Travel Tech for my 10 days of driving around Germany, Poland, and Czech Republic for Veeam Vanguard Summit in Prague
This article was written during the few moments I was in various hotel rooms. Enjoying my time with my wife and with fellow bloggers from across the globe were the priority. You can jump right down to the tech and/or the photos.
How VVols landed me in Germany
Ever since I was 11, I wanted to get back to Germany, where half my family is from. Finally, thanks to an opportunity to write about VVols in an IBM Redbook, that dream came true in September 2014, as VMware was preparing for the Feb 2 2015 launch of vSphere 6.0. That trip was a lot of work, and a lot of fun, with extensive rental car adventures that involved a manual transmission and a side-trip to visit the island where my last name originated. That trip didn't come without its challenges, full story here.
How Veeam & VMware got me to Europe
Here's the thing. All of those big trips during my 21 years of adventures at IBM left my wife and family behind. This included places like London, Barcelona, and Sydney. The family's need for proper focus on affording college tuition always trumped wants. Yet, those wants still persisted.
My wife moved from Poland to Connecticut at age 14, and we met while we were both in neighboring town high schools. Despite 28 years of marriage, I still haven't managed to find a way to visit Poland, ideally with her. I was always determined to find a way, some way, some how, but we just couldn't make it happen, until now...
Veeam Vanguard 2015 to 2018
Then an email arrived from Rick Vanover at Veeam:
From: Rick Vanover
Sent: Monday, July 2, 2018 2:14 PM
To: Rick Vanover
Subject: Veeam Vanguard Program Information - 2018 Summit Prague
Hello Veeam Vanguards!
Dear Vanguards! We are happy to report the first step of our annual event – the Prague Vanguard summit.
I had heard something about Vanguards going to Prague back at Veeam On in 2018, but I really wasn't sure what the deal was with travel costs, so I certainly didn't want to get excited about it. Not unless it was an actual possibility for me. I had no idea how such a blog-related endeavor would be perceived by my management, since it's more of an invite-only event for some of the world's biggest names in blogging whose work I've read for years, and it is quite the honor just to be invited.
I’ve been writing about Veeam backup software for years, and Veeam Agent for Windows actually saved my bacon from that Windows 10 1809 build issue last week.
Months went by and managers changed at VMware, and I politely floated the idea for me to go. I even found out that another Vanguard was putting in a good word for me too. I cannot tell you how much that means to me, and my family, that it was approved. Some reasonable stipulations of course, but approved nonetheless.
Recently, BDL (Bradley International Airport Hartford/Springfield) enjoyed both Aer Lingus and Norwegian Air competing with one-another with direct service to Europe (Ireland, Scotland, respectively). This was a complete game-changer for my wife and I. Why? For whatever reason, flying from BDL to Prague or JFK to Prague was about $1400 for each of us, blowing the budget. So we persisted, and shopped around for other airports within a reasonable distance to Prague. We were delighted to discover we could fly BDL (just 22 miles from home) to Dublin to Berlin for just $880 USD! This made this whole trip possible, a game changer for our mid-sized airport. We did have about 4 hours of driving to get to Prague from Berlin, but not a problem, we wanted to do a side-trip to Poland anyway, arriving early on October 12th and departing on October 22nd.
Part of why lower-cost international flights have arrived is because of advancements in twin jet reliability and efficiency.
The kids are grown up
On September 14, my wife and I had both secured time-off approval, and the time had now arrived to book our travel. We used VMware’s American Express corporate travel line, which has the added perk of providing personal travel booking too. We certainly would have preferred to bring our grown sons along for the trip, but the timing wasn't right. They each graduated with their masters and recently just started new jobs, so it's just two of us, this time, perhaps our only time. My dear wife sooo deserves this trip for so many reasons, including putting up with over 7 years of blogging at TinkerTry!
Flying around the US the day before International Travel isn't ideal
Sure enough, some trials and tribulations due to weather meant a long solo drive from Buffalo back home on Friday, October 12th. Wouldn't miss that Upstate new York VMUG for anything though, chock full of Canadians including the VMware Manager who hired me. I was there to present on vSAN with new-to-VMware, fellow Sr. Solutions Engineer vSAN/HCI named Darin Zook, and it sure was fun! So was bumping into Matt Crape, a fellow Veeam Vanguard. Even if that picture in his #VanguardTakover tweet was pretty terrible, his Coffee Crisps more than made up for it. Pretty awesome we get to see each other again in Prague later today!
You see, I couldn't risk getting stranded in a far away airport, such as Charlotte, where American Airlines offer to fly me through. So I drove instead, and arrived home with just enough time to mow the lawn and pack, quickly. Very quickly, including all the tech...
