Tactical Travel Tips

I now work on an EU project leading on dissemination and community building.

This basically means I travel a lot (this year I’ve been to Luxembourg, St Petersburg, Athens and am off to Helsinki next week). This is probably not as much as some people but a lot more than I used to. Also most of this travel is in Europe rather than in the UK.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg

As I move kicking and screaming into the frequent flyer bracket (I don’t like flying and it’s not doing my eco-credentials much good!) there are a few lessons I’ve learned that I thought I could share with you…

Apologies if some of these are obvious but I’ve learned the hard way!

Data

Data Roaming is still bloomin’ expensive!

photoI turn off every mobile data switch the moment I sit down on the plane. So this means switching off mobile data, 3G, data roaming, Bluetooth, push data and all related things. I also switch off updates – updates always tend to pick their moments! This stops me accidentally accessing data when confused and lost in foreign cities. This has meant I’ve avoided ‘bill-shock’ (this is apparently an actual word now – unpleasant surprise of a very large phone bill) so far.

I do use wifi on my phone if available – but even then feel a little bit paranoid.

If you do want to use data roaming there is apparently an EU cut-off regulation you can opt in to. EU regulations mean providers have to warn you when you’ve nearly used €50 (approx. £50 incl VAT) of data in a month when roaming overseas. When you hit this mark, your mobile provider will cut off your mobile internet service until the next billing month begins, unless you have already pre-arranged a higher limit.

Lower costs are likely to come in by December 2015 if legislation approved by members of the European parliament’s industry committee is rubber stamped by full parliament on 3 April.

There is lots of useful guidance on data roaming about, I found the Roaming Expert website helpful.

I also now use Mapswithme on my phone – this allows you to download maps of cities in advance and then navigate them as if you are online.

I always check a hotel has wifi before I book. I connect with home using Skype or facetime. I try to never call.

Money

IMG_2300I warn my bank where I’m going. I’m with Lloyds and there still doesn’t be a way to do this online but I visit the bank every now and then and tell them about my forthcoming trips.

I also have some spare Euros that I keep so I don’t have to rely on a cashpoint as soon as I arrive. I take 3 bank cards as a back up. I store all my receipts in a particular place and photograph them too. I upload photos to online storage while away in case I lose my camera or phone.

Work

I prep in advance so that I don’t have to do too much complicated stuff while I’m away. So I draft blog posts, papers etc. and have them pretty much ready to go. You can’t rely on the quality of a connection when away from your computer. I now use LastPass (after a disaster a few years back) – this means I don’t spend hours trying to figure out passwords because I’m on my laptop. I ensure updates on my laptop are all done before I go!

I now have several adaptors and sometimes take an extension lead if I’m going to a conference.

Food

I’ve finally got BA to realise that I’m a vegetarian after selecting this option on their website many times, but I always take a few snacks with me just in case. I also empty my water bottle out for security and fill it up when I get through – saves cash! I try and find veggie friendly restaurants in advance.

Travel

If I’m arriving late at night I now get the hotel I’m staying at to book the taxi. This saves me having to fork out lots for a dodgy taxi. Planing routes from airport and hotel is useful too!

With work colleagues in front of the Acropolis

With work colleagues in front of the Accropolis

Entertainment

I download iplayer programmes on my laptop so I can watch them in my hotel room – beats foreign programmes and BBC World news on a loop. I also stock up on my laptop on downloaded papers I’d like to read.

I try to schedule my travel so I have some time to have a look around, there is nothing more soul destroying that visiting a beautiful place and only seeing the airport.

And finally I have a gig glass of wine on the plane – this stops me worrying about crashing and all the things I’ve forgotten to do!

Travel suggestions from other people have been published on this blog before. Take a look at:

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Swindon ‘Wifi’ Town

It’s not often that ‘Wiltshire’ and ‘trail-blaizing’ get to appear in the same sentence (I should know I live there!) but recent news is that Swindon is to become the first town in the UK to offer free public wireless internet access to its entire population. The plan is for all 186,000 citizens to have blanket “Wi-Fi mesh” coverage by April 2010.

