Stay connected on the road
- 10 April, 2003 08:18
A certain friend of ours (we won’t divulge his name so he can continue incognito) is a master at taking advantage of anything that comes his way to get online away from the office. Spare powerpoints are shamelessly commandeered in public airport lounges and quiet receptions to recharge batteries, and connections miraculously work every time in hotel rooms.
For most of us, attaining road warrior supremo status is just a dream. Who hasn’t got to their destination and found they’d left a crucial adapter at home? Or that the hotel’s ‘fully-featured business centre’ is little more than a dusty fax machine and a lone, ancient PC? Surely there’s a middle ground between offline and the zealous approach of the power mobile worker we described!
Thankfully, the Net has loads of information and resources to help you stay connected on the road — and keep your sanity intact.
Your first priority when travelling will be to connect to the Net. If you’re toting your notebook for this task, do your homework. A wireless network in your hotel is great, but what if your notebook lacks an 802.11b card? Similarly, be prepared to take an arsenal of power adapters and cables for all eventualities. For a guide to voltage specifications, adapters and frequencies for different countries, visit Current Solutions’ site at www.currentsolutions.com/knowledge/country_spec_a-g.htm.
As well as power adapters (and perhaps spare batteries), it pays to take extra phone cords in case the jack is in a hard-to-reach place. Call your hotel before you leave and check what amenities are in the rooms — are there data ports? What does a local call cost? What sort of phone jacks are used?
You’ll also need to check with your ISP to see if it offers global roaming (for instance, Ozemail uses iPassConnect to offer roaming); otherwise, you’ll need to make some arrangements with an ISP in the country you’ll be visiting. Of course, if you’re travelling within Australia this may not be an issue, but long-distance charges will add up if you dial into your home ISP’s network whether you’re in Bourke or Buenos Aires. You can subscribe to services like Net-roamer (www.net-roamer.com) or Gric Communications (www.gric.com) that let you keep your home ISP but use a local number when you’re away.
Of course, if you’re not keen to lug around a notebook and a case full of cables and adapters for every situation, you can always turn to a Net café. Nowadays, you’ll find cafés equipped with PCs and Net access just about everywhere.
Google’s directory has a listing of sites for finding a cybercafé (http://directory.google.com/Top/Computers/Internet/Cybercafes). You can break down results by country or try the listed general sites and databases. You can also locate a Net café using The Cybercafe Search Engine (www.cybercaptive.com) or the search tool at Cybercafes.com (www.cybercafes.com). Be flexible when using information and sites dealing with Net cafés: it’s hard to keep up to date when cafés are opening and closing all the time in this competitive market.
Checking your e-mail
If you’ve managed to get online using your notebook, you should be set to check your e-mail and carry on as usual — just remember to note your user ID, your password, and the names of your incoming and outgoing mail servers so you can check your POP3 e-mail.
If you’ve gone the Net café route, however, you will have two options. First, check with your ISP to see if it offers Web access to your POP3 e-mail. Alternatively, sign up for a free e-mail account like Hotmail (www.hotmail.com), Yahoo Mail (www.yahoo.com.au) or Excite (www.excite.com). Or check out mail2web (www.mail2web.com); this Internet based e-mail client allows you to pick up your e-mail from almost any POP3 or IMAP4 e-mail server (test it thoroughly before you leave).
Even if you don’t plan to use a free account like Hotmail or Yahoo, sign up anyway so you can use instant messaging applications. IM tools are ideal for quickly communicating with friends and co-workers back home; you know when they’re online despite any time differences. MSN Messenger (http://messenger.ninemsn.com.au), ICQ (www.icq.com), AOL Instant Messenger (www.aol.com.au) and Yahoo! Messenger 5.0 (http://au.messenger.yahoo.com) are your best bets — just check which tool your contacts are using because IM apps are notoriously uninteroperable. For more information on instant messaging, including reviews of the various products available, see PC World’s August 2002 issue (online at http://pcworld.idg.com.au — click the ‘Web and you’ icon under the PC World logo).
Some hotels are great at helping you stay in touch on the road — promptly delivering messages and faxes to your room — while others can be much less accommodating. If you don’t want to leave it to chance, you can have a fax delivered to your e-mail box.
Generally speaking, the free services will only get you a non-local number. Using eFax (www.efax.com), for instance, you can have faxes sent to your inbox for free, but to get an Australian fax number you’ll need to sign up for the paid service. You also must have a version of eFax
Messenger installed to view the fax, which will be a problem if you’re using a Net café. Callwave (www.callwave.com) offers a similar service, limited to US numbers.
If you need to send a fax rather than receive one, you could try Metro Fax (www.metrofax.net). You’ll need to register first. The OMRS Internet Fax Service (www.omrs.org.uk/fax.htm) lets you send a free fax to certain fax numbers (the ones we tried in Australia were accessible) and have a copy sent to your e-mail inbox for reference.
For a comprehensive FAQ on the topic go to www.savetz.com/fax.
Accessing files and data
Back in the good old dot-com boom days, online storage was a tool used by many travellers to store files while they were on the road — particularly backups of important information. Many of these sites have since gone bust or started charging monthly fees for the service.
