Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Emergency Assistance Apps for iPhone

It's summer and the living is... well business travelers tend to hate summers because all of the leisure travelers are out and about. It's not that we begrudge them their vacations, it's just that they don't always know "the rules," like not overstuffing their carry-ons such that others cannot get their bags in the overhead compartment.

It's also the time when emergencies are more likely to happen. With inexperienced travelers around who are not prepared for the extra exertions involved in moving themselves and their possessions from place to place, you may find yourself within the vicinity of an emergency situation. Or it might be YOU in that situation. This month I'm reviewing two apps that are worth having on your iPhone: one that covers basic First Aid, and the second that helps store your emergency contact and medical information.

It's Happening: Do You Need Help?

Eighteen months ago, a family member had a medical incident that left us shaken and stirred. (That person has recovered well, thanks for asking.) The first-responders were spectacular, by the way! I knew where to find the medications to show them, but was uncertain of what was taken when. I have remedied that situation. I was glad to be right there when needed, but it of course got me thinking about who would look after me if something happened to me on the road?

That's where this application comes in:

The In Case of Emergency app lets you store crucial medical information about yourself that can help first-responders when you cannot tell them about yourself.

I went ahead and purchased the full version at US$1.99, and the application asked to use my location information. Given that it can help me find a hospital nearby if I need it, I allowed it access. I then filled in the information, after accepting their Terms of Service. There was a place for my emergency contact, my doctor's name and number, and my health insurance policy information, along with any medications that I might need or allergies I had.

I admit to being a bit hesitant about storing this information; like so much other content on my phone, I would not want this falling into the wrong hands. So bear that in mind and always keep good track of your phone!

It's Happening: How Can You Help?

The other situation you might encounter is another traveler needing help. Of course, we all hope that there is a doctor nearby, but if someone's in trouble and you choose to help, there are apps that can provide First Aid information when you need it.

This is the app that got my attention:

The Pocket First Aid and CPR from the American Heart Association includes basic instructions on performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a video demonstration. This is life-saving information that you can use, or that others can use on you.

The app also lets you store medical profiles on family members, which is the other reason why I like the application. This app is perfect for parents who need to keep track of kids and adult children of parents who need care-giving. As with the other application, please treat this information with the greatest care, and keep your phone safe.

Have you found emergency and medical applications that are useful to you? Visit my blog at and leave a comment, and I will include it a future newsletter.
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Newsletter: TripAdvisor's Kindle Travel Guide App

I don't walk around wearing my Toolie® the Travel Guide T-Shirt, but people seem to naturally gravitate towards me to ask directions. I was on my way to my commuter bus in Downtown Seattle today when I noticed two senior couples consulting the posted schedule at my stop. It turns out they were waiting for the same bus I planned to ride, so I spoke up to confirm (thanks to my iPhone real-time bus information app) that the bus was 2 minutes away. The two couples plus some younger family members were in town for a wedding.

As I looked up the bus schedule, I thought about using my Kindle to look up additional information for them, but realized that I would have a hard time connecting to WiFi while out on the sidewalk. That's why finding today's travel guide app is particularly pleasing; it doesn't rely on WiFi to provide travel information on an ongoing basis.

Android/Kindle Travel App: TripAdvisor

Yes, the same website you may rely on for grass-roots travel reviews has a travel guide app that you can put on your Android-based device. In my case, I downloaded the free app onto my Kindle Fire HD 7" device. I'm really pleased with the 7" device because it's the perfect size for slipping into a purse or fanny pack.

First the app installed itself, then it informed me that there was content to download based on the fact that I had searched for a Seattle travel guide. I tapped the button, and it began downloading the Seattle map, restaurant, hotel, attractions, shopping, and tour info; that all took about 5 minutes over my home WiFi connection.

While I the content was downloading, I took a minute to read the reviews of the app itself on the Kindle Store. Apparently 2 of the reviewers were unaware of how TripAdvisor works, citing the "grass roots" nature of the content. That feature, in fact, is what makes TripAvisor a favorite for many people; it is "regular folks" who are writing the reviews. Besides, how can you complain about a free app that has such nice features?