This is a pretty big project by Swindon Borough Council. They intend to make line rental-free and will not be charging connection fees. The service will provided by Signal and will have limited access and usage but can pay for 20Mb upgrades charged at competitive rates. The £1m project will be run by Digital City UK Ltd, in which Swindon Borough Council has a 35% share. Local businessman Rikki Hunt,from digital technology firm aQovia, created the company especially for this particular project.

If successful, there is an intention of working on similar roll-outs of the technology in other towns and cities across the UK.

When reading about the project a few thoughts came to mind….

What about security?

Security is always the big issue when it comes to wifi. The Swindon network will be using wifi protected access (WPA) which is fairly robust. The main press release claims “Anti virus software and Microsoft and Google online services will be a key feature of the network” but there are likely to be serious security implications in managing such a system.

The other issue is health, to date there has been no evidence to show that consistent exposure to wifi signals affects health, but we are still in the early days of such technologies.

Other Uses?

Signal have already indicated some other potential uses of the mesh:

The technology will also revolutionise home and business security courtesy of CCTV coverage with rapid response, allowing homes and businesses to be monitored via a control room or remotely using laptops…There are plans to deliver valuable real-time information on home electricity usage and street-wide air quality monitoring. Swindon’s Wi-Fi also has the scope to deliver free voice calls and could be used by health professionals to carry out consultations and remote medical procedures or examinations through Telemedicine.

It will be interesting to see if there are any other implications of having a totally ‘wired’ town.

How does this work for visitors to the area?

Does this scheme just apply to locals or will visitors to the area be able to participate too? This could potentially be a big pull for those interested in establishing technology businesses. Swindon already has a fairly decent IT sector with Intel and a number of other smaller businesses being situated there.

Hasn’t this been done already?

The claim sounds a little familiar, so has a town or city already offered free blanket wireless coverage?

Apparently other UK cities have had trials of the schemes (Norwich being the one most people can remember), but this is the first time an entire town area will be covered by council-backed public wifi. In 2006 the cloud geared up to bring wireless broadband to nine cities: Edinburgh, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Oxford, Cambridge and three London boroughs – Islington, Kensington and Camden.. Whether this has happened or not is unclear but their intention was to create hotzones out across the cities, giving access to the internet for anyone using a wifi enabled computer or mobile. The project was not targeted at the entire population. More cities were to be announced during 2006 but I can’t find any record of this happening.

It seems there are many claims that have been made but not a lot actually happening on the ground.

I wrote a post a while back about finding wifi hotspots in towns and cities. For many of us life will continue as normal and we’ll still be hunting out those wireless hotspots when out and about. But for those in Swindon life will be a little more hi-tec!

Where are those Wifi Hot Spots?

At the Remote Worker day we organised here at UKOLN a few of the remote workers who live up north decided to organise a day out in Manchester. This would be an opportunity to meet up, catch up on work and non-work related things and try out working on the move.

Adrian, one of the UKOLN remote workers, kindly shared his ideas on where to get free wifi out and about in Manchester by passing round a link to the Manchester Community Walk.

We then realised that a list of wifi hotspots wasn’t just useful to us remote workers but to anyone who has a laptop and travels.

There are a lot more free wifi hot spots these days and quite a few ways to find them. If you are in a big city then Pret a Manger, Starbucks, Wetherspoons, Walkabout, Slug & Lettuce, Coffee Republic or McDonalds are a fairly safe bet (for wifi – not necessarily for food and drink!). Most won’t have a power socket though so make sure you take a charged up laptop. Personally I’d rather find a local pub rather than a big chain. There are a fair number of wifi hot-spot locators including hotspot locations, my hot spots, WorldWIFinder, free hotspot and Jwire.

Norwich was the first UK city to have free wifi throughout and in London there is also free wifi available if you are willing to view adverts every 15 minutes. Westminster City Council has also teamed up with BT to offer a free wifi based information service to residents and visitors in the area. London hot spots are well indicated on the londonist Web site. There’s free wireless on East coast mainline trains (national express), quite a lot of hotels offer free wifi to customers and in Scotland some of the public libraries offer free wifi to users. I’ve even heard of a school bus that now does wifi for the children passengers!

