Monday, November 28, 2005

Favorite Gadget #5 - Skype

Last year on our way down the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula, while anchored in Magdalena Bay, we heard another boat on marine radio touting the latest gimmick on the internet.  It had the unusual name, Skype.  According to the testimonial, one could make free telephone calls over the internet.  We wrongly assumed that this was some kind of “techy fever”, probably for computer geeks only and forgot about it.


But later in our cruise we began to have a need to make phone calls back to the states, and while it is possible to make phone calls using phone cards from pay phones in Mexico, we thought it would be much easier, not to mention much less expensive if this Skype thing really worked.


Well, in short, it does.  At least most of the time.  It is affected by the quality and speed of your connection.  So at times when we are using wireless connections at less then full strength, the people we call may have a hard time hearing every word we say, and sometimes there is a delay between the end of a spoken sentence and when it starts to be heard at the other end.


Skype is currently a free download from the internet.  Calls between Skype users are free.  Skype users can call non-Skype contacts (using ordinary phone numbers) for 2 cents a minute.  Until recently it has not been possible for a non-Skype contact to call a Skype user from a regular phone or cell phone.  This would of course require that a Skype user have a regular phone number somewhere.  Skype is just now beta-testing this capability and we haven’t yet signed up.  It will cost about $40 per year to establish a US-based phone number.


To use Skype after we have successfully downloaded it is very simple.  As soon as we have established an internet connection we can look at the Skype window and it will tell us if any of our regular Skype contacts are also online.  It will also notify us if one of them signs on to the internet while we are online.  If one of them is online, we simply click on their name and Skype places the call.  Our laptop rings like a phone.  Unless you have a built in microphone, you will also need a computer headset.  These are pretty cheap Radio Shack, CompUSA, etc.  They have two plugs, one for the microphone and one for the headphones.  We often just plug the mike in and use the computer’s speakers so both of us can hear what is being said.


We can only talk to other Skype users if they are also online.  However, we can call anyone with a regular (or cell) phone number.  We just set them up as what is called a Skype-Out contact, click on their name and once again the computer dials the number.


When we got to San Carlos last spring, we needed to make a lot of phone calls and Skype made it a lot easier.  So, if you’d like to call us for free, or any of your friends around the world for 2 cents a minute, give Skype a try.  Over 211 million people have downloaded it to date.  Just click here,


Our Skype name is: svkavenga



Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On the Road Again

We didn’t have to drive too far the day we left Gig Harbor on our way back to Mexico.  We decided to visit Mt. St. Helens as we hadn’t been there for more than ten years and thought it would be interested to see what had changed.  The Weyerhaeuser forest recovery museum was the first new thing we noticed and then the new visitor’s center at Johnston Ridge.  It was interesting that there is no monument or tribute to Mr. Johnston who lost his life as the geologist that first reported via radio that the mountain was erupting.  His parents were concerned that his name might be used for commercial purposes if they permitted any kind of public monument.  Nevertheless, the ridge and the visitor’s center bears his name and you can see why he chose the spot for his “stakeout.”


We were fortunate to arrive during an active dome-building period and even witnessed a very large steam plume that went up when a bunch of rocks fell due to uplifting of one of the three domes that are now growing within the crater.  We were surprised to see that a small glacier had formed in the crater right beside the growing domes—fire and ice side by side.


Next was a quick stop in Salem to visit Steve’s Aunt Jean.  Salem is really sprawling out in all directions and seems to grow more in Hispanic flavor every time we visit.  The RV park there near the gravel quarry and the freeway was very nice.  Having noticed that many of the RV parks offer cable TV, our willpower broke down and we bought a 15” Sylvania LCD flat screen TV for the van.  It is so light and compact that it is great for the van.  We move it all over the place depending on what we’re doing.


From Salem we decided to head over to the coast.  We spend a couple of nights at the South Beach Marina and RV Park in Newport.  Our motivation for this stop was the Marionberry French Toast breakfast at the Fish Tails Café.  Not to be missed if you are passing through Newport.


Then it was on down to Bandon, a port that we had originally hoped to call on when we sailed down on Kavenga, but the weather had other ideas and we had to keep going.  The RV Park in Bandon was cramped and aesthetically challenged but we had a nice time checking out the harbor, shops, and the cheese factory.  Steve managed to catch part of one more Mariner’s baseball game on TV here, and he also got hooked on watching the John Roberts, Supreme Court nominee hearings.


From Bandon we headed back inland  passing through Coquille and Myrtle Point.  We noted in our guide book that there was a Passport America (discount club) RV Park in Glendale, Oregon and decided to give it a try.  Meadow Wood RV park is a little bit off the beaten track, requiring a circuitous route from the freeway but we managed to find it, and although it was nearly deserted it was in a lovely spot.  Although the cable channels were limited, Steve managed to catch up with the Supreme Court nominee hearings.


When we left the following morning, we should have gotten gas when we stopped in Medford for groceries.  When we finally stopped in Yreka, California we paid over $3.00 ($3.15) for the first time.  Back in Oregon we had seen it as low as $2.65.  Fortunately, we were now getting much better gas mileage now since having gotten the van tuned up in Bremerton.  Apparently a bad O2 sensor can really hurt your mileage, because the van’s mileage improved over 30% after having a new one put in and the tune-up as well.


We stayed in a very nice park, the Friendly RV Park in Weed, California right in the shadow of Mount Shasta—quite impressive.  From here we decided to take a side trip up to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  We stayed at the Manzanita Campground near Manzanita Lake.  We still had time the day we arrived to tour the Loomis Museum which gave us the history of the volcano so that we were well prepared for what we would see the next day.


Sadly, Lassen seems a little like an aging Hollywood starlet whose time has passed her by.  After St. Helens erupted she lost her claim to being the most recently erupted volcano in the lower 48.  Nevertheless, she is still quite impressive and we enjoyed the interpretive hike through the “decimated area” that explains the sequence of events of the eruption and the distribution of rock-types that resulted.  Unlike St. Helens, it is possible for anyone with the strength and energy to climb the well maintained trail to the top of Lassen from the gift shop/café parking lot.  Unfortunately, Steve was a little under the weather that day and so we gave the 2500-foot vertical hike a pass.


We’ll pick up with the next blog on our time in the California Delta and Southern California.