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

Theft, Loss, and Other Agonies

Should your Mac be stolen or lost, the absolute first thing to do is to alert your local law enforcement authorities. Onboard a plane, this means alerting a flight attendant; in a hotel, the manager on duty and the police. Even if chances of getting your laptop back are slim (I know this is depressing to hear, but let's be realistic), it is important that you file an official claim. This will help you get insurance coverage once you return home.

Once the police have been alerted, you can call your insurer and ask about the best procedure to follow. This will usually involve lots of red tape, so be prepared to fill out multiple forms. A good hotel or airline will usually offer to assist you, but don't get your hopes too high--and keep in mind that even if it is proven that an employee stole something, this does not mean that the "company" in itself is dishonest. So stay calm and courteous, and accept all of the help that they are willing to give you.

You may also suggest that the police (and the police only) call Apple Corporate Security, a special office inside of Apple that handles such issues. While Apple cannot get your PowerBook back, they will at least keep an eye on computers sent in for repair or exchange and help law enforcement as much as possible.

Playing the community card by spreading the word sometimes works, but you should keep in mind that thousands of Macs get stolen and that every Mac user cannot watch for stolen PowerBooks all day long. In some countries or on some forums it may also be illegal, so use caution!

Should you have added any tracking devices to your computer, tags or tracking software, do let the police and your insurer know about it. This will show your goodwill at the very least, and will provide them with additional clues to track your computer down. Some tracking companies require that you notify them of the theft as well, in which case it is essential that you do so.

Peripherals or objects that aren't tagged can safely be considered lost forever, but this should not prevent you from contacting the police, either. Having your packing lists handy will be of a great help, especially if you included enough information on them to get the search started: giving an exact description of what was stolen shows that you are making a trustworthy claim, based on actual facts.

Interesting Tidbits

Now that we have focused on security, portability, redundancy, and mobility, you may be interested in a few additional anecdotes that depict what travelers can expect. Of course, they are only the reflection of personal experiences, but they may prove helpful to you.

AirPort and the Law

Wireless networking is without doubt one of the best allies of the Mac traveller. Thanks to Apple's work on the technology, you can connect to various hot spots with extreme ease of use. Unfortunately, this is at the same time an endless source of concern for the international traveler.

Indeed, various countries have various regulations set for wireless networking and may threaten to throw you in jail if you do not respect them. This article should provide you with some good basic information when it comes to selecting channels for both your cards and station. It is unfortunately slightly out of date and should be taken with a grain of salt.

In big cities and crowded areas, chances are that an "illegal" card will not be detected. However, moral considerations aside, there is some potential for serious legal action and damage, especially if you happen to be around military installations or hospitals. Your card could also unknowingly disrupt communication between important devices that have not been designed to deal with interference gracefully. Finally, some countries still consider any form of wireless transmission illegal, so proceed with care and make sure that your AirPort card is turned off before boarding on your plane or crossing the border!

The Joy of Plugs and Voltages

Owners of recent iBooks and PowerBooks can travel with the knowledge that their power adapters can accept both 130V and 230V alternating current, which makes using their laptops a lot easier when traveling. In order to make sure, have a look at your adapter. It should say: "Input 100-240V 50-60 Hz."

This may unfortunately not be the case of every one of your peripherals! Make sure that you remember which ones can be plugged in everywhere and which ones require special adapters. Indeed, plugging a 130V device into a 230V plug is as potentially damaging as the reverse, so be careful! While most countries have unified their electricity systems, not all have completed this step, and you may be in cities that still offer a mix of 230V and 130V plugs (or some other bizarre voltage).

Many companies offer travel kits containing pre-approved adapters. These are usually slightly more expensive than what you can buy at your local electronics store, but using them may be essential to avoid voiding your warranty. Some peripherals manufacturers like Palm even throw them in the box, free of charge--with certain models, at least.

This page should provide you with plug information--remember, we are only talking about the shapes of the plugs here, not the voltage. The Apple World Travel Adapter kit will provide you with high-quality adapters, for example; look it up on your local online Apple Store.

As silly as it may seem, purchasing a good travel guide for a country will provide you with lots of important information regarding the use of electric devices.

A word of caution about adapters--should you require a device that actually intensifies or diminishes voltage, and not only the shape of the plug, treat it with care and ensure that there is sufficient airflow around it. Transformers heat pretty easily, especially the cheaper or smaller models sold in travel shops, which do not always have sufficient shielding. Unplug them when you step away from your desk to avoid overheating and the potential fires that go with it--sure, it's an extreme case, but it's not a chance you want to take while traveling.

What Airport Security Scans Can Do to You

Airport security scans are usually harmless to computer and storage media. Indeed, the field that exists inside and around checking devices is rarely able to go through the shielding in which your data is wrapped. Nevertheless, with the increased number of scans and the introduction of new machines, handled with more or less care by their operators, it is a good idea to keep a copy of your most important files, should anything go wrong.

Also, computers and peripherals are handled quite roughly while going through security checks and this is an endless cause of accidents--drops and breakage being the most common. Therefore, it is important to only carry in your computer case things that can be handled with relatively less care without suffering too much.

Unfortunately, in the name of security, filing complaints if one of your belongings has been damaged by security personnel is quite difficult. In most cases, though, it is possible and important to do so since it will help you with insurance claims. You will probably be allowed to stay in the security area if you want to boot your Mac from the hardware test CD and see if it works. Do not hesitate to ask.

Email and Port Blocking

There is nothing more infuriating than traveling for long hours, plugging your laptop into your network and realizing that you cannot send anything because your email provider is down. Or is it really?

Indeed, many hotels and Internet Service Providers now block ports associated with SMTP requests in order to prevent (so they say) spam and viruses from propagating on their networks. Unfortunately, this means that they also prevent you from using your usual email account, unless your provider allows you to connect to the SMTP server on a non-standard port--which is quite uncommon.

Therefore, if you can afford it, you may want to get an SMTP-only account, specifically designed for travelers and users in your situation. DynDNS is a known provider of such services--and their servers support SSL, which is a huge plus!

Final Thoughts

The Mac, without a doubt, is the best possible computer for travelers. Like any computer, though (and especially computers around which your entire life revolves), it requires handling with relative care and efficiency to stay an invaluable, faithful travel companion. I hope that these words of advice will help you better plan your trips.

As they all say, you can now "sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight."

FJ de Kermadec is an author, stylist and entrepreneur in Paris, France.

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