Internet on the Road, part 2 – how to optimize your travel connectivity

rsts11 note: This is the second of a two-part series featuring mobile internet routers. The first part is posted over on rsts11travel.com, as it is a bit milder technology. The second part appears on #rsts11 since it’s a bit more POHO than random travel, and will be cross-promoted on the travel side. 

When you travel, you probably have a number of devices that demand connectivity.

Many venues limit your allowed devices, and maybe you don’t want your devices out on the open network. Additionally, you may want to use streaming devices or shared storage in your room, and that may not work with typical public network setups. Last time we looked at some battery powered routers with charging functions and other network features.

Today on rsts11 we’ll look at some choices for sharing a wired connection as well as a cellular modem. We’ll briefly revisit the Hootoo and Ravpower routers from part 1, and then dive into Meraki, Peplink, and Cradlepoint devices for the higher-power user.  Continue reading

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Internet on the Road part 1 – A crossover with #rsts11travel

rsts11 note: This is the first of a two-part series started on #rsts11travel, featuring mobile internet routers. The second part will appear here on #rsts11 since it’s a bit more POHO than random travel, and will be cross-promoted on the travel side. 

When you travel, you probably have a number of devices that demand connectivity. However, a lot of venues limit your allowed devices, and maybe you don’t want your devices out on the open network. Additionally, you may want to use streaming devices or shared storage in your room, and that may not work with typical public network setups.

Today on rsts11travel we’ll look at a couple of options for aggregating, optimizing, and even protecting your connectivity on a public hotspot, hotel network, or even on your own cellular connection.

There are three schemes we’ll consider in this series.

  1. Connecting multiple devices to wifi
  2. Connecting multiple devices to a wired network
  3. Connecting multiple devices through a mobile hotspot/cellular modem

A caveat up front with regard to security and obfuscation: Not all of these options offer the same level of security for your devices, and most will not limit visibility of your connectivity as far as the facility staff, the ISP, or others on your network is concerned. Nothing in this series should be taken as replacing your OS and application updates, antivirus and anti-malware/anti-spyware software, and of course realization that security is subjective.

Read more at rsts11travel.com

Check out the travel section – #rsts11travel has more coming this week!

You’re tuned to rsts11, the tech blog from Robert Novak (Est. 2011). If you’d like to turn to the new travel section, visit rsts11travel.com and see what we’re writing about over there.

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Coming in the next week or two will be a two-part mobile power piece as well as a slightly more detailed hotel review from your host’s birthday escape. Unfortunately, no pina coladas, but fortunately, no getting caught in the rain either.

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rsts11 will continue to roll out tech content,including some hardware reviews and homelab / POHO build travelogues, a bit of big data, and some more economy power-networking options.

Thanks for your support!

Another look at mobile workflow – iPad Air keyboard cases

I have a bad habit of buying lots of accessories for an electronic device I’ll have for a year or so, and then they pile up because people don’t want to buy them with the old device. This is usually the case with mobile phones and laptops, but it also comes up with tablets. I have three keyboard cases and at least three regular cases for my iPad 3rd gen, including a Hello Kitty keyboard.

During a particularly nifty Target promo around their Cartwheel app, I got a 15% discount off any electronic device over a two day period. This included iPads, and since my 16GB 3rd gen iPad was full, I got a 64GB Air at nearly 20% off (with redcard discount). Then I went about looking for a case.

I need a case, just in case, you know

An article someone pointed me toward said the Case Crown Omni was the best on the market. I bought it to use while I searched for a keyboard case that would work. I don’t have a lot to say about it except that it was indeed a good case, better than any I found at local retail in a few days of looking.

Among the recommendations that came in was one from Kieran Hannon, the CMO of Belkin (who also own the Linksys brand, in case you’ve been under a WRT54G for the past year).

He unsurprisingly recommended his firm’s “Qode” (pronounced as “Code”) line of keyboard cases, with the top-of-the-range Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case being well rated (albeit a bit pricey at $130). There’s also a Slim Style model (msrp $80) with a kickstand on the iPad holder, and a Thin Type model (msrp $100) that works as a stand when in use and clips over the iPad when not in use.

61gBQETEYkL._SL1500_[1]As an aside, the Belkin product I use the most (up until now, at least) is their swivel power adapter with USB and AC outlets. The SurgePlus model is the current one, with 2.1A charging on USB. I suspect the 3-4 of them I have are old enough to be the 1A versions (time to upgrade!). Great for travel, especially if you’re at an event where they think one power outlet per table is generous.

