The realities of mobility and hitting the road

Over the past couple of years, the increase in connectivity has even changed the way people go on holidays.

After a gruelling three weeks of moving the office and transferring from the business in-house MS Small Business Server to Office 365, I decided to take a week or so holiday in South Australia. However, while it was time to relax, I still needed the ability to respond to client requests, monitor our hosting servers, check email, store and view photographs, do a bit of writing, watch a few MP4 videos, and view TV programs available from various sites.

My Windows 8 HTC phone would provide some of these functions, and the Surface RT tablet would do the rest. First thing was to make sure I had the minimum of necessary cables. The Surface charger was obviously required, but I would also need a standard USB to mini cable for my camera and a standard USB to micro USB for the phones to connect to the Surface RT's standard USB port. I was also eager to try the HDMI output from the Surface, so I began a search for the adapter mentioned on Microsoft's site. This was rather pricey, and as usual, I'd left this to the last moment, so I began searching for a substitute. A few posts on the web led me to the discovery that the Surface RT uses a micro-HDMI port, and therefore only requires a micro HDMI to HDMI cable.

The real problem was trying to find one. There were plenty on eBay for around $4 each, but I couldn't find any I could pick up immediately. Next best was an ACER cable available from Dick Smith for around $17, but a visit to two shops and a phone call found that there was only one available in the state, so I shelved that problem to deal with in South Australia.

The beach house we were renting had no available wi-fi, so our phones were going to become wi-fi hotspots using our data connection. Close to the city, I usually get around 29Mbps using 4G, and when we arrived, I found I was still getting 8Mbps at our fairly remote location, which provided responsive web use and streamed video from ABC's iView without a problem.

During the trip I used the Maps app on my phone to back up the sat-nav in my Prius. It's now around 5 years out of date, but I can't bring myself to pay the hundreds of dollars Toyota wants for an updated DVD. I could have used a number of apps to duplicate the sat-nav, such as Garmin Navigator, but the free Windows app was useful even without voice directions, and corrected a few navigational errors on route.

The wi-fi internet sharing worked well, supporting our two Surface RT tablets, but I managed to burn through my 1GB data plan in around a week, so a quick call to Telstra added another 1GB for $15, which will reset back to my original plan when we return to Melbourne.

We'd taken plenty of photographs on the journey and on our trips to the Adelaide and Monarto zoos, using both our camera and phones. Transferring the photos to a Surface was simply a matter of connecting the cable and choosing import photos. Once imported, we could view them directly on the Surface using the Photos hub and display them on the large LCD display at the beach house, and share any through email or Facebook. As both the cameras and the phone appear as Windows drives, I could also easily clean up our photographic devices.

I resolved the HDMI cable problem by finding an eBay vendor I could pick up from in Adelaide, and bought two for $8. Displaying video and photos on the LCD display did have a minor hitch. When I connected the HDMI cable to the Surface and digital TV, it automatically selected the lower resolution of the SD display (1,280x720), which meant trying to start any of the Start screen apps would generate a message saying that the screen resolution was too low for the apps to function and suggesting I set it to the standard 1,366x768. The desktop, however, functioned normally, so I simply set the screen resolution to standard, and then everything worked (although I was probably missing a few pixels on the LCD display).

One thing I did forget was a mouse, so I had to make do with touch and the track pad while writing with Word. Surprisingly, I didn't miss it much, as it's easier to touch the screen for cursor location or to bring up the correction menus than even worry about the track pad. I find no real difference between the speed of writing with Word on the Surface RT and my i7 desktop, although I know moving the graphics around is a lot slower. I changed over to the Type Cover from my partner's Surface tablet for work in Word, as it's faster and feels like a normal keyboard. This resulted in a few complaints from my partner, who hated the lack of tactile response from the Touch Cover and had difficulty adapting to the position of the left and right mouse buttons on the track pad, as they sit outside the usual square area. After extended use of the Type Cover, I reluctantly gave it back and decided that I'll order one myself.

As usual, the Surface RT functioned as my eBook reader, newspaper, and gaming device, as well as my business PC, with email and Office 365 through the browser. For all practical purposes, the Surface RT is now my laptop replacement, with much better battery life.

I didn't have access to my Visual Studio programming environment, my powerful graphic editor, and World of Warcraft. Considering this was supposed to be a break, that's probably just as well. Buying the Surface Pro would also be an option if I needed Windows legacy applications on the road.

