How I have changed: communications and the cloud

The air was cool, with a gentle tailwind from the coast. Up ahead, we spied a Sobey’s in a shopping center on the right-hand side of the road. She wheeled into the parking lot, and I followed her. A few minutes later, we were sitting at a picnic table outside, checking our smart phones and swapping a half-gallon carton of orange juice between us.

“Oh darn,” she exclaimed. “I thought I took care of all that!” I looked up from my email.

“Took care of what?”

“My son’s application,” she said. “I filled out a detailed form with my personal information, but now they need a copy of my passport. He’s not a minor, for crying out loud.”

“A government job, isn’t it?” I asked. “Maybe they need to sure that he’s a real humanoid, by proving that he has a mother.”

“I’ll deal with it tonight. I can use the WiFi or my phone from the hostel.”

“Well, I’ve got some customers to answer, but it will be easier using the computers at the hostel than my phone, so let’s both take care of business tonight.” Sobeys

She walked the crumpled orange juice carton to the recycling bin, while I tied the Sobeys bag with our supper to my bicycle.…

I came back to the room from the computer lounge in the hostel. She had her passport open on a chair, and was taking a picture. 

“All done?” she asked. 

“Yes. That was easy. I sent them the contact data on some colleagues who could do the job. They were all happy with the referrals.” 

She stood up, and punched her telephone for a few seconds.  “There! That should do it. I just can’t understand why they need my passport photo for his application.” 

“Well, I’m glad we’re in the 21st century. He would be sort of stuck with you out here and he needing your passport there.” 

“I guess so,” she said, picking up the Sobeys shopping bag. “Let’s go down to the kitchen and fix supper.”…

This vignette exposes several things that are different about the way that I keep working while on the road now. cropped-sbux-sc-121019a.jpgBefore the Northern Trek 2014, I was used to having everything backed up locally: flash drives, burned CD’s, and terabyte hard drives. I was paranoid about losing my data if my computer were damaged or stolen. However, I was afraid to use the cloud, because some of my work is confidential, and some of my clients specifically insist on not having their work on the cloud. All that changed as I had to adapt to life on the road without my computer for eight weeks last summer. Thanks to my smart phone, I could continue to check my email. If the subject were important enough, I could find a place that had computer services, such as a library, a hotel, or a hostel. Using any WiFi connection, I could use my phone to keep track of my finances, check my bank account, deposit checks, and answer emails that came in while we were on the road. Smart phones can also take pictures of documents, convert them to PDF, and send them attached to an email.

I learned to use the cloud, and to trust it. My earlier concern about confidential documents caused me to have the whole problem backwards. In fact, a very tiny part of what is on my computer needs to be kept off the cloud. I can do that, using email attachments, and portable hard drives and flash drives for backup. However, the rest of my existence on the road probably should be on the cloud. And thus, I have moved my email from the Internet Service Provider back in Charlottesville to Gmail. Likewise, Google® has my calendar, my contacts database, my to-do list, and all the photographs that I take with the smart phone. I have additional cloud storage on Dropbox®, and Microsoft OneDrive® to back up my work and my personal files. Even my medical records are in the cloud, which allows me to communicate confidentially with my health care team, and to keep up with the necessary lab tests no matter where I am.

Relying so heavily on my phone exposed several weaknesses with both the telephone instrument and the service that I had. I was stuck without cellular data service in Canada, because my cell provider did not have an international plan. I could not have used my phone outside North America. After I returned to Charlottesville in November, I swapped out my CDMA-only Samsung Galaxy 4 for an unlocked, GSM-capable Nexus 5. Nexus 5Then I rode to the AT&T store, and switched my cell phone service to a prepaid plan, the AT&T Gophone®. This plan allows me to keep my telephone number indefinitely, and provides better coverage and service than I had before. Most important, I can switch it to a minimal plan when I go to Europe, take out the SIM card, and get a European plan (and a different SIM card) while I am traveling there, without buying a new phone. I could also have bought an AT&T international plan, but with my own phone, it is more cost-effective to sign up with a European provider.

St Margarets Bay trailRiding down the TransCanada bike trail a few days later, we were able to spend some time riding side-by-side, a rare opportunity for some conversation on the road. The trees had been turning colors for a week now, and the nip of autumn was in the air. The sun was already low in the sky.

“I don’t think were going to make it to Chester today,” I said.

“Me neither. Let’s stop at Hubbard’s Beach and see what’s there.”

“I sure am glad you have data services on your phone again. It’s really great to be able to check for accommodations on the road like this.”

“It’s convenient,” she agreed, “but, you know, it was kind of peaceful riding around the Gaspé Peninsula without my phone working.”

“I know what you mean. I’m going to look back on my low-tech vacation as a happy memory for a long time. Hey – !”gone again

She was racing the sun to the horizon again. I shifted down and cranked on the speed as best I could. We would be in Hubbard’s Beach in plenty of time at this rate… 

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