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Tech Tools to Ease the Strain of the Nomadic Life

By Patrick Nelson
Aug 15, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Ah, the nomadic life. Nothing beats a handshake and the pressing of flesh in business. Yet a life on the road takes its toll -- but that may be changing.

Tech Tools to Ease the Strain of the Nomadic Life

There's a great anecdote about the musician who spent so much time on the road, traveling from town to town, that rather than attempt to make his hotel room homey as he traveled the country, he had his bedroom at home decorated like a motel room -- resplendent in Holiday Inn green and complete with chrome security clothes hangers.

He would thus feel at home on the road.

You may not want to take it that far, but you might want to consider some of the recent technological developments that can make a life on the road more tolerable, productive and realistic. Fortunately, you can do it while avoiding 21st Century highway robbery.

Keeping in Touch With Home and Family

Missing family is probably the principal road-warrior deal-breaker -- and it goes both ways. The kids miss you as much as you miss them, you hope.

To stay in touch, try Dropbox's 21st Century postcard function -- the automatic photo upload.

Install Dropbox on your mobile device. Choose "camera upload" from the settings. Then install Dropbox on family members' computers.

Every time you take a photograph with your device, the image will appear automatically within the family member's folder.

An image magically appearing should replicate the thrill of receiving a postcard -- which some of us may remember as kids -- and it also reduces the time it takes to keep in touch.

Moving Around

Using technology to book travel on the road used to involve an 800 number and a dirty payphone. While we've had Web-based air transportation booking options for a while now, ground options are relatively new.

Smartphone apps that can integrate with existing mainframes -- those that we used to access for air travel on the payphone via harried customer service reps -- are now becoming available for ground transportation too.

App Taxi Magic from RideCharge provides free electronic taxi booking U.S.-wide and integrates directly with taxi dispatch systems.

"Taxi Magic places the business traveler in full control of the ground transportation experience," Taxi Magic President Sanders Partee told TechNewsWorld.

"Users can book a nearby taxi in three taps of their smartphone; track its arrival on their phone; pay their fare in the app using a registered credit card; and automatically receive an e-receipt for easy expensing," he pointed out. "Booking works in 42 cities around the U.S., and provides tap-to-call functionality in all other areas."

Brand-new Mozio, now in beta, provides an unusual airport ground transportation-oriented search engine.

"The travel tech infrastructure that has in the past been only available to flights is fast becoming commonplace in other forms of transportation," David Litwak of Mozio told TechNewsWorld.

"At Mozio, we interface with multiple limo, shuttle and taxi companies who have been working on bringing their respective verticals online. Most major cities in the U.S. now make GTFS feeds (Google Transit Feed Specs) available to the public, making it possible for anyone to write transit apps," he noted.

"The emergence of companies like SilverRail, which seeks to be a back-end booking system for trains, and the migration of many charter bus lines to back-end systems that allow other companies access to their API, is fast making it possible to integrate a full point-to-point solution, which is our eventual goal at Mozio," Litwak added.

London Tube Status is an example of an Android app that grabs city-government provided live transportation status and departure XML feeds, and repackages them in live travel status results screen on your smartphone.

Emerging public transportation-supplied WiFi adds to the usability.

Trouble in Paradise?

This newfound ease-of-travel lark is not all a walk in the park, though. Reliance on general Internet use in terminals, hotel lobbies and coffee shops away from home can expose you to a 21st Century highway bandit.

Just as you'd try to choose a hotel on the right side of the tracks whenever possible to avoid a mugging during a post-prandial evening stroll, say, it's now worth spending some effort protecting your Internet browsing and email traffic from a hacker -- a 21st Century mugging.

"Public WiFi networks are inherently unsafe, so your sensitive information is ripe for the picking for anyone snooping in on the network or those who've set-up fake WiFi networks," Kent Lawson, CEO of Private WiFi, told TechNewsWorld.

"The best way to protect your information while using a public hotspot is a VPN. It encrypts all of your information and makes you virtually invisible to hackers and identity thieves," he noted.

Good stuff. Now, where we can order a quilted polyester bedspread and a housekeeping cart?

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back. Disclosures: Nelson is an FCC licensed amateur radio operator; civilian member of LAFD ACS; and NGO Topanga DRT.

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