All the Standard Information ... Plus!

In addition to sections for restaurant, hotels, attractions, etc., TripAdvisor provides a place for you to write reviews that contribute to the overall content and upload a photo you've taken.

The size of the Kindle makes reading and interacting with the app pretty easy. What I appreciate most about this app is that it will work offline as well as on WiFi. You don't have to have a device with a data connection all the time just to read the information.

Synchronize to the TripAdvisor Servers

If you create a Travel Journal through their app, you can synchronize the information with your TripAdvisor account online. The TripAdvisor website had been overhauled since I last used it, so I had to sign up for an account again, but I did that on my laptop, and was able to immediately sign in on my Kindle. I also had the option to sign in with my Facebook username and password if preferred.

I tapped the Sync button and the app showed me that the My Trip Content, Map, Reviews, and Photos had all been synchronized in the last hour. It is a pretty clever way for TripAdvisor to expand their content with your help, but also protects the information you've collected for your own use.

Relying on Crowd-sourced Information

The Internet has truly revolutionized how we communicate with each other, and the availability of high-power devices with lots of storage means that we can take the Internet with us. I have to admit that as a travel professional, I'm unwilling to completely rely on travel information that is not written by other professionals. However, with any Internet-based information, it's always a good idea to cross-check your information against multiple sources. What users of TripAdvisor think is a great place to stay might not fit your definition of a great place to stay.

My last experience with relying on TripAdvisor was mixed; I got a great deal on the room in Liechtenstein City where I stayed a few years back, but it was the closest to going camping I've experienced since the 1980s. Yes, the room was clean and available, but it was sorely lacking in the amenities I relied upon at the time.

It was a tough choice: there was very little travel information available at that time about places to stay in Liechtenstein City, so I went for it. That doesn't mean you'll suffer the same fate I did when using TripAdvisor. A LOT has changed in the last 5 years: up-to-date travel information is much more readily available. Just double-check against professional sources and use your own judgement.
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Newsletter: Encounter with a Kindle Fire HD

My contract with Amazon Web Services has given me a unique view into the world of corporate computing.  I don't interact with the Amazon retail side of the business, but I have found myself visiting the company Kindle store to download the AWS documentation.  That was the first time I ever thought about owning a Kindle.

Pondering the Tablet

You don't have to have a Kindle device to read books formatted for Kindle.  You can download free software from the website to run on a Mac or PC.  The first Kindle book I ever bought was a technical book that I needed in less time than it would take for the book to be shipped to me.  After that I was hooked.

Because I'm working on a book about AWS, I started reading the AWS documentation on my home laptop, then on my iPhone.  As time passed I began considering purchasing a Kindle.  McAlister and I had talked about getting a pair of iPads, but the one thing I wanted for myself that an iPad wouldn't get for me was access to the Kindle Lending Library.  If you own a Kindle device and you're an Amazon Prime member, you can check books out (new books in Kindle format) of their Kindle owners' library for free.  This is made possible by a program that Kindle authors can join that requires the author to allow the book to be borrowed for a brief time.  It's wonderful exposure for the authors, and a great benefit of being a Kindle device owner.

Ah well.  Having a Kindle was not in the budget.

McAlister Goes Rogue

The day after Christmas McAlister admitted that I had one more present coming to me: a Kindle Fire HD 7" device.  I shrieked with joy!  He wasn't supposed to spend that much on my presents, but of course, I didn't decline his generosity.  The Kindle of Joy arrived last Friday (3 days ago).  We had plans for the evening, but given its petite size, the Kindle slipped nicely into my purse and kept me company while we were in the car.

Enter the Tablet

While in transit to our evening activity, the first thing I noticed was how much I had come to depend on Internet access independent of indoor wireless access on my wireless devices (the iPhone).  In other words, my Kindle didn't have a cell phone connection so that I could keep browsing.  Ah!  Must plan ahead.

The next thing I noticed was the substantial difference between the operating systems on the iPhone and the Kindle (Android).  These are two competing operating systems that do use similar enough user actions that I was able to adapt quickly.  To unlock the Kindle you sweep your finger over the log from right to left, instead of left to right, etc. The menus worked differently, but the icons were easy to decode.

