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Traveling Light

We learn the value of traveling light only by doing the opposite. A friend once commented that "Long-distance jet travel is an acquired distaste the more you do it, the more you hate it." The same applies to computing on the road. However, often "traveling light" in computing terms means doing the exact opposite: taking along everything you could possibly need.

Your author has racked up enough frequent-flyer points by now to have some idea how to do this: and here we'll cover the basics. First, we'll give some specific advice about Entourage (that's why you came here, wasn't it...) Then we'll offer some general tips that will save you a hell of a lot of pain and embarrassment if this is the first time you have taken a computer on the road.

This advice is written from the point of view of international travel; but many of the hints and tips apply equally to travel within your own country.

Email on the Road

The only difference between email on the road and email in the office is that the connection is going to be slow. Often, very slow. So we need to configure Entourage to put the minimum traffic possible on the line.

Choose an account type

For a long trip, or if you regularly work out of the office, POP (Post Office Protocol) is best if your mail server offers it (check with your system administrator). It is least bandwidth-hungry and most able to survive poor connections. Its disadvantage is that it transfers only mail, you will not be able to see updates to any other users schedules, nor access the common folders.

For short trips or occasional trips, IMAP may be better. It sucks too much bandwidth for comfortable dialup use; but the convenience of having access to everything you can get from your desktop in the office is worth it for short trips, or trips where you know you will be able to connect to a LAN.

The difference is where the information is stored. POP downloads everything to your local machine and stores it there. Each mail item travels the wire once only. IMAP normally tries to maintain a continuous connection to the mail server.

Don't even think of using web mail from a CyberCafe for business correspondence. It's nowhere near secure enough: expect some very unpleasant questions from your corporate Network Security Manager when you get home if you are silly enough to try it.


Setting Up

Warning: If you have an IMAP account at work, discuss with your System Administrator before changing to POP. Most of us store an astonishing amount of junk in our office mailbox. Entourage 2001 has an absolute limit of 2GB on the size of your local mail file (your "Identity" in Entourage terms). If you exceed this, you will not be able to open or repair your database: you will lose your entire mail file. The limit was raised to 4GB in Entourage X (must use the 10.1.2 updater from Mactopia to get that 4 GB size plus warnings). Entourage 2004 does not have a limit, just a limit to the number of items in the Entourage database: 2 million database items. More Info. Even so: it's not unknown for an office mail account to have more than that in it.

Ask your System Administrator to help you trim down the amount of stored material before transferring to a POP account. The easiest way is to transfer only the mail you want to take with you into your Inbox, then ask the System Administrator to configure only the Inbox as your POP account. If this cannot be done, ask the System Administrator to help you archive all those "essentials" to a server folder before configuring your POP account.

Make sure you connect to your POP account before you leave the office. If your mailbox is like ours sometimes are, you could be downloading for an hour or two to transfer all that mail into your local database, even on a LAN connection!


Reducing the Bandwidth

Go to Tools>Accounts>Edit>Options:

For a POP account, you would normally choose Leave a copy of each message on the server. You will want copies of everything you handle on the road to remain available to your office machine. If it's rubbish, Entourage gives you the ability to delete it from the server at your next connection. You can do this on an item-by-time basis from your Inbox.

For either account, enable Partially receive messages over. Set this to 5KB. Anything larger either has an attachment, or it's a flatulent HTML message: either way, decide whether or not you want it before downloading it.

Disable Allow online access. This is a great convenience when you have lots of bandwidth. On the road, reserve the ability to decide when Entourage should suck up mail; you will be wanting the bandwidth for other things.

For IMAP accounts:

Disable Send commands to the server simultaneously. This is a great convenience on a fast connection: on a slow connection you will get too many errors.

Disable Download complete messages in the inbox. Decide whether you want them first: that new sales presentation Marketing sent to "everybody" might take two hours to download...

Disable Live Sync. It will consume the entire available bandwidth on a dialup line. Sync one time only per session, and only when you want to.

Disable Check for unread messages in subscribed folders. Do a manual check when you know there's something interesting there, or while you are having dinner.


Put your Mail on a Diet

Go to Entourage>Mail and News Preferences>Compose:

Set both your Mail format and News format to Plain Text. HTML messages are at least ten times the size of a plain text message. Your co-workers can live without the colored headings and fancy signature for a week or two!

