An international traveler's E-mail survival kit; have modem, will travel.
If you are the type who uses electronic mail at your home or office, no doubt you will want to connect when you travel. Not only will you be unwilling to be "out of touch," you might enjoy the challenge of trying to making a connection from an obscure location.
I have traveled to twenty-eight Third World countries over the past four years and am happy to report that connections to computers in the United States and Europe were possible from every one.
This article outlines a list of computer hardware, tools, manuals, and telephone numbers that allow the experienced e-mail user to connect from virtually any location. It also gives advice on traveling with a PC and how to get through customs unscathed. Finally, there is a section on making connections from hotel rooms even when modular plugs are not available.
There are a few guidelines that will make your trip easier. First of all, do as much research on the telecommunication situation as possible before you leave. Nevertheless, remember this important caveat: virtually all the information you have gathered may be incorrect ! Don't expect the names or the numbers you have obtained from TELENET or TYMNET to be accurate. People often change jobs in developing countries and procedures also change with alarming frequency. Sign-on procedures from adjacent countries to the same host and carrier may differ considerably even though the basic methods are similar.
Still, you can prepare yourself by following a few guidelines:
Is there a TELENET or TYMNET packet-switching node? If so, then call TELENETs international number (800TELENET) for a contact name in the country you are traveling to and try to get the 300- or 1200-baud connection number.
If there is no TELENET or TYMNET node, is there a TymUSA, DASnet, or INFONET connection? If so, then get the latest information from these sources.
If you are still without a connection option i.e., no data network), determine if International Direct Dial (IDD) exists.
In some countries, such as Chad or Paraguay, IDD is not yet established and you will probably not be able to make the connection unless you have a very sympathetic operator who is willing to work with you. If IDD does exist, you have a few options:
Call long distance into the nearest node. Some of the best nodes are in Hong Kong, Bahrain, and Santiago, for Asia, the Middle East, and South America, respectively.
Call long distance directly into the carrier or the host computer. For example from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, you can try the node in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, but you are better off dialing long distance into a host in the United States, or via Miami's TELENET node.
Find someone who has a dedicated line to an international carrier and ask to piggyback on it.
Connect your computer to a telex line, switch to half-duplex, and twiddle your thumbs at 50 baud.
Abandon the project.
As soon as you do figure out how to log on from a particular location, try a dry run and set up your software. Write everything down because you will undoubtedly need it later.
I rarely use script files. Not only do they give you a false sense of security, but they also help you to forget essential steps and codes! Then you wrack your brains - was it 311030100341 or 311020100341, or was it 311050100341?
Bag of Tricks
What is in my bag of tricks when I'm sent to developing countries to install modems and make connections to host services? Here's what I bring.
Computer equipment. A light laptop with built-in modem (300 baud). I swear by the Tandy 100. Since the internal modem is only Bell 212A, I also bring a Worldport modem, operating on battery power. Forget about trying 2400-baud modems. Be grateful for 300 baud and pray for 1200.
For software, the Tandy has a built-in telecommunications program with the advantage of having only four or five protocol options. More sophisticated PCs can use any software - just be sure you are very familiar ;Kith it.
Incidentally, I leave the AC adapter at home, and only use battery power for the PC.
Telephone equipment. For $6.95 you can buy a lightweight, one-piece pulse telephone, perfect for testing the existence of a dial tone in some strange and exotic land. This is also very nice to leave as a gift for the person whose line you last used.
Assorted wires, cables, and connectors. Bring a lot of telephone wires with you - modular plug to modular plug, modular plug to spade lug, even modular plug to good quality two-line copper wires. Try to get the ones with the solid copper wires, not the thin copper strands. (Hint: many old wires are solid, so try to get them from older apartments and offices.)
Buy a couple of standard and four-prong-to-modular converters and buy a lot of those strange-looking modular plugs from other countries. Collect them as you go. If you are like me, you will someday be back in the same place ! Also bring T-switches and modular connectors. Don't forget some twenty-five-pin RS232C cables and a couple of twenty-five-to-nine-pin cables. Bring a gender bender just in case. Radio Shack carries a good selection of wires, cables, and connectors.
Converters and adapter plugs. Remington sells a handy converter pack that contains all sorts of plugs. The converter isn't recommended for use with a computer but will work with some peripherals. I carry a wide selection with me when I travel and frequent hardware stores in just about every country looking for unusual configurations. You never know when you'll use one.
Batteries. Bring plenty. Enough said.
Other electrical sources. If you are staying somewhere for a long time, or setting up a permanent connection, bring a couple of AC/DC converters, long extension cords, an uninterruptible power source (UPS), and a surge protector.
Tool kit Swiss army knife, wire cutters, wire strippers, alligator clips, matches, screwdrivers, small hammers, scissors, and electrical tape.
