Identify Radio Signals On The Road

When you’re traveling it can often be difficult to know exactly whether it’s your fault you have no signal or if there is simply no cell towers or Wifis within range. There’s a very cool little app called Architecture of Radio that can help.

You can’t see in the picture, but as you turn you can see the various radio towers, their relative signal strength, approximate distance, who owns them and various other facts. You can even see the geo-stationary satellites in orbit.

There are some places I go that have very poor signals, and it was easy to see which carriers were close by and which ones would have a better signal strength, simply by turning around. It’s a fun party trick, but also very useful for knowing where you need to head to get a stronger signal.

Fastest Path Through Airport Security

Last week I traveled to Munich on an annual pilgrimage to Oktoberfest. It’s for work, I promise, though I do manage to have a good time, don’t worry. But being that it’s international travel, I’m always wary of going through security with stuff of any kind. I try to limit what I bring to only what I can carry in my backpack for ease of navigating airports and increase physical security since there is less to be lost or stolen. But this time in particular was the fastest I’ve ever gone through security by leaps and bounds.

On the outbound flight from Austin, I had both Clear and Precheck. When I went up to the Clear agent, he walked me to the front of the line and I was able to bypass both the regular line which looked to be about 45 minutes long, and also the Precheck line too which was probably 5 minutes of time savings. I had a boarding pass in the United app on my phone so I cruised through with a single swipe of my phone. The other nice things about the United app are that it carries your Mileage Plus and United Club cards, your boarding card(s), flight status, you can book a flight and it gives you access to inflight entertainment – that’s a lot less you’ll have to carry. When I reached for things to remove from my bag, I realized I didn’t have to. Precheck allows you to keep your shoes on, your electronics in your bag etc. All you need to do is remove metal from your pockets. So I put my phone and my wallet in a tiny cup, walked through the metal detector and was through security from start to finish in under a minute, including my interaction with Clear. I hadn’t gone through security that fast since prior to 9/11. Being mobile only with this setup saved me around 45 minutes at least.

On the way back I went through the process of signing up for the Mobile Passport which is an app that the TSA uses to speed up passport control. It asks you the normal questions you have to ask when entering the country but in many ways it’s actually easier to read and enter since you only have to enter your passport information once – the very first time you use it. I was a bit wary of using it, given that it didn’t seem like it would actually speed anything up. Wow, was I wrong. Going through Newark I was able to bypass a line that was easily an hour long and walk up to a far shorter line. Once there, I simply had to swipe the phone, and zero questions were asked. I was through in less than 5 minutes in the passport control section. Then there was a secondary line where you drop the forms off. There was no going through that line quickly, but once there, I swiped the same app again on my phone and cruised right through. Then the last part is going through security once more. Once again I was able to quickly go through security because of the mobile boarding pass and carrying next to nothing. All in all, using my phone saved me at least an hour.

As far as I can tell this is probably the fastest you can get through airport security, with the possible exception of global entry, which I haven’t yet broken down to do, yet. If you’re a weary business traveler, this may be something you want to look into. Of course they’re not exactly privacy friendly options, but security never really is.

Ring Stents

I was recently turned onto the idea of using a ring-stent as a quick solution to the problem of reducing hand-fatigue and making it easier to work while I’m on the road without having a case that has a popup to hold it up.

The ring-stent is a 360 degree mobile ring that has enough tension to stay put in whatever position you leave it in. I’ve found it useful when I’m on the road or when I need to do longer projects and holding the phone just isn’t cutting it anymore.

The sticker is strong enough to hold up the phone as long as you aren’t pulling on it or adding extra weight. It’s also easy enough to pull off and re-position if need be without leaving any residue of any kind. I’m told that you can re-stick it dozens of times.

Ring stents being used
In the picture above you can see there are different versions – like the Rok Mobile branded one on the left or the Amazon off-brand Cell Phone Stent which comes with a holder.

It’s also great for flights where you can prop your phone up on a tray and watch a movie without having to jerry-rig something. Very clever design.

Kenu 2 In 1

One of the problems I’ve regularly run into as a Smartphone Exec is that I regularly have the wrong cable for the occasion. I either have a microUSB cable or a lightning cable, but often the wrong one at the most inopportune times. On a flight I ran across an advertisement for Kenu Tripline (pronounced “Canoe”) that offers a pleasantly simple solution.

