a SIM card in Mexico on double fare days. But there’s something ever so comforting about the seamless data continuity of emails still coming through my Blackberry, even at $.02 a kilobyte or something similarly ridiculous I cringe to know when I call AT&T on Monday.

I throw out a laundry list of questions to my ever helpful Fulbright compas everyday and they uncover something new about Guatemala I had not thought possible. For example:

“My lifesaver has been Tigo mobile internet. The USB modem costs 500q and often comes with a free month of service. Then you can pay 325Q (Quetzales) per month from there on out for unlimited service.”

A USB key that gives you internet access in Guate? Yes it’s true!

And now my head is toying with the idea of how in the world can I make this possible on the way down to Mexico, perhaps Mexico offers a similar deal and all I have to do is pay for the megabytes? I put it next to my list of purchases, including ones checked off:

Picture 3

  1. Two paternity tests (long story, more on that later)
  2. The newer Grundig Mini GM400 Super Compact AM/FM Shortwave Radio
  3. Three 3 TB drives

Our next purchase? A police scanner! Stay tuned…har har.

Hookin’ up the squawk box

Professional car audio installation expert Brad “Jawbone” Eller shares his CB radio expertise with us. Notice surgical application of duct tape on door frame.

Tuuuuune!

One side benefit of being mildly OCD is having a a terrifically organized music collection. But after a few years, even my well-manicured CD towers have crumbled into heaps of neglect. Not to mention half my collection is on vinyl, with another large portion segregated for DJ-use only. With the upcoming trip I realized we needed tunes- and not the same two dozen CDs sliding around underneath the driver’s seat. Thank Apollo (the god of music, duh) I found TuneUp!

TuneUp is a stand-alone app that cleans, finds lost cover art and generally sorts out your entire digital music collection. This is a big deal for mixtape lovers like me who inevitably end up with a ton of tracks labeled 01, 02, etc. TuneUp fixes those. Sick of seeing the generic gray iTunes coverflow image? TuneUp not only queries the Gracenote database, it also crawls the web for artwork. I gotta say it’s hard to stump too- I threw some pretty obscure material at it and it rarely failed.

Anyway all this is assuming you actually have music in your iTunes, which I didn’t. I had like, 200 MP3s tops. Now I’m slightly embarrassed but mostly stoked to report that after digitizing my entire CD collection (did I mention mild OCD?) I now have 3702 individual tracks, all properly named, playlisted and linked to cover art! Unfortunately the vinyl is too much to deal with for now, but hey it’s all safely packed away in storage and will live to play another day. The fact that we now have 31.48 GB of formerly inaccessible sounds at our fingertips is more than enough to make this a happy ride!

CB'ing it all the way to Guate

Three months from now we’ll be on the road bound for Guatemala. One of our main concerns is our safety and making sure we have as many ways as we can to stay connected to the local communities we pass through. Ideally we thought we’d have the Mad Max mobile loaded with a GPS unit, police scanner and radar detector but last night after speaking to Victor Miles at the Art Deco Weekend By The Bay exhibition, I got another idea!

Miles has been collecting old AM radios and restoring them to their original state for over 20 years. He’s got some beauties over the years and knows a lot about ancient electronics. We were reminiscing about all the oldies AM radio shows and soon started discussing shortwave radio. He mentioned something called a Reims Adapter that you add to your car stereo and it receives shortwave frequencies. I looked it up and the BMW forums had this great entry:

“A Becker Reims adapter for short-wave reception which was attached to the lower portion of the radio under the speaker cabinet. In Europe, parts of Asia and North Africa the long-wave band (150-280 KHz) is used for broadcasting. Radio sets from this part of the world have the LW (long-wave, LF) and the BC (AM or MW) band and the short-wave band in use. The long-wave band is very interesting because long distance reception during the day and DX (very long distance at night) is possible. In America and Australia the long-wave broadcast band was not in widespread use so the car radios built for export did not include it. Around 1958 as technology advanced, the heavy power supplies were first replaced by smaller solid-state transistorized units. In the early 1960s the electronic parts got small enough that the power supply was being included with the tuner and amplifier as a self-contained unit. By 1962 tubes finally disappeared from automobile radio design altogether.”

When I mentioned shortwave to Brad he connected the dots and said, “Why not just get a CB radio? They broadcast on shortwave!” Of course! I had totally forgotten how many CB’ers there are all over Mexico and Latin America. Of course, this video helped bring it all back: