The heavy toll of a light laptop

Portable computing. Two words that don’t belong together. Never have and probably never will. Consider the newest Apple PowerBook G3. I marvel at the laptop’s active-matrix display, built-in DVD-Video, wicked-fast 300-MHz processor, 64 megabytes of memory, and 8 gigabyte hard drive. But I cringe at its weight: nearly 8 pounds, which is about as heavy as a large infant. Although it’s a far cry from the earliest Apple portable, which weighed slightly less than a mainframe and was affectionately known as the kneecrusher, taking it on the road is a hassle.

Airlines less accessible

In this time of overbooked flights and soaring airline profits, Ana Miranda thinks carriers have become increasingly callous to the needs of the disabled. “Five years ago, it was a straightforward procedure to inform the airlines of my special needs, and the aisle or bulkhead seat would be reserved for me,” says Miranda, a New York commercial litigator who has cerebral palsy, a crippling neurological condition. “Not so today.”

LapLink vs. PcANYWHERE: You decide

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from Rob Lynch at Traveling Software. His company makes LapLink Professional, a connectivity program that lets you patch into a computer network from the road. “We feel that our features, ease of use and speed surpass our competition,” he wrote. “And we are ready for a head-to-head challenge.” It’s a tough challenge. The competition is Symantec’s pervasive pcANYWHERE.

Telling airline time

When it comes to travel, there’s airline time, and then there’s actual time. It’s an alternate reality that Evan Myrianthopoulos learned about on a recent American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to JFK. The New York-based executive checked in early for his transcontinental flight and then strolled over to a newsstand to catch up on some reading. When he came back, nine minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave, gate agents had already closed the door and wouldn’t let him board. “But the plane was still there,” he remembers. “I said, ‘What’s going on here? Can you open the door and let me on the plane?’ The agent said he needed to check with the pilot. A few minutes later, the plane pulled away. I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked.”

Travel2K: A look at the tech future

With the turn of the millennium only a few months away, ever wonder where the wristwatch-communicators and videophones are? The flying cars? Whoa, Mr. Jetson. Most travelers would probably settle for a few small improvements to their technology next year. For example, wouldn’t it be nice if we could trade our Rice Crispies cell phones (you know, the ones that put that “snap, crackle and pop” into our day) for wireless devices that make us sound like we’re calling from this planet?

Goodbye to all that

Farewell, room service. Adieu, boarding passes. See ya later, legroom. All three did a disappearing act in 1998, leaving travelers cramped, hungry and irritated. Other perks that went “poof” included peanuts on flights and some mileage rewards. If you thought 1997 was a bad year for travel – and it was – then 1998 was an awful year. Perhaps the most galling part is that the travel industry told us, with a completely straight face, that these cutbacks were for our own good.

Remote web publishing dreams

Using a portable computer to publish a Web site used to be like eating the proverbial elephant for Intranet designer Brooks Martin. The Brentwood, Tenn., consultant took one bite at a time. And they were slow bites. With a lethargic laptop and nothing but a high-end scripting application called Visual InterDev at his disposal, getting a site up and running from the road took “three to five times longer” than it does today.

Fight for your rights

I get a lot of e-mails from other crabby travelers. They usually don’t understand what their rights are – only that they have more rights than the airline or hotel tells them. They’re usually correct. They just need someone to encourage them to take a stand, to make their presence known to the often monolithic and uncaring travel providers. By way of inspiration, I offer a few success stories from the past year.

Tracking travel expenses

Filling out travel expense forms used to be a paperwork nightmare for Bob Anthonyson. Literally. Like scores of other road warriors, the sales executive would struggle to manage a pile of receipts, invoices and ticket stubs after every trip. Meanwhile, his computer sat idly by, its screen-saver patterns mocking him. It would not help. It could not help. That’s because there were no reasonably-priced, easy-to-use applications specifically scripted to handle travel costs.

Avoid white elephants

David Kemp dreads the holidays. Not because they’re among the busiest travel times of the year, or because it’s often rainy and cold in Atlanta, where he works. It’s the presents. To understand why, just listen to what the vice president of national sales for US Franchise Systems found under his Christmas tree last year. “I’ve got at least eight travel clocks, about 300 pens and more than 400 calendars,” the frequent traveler complains. “They’re stored in a closet at home. If you ever want one, just let me know.”

Holiday tech toys for travelers

Practical. In a word, that’s what frequent travelers want in a holiday gift, to hear Baltimore sales consultant Joyce Baker talk about it. Nothing complicated or frivolous. Just functional. “This was a trend that started last year,” she says. “Travelers want something of value. They want something that they would use over and over again.” So if you’re reading this and you still haven’t bought the business traveler in your life something for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa – whichever holiday you prefer – then take heart. This year, practical makes perfect.

Bermuda’s island life

If you want an entire tropical island to yourself at this time of year, skip the Caribbean. Try Bermuda instead. Balmy but not oppressively humid, cultured but not pretentious, quaint without being antiquated, Bermuda is practically abandoned between Thanksgiving and Easter and, for all intents and purposes, visitor-free during the two weeks leading up to Christmas. It makes this the perfect time to spend a long weekend on the former British colony, which is located 568 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and a relatively painless hour-and-a-half flight from Washington.

IBM sees channel future

With the end of the year approaching, it’s time again for our top futurists to gaze into their crystal balls and tell us what they see. And just as they have for the last half decade or so, they’re likely to behold unprecedented industry growth, a battery of new technologies, and plenty of opportunities for venture capitalists with deep pockets. When one travel prophet bucks that trend, it’s no big deal. When he works for IBM, however, it’s worth a closer look.

