Travelling Kit for a Remote Worker

John Kirriemuir, digital nomad (!), has written a great post for us on his remote working kit: from hardware to software, apps and web sites.

JohnMy name is John Kirriemuir. My website and blog are currently gathering dust at I’ve been self-employed for nearly a decade now; time flies when you are having fun. 🙂

About a third of what I do is examining the use of virtual worlds in education in the UK, under the banner of Virtual World Watch which, in a nice way, is a tie-in to Marieke. UKOLN is where I used to work as web editor of Ariadne and it’s where I met Andy Powell, who now is a “big cheese” in Eduserv Research. A few years ago, we got chatting about virtual world uses in education and decided to try and work out who does what. And that’s basically what Eduserv fund me to do i.e. a series of “snapshot” reports on who is doing what with virtual worlds (not just Second Life) in UK education.

Anyway, the moral of that little digression is to never neglect your contact network. One day, week, month, year or (in my case) decade, it’ll put food on the table.

Self-employed is different for working for an organisation in many ways, but the things that stick out in my mind are:

  1. I choose who I work with and for. No-one else chooses. I don’t like the client; they aren’t the client.
  2. I do, however, have a sort-of ‘line manager’. It’s my bank balance and can be quietly persuasive.
  3. You are always working. When you aren’t doing paid work, you are looking for paid work.
  4. The big downside, compared to working in a university: no expense claims. No swanning off to every conference in a tropical location that is even slightly related to the digital library project you are working on, unless you negotiated a spectacularly good contract with a client.

My definition of ‘remote working’ is therefore a little different from someone who works for an organisation, but operates out of their home. To me, ‘remote working’ has meant:

  1. Working in the three areas of the world I spend most of my time inhabiting and travelling around, namely Britain, the USA and Scandinavia.
  2. Working while travelling by plane, train, boat, car or coach – in that order of preference. I don’t drive a car for the same reasons as David Mitchell, so I’m always the passenger. When you’re on an 11 hour flight to Los Angeles, this gives you a lot of time to do work and hope that your laptop battery will last.
  3. Doing work ‘stuff’ where the client (or your line manager) isn’t looking over your shoulder.
  4. Not having to share an office with people I don’t like, or choose to share an office with. This is a huge plus; life is simply too short to spend it being forced to listen to the utterances of people I don’t like.

How does all this relate to ICT? Well, I need stuff that:

  • Allows me to continue my work whether travelling, or waiting to travel, or based in somewhere expected – or unexpected.
  • Is portable.
  • Isn’t going to land me with large bills wherever I am in the world.
  • Can get through airport security okay.
  • Is easy to back-up. I haven’t suffered a disaster through not having data backed up, and I’m not going to have one now.
  • Allows me to communicate with clients and my work sector with ease.
  • Allows me to monitor and change my financial ins and outs with no restrictions.


So what’s my kit then? I’ve got an iPhone, MacBook Pro, EEE laptop, Camera, credit card, passport, toothbrush, thong and a pair of speedos – that’s my basic kit for being able to go anywhere and work.

The iPhone.
I’ve had one for several months and find it indispensable now. When abroad roaming is usually turned off to avoid massive bills but it’s still good for places where there’s free wifi – in the case of the USA, many restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and even launderettes.
MacBook Pro 2.66 GHz.
Runs Second Life like a dream, and has software such as Scrivener and Numbers (more on these later) which tipped the balance for me between getting a Mac or a PC when my last laptop croaked out on me. Very reliable, which counts for a lot when you are self-employed. Time really is money – my money, and when I’m not working, through technical or other problems, I’m not earning. The only downside is that it’s bulky, though the screen clarity is worth it.
Asus EEE.
‘Samantha’ was my travelling companion on a month around America last autumn and proved herself to be robust and reliable. It’s true, you wouldn’t want to write an article on it, or try running Second Life in any serious way. But for doing Flickr uploads, light webbing and emailing, it’s fine. The weight and size of it also makes it good to sling into the shoulderbag for day trips out.
Sony Cyber-shot camera.
Partially replaced by the camera on the iPhone, I still use this for taking pictures for mainly adorning Flickr.
Various back up devices.
A Lacie external drive (despite mixed reviews), three USB memory sticks, and online storage eliminates most possibilities of SPF (Single Point of Failure). Unlike other people – and I am surprised how often people do this – I don’t carry all my devices and their associated backup storage media in the same bag.

Software, apps and websites

I do a lot of travelling – I’m writing this while on my 52nd trip abroad, and my 7th to the USA. And in another window, I’m planning trips 53 to 56. Hence, a lot of the software and websites I use are to do with travel or finance.

