Now this isn't intended to be a running endorsement of all things Apple, but credit where its due, I've been blown away by where the technology is at. I wanted this to be a device to help in my research, hoping to scan documents and articles, have easy access to translation software and navigate around the city whenever an available cafe with free WiFi was in easy reach.
What I didn't expect was the ability to scan Russian texts, to be sent through free online OCR software for (almost) perfect translation, free WiFi across the city centre (take note London!) and Google Translate to provide speech recognition in Russian for immediate translation.
Suddenly I can watch TV and get on the spot translations of words overheard but not understood (the title of this post comes from a TV program I tried this very thing on - 'The Miracle of Technology'. Seemed rather apt). I've Skyped on the go to check in with friends back home while making dinner (timer set in the background to make sure my pasta still comes out al dente). My journey on the metro can include catching up on downloaded PDFs with the added ability to immediately follow up an archival reference as I emerge on Nevsky Prospect and connect to the free WiFi.
What really sealed the deal however was when I discovered a slight flaw in my research plans for this trip. Unfortunately I failed to anticipate the main archive I was intending to work - returning after my earlier explorations in December - had opted to take its summer closure period in June and early July! This was a new one for me. I simply did not anticipate any archive closing before August or September. I should have emailed, I should called, I should have remembered this is Russia, but I didn't.
Here's where my new gadget saved the day.
Feeling low and dejected I wandered over to the city centre to salvage my morning by registering my arrival with the authorities and visiting some of the sights. The weather was warm, humid but very wet. It matched my rather sullen and overcast mood at this point. Things didn't exactly improve when I turned up outside the Hermitage and realised that was closed on Mondays (its been a while!). Never fear, I had free internet and in a flash of inspiration decided to turn things around by co-ordinating my movements for the next week. I needed a target. I knew I needed access to newspapers and if I couldn't get them from the archive, how about the state library? Bingo. Website found, location tracked on Google Maps, I was on my way.
Things suddenly brightened up. Weather included. In the space of about an hour I'd tracked down the reading room for newspapers, spoken to nice lady who directed me to the main building for registration - requiring the immigration document I would collect tomorrow - and pointed out the summer opening times of the rest of the library (I photographed them for future reference).
Mission accomplished. I spent the rest of the day tracking down a local sporting goods store to buy a basketball - I found a freshly painted local court via the satellite view on Google Maps yesterday - and later took a conference call on Skype from Bart, the course co-ordinator, to switch on the electric boiler (aided by an online instruction video I could still play with my head behind the fridge).
How's that for progress?