The Belkin Slim Style

I bought a Slim Style at Target, marked down from $80 to $71 and further discounted 5% via redcard (I think this was after the Cartwheel deal). I used it for a day or so before mentioning on Twitter that it was nice, but the kickstand design wasn’t very lap friendly. This is what you could call the Surface Dilemma, after Microsoft’s almost-there laptop-replacement tablet which hasn’t yet wowed everyone with its lap-friendliness.

71Swm5JrNTL._SL1500_[1]

My assessment of the Slim Style was that, on a desktop (or probably even on a roomier airline tray table), it would be good. The keyboard and its layout felt reasonable, and I felt it protected the iPad well enough that I could just drop it into my laptop bag without fear.

But I returned it, because of the lapability factor, and mentioned this on Twitter.

The @belkincares account asked if they could help, and were very courteous even though they (luckily) couldn’t make my lap resemble a tabletop more. I’ve had a few good exchanges with @belkincares over the past year or so, from stacking cable inquiries around their older KVMs to some arcane questions about the wireless bridge line.

This keyboard case goes to ULTIMATE

About a week later, Belkin had generously provided a Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case for me to try out at no cost.  I plugged it in to charge and then started using it the next morning.

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case

The Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case in use

The Qode Ultimate has a more contained layout, in that rather than a kickstand, the iPad shell magnetically “sticks” to the keyboard shell. It has three positions, as with the Slim Style, but they’re within the footprint of the keyboard, and thus much more convenient on the lap or on a tray table.

ipad-qode-shellThe keyboard shell is sort of a dark blue “aircraft-grade aluminum alloy” that I didn’t recognize as blue at first. It does pick up fingerprints and the occasional light scratch, but I only notice that when getting the iPad out or putting it away, since this part is on the bottom when in use, and also hidden when you’re using it in “reading mode” (i.e. folded back).

The iPad shell piece is black plastic with a leatherish inset that incorporates the kickstand “hinge.” The Belkin logo is on the “front” (i.e. bottom of the keyboard) and the Belkin name is on the leatherish hinge section and on the front of the keyboard.

The keyboard turns itself off unless the iPad is “connected” to one of the three kickstand positions. So if you flip it back so that the keyboard is behind the screen, it’s automatically powered off. Same with closing it up; the keyboard is off and the battery life is extended.

For some reason, Belkin have swapped two of the keys on their keyboards. I believe the Slim Style and Thin Style place the colon/semicolon key between “L” and “Enter” whereas the Ultimate places the quote key there. In each case the other key is to the right of the space bar.

Kensington to the semicolon’s rescue?

I’m slowly getting used to the keyboard layout. It’s very typeable except when I need a semicolon or a colon. However, I decided that if I was going to write a review, it would be good to make sure that I liked the Belkin keyboard case for reasons other than it being given to me at no cost.

So I picked up a Kensington KeyFolio Exact case, which I found on clearance at Marshall’s for $40. It includes a Google Drive offer (which is apparently processed manually by Kensington, as I haven’t received the code for the offer in the past week), so it was an inexpensive experiment.

The KeyFolio is bulkier, with a detachable bluetooth keyboard, a stylus holder in the hinge, a wider range of color options, and a lower price if you’re going to buy it at retail.

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

The Kensington Exact and Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboards

I found that the keyboard itself was brilliant, managing to fit both the semicolon and the quote key between “L” and Enter by making the keys a little bit smaller. And since the Kensington had a fixed “kickstand” mounting point in the case closer to the hinge, they had room to put separate number and function key rows on the keyboard. The Belkin Slim Style also does this, since it has most of the surface area to spend on keyboard real estate. And I actually found myself using the function keys on the Kensington, which I hadn’t done on the Belkin.

(Above photo is of the actual keyboards, Kensington Keyfolio Exact on the top and Belkin Qode Ultimate on the bottom.)

I used the Kensington for just short of a week, and while I loved the keyboard and almost got used to the stand layout, I found I had to go back to the Belkin Qode Ultimate. Why?

I preferred the Qode Ultimate’s ease of turning off the keyboard, the lightness and grace of the entire case, and its turning off the iPad screen and locking it when I closed the case.

I expect I will hold onto the Kensington in case someone I know needs a super-cheap case for their Air and doesn’t need lapability. I am tempted to try the Thin Style just to see how that style of keyboard feels as a case. But the iPad is back in my Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case, just in time to head off for a company sales meeting out of town next week. And maybe I’ll have to write with fewer semicolons.

