May
27
2009

Cool Websites

Short post today. Just wanted to share with you a few websites I’ve become enamored with:

  1. Wikitravel.org

    It used to be when I wanted to find out about traveling to a country I would consult the Lonely Planet listings. They give a nice summary of a place, the basics for what travelers need to know. But in recent years Wikitravel has far surpassed them. And while Wikipedia is good for facts about a country (geography, history, government, economy, demographics.. similar to what the CIA World Factbook lists), Wikitravel lists things you as a traveler need to know – transportation, where to eat, drink, sleep, staying safe, what to see and do. Plus since it’s a wiki, it’s improving by leaps and bounds daily. I do my part to improve it by adding listings for hotels I like, correcting mistakes I’ve found, etc. As an example, compare the listings for Medellín in Lonely Planet, Wikipedia, and Wikitravel. You’ll see what I mean.
    It’s nice when the world coalesces around one site for a given topic. You want to know about a film you go to IMDb, want to know about a band you go to AllMusic. It’s the same now with Wikitravel.

  2. Google News Alerts

    I realize this may not be new to a lot of you, but I recently started using it and love it. You just tell Google what keywords you want news about and it will collate news articles, web mentions, blog postings, etc into a daily or weekly summary and email it to you. It’s a great way to keep tabs on disparate subjects without having to go searching for the news. I’m currently tracking news on Colombia, Merce Cunningham, and Ecuador.

  3. Google Maps / Google Earth

    You’re no doubt familiar with these tools for checking out your neighborhood, office, driving directions to Aunt Patty’s house, etc. But did you know that their coverage globally is quite good, and the community of people geotagging photos and videos from all over the world is a boon for everyone. Say you’ve read all about a given destination, but still don’t have a feel for it – what it would be like to walk down the street there. Then try these tools. People upload an amazing range of benign photos and videos – their local supermarket, the kids playing in the street, etc – but the upshot is that it gives you a real sense of the place.

  4. Couchsurfing.org

    Although I’d read about this site before leaving for my trip and was told about it again by a traveler in Guatemala, I only finally checked it out a week ago.. and discovered the answer to my prayers! As a tourist, it’s difficult to truly get to know a place without the benefit of local knowledge. But I’ve always been vexed by the problem of how to meet local people. Sometimes I’m lucky and they just come up and befriend me, like in Honduras and Barranquilla. In Santa Marta I even successfully broke the ice with a group of locals at a club, but I had a wingman egging me on that night. Usually it’s just too daunting. No more – Couchsurfing to the rescue! As the name implies, it is a social networking site designed to put travelers in touch with locals to crash with. But it’s far more than that. Many people on the site (myself included) are fine staying in hotels, but simply want to meet people for coffee or drinks to get the lowdown on the local scene, or just have a bit of human interaction. One reason it took me so long to sign up is I thought there wouldn’t be that many people on it in these non first-world countries.. boy, was I wrong. In Bogotá alone there are over 2,000 people on the site! Even in the smaller remote towns of Colombia there are dozens of people signed up. Woo-hoo! Wikipedia has a good summary of the site here. If you’re already a member of the site (it’s free if you’re not), please “friend” me, so I can get my profile up.

Extra geeky info, for iPhone owners only:
As anyone with an iPhone will tell you, the lack of cut and paste on the device is one of the most aggravating omissions Apple made. And although Apple will be releasing iPhone OS 3.0 in less than a month which will finally include cut and paste, people like myself won’t be able to upgrade since we’re not toting around a computer to do the upgrade with. Thus, I’d like to tell you about an app I recently discovered which gives you cut and paste in every application. It’s called Clippy, and it’s completely changed the way I work. That’s one less major thing that my Pam Treo did that the iPhone doesn”t do. Now, the caveat is that your iPhone must be jailbroken, but this is extremely easy to do and has no downside that I’ve found in the past five months of using it this way.