First, there’s the standard ones. On the Mac, there’s Numbers (spreadsheet) and Pages (word processing). Numbers, especially, I use a lot. Being self-employed, owning two houses and generally having a complicated life means lots of monies going in and out of various places, and I’ve found that Numbers trumps Excel in the ease of helping me keep an eye on things.

iPhone apps. I rarely use the iPhone for making phone calls, and I’m not alone in this. It’s all in the apps for me, and here’s ten of those I use for work and related logistics much of the time:

  • Twitterfon (for, of course, Twitter).
  • Currency, so I can find out if the UK pound is worth more than a dead herring locally.
  • Urbanspoon to find somewhere to eat.
  • iRail for accurate European train times.
  • Flight Status for lots of information about future and current flights.
  • Airline Seat Guide for finding the better seats on a plane. Use in conjunction with SeatGuru to minimise your chances of being in a cramped seat with no amenities and being served food last.
  • QuickVoice so I can record something instantly.
  • PayPal for doing transactions.
  • Fring. An alternative way of trying Internet Messaging and the like.
  • Ocarina. This has no work purpose at all, but it’s a great app (especially for a Zelda fan) and there’s little better than falling asleep listening to people around the world playing Ocarina music on it in real time.
  • Skype, for making cheaper calls. Which leads us onto applications I use through the MacBook .

Skype Essential for making phone calls. Alas, not everyone can cope with emails and the like, and it’s necessary to be available for calls, and to make calls. Skype has saved me a considerable amount of money over the past year, and as this trip around the restaurants and baseball parks of America enters its third month, continues to do so. Set up is easy; quality varies – but then again, so does making a landline call from the USA.

Twitter I use more than email now, as most of my work colleagues and contacts are on it, I have a twitter window open all of the time, and it’s quicker than email. Plus, using Twitter DMs means that replies to questions are (usually) short and snappy, encouraging Yes / No responses rather than (time consuming) essays. At the core of Twitter is the ability to build your own perfect community, with content streaming in from ONLY those people you find interesting and/or useful. Oh, if only real life was like this. So, Twitter is also a highly concentrated source of information that’s relevant to work. There are so many things e.g. reports, events, news, that I would have missed, or been late to, without Twitter.

Flickr which many people assume is solely about pictures. Well, it’s not. As well as the email capabilities, it’s a useful piece of social networking software for finding people and content e.g. pictures for presentations, as well as identifying places to visit and planning trips. For example: unsure about a hotel? Combine using Flickr and Trip Advisor to check out how other people have seen and experienced it.

Scrivener is basically software for writing books. It’s a dream to work with, being as intuitive as you can get and letting you focus on the dumping of content and ideas, and the organisation of it into something readable. I’m trying to write three books at the same time on different topics, a process which was, literally, inching along under Word. Using Scrivener, it’s quicker and less stressful.

I spend a lot of time looking at finance and travel-related websites. Trip Advisor I use, with some caution, to identify places to stay at – though as I’ve got loyalty accounts and points with several hotel chains it’s usually a back-up option. Expedia and Opodo I use to identify flight options, and websites such as Eurocheapo and the list in Wikipedia are useful for identifying more airlines, but I usually book flights and accommodation directly with the hotel or airline. The less companies and people involved, the less chances of things going wrong and (increasingly) the better chances of the best room or seat.

Other social software? Facebook I occasionally use, but more as a directory of people I know. The same goes for linkedin which I haven’t found generates much in the way of new connections to new and useful contacts; Twitter has been the predominant tool for me in that area.

There’s many more websites I use as a “remote”, travelling and self-employed worker; I’ll go through some of these in my next posting for Marieke.


Digital Identity Dilemmas

On Saturday (5am in the UK) Facebook allowed users to select a vanity URL which will point to their regular profile page. Naturally there was a mad rush to capture the ‘best identities‘ and some people just weren’t quick enough (further discussed by Brian Kelly on his blog).

Once users have selected a name they are not able to change it or transfer it. Digital identity experts urged users to give some thought to their choice.

Why a Vanity URL?

Well firstly having a number for your ID isn’t particularly user friendly. This new approach will make it easier for users to share their profile pages and link to other people’s pages. There may also be other reasons too. Mike Nolan suggests 3 possibles on his blog:

  • OpenID Provider: Facebook are being forced to become more open, and one way which gives the illusion of openness is OpenID. It’s similar to Facebook Connect and an easy thing for them to offer while still forcing you to log in with them.
  • Jabber/XMPP: They’ve already announced that they were going to open up Facebook chat to connect with third party services such as Google Talk. It will be based on XMPP which uses email-like addresses to reference accounts. A username is almost essential for this to be easy to use.
  • Email: Many – especially younger people – already use Facebook mail considerably more than regular email accounts so I imagine they’ll allow you to use your as an email address. I just hope they’ve got good spam filters!

Digital Identity

Digital identity refers to the aspect of digital technology that is concerned with the mediation of people’s experience of their own identity and the identity of other people and things. Wikipedia

Our digital identity is becoming a big issue. Twitter have recently begun verifying accounts and many Facebook urls are already being sold for hard cash. The problem for many people, especially early adopters, is that they didn’t realise the significance of user names when they started registering for all these services. As Lorcan Dempsey explains the result is a fractured online identity. In in a Facebook note based on an old blog post Lorcan talks about his (and Andy Powell of Eduserv’s) quests to centre their decentralised identity and consolidate their network presence.

It seems clear that managing our network presences and the relationships between them is becoming of more interest. And this cuts across previous boundaries – between work, family and friends, for example – in different ways.