This isn’t exactly a Web solution, but the avalanche of mini USB drives to hit the market recently could be the answer you’re looking for. Simply store necessary files on one of these devices and access them through any PC with a USB port. Their convenient size won’t add bulk or heft to your luggage.
Another option is to take a PDA to allow access to data on the road. Turn to this month’s In Depth on page 118 for some ideas on getting the most out of a handheld while travelling.
Save on postage
Sending postcards is so old school! If you’re going to the trouble of getting online while you’re away, take the time to quickly write up your progress at a Weblog (commonly known as a blog).
Most people use blogs on a day-to-day basis, but there’s no reason why you can’t have a specific blog for a major trip or holiday. Get a free blog setup at Blogger (www.blogger.com) and you’re ready to write up your travelogue.
Even if you use cafés for access you can still work on Web-based applications like Blogger. If you want to add photos, however, you’ll have to pay for the subscription service at Blogger.
Before hitting the road, take some time to assess your security setup. Notebooks are notoriously easy targets for thieves so it pays to take some preventative measures.
If the data your notebook contains is sensitive — personally or business-related — consider encrypting the contents in case it’s stolen or misplaced. Youcanworkfromanywhere.com, a site for teleworkers, has links to help explain how encryption works (www.youcanworkfromanywhere.com/techcenter/encryption.htm).
Companies like Targus (www.targus.com.au) and Kensington (www.kensington.com) sell locks and motion detector alarms. You may also want to consider an alternative to your regular notebook bag — one that doesn’t scream ‘I have an expensive notebook in here’.
Even if you’ve left your notebook at home, you’re not immune to potential tech-related crime. Net cafés have become targets for hackers on the lookout for online banking details and passwords. The PCs in Net cafés are used by many people downloading all kinds of software, so it’s hard to be sure that a Trojan or some other malware isn’t lurking in the system. You can ask the staff at the Net café about the antivirus and security measures, but this will give you no guarantees.
Like a lot of what makes up travelling, working with these problems is just something you have to deal with — even if you have the best that technology has to offer and you’ve done all your pre-trip planning. To the adventure of travel, just add unpredictable Net access to the usual round of late trains, surly customs officials and that noisy guy in the next row on the plane.
|Get your gear through airport security
If you’ve travelled to the US or other busy international ports since 11 September 2001, you’ll have experienced stricter security measures. No one would argue against strategies to make passengers safer, but extra scrutiny adds to the already time-consuming process of modern travel.
It doesn’t have to be an ordeal, however. The following tips might help you and your gear get to your destination with less hassle and worry.
Keep your computer turned off until you’re asked to turn it on. Opinions vary on the risks to your hard drive and data if your notebook is dropped while in Standby or Hibernate modes. In my post-9/11 travel experiences, not one security checker has asked me to turn on my equipment. So why not play it safe and fire up your computer only when asked?
Have one free hand as you approach the security checkpoint. Chances are you’ll be required to remove your notebook from its briefcase and place it on the X-ray conveyer belt. To do this, you’ll need one hand free to handle your notebook, as the other is likely to be occupied with your briefcase or rolling bag. In short: ditch that cappuccino before you get in line.
Attach coloured paper, tape, or some easily identifiable sticker to your notebook. There have been reports that, because of the stricter procedures, some business travellers are picking up the wrong notebook after passing through security — which is why tagging your computer is a good idea.
Try to keep your eyes on your equipment as much as possible. Stolen notebooks are another side-effect of the new security procedures. A typical ploy is for one thief to jump ahead of you as you’re about to pass through the metal detector and intentionally set off the alarm. In the confusion, the thief’s helper nabs your notebook.
One other thing. Before you leave home, turn off Wi-Fi (802.11) networking. Some notebooks today have built-in Wi-Fi wireless data capabilities that run whenever your computer is on — but wireless communications are prohibited on planes for safety reasons.
– James A. Martin
|Warchalking coming near you
Not many of us have had first-hand experience with the symbols that hobos used during the Depression to let each other know where a free bed or meal would be available. But Matt Jones, a British Internet product designer, resurrected those secret signs and used their basic idea to come up with a new iconography called warchalking — for use by wireless hobos.
Like the hobo signs of yore, these symbols, drawn with chalk on footpaths or buildings, alert passersby. This time, though, the goal is not food or shelter — it’s Wi-Fi broadband access. Although the genesis of warchalking was the Internet-inspired ‘free information for all’ concept — with owners of short-range 802.11b or Wi-Fi standards alerting those in need of access points — some argue the idea could take on very sinister forms. Mobile phone manufacturer Nokia has termed warchalking theft. And it’s not in good stead with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, either, which warns that unscrupulous piggybackers not only can slow down corporate systems, they could use the networks to issue spam.
Despite its detractors, warchalking looks likely to mature in the coming months. For example, the CIO for the US state of Utah is interested in using warchalking to alert 22,000 state employees to the existence of wireless networks in state office buildings and conference rooms. So far, most sightings have been in Britain (warchalking’s birthplace), New York and Seattle. Don’t be surprised if you soon see these symbols on your travels — or a patch of pavement near you. – Janice Brand