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.

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