Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Evolving to Include Tech and the Cloud

This year Tooliedotter Press celebrated 10 years of existence. It's been a much better year for my business than the previous two, but I am sorry that I couldn't celebrate this milestone as I had hoped to do. Right about the time I would have been sending anniversary announcements, the hosting company who had handled my websites since the beginning flushed all of my websites down their digital toilet.

After 48 hours of being completely off the Internet, they did restore the files, but the damage was done. I had to find another provider. I had been involved with Amazon Web Services as a contract writer and fallen in love with their technology. I decided to go ahead with moving my websites from the previous provider's standard website hosting to the Amazon's cloud, and I haven't looked back.

As I began restoring my sites, I evaluated how I was going to use them in the future. That led to a bout of soul-searching that included the decision to finally get that book on cloud-computing written. It also meant that I am going to let some of my websites, products, and services go into mothballs for a while.

After 10 years on my own, I accepted a generous offer in July to take a permanent job for a while. I'm working in downtown Seattle for a fast-growing, well-funded startup that is building a database from the ground up. The technology is so compelling that 2 other long-time consultants besides myself decided to get in on the action by becoming employees instead of remaining independent. It's an intense, exciting place to be for the time being. And to my surprise, my experience with cloud computing has been utilized in addition to my writing and speaking skills. For me it's the best of both worlds: a steady paycheck in a semi-entrepreneurial environment.

Because even the best startups are at risk, I am keeping my website consulting clients on the side, and that makes for long days and perpetually working weekends. Even my 12 days off around Christmas have been spent finishing projects that have to be done by January 1st. So like many people who take active vacations, I'll be going back to work to recover!

As any wise business evolves, so has mine. I've been writing and sending an email newsletter since the beginning, but now it's time to switch completely over to using the as my writing outlet. I plan to write more about business travel technology and its relationship to cloud computing until I'm back out on the road as a speaker. I anticipate travel returning to my life in 2014, either for my job or for my consulting, or both.

It will continue to be a pleasure writing to you, plus now it won't just be on the last day of the month! My blog posts may be shorter, but now I can write whenever I find something worthwhile to share.

Thank you for your faithful readership over these past 9-and-a-half years. I look forward to bringing you travel and tech on this blog whenever possible.

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Newsletter: Mobile Device Holders for Home and Away

The Holiday Season is upon us! McAlister and I have decided to keep things simple this year, so the challenge of coming up with great gifts on a budget is even more intriguing. In between flights, you're no doubt going to be facing the same challenge, so this month I'm sharing a few of my "finds" in the technology department. Hopefully they'll spark some gift ideas for you.

What's Holding Up My Internet Device?

I tend to think of my iPhone as my link to the world, and my Kindle as my portable entertainment and informational device. The truth is, either device can serve any of those purposes, it just depends on where I am at the time. The one thing they both evoke in me is the desire to find the best possible viewing angle. I spend a lot of time at a computer these days, and I want my iPhone and/or Kindle viewing to be hands-free.

For my iPhone, I purchased a 13-inch gooseneck, suction-cup, windshield mount that I use not only in my car but also at my desk. The suction cup base will attach well to a smooth surface, and the glass-top desks at my day job are perfect for that. I keep the iPhone on vibrate, but if a call or a text message comes in, the iPhone is at eye-level so I don't miss it. They're made by Amzer. When we upgrade our iPhones in a couple of months, I'll be back to buy the version for whatever phone we decide to buy, because these stand have been incredibly handy.

When I was trolling through, I found a rather clever free-standing phone holder that could be a lot of fun on the go. The Quadropod and Clamp Smartphone holder can assume a number of yoga-like positions, including attaching to the back of the seat in front of you on the plane or in the car. It would also work nicely on a seat tray and provide a good viewing angle if you're watching movies or listen to your tunes while you fly.

Alternate Uses for Microphone Stands and Tripods

I use a professional microphone as part of my home audio studio, and the mike is mounted on a swing-arm mounted on my desk with a big, heavy clamp. Prior to acquiring and installing that swing-arm mount, I purchased a microphone stand with a 3-foot boom arm for my mike. I use it from time to time, but not nearly as often as I expected to when I first purchased it.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that manufacturers are producing all kinds of holders for existing stands, including microphone stands. Why? Because more and more musicians are reading their music on iPads and other tablet devices. Some tablet holders mount on the stem of the microphone stand; some mount at the end where the threads for the microphone would otherwise be.

I detach from my day by watching Mythbusters episodes on my Kindle while I get ready for bed. Their world is completely different from mine, and the Mythbusters always make me laugh. I plan to buy one of those tablet holders for the microphone stand and put it at my bedside, so that the stand will hold up my Kindle while I watch lying down. Silly? Maybe. But I fall asleep happy and relaxed, without pills or melatonin. I think it is worth $30 bucks to put my unused mike stand to work!

