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Mac OS X for the Traveler, Part 5
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Keep Recurring Costs to a Minimum: Managing Your Accounts

Our daily online lives typically rely on multiple accounts, from various providers. Whether we need to lease SMTP servers, register a domain name, share files, or host a web site, we soon have a list of partners that expect us to pay recurring fees and will, despite their good will and wish to please us, shut our accounts down if they do not receive due dollars or euros in a timely fashion.

Unfortunately for us, many credit-card companies are so afraid of fraud that they will sometimes prevent foreign companies from withdrawing money from our accounts. I have received many angry mails from providers having been accused of conducting "fraudulent activity" by my overzealous and short-sighted bank. Therefore, instead of choosing a partner in every country you travel in, it's very often more convenient to deal with companies who have global reach. This is neither a requirement nor a warranty, but will take care of many credit-card processing glitches as well as currency exchange issues.

Better yet, the companies you're dealing with should be able to accept credit cards from various countries--if you have multiple accounts, that is.

Dealing with people you can trust and rely on is an essential step when you are on the go. But dealing with people who can reliably provide you with as many services as possible on one bill is even better, since it makes the possibility of forgetting a renewal fee a lot more remote.

Some credit card companies are also a lot more international-friendly than others and will be able to assist you through their local customer service offices, should you need any help. While this may sound like a detail when you are at home, having someone to talk to if your card suddenly stops responding the day you are supposed to renew your domain name can save your life, or at least it feels that way at the time.

If bill-paying services are available and legal in your country, you may want to rely on them to take care of renewing your accounts. That way, transactions will only occur from the same country and will take place smoothly without requiring you to keep an eye on them too frequently. Should you opt for this solution, make sure that you deal with trusted companies only, since you will be (so to speak) giving them the keys to your bank account.

Incident Response

Despite all of our efforts, sometimes things go wrong. Terribly wrong. Your hard drive was wiped out by an airport security scan while your peripherals were sent to Dusseldorf (DUF), Saarbruecken (SCN), and Copenhagen (CPH), in three different packages. Shortly afterwards, someone on board your plane stole your PowerBook, replacing it with a stack of illegally copied CDs and called the customs to search you at your arrival.

OK, there may be a little exaggeration in this scenario, but frequent travelers know that things can easily go wrong, especially when you stroll through unknown places, on a tight schedule, and do not always have the time to stop to think things through.

Technical Problems

Whenever you face a technical problem, you should immediately stop using your computer. It's easy to make things worse in a moment of panic. Then, if your computer is in good shape and the circumstances allow for it, perform a complete backup. This will at least provide you with the assurance that your experimentations won't lead to a digital disaster, miles away from home.

Then, depending on the nature of the problem, perform your usual maintenance and troubleshooting steps; after all, troubleshooting remains troubleshooting, wherever you are. Keep in mind that, even though your network administrator or good Mac friend may not be at hand, you are not alone! Indeed, both the AppleCare discussion forums and the Knowledge Base will assist you through the troubleshooting steps.

Here's a tip: should you ever need help, it's a good idea to switch your interface to the language best spoken by the person who will help you. Mac OS X makes it extremely easy to do, and this may speed up troubleshooting a lot if the person assisting you does not speak English fluently.

Following the good old saying, "Better safe than sorry," keep in mind that traveling times are not the best moments to play around with your Mac. Sure, your computer is here to be enjoyed, but you should take good care of it and react at the first signs of aging (to speak in fashionable terms). Unusual slowness or error messages that may seem innocuous while you are at home should raise red flags while you travel. Indeed, as a general rule, troubleshooting is easy at the beginning and gets increasingly complex as you let issues spread across your installation.

Here is an interesting tip: before going on a trip, you can partition your drive and install a fresh copy of Mac OS X on the second partition. Set up basic functionality--security and networking are especially important but you can, for example, skip the cosmetic details. Should your main Mac OS X installation fail unexpectedly, you can simply reboot from the other one to get a fully functional Mac in the blink of an eye.

Whenever possible, factor in the time required by your various maintenance operations. For example, most directory recovery software will take hours (if not days) to save a failing drive. This is all very well, but does turn your Mac into a posh paperweight while it is running (since moving a computer that is engaged in heavy optical drive/hard drive action is the best way to lose any chance of seeing your data again). When troubleshooting, take your time! A Mac that is shut down won't damage itself by magic, so you do not have to panic if you notice a problem at a bad time: back up, think happy thoughts, and shut down. (Notice that you should back up before shutting down, though!)

Internet Connection Issues

One the things that is most likely to go wrong when you are on the go is your Internet connection. Indeed, everywhere around the world, switches implode, DHCP servers fail, and phone lines get destroyed--even in quiet places. It's therefore important that you have more than one way to connect to the Internet, especially if your business relies on your ability to communicate with other members of your work team.

It is no news that most big hotels now provide high-speed Internet access in their rooms. While slightly costlier, this option has one big advantage: it lets the hotel deal with any local connectivity-related idiosyncrasies that you might otherwise have to face all alone. As a general rule, Ethernet is your best option since it does not require any drivers of any kind. Some hotels also feature wireless Internet access, but the advantages of this method may not outweigh the added reliability and security issues.

If you need to connect to the Internet by using a telephone line, be aware that phone systems do vary from country to country and that you could, in extreme cases, damage your modem. Once again, the Apple Knowledge Base will provide you with the information you need about your modem (namely, operating specifications). In a good hotel, the concierge or front desk should also be able to provide you with pointers.

Hot spots in airports, cafes and strange places are also a good way to connect to the Internet, provided that you are aware of the security and privacy issues we discussed earlier. This page will provide you with links to hot spot finders, sites that list various hot spots around the globe. Keep in mind, though, that these sites are rarely entirely accurate. They provide you with a rough estimate of the connectivity possibilities of an area, at best. Indeed, since anyone can create a hot spot with two pieces of string and an AirPort base station, new access zones are popping up every day--and it is just as easy to pull the plug.

Finally, should you be willing to get a bit geekier, you can use your mobile phone as a wireless modem, either through a data account or simple dial-up. This last method, while extremely convenient, is probably a bit off-topic since you are likely to be outside of your original provider's network, which usually makes the price of phone calls rise tremendously. Some phone providers are now introducing lower international rates or special contracts that feature a certain number of reduced-fee international calls. It's probably worth checking what options are available to you before going on a trip, should you need to resort to this last method.

Pages: 1, 2, 3

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