Thursday, May 8, 2014

How a techie family travels

For the last 3+ years, our family of five have been travelling with the following assortment of tech gear...
- My work laptop... Lenovo Thinkpad T440s, before that a T410s
- My wife's MacBook Air (2012)
- Kids' laptop
- 2x 3G iPads (gen 2), occasionally joined by a gen 3 wifi iPad
- 2x iPhone 4 and an iPhone 4S
- Nintendo 3DS an assortment of digital cameras (Canon point-and-shoot with Eye-Fi card, and more recently a Panasonic Lumix GX7 that truly sucks at wifi but takes great pictures)

You wouldn't want to be behind us at the airport security checkpoint :) But we have been practising so we should be able to clear the checkpoint in not much more time than a well-rehearsed F1 pit crew.

So how do we connect the above motley crew to the Net? I have had an unhealthy collection of travel routers that I will probably write about in a separate post, but the one that has served us well recently has been an unlocked Huawei E5776 4G mifi router. It's predecessor, the E585 3G mifi router (which we still keep as a backup), has worked well but only limited to 5 wifi devices whereas the E5776 supports up to 10 wifi devices. For reasonably affordable international 3G SIM cards that meet our need, I have successfully used KeepGo in Jersey (UK), Lisbon, and Amsterdam over the last five months. I have also used Tep Wireless in the past for mifi+SIM rentals, but in the last year, they seem to be going through management challenges resulting in ineffective delivery and services.

I have had mixed success with sharing paid hotel wifi connections. The Asus WL330N3G and its predecessor the WL330gE have worked on occasions but not consistently. Luckily, most hotels I stayed at recently, have wised up to the fact that many travellers have more than one wifi device requiring Internet connectivity.

To power/charge the aforementioned devices, I have found travelling with a power strip to be the best option, as most hotels/flats do not have enough outlets. I use an international 6-outlet 110-250V power strip with surge suppression and 2 USB charging ports, that I bought from eBay. It fits easily into my trusty Briggs & Riley carry-on roller board along with a week's worth of clothing. I also have to mention that I have been a big fan of the PlugBug for my wife's MacBook Air power adapter.

Is Amsterdam the perfect model of cycle-centric society?

I have just spend the last five days in Amsterdam. It is truly a beautiful city and beats to its own drum. I can definitely see myself returning to the city many times in the future. I love the ease and grace with which the Dutch ride their bicycles. Two-up (with the passenger side-saddle on the rear rack) is no problem. Perching a toddler on the top-tube is alright as well. No need for Lycras, fast bikes and helmets. Everyone just seems so natural and healthy.

Many cities, including London, look to Amsterdam (and Netherlands in general) as a model implementation of a cycle-friendly society. As a bicycle commuter in London, I am mostly comfortable sharing the road with other road-users (motorised or not) and certainly not afraid to be proactive for the sake of my own safety, but I wouldn't want to subject my family to the same arrangement. The mostly segregated cycle lanes/paths in Amsterdam are much safer options for the majority of the general population. So what is holding me back from fully embracing the Dutch cycle-centric-society model?

Dutch cyclists, at least in Amsterdam, are quite aggressive and seem entitled. In London, absent minded pedestrians on Oxford Street during my commute (on the road) can be a source of annoyance, but I am alright with giving them a wide berth (on the road) and the occasional blast from my 140 dB Hornit if it looks like they are about to veer into my path (on the road). After all, I will probably be worse off than them if I was to come off my bike. Dutch cyclists, on the other hand, fully expect you to keep clear of the designated cycle lanes (fair enough) but also tailgate and ring their little bells to bully you out of their way on the pavement/sidewalk or shared pathways (e.g. narrow bridge). It is this aspect of pedestrian-bullying that really bothers me. I find this behaviour counter-productive to the cause of encouraging bicycle transportation. Relegating pedestrians to the place of third-class citizens is very insulting and unnecessary. I hope cycling advocates everywhere actively encourage peaceful integration of all road users through common practise of adherence to rules and decency, rather than a singular focus on one agenda.