Mile-high madness

It took two off-duty pilots, a military policeman and a 5-foot-4, 98-pound flight attendant to subdue and hog-tie a menacing passenger on US Airways Flight 38. The passenger had dropped acid and then tried to force his way into the cockpit to “bless the pilot.” During the struggle, he tossed the flight attendant, Renee Sheffer, across three rows of seats into the overhead luggage compartment like a ragdoll. Now, less than a month before he goes to trial in a Baltimore federal court, most of Sheffer’s physical wounds have healed, but not her psychological ones. She says she suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome and is on indefinite leave from work.

Backing up is hard to do

A data backup system is like dental floss. You know you ought to use it, but you don’t. That’s a propellerhead adage I understand. Ever since I can remember, I’ve brushed my teeth religiously. But I didn’t see the point of flossing. Then, during my second year of graduate school, I went to the campus tooth doctor for a routine check-up, only to discover two cavities and one almost root canal. Needless to say, I now floss with the same fervor that I brush. But I still don’t see the point of backing up my data.

Germs fly free

On a trip from Brussels to New York, my younger brother contracted an exotic and potentially fatal virus. I don’t remember the exact nature of his illness, but I recall the reaction from doctors when they diagnosed him: they were flabbergasted. Jeff had caught a rare intestinal ailment of African origin – something not found in Europe, where we lived, or the United States. We narrowed his point of contact with the disease down to the flight. My brother evidently used the bathroom on the Boeing 747, somehow touched the toilet seat or the sink, and, as 7-year-olds tend to do, later put his fingers in his mouth.

Games travelers play

Move over, Minesweeper. Step aside, Solitaire. You’re history. Newer, quicker laptop computers are letting travelers upgrade their computer games in a dramatic way. Passengers who once settled for a round of Hearts are now powering up desktop-quality flight simulators from their notebooks. Mile-high players who used to be satisfied with Hangman are turning to sophisticated war games to bide their time.

Airlines on the record about interactive travel

It’s an open secret in the interactive travel business that airlines are building up their Web sites to compete directly with online travel agencies and, for that matter, brick-and-mortar retailers. Recent events have shown clearly how serious the carriers are about rewriting the distribution equation. United Airlines capped its commissions again, this time to $100 for a round-trip international ticket. Other airlines quickly followed.

Name that airport

Charlton Heston Airport. Michael Jordan Airfield. Bill Clinton International. None exist today. But they’re worth considering, given all the airports out there with dull names. The new IDs won’t catch on, though, unless they’re a good fit. Take Washington D.C.’s old National Airport, which is now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. As in the two-term president. “If you live in Washington,” says inside-the-beltway resident and frequent flier David Kirby, “you don’t call it Ronald Reagan. It’s still National Airport here.”

Smile, you’re on internet camera!

Computer systems specialist Randy McClary wanted to keep an eye on his baby while he was away, but nothing seemed to work. His wife would shoot pictures of eight-month-old Samantha Ann from a camera on their PC and e-mail it to him while he was traveling. The images proved too cumbersome to download to his Toshiba 335 CDS laptop, even at a relatively fast 33.3 bps connection. Then he found the FoneCam, a new remote digital camera with a self-contained modem. Bingo.

Beware virus hoaxes

Thanks for clicking on this story. If you’re reading this, it’s already too late. A self-extracting virus has been transferred to your computer, and even as you ponder what to do next, the bug is indiscriminately munching your hard drive data and rewriting your modem script. But not before sending me all of your credit card information. Just kidding. There’s no virus. But messages like this one, true or not, make business travelers like Andrea Seebaum do a double-take.

Shuffle by United

It took Norm Gilbert 4 1/2 hours to fly from Orlando to San Francisco a few weeks ago. Then it took him another four hours to fly home to San Diego. Did he exchange his plane tickets for a hot-air balloon ride? Hardly. He boarded United Airlines’ West Coast shuttle, better known as “Shuttle by United.” “Flying the United shuttle is like taking a bus,” says the salesman and frequent flier. “It’s extremely frustrating. In my last eight shuttle flights, it hasn’t left on time once. My worst delay has been 2 1/2 hours.”

Why corporate travelers evade our ‘net

Unmanaged business travelers could turn out to be the big one that got away. It’s a story that begs to be told in angling metaphors. If he were alive today, Ernest Hemingway himself might be inspired by the elusiveness of these creatures called corporate travelers. The fickleness of them. Indeed, if Papa were still with us, The Old Man and the Sea might have turned out very differently.

Bugged by buggies

Forget air safety. Travelers should worry about airport safety, to hear people like Leo Cole talk about it. “Those darned carts that are supposedly for the handicapped or the elderly are a menace,” complains the Memphis, Tenn., salesman. “Every time you turn around, one is about to run over you.” Cole’s close calls with the electric buggies – he says they often approach from behind in a crowded terminal and push their way past him – thankfully haven’t resulted in any injuries.

Airing dirty laundry

Like most people, Alicia Nieva-Woodgate isn’t comfortable talking about her dirty laundry. Her misgivings are understandable. After all, soiled clothes are one of the less glamorous byproducts of a long trip. But when your hotel keeps you from cleaning up, reticence can turn to rage. That’s what happened to the San Francisco media relations executive when she stayed at the Sheraton’s Palo Alto, Calif., property a few weeks ago.

The pen is mightier than the scanner

Phil Schnyder sometimes gets a baffled look from other passengers when he unpacks a device that looks like a cross between an ice cream bar and a chalkboard eraser from his carry-on. When he starts pointing it at newspapers, magazines and business cards, he says, “I really feel like I have to explain myself.” Schnyder, the president of a Perry, Fla., software developer, is using a hand-held scanner called an I.R.I.S.pen. About the size of a cellular phone, it reads printed text, recognizes it and feeds it to the word processing or accounting program you’re using.

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