ASPEN, Colo.--One thing I love is finding uses for things that perhaps no one has thought of before.
I'd already been on Road Trip 2009 for several days when I arrived in this tony Colorado mountain town known best as a playground for the rich and famous. I was hoping to go for a walk and find something good to eat.
It had been a long day of driving, starting in Colorado Springs, and traveling over Independence Pass, a 12,095 "Top of the Rockies" spot just on the Continental Divide. I had planned to stroll around Aspen for a bit and then use my iPhone to get online and find something inexpensive for dinner.
But I had neglected to charge the iPhone, and by the time I got to town, the battery was more or less dead. This is Road Trip, however, and as someone carting around a car full of high-tech gear, I was determined to find a workaround.
One of the gadgets I am road-testing is a 32GB iPod Touch, a device that, if it has access to a Wi-Fi connection, can do much of what the iPhone can do. But on a walk around a town you don't know, it's hard to count on finding such a connection, especially these days when most people password-protect their Wi-Fi.
However, I also am carrying Verizon's MiFi 2200 mobile hot spot, which converts the carrier's EV-DO signal into a Wi-Fi connection that up to five people can share. I had already used the MiFi tofor the iPod Touch at the very beginning of the trip so that, while sitting on a boarding airplane, I could download a large file from iTunes.
Now, I realized that by turning the MiFi on and sticking it in my back pocket, I could become, in essence, a walking hot spot, allowing me to get online on the iPod Touch, no matter where I was in town. That meant that I could use the Skype app to make a phone call, run several other apps for one reason or another, and look up good places to eat using the device's browser.
Of course, this is the kind of workaround that isn't going to make sense for most people. If you're going to bother paying for an iPod Touch and a MiFi, you might as well just get an iPhone. But if you're road-testing a number of tech gadgets and you see a way to jerry-rig something to solve a problem, why not do it?
It turns out that it's hard to find decent, inexpensive food in Aspen. But thanks to being able to get online while I walked around, I did end up at a terrific place where I had a good, moderately healthy meal for under $20.
And, since I became a walking hot spot, I was also able to get online on my computer, as well, meaning that I was able to actually do some work while I ate, despite the fact that the restaurant where I found that inexpensive meal didn't offer Wi-Fi.
In the end, one thing puzzled me, though. When I first linked the iPod Touch to the MiFi connection, I tried to locate myself using the device's map feature. But instead of pinpointing where I was in Aspen, it told me I was somewhere in Virginia. I thought that was odd, but I chalked it up to the fact that without a GPS chip, it figures out its location relative to the Wi-Fi signals it finds. Given that the MiFi is a loaner, I thought that maybe it had come from Virginia.
Later, however, when I returned to my car and got ready to head out, I plugged in my iPhone and again, with some power, tried to see if it, with GPS, it could locate me. Oddly, though, the iPhone also told me I was in Virginia.
My only conclusion for the fact that both devices told me this: that the folks in Aspen have figured out some way to trick Google Maps so as to keep out the hoi-polloi. But maybe it was something else. If you have any thoughts, I'd love to hear them.
For the next several weeks, Geek Gestalt will be on Road Trip 2009. After driving more than 12,000 miles in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last three years, I'll be writing about and photographing the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Colorado. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. And in the meantime, join the Road Trip 2009 Facebook page and follow my Twitter feed.