Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Evolving to Include Tech and the Cloud

This year Tooliedotter Press celebrated 10 years of existence. It's been a much better year for my business than the previous two, but I am sorry that I couldn't celebrate this milestone as I had hoped to do. Right about the time I would have been sending anniversary announcements, the hosting company who had handled my websites since the beginning flushed all of my websites down their digital toilet.

After 48 hours of being completely off the Internet, they did restore the files, but the damage was done. I had to find another provider. I had been involved with Amazon Web Services as a contract writer and fallen in love with their technology. I decided to go ahead with moving my websites from the previous provider's standard website hosting to the Amazon's cloud, and I haven't looked back.

As I began restoring my sites, I evaluated how I was going to use them in the future. That led to a bout of soul-searching that included the decision to finally get that book on cloud-computing written. It also meant that I am going to let some of my websites, products, and services go into mothballs for a while.

After 10 years on my own, I accepted a generous offer in July to take a permanent job for a while. I'm working in downtown Seattle for a fast-growing, well-funded startup that is building a database from the ground up. The technology is so compelling that 2 other long-time consultants besides myself decided to get in on the action by becoming employees instead of remaining independent. It's an intense, exciting place to be for the time being. And to my surprise, my experience with cloud computing has been utilized in addition to my writing and speaking skills. For me it's the best of both worlds: a steady paycheck in a semi-entrepreneurial environment.

Because even the best startups are at risk, I am keeping my website consulting clients on the side, and that makes for long days and perpetually working weekends. Even my 12 days off around Christmas have been spent finishing projects that have to be done by January 1st. So like many people who take active vacations, I'll be going back to work to recover!

As any wise business evolves, so has mine. I've been writing and sending an email newsletter since the beginning, but now it's time to switch completely over to using the as my writing outlet. I plan to write more about business travel technology and its relationship to cloud computing until I'm back out on the road as a speaker. I anticipate travel returning to my life in 2014, either for my job or for my consulting, or both.

It will continue to be a pleasure writing to you, plus now it won't just be on the last day of the month! My blog posts may be shorter, but now I can write whenever I find something worthwhile to share.

Thank you for your faithful readership over these past 9-and-a-half years. I look forward to bringing you travel and tech on this blog whenever possible.

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Newsletter: Full-Body Scanning and TSA Security

No doubt you've seen the news, read the horror stories, and wondered about the new security procedures instigated by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) recently. TSA began applying these procedures after my trip in September, so I have not yet experienced them. Having been "selected for additional screening" in locations around the world, the thought of being patted down on American soil makes me very uncomfortable. As business travelers, we're going to get more than our share of screening as it is, and now having more to endure, I wanted to get some facts pulled together for you.

What My "TSA Scanner" Research Found

Not having been through the procedure myself, I doubted the wisdom of delving into the subject in this newsletter but I decided to at least begin the discussion. So in preparation for writing this newsletter, I got onto the Central Link train and went down to the Seattle- Tacoma International Airport to see what was happening.

It had been a busy day, so by the time I got to the terminal, it was nearly 7 pm. Since I live on the West Coast that time of day is pretty quiet. I was able to stand within visual range of the scanners themselves to see, first of all, what they look like. When I came home, I did a search in Google Images for "TSA Scanner," and only found a small image on a television station website that looks like the ones used here.

There is apparently another version that looks like a Plexiglas phone booth, seen in this photo I found on CNN:

I looked at the scanners at two different checkpoints, and neither were using them at that hour. So I went over to a TSA employee and asked about them. The gentleman was very polite and helpful, but he began by rolling his eyes a bit at my question. No doubt he had been answering this question for all his friends too. Here is what I gleaned of the procedures at this point in time.

1. You're sent to the full-body scanner only if you set off the metal detector. At that point you may be sent to the full body scanner or just sent through the metal detector again.

2. You may be selected for additional screening at any time (he offered no further explanation).

3. You have the option to be patted down instead.

Light Me Up, Please

Personally, I'd go for the scanner. Why? Well here's what I learned about the scanners themselves; the radiation level used is for most people not a threat. There will always be exceptions to that, and your medical professional can advise you. I found this explanation of the radiation levels on

Now About Those Images...

My question is, "who is looking at me?" The director of the TSA, John Pistole, wrote a column on November 24th in USA Today, explaining the procedures and offering facts about the process from their point of view.

Here's what he had to say about the images themselves:

"All images generated by imaging technology are viewed in a walled-off location not visible to the public. The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger. The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print, or transmit images."

Also, TSA has forbidden their employees from bringing into the viewing area anything that would allow them to capture the image separately from the scanner itself, such as a camera or cell phone, etc. Now you and I know that there will always be people who try to break that rule, but I'm guessing that there's a tremendous amount of pressure on these employees to obey. If they're caught breaking the rule, they get fired.

Implementation Issues

I was scheduled to get on a plane and fly to Las Vegas just 9 days after the events of September 11, 2001 -- just 4 days after planes started flying again. I had paid for my ticket and pre-paid for 3 days of training, so despite my concerns, I was determined to go! We were warned to get to the airport early, and it's a good thing I did. I stood in line for over an hour while private security personnel (remember, no TSA back then) tried to implement hastily ordered procedures with little or no training. It was a nightmare. I made my flight, but just barely.

Without all the facts in front of me, and without having spoken to the offended persons, I am suspecting that some of the horror stories come from similarly randomly applied procedures as this new phase of screening is put in place. That does not make the process any less invasive or offensive. It is my fondest hope that the implementation of pat-down procedures will stabilize, and that TSA will do a better job of seeing to it that their employees are judicious in their application of those procedures. It can't be easy to have the job of screening, no matter how you look at it. But it's also distressing to realize that we have to succumb to this level of screening to protect the flying public.

The Best Advice...

On my way back to the train to go home, I stopped to talk to a couple of airline employees (a man and a woman), and I asked them about the reactions people have had to the new procedures. They both immediately said that the news items had been blown out of proportion, and that "it really wasn't that bad." But the best piece of advice I heard anywhere came from the woman. She said very simply, "Don't beep. Don't do anything that might set off the metal detectors, and you'll most likely be fine." Well, as business travelers, that's where we have an advantage. We have "not beeping" down to a science!

Have you been through full-body screening or a pat-down? If so, share your story by commenting on this blog post below.
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ToolieTravelBlog: Business Travel, Social Media, and Privacy

It's a absolutely brilliant day here in Seattle: blue skies, puffy clouds and a brisk 53 degrees. Spring has sprung and my thoughts turn to the skies as I'm refurbishing my speaking website. The work is not done, but it will be shortly, and I will talk about it next month.

One of the features of my new website is a listing of my speaking engagements that is pulled from my speaking business management tool. I like that I can enter the data once and display it for prospective buyers. I will also reinstall my TripIt badge when everything is in place.

But my "spidey-sense" tingles when I think about advertising that I am going to be away from home. I am fortunate that McAlister is here working at home in the studio nearly all the time, but I think about the many ways in which we expose our public and private activities online these days: Facebook, Twitter; less so on LinkedIn. Now I'm adding my business travels to a website that can be seen globally. I still think that the networking opportunities outweigh the risks, but I thought I'd go over ways to protect yourself from prying eyes.

Limit the Details of Your Private Life

If you've spent any time on our around Facebook and you keep up with current events, you've probably heard about the young person who decided to call in sick to work, then talked about their activities that day on Facebook. They never considered that the boss might know about their Facebook profile and keep track of what his employees might be doing. The boss found out, and the employee was fired.

While I enjoy sharing some personal details of my life (everyone knows how MUCH I adore McAlister), I am careful to keep specifics out of my Facebook entries and Twitter Tweets. I'm involved with these entities for business purposes, so that helps sort out what I'm willing to share online.

Don't Use Your Home Address for Your Home-Based Business

When I worked at Microsoft, I had the anonymity that working for a big company provided. Unless I gave out my direct phone line, all calls were routed through the main switchboard (later a call routing system), and the AmEx bills went to the Microsoft billing department. By the time I went out on my own, I had established a business address and a business credit card whose bills did not go to my home. I've been using a PO Box for my address for the last 25 years, so I am accustomed to having control over my mailing address. Yes it's sometimes inconvenient to have to go to the Post Office, but it's a choice well worth making, in my opinion.

Have Your Address Removed from the Land Line Listing

If you still have a land line to the house (many people don't anymore), have the address removed from your phone company listing. It's surprising how many people don't realize that websites like have your home phone address listed right there online. While I might allow a home phone number to remain listed (I don't), when it was, I had the phone company withhold the address.

As an online marketer with a company that owns 85 domain names, I also use private registration for what is otherwise a public listing. Domain registration information is public unless you specifically make it private (an additional fee). I've worked with clients who register domain names using a personal credit card, who later realized that their home address was listed for everyone to see. We quickly remedied the situation, but it's disconcerting nonetheless.

Route Home Phone Calls to Your Skype Account

This is a tactic I started using when I was traveling internationally because of aging parents. Only my parents and siblings have my home number, and that way I would be able to stay connected inexpensively.

I purchased a Skype phone number, and paid 75 cents a month to automatically forward my home phone to my Skype voicemail after a certain number of rings. If I was online at my computer, I could take the call, and the caller had no idea where I was in the world. If I was away from the computer, they would get voicemail anyway, but at least they weren't waiting for 2 weeks for me to return a call. It gave the illusion that I was nearby at least, and it was comforting to me to be available to my family.

Stop Your Home Mail Delivery

It's easier than ever to arrange for your mail to be held. You can go to the US Postal Service website (for example) and enter the request online:

You can specify both the start and end dates of the hold, and you'll receive a confirmation by email.

Employ a Security System

Not everyone needs to add a sophisticated security system to their home, but for some this may be a sensible decision. If you live alone and travel a lot, you may not have any other reasonable choice.

My favorite form of security is the neighborhood watch. Until I moved to Seattle I never knew my neighbors. I was always away, or lived in rental neighborhoods where people came and went frequently. Now that I own a home, I notice much more readily the cars that are parked on my street, the stranger on foot who is lurking with no apparent reason to be present.

I still don't know my neighbors as well as I should, but I am much more aware of my surroundings. We have exchanged phone numbers, and we look out for each other. I'll never forget the first time I received a call from the neighbor across the street, who called me at work to tell me that I had left my garage door open when I left for the day. I was so thankful, I sent her a bouquet of flowers!

Here's hoping you have someone looking out for you when you're away! If not, go meet your neighbors and join the watch!
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ToolieTravelBlog: A Survival Pack for Bad Weather Travel

While the Puget Sound region of Washington State has been spared most of the bad weather this year, the rest of the United States has been hit hard by snowstorm after snowstorm. I heard from a client today that his Eastern Pennsylvania home has 6-foot icicles hanging from the roofline, and that they've received 75 inches of snow.

Seattle had two bad years of snow in a row, and though I grew up in the Midwest and learned to drive in snow, because of our hilly neighborhood, we were housebound more than once. Cabin fever is bad enough at home, but it is really, really awful if you're stuck in an airport.

As business travelers, bad weather is often nipping at our travel plans. Having good "travel intel" on your destination is a must, and having some kind of backup plan is equally important.

But if, God forbid, you must travel in less than optimal weather, here are some suggestions for a light-weight travel pack containing items that might help you endure confinement in a snowed-in airport.

* Medications and Toiletries

Those who depend on medications on an ongoing basis are usually prepared with an extra dose stashed in pocket or purse. One way you can do that is will a "metal pill fob" that goes on your keychain. I have to say that this sometimes invites curiosity on the part of TSA, but if you open it and show them the pills, they're satisfied. I found one here on

It's bigger than average for those of you having to take big pills as well as lots of them.

One thing I've discovered over years of international travel is that bags go on their own adventures sometimes. The one thing I've never found in an airline-supplied toiletries kit is antiperspirant or deoderant. So I tuck a travel-size stick deoderant in my carry-on bag just in case. The rest I can get in an airline kit, or do without.

* Food and Water

I never seem to get stuck where there's plenty of food; it's always late at night or early in the morning. I keep 1 or 2 food bars in my carry-on bag to tide me over. I've also discovered that I like a particular brand of trail mix when traveling, so I pick up a bag whenever I can find it. Here are my favorite food bars:

Amazon Fresh delivers groceries in the Seattle area, but you can get Clif bars in most grocery stores across the USA.

Years ago I came across the Platypus water bottles. They're made here in the Northwest. Now that you can't carry beverages through security, it really make sense to get a Platypus water bottle because it will roll up for easy storage. It's also tough enough to either boil or freeze, so that's handy!

* Alarm Clock and Cable Lock

This one has been the bain of my existence. I'm not a good at napping without someone or something to wake me up in time. I have often wished I could nap in an airport waiting room, but I never seem to have an alarm clock with me! I looked at the Magellan's site and they say that this little analog clock has one of their loudest alarms. I'd check it out!

My other fear about falling asleep is that my bags might leave without me. So here's a page of locks from the Magellan's site. You could use the luggage strap to tie your bags to your arm so that you'd wake if someone tried to mess with them.

* Extra Cell Phone or PDA batteries or Rechargers AND a Splitter

It goes without saying that having a recharger you can use to keep your electronics going is a necessity anytime. But if you're stuck in an airport with other business travelers, those outlets are going to be VERY busy. I suggest carrying also a 3-outlet adapter so that you can SHARE your power with others!

* Lightweight Wrap or Mini-Blanket and Pillow

So far everything I've mentioned is pretty small and could be added to your arsenal without much effort. This last category is where things get interesting. If you're traveling with a heavy coat, then you don't really need to carry a blanket, but having a lightweight blanket might be nice if you want to lay on the terminal floor to nap. I know, eeewww, however, if that's your only chance to sleep, it might make sense to carry a travel blanket and pillow during bad weather travel.

This one seems to be pretty handy. I already carry a Bucky Mini- Pillow, so I'd be looking at a blanket to round out the survival pack.
Wrap all of this up in the container of your choice from, and you've got a kit that will serve you well if you're stuck in an airport overnight.

