Sync Dev: Staying Connected While Away From It All

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In last week’s Sync Dev column, I wrote about my home Sync configuration and how I use Sync to “phone home” and back up my photos while I’m on the road. This week, I’m at the Four Seasons in Jakarta and I’ve got some photos to share with my friends back at home. Sync has already backed up my 3GB or so worth of RAW files and my processed versions are being pushed over hotel Wi-Fi back home as I type this. Slick.

Before I share some of my Jakarta street photos, I frequently get asked about my travel setup on Flickr, at the airport, etc.  I travel fairly light, and on this particular trip, I got to use most of the gear that I carry around.  This isn’t a “Top 10” list so to speak – the items aren’t in any particular order.  This is more like a list of things that I find immensely useful when I’m on the road.

1. NorthLink Router – This is a tiny Wi-Fi-N router that is powered via Micro USB.  Importantly, it has a WAN/Internet port as well as an additional Ethernet port so that you can serve up Wi-Fi and also have a wired connection.  My room here in Jakarta has Wi-Fi, but has a two-device limit. The NorthLink router solves the problem of pushing photos to Sync from multiple devices that want Wi-Fi.  You’re probably asking, “Where can I get one” and “Why does your link for this router point to a website in Taiwan that I can’t order from?”  My NorthLink was a souvenir gift from my brother when he was visiting Taiwan – but don’t fret, you can find these on Amazon in the US (with firmware that’s in English, no less).  TP-LINK makes a nice alternative that doesn’t have the additional Ethernet port — bonus points if you have heard of or get the SLboat-modded version. Even more bonus points if you get the Chinese knockoff version that comes with the additional Ethernet port. 😉
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2. Bag Full of Cables – I like the laptop sleeves and cable pouches from local San Francisco business Waterfield/SFBags.com.  I bought my first laptop sleeve case from these folks in 2001 for my Apple Titanium PowerBook G4.  The sleeves will easily outlive the laptops that they hold.  I’ve got a couple pouches full of power adapters and cables that I never unpack – this is an entire set of extra cables that I’ve bought just to travel with because nobody likes running around the house unplugging things when they have a flight to catch in an hour – you’ll invariably forget something.  In these pouches, I carry USB to Mini/Micro cables, Apple Lightning cables for my iDevices, Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet and Thunderbolt to HDMI cables for my MacBook Air 11″, a couple retractable Cat6 cables, spare SD/MicroSDHC/CF cards, a USB 3 card reader (SD, CF, etc), USB to Ethernet, an Apple 12W USB power adapter, etc.  Recently, I added these Native Union Jump cables to my Bag of cables – they’re pretty handy.

3. Belkin SurgePlus 3-Outlet Mini Travel Surge Protector – Want to make some friends at the airport?  I don’t, either.  All jokes aside, this thing is a road warrior’s best friend.  Turns 1 power outlet into 3 and has 2 2.1 amp USB ports.  It swivels, too.  Perfect for hotel rooms where there is only one power socket on the desk.  Or airports lounges or terminals where everyone is fighting to charge their power-hungry phablet on the one available outlet.  While you’re at it, get yourself a good world power adapter – mine is from SKROSS and it works very well.

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Speaking of power…

4. Mophie Powerstation Duo – I carry two of these along with some short (3″) USB to Micro-USB cables and Apple Micro-USB to Lightning adapters.  I like the short cable + adapter option as opposed to Apple’s shortest Lightning cable because there is less cable to trip over or to get hung up.  I use these to charge everything from my iPhone/iPod/iPad to my MiFi.  Many planes now have power outlets under seats, but these USB batteries are still very handy for the times when you find yourself away from a reliable power source for hours or days at a time.

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5. Amazon Kindle – I like reading a bunch of books at once…or at least having the option to.  Carrying five books onto the plane goes against all of my packing rules.  My first Kindle was a 3G Keyboard.  Then I got a Kindle Fire.  I pre-ordered a Kindle Voyage and am looking forward to receiving that.  I read a lot when I’m on the road – the e-Ink devices are easier on the eyes.  I got the Kindle Fire because I wanted something that could better handle PDFs.  The Kindle Fire is great at PDFs, but reading on it for long periods of time is tough for my eyes, so it’s back to an e-Ink screen.

PDFs will be handled by…

6. Apple iPad mini Retina display – PDFs, my favorite movies, TripIt, etc.  My first iPad was a Gen 2 iPad – I bought it mainly for FaceTime and Skype and didn’t think I’d store much media on it, what with Netflix, Pandora, and other streaming services.  I was completely wrong and the 16gb version proved to be woefully insufficient.  My iPad Mini is the 128GB version – I like having some familiar things like my favorite movies, Tintin comics in PDF and photos on tap when I’m far from home.

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7. Shure SE-535 In-Ear Monitors – I use these with an 4th Gen iPod Touch, with my laptop, iPad mini, etc.  They are excellent, period.  These things will drown out the angriest of screaming babies and the folks on the plane who insist on talking through the “night” about how they proactively drive synergy and how the Internet of Things and IT strategy will help them — blah blah, Always Be Closing or something.  Right.  Seriously though, these IEMs are amazing.
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8. P.O.R.T.A.L. / Tor – Ever been somewhere or are you from a place that has oppressive internet?  Get around it.  Adafruit has a neat Raspberry Pi Tor kit available as well.  +2 points if you set one of those up and carry it around with you.

9. US CBP Global Entry – Not really technology, but since you wind up interacting with a machine instead of with a person via Global Entry, I figure it counts.  Global Entry is a program that lets you get vetted with US CBP and, once approved, bypass the long customs and immigration lines as a “trusted traveler” upon re-entering the US from overseas. Global Entry also gets you TSA Pre-Check, which lets you keep all of your techie toys in your bag when going through security.

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10. Loyalty – Another item that’s not really technology, but makes a huge difference.  Pick an airline/backup airline and a hotel/backup hotel program and stick with it.  Yes, you will sometimes end up paying more for a flight or for a hotel vs the lowest listed fare on Expedia/Priceline/whatever, but I think the difference is worth it.  I won’t go into the perks of elite status with airlines/hotels (although I will say that I haven’t flown coach in years at this point) but will instead focus on airline/airport IRROPS – “Irregular Operations” aka “when things go bad.”  I flew through Chicago O’Hare on my way to Jakarta this week – ORD is experiencing something of a nightmare after a recent fire – aside from a few delays, my flights were mostly unaffected.  However, United set me up with multiple backup plans/confirmed seats on other flights in case the Chicago delays worsened to the point where I would miss connections.

I still remember the time when – after being stuck on the tarmac in Miami for 3.5 hours due to a mechanical problem – the purser came up to me and quietly whispered, “Mr. Liao, I just wanted to let you know that because of the delay, you will miss your connecting flight in Houston – we went ahead and confirmed a seat for you in First Class on the next flight out of Houston, and also on a direct flight to Los Angeles on (a different airline) and we will provide you with a voucher for a taxi from LAX to SNA (my home airport) if the plane that we are on right now doesn’t make it to Houston.”  This, while there is sheer pandemonium on the plane due to the door being closed and no one being allowed to get off or call customer service for a re-booking.  🙂

How do you say connected while on the road? Got any great travel tips to share or Sync stories from abroad?  Tell me! Goodnight from Jakarta!