My trip highlighted the changes the ubiquitous internet has caused. My trips to retail stores for cables and for music CDs (the Prius had only a CD player) were a waste of time due to lack of stock or, in the case of CDs, music shops. The owner of the beach house had already cancelled their unstable broadband connection, as they found that guests were using their phones instead. The old media model of commercial TV with mind numbing ads every 10 minutes without the benefits of time shift, recording, and fast forward was mitigated by the ABCs iView, YouTube, and recorded MP4 videos. Streaming video and viewing today's data laden websites means that you may also need to increase your mobile data plan temporarily if you intend to use your phone to connect to multiple devices. I notice that Telstra has reported it will soon offer single data plans to be shared between devices, which would certainly be useful when you're away from home.

The internet has also caused some significant changes to my business. This was why we needed a holiday, and I'll describe the process of moving to Office 365 and some of the problems in my next column.


Tony is the owner and managing director of Microcraft eLearning and is one of the creators of the AUTHOR eLearning Development System.


While the article demonstrates how we can still connect to the world when we are away, due to some truly amazing technology, the entire premise is just sad and pathetic. There was a day, way back when, where employees were able to actually go on vacation. The whole concept of a holiday/vacation was to completely escape the rat race and relax, forget entirely about work and let the others hold the fort. One of the key company roles to ensure that things were covered was to cross train people, unless it was a dire emergency, everything would be fine when you returned because someone could at least cover the bulk of the routine work. Then it got to the point where highly specialized people were required at the office. When they went on vacation, they would get a cal if there was an emergency, if they could be reached by landlines. Now, companies expect staff to be available when on vacation, in which case I always let them know that if I answer the phone, I'm billing 2 hrs. If I do any work, I'm billing for 4 hours. If I have to put in a day of remote work, I bill for 8 at time and a half. I don't get called unless the sky is falling and I usually don't get those calls until I'm back in cell range (NEVER GO ON HOLIDAY IN CELL RANGE!!!!). Today it's a mix, there are IT people who feel the company will collapse without them for a week, don't flatter yourselves. Then there are companies who feel that without an IT guy on site, they will not be able to operate. I have a friend who can't go 3 minutes without texting his girlfriend, no I am not kidding, 3 minutes is actually a stretch for him. Saddest part is that he's 46, doesn't work in IT but can't be away from his SMS. We go up the mountain to camp, I wake up at 5 AM and he's right there asking for a ride into town for something he forgot. Being patient with people who are not prepared for camping, not everyone has the same experience as me, I take him 40 minutes into town and he spends the entire time texting. I could see it if he was a love struck teenager but this is a middle aged guy who's been with his girlfriend over 10 years. As we drive back out of town, I ask if he got everything he needed at the store only to find out he didn't get anything, just wanted to get into phone range. It's pathetic, absolutely sad. How can people go on holiday and actually feel they HAVE to be tethered to the office. You get back to work and you haven't been on vacation yet!! I know people like to feel important but believe me, even in the most critical IT roles, you can be thrown out the door and replaced in a heartbeat. Your role may be important or even specialized, in the case of legacy software, but no matter what people think, someone else can and will do it if you don't. It has come to the point where companies expect employees to be available during holidays, which is a complete joke. Start paying me that 33% of the net and we'll talk about my availability. The problem is, people feel empowered when they are away, they want to know they are needed and wanted in the office, I.T. is a VERY narcissistic trade indeed. So stop empowering your employers, forget reaching the office. Even when I'm IN range I say I was out of range, it's none of their business where I am or what I do when on vacation. pi$$ off and I'll see you when I'm back, the sky isn't really falling and the doors will be open when I return. Vacation is a break from the day to day grind. Take photos and have fun looking through them and reminiscing when you get home. Why is there a need to send them on the spot, to spend an hour editing video and images to send at 2AM to someone back home? Remember when you had to wait until you got home, drop off your film then wait with anticipation to pick it up 4 days later? I like the feeling of returning home and going "WOW TV looks so wierd!" "I haven't heard a phone ring in 2 weeks." or even better still "Electricity! what a concept!" Today's society has forgotten how to live, how to enjoy downtime and how to forget work for even a few minutes. It's just sad how OUT of touch people really are in pursuing their quest to be IN touch.


Vacations should be for recharging and spending time with family or friends.

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