Casual Friday: High-Tech Travel Tips
Plenty of stories provide advice for elite mobile professionals. But what about you, the unproductive traveler? Maybe you're on vacation. Maybe you're trying to chill out before a day's worth of travel and business meetings. Point is, you need to pack a little smarter to entertain yourself, and that's what this week's column is all about. I have some great roadworthy games and a few ways to watch video--and, yeah, I'll even throw in some helpful, practical tips.
The Impractical Tips
Sometimes you simply want to sit back and relax--y'know, just watch a video on whatever mobile device you have handy. We used to have to jump through multiple hoops to do that; for instance, I'd run DirectShow Dump to strip out any DRM nonsense and then use 3GP Converter to transcode the video into different formats. These days, we have it easy. For some people that means watching show clips on cell phones. Other folks download Tivo content to a PSP or iPod. Me? I record shows on my Media Center PC and transfer the recordings at the touch of a button.
Let's not forget about the whole Webcast revolution. PC World Senior Editor Melissa J. Perenson put together a great, comprehensive feature looking at TV on the Web. Below, I mention a few specific things that are worth watching, but here's one big disclaimer: Many of the shows are region-locked. For example, as I write this, Hulu works only in the United States. My apologies to anyone in other countries.
Stephen King's N: Part of a massive multimedia effort to promote Stephen King's next book, Just After Sunset, N is a horrifically beautiful-looking Web miniseries.
Crawford: This indie documentary, which looks at the town that George W. Bush moved into, recently premiered exclusively on Hulu.com.
Sci-Fi Drive In: The Sci-Fi Channel has a small but cool collection of classic science-fiction movies and serials. I mean, Radar Men From the Moon? Truly old-school awesome.
Heroes: Going Postal: Not every high-powered freak in the world gets profiled on the hit NBC TV series. These Webisodes follow a mailman with supersonic abilities.
Gemini Division: Rosario Dawson stars in this futuristic cop thriller. Be sure to check out the whole site for all the cool interactive features (and the oh-so-subtle Microsoft plugs throughout the clips).
Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: This musical about a lovelorn supervillain is an Internet phenomenon.
For me, the surest way to kill time in any given situation is, of course, to play games. So here's a quick list of tips and games, organized according to what device you might have with you.
Mini-notebooks: These relatively limited portables are small, but powerful enough to play some low-impact games. First, take a look at a new service currently in beta called Good Old Games. When it goes live, you'll be able to purchase DRM-free old-school PC games optimized for XP and Vista and download them to any machine. If you still own some classic titles, emulators can also do the trick; my favorite for old graphic adventures is ScummVM. And be sure to check out a bunch of great freeware games that should work on your micro machine.
Nintendo DS Lite: Nintendo's handheld is a fantastic travel companion because it lasts hours before needing a recharge and it happens to have a wealth of great games. Last week I jabbered about Lock's Quest, so I'll spare you here, but you should also consider Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood if you're in the mood for something a little different. Part action, part role-playing game, Sonic Chronicles has you controlling Sega's speedster and pals through puzzles and battles with all sorts of baddies. The snazzy art style and slick presentation might have people looking over your shoulder on your next flight.
Laptops: Notebooks vary in size, shape, and power. Of course, anything that works on a mini-notebook will play on a regular laptop, but the best piece of advice I can give otherwise is to set up a Steam account. It has a wide variety of modern games, from multigigabyte first-person shooters to tiny casual games, and everything you get is linked to a single account. No discs to worry about losing. And when you need to hit the road, you just click the File, Go Offline option before you disconnect--any game that you've downloaded will then work on the go.
Sony PSP: Unlike the DS, Sony's handheld has many more gadgety features (Internet radio and Skype support, to name a few). It also happens to have its fair share of unique games. Out of the titles that have come out recently, I still find myself playing three in particular: the action/role-playing game Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core; the highly stylized rhythm strategy game Patapon (you need headphones for this one to help keep the beat--and beat down baddies); and Echochrome, an awesome mind-bender where you're solving three-dimensional M.C. Escher-ish puzzles. Oh, yeah: Keep your charger handy.
iPhone/iPod Touch: Some early standout games for the iPhone, like Sega's Super Monkey Ball, deserve all the attention they get, but I'm digging Fieldrunners. It's a tower-defense game like PixelJunk Monsters and Lock's Quest (mentioned above), but it has an amazingly crisp visual style.
Windows Mobile phones: I won't belabor the point here. After all, I wrote an entire column just on kitting out my HTC phone.
Of course, you could just read a book. Nah, that's crazy talk! Want some more-practical tips? Jump to page 2.