I tried pairing the device with my Verbatim Bluetooth Keyboard; that worked like a charm.  Later that evening I spent $12 on reasonably good office suite software so that I could author documents on the Kindle, not just read them.  If I do enough writing on the Kindle I'll eventually pay for a wireless printing app so that I don't have to rely on Google Print (sending my documents through their servers -- no thanks).

Audio, Video, and the Form Factor

A 7" (diagonal screen size) device is just right for slipping into a computer bag or large purse.  I can still pick it up with one hand, though, which is helpful.  What I find truly amazing though is the SOUND coming out of that device!  It has small built-in speakers that deliver terrific audio.  It does have a headphone jack so you can use external speakers, but really, there's no need.  The video is crystal- clear.  So far I have watched only Amazon conference videos (did you forget I'm a geek?), but don't worry, the Amazon Instant Video library is calling my name.  As a Prime member, I get access to video-on-demand through my Kindle, with hundreds of titles available to watch for FREE.  I'm also a movie buff, so I'm ecstatic about that!

The only thing missing right now is a case for the Kindle.  As with any other small electronic device, there are a myriad of cases for the Kindle, but be careful that you buy one specifically for the Kindle you own.  Initially I ordered the wrong thing and I barely managed to cancel the order in time.  The right case arrives Thursday or Friday.

The Screen Gang

So for the last few evenings, I have picked up my iPhone AND my Kindle and taken them upstairs with me at the end of my workday.  (I feel like a Mom herding her electronic children.)  Will the Kindle go everywhere with me?  No, probably not, simply because of the size of the device.  But hey, it's only been 3 days, what do I know?  I can say definitively that since I commute to work for 30 minutes each way using mass transit, I will be taking it with me to read on the way.

What small tablet or reader do you own?  Which ones would you like to own?  Leave your comments below.

Happy New Year to You!


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Newsletter - 6 Hotel Booking Apps for iPhone

Happy New Year to you all!  I hope that the year is progressing as you would have to be, including all of the business travel you enjoy.

Having fallen in love with my iPhone at this point, I've decided to periodically review groups of iPhone apps that are applicable to business travelers.  My interest in reviewing apps is not just about the deals you'll find, but how easy the apps are to use.

This month I'm reviewing a hotel booking apps that are tied to major travel websites whose names you'll recognize.  I was prompted to pursue this idea by a hotel booking advertisement on TV that features two skydivers booking their hotel reservations just after jumping from their plane.  While we get to stay on airplanes until they land, I thought the metaphor of booking one's hotel room while "flying" through the airport to grab a cab was appropriate.  Can I thumb-tap my way through the booking app while dragging my bags to the taxi stand?

The apps I have chosen to review are for aggregator sites.  As a business traveler I don't usually use this type of site to book travel, unless I'm on a spontaneous or previously unplanned trip, where finding a deal on a hotel immediately is more important than finding a specific hotel in a particular neighborhood.

Six Hotel Booking Apps for iPhone

What startled me most about comparing these 6 apps is the wide variety of what they assume are traveler priorities.  This means that home screen layouts, navigation buttons, and how quickly one arrives at search results varies widely.  I've listed as bullet points the aspects of each app that made an impression as I tapped my way through them.

Note: these apps are mobile versions of websites that aggregate listings from multiple hotel sources, not apps for specific hotels.  I'll review hotel-specific apps in a future newsletter.

The app took 45 seconds to configure itself before displaying information the first time.  The app immediately asked to use my current GPS location.  Has Tonight's Local Deals button on home screen Easy to filter by name, price range, rating, etc. Easy to sort by rating, distance from current location, guest ratings, etc. Regular search picks up current location, assumes 1 person for 1 night, but it's easy to increase the number of nights, rooms, and people with a quick screen tap.  Results viewable as a list or as map locations.  Sign-in available to your existing account, or sign up on your iPhone.

The app took 30 seconds to configure itself.  It asks to use your current location via GPS but doesn't show local deals as a result.  Clicking the map locator button will then show local deals.  The app has 3 main navigation buttons:

- Negotiate: gets you prices for hotel rooms and the areas where they're available.

