Hotel keys
Hotel keys, photo by Susanne Nilsson, license CC BY-SA

Everybody hates the keycard, says the NYT, and talks about using your phone instead. There are a few reasons why using your phone as a hotel key is not something I do, or would do.

One reason is provided by the hotels promoting this themselves:

And, since the keys are downloaded electronically through a hotel app, the host has a presence on the guests’ phones, and can offer other exclusive services, like promotions and a chat feature.

Presence on my phone, that sounds rather ominous. Let me count the hotel apps I currently allow on my phone…. 0.

Unless there’s an opt-in for each single additional ‘service’ as part of a hotel’s ‘presence’ on my phone, it is in breach of the GDPR wherever I travel. Do hotel chains really want to expose up to 4% of their annual turnover to liability risks?

The ones I’ve encountered worked through bluetooth. That opens up a wide range of potential vulnerabilities. I never have bluetooth switched on (nor wifi when not in active use, for that matter), and there are very good reasons for that. There might be other bluetooth devices nearby pretending to be my hotel door to get access to my phone, or piggyback on my room door’s communication. A plastic card and a room door never have that issue. NFC based ones have less of these issues, but still bring their own issues.

A vulnerability in a hotel’s mobile app now also becomes a vulnerability for your hotel key as well as for your phone. It also means a phone will contain data traces of any hotel you may have used it as a key. That is a privacy risk in itself, not only to yourself, but potentially as well to people you have encountered. (E.g. investigative journalists would be risking the anonymity and privacy of their sources that way.)

Another reason is, also when I travel alone I have 2 plastic key cards. I keep them in different places, so I have a back-up if one of them gets out of my hands. Having just my phone is a single point of failure risk. Phones get left in hotel bars. Phones slip out of pockets in taxi back seats. Phone batteries die.

That is the third reason, that phone batteries die, especially on intensive work days abroad. Already that is sometimes problematic for mobile boarding passes for e.g. a second leg of a trip after a long haul flight (such as last month on a trip to Canada), or an evening flight home.
When staying in a hotel, after a long day, I sometimes need to leave a phone to charge in my room (sometimes the room safe has a convenient power outlet), while I go have a coffee in the lobby. This month during holidays I left my phone charging during dinner in a hotel in Rouen, as well as in an apartment on the Normandy coast, while we headed out for a walk on the beach.
So when I read in the article “What is also great is that I don’t find myself forgetting my key in the room as I always have my phone with me“, I take that to mean “you can’t leave your room when your phone needs charging” and “you can’t return to your room if your phone battery died”.

Phones and hotel keys all have their vulnerabilities. Putting a key card on your phone doesn’t remove the existing vulnerabilities of existing key card systems, but transfers and adds them to the vulnerabilities of your phone, while also combining and increasing the potential negative consequences of one of those vulnerabilities becoming actualised.

Read Everybody Hates the Key Card. Will Your Phone Replace It? (nytimes.com)

Technology that allows hotel guests to use their phones as room keys is expanding, taking aim at those environmentally unfriendly plastic cards.

(written by hand on July 16th, in the French country side, typed out and edited on the laptop after returning home)

Some notes on my experience with mobile blogging in the past few weeks that we spent in France. Normally I don’t post at all during our holidays. However it usually is a time I write a lot (because I usually read a lot), and my blog is the logical place for that writing to end up. As an experiment I wanted to see if current devices, tools and IndieWeb components might add up to a frictionless workflow. Results were mixed as you can see from the very first sentence above.

The set-up

  • I didn’t have my regular laptop with me this summer, but did have my phone and had a small 2013 Samsung Tablet (which means it has an old Android version that no longer supports a wide range of Android apps. It didn’t run Indigenous for instance, see below. Oddly my Opera browser also couldn’t do the current Captcha / I’m not a robot thingies, so had to use Chrome to log into my site, and then go back to my preferred browser).
  • The tablet was intended to write on the go more, as it had a bigger interface, and I dislike tapping out texts on my phone. Such writing took place in the webbrowser, being logged into my WordPress website’s console.
  • The phone runs Indigenous for Android, which is a Microsub client, which means it serves as a (RSS-) reader. I had it connected to my Aperture account as the Microsub server, and before leaving loaded it by hand with 41 feeds from sites I follow (which is about a fifth of what I normally follow).
  • The same Indigenous app also serves as a Micropub client, meaning I can use it to directly respond to something in the reader section of the app, e.g. to like, bookmark, or reply to a posting, as well as initiate a posting from the app.
  • I also have the ability to send a new posting by e-mail from a specific sender address, which I have enabled on my phone, to a specific receiver address that my blog can read, using the Postie plugin

