If you travel with any regularity, chances are you have your favorite tricks for making each trip go as smoothly as possible. And if you take your Mac along, you no doubt have a few tried-and-true ways to make sure you can use it productively despite iffy power supplies, glitchy Wi-Fi connections, and crowded airplane seats. Here are a few more techniques to add to your repertoire, from three of our mobile Mac experts.
Back up on your digital camera
I recently learned the hard way that the fanciest backup system in the world won’t help if you can’t get to the data when you need it. While I was traveling in Montana, an important work file on my MacBook Pro became corrupted. I’m fairly rigorous about backing up my data, so I had a pristine version of the file—at home, two states away, on a disconnected external hard drive.
I can prevent this from happening again by backing up my important files as I travel—but to what medium? A portable hard drive would be the easiest option, but it would also add weight to my bag. A USB memory stick would be another good bet, but they’re easy to lose (and would be yet another gadget to cart around). Storing everything on CD is fairly convenient, but I don’t like carrying around stacks of blank discs.
The most convenient solution was hiding in something I was already carrying: my digital camera. Flash memory cards are spacious and inexpensive; 2GB CompactFlash or Secure Digital cards are available for less than $50, and you can purchase cards with capacities of up to 8GB. I typically don’t fill a card with digital photos before off-loading them, so it should have plenty of room for backing up critical data.
When I connect the digital camera via USB to my Mac, iPhoto launches to import the images—but the card also appears on the desktop as a volume that I can transfer files to. My digital camera creates its own folders for storing its images, so as long as I don’t mess with those, I can copy files to and from that volume with ease.
To make the connection between the Mac and the flash memory card, I can use either a USB cable or a memory-card reader. Card readers usually read several media-card formats, cost less than $100, and come in ExpressCard (for MacBook Pros) and PC Card (for PowerBooks) configurations.— Jeff Carlson
Save money on hotel calls
Tired of paying big bucks for phone calls from hotels when you’re on the road? Try using the Internet instead.
Many hotels now offer free Internet access (wired or Wi-Fi) from their guest rooms or lobbies. Compare that with the exorbitant rates they charge for phone calls, and you’ll see how you can save some real money, particularly if you travel a lot or make many calls.
When it comes to voice over IP (VoIP) services for the Mac, the most popular options are Skype and Gizmo Project’s Gizmo. While there are other VoIP applications for Mac OS X, Skype and Gizmo are among the few that offer inbound and outbound calling services, and they’re both comparatively easy to configure.
Both Skype and Gizmo let you place calls over the Net to other users of their respective networks for free, both charge for calls to regular land-line phones or cell phones, and both offer flat monthly and yearly rates for inbound telephone calls. Skype charges $30 a year for unlimited calls to the United States and Canada via SkypeOut; calls to most other developed countries cost a few cents per minute. SkypeIn, for inbound calling, is about $40 per year per number. Gizmo charges one cent per minute for outbound calls to the United States and Canada, and rates start at $35 per year for Gizmo Call In. Gizmo also offers free calls to the land-line phones and cell phones of registered Gizmo users in many countries.
If you want to use Skype or Gizmo on your next business trip, get the account before you leave so you can avoid delays in service activation. Download and install the clients, set up your account, and then purchase the features you need, such as an inbound phone number and credits for outbound calls.
You should also buy a noise-canceling USB headset—critical for high-quality calls. Bluetooth headsets may offer a greater range, but on the road they require charging and sometimes suf-fer from interference.
Finally, before you leave, check the cost of your hotel’s Internet access. Boingo Wireless, which offers a Mac client, covers many hotels in its $22 monthly flat-rate service. Boingo also covers dozens of airports, making en route calls inexpensive, too.— Glenn Fleishman
Transfer files fast with FireWire
Like all newer Macs, my office iMac has a Gigabit Ethernet connector, meaning that it can theoretically transfer data at up to 1,000 Mbps.
But when I bring my MacBook to work, it can’t transfer files at those speeds, because my desktop Mac’s single Ethernet jack is busy connecting to the office LAN. I can’t use AirPort wireless either, because it’s too slow (about 54 Mbps in theory, and less in practice) for big files.
The solution is a FireWire network. It’s fast—400 or 800 Mbps in theory (depending on what kind of Mac you have), which is not much slower than Gigabit Ethernet in typical use. And it’s handy for creating quick machine-to-machine connections.
To set up a FireWire network, open System Preferences: Network. From the Show pull-down menu, choose Network Port Configurations; then select Built-in FireWire and click on Apply Now. (If Built-in FireWire isn’t in the list of port configurations, select New, choose Built-in FireWire from the Port pull-down menu, and click on OK.) Drag the Built-in FireWire configuration up the list so that OS X will try it when other network ports fail to make a connection; put it in the second-highest spot on your network-connected Mac (the port connected to the network should come first) and in the top spot on the other Mac.
After stringing a FireWire cable between the two computers, you’re ready to configure the network. On your network-connected Mac (in my case, the iMac), open System Preferences: Network, and choose Built-in FireWire from the Show pull-down menu. From the Configure IPv4 drop-down menu, choose Manually; then type in an IP address that won’t conflict with anything else on your network, such as 192.168.2.1. Use the same IP address for Router, set Subnet Mask to 255.255.255.0, and click on Apply Now.
On the other Mac (in my case, the MacBook), go to the same Network preference pane. Choose an IP address with the same number as the one you used on your Net-connected machine, but increase the last digit by one (192.168.2.2, for example). Use 255.255.255.0 for Subnet Mask and 192.168.2.1 for Router, and click on Apply Now.
Next, you need to enable file sharing. On each computer, go to System Preferences: Sharing, click on the Services tab, and enable Personal File Sharing. If you want to share an Internet connection, click on the Internet tab and click on the Start button. From either system, you should now be able to choose Go: Connect To Server, enter the other Mac’s IP address (plus the user login), and start sharing files at FireWire speeds.— Derek K. Miller
[ Jeff Carlson is the managing editor of TidBits and the author of iMovie HD 6 and iDVD 6 for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2006). Glenn Fleishman writes for the Economist , the New York Times , and Popular Science . Derek K. Miller is a writer, an editor, and a podcaster who blogs at penmachine.com. ]Flash Memory Card in the Finder: When you plug your digital camera into your Mac, its flash memory storage card appears on your desktop as a volume that you can back up your files to.FireWire Networking: You have to manually configure a FireWire network between two Macs—but it requires only a few simple settings.Memory-Card Reader: An SD memory card fits neatly into a memory-card reader designed for the MacBook Pro’s ExpressCard slot.