The same manufacturer also has a tablet holder for tripods. Unless you're a photographer who is using your tripod all the time, I bet you have a tripod leaning against the wall somewhere, unused. Tripods are great because they're eminently adjustable for both height and viewing angle; you just have to be careful not to trip over the legs.

Depending on the weight of the holder and the size of your device, you might even be able to use one of those very small tripods while traveling.

Got a favorite mobile device holder that you like to use? Add a comment below!
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Newsletter: The Wonders of Reliable Travel Sources

As I was preparing this month's newsletter, I came upon a news story that said that Arthur Frommer had purchased back from Google the rights to the name of his original travel guide series for an undisclosed sum. I have to say I was thrilled to hear the news because Frommer's Guide to Paris was one of my first travel guide purchases when Microsoft asked me to travel on their behalf. I came to rely on Frommer's Guides in the early days of my business travel.

It was 1996; I was asked to present at the US-based TechEd in Los Angeles. I had moved away from LA just 3 years earlier, and with the new Convention Center wing being finished, I was looking forward to seeing it. Then the news came: I had also been selected to speak at the European TechEd in Nice in the south of France. I was beside myself with joy! I arranged to take a week's vacation right after TechEd Europe finished, and then I took a 6-week crash course in French for tourists at the local community college. My plan was to spend that vacation week in Paris for the first time ever, and I intended to use that year of French from grad school plus the crash course to my best advantage.

I bought my ticket to fly in and out of Paris; I looked up the Eurail Pass and figured out how to get from Paris to Nice and back. In 1996, the Internet was just an interesting experiment in online commerce. Finding this information was done by reading books, not by searching with Google, which didn't even exist then (it was incorporated 2 years later). And thus, Arthur Frommer became my new best friend. His plain- looking but information-packed travel guides led me to some of my best finds in Paris.

The first, most important and still-used hotel "find" was the Hôtel Brittanique. Located in the very center of Paris and just a half-block from the Metro stop that has 6 lines running through it, the Hôtel Brittanique became a haven for me. The staff spoke English well, and Americans and UK residents were welcomed with open arms. The rooms are tiny and the elevator even smaller, but after a long day of concentrating on French grammar, it was a relief to be able to lapse into English for the night. I stayed at that hotel multiple times over the years, and its central location was and still is a godsend.

Next, I found out about the Carte Musée, a multi-museum pass that got me into most of the places I wanted to visit anyway. And then there was the Carte Visite, a weekly pass for the Paris Metro. Now I had a place to stay, places to go, and a way to get there, all from Frommer's guide.

Finally, Frommer's pointed me towards Rail Europe, the organization that issues Eurail passes. I used one of the passes to get me to Nice from Paris and back again. So from that one source, I became a business traveler who was comfortable moving around a foreign location. Frommer's gave me the confidence to take on another 31 regions and countries during the height of my business travel days. So thank you Arthur Frommer! Keep up the good work.

Got a favorite travel guide series that you use? Leave your comments below!
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Newsletter: Protecting Your Data as You Travel

As if travel in general isn't stressful enough! As business travelers we have the additional responsibility of protecting the intellectual property we carry around, whether it belongs our own company or to an employer. When I traveled for Microsoft back in the late 1990s a username and password was sufficient. In the early 2000s, smart card technology was added to our regimen because Windows 2000 supported it. That meant that we had to have a smart card reader to plug into our laptops, and had use our badge with the embedded chip on it to authenticate to our laptops and to the corporate network. Some US companies embraced smart cards; many still resist having some kind of third aspect of authentication before users can log in.

Europeans have been using smart card technology for years. When we first introduced the support in Windows 2000 at the European TechEd conference, it was greeted with comments like "what took you so long?" And "it's about time."

What Do You Take With You?

I was reading an article from Business Travel News this week that drove home the point. Are you taking with you files that aren't necessary? Do you have more data at risk on your laptop than is wise to allow?

Now with the accessibility of cloud storage, it's possible to stow those reports or stash your presentation where others cannot reach it. The level of security varies from provider to provider, so you need to examine carefully what measures they take to protect your data.

Encryption can go a long way towards keeping prying eyes away from one's data. Depending on your cloud provider, you can either encrypt files before they get to the cloud, or have your cloud provider encrypt them afterwards. There are advantages to both approaches; it just depends on your needs.

I'm a big fan of Amazon Web Services' cloud storage they call Simple Storage Service or S3. I used it for years before I worked at AWS, and I like it even more now. Amazon S3 lets you park your data in S3 using their Management Console, to which you can add something called Multi-Factor Authentication, or MFA, for the master account.