If you do use a free wifi it might be worth avoiding sending any sensitive information while on them as there are some security issues.

If you’re interested in tracking where the next wifi hotspot will be then follow Wi-fi Net News.

Dallyings with a Dongle

Dongle

There’s something about that word that makes me snigger. As a colleague explained it brings out the Benny Hill in us all.

Anyway now that I’ve suppressed my sniggers let me explain. UKOLN have now got a pool of 3G cards/Orange Business Everywhere cards/USB Modem/dongles (call them what you will) for staff to borrow. You can book these out for short periods of time. These are USB sticks that when you connect them to a laptop they allow you to use mobile broadband – Internet and email access on the move.

This makes a lot of sense. At the moment I’m sat on a train on my way to Edinburgh for the JISC Conference. UKOLN will pay for train tickets but I only fly if I really have to (environmental and ‘fear of flying’ reasons) and a bit of forward planning means I can get from Wiltshire to Scotland and back in two days. The result is 14 hours on a train. Having a laptop and an Internet connection means that I can carry on as normal…or as least have a go at trying to do that.

Setting it up

I started setting up Business Everywhere in the middle of last week. It’s supposed to be just a case of plug and play – you plug in the USB stick and the software loads itself on your laptop, then you connect to a network. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite so straightforward for me (I see myself as a good test case because if it’s possible to break it…I will). It just didn’t work. I spent hours taking the software off, putting it back on again, walking round town with a laptop held above my head (just in case it was a reception issue), but alas no joy. Thanks to the systems team (especially Nicola and Eddie) for all their help. My laptop is now in the ‘laptop hospital’ at work. Anyway I’ve been lent another laptop on which the software does work.

3g

Using it

So I’m now writing this on the train. I am working on the move! Pretty exciting stuff really. I have had a go at wifi but have yet to embrace the beyond the office working that Paul Boag talked about in his post.

The connection has been pretty good so far but there are moments of loss, this means that I’m a bit concerned about losing information, so am becoming obsessive about saving things (like this post).

It’s also pretty slow. I’m not very good at using slow computers. I tend to bang more and more keys until the computer gets its knickers in a twist and crashes. I’m trying to read the paper while the laptop is chugging. I’m thinking that I’ll maybe work on a word document saved on the C drive on the next leg of the journey.

All in all I’m really enjoying the freedom the 3G card is giving me. I know that I don’t have to worry about the wireless at the event and I won’t have to use or pay for wireless in my hotel. Although I’m not working as efficiently as I would at home I’m still in touch (my phone doesn’t really do Web) and I can fire fight problems and know that if I need Internet connection to do so it’s there.

Having a collection of dongles is an effective and cost-effective way to support your staff when they are out on the move.

Right, time to change trains…..

Time for Telepresence

Telepresence…I assume most people won’t have heard of it so I’ll stick with tradition and start off with a Wikipedia definition:

Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect, at a location other than their true location.

The defining feature of these technologies is that they are sense driven. This means that the user should be provided with lots of stimuli from the other location to make the experience as real as possible. Information ends up travelling from both directions, from the remote user to the technology and back again.

Currently my only experience of telepresence is limited to snippets from the Gadget Show (YouTube video). Recently I stumbled on a reference to it in Scott Hanselman’s blog. Scott is a Principal Program Manager for Microsoft and has been working from home for just over a year now. Scott and his team had a chance to remotely drive/beta-test a Telepresence robot from RoboDynamics, the first company to commercialise an enterprise Robotic Telepresence platform.

robot

Scott describes the telepresence robot as:

.. pretty sweet. They’ve got a 26x Optical Zoom and pan/tilt/zoom on the camera. There’s a screen for your “head” so that folks can recognize you as you wander around. I was able to walk all over their office. The control console includes sonar and bumpers so when I got close to bumping into the fridge in their office kitchen I could “see” the distance to the fridge and avoid it.

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to letting a virtual beastie into your company. Is it on the network? Which network? What access? Who is it logged in as? What if it’s stolen?

It’s obvious that there are a myriad of possible applications of these technologies. Commercial companies are already using them and further research will make them mainstream before we know it. There is further information on possible uses on the Telepresence World site.

