Windows

IT pro trip to Israel: Internet access and remote connections

IT pro Bob Eisenhardt took an unforgettable trip to Israel and dutifully reports on the state of Internet access and making remote connections from half-a-world away from home.

About a year ago, we learned that our Rabbi was taking a trip to Israel, so we signed on for the journey and on December 21st, off we flew for an unforgettable trip. Thirteen days of marching and busing north, south, east and west, to Golan down to Elat by the Red Sea; two hours on Masada, shopping in dense marketplaces in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The BEST coffee I have ever had by the way. But that is for a travel blog. Here, I will faithfully report the pleasures and terrors of the Internet half-way around the world. Before departure, we were assured that Israel is a fully Internet-ready place, and this is probably the case in any Starbucks (there are plenty of those over there), but when one is on a tight schedule, freedom goes out the window.

First off, owners of iPads seem to be living on cloud nine. Armies of these happy warriors come down with their super slim and nifty little pink pads and somehow find the Internet anywhere. They could be in the middle of a desert (as we were) and still find it without issue. I am a Mac technician by brute force and still don't understand the complexities of these miniature marvels, but the iPad people live in a state of bliss. To this alone, Steve Jobs deserves more than his share of credit. Windows systems are entirely different and, I assume, more troublesome.

One crucial note for this country is that one day out of seven everything simply shuts down, inclusive of (surprisingly) Internet access in some locations. Shabbat is a blessing, but for IT, more of a nuisance for the dedicated computer user than anything else. A day of rest without work is a literal result.

It is sometimes not free either. The hotel industry has yet to learn that access is a business priority, a necessity as much as the phone or shower. One fine hotel by the Dead Sea had instant, powerful internet access in the room (hooray) but ... choose your payment plan!!! I took that as a challenge to break down the door and figure out an IP run-around, but time was pressing, so I stole down to the business computers in the lobby (three of them, running Windows 7 with one listed as a NON-GENUINE system). Think this is good? All used by kids playing games.

A side bar note. These three systems were in English but our hotel near the Dead Sea had three systems with Windows in Hebrew. I have prided myself on dealing with Windows through foreign languages via visual references. Impossible here. Don't try it. Ever.

My wife wanted to check her bank account, and I was FAR from comfortable with putting in the codes for Citibank on an open, free system. I don't trust it. Leaving footprints behind when it comes to banking is a burden not be carried around. Secondly, the major banks now recognize the SSID code of an individual computer logging in and therefore ask for verification data, a very good thing indeed. That I had some data made this more difficult (and again I preferred NOT to enter it on a really public computer) but a handy solution, albeit a slow one, was available.

Through DYNDNS, I have remote desktop connection to my home network and, VOILA, I was accessing Citibank through a system half a world away but also secure in my knowledge that account code data was safe.

My home-office network runs from a Windows 2003 server up to two stations that are turned on about 18 hours a day. Before departing, I set a routine: morning startup through BIOS with data backup, and later in the evening shutdown with data backup. These three systems guarantee I can access one of them from anywhere. Plus, I wisely added the loud sound of a barking dog to my upstairs system as a scheduled task running every 20 minutes for two hours.

When I had Internet, I enjoyed logging into my client's servers and printing access reports indicative that I really COULD work on their systems from so far away, which is a bit of advertising I heartily recommend.

Israel hosts many places to stay but a Kibbutz by the Dead Sea is as far from a civilized world as you can get, with the exception of Kruger Park in South Africa. In my case, a two night stay in Kibbutz Lotan (look it up as it is a really neat place) left me frustrated beyond belief. Internet is there, sort of, but it wandered all around the compound and disappeared (of course) on Shabbat. Instead of fighting this issue, I gave up and watched THE GREAT RACE on my laptop for 20 minutes while cursing the Gods, which is easy over there. With so much history around, your message is bound to be picked up.

One could almost put an IP address on paper and slip it into the Western Wall. Who knows?