Here's the technology that helped make this trip a bit smoother, and this article possible.
iPhone XS Max
Sure am glad I got my new phone before the trip, with a more stable iOS than I've head in years, and much better speeds. Hands-down the best phone I've ever owned. Even just going to iOS last month gave me a noticeable performance boost, and now with a new phone and better camera, I'm quite pleased the timing worked out, sharing some of my travel pictures below, and unlike Twitter, in full-resolution. Having that big OLED display is just awesome.
Verizon International Travel Plan
For a relatively brief trip, you can activate this plan, which gives you access to your US phone number when traveling, using the same shared minutes and data of your existing plan. What's the catch? I've learned the hard way that border crossing leads to an expensive day, since you pay $10 USD in each country you enter and use data or voice in during each 24 hr period. So with 2 iPhones moving from Germany to Poland on October 13th, that one day was $40 for the two of us. Also painful was running through my 1/2 GB of daily data, with severe throttling that basically meant I needed to pay the $10 for another 1/2GB that day. This pricey mistake was in part due to not downloading all Google Maps for later offline use along the entire road trip locations while back at home, where my WiFi is fantastic. Getting a pre-paid SIM like I did for a month in Germany in 2014 might have been nice, but this trip wasn't booked far enough ahead of time to get one shipped to the US in advance. Perhaps I should have gotten a SIM at the Berlin Airport, but I suspect I'd have to provide all sorts of information, and I'd rather just pay one flat rate by credit card. I admit I did not research this aspect of our trip planning enough.
Their iOS app is invaluable, helps me keep tabs on what's happening with my flight status including the status of the the inbound plan my flight will be using, and the weather radar map superimposed along the planned and actual route, on any airline.
Download FlightAware Flight Tracker on Apple Store or Google Play.
Travel WiFi Router
- GL.iNet GL-AR750S-Ext Gigabit Travel AC Router (Slate), 300Mbps(2.4G)+433Mbps(5G) Wi-Fi, 128MB RAM, MicroSD Support, OpenWrt/LEDE pre-Installed, Cloudflare DNS, Power Adapter and Cables Included
Allows me to easily share out the one hotel connection that I pay to upgrade to higher speeds. Like, bumping from 3.73 MBps down / 4.15 up to 11.78 Mbps down / 11.62 up. I created the initial configuration during my flight to Munich, actually.
USB-C Mobile Charger Battery - RAVPower
- USB C Power Bank RAVPower 10000mAh Portable Charger, Ultra-Slim 10000 Phone Charger with 5V/3A Type-C Port Power Pack Battery Pack for Nintendo Switch, Galaxy S8, Google Pixel 2, iPhone, iPad and More
USB-C Car Charger - Anker
- Anker USB C Car Charger, PowerDrive Speed+2 PD with 1 PD and 1 PIQ, with Power Delivery for MacBook, Pixel, iPhone X/8/8 Plus, and PowerIQ 2.0 Fast Ch
USB-C to Lighting Cable - Apple
I tried a 3rd party USB-C cable in the vehicle, and that didn't work well at all, about 1/5th the speed of the Apple cable, which charges at an amazing rate of roughly 1% per minute, even when driving, but only when using the USB C port on the Anker charger listed above.
Air Vent Cell Phone Mount
Not the best option out there, but it does tend to hug the dashboard better than most, allowing the phone to stay relatively still on those bumpy roads.
- Belkin Car Vent Mount for Smartphones, including all Samsung S Series and Apple iPhones (Older Model)
I also travel with the alternative called the Aikema PH05 Air Vent Car Mount Holder, but it doesn't seem to be available anymore, and I packed so fast this trip that I forgot it anyway.
Credit Cards and Apple Pay
Better Visa (or Master Card), as well as American Express.
We quickly found that American Express isn't taken many places, and sometimes restaurants are cash-only. I also noticed that Ireland, Germany and Poland rarely take Apple Pay, at least in the cities I've been in so far, which include Dublin Ireland, Cottbus Germany, and Wroclaw Poland.
Added Oct 17 2018 - see also TinkerTry comment where Jan47 says:
Just a tip - almost every single terminal in Poland accepts Apple Pay (because they aceept proximity cards) - just put you iPhone close to the top of the terminal 😀 PS. Same with Google Pay.
