Hit the road, Mac

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Getting online

Create a room-to-room network

If you’re traveling with a group on a tight budget, ask your innkeeper to place all the travelers in adjoining rooms. The people in the room closest to the middle can then sign up (and pay) for broadband access. Using either an AirPort Express or OS X’s Internet Sharing feature, everyone in the adjoining rooms can share that broadband connection. (Be sure to check with hotel management before you start surfing.)— Christopher Breen

Sign up for AOL

My wife and I have extensive international and domestic travel experience. We’ve tried all sorts of Internet connections, from cell phones to Wi-Fi networks. The only method we’ve found reliable worldwide is a bare-bones AOL dial-up account. For $4.95 a month, you get just five hours of connectivity, but that’s enough time to grab e-mail and do some quick Web surfing. It has worked wherever we’ve gone, and we’ve gone over our time allotment only a few times.— Hans Fischmann **

Find your mail server

If you want to send e-mail from your hotel, you’ll probably need to give your e-mail client the name of the hotel’s outgoing mail server. Unfortunately, hotel staffers often have no idea what it is. But (assuming you can get onto the Web) you can figure out the mail server using a reverse DNS lookup. I use the aptly named Reverse DNS Lookup, but there are plenty of other sites that do the same thing. When you go to Remote DNS Lookup, it’ll show you your IP address. Simply click on the Submit button, and it’ll tell you the domain name associated with that address. With that information, you can usually deduce the mail server. For example, if your IP address resolves to xxx.example.com, you can be pretty sure your mail server is mail.example .com. If that doesn’t work, try smtp.example.com. One of them should work for any mail client unless access to the mail server requires authentication.— Bart Meltzer **

Switch to IMAP

If you travel a lot and want to keep all your e-mail in sync, consider getting an IMAP e-mail account. The IMAP protocol automatically stores copies of all saved and sent messages on the mail server. It also tracks all changes you make to messages—marking them as read, replied to, deleted, and so on. You can then retrieve them from any computer in the world with an Internet connection, using either a Web interface or an e-mail client. IMAP is especially useful for people who prefer to travel without a laptop. .Mac subscriptions include IMAP access, and your ISP may offer it as an option. If not, you can find a list of IMAP providers.— Joe Kissell

Relay your mail

Sending e-mail when you’re on the road can be tricky. You may have to use the ISP that serves your hotel to get onto the Net, but your ISP’s mail server may not accept messages sent through another’s SMTP gateway. That’s why many business travelers opt for Yahoo or other free accounts when they’re traveling. But there’s another way: Sign up for an SMTP relaying service from an outfit such as DynDNS.org or smtp.com. For a monthly fee (starting at around $10 per month, depending on message volume; relays are capped at several hundred a day to thwart spammers), your e-mails will be relayed through the service’s gateway, and your recipients will never know you’ve left home.— Christopher Breen

Adjust your headers

Many of us use personal e-mail addresses when we’re on the road. But to keep incoming business and personal e-mail separate, and to give your correspondence a professional look, you can make remotely sent messages appear to be from your work address (even if you’re using a Web-mail service that won’t let you mess with a message’s From header). E-mail- redirection services such as Thinmail charge a small monthly or per-message fee to reroute e-mail. By adding a few special characters to the end of an e-mail address, you tell Thinmail to intercept the message and adjust the headers to reflect your desired From address.— Joe Kissell

Fax through a gateway

If you have access to e-mail but not to a fax machine (or a phone line for your fax modem), you can still send and receive faxes—by using a gateway service such as jConnect, from j2. Receive-only accounts are free; full Premier accounts, which let you send faxes, make conference calls, and listen to voicemail toll-free, cost $15 per month. j2 assigns you a fax number (in the area code of your choice); faxes sent to this number are forwarded to you as e-mail attachments in TIFF or PDF format. To send a fax, you use a Web form or send an e-mail message (which can include attachments) to a special address.— Joe Kissell

Laptop gems

Most PowerBook and iBook users have the software basics covered—word processor, Web browser, e-mail client, and so on. But adding a few other cool bits of software can turn your portable Mac into a real powerhouse and make traveling a bit more comfortable and entertaining. Here are a few of our favorite laptop gems:

Raging menace’s $15 SideTrack (   ) transforms your humble trackpad into a supercharged input device. It lets you use the edges of the trackpad to scroll left, right, up, and down; designate alternative functions for clicking the button and tapping the trackpad; map different functions to the corners of the trackpad; and customize tracking speed and sensitivity far more than OS X’s own preferences will let you.

Using gnufoo.org’s free uControl (   ), you can swap your laptop’s modifier keys around. So you can finally convert that seldom used enter key into a second option key. Or if you’re left-handed, you can reverse the buttons on an external two-button mouse. But perhaps the most useful feature is the ability to enable mouse or trackpad scrolling so that pressing a user-defined modifier key (such as the fn key) lets you scroll through a document simply by moving the cursor.

As its name implies, Colin Henein’s free SlimBatteryMonitor (   ) takes up a lot less room in your menu bar than OS X’s battery indicator. But its real power lies in its flexibility. You can set up SlimBatteryMonitor to show different information depending on whether your laptop is running off the battery, plugged in and charging, or fully charged.

For people who want to be able to find an open wireless (AirPort) network while on-the-go, but also think that a dedicated hardware detector (such as Canary Wireless’s Digital Hotspotter) is overkill: KisMac , MacStumbler , and iStumbler are free and will do the job using nothing more than your laptop’s wireless card. The only drawback is that you have to open your PowerBook or iBook and turn it on—a hassle and a waste of battery if there are no networks nearby. MacStumbler and iStumbler have better interfaces and are easier to use; KisMac includes a number of features useful to network administrators but probably confusing for beginners.

Ever need to browse a Web site while traveling far from Net access? With a little foresight and HexCat’s $7 DeepVacuum (   ), you can. DeepVacuum lets you download entire sites. Before you leave, you simply enter a site’s URL, customize DeepVacuum’s settings to determine how “deep” into the site it should search, and then click on the Start Download button. You’ll have the site on your drive, accessible no matter how far you are from a phone line or a hotspot.

If you travel a lot, sometimes you need to keep yourself occupied on the plane or in your hotel room (and you can watch only so many DVDs). The solution? What travelers have been doing for centuries: playing cards. Semicolon Software’s $25 Solitaire Till Dawn X (   ) provides 85 different kinds of Solitaire, as well as some of the best game play of any computer card game I’ve seen. Scenario Software’s $30 iPoker (   ) offers more than 100 variations of poker, complete with animated opponents. An Analyze Hand feature helps you learn the game—perfect for “business” trips to Vegas. —Dan Frakes

What’s in your carry-on?

Glenn Fleishman
I used to hit ten or twelve conferences a year, logging tens of thousands of air miles and thousands of car miles. Then I had a baby, so those days are (fortunately) over. Since July 2003, I’ve been to two or three conferences and have flown maybe 8,000 miles. But I still carry stuff around: I work in Wi-Fi hotspots and “third places” (away from home and office) several days a month for an hour or more a day.

What’s inside:

• 15-inch PowerBook
• Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter
• Canon S1 IS camera
• Sony Ericsson T616 phone (with Cingular 9600bps GSM service)
• iPod
• Targus CoolPad (to keep lap from scorching)
• PC Guardian ComboLock
• Cables (Ethernet, RJ-11)

Need to find the name of your hotel’s e-mail server? Use reverse-DNS lookup to find the domain name, and then add mail or smtp to it.
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