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Road Scholar:
An Airstream Traveler's Digital Diary

Photo Gallery: Steve's Southwest Adventure: Go >>

As the Airstream appears on the desert horizon, it might be mistaken for a mirage or a UFO. The aluminum trailer's modern design has a retro sci-fi look, as does its owner, an avuncular retiree named Steve Deiwert. Looking around at the bleak but majestic wilderness landscape, Deiwert gives it a bit more secret-agent intrigue by taking out a digital camera and shooting some pictures. Then he does something even more surprising for a traveler his age—he opens up his laptop computer and downloads the images.

Well, it's not exactly a mystery anymore: The RV world has joined the information age, especially with Internet access at campgrounds now. Pictures from empty nesters in national parks are now being disseminated on the Web for the benefit of family and friends eager for an update. One such content provider is Deiwert, a former aerospace engineer who tools around the country with his wife, Yoshiko, and his classic Airstream trailer. The Deiwerts like to attend jazz festivals and explore off-the-beaten-path destinations. Steve photographs everything—airport lounges, meals, sunsets—while Yoshiko, an artist, sketches. He then downloads everything into his computer, types in captions, and uploads the images onto a Web site. By going online, loved ones travel with him vicariously, even if they're thousands of miles away.

This being the Internet, Deiwert gets plenty of hits from strangers, too, some of whom put their names in the guest book he has provided. "I get a lot of visitors from places that you wouldn't expect," he says. "They're searching and key in on certain words, like either the place I visited or the Airstream itself."

Deiwert, whose specialty was aerothermodynamics ("Air gets very hot," he says, when you're going many times the speed of sound), worked on a system called the Arpanet, the military/educational precursor to the Internet. He says the "node" he worked on 30 years ago employed dozens of parallel computers. Now his laptop has more power than all those combined. "Things have really moved fast," he says dryly.

Fortunately for his viewers, Deiwert is not a technophile. He uses digital tools to communicate, enlighten, and entertain, and he has a keen eye for the surreal. That's certainly evident in his pictures of an abandoned bombing range near the Salton Sea, California, where people live in everything from multimillion-dollar motor homes to slapped-together trailers. An area nearby was flooded shortly before he visited; there's something end-of-the-world about the photos Deiwert took of the half-submerged homes.

As these images suggest, Deiwert is particularly fond of the American Southwest. "I like to go there and discover these strange things that you would never think of," he says. "National parks are great for the scenery, but you've got the crowds and traffic to deal with. So it's not the same relaxing feeling that you get in the desert."

In addition to his domestic travels, Deiwert and his wife fly to Japan every couple of years to visit her relatives, a journey that Deiwert painstakingly chronicles like an anthropology student (he specializes in food and food preparation). A picture from one of these trips shows a man feeding a pet beetle. The image is both exotic and amusing, a digital postcard of everyday life in Japan.

Back home, Deiwert's relationship with technology is not confined to documenting his travels. He builds Web pages for friends, and he's the webmaster of several sites (meaning he inputs data and uploads images), including those of art galleries, his local Airstream Web site, and his wife's Web site, which features—and sells—her paintings. Images from his trips can be sampled on Deiwert's Web site.

Given Deiwert's background, it's easy to assume that his digital doings are beyond the abilities of most people, especially those in his age group, who didn't grow up with computers. In fact, he only became Net savvy when everyone else did, around the mid-'90s. The key, he says, is that "I wasn't intimidated by computers. Computers are easy to work with."

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Steve Deiwert

The Share Essentials
You don't have to be a scientist such as Steve Deiwert to get the most out of digital photography. The equipment is simple to master and produces images you can share with loved ones even while you're on the road.
Sony Mavica
Digital Camera
Perhaps the biggest advantage of digital photography is its flexibility. Once you download snapshots into a computer, you can edit them, touch them up, e-mail them to friends, print them out or even display them on a TV. Hook-ups are generally simple, but when you're traveling, nothing is easier than having your camera save its images onto a standard three-inch CD, the way the Sony Mavica® MVC-CD250 digital camera does. The CD is the perfect storage medium in which to keep your pictures safe and organized, and the disc slips into most any laptop.
Digital Camcorder
You can create short clips (mpegs) from the videos you shoot with a digital camcorder, then download them into a computer as e-mail–ready files—perfect for on-the-road communication. And with an Internet connection plus the included USB cable, a camcorder such as Sony's DCR-TRV27 can "stream" the video you've just shot, so you can share a view of the sun setting over the Grand Canyon when you connect back at the campground.
Pack the right laptop with you on your trip and your options for creating a visual diary are virtually unlimited. The editing software on the Sony VAIO® NV170 notebook, for example, is especially user-friendly. Send the photo album you've created over the Web for some instantaneous feedback, or back at home, play it on a VAIO® RX790G desktop, and the extraordinary quality of its speakers will bring the roar of that Rocky Mountain grizzly vividly back to life.
The Web
You don't have to rely just on e-mails to keep in touch on the road. Images from your trip can be stored, displayed and continually updated on Sony's free Web service Friends and family can view your pictures (and order prints) even faster and more conveniently than if you'd sent e-mail attachments. It's like having your own Web site—without all the work.

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