For me the main areas of interest are:

Learning Application

Telepresence has a lot to offer education. The telepresence classroom is something you will no doubt be hearing more about in the future.

There is some useful information in the JISC Satellite pilot report, notably in the Satellite applications in education section.

Remote Working

It will be a little while before we see ‘Ronnie the robot’ in the UKOLN office or have a telepresence room but it will be great for us remote workers when we do.

As Scott puts it: “I‘d really like be able to “walk” into someone’s office. Just pop in to see if they are there. I want to get involved in hallway conversations.

A telepresence is definitely one step closer to a real presence.

Make Way for Webinars

I’ve been invited to present at an online event for JISC Regional Support Centre Eastern.
The webinar will be on Web 2.0 and will run in February, I’ll keep you posted on times and dates.

For those who haven’t heard this term before Wikipedia describes a webinar as:

..a neologism to describe a specific type of web conference. It is typically one-way,from the speaker to the audience with limited audience interaction, such as in a webcast. A webinar can be collaborative and include polling and question & answer sessions to allow full participation between the audience and the presenter. In some cases, the presenter may speak over a standard telephone line, pointing out information being presented on screen and the audience can respond over their own telephones, preferably a speaker phone. There are web conferencing technologies on the market that have incorporated the use of VoIP audio technology, to allow for a truly web-based communication. Webinars may (depending upon the provider) provide hidden or anonymous participant functionality, enabling participants to be unaware of other participants in the same meeting.

Although I touched on the area of Virtual Meetings and Conferences in my Ariadne article (Staying Connected: Technologies Supporting Remote Workers) this will be my first online presentation! Naturally delivery of workshops or lectures over the Web has great potential for remote workers so I’m really happy to be involved.

The JISC Regional Support Centres have given a number of webinars in the past and two are discussed on the Intute blog as part of their webinar trials.

They list some of the pros and cons of hosting an online event. It seems the events went well but Emma Place and the Intute team conclude that they need to “work on their online presentation skills and develop sessions that are more suited to the medium“. This is something that I am very conscious of and I hope to do a few practice runs before the big day.

The Intute post also briefly mentions the technologies used for the webinars (Gotomeeting and DimDim). The RSC Eastern event will use Elluminate). I intend to write a future post on different software in this area when I’ve a little more experience.

Wifi Worries

After much deliberating my husband has finally allowed me to set up wireless at home. (I’m not under the thumb honest….I let him make all the technology decisions…it’s his little treat!)

Probably the main reason he has let me do it is to save on heating costs. The plan is that when it’s really cold I’ll work in the warmer south facing rooms. I’m not quite sure if the savings will be substantial (at the moment I have a PC and a laptop plugged in so am using more electricity) but in the summer I’ll be able to get outside to work which will be great.

So what’s it like then? Well although it is great here are a few not so great observations I’ve made in the past hour:

Security Issues

I’m a little concerned about security. My feeling is that I’m not as secure as I would be if I were working from my desk (albeit in the same house) or my office. You need to log on to the wireless connection but is that enough? Badly secured wireless connections mean any one can use the account. To access the University network I use Virtual Private Network (VPN) so that’s one step in the right direction. I’m going to take my laptop in to the office on Monday and make sure that all my security software is up to date.

The Demon blog suggests issuing a simple set of ‘do’s and don’ts of remote working. This makes sense. Although we have a number of policies relating to the contractual elements of remote working we don’t have much user focused information. I think I’ll suggest this to my IT services team.

Connection Issues

The connection is definitely a lot flakier. It takes me longer to open messages and view pages on the Internet. If I wanted to download anything I think I’d go upstairs to do it.

Health issues

What about health? Some people have claimed that the electro-magnetic waves are dangerous, especially for children. I tend to turn everything off when I’m not using the PC, including the router/broadband connection. Does this sort out the problem?

Ho hum…

On my lunchtime walk into town I noticed that a nearby pub (The Tavern) is having a refurbishment and announces that it will be offering coffee and free wifi when it reopens next week. I live in a pretty small town so this is exciting stuff. I guess there will be even more issues working from there, but I’m looking forward to checking it out!