Portable Interblogopipes

Our forthcoming cycling adventure to Switzerland from North Wales is almost upon us. It has fallen to me, as the geekiest of the group, to sort out anything technology-related for the trip, and this week’s task is to get an Internet connection sorted so we can blog progress updates at the end of the day.

Some campsites will have WiFi, which eases the problem. Some will only have mobile internet and some will have neither. Aside from the usual hardening of the laptop connected to the wireless network there’s not a great deal to be done for the first or last options.

There are a few sites, for example http://prepaidwithdata.wikia.com/wiki/Prepaid_SIM_with_data which lists the various options available for mobile data in your target country. The best offer at present appears to be £50 (plus a £10 set-up fee) for 3Gb of data, which is valid for 30 days. This is still quite an investment, and I’m not convinced that we will need that much data given the use of WiFi when it’s available. This offer also isn’t valid for smartphones, so you need a mobile internet dongle at extra cost.

With that in mind we’ve decided to use EE’s roaming data add-on which provides 200Mb for £30. I can then use my iPhone as an access point so we can use the Macbook Pro to author blog posts.

This should be more than enough bandwidth if we’re thoughtful about how we use it. With that in mind I’m preparing the following to make life easier while we’re there:

  1. Offline maps. We’ve downloaded the map tiles for the route from OpenFietsMap (http://www.openfietsmap.nl/) which provides bike-specific OpenStreetMap maps for download. These are loaded into Garmin Basecamp, which is a bit cumbersome but means we can do map routing and elevation profiles without using data.
  2. Image resizer. I normally use Pixelmator to resize images, but Mac OSX has a handy workflow utility which means you can automatically resize/resample photos. When you’re on WiFi uploading a 4Mb image isn’t a problem, but for our daily progress reports a 200Kb image is more appropriate. Once we’re back to WiFi we can put some higher-resolution images up.
  3. Video re-encoder. We’ll probably upload videos only when we’ve got a WiFi connection, but just in case there’s something we really want to share I’ve figured out how to use Camtasia to resize and reencode the video so it looks good but is small enough not to use the entire bandwith allowance.

One of the biggest problems when you’re concerned about going over a data allowance is that when you connect a laptop to the Internet it goes off and checks for updates, lets Apple know that iTunes is there, and so on. I have a handy tool installed on my Macbook Pro called Little Snitch, which acts as a firewall and keeps an eye on all your outgoing Internet connections. Normally we think of firewalls as protecting what comes in to the computer, but to make sure every last bit of data is saved I’ve created a special profile which doesn’t allow any outgoing connections except for mDNSResponder (otherwise DNS doesn’t work) and Chrome. When that profile’s active nothing except Chrome is connected to the network, so I’m not going to automatically start doing a backup of my entire machine in the middle of a campsite in France. Winner.

Little Snitch Chrome rules

Only allowing network traffic from Chrome in your firewall keeps your usage down.

In other news my components turned up today so the bike is back together, just in time for a good bout of rain. Fortunately I have rollers! While I was reassembling the bike I gave the forks a good test, pushing and pulling them against the frame. Although everything was flush and tight, and there was no play to be felt, I could make out the sound of grease moving ever so slightly. I’m not feeling confident! If the new stem and headset, and full strip-down doesn’t fix it I’m giving up and taking it to a local bike shop.

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