The Cloud Warrior: Mobile Computing and its Discontents

The first-world problem of the year: I have been exasperated with my mobile computing experience for a long time. Whether I’m working from my client’s office, from the back of an Uber, in an airport, at a train station, in my camp chair, in the passenger seat while my wife drives, or on the upper deck of the Pacific Surfliner, it has become painfully clear that I cannot work on-the-go trusting in a kludged combination of my phone and my laptop

IOS on either the iPhone 8 Plus or my laptop-sized iPad pro simply does not have the juice for handling my Office 365-dominated workflow. Trying to deal with highly formatted Word documents on an IOS app gets awkward pretty quickly.

My laptops – both my MacBook Pro and my Microsoft Surface Pro 6 – are fantastic machines, but connecting to the internet on the go is dicey at best. I’ve either got to scramble to find a coffee shop with Wi-Fi, or I have to mess with my phone and hope tethering works. (And oh, by the way, my carrier charges more for the tethering capability.)

This all came to a head one Friday morning last spring. I had dropped my family at LAX for a trip to China and was just driving home when I got a call from a client. She needed revisions to a press release we had drafted the night before. I drove around looking for a Starbucks, finally gave up, and pulled to the side of the road to tether to my phone. By the time I had found a spot, stopped the car, set up the hot spot, got the hot spot connected with the computer, downloaded the document with her comments, made my revisions, uploaded the document and got her acknowledgment, it had taken 35 minutes. We went through this three more times. In short, a 75-minute trip wound up taking me 4 hours. I have been praying for a better way ever since.

Next: I Need a Mobile Computing Carbine

Today’s Virtual Workplace – Strasburg, PA

Virtually seated here in the tower above the main yard of the Strasburg Rail Road, the oldest continuously chartered railroad in America, if not the world.

How goodly are the days that even approach the delights of working to the sound of the pufferbellies as they meander to and fro across the farm fields of Lancaster County? Now and again, between trains, the sound of the breeze is punctuated by the clip-clop of a horse-drawn buggy as one of the local Amish families make a trip into town.

Today’s Virtual Perch: Ashland, Virginia

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Out my virtual window today as I work: the Amtrak station at Ashland, VA, perched alongside the twin-tracked east-coast mainline between Washington, D.C., and Richmond.

There is always a healthy blend of Amtrak long-distance and commuter trains, mixed with a regular cadence of CSX freight trains. The scene is peppered by a local cast of characters staying at the Henry Clay Inn behind the station, munching croissant sandwiches at Homemade by Suzanne, or grabbing caffeinated sustenance at Ashland Coffee and Tea.

There is a regular parade of students from Randolph-Macon College seeking study help from the Sugar Fix bakery or the more mature fare at the Iron Horse Grill and the Caboose Market & Cafe, and one very fit retired fellow who rides a girl’s bike up and down Railroad Avenue for hours on end.

All in all, a pleasant place to work virtually. I’m looking forward to a day when I can do so in person.

Administrative Note: Going Anti-Social

With due respect to my fellow tribesman and hapa-daddy Mark Zuckerberg, I have reached some conclusions about Facebook after nearly a decade of use.

  1. Facebook was once a magnificent means of staying in touch with friends
  2. It has, of late, become a tool of hucksters, social manipulators, propagandists, disinformation artists, and very, very angry people to a far greater degree than it remains a connective medium.
  3. It became for me, as a result, a giant black hole into which my time and attention was sucked, never to be seen again.
  4. What was worse, any content that I created was used by Facebook to make money.

As a result, I have downloaded my content, deleted my presence, and will have no more to do with the platform. I’m done, and this time for good.

This blog is now my feed. I would rather pay the nice folks at Automattic a modest fee every year to own my platform and hold it separate from the anger, noise, and manipulation of Facebook. Better to shout in the wilderness than whisper in a crowd.

The sole reason I post this is to provide you a heads-up that I will be gradually back-filling content from my Facebook feed into earlier sections of this blog, so if you see something anachronistic, it is just me saving the worthwhile tidbits from my years on Facebook.

NB: Twitter is on probation at the moment, as is WeChat.

Naturally, feel free to comment.

Calming the Sky-Chicken

I have flown well over a million miles in my life, but I am still an incurable white-knuckle flyer. When you combine that with the challenges posed by my two-meter height, air travel for me is a battle: first to get myself into a seat that isn’t excruciatingly painful to sit in, and then to cope with a constant state of incipient terror.

I cure the first by shelling out something like 10% of my take-home income for upgrades. The second condition, the fear, is like any other chronic ailment: it can be managed but never cured.

One way I manage the fear is through knowledge. I have studied aviation, weather, and spoken to countless pilots and flight crew members. I have learned enough about airlines to choose those with the best operational safety, and watch for the subtle signals that things may be on the decline. Before every flight I consult a half-dozen apps and websites that tell me what to expect. And during the flight I switch my inflight entertainment system to the “flight information” screen, and leave it there for the duration.

So you can imagine why I was so delighted, when I boarded an ANA 787-900 for a flight from Singapore to Tokyo, to discover a screen that was essentially a simplified version of the pilot’s heads-up display. Altitude, airspeed, position, direction, winds, and other flight information are portrayed against a forward -looking moving map that offers everything but air traffic and weather.

Genius.

It will not surprise you to hear that this hop was probably one of my most calm and comfortable flights ever.

Some people will never worry in an airplane: my father was one. But I have friends and colleagues that need to be chemically calmed before getting on a plane. I have no immediate remedies to offer. For me, the medicine lies in the effort to make ever more believable the comforting illusion of control.