- Radar: this feature (including a pinging sound) shows recent winning bids in the area and their prices.

- Browse gets you prices and locations for a "book immediately" option as opposed to bidding blindly.  You can filter by popularity, star rating, and neighborhood.  Prices shown are before local taxes.  Sign-in makes booking go more quickly, but booking without sign-in is available.  The home screen also has a car deals button.

The app takes about 30 seconds to configure itself.  It asks to detect and use your current GPS location.  The app immediately starts with requirements: assumes check-in date is today for 1 night, 1 person, 1 room, all easy to change from drop-down lists.  Shows number of results, then asks to list by price, star ratings; to filter by neighborhood or amenities.  No photos: this is a blind search.  When selecting by star rating, it shows price and neighborhood, but no hotel name or photo.  Amenities are listed.

The app took 15 seconds to configure itself.  The app immediately asked to use GPS Showed hotel availability first based on GPS location rather than asking any details; 1 night, 1 person assumed, but buttons there to change those details.  Names, photos, ratings and prices are all immediately visible Sort and filter available Same list viewable as pins on a map Nice size photo slideshows; link to reviews on same screen Red pins indicate that prices are currently discounted

Didn't ask first for GPS, asked to send "push" notifications: alerts, sounds, and icon badges.  The app includes search for hotels, flights, cars, and a flight tracker.  The Hotel search came up with Los Angeles as the starting city, but when I challenged the location by tapping on the name, THEN it offered a GPS fix as an option.  The search assumed 1 person/night/bed.  The remainder of the list included thumbnail photos, prices, locations, and star ratings.  Buttons include Filter, Sort, Map, and Compare.  Filtering by stars meant UN-checking the star ratings you don't want to see.  Filtering options included price, brands, and name but NOT location!  I was seeing Seattle hotels despite my Bellevue specification, and there are 15 miles and a body of water in between the two cities.  Half of the results listed were links to Hotwire deals.

The app took 15 seconds to configure itself.  The app asked to use GPS fix, and asked to send Push notifications.  This site relies heavily on user ratings.  Search menu options include hotels, restaurants, things to do, flights and a link to their user forum as a link to write a review.  Home screen buttons include Home, Near Me Now, and Faves buttons, with the search box at the top.  Hotel search asked for city, zip, address, or the option to use a checkbox called Near Me Now.  Ratings take precedence -- links in hotel listings also to guest ratings are right there on the same screen.  Checking rates brings up tabs for,,,, the hotel's website,, and, each with their own deals listed.  Not all sites showed the details for the hotel you select; some provided their own listings for other hotels instead.  I would use this for ratings, but probably not for directly booking the room, since TripAdvisor is only a ratings service NOT a booking agent.

From a usability standpoint, I think the mobile site has the best, most compact design.  I found it easy to, with one or two taps, find a deal for the night.

Got a favorite travel app for iPhone, Android, or other smart phone?  Use the comment section on post to tell me which apps you like to use.
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Newsletter: The iPhone Productivity Project

Well, I've made it through the first month with the iPhone, and so far we're getting along. I've not been this deep into Fruit Territory in a long, long time. I'm a Windows geek, not an Apple devotee, but I'm willing to adapt. <grin>

Part of the reason for switching to the iPhone at this point was because I needed to use text messaging a lot for my consulting, and the old Windows Mobile phone was dying on me. The iPhone has a nice interface for text messaging, but I keep sending all kinds of odd messages because I "fat-finger" that tiny keyboard.

Computing Before There Were Mice

Yes, Virginia, there was a time when computers did NOT have a mouse driving the interface. In fact was a little over 20 years ago that Windows 3.1 came out, and I knew that computing would change forever. Yes, I know that both Microsoft and Apple had a mouse well before that, but because of the pervasiveness/market share of Windows, the arrival of a decent Windows mouse-driven interface, the culture shifted radically.

To this day, I'm a two-fisted computer user: I regularly use keyboard shortcuts with the mouse to write and move around the interface quickly. In fact I urge my clients to use these shortcuts because they're concentrated where you type with your left hand. I'm taking about the usual Ctrl+S for Save, Ctrl+C for Copy, Ctrl+V for paste, and so on. You'd be surprised how many people do NOT use them!

