Trek tech: technology and mountain walking

I’m no techno-geek but nor am I a Luddite. Decades ago in the office where I worked, I was one of the first to embrace word processing, the first below director level to have a corporate e-mail address and correspond electronically in nano-seconds.  More recently, I was the first to buy a washing machine sized colour laser printer to produce thick documents JIT, slicing chunks off the printing budget. I could blow my own trumpet ad nauseam about my willingness to embrace IT.  In fact I guess I probably just did. I was never bright enough to be at the cutting edge of technology but switched on enough to learn from those who were.  

However, I drew the line at mobile phones.  I simply didn’t want to be on the end of the line at all times and in all places.  At first it was simply the multiple loud mouthed “I’m on the train” reverberating down the carriage.  It degenerated from there.  The guy walking along the street shouting and gesticulating wildly may not be mad, simply in a business discussion.  The attractive girl who smiles and says “Hi!!” is almost certainly not addressing me.  Don’t those prats realise that the sound of tinkling is a dead giveaway to their interlocutor that they are in the loo with the phone precariously balanced between shoulder and ear, in danger of being dropped into the porcelain !?!?!?!?!

With a nice irony, about 6 years ago I inherited an ‘old’ mobile phone from my son and heir.  His contract expired so the phone, an ‘SPV M3100’ once the trendy thing to have with a slide-out keyboard, became junk and he received a new one.  This was a techno revolution for me because, to be fair, it did prove to be very useful, not as a phone but as a palm-top computer for making notes when I was wandering around the mountains researching the Greek Island Walks.  Previously I had scribbled notes on crumpled bits of increasingly sweaty paper.  Now, GPS references tapped in from my old Garmin and terse notes and directions were downloaded into my netbook back at the hotel via Bluetooth or a micro-SD card and then turned into proper English before combining with photos and construction of a PDF version for the internet.  The phone had a built-in camera too, though at only 2 megapixel resolution I preferred to use my 12 megapixel Canon.  Hi tech stuff!

I used that SPV extensively when I spent the summer in Greece in 2010, so much so that much of the research remains to be written up.  As a phone it had a very memorable number, which my son regretted not having transferred to his new model.  However, for use outside the UK it cost an arm and a leg.  At that time calls back to the UK or even within Greece from a UK-based phone cost just short of £1 a minute.  Idiotic when calling someone on the next island or even in the next alleyway.  It therefore fell into disuse as a phone and eventually I stopped using it to record data because I had such a backlog to write up.

Before I went to Greece for the summer in 2010 I bought the cheapest Pay As You Go SIM-free phone I could find, £8 plus £10 credit with one of the networks.  It’s just a basic phone, no camera, no note-making facility, but for some weird reason it has a built-in torch, as if some kind of add-on was imperative to make it saleable.  The reason I bought it?  Simple.  I could buy a Greek SIM card and use that.

I bought the SIM card in Athens which is a story in itself, there being a convoluted multi-stage form filling and validation process.  One requirement was an address in Greece and though I was renting a house, that didn’t overcome the problem – there are no street names or house numbers on Symi so no addresses, only rentable box-numbers at the post office.  I made up an address.  As a phone it works fine, though it is a bit irritating if it rings when I’m clinging by my fingertips to a rockface and it turns out to be a ‘Welcome to Turkey’ text from across the narrow channel separating the two countries (genuinely. that has happened a few times).  Because it’s Pay As You Go there is also a convoluted process for buying more credit.  But that again is another story.  The fact that it is 3 years since I rented the house is thankfully not an issue

I was climbing a crag to a vantage point with camera slung on my back to take this photo when the phone rang .... a welcome message from Turkey just across the water.

I was climbing a crag to a vantage point with camera slung on my back to take this photo when the phone rang …. a ‘Welcome to Turkey’ message from just across the water.

I use it infrequently but one advantage of carrying it is that it sets at rest the minds of those concerned that I may come a cropper wandering the mountains on my own.  Truth be told, my own mind is set at ease more by carrying it when I’m walking with other people whose capabilities I don’t know.  Regretfully, often forget to charge it.

Now I’m on the brink of another techno-revolution.  A couple I walked with on Nisyros carried smart phones with an app (I hate that abbreviation which has now become a word in its own right) which uses GPS to log your track, calculate how far you have walked and your speed and transfer it onto a map or satellite-image base.

A bit of research when I arrived home and I find that, as well as having GPS capability as standard,  now there are smart phones with a 42 megapixel camera and which allow text to be associated with the images.  In short, a new ‘phone’ sounds perfect for updating Greek Island Walks and compiling new ones.  I thought it time I should take the plunge.

Which brings me to the last couple of grey weeks when decent walking opportunities have been limited.  I’ve researched and homed in on a make and model of phone, concluding that 20 megpixel resolution is good enough for my needs.  I’ve checked out rental packages with various networks balancing my estimated need for ‘texts’, ‘minutes’ and ‘data’. And I thought it would be good to sign up to a package and transfer the memorable number from my SPV M3100.  That’s when I hit a brick wall.

Because I hadn’t used it as a phone for a couple of years the (limited amount of) credit on it had disappeared into corporate coffers but, more problematically, when I tried to put more credit on it, I found that the number had been discontinued.  Enquiries in several mobile phone shops including those of the network provider produced a blank. One epic conversation ran roughly as follows:

I have one of your phones and the number has been discontinued.  Please can I have it reactivated.

If it’s more than 6 months it can’t be done.

Why not?  The number hasn’t been given to anyone else, I have dialled it.

It’s gone into recycling.

What does recycling mean?   

It’s what happens when the number is discontinued, it goes into recycling.

But what does recycling mean?

It means it’s been recycled.

Yes, but……………….

I have missed out several reiterations of this circular question-and-answer session before we moved forward … or not!

Well, recycling is where they change one or two of the numbers and then re-issue it.

But if they have changed any of the digits it’s a different number.  I want the same number back.

No, they change some of the numbers and reissue it.

At that point I gave up and staggered out of the shop, my brain disintegrating with the speed of the verbal centrifuge, in danger of disappearing down the plug hole.

I wasn’t prepared to give up.  I looked up contact phone numbers on the network’s website and tried ringing those which seemed appropriate, only to find that I couldn’t get beyond the first recorded menu because in order to proceed I had to enter the number of my mobile phone, which of course I couldn’t as it has been discontinued.

Fortunately my hair is short and I couldn’t get a grip on it, otherwise I would by then have been bald, tearing it out in frustration. Eventually I decided to phone the ‘New Sales’ number which was, as is so often the case, quick to reply and free of charge.  I outlined what I wanted, explaining that it was good number, easy to remember, which was why I wanted to retain it.  The young girl took a few details, asked me for the ICCID number on the SIM card, called up my records on the computer and then transferred me to someone she said could help me.

The next young girl asked security questions, thankfully excluding such daft things as ‘name of first pet’, tapped away for a few seconds and said …….. unfortunately it’s not there.  I accepted the verdict from this girl and her colleague because it was clear that they understood the process and did their best to sort it out.

Then she said “I can give you a new number”.  I was resigned to it by now and just wanted the phone reactivating, so I glumly agreed.

“Can I check the number again” she said.


“XXX YY ZZZ 50.  Is that OK for you?”

“That’s great, thank you”.

If you could give someone a hug or a bunch of flowers over the phone, I would have done so and worried about the political inappropriateness later.

All I have to do now is buy a new phone and transfer the number.  Aaaagh!

This entry was posted in Greece, Grey Britain, Grumpy Old Men, Health and humour, Hiking, Mountains, new technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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