Under Attachments, turn on Compression. A Word document is only about 30 per cent of its former size after Stuffit has finished with it: a ten-minute transmission becomes a three-minute transmission.

Under Read>HTML, disable Allow network access when displaying complex HTML. When this option is enabled, rivetingly-important messages such as SPAM and Price Lists that are sent containing a URL, cause Entourage to go out to the nominated web server to download all those fancy images and junk.


Computer

I guess it goes without saying that you choose the computer you take carefully. But what does "carefully" mean? Well, let's assume you are working in a company and you have some choice in these matters.

Don't take the latest and greatest machine.

There's no such thing as a machine that "comes out of the box and just works." Forget the marketing hype: it's rubbish. Every computer, no matter who made it, will have some glitches, configuration issues, or problems in the first few months of its life. If you are in the office when this happens, you call IT and go to lunch. If it happens during the opening of your Very Important Presentation, you stand there babbling in terror as your career unravels slowly before your eyes. Insist on a machine that has been run in: if you are planning an important trip, get the machine a few weeks early, take it home and try to do some work on it. Find those problems before you get to the airport.

Forgo that big screen. Yes, a 15-inch screen really does provide "desktop replacement" computing. But there is no way you will get enough room on the tray table to get the machine open in any airline's cattle-class.

Take a Name Brand

Apple is a great brand! If you are going to far-flung places, take a computer from a major manufacturer. If you need service or parts you are much more likely to find support for machines by the major manufacturers (provided it's not their latest model!). Sadly, outside the USA you will have more difficulty than you may expect getting support for an Apple. Apple sells in very small volumes in other countries. However, there is Apple support in the capital city of almost every country on the planet.

Update it before you leave

Software Update may run in a few seconds on your corporate Ethernet. But in a CyberCafe, that essential update you need to display the killer presentation may have you on the line for five or six hours. At a dollar a minute...

Update that virus scanner

We all know Macs can't get viruses, right? We're totally confident of that, aren't we? So there you are sitting in an Asian cybercafe at three in the morning, downloading a revised presentation for tomorrow because some clown just discovered "a few problems with the information we sent you out with." The guy on your right has glazed eyes, a tattoo, and a prominent nose-ring. The girl on your left has fluorescent green hair, equally glazed eyes, and guess where her piercing is? You're online to the corporate network back home. Does that blinking light on the modem mean you are downloading a revised presentation, or blowing the head office file server off the air with the latest and most destructive virus. Still confident?

Nail it shut.

The world outside the office is a very unfriendly place. Mac users in particular enjoy a casual unconcern about computer security. That's fine in an office where it's someone else's problem. When you step on that plane, it's your problem. At the first airport lounge you hit, there will be a bored teenager trying to hack into your computer by wireless network. If he gets in, he'll do far more than steal your credit card details. By the time you reach your destination, the best you can hope for is that you have nothing left on the hard disk at all. Because at least then you are not walking into the important customer's premises with a whole lot of corrupted, virus-laced, or worst of all- incorrect data.

Make sure EVERYTHING is behind a strong password, including your entire hard disk. A "strong" password is eight or more characters with upper- and lower-case letters, some digits, and more than one word, or a string that does not form a word in the dictionary.

Make certain that your Airport Connection is both invisible and password-protected: there are people who drive around looking for open airport connections they can hack into and have a bit of fun re-arranging your data.

Encrypt your sensitive data. Something like 80 per cent of the insurance claims for laptops are as a result of theft. We all have our predilections, but chances are you do not intend to sleep with your laptop. There's a risk it will get stolen. If it does, make sure that all they get is a few thousand dollars worth of hardware. There are some real horror stories about the financial impact to a corporation of having its entire five-year marketing plan stolen along with someone's laptop. And many airports are full of professional thieves who make a living from stealing laptops and selling the content of the hard drive to the highest bidder. Make sure all they get from you is "Password incorrect..."

Your IT Department will help you do all this, and they will be very grateful that you asked!

Make it look worthless

Your middle-aged author carries the expensive laptop in an ancient and battered schoolbag. No thief would be seen in public with it. The smart suits you see at the airport with the expensive computer cases might as well stick a label on them saying "This case contains a lot of very valuable computing equipment. Thieves: be sure to steal this one."

Shutdown Before Check-in

In these post-September 11th times, Airport Security is almost certain to ask you to take the battery out of your laptop at the X-ray machine. You wouldn't want to corrupt that important presentation you are trying to finish when the machine loses power.