Here's hoping you never have to...!
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ToolieTravelBlog: 2009/2010 Tech Travel Gadgets Turn Heads

Technology, like business travelers, never sits still. The Consumer Electronics Show just recently concluded in Las Vegas. I've never had the opportunity to attend (when I was at Microsoft, I managed to NOT have to work a booth there, sparing my voice), but I think I'd like to try visiting the show. It's the biggest electronics show of the year, spanning multiple venues, so you'd better have some comfortable shoes and no fear of crowds if you plan to attend.

When I went trolling through lists of travel gadgets written by others summarizing last year's best as well as those who did attend CES, I spotted some gadgets that I, as a business traveler, would love to get my hands on. They may appeal to you as well!

* LiveScribe Pulse SmartPen ~

The Pulse SmartPen can record your handwriting and corresponding audio (think note-taking in a lecture) and let you upload it to your computer for storage and analysis. I'd seen reports on this device previously, but in the last few months they've expanded their line and supporting accessories. The SmartPen is yet another attempt to merge handwriting and computing, and depending on your particular interest, can be a real boon to making that connection.

Personally, I can type way way faster than I can hand-write, so for me having a device like this would be less of a priority than having a second, ultra-portable notebook for my traveling and speaking. BUT I do like to hand-write my notes when I'm brainstorming. I'm a regular at my local Red Robin restaurant, where the manager there knows I come to "make lists." In that situation I don't bring my laptop; I bring pen and paper. If I had a SmartPen, I wouldn't be re-typing my hand- written notes, I'd just be storing them on my computer. Bye-bye randomly scribbled notes!

* ITV-Vidix Goggles ~

I first experienced wide-screen video in special, wearable, goggles at my dentist's office. She offers your choice of a movie to watch if she's got a procedure to perform on your teeth that lasts over an hour. (Yes Dr. Cindy Pauley of Brookside Dental IS the coolest dentist in the world -- she's here in Bellevue!)

These ITV-Vidix Goggles are un-tethered; you can load your movie into the goggles using a mini-SD card, and watch your movie without worrying about forgetting to unplug your unit when your seat-mate suddenly decides they have to get to the lavatory NOW! You can just leap up from your seat and not break any cables. OK, well, you probably should take them off first, but remember to hit Pause.

* Kodak Zx1 Pocket Video Camera ~ flagged this model in their best of 2009 review of travel gadgets, but I've been hearing about the Kodak line of pocket video cameras from other sources. My Internet video guy, Mike Stewart ( has been testing the high-end model (Zi8) and likes it a lot. In this department Kodak is giving The Flip pocket video cameras a run for their money.

* La Cie Rugged Hard Disk ~

The La Cie brand is very familiar to long-time Macintosh users, but perhaps not as well-known among Windows PC users. I got involved with La Cie drives when my hard drive needs expanded a couple of years back (those thousands of 7MB photos), and now I have a 2-TB and 2 500-GB La Cie drives that are still working! They're both practical and stylish.

The model I want to draw to your attention though is from their Rugged Hard Disk line. What caught my eye is the fact that these are MIL- compliant, which means they've passed very nasty tests set up by the

U. S. Army's Developmental Test Command to gauge how well a device will perform under extreme conditions. Now as much as I love traveling, I tend to be tough on my electronics, so I look for ratings like this on the gear I buy. Time Magazine's Best Travel Gear of 2009 list mentioned the La Cie Rugged Hard Drive because of this particular compliance. That works for me!

* Vue Personal Video Network ~

Travel + Leisure Magazine put this set of devices on their Best of CES 2010 list, and I have to agree. Several years ago I put in a Panasonic network camera in my office that I can use if I log into my home domain. I use it to observe my printer when printing to it while I'm away -- making sure the pages actually print out. Sometimes I check the door to the studio to see if McAlister is up before I call from overseas, so that I don't wake him up unnecessarily. (As an artist he keeps unpredictable hours, so I try not to mess with that.)

This video network is wireless, and you can set up those simple cameras in any room in the house. My interest though is in having a camera pointed at the front porch. When the doorbell rings, I want to make sure that it's the UPS guy waiting for a signature for my package, not someone ringing the bell and then leaving before I can get to the door.

* Optoma PK102 Pocket Projector ~

I want one of these tiny projectors for my travels. We have a wonderfully bright but small NEC projector that is half the size of a laptop which I plan to use for my presentations, but I'd love to have this projector for use one-on-one with clients or in committee meetings. Time Magazine's Best Travel Gadgets of 2009 flagged its sibling PK101 as one of the best travel gadgets last year, but the newer model PK102 has my attention. This model can hook up to a laptop and project a reasonably sized image. It has a good contrast ratio, long battery life, and 100% NTSC Color Gamut support. I'd be thrilled just to be able to project the movies running on my laptop onto my hotel room walls for more comfortable viewing!

What gadgets have you seen lately? Send your suggestions along and I will share them in future newsletters. Have fun shopping!
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