With all of this background information I am leading up to the punch line: I bought a mini-keyboard for my iPhone. Now before you fall off your chair with laughter, hear me out.

I'm sitting at a desk a lot these days, so text messaging with colleagues and clients means picking up the phone and trying to aim at that tiny keyboard with hands that can easily play octaves on the piano. I was not blessed with dainty fingers, I was blessed with pianist's fingers. So that frustration lead me to conclude that finding some kind of thumb keyboard would be a good idea for me.

I haven't yet bought a hard, protective case for the phone, so the first keyboard I looked at was attached to a hard case. That would make the phone and keyboard function as one item instead of two. I ordered the TK-421 Bluetooth Keyboard/Case from for iPhone 3GS.


This particular keyboard appealed to me because it had a thumb-style size and functionality. The problem was that the keyboard swiveled out from underneath instead of opening like a clamshell. The keyboard itself was lighter than the phone, so it kept falling forward out of my hands. I had a hard time turning the keyboard's Bluetooth on, though pairing happened quite easily. After working with the keyboard for 24 hours or so, I went shopping again.

I found that the keyboard portion was available separately from several vendors, but I just didn't like that keyboard at all, separate or attached. After exhausting all the possibilities in the $35 price range, I decide to move up in size and cost, and I ordered the Verbatim Bluetooth keyboard from

This keyboard is bigger than the phone; in fact the keys are almost full-size with a few exceptions. It comes with its own case, but it's small enough to fit in my purse on the go. What's REALLY fun is that hidden in the keyboard's case is a fold-out stand for the iPhone that holds it in a suitable position for viewing while typing.

Turning the keyboard on is quite easy, pairing with the iPhone is a no-brainer, and with a little concentration, I can type quite quickly for emails, text messages, and writing my book.

Writing My Book on the iPhone

Yes, I am writing a book. Will I write it entirely on the iPhone? Probably not. But, having the keyboard with the iPhone turns it from a text-messaging machine to a mini-computer capable of capturing my chapters without breaking a sweat. I visited the iTunes App Store and found a simple word processing application that cost me US$3.99.

Because I write for the Internet, I'm used to using a text-only word processor. I write more quickly that way anyway since I'm not fiddling with formatting, so having an iPhone word processor that lets me put in bulleted lists and bold text is just fine! It interoperates with Word 2003-2010, so I can sync with my desktop and use the files there.

Typing with the iPhone on an Airplane

If you think that first-class passengers have more room on their tray tables for their laptops, let me correct this notion immediately! Maybe it's just me, but I always seem to end up behind the traveler who has decided to kick back. They recline all the way in celebration of their spacious seat, and whatever hope I had for opening my laptop quickly goes away. But there WOULD be room for my iPhone and this mini-keyboard, even in Coach. Just imagining this wonderful scenario gave me hope of recovering all those lost minutes we spend in transit, without having to boot up the laptop!

For Me It's iPhone Productivity Anywhere

I have a consulting contract now that sometimes has me hanging around waiting for meetings. I didn't dare bring my Toolie business laptop to the consulting location, but I could pull out my iPhone and keyboard and none would be the wiser! I also think about returning to my satellite office (the local Red Robin) to do my planning sessions because I can access my client management website with my iPhone and keyboard. This particular Red Robin doesn't have wireless Internet (yet), but I do get a cell signal, so I can fire up the iPhone and get answers when I need them.

OK, Maybe One More Accessory

I admit that the iPhone screen is pretty small -- not the best for writing, but if I could get the phone up to eye level, that would be really helpful. Apparently a few other people had the same idea, because I found this accessory online.


This iLevel clamp-on stand wouldn't fit in my purse, but it would fit in carry-on luggage quite nicely. And on the treadmill. And on my desk. I haven't bought it yet -- I still feel silly trying to use the iPhone as a mini-computer. But those feelings will probably change as I embrace my iPhone Productivity Project and the possibility of actually getting my book written!

Do you use a keyboard with your iPhone? Tell us about it in your comments below.
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