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Friday Funk – Tech for the travel junkie

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Travel Great East Coast Road Drive Azhar Camera Shooting
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Azhar Mohamed Ali shoots live from the road on the Great East Coast Road Drive.

Sorry, this edition of Friday Funk comes at you really late. I've been out on the road since 6 AM, and it's been a day of lost 3G connectivity, flat tyres and frayed nerves. It's been a whole seven days since we set out on the Great East Coast Road Drive. It's been a euphoric experience being able to update you as we progress along this scenic route.

For those who came in late, the East Coast Road is a state highway in Tamil Nadu that begins in Chennai and snakes southward along the east coast of India to Thoothukudi (alias Tuticorin). Photographer Azhar Mohamed Ali and I began covering the drive from Chennai and wound south through Pondicherry, Tranquebar and Velankanni making stops along the way. Our updates, wherever there was 3G connectivity, were made in real time. No jokes. It meant you were gazing, on your screen, at the very same monument or vista that we enjoyed just a few seconds ago. It's almost as good as watching live cricket. Yet, even cooler because we're sending this to you not with the help of a outdoor broadcasting van hooked up to a satellite but just everyman's 3G spectrum.

So, if you're still curious, we'll tell you how it works. Azhar and I are both equipped with iPhone 5, 3G data subscriptions, superfast Macbook Pros, chargers, cables, etc. We have a GoPro Hero video camera rigged to the top of our vehicle -- we even fixed it to the front of our boat in the mangroves of Pichavaram. Those videos you will see next week when we return to work and process them. Videos are too heavy to send via 3G. However, we have with us certain tools -- software and apps, mostly -- that might be of interest to you.

Let's list them out:

1) Twitter: This conversation starter -- used to be a non-starter for me as I detest chatter in general -- is actually a very effective soapbox. We've evangelised the hashtag #greatecrdrive on Twitter for the last week or so, and the response has been nothing short of stupendous. We had people tuning in breathlessly as we explored the sacred grove at Oorani, off the ECR near Marakkanam. Network was thin -- just one bar or so. We had barely enough signal to tweet, but we did. At other times, when 3G signal is full, we are able to tweet before we think (not always a good thing, so try it only at home).

2) Tumblr: I worship Tumblr. Not simply for the tons of NSFW stuff you'll find without looking too hard, but for its phenomenal simplicity. The iPhone app, in particular, is a workhorse. Its compression engine deserves to be awarded. It sends compressed HD video on the thinnest cellular signal. I was on the beach at Tranquebar early in the morning and I sent ten images and two videos in under two minutes on three bars of cellular signal. Incredible.

3) CoverItLive: The window you see at the top of the landing page, in which our latest updates show up, is a CiL module. We use it extensively for live chats, but this is the first time we have used it on a road trip, simply because it's the first time we've done one such. While you can try it for free, a paid, enterprise account lets you experience its power to the fullest. The iPhone app is lightweight and uploads text, images and videos in real time. You can also pull in tweets from user accounts or hashtags or search terms, pre-load media and segue in news flashes and polls. It's amazing, I'm sure, for covering sports but we have a case study for how it is a perfect tool for presenting live travelogues.

Last is the issue of battery backup, extremely essential when you're on the move. Smartphones aren't exactly charming when it comes to battery life, and our iPhones were at risk of death in the middle of important moments. That's where the Nokia Universal Portable Charger comes in. It's a pretty, thin blue cylinder that you can charge off your laptop to capacity. And then plug your phone in when you're out of charge. It's been giving us excellent backup power during long spells of frenetic uploading. There are similar devices available for iPhones and Samsung smartphones, but this little fellow is a workhorse.

Hope you are warming up to Friday Funk. Stay tuned to the Great East Coast Road Drive, and don't forget to share your tech tips to help make it better!

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