Lenovo Yoga 13
Yes, I brought no laptop with any useful data on it, just an aging ThinkPad Yoga running Windows 10. I have no concerns about data on it, since there is no personal data on it. Admittedly, a mere 13" display with only 1600 x 900 pixels isn't ideal, but it's just my "dumb" terminal used to do an occasional bit of blogging while far away, such as writing this article from 4,064 miles away, to be exact. How? Read onward...
Duo Authentication for Windows Logon and RDP
If you leave a Windows VM running, and register your home's cable modem with a service like noip.com, and you configure port forwarding from port 443 to port 3389, you too can get reasonably secure temporary access to your home network. You wouldn't want to run it fulltime, but did you know that there's a free roll-your-own two factor security option that I've been using for over a year now? You can read all about exactly how one implements this dual factor (multi-factor, MFA) access to your home lab at Duo here:
- Duo Authentication for Windows Logon and RDP
Duo integrates with Microsoft Windows client and server operating systems to add two-factor authentication to Remote Desktop and local logons.
Recently, Cisco acquired Duo, so I wonder how much longer I'll be able to do this for free, but it works very well. I launch a shortcut on my Taskbar that opens a saved RDP connection, and moments later I force-touch the phone pop-up to Accept. If my iPhone (works with iOS or Android) happens to be locked, the prompt will show up on my watch instead. Awesome!
Added Oct 17 2018:
This video was recorded in a hotel room in Prague 4,064 miles from my home lab. Before leaving, I set port 443 to forward to port 3389 to the IP address of my static reservation Windows 10 VM using my Ubiquiti EdgeRouter Lite. I've also created an RDP connection on my older/slower Lenovo laptop, using a fake hostname by editing my hostfile, to obfuscate my actual connection's details. Finally, I'm using Duo Authentication for Windows Logon and RDP, which is currently free, to allow dual factor / MFA access to that VM. Note that Cisco recently acquired Duo, so I'm not sure that this feature will continue to be free.
Since my iPhone was locked while recording this video, you'll see that I'm prompted to accept the RDP connection from my Apple Watch (2nd Gen.), which is very handy. Normally this prompt appears in under a second, but in this video, you'll see the latency and poor speed of my hotel WiFi meant the authentication prompt took a little longer. FYI, using Duo Mobile from the Apple Store on a compatible Apple iPhone, you can use force touch to click on the Duo "Approve" option.
Duo Mobile can be installed on Android too from Google Play.
Added Oct 17 2018:
Osmo Mobile 2 Gimbal for phones
You can seem a sample of the time-lapse that such a motorized gimbal can provide, but I'm just getting started. Produced entirely with iMovie on my iPhone XS Max. Unlike the YouTube app, iMovie allows native 4K 30fps video upload directly from the phone. That upload took a while on the 47 Mbps Down / 36 Mbps Up, which is thankfully way better than it was yesterday, here at the Hilton Prague Old Town conference room's WiFi.
Oct 24 2018 Update
- instead of Verizon International Plan's TravelPass option, I probably should have used One-Month Plan instead, to save money overall, and to allow for 2GB of data per day
- I should have flown with several American to European adapter plugs, as they weren't as easy to come in local shops or at hotel front desks by as I had assumed them to be
- steer clear of Berlin's Ancient Tegel Airport TXL, if you can
- when flying on Aer Lingus out of TXL Terminal C, I learned at baggage check-in that I couldn't pay for my 3rd check-in piece there since they lacked the charge card equipment, and that I'd have to go back to Terminal A to do so, gladly, with only 1 hour and 45 minutes until my flight, Aer Lingus had mercy on us and took our ~25 lb bag at no charge, which was just slightly to big to fit in overhead
Nov 17 2018 Update
Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL) airport is set to be replaced by the 15-years-of-planning-and-construction Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), with remodeled Berlin Schönefeld Airport (SXF) sticking around too, leaving 2 airports to service this city of roughly 6 million people.
See also at Tinkertry
- Ian Sanderson's walkthrough details configuration of roll-your-own MFA using free Cisco Duo Authentication for Windows Logon and RDP
Nov 27 2018
- Apple iPhone X Accessories that feature Bluetooth, Qi Wireless Charging, and/or Lightning connectors for podcast enjoyment anywhere
Jan 16 2018
- Today is my first day at VMware!
Jan 9 2017
- Thank you IBM, for 21 amazing years!
Dec 31 2016
Follow along at #VanguardTakeover.
Not all about tech, some are just pretty. I suppose you could consider these to be a demonstration of the quality of smart phone cameras these days. I'm pretty happy about that, since I've been taking pictures since I was about 10, and am still so happy that I'm able to take my camera with me everywhere, for about years now.
I'll be sharing more pictures later on, enjoying the fantastic weather, food, and company first!