You can also implement a user scheme that lets you create groups with specific permissions and assign users to the groups. It's really ideal for business travelers who need access to their data without the company giving master access to everyone. The name for that service is Identity and Access Management, or IAM.


I recently set one of my clients up on Amazon S3 using IAM, and was able to give individual logins and credentials to each employee in their small business. If an employee doesn't work out, for example, their access to the intellectual property stored in S3 can be removed without causing problems for everyone else.

Physical Safety of Your Hardware

Traveling as a business person can be lonely for a lot of reasons, but it is especially frustrating when you need someone to "watch your stuff" for you. I am guilty of allowing a seemingly nice person who's been sitting next to me in the airline lounge watch over my laptop while I run off to the bathroom for "just a minute." I did lock the desktop and close the lid, but being away for just a minute is all it takes for you to lose everything.

The alternative to leaving your laptop behind while others watch over it is to tuck it into your bag and lock your bag to a fixture such as a desk or workstation or heavy chair: I've done that too and been fortunate to return and find everything where I left it.

It's probably best to simply not leave your laptop unattended, even with nice people watching over it. That means planning your trips to the lavatory carefully, perhaps upon arrival and departure when your items are already packed in your rolling laptop bag.

These days you must treat your smartphone with the same care as your passport: never EVER let them out of your sight. Think carefully about what you store on your phone. All you have to consider is the havoc someone can wreak on your life if you forget to log out of your banking app or your LinkedIn account. That ought to give you the shivers!

Got any horror stories or advice to share? Add them in the Comments below, and I'll include them in a future newsletter.
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Newsletter: Sorrow, Airline Safety, and You

The tragic crash of Asiana flight 214 on July 6th touches our lives and hearts, especially those of us who fly a lot. I have been particularly affected by this incident because San Francisco is a frequent connection point for me. I've been in airplanes that land on the runway in question, and have many times gulped as the plane looked like it was about to land in the water. It's something you get used to if you land in San Francisco regularly, but it reminds me of how precious life is, and how important it is to cherish your family and friends.

Do Those Safety Briefings Really Matter?

If you fly the same airline as I do most of the time (United), you could probably stand up and deliver the briefing yourself, word for word. Some airlines make the announcement a little more entertaining than the nice attendants at United do, but the information is no less important if it's delivered with humor than if it's delivered with a straight face. The reality is that every line of instructions has been carefully thought out, and every major point of safety awareness is something you should memorize and follow.

After the Asiana crash I reviewed some of the videos about it, including people who were on the airplane, people who witnessed the crash, and experts evaluating the crash circumstances afterwards. The immediate loss of the flight attendants in the rear of the airplane didn't help the lack of direction that some of the passengers expressed. Since the plane did not immediately catch fire, some were concerned about unnecessarily evacuating if there was fuel on the ground that could pose a fire hazard. Eventually everyone got off the plane, though many had serious injuries.

Preparation is the Key

It also didn't help that there was no warning before the impact of flight 214 into the end of the runway. If passengers had been aware that a crash was imminent, they could have assumed the brace position and possibly avoided some of the reported spinal injuries that happen when you're tossed around like a rag doll. The brace position that passengers are instructed to assume has been proven to be effective in reducing bodily injury during crashes. The seats that partially collapse during a crash actually are absorbing some of the energy that would otherwise go into your spine. The collapse of these seats may result in leg injuries, but it still saves lives. Having seats break like that does contribute to the challenge of evacuating the airplane, but the majority of passengers are still able to get out of the plane to safety. When Captain Sully Sullenberger landed his airplane in the Hudson River a few years ago, everyone was able to get out of the plane, and only one person had a broken leg from the impact.

If you're curious about some of these facts, I invite you to locate an episode of the Mythbusters on the Discover Channel titled "Killer Brace Position" that aired June 22, 2005. After consulting with aviation experts, the team constructed a special drop rig with airline seats installed. They tested the strength of the configuration along with the effects of seats collapsing. As a frequent airline passenger, it was an illuminating look at the reasoning and results of the years of government and aviation industry safety studies. Yes folks, there's a good reason to pay attention to those safety briefings, and to mentally rehearse what to do, should the unthinkable happen on your flight.

Documentary Deliberately Crashed a Boeing 727 for Science

In 2012, Discovery Channel, Channel 4 in the UK, and Pro Sieben in Germany assisted a group of scientists, airline experts, and aviation researchers in deliberately crashing a Boeing 727 in the Mexican desert, to study the effects of airline disasters on the human body, the airplanes, and the equipment installed in the plane. The documentary aired as part of the Curiosity series.

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