Thursday, October 6, 2011

Many to Many

Joe - Bahrain. Let’s talk tech.  So how does this blog get here – this JRB blog, the blog that you’re reading right now? It’s easy, right? Just go to some beautiful places, play some cool music, meet some interesting people, pay attention, write down what strikes you, take pictures(be sure to ask permission & give credit) and upload it all to the blog. Easy. Well, not so fast. First you need a pile of high tech junk. Flip cams, Zoom Q3s, Smartphones, sim cards, hotel wireless,  blogging tools for each platform(Windows, Mac, iphone, Blackberry, Droid), maybe a soldering gun if things get really dicey and probably some other tools you left at home. My suitcase is always filled with tech junk I think I'll need. Even so, I always leave something I really need at home...

Some of the junk in my suitcase

Now, here are a few things that can go wrong: the photos are too big, the videos are  too long, the hotel wireless stinks, my battery’s dead, I left my charger in my hotel room two countries ago, the SIM card I bought has no data plan… And here’s what you do when something goes wrong: text Amy in Nashville, call Liz in Washington, call someone at the embassy if you can find a phone and remember where you put the numbers for your embassy contacts. Although I’ve learned that you can get Crazy Glue in the most remote regions of the planet, it won’t help your blog (but you can use it to fix your nails if you play guitar).

Every location you move to on a tour is a potential blogger blackout. But, if you do it right, you can post from the back seat of a van on the way to a gig – even videos if you are in the right country. You can post in real time from inside a canyon at Petra. 

I know. I did it. Johnny thought it was violating the sanctity of the place but I couldn’t resist. I had a 3g signal and I used it! Droid phone in front of the treasury at Petra. You know, the place where Indiana Jones went on horseback. 

Once the communications channel is worked out, then and only then, can you post your ideas, dreams, beautiful location photos, meals, bad jokes (maybe some good ones)  and most of all your musical impressions.

So, what’s the first thing I do when we get through customs and baggage claims at the airport? I hunt for a local SIM card to get my unlocked Droid phone on the internet and have local phone service. Once I can do that, I help the rest of the band get connected – two different iPhones and a Blackberry. I currently have six SIM cards – one for NY, one for each country we’ve visited up until now and a global SIM with no data plan just in case I forget what country I’m in. What’s the first thing I do when I check into a hotel? I check the wired LAN speed or wireless speed to get an idea of what we can upload. It’s an instinct. I can’t be out of communication for very long. I think data is becoming like water or air. We can’t live without it. Don’t have enough bandwidth? Sorry, no videos. Have still less bandwidth? Sorry, no photos. Have even less bandwidth than that? Sorry, no blog. And worst of all, I can’t Skype home.

5 of my 6 phone SIMs.
There are all sorts of cameras in this band both still and video - Zoom Q3, Zoom Q3 HD, smartphones, whatever. It’s all good if you can resize, change resolution and move your work from whatever recorder you use to a computer or directly to the web. 

Next are the blogging tools. We use Blogger at because it has good support tools for computers and mobile devices and, it’s elegant and easy. It’s a Google product so it works well with Gmail, Youtube and Picasa. We wanted to be able to post from anywhere at any time. For example, on my phone I have a very cheap app that can post blogs over a cellular network directly. If I’m on 3g with a local SIM card I can post a video made right on the phone. I’ve posted photos from the van on the way to a gig in the UAE and Jordan.  As an aside, though not blogging, I even did a video Skype session over 3g and showed Allison, my wife who is in NYC, a venue we played at by turning on my phones rear camera. Silly, but amazing. We were at an outdoor venue in Amman, Jordan. 

We’ve stayed at very nice hotels but the wireless networks haven’t been stellar. On the other hand, I’ve been shocked by the quality of the cellular phone networks in Jordan, UAE and Bahrain. In many places they have HSDPA(3g+) and HSPA+(4g). In other words, my cell phone on the road has consistently had better bandwidth than my computer connection at the hotel. Actually, it has had better bandwidth than I have in New York most of the time. It’s no secret that a lot of countries are moving straight to cellular networks and skipping over wired networks to deliver internet services.

Ironically, after working on getting this blog up and running reasonably well, I haven’t had time to post very much. At the end of it all I ask myself, why do I like this technology so much? Part of the answer is this: I believe it’s good to connect people and connect with people. Connections are changing the world. They certainly are changing my perception of the Middle East and its people. I'm very fortunate to be able to help create connections between people through both music and technology. Many to many connections.

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