Make sure you do know "how" to get the battery out! And if you need a penknife to get the battery out, make sure you are not carrying it: you can be assured of a very unpleasant time if they find your favorite Swiss-Army Knife in your computer case.

But make sure you have enough left in the battery to start the machine: the other thing they will often do is ask you to start your machine up, to prove that it's a computer and not a bomb.

We suggest that you do not pack the computer in your suitcase. A computer with all those batteries and wires looks exactly like a bomb on an X-ray. You wouldn't want to find that the Bomb Disposal Squad "detonates" your suitcase with an explosive charge just to make sure!

If your computer is a new model, obtain a Carnet from Customs on the way out of the country. A Carnet is a form they fill in to prove that you had the machine with you when you left; if you don't have one, you may be required to pay duty on it when you return.

Hotel Phones

The more civilized your destination, the less civilized will be the hotel tariffs. Many International hotels charge a dollar a minute for local phone calls. Find out what yours charges before that all-night session appears on your bill!

Many international hotels offer broadband Internet connections. Make sure they're not charging ten bucks an hour for the privilege!

Batteries: Prove those batteries before you leave

The normal use and abuse to which we subject the batteries of your typical corporate laptop mean that it is unlikely that the batteries that come with the machine will hold a full charge. This is another reason to take that machine home and work on it for a few hours: know what your real battery life is before you get caught. Mac laptops have superb battery life compared to their Windows cousins: but even so, don't expect more than about half what the sales brochure claims.

Take a spare battery

You can buy almost everything in an out-of-town computer shop except the particular make and model of battery that you need. Batteries traveling in aircraft holds are subjected to extremes of temperature and air-pressure. They don't like this. Even waiting in the taxi line at an American airport in winter can reduce the available power in a battery to less than an hour. And if by some miracle you score a seat large enough and far enough from screaming children actually to do some work on the trans-continental red-eye special, count on getting through two batteries' worth before you hear those engines spinning down for landing.

Take the hard-to-find cables

We are very fortunate on the Mac in that the sockets on a Mac laptop accept international standard cables. If you have an Ethernet cable and an RJ45 (Telephone) cable in your bag, chances are you have almost everything that you need.

However, if you need a FireWire cable, pack one: they are hard to find in computer shops.

Apple's recent Mac laptop power-supplies auto-sense the voltage for all of the world's electrical supplies; but the wall plug is a very different matter. Almost every country has its own particular flavor. Do not assume that every country with 110V power will use the same plug: they don't. The most convenient solution is a plug adapter: you can buy these at convenience stores and airports, and it's often easiest to find the one you need in a shop at your destination: they cost about four bucks. However, if you pack one before you go, that's one less thing to think about.

Similarly, many countries have their own standard telephone point. However, you can buy an adaptor that accepts your RJ45 cable at any local computer store when you get there.

Software

Huh? Take the software? You thought I was telling you how to travel "light"! I lied... Seriously: after a few hours bouncing and banging around on an airplane, one of the most likely disasters is a total hard disk failure.

Most places in the world will have replacement hard disks readily available (yes, even PC shops will have a drive that will fit a Mac). But a suite of Mac software is another matter. Take it with you: Outside of the USA, most computer shops do not stock any Mac software at all. That laptop probably has two thousand dollars worth of software on it at local prices outside the USA. How much of that will your credit card stand?

If you can get your laptop running again, it's a simple matter to quickly replace your work or presentation from your backup CD. But if you do not have your software with you, you may be totally out of action. And if you do not have that backup CD with you, you will be totally out of action!

Backup mechanism

At the office, we never give backup a second thought. Everything is on "the network" and "somebody else takes care of that." Well, you're not on the network now. If you are working on the road, you must backup on the road.

One of the simplest ways is to email your documents to yourself before you shut down each night. Let's face it, you are not going to create multi-megabytes of content while you are on the road. Well, most of us don't: a single document can be emailed back very quickly, even on a spluttering dialup. Clean your inbox out at work before you leave so there's enough room for the incomings.

Creative producers better pack a FireWire CD burner along with their 5 megapixel camera! Seriously: your author does this: the drive in question is heavy, but nowhere near as heavy as the depression that sets in if you lose the lot on the last day of your trip.

There you are: we learned it the hard way so you don't have to.