While we’re on the subject of iPhones, I’ll go ahead and mention my favorite apps for anyone who cares:

  • TwitterFon – the best Twitter app I’ve found. I’ve tried Tweetie which everyone else swears is the best, but keep going back to TwitterFon. Plus it’s free, unlike Tweetie.
  • Instapaper – save any web page for reading offline later. Invaluable. I keep a lot of stuff for reference, like WikiTravel pages.
  • SlovoEd Spanish-English Dictionary – I had their dictionaries on the Palm platform for years, and they’re better than ever on the iPhone. I use it 10 times a day.
  • I used to use EccoNote Pro to record audio memos (like that narration from the train), but recently switched to FiRe, a much more professional app. The key is being able to directly upload to my FTP server – a lot of them require going through a computer first, which I obviously don’t have. Now all I need is a quality stereo microphone for the iPhone, and I’ll be all set.
  • Air Sharing – how I originally got all my personal documents from my computer onto the phone. Scans of my passport and credit cards, serial numbers, resumes, traveling notes, etc. Unfortunately I don’t believe it’s possible with this or any other app to edit or add to these documents – a terrible oversight of Apple. On the Palm platform, you’ve been able to edit Word, Excel, and other documents for years.
    MobileStudio and DataCase are two similar apps to Air Sharing.
  • WiFinder and WifiTrak – for automatic scanning and connecting to open WiFi networks.
  • GPS Tracker by InstaMapper – the app that updates my current position, so you always know where I am!
  • Skype – newly (finally) released for iPhone. At last.. now I don’t have to find a net cafe with a working headset, all I need is an open network. I used to use Truphone, the only viable VOIP client for iPhone until Skype came out, but it pretty much sucked.
  • Currency – for converting between currencies (duh). There are a zillion of ’em, I like this one.
  • The New York Times, AP Network’s Mobile News, BBC Reader, and Huffington Post – how I keep up on the news. I just wish I could get some non-mainstream news downloaded for offline reading. Al Jazeera has an iPhone app but you need to be online to use it, which is stupid. I’ll bet if Indymedia released an app it would go viral.
  • WordPress – lets me write and update blog posts, manage comments, and more.
  • Stanza – the best ebook reader for the iPhone. I’ve got all kinds of public domain books on it (Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, plus some modern ones). Also supports downloading of magazines like Wired, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, etc. The company was recently bought by Amazon (who already have their own inferior ebook reader, the Kindle app), so a lot of people are concerned that Stanza will be killed, but Amazon swears it won’t be.
  • Locly – there are a zillion location-aware apps for the iPhone that tell you about nearby restaurants, happenings, etc. But nearly all of them only work in North America. Locly is the only one I’ve found that actually gives info in Latin America. Not much info, but occasionally I’ll find out about an interesting local event using it.
  • Epocrates – still the best medical reference for the iPhone, even with Skyscape and PEPID out. Epocrates tells me whether my malarial drugs are going to have a negative reaction with my antibiotics, identies those random pills people give me at clubs (just kidding, mom!), and lists the side effects of any drug. Now if only there was a PDR for the iPhone.
  • WorldView, earthscape, and TravelPhotos are fun little apps that let you view photos from around the world, including ones taken nearby where you are – the most interesting to me, since a picture truly is worth a lot of pages of guidebook.
  • Here are a few that are not available in the official app store.. they’re only through Cydia, the app store you get once you jailbreak your phone:
    dTunes, an alternative to iTunes that allows you to browse and download music, videos, and even bittorrents directly to the iPhone.
    MxTube, an app that allows you to search and download YouTube videos to the iPhone for offline viewing.
    Searcher – again, fixes an oversight that Apple didn’t include. Although the new OS 3.0 will include Spotlight searching throughout the system, this gives it to you now – search your contacts, text messages, Notes, Calendar, and Safari all at once.
  • I have about 70 more apps that I love including Dictionary, Wikipanion, The Weather Channel, iTranslate, several Spanish language apps, etc. But I’ll spare you!

What have I missed? What are your favorite apps?

By the way (and you already know this if you’re reading this on a mobile device), I’ve recently added a theme to allow easier navigation of the blog from small screens. Love it? Hate it? Lemme know.

Written by in: Ruminations | Tags:

2 Comments »

  • christine says:

    Brilliant. Thank you for all this information. I’m way behind in the Iphone department, so this will help me catch up a bit. I will let you know what I find. Also, in other news, Josh and I took your advice on restaurants and passed up the ones with the nice lighting and decor on Isla Mujeres. We had an amazing and inexpensive dinner at this place with the worst fluorescent lighting. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Josh says:

      Yay, that makes me happy that you remembered what Marissa and I learned in Nicaragua [about how to tell an authentic restaurant from a touristy one.]

      So I guess you replaced your stolen phone with an iPhone, huh? Congratulations.

      Are you really staying on “Women’s Island”?? Sounds intriguing..

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