I am going to be taking my first vacation since going solo this Friday, and I’m a bit nervous. About my cases, that is. Since I have no support staff, if something comes up (despite my careful preparation), there isn’t anyone who can pick up the slack. So I need to be able to check voicemail and make calls, check e-mail, keep up-to-date with my schedule, and have access to all of my files.
Also, we are going to be in Barcelona for a week, the most pickpocket-friendly city in Europe, so I would rather not bring along expensive toys, if I can avoid it. So the laptop needs to stay at home.
Here is what I came up with:
My solution generally revolves around portable apps stored on a tiny, 1 GB USB flash drive. Portable apps, if you don’t know, are full-fledged applications that can be run from a USB drive. The advantage is that you can use any computer without worrying about leaving behind personal information. All cookies, passwords entered, etc., are stored on your drive, which you take with you when you leave.
The portable apps suite makes a nice launcher for your applications, and comes in a couple of different flavors for most users.
I need to be able to make phone calls. Primarily this will be checking my voicemail messages, but just in case a potential client leaves a message despite my “out of office” message, I may want to follow up immediately, rather than wait until I return. To do this, I have installed Skype on my USB drive. Skype doesn’t have an explicit portable version, but copying the .exe file to your USB drive works just fine. I have a Skype account so that I can make inexpensive international phone calls.
E-mail is easy enough. I can use Portable Firefox to access my webmail, or I can use Portable Thunderbird for the same thing. I also plan to purchase the international e-mail add-on for my Blackberry while I am away. Since I operate primarily by e-mail, having constant access to my e-mail is important. Plus, $20/month for international e-mail on T-Mobile is probably cheaper than the equivalent amount of cybercafe time.
I am still working on this one, although I have a couple of solutions. I just discovered ScheduleWorld, which is a free WebDAV/iCalendar application that you can sync with just about any scheduling software. I’m not sure this is really the best for me just yet, so at this point, I am just planning to use my Blackberry and update my calendar when I get home.
At some point, it may become more convenient to access WebDAV or iCalendar calendars from portable devises. Right now, it is difficult to use them for anything but read-only access, which isn’t all that useful.
Access to client files
This was the most difficult. I was worried I would have to bring my laptop “just in case,” which I really didn’t want to do. I considered putting my client files on my USB drive, but TrueCrypt and other encryption software will only work off a USB drive if you have administrative privileges on the computer you are using. Unlikely in a cybercafe.
Warning: TrueCrypt is not secure. See this post for details and information on migrating to Bitlocker or FileVault.
But I have been playing around with UltraVNC, a “virtual network connection” utility like Windows Remote Desktop Connection, but more versatile. After searching around, I found that you can easily use the UltraVNC Viewer as a portable app just by copying the .exe to your portable drive. Just like Skype. So I can leave my laptop at home, turned on, and I will be able to access it from anywhere in the world and use my computer just like I were sitting in front of it.
And best of all, since I am using my computer and only looking at what shows on the screen, no sensitive information will end up on the cybercafe computer. In fact, I can use the DSM encryption plugin as well, and nobody would be able to “sniff” information while I use my computer at home.
So really, I can use my regular computer just as I always have, for e-mail, scheduling, and accessing my client files, with a simple remote access setup.
All I really worry about now is whether I will actually be able to use my USB drive at a cybercafe. I’ll report back in a couple of weeks after we return.