Exploring the world with Ubuntu

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Oleksiy Mark, 123RF

Oleksiy Mark, 123RF

The Great Outdoors

Just because you're a geek, that doesn't mean you can't enjoy going out into the open. Fortunately, Ubuntu can bring you the best of both the virtual and real worlds.

Back in 1991, my girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to go to Rome on holidays. If you're from the south of Spain, you probably have very strong family ties, and phoning your mom at least once a day is the norm. And, if you're from a small rural village, for some reason, you have an innate suspicion of hotels.

My wife is both.

As soon as we landed, she announced she had to phone home, and she refused to do so from the hotel, because, she said, they'd rip us off. In her eyes, a public phone booth would be much safer.

Back in the day, before the euro, Italy used lires for their currency. One lire was something like US$ 0.0007. We figured we'd need quite a lot of coins to phone all the way back to Spain; so, the moment we got through customs, we started collecting change. We spent the first sunny afternoon in the Eternal City buying ice cream, drinking espressos, and doing touristy stuff, while all the time dropping the 10-, 20-, and 50-lire pieces we got from our change in a plastic bag we carried around everywhere.

After a couple of hours, it started to look like a swag bag a cartoon thief would carry around, and we started the hunt for a public phone. The first one we came across only had a slot for a prepaid card. Ah, there's an idea. But, we didn't have a clue of where we could purchase such a thing. Did you get them from a post office like in the UK? Or a tobacconist's like in Spain? What does an Italian tobacconist look like, anyway? Too embarrassed to ask any of the busy and brusque-looking Romans we met, we decided to continue our quest on our own.

The next phone we found didn't take coins either. Or the next, or the next. By this time, we had strayed several miles from the city center, so we consulted our map and discovered we were only a couple of blocks away from the Stazione Termini train station. Surely there would be plenty of public phones there, and some would take coins. The Stazione, it turns out, is surprisingly ugly, completely at odds with an otherwise beautiful city. It is also huge.

We finally came across a long row of phones and were dismayed that all of them were card-only. At that point my impatience got the better of me, and I stomped over to a small stall that announced "Tabaco" on the front of it. After the obligatory bon giornos , "Why," I demanded, "aren't there any phone booths in the whole of Rome that will take coins?"

I guess I deserved the "crazy foreigner" look the stallholder threw me. "But, signore," he said, "that would be insane. You'd need… I don't know… a big bag full of coins to phone anywhere."

Exploring the world has definitely changed. When you travel now, you don't lug along a map, a guide book, bulky camera, and, in our case, a heavy bag of coins anymore. You take a slim sliver of hi-tech equipment that you carry around in your pocket and you're done.

You can plan your trip on your computer, transfer your itinerary to your phone, use satellite location technology if you're lost, or use it to register where exactly you took your pics or filmed your video. And, of course, you can use your cell to phone home. Then, when you get back, you can use your computer again to organize your photos into a coherent story of your adventures.

All this makes for nice, stress-free travelling, and Ubuntu, as you will see in the following pages, can certainly help you on your way. But, I still reminisce from time to time about our trip to Rome and our epic, but dumb hunt for a public phone.

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