Summary:

All keyboards tested charge with standard micro-USB cables (included), and paired very easily with the iPad Air via Bluetooth. Battery times are based on the manufacturer’s website or packaging (YMMV of course). Prices found on 8/22/2014 online.

Belkin Qode Slim Style keyboard case – $34 at Belkin or Amazon.

Good design, great keyboard, excellent value for the cost, but suboptimal for lap work.
2.5 days working time, 60 days standby time

Kensington KeyFolio Exact keyboard case – $29-39 at Amazon, $40 at Marshall’s, includes a 65GB 1 year Google Drive credit (~$15 value)

Great keyboard, kickstand design could use some work, doesn’t seem to lock the screen when closed.
40 days working time, 180 days standby time

Belkin Qode Ultimate keyboard case – $129 at Belkin, around $90 at Amazon.

Slim and sturdy case, very lap-friendly, no dedicated function key row, semicolon key is on the bottom row.
11 days working time, 180 days standby time

The final word:

The Qode Ultimate turns your iPad into a laptop, although it comes at a premium (which I feel is worth it). The Qode Slim Style and Kensington KeyFolio are good keyboards for tabletop use, and come in at a lower price.

Disclosure: Thanks to Kieran Hannon and Belkin for providing the Belkin Qode Ultimate Keyboard Case at no charge to me. Other than a twitter inquiry of “and the verdict?” they did not require or request a review, blog post, or any other consideration.

Last minute tips for Cisco Live 2014 in San Francisco

We just had a great Cisco Champion Radio program that was half about Cisco DevNet and half about surviving Cisco Live. The latter was more of a fit for me, and I wanted to open a post with some of the suggestions from that program.

Do you have suggestions for folks who are new to Cisco Live (or who haven’t been to a Live lately)? If so, please share them in the comments below.

1. Apparent apparel

Wear comfortable shoes. Tom @networkingnerd Hollingsworth brought this one up, and I definitely agree. Typical business shoes may seem de rigueur, but there’s a lot of walking between the three buildings of Moscone Center and a lot within each building. So you’ll want something that looks reasonable but is comfortable. Wear what you can stand in all day.

Bring a spare pair of shoes and alternate if you can. And by all means, don’t wear a new pair of shoes for the first time at an event. I’d say go buy your new shoes this week and wear them next week to break them in. Your feet will thank you.

If you’re not direly familiar with San Francisco weather, or even if you are, bring cold/windy weather outerwear. The graphic above is Weather.com’s San Francisco planner. It’s linked to the current forecast page, so if you check after the 15th you’ll see the full week’s forecast. But consider a sweater, a sweater vest, a light jacket, a heavy jacket, a scarf, an anorak, and closed-toed shoes as your personal comfort may require.

2. Time management

Don’t feel the need to fill every session slot. There will be a lot of what LISA calls the “hallway track,” where you can talk to other professionals on an ad-hoc basis. The Social Media Hub is a good place to start, or the DevNet space if you’re more inclined in that direction. Or both!

Don’t feel obligated to attend every after-hours event either. You’ll find half a dozen events every night but you can prioritize, or try putting in an hour at each if you must. Note that some events may be offsite (a few miles away) and the sponsors may not offer transportation after the first hour. You can take taxis or Uber. Consider sharing rides with other attendees to save some money. You can also take MUNI (trains or buses) to AT&T Park (easy on the N or T trains) and to much of the rest of the City.

Do touch base with your favorite vendors to see if they’re hosting special events or receptions. It’s easier to get those arranged (and get on the guest list) before you get there.

3. Food and bev

There will be meals, snacks, coffee, and refreshments during the event, but you may not always be able to get away for them. Bring energy bars, protein bars, and other dry crush-proof snacks (thanks Rick @rickvanover Vanover for this suggestion) so that you can have a quick burst of energy between sessions even if you can’t get something to eat. There are places to buy them near Moscone if you prefer to shop on site.

Bring a water bottle. I recommend a crushable/collapsible bottle for convenience (also works for airports), something like this “H2O 2 GO” one. Last year, one of the vendors at one of the summer shows was giving these away, and it was possibly the most useful swag item I have received at a show. If you can’t find one of these, bring a relatively crush-proof bottle and fill it up often.