Experiences

  • Posting images is something I had envisioned doing easily. Snapping a picture, add a remark and have it online before you know it. Reality was different.
    • Using Indigenous to upload a photo to the Media section of WordPress wasn’t useful. Indigenous uploads it, and comes back with a URL for it. What it can’t do is come back with the correctly sized and WordPress optimised version of the upload. This is logical because the Indigenous doesn’t know it’s talking to a WordPress site. Writing a HTML image statement by hand using that returned URL can be done, but means an uploaded photo will be shown using the largest file size available (and that you’ll be coding html by hand on a tiny screen).
    • What does work well in Indigenous is posting a photo as the posting type ‘photo’, and add a few remarks to it. This is different from using a photo inside a posting as illustration, because in such a case the photo is the posting.
    • So in two instances (e.g. 1, 2) I uploaded the photo from my phone to my WordPress back-end, and then created the posting directly in WordPress using the slightly larger keyboard interface of the tablet.
    • In one instance I created an image on my phone and posted it as the posting type of an image using Indigenous and adding some remarks.
    • I automatically upload images to Flickr from my phone, and I often embed photos from Flickr into my postings. Oddly that didn’t work on the phone nor tablet, as Flickr apparently doesn’t show the embed code button on mobile versions of their site, nor in their app. So no embedding was possible during our trip.
    • I haven’t posted as many images I would have, had it been a smoother experience. Also because proper 4G coverage in the French country side turned out to be spotty, making ‘quickly upload something without it disturbing the flow of things’ impossible. Which is likely just as well, being in the moment etc, but unexpected.
  • Writing postings was a mixed experience.
    • The keyboard on the tablet I brought was still way too small for my liking. I also have an Android tablet that has an attachable keyboard which would work much better. I didn’t bring that one, as it has a very weak battery, meaning you really should keep it connected to a power plug continuously during use.
    • It wasn’t possible to select a piece of text while in the editing screen of WordPress. This was unhelpful while adding links. Normally I write a posting, and then add the links in later. Now I needed to use the link button in the interface and write the linked text in the link form, where normally I’d select the text to link after which hitting the link button would pre-fill the form. On my laptop I have keyboard shortcuts as well for this type of flow, and they of course weren’t available to me on the tablet.
    • Initiating a posting in Indigenous worked fine, except for the disruptive interplay between my network provider and my hosting provider. My hosting provider shields the login screens of WordPress sites with a captcha to battle automated login attempts. It does this once a month for an IP address, so for me normally it’s not something I come across often. However when roaming in an area with very spotty coverage you end up having different IP addresses multiple times per day. This would break me being logged into both my site and my MicroPub end-point, as my hoster would force the captcha on me again. It meant almost any time I opened up Indigenous it would have lost my connection to my site for publishing (not for reading, as that part resides on a different server). Normally getting it to work again would be one flow, with Indigenous showing me the WordPress login, and then automatically returning to Indigenous. Now it was two flows as the captcha broke the return to Indigenous. So I logged into WordPress by doing the Captcha and then login to WP, and then being already logged into WP had no issue connecting from Indigenous to WP.
    • Initiating a posting from Indigenous does mean it gets posted in ‘visual’ mode rather than in ‘text’ mode. This way HTML I added to a posting, to link or show a photo, would end-up as is on my blog and not be interpreted as HTML. So I opted to write on my tablet in WP’s back-end more.
    • Writing in the back-end of WP itself, which I often do on my regular laptop, was an unpleasant experience on the tablet. Mostly because the interface was still tiny, and kept jumping around to accommodate for the on-screen keyboard. I installed a text editor on my tablet to write locally, and not connected to the internet. A finished text I would then copy over to the posting form WP.
    • After trying the text editor however, I started writing material on paper (like this posting), and only then started typing it into the tablet. Normally, with a full keyboard I prefer typing, as it is faster than my handwriting. With the still too small interface on my tablet, typing was a two-fingers affair and hand writing was a much better experience in comparison. When you already know what you want to type the two finger typing style is less of a burden. Writing as thinking out loud I therefore did on paper first.
    • The fact that I could only use Indigenous on my mobile and not on my tablet meant that I had to cross the divide between two devices if I wanted to write something based on what I had come across in my feed reader. This as URLs and sources weren’t easily shared between devices. This divide was rather cumbersome, and the only way I could really cross it was by sending an e-mail from my mobile containing the links, to the mail address attached to Android tablet.Or type over URLs by hand.
      In practice it meant I didn’t really do that other than a few times. Upon my return my mobile browser had about 70 open tabs, of things I’d like to have shared or used in some form but didn’t.
    • I did not try to post via e-mail, which would likely have worked well. To use it well you have to add short codes to the title and content of the e-mail, adding categories and tags etc. It can’t be used for different post kinds other than regular articles either. I didn’t remember to bring notes on how to do that with me however. My wife did use e-mail to post, and did so exclusively. When posting photos it would often not correctly adjust the orientation, posting photos on its side or upside-down, depending on the position the phone camera was used in.