One hotel in Jerusalem had sporadic Internet, there for 10 seconds and not for 15 seconds. My nifty little Dell Latitude would find it, drop it, find it, drop it, find it ... and endlessly it went. Pick up an IP address and lose it. Why, I could not figure out. Asking for tech assistance goes against my grain as I AM A TECHNICIAN and can figure it out myself. No luck. (BTW: the password for the network reminded me of Mel Brooks: 12345678).

The result of all of this merry hell was that I really wanted to visit a Starbucks and at least be on equal terms with the happy iPad crowd.

4 comments
elibarzilay
elibarzilay

Old post, but -- are you serious? Overall, Israel is *far* more technological than the US, and even in remote places like kibutz Lotan you're talking about a place with its own dot-com site, which you even linked to... How is this "far from a civilized world"? (I'm assuming the other aspects of civilization, like being dressed and eating cooked food, were all present.) My experience with living in the US is that it's much easier to get to places that are way farther away on the non-technological side. Looks like you had a good time in that place, it's a pity then that you then write this post that draws it as some kind of a cave stuck under a rock with mostly smoke signals as a reliable way of communication. BTW, did you consider that visiting mostly religious and related places mean that obviously there is less support on a saturday? Oh, and re your gem about a 12345678, yeah, it sounds funny -- but are these passwords supposed to be secure? If you're in IT then you should have enough experience with what people do when they need a password to set up their boxes but it's a password that guests will need to be told -- they make up an *easy* password like the name of the hotel or ... 12345678. And they're actually *right* in doing so: a good password might avoid a random person using the net when they're not from the hotel (minimal damage since quality degrades outside of the building), but it will also ensure that guests will keep bothering you about the password. (I don't think that I've ever seen a public network with a password that I'd consider secure -- and that includes lot of CS geek conferences.) The really bad thing is that you're an "IT pro", so obviously everything that you write is correct... *sigh* It's this kind of attitude that ends up with people who would ask me if we have television in Israel. (No, that's not made up.)

michael
michael

I agree, Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the official day of rest here in Israel) is indeed a blessing. For 24 hours one can choose to put aside the distractions of the modern world - no beeping devices, no urge to incessently check email, no surfing the internet to see the latest news, no annoying telephone calls. The rat race stops. Sabbath observers can instead spend time with their family, eating meals together and actually speaking with one another, as well as shmooze with their friends and neighbors. There's also time to relax and read a book (you know, the paper and glue kind) or the weekend paper. The more religious also attend synagogue services, as well as study religious texts which serve to nourish the soul. In short, it's like going on vacation once a week, a good way to charge one's mental battaries before beginning a new week of work. While the concept of a Day of Rest comes from ancient times, I think it's especially important in today's modern, always-connected world. I'm glad you enjoyed your trip to Israel. However, it's a shame that you looked at the lack of internet availability on Shabbat as a curse, instead of looking at it as an excuse to relax and enjoy the lovely surroundings that you were in. -Michael P.S. While some of the above descriptions of Shabbat are observed only by the more religiously observant people, the vast majority of Israelis do use the day to eat meals with the whole family as well as relax with friends. P.P.S. I don't want people to think that the internet closes down in Israel on Saturday - it doesn't. Actually, I'm surprised that in the tourist-related locations you were in that you couldn't get access on Saturday.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

When you say "remote desktop connection" are you referring to RDP? Or does DYNDNS have a VPN service besides their DNS services? Also, when you mention Internet service are you referring to mobile cell service or Wi-Fi? Or maybe both.

mbkavka
mbkavka

I was in Israel just about the same time as you. the Kibbutz up near the Golan which I was at had free internet, but I could find no free internet near the Dead Sea. Jerusalem, on Ben-Yahuda street (the big street mall) I could get free internet no problem, but not at my hotel. Out in Tel-Aviv, I was able to get some free from a coffee house across the street from my hotel (and yes I could connect from my room to that SSID). Considering I had heard the same things that you had heard about Internet in Israel, I was disappointed. Oh, and it didn't matter whether I was trying with my iPad or netbook. Actually, the netbook (running Ubuntu 11.04) was better than the iPad at getting wireless, at least for me.