Digital Identity for our Children

Lorcan also touches on the issue of digital identity and naming of children. This resonates strongly with me. Having a Dutch Mother and a Dutch name (Marieke) and an Scottish/English Father I grew up with a pretty unusual name (Marieke Napier). Even my married name (Marieke Guy) is rare and I’ve yet to come across any other online people with the same name. You only need to do a quick Google search for me to see that as far as Marieke Guys go I’m the Webs number 1 (5,020 hits). Having a clear digital presence is quite straightforward for me. I don’t have people queuing up to steal my name and this morning registered with no problem. No getting up at dawn for me!

The irony of all this is that I have 3 children who, despite our best efforts to be original but not too wacky, now have pretty common names: Catrin, Keira and Zak. My husband’s name is Andrew, but at University he decided to rename himself Bill (his middle name) in order to distinguish himself from his other 3 friends (also called Andrew). There are moments when while sat at toddler singing-group with 2 other Zaks (or Zacs or Zacks), a Zachary and an Isaac (my son’s registered name) I bemoan that I didn’t call him Andrew – at least there are no babies being called that name these days!

Anyway it seems to me that my children will have to join the orderly queue when it comes to assigning their digital identity. Or maybe we’ll be doing things differently then and a quick retina scan will do the trick!

Any other Marieke Guy’s out there? Anyone have problems registering their Facebook url? Anyone totally opposed to the whole digital identity movement?

Facebook Fun

I’ve sort of missed the boat on blogging about the Facebook ‘Terms of Service’ debacle but here’s my two pennies worth anyway.

For those who don’t watch the news, surf the Web or use Facebook a quick sum up!

Facebook changed their TOS earlier this week from stating that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire to acknowledging that they could retain archived copies of your content. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, defended this decision saying that is was to “better reflect how users used the site.” His argument was that it was to enable consistency if people left by keeping comments on pictures, links to information etc.

A consumerist article highlighted the changes which effectively said that Facebook would have the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. Within days people were up in arms about it. Facebook have since backed down after pressure from consumer and civil liberty groups.

Since the back down there have been two main observations.

People don’t understand what rights social networking sites have over their data

It’s been pointed out that the enthusiasm people have when using these type of sites clouds their understanding of what rights the sites have over their data. This is nothing new, the confusion over ‘who owns what?’ started with the invention of the printing press but the ubiquity of the Internet can lead to quick and frightening consequences. (I was thinking about this the other day when I saw a trailer for RudeTube (an awful E4 television show that televises videos from YouTube), did these people really realise their antics could be shown on TV so their Nan could watch them? Mind you whose Nan is up that late?)

My colleague Brian Kelly states in his blogMy, perhaps somewhat controversial view, is that there has been a failure to recognise the complexities related to ownership of data in a social networked environment and instead we have been seeing simplistic solutions being proposed which, if applied generally, would undermine the development of the more open social networks which, ironically, many of those engaged in the discussions would actually prefer to see.

Copyright, ownership, intellectual property rights and all that is pretty complicated stuff. If confused I sometimes direct a question to Jordan Hatcher (OpenContentlawyer) but there are no guarantees I’ll understand the answer!

In his blog post You don’t nor need to own your data Elias Bizannes from the DataPortability project explains that who owns your data is no longer the key factor:

Access to your data is what matters – but it also needs to be carefully understood. For example, access to your health records might not be a good thing. Rather, you can control who has access to that data. Similarly, whilst no one might own your data, what you do have is the right to demand guidelines and principles like what we are trying to do at the DataPortability Project on how “your” data can be used. Certainly, the various governmental privacy and data protection legislation around the world does exactly that: it governs how companies can use personally identifiable data.

So the issue is really what Facebook do with your data. And that is a question even they don’t know the answer to yet.

Social Networking sites are struggling to make money out of their users

The Guardian technology blog points out that “Facebook has a problem. Every time it looks as though it’s going to wriggle its way to creaming just a bit more money from its millions of users’ comings and goings, they spot it – and get vocal enough to force a reverse.

It’s the same for all the other similar sites. Raw data is all they have and if they can’t do more with it then they are going to eventually go to the Web site graveyard in the sky. My colleague Paul Walk has written a blog post saying that “there is only one thing of potential, unproven, value to Facebook and that is the aggregate of users’ attention data.

He continues “We flatter ourselves if we think Facebook is interested in our uploaded photos from the office party. What they really want is to know what we think, what we like and don’t like, what we buy, how we plan to vote….. People will pay large amounts of money for this kind of data.

If they can’t make money from this data where does it leave us people who now find we are increasingly using these sites as part of our working practice? Can we really go on getting something for nothing?

I suppose the answer is for us users not to put all our eggs in one basket. At UKOLN my colleague Brian Kelly and I have mentioned the whole risk management approach for Web 2.0 time and time again. Take a look at the ‘Risk Assessment For Making Use Of Third Party Web 2.0 Services’ briefing paper written way back.

I’m afraid I haven’t really added to the debate but I just wanted to flag that we, as users, need to make sure we watch this space and stay vigilant!