Acoustic couplers, blackjacks, and modular plug cheaters. Acoustic couplers used to be lifesavers but are becoming less useful these days as more and more hotels and residences are installing fancy phones - the kind with the so-called "modem" headsets, which are useless. However, if you are clever, you can unscrew the mouthpiece or frontpiece and attach a blackjack or modular cheater.
A blackjack is a small device with two metal plates on one end and a modular plug hole on the other. Screw the blackjack on and insert a modular plug wire attached to your modem. Or, try a modular plug cheater - a wire with two alligator clips on one end and a modular plug on the other.
Manuals. You would be surprised how easy it is to forget simple instructions and codes. Bring your computer, software, and modern manuals with you. I keep a little book with me at all times in which I write all my crib notes - it has been a lifesaver.
Traveling with a PC
Traveling with a PC can be a pleasure or a nightmare. To ensure a safe journey for all your expensive and possibly irreplaceable equipment, follow a few precautions:
Place all your electronic equipment batteries, and wires in your checked luggage. Wrap your clothes around everything, and insulate very well.
Don't carry anything in your hand luggage, even diskettes. Yes, I know checked luggage is sometimes lost, but this is truly rare compared to the hassles you will surely encounter trying to get these items past the checkers, or worrying about the X-ray machines.
Some airlines are restricting travel of persons carrying electronic equipment especially high-tech computer ware. Call them well in advance of your travels to avoid unpleasant scenes at the airport.
I was once detained in the Karachi Pakistan, airport because I was carrying a Ziploc bag full of wires, modem cards, small tools, batteries, cables, and other paraphenalia in my carry-on luggage. The agent thoroughly examined all my peripherals, then subjected me to a physical search attended by three other agents, all die while insisting I had enough stuff with me to make a bomb on board the airplane.
No one was taking this lightly, especially me. The only way I was able to depart was to leave the bulk of the items with the agent, to prove I was not dangerous.
I love having my Toshiba laptop with me when I travel, but have long since learned to leave it safely at home and take a cheap Tandy 100 that runs only on battery power. Not only do I take a lower risk in terms of losing valuable equipment, but the Tandy is lighter and very simple to use, lessening the possibility of error and increasing the possibility of connection.
Don't play at being cool by using your computer while you are waiting for a flight or while on board, no matter how bored you might otherwise be. Be very unobtrusive when you carry equipment across borders - many customs agents in developing countries are looking for high-tech contraband goods and would love to confiscate your livelihood. When in doubt, play dumb.
I told a customs man in Santiago, Chile, that my Worldport modem was a man's shaver, and he offered me 20 for iL When asked in Port-au-Prince, Haiti if my Tandy 100 was a computer, I replied, Oh no, sir, I'm a writer, and U" is my typewriter ! Hotel Rooms
Hotel rooms are of two types, those with modular connectors and those without. If you are in a room with a modular connector, simply unplug the phone and plug in your modem.
If you are making a local call to a node, just dial. If you need long distance, call the hotel operator first and tell the operator to expect a high-pitched sound like a fax. Operators understand that better than I am connecting to dial-up X.25 packet switching."
If you see a telephone that is hard-wired to an old fashioned single line RJ11 telephone box, do not despair. This is sometimes very easy to jerry-rig. Simply remove the plastic casing with a screwdriver and release two of the wires. In the United States, they are always the red and the green wires, but internationally you will have to test them.
Try the green and blue wires first. This is where the modular plug cheater and your portable phone come in very handy. Just attach the alligator clips to the active screws, use a connector, and plug in your phone. If you get a dial tone you have found the correct wire pair.
If there is no dial tone, try the two other combinations - rest assured that the law of averages will cause you to find the right combination soon. After you have raised a dial tone, proceed with connecting the modem and your PC.
Once you have made the connection, be sure to replace the wires the way you originally found them and screw on the plastic jack cover. Try not to leave any evidence of tampering as this is usually frowned upon, particularly in countries where the PTT or ENTEL has a monopoly on telecommunications.
Above all, do not let telephone boxes intimidate you. In June of 1989, 1 was in Algiers trying to link the United Nations' office computer to a host computer in the United States. There was no packet-switching in Algiers at the time and I was attempting the connection via the old colonial lines to TRANSPAC in Paris.
The UN representative's line was the only one equipped with IDD and I was quite literally taking his telephone apart when his secretary confronted me. Don't you feel uncomfortable pulling all those wires out of the wall?" she asked. I replied, "No. not at all. It's my job to do this."
Now, you are ready to go. Your equipment is ready, your research is done, your e-mail pals are waiting. Get out there and try the connection from the least likely spot. Remember, have modem, will travel.
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|Publication:||Computers in Libraries|
|Date:||Jun 1, 1991|
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