Travelling only with a mobile phone

I usually travel with my laptop. There is always some e-mails to write, some documents to read and comment on, or some photos to transfer. Still, I often think about whether it was really necessary to drag along the laptop on short trips. It doesn’t weigh too much, but I usually end up carrying a backpack when I bring the laptop. That may not always be a problem, but sometimes it limits mobility and flexibility. I have, therefore, always been eager to find alternatives.

The failure of tablets

I know some people that love their tablets and bring them on travels instead of a laptop. I have always tried to like tables and have owned several over the last decade. I bought the first Samsung Galaxy tablet and the first iPad. I have tried both small and large iPads, but they have all been passed on to my daughters. Over the last few years, I have used a Sony tablet on and off. Usually, more off than on. I like that it has a built-in SIM card, which means it is easy to use for online activities. However, it is a pain to get the keyboard to work. I always have to pair it a couple of times.

One main problem with tablets is that they are something between PC and phone. My Sony tablet actually works as a phone. I have tried (once) to travel with only the tablet. That felt weird. In theory, it worked. In practice, it was a pain. Calling from the tablet worked when I was at the hotel, but not out on the street. So I have found it impossible to travel without a phone.

I am currently on a trip to Germany (my first post-corona trip!) and decided to try travelling with only my phone. No laptop. No tablet. The journey is short, and there is not much time to work anyways. In addition, I wanted to travel as lightweight as possible. So I decided to rely on my mobile phone as the only communication device. The conclusion is that it has worked well. There are a couple of reasons for that, which I will explain in the following.

Great communication

Most of my meetings these days are on Zoom. On this trip, I would only have one Zoom meeting, and it was easy to do that on the mobile phone. Since I didn’t know where I would be located during the call, it was, in fact, easier to take it from the phone. I have found the Android Zoom app to very efficiently handle different bandwidths. The same can not be said about the Zoom client I use on Ubuntu, which requires relatively high bandwidth to function well (the Windows client seems to be more optimised).

The trick for doing Zoom’ing on the phone is to have a small camera stand available. I always carry a camera stand around anyways since I take many photos and videos. I always also carry some headset. Usually, I prefer a larger headset, but I decided to go for a small pair of earbuds (again, the main point was a small and lightweight setup). All in all, for Zoom’ing, using the mobile phone works well.

A small camera stand with a mobile phone holder is an essential accessory. It makes it possible to easily participate in Zoom meetings from anywhere.

External keyboard

The biggest challenge with mobile phones is the limited input capacity. Typing with the finger is not an option in the long run. So for travelling, bringing an external keyboard is the only real solution. I have occasionally tested connecting one of my tablet keyboards to my phone. For some reason, it never occurred to me that I could bring one of them with me when travelling.

The conclusion is that I should have thought about this a long time ago. I am currently writing this blog post on my phone using a small, Bluetooth-based Logitech keyboard. It is a minimal and convenient setup. The setup and connection of the keyboard have also worked well so far. Some years ago, I always struggled with pairing up keyboards. The software has improved since now; the connection works every time.

I finally found use for my collection of wireless tablet keyboards.

Connecting to a big screen

Another issue with working on a mobile phone is the screen size. It is less important than the keyboard but still an issue for doing accurate typing. A mobile phone screen is ok for writing short texts and replying to e-mails. However, working on a manuscript is challenging.

When I bought my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 some years ago, the main motivation was the Dex mode. This was first based on a particular docking station connected to a screen and keyboard, and mouse. The Dex mode essentially turns the phone into a small “PC”. Well, not a complete PC experience, but at least a full-screen Android experience.

Some, but not all, Android apps work in fullscreen mode. The most important is that all the essential apps, e-mail, browser, notes, etc., function.

I have had a Dex hub in my office for several years but haven’t used it much. After all, in the office, I already have access to a nice PC setup. It was only recently that I discovered that Dex mode now works when connecting the phone through a regular HDMI cable. That is interesting because it is unnecessary to carry the Dex docking station to get the fullscreen experience.