Take-Aways

In 2004 I organised a BlogWalk session in Umeå, in the north of Sweden, which focused on mobile blogging. My recap from 15 years ago still seems relevant now, given my experiences the past weeks. One quote definitely still stands out as true “I’m not a moblogger, I’m a travelling blogger having trouble getting connected.“. Mobile blogging needs to reduce friction, not introduce it. My experiment these weeks surfaced several sources of friction that combined into not finding a comfortable flow.

  • Spotty internet connection was the key frustrating element. I am very much a ‘offline first’ type of person, but mobile blogging depends on connectivity in more ways than regular blogging on my laptop. Spotty internet connection easily turned a normally five minute task of pasting some text into WordPress, adding a link and ticking the boxes for categories into a 45 minute source of irritation. I adapted by doing the connectivity part on moments when I knew it would be more reliable, further fragmenting the flow.
  • Using two devices is inconvenient, if there’s a divide between them.
  • The tablet didn’t provide the bigger keyboard / screen I intended, or at least not big enough. On a future occasion I’d need a more recent tablet with attachable keyboard, so it can run both Indigenous and provide access to my WP back-end. This prevents the divide between two devices, and let’s both devices server their own use case.
  • The phone can be used as a stand alone device to blog photos and short notes that do not need additional linking to sources or associated postings. (Ignoring for now the frequent logging in, because of my hoster’s preventative measures)
  • I like an offline writing process. Writing by hand is a good way, especially when typing isn’t faster anyway. It does introduce the step to digitise it later. Transcribing could be seen as editing though. OCR’ing my handwriting is unlikely to be successful. Maybe writing by hand on a tablet works. I’ve seen others do it, but haven’t tried my hand on it. Or pens that digitise while you write, but that usually creates image files, not text files I think.
  • It’s useful to in more detail sketch out a mobile blogging flow for various types of use, and then test that over a longer period of time during regular working weeks. To land on a ‘settled’ mode for mobile blogging.

20190709_101545
Camping in the French country side, relaxing but spotty connectivity. Better to sit back and sip a drink in front of our tent.

We came across this bird in Montréal, and wondered about its name. I said it looked a bit like a blackbird, with added red stripes.

Montreal

Wikipedia tells me it is indeed rather unimaginatively called ‘red-winged blackbird‘. Its sounds were quite varied and beautiful, so I suspect in its own mind it will have a rather more impressive concept of self than being merely a pimped up blackbird.

I tried to stick to French when visiting Montréal this week. I have some French, of the basic summer holiday camping variety, but it’s a far cry from what I define as ‘speaking’ it, which is the way I feel about English, German and Dutch. I tried to do it especially as we were in an otherwise English full immersion setting, to break the default as it were. Almost got away with it for basic interactions (coffee, cab driver, lunch), but there’s always an additional question that then throws me off the track.

Ordering coffee for both of us for instance worked fine right until the lady at the counter as a final question looped back to my espresso by asking me about whether I’d want my espresso court ou allongé, short or lengthened. While I was playing back the tape in my head to interpret what she’d said, she concluded I had reached the limits of my French and switched to English. At such moments it isn’t so much the language that throws me, but a question that I didn’t expect as part of the exchange we’re in. Asking about short or longer espresso is a cultural difference to interpret more than a language difference. I don’t get asked that question back home where espresso is always short. I didn’t know it was part of the common pattern here, so I didn’t anticipate hearing it, and thus it was an unexpected turn in the conversation for me, making me stumble “ehhh short” and indicating it with my fingers.

Our last cab driver, while I was paying him remarked on me doing the exchange in French. He asked me where I was from, and told me his daughter lived in Amsterdam. He was curious how I learned French, so I told him it is standard in secondary school. “So you speak French, English and Dutch?”. And German I said. “And German? Four languages, you guys are so fortunate.” He’s right. We are fortunate, even if it is just a little bit of French. Merci Montréal, one of your cab drivers ensured I left with a smile.

20190610_124208 Montreal

 

Court ou allongé? At Tommy‘s in Montréal.