The nice part about it is that it has both cables in one. If I happen to need one to charge my headphones, I have that, if I need the other to charge my phone, I have that. All in a lightweight package. I also happen to like that they have 3′ and 6′ options. Often times I make the mistake of thinking shorter is better, but keep in mind how often you are using shared plugs in conference rooms and having an extra foot or two of distance is a life-saver.

That’s even more critical when you’re using your mobile phone during a presentation. Often times the plugs are on the floor and 3′ is barely long enough at the best of times. 6′ is just much more comfortable and I find it’s worth the added ounces. And it’s still less weight than two cables that get caught up with one another and misplaced. Reduce and simplify. That’s the mantra, right?

Mud Puddle Problem

When it comes to security of the apps you use and the device you chose, I think it’s best to consider the Mud Puddle problem. That may not be a term you’ve heard but it’s very important to understanding how threat actors think about your device.

For instance, let’s say you drop your phone in a puddle of mud and it ceases working. You try everything you can to clean it up but it stops working. If you can take it to some store and some genius can recover your data off of the device, it has failed the mud puddle problem.

The basic concept is this. If there is a way that a stranger can take your device and resurrect the data out of it, it means an adversary can do it as well. That is why it is always best to ask vendors how your data is secured. Can they recover your information after you’ve deleted it? Can they recover it after your account has been erased? Can they recover it if your device has been crushed in an anvil? If the answer is yes, then probably many people have access to your data whether you or they realize that or not.

It’s something to consider as you consider which products and services to use.

Headsets and Flying Light

I have often said if there were a single website on the face of the planet that I wish I had come up with (assuming it was purely for fun) it would be Onebag. The idea being, how can you reduce your total travel needs down to a singular bag, which has all sorts of benefits for travelers. I really really like this idea, as it fits closely with the Smartphone Exec lifestyle.

There are three major things to think about when you’re thinking through what to pack.

  1. Can it serve more than one purpose? Does it have at least two functions? If not, then it should probably not get packed unless it’s very very important (insulin or contact lenses or whatever). Basically the more uses you can get out of something the more likely it will get packed.
  2. Find the lightest version possible, or re-package it into a lighter package where it makes sense to. There’s a lot of heavy items out there that have lighter weight versions. You don’t want to be lugging around an anvil in your bag, even if it will fit.
  3. Find something that doesn’t take up much space. If it’s small, then it’s a better candidate for travelers. If it can shrink when not in use, or after use, even better (for instance an air pillow).

Since I brought up headphones yesterday with regards to Apple possibly doing away with the headphone jack entirely, I thought this would be a good follow-on post.

When I started traveling, I realized that I had to get some better headphones. The ones I had at the time weren’t noise cancelling and the difference between something that does and doesn’t cancel noise on an airplane is significant. Less noise is better quality of sleep, less distractions when you’re writing things, and frankly, a less annoying experience all around.

My first noise cancelling headset was an early Sony model that rivaled the Bose headsets, but were a bit cheaper. I didn’t notice any significant difference between the two and was told the over-ear model would reduce vibrations on the ear and make substantially more quiet than anything that could fit in your ear. The in-ear models were a gimmick more or less. I kept that model for several years and had no major complaints until I switched to using only one bag. Then I started looking at other options. I’d be willing to sacrifice a little noise for a lot less space in my bag.

So I bought the Bose wireless headset that was most recommended on Amazon. I have been blown away. Here’s a breakdown of why it’s better:

  • As you can see in the photo above, it is substantially smaller, allowing me to fit a lot more in my bag.
  • It weighs significantly less. 93 grams vs 425 grams. That’s a huge weight savings.
  • It doesn’t use AA batteries, it charges off of USB, which means I can use the same charger for my phone, as my headset. That’s less extra stuff to carry with me – no physical batteries, no having to go and find/buy them, or have a separate recharging system, which is all added weight and size.
  • It can double as a wireless headset to make calls, as it has a built in microphone. That means it provides double duty, where my old Sony headset has no such feature. That also means I don’t have to carry the iPhone headset anymore – another weight/space savings.
  • It doesn’t make sleeping harder by pressing on my ears when I get a window seat. I find the over ear models are way less comfortable when you’re trying to sleep.
  • The sound quality is surprisingly even slightly better than the over-ear model. That may not be a fair comparison, because the Sony headset is an older model, but the quality is good enough that I don’t miss the Sony headset’s sound isolation at all. The Bose is actually slightly better if anything, which I still find amazing even after having it for months.

If you’re interested you can find the QuietComfort headset on their website. It’s pretty good. But if we do move to a Bluetooth only world, we’re going to have to revisit this issue and find a suitable alternative.