Cisco Live will have twitter tables in the lunch room by the way. If you want to meet up with other Twitter folks and the Cisco Champions, this would be the place to look. I believe they’re going to be near the front of the table space, but hopefully one of the CLUS coordinators will correct me if I’m wrong.

4. Technology

Plug in and charge up every chance you get. This goes for laptops, tablets, phones, and your portable battery packs as well. I have this Poweradd Pilot E2 12Ah battery that’s been one of the best USB power packs I’ve used (and I have at least a dozen of them). Great deal if you need something like this, to half-charge your iPad or fully charge most smartphones.

Travel light. As Tom Hollingsworth mentioned, it may not seem like a 10 pound bag is all that heavy, until you’ve been carrying it around for 18 hours. Empty your bag and only put what you know you’ll need. Even I won’t be carrying my usual two smart phones, Nexus 7, iPad, and two laptops. You can scale down too.

apple-microsoft-moscone

You can buy tech stuff here. In addition to the things that the Cisco Press store will offer, you will be within relatively easy walking distance of the One Stockton Apple Store and the Microsoft Store at Westfield, both along Market St within 10 minutes distance. And a little-known gem of the Bay Area is even closer. Central Computers is a Bay Area mainstay for computers, components, accessories, etc. It’s likely the best place to go if you forgot your charger cable or need a hard drive or phone case or a new laptop, and it’s directly across the street from what will probably be the bus terminal at the Moscone West building.

5. Communications

Follow @CiscoLive and the #CLUS hashtag. You’ll get lots of useful information and be able to get answers to your event-related questions wherever you are. There might even be giveaways and contests.

Bring business cards to share. Consider getting some printed (or making your own) with your personal contact info (Twitter handle, blog address, appropriate logos and such) in case you have affiliations aside from your employment.

Pick up a prepaid SIM once you get here if you’re not on a US cellular carrier. I have a T-Mobile starter kit in one of my phones; it’s $35 on Amazon and includes a month of service including 100 minutes/100 text messages/5GB 4G data. If you have an unlocked GSM-type phone, this or another SIM will get you covered for your stay in the US.

There will be WiFi. If you don’t have a data plan, don’t worry too much. Most hotels and most of the convention center will have wireless Internet access, and the odds are pretty good that Cisco will take care of us in terms of connectivity on-site.

6. Swag Management

Get some flat rate shipping boxes from the post office (either at home or in San Francisco–there’s a Post Office in the Macy’s on O’Farrell and Stockton a few blocks away) to send your swag bag home in. Domestic flat rate for a medium box is under $20 and may be more convenient than buying another suitcase. International shipping is also available. There is UPS service at Moscone, and a Fed Ex ship center on Bryant nearby, if you prefer those.

Ship stuff to your hotel. If you’re bringing things that would be more convenient not to go through airports with, consider shipping it to your hotel in advance. Check with the hotel first, though, to see if there are any limitations or charges for this sort of activity.

Drop-ship stuff to your hotel. I do this even within the US. If you know you’re going to want things like a battery pack, or a case of bacon raspberry cheesecake energy bars, or a new pair of eating pants, consider ordering them to be sent directly to the hotel. This can save you packing and shopping time in advance, and may be cheaper than finding them locally.

Don’t feel obligated to take every bit of swag you’re offered. Last year I think I came home from 4 conferences with 40-50 shirts. Half of them went straight to Goodwill, and I still had to lug them home from SF or Orlando. If you do take more than you need, consider taking them over to Goodwill or Out Of The Closet or another thrift store in the area. Or ask for smaller sizes for your kids. Or some mix of those.

 

7. Money Considerations (especially for non-USians)

There are automated teller machines (ATMs) all over the place. Before you come to San Francisco, check with your bank to see what ATMs you can use with minimal or no surcharge, or whether your bank rebates surcharges (many credit unions do this). ATMs in hotels and conference centers may charge $5 (or more) for a withdrawal, but most of the major US banks are available a couple of blocks away on Market St.

If you plan to use a non-US credit or debit card, check into whether your card has foreign transaction fees and be prepared for those.

Check with your bank or credit union to see if you should provide a “travel notification” to minimize the risk of your card being shut down by automated fraud checking systems.

So where do we go from here?

To San Francisco, and BEYOND!

Seriously though, these were just some of the suggestions I came up with in one hour (so far). If you have suggestions for fellow Cisco Live attendees, feel free to share them in the comments and I’ll pass them along. And check back often, as hopefully there will be updates and improvements to this post as we get closer to the magical date.