PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY WITH STEPHEN J. HARHAI
I know that some folks are loathe to think about work while on vacation and wouldn’t dream of taking along a computer, let alone scheduling work into precious time off. But most of the time I don’t mind mixing a little business with pleasure, particularly since it enables me to spend more time in wonderful places.
When I’m heading out of town for a week or more, I prefer to keep up with the essential stuff in small doses rather than be deluged when I get back. As a bonus, I find that my thought process walking through a secluded valley or swimming in a tropical bay takes unexpected creative turns that give new insights into difficult problems.
Make a List and Check It Twice
While it isn’t always simple to hook up on the road, it has gotten much easier. I was amazed to find on a trip last year that I could access my electronic office connection from Volcano House on the edge of Kilauea Crater in Hawaii. It really is practical to stay connected almost anywhere in the developed world.
The minimum necessity is a phone line. Once the only way to get on the Internet, dial-up modem access is still the mainstay for most users. The large Internet service providers have local numbers accessible almost everywhere in the United States. If you get so remote that there is no local number, you can still use an 800 number for a reasonable hourly rate. One of the tricks of reducing setup frustration on the road is to look up the local number for your destination before you leave home. The ISPs all have Web sites that make it a breeze to look up a number by city or area code. But if you travel to your destination without the access number, you will be reduced to calling support numbers that may be of little or no help.
Also high on the before-you-leave checklist is a review of hardware, software, cables and drivers. If you typically connect over the office network, your modem may be lying in the bottom of a drawer instead of in your computer case. The same goes for cables and connectors to complete the hookup to the phone. The best tactic is a live run-though before you head out of town, connecting to a local dial-up number from home. Any missing links will be apparent while you still have a chance to fix them. A recent dress rehearsal revealed that I had not installed networking components needed for my dial-up account on a new computer—and that I had lost the password. This was easily fixed from home, but it would have been a nightmare on the road.
Dial Up in Style
The Rolls Royce of travel connections is the wonderful high-speed connection now available at a number of hotels. To take advantage of it, you will need to bring along your network interface card and any related connectors. The hotel room will have a standard network cable that plugs into your card. If your card is set up to have a temporary address assigned from the network, the connection will be virtually automatic. For a very reasonable $10 a day, you can access the Web, e-mail and office files almost as quickly as if sitting at your office desk.
The next big thing in travel technology is the high-speed wireless networking connection. The technology is already in place to make an instant wireless connection at a fixed point (airport or hotel) or while moving about an entire city. There will be an inevitable breaking-in period while competing technologies sort themselves out and the market picks the most useful alternative. Yet it is a sure bet it won’t be long before you can pull out your laptop anywhere, anytime to catch up on your e-mail. Or, if the office is not on your mind, you can find a good restaurant or buy theater tickets online. After all, the point of personal technology is to make life easier and more enjoyable.
If you have a personal technology tool you’d like to share, send a message to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It may show up in a future column, and I may use it myself.