Now I decided to try out Dex when travelling. I brought along an HDMI cable and USB-C adapter, which means I can connect to the TV in hotels. I never watch TV when travelling, but I have noticed that there are always TVs around, usually with easily accessible HDMI ports.

Typing this blog post using a wireless keyboard and connected to the TV screen at the hotel. Note the Dex mode on the screen.

The new “office”

I have for some days relyed on my phone-based setup. On train rides, I have connected the keyboard to type away. At the hotels, I have also connected to TVs to get a fullscreen experience. This has made it possible to keep up with e-mailing and manuscript editing while travelling. There are several benefits to this setup:

  • Lightweight: I haven’t weighed the keyboard and HDMI cable and adapter. However, I think they weigh less than the power adapter of my laptop.
  • Small size: I can carry the essentials in a small bag.
  • Security: Having fewer items to think about also makes it safer. I don’t need to worry about carrying the laptop with me because I don’t dare leave it in a hotel storage.
  • Access: Being able to roam without extra cost throughout Europe is one reason this type of setup works. Instead of having to connect the PC to a network or my phone, I am now always on the mobile network. I am used to having 4G everywhere in Norway, but travelling around in Germany for a couple of days, I have had some kind of network in most places.
My new travelling kit.

Not perfect

I am generally very positive about this lightweight setup. It is an excellent alternative to bringing the laptop on such short travels, and I think I will continue with this approach when possible. However, it is not perfect. Some of the things I have thought about:

  • Ergonomics: on this trip I brought a small (7″) bluetooth keyboard. That is tiny. I also have a 10″ keyboard at home and will probably switch to that one for the next travel.
  • Battery life: Using the phone for everything also means that the battery drains quicker. The challenge now is that my HDMI adapter has no charging input. Thus I end up draining the battery when using the screen. I will need to check if I can find another HDMI adapter with USB-C charging.
  • Android limitations: A challenge of using a limited OS like Android is that, well, it is a limited OS. I tend to use quite a bit of terminal commands for doing things. I also miss having a proper file manager. I still think that the mobile OSes (both Android and iOS) have made it utterly complicated to do regular file management. In practice, I therefore end dumping files in one place and wait to get to a computer to sort everything out.
  • Media handling: I am a creator. I write texts, record sound and video, and take photos. I do this on my phone, but also with separate cameras and recorders. All of these can be connected to my phone for media handling, but it is cumbersome. I also don’t have space on my phone to copy over too many files. So now I have to rely on filling up the memory cards and wait for getting back to a PC to copy over. That works for a short trip, but would be difficult for longer.

Summing up

I don’t understand why it took me so long to “discover” this setup. After all, I have had the keyboard and cables I brought along on this trip for many years. Still, it never occurred to me that this could be a viable travel setup. After trying it for a couple of days, I am very optimistic. Bringing a small keyboard + HDMI cable and adapter has allowed me to do what I wanted to do without needing a laptop. It won’t always work, but for such short travels, it is ideal.

Tips for doing your job interview over Skype

I have been interviewing a lot of people for various types of university positions over the years. Most often these interviews are conducted using a video-conferencing system. Here I provide some tips to help people prepare for a video-based job interview:

  • We (and many others) typically use Skype for interviews, not because it is the best system out there (of commercial platforms I prefer Zoom), but because it is the most widespread solution. The most important thing to do when preparing for an interview, is to check that you have the latest version of Skype (or whatever other program is required) installed. You don’t want to get an upgrade button when you are starting up for your interview.
  • Ensure that you have a reliable Internet connection. If you can, use a cabled connection. It will most certainly be more stable than wireless.
  • Only use your mobile phone in an interview if you do not have any other options, or if your computer fails in the last minute. Even though you may be used to talking to people from phone to phone, remember that your image will most likely be projected on a big TV/screen, and your sound will be played over a speaker system. Then the “phone quality” will certainly be visible/audible. Also: if you do use your phone, remember to put it in landscape mode. Otherwise, the image will look weird when it only covers a small part of the projection.
  • Sit in a suitable place where you will not be disturbed and where there is no noise. Avoid public spaces in which people may walk in on you.
  • To obtain the best possible video image, think about your placement with respect to lighting. Do not sit in front of a window, since a bright light in the background will make it difficult to see your face. It is better to sit in front of a plain wall with light in your face. If you don’t have a plain wall at hand, consider whether the background is suitable for an interview situation. I have seen all sorts of weird images, messy rooms, etc. This does not give a professional impression.
  • Do not sit with your computer in your lap. Then it will move all the time, making the committee seasick.
  • When positioning yourself in relation to the camera, remember that most likely you will be shown on a large TV or projected on the wall. It is better to sit so that your entire upper body can be seen. Otherwise, your face will be big!
  • Use a headset with a microphone located close to your mouth. This will pick up the sound better than most built-in computer microphones. Using a headset will also prevent feedback during the conversation, and it will not pick up sound if you are typing on the keyboard.

If you experience any issues with your setup, stay calm. Remember that the committee will be positive towards you, otherwise you would not have made it to the interview. Committees are used to all sorts of issues in video-based interviews. Sometimes the error is also on our side. Seeing how you tackle the stress of an unforeseen situation may convince the committee about your personal qualities.

Good luck!

Moving to a new building

I have not been very good at blogging recently. This is not because nothing is happening, but rather because so much is happening that I don’t have time to write about it.

One of these things is the startup of RITMO Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion, that I am co-directing with Anne Danielsen. We got the funding last year, and have spent the year in planning, preparing and now executing the startup. This includes moving to a different building – Harald Schjelderups Hus – on the northwest corner of the Blindern campus.

The fourMs lab is also moving, and right now everything is in boxes while we are waiting for the construction work to be done. Meanwhile, the new MCT master’s programme is moving into the old facilities of the fourMs lab, a very nice re-use of a great lab space.

What is almost in place, however, is my new office. After several days of packing, all my stuff was moved today, and I am looking forwards to getting everything set up. 

Starting afresh

After four years as Head of Department (of Musicology at UiO), I am going back to my regular associate professor position in January. It has been a both challenging and rewarding period as HoD, during which I have learned a lot about managing people, managing budgets, understanding huge organizations, developing strategies, talking to all sorts of people at all levels in the system, and much more.

I am happy to hand over a Department in growth to the new HoD (Peter Edwards). We have implemented a new bachelor’s program, launched UiO’s first MOOC (Music Moves), and hired a number of new people, just to mention a few of the things I have worked on over the last years. I am also proud that we just got our new appointment plan approved before Christmas, aiming at hiring up to seven new professors within the next five years. Humanities departments are under a lot of pressure these days, so I am very grateful that we are in a position to expand in the coming years!

I have only been teaching sporadically while being HoD, so I am excited about getting back to running the course Interactive Music that I started up a while back. This is a so-called “practical-theoretical” course, aiming at giving students a holistic perspective on designing musical instruments and systems. I published a paper on the design of this course a few years ago (An action–sound approach to teaching interactive music), and have since gathered some more ideas that I want to test out when it comes to teaching students a combination of music cognition and technology focused around some concrete designs. I also hope that these ideas will turn into my next book project, if successful.

I am also excited about starting up ny new research project MICRO – Human Bodily Micromotion in Music Perception and Interaction, in which we will focus on how music influences us when at rest. Fortunately, the fourMs lab is really getting up to speed now, so we will really be able to study micromotion in great detail.

In getting ready for my new working life, I decided to wipe my main computer (a Lenovo Yoga Pro 2) yesterday. I have been running various versions of Ubuntu over the last years (Ubuntu Studio, Ubuntu GNOME, and Linux Mint), but decided to go for the regular Ubuntu 16.10 this time around. I think Unity has matured quite a bit now, and works very well on the Yoga’s multitouch HiDPI display. This was my first complete reinstall since I got the laptop almost three years, and was definitely needed. I always test a lot of different software and settings, so the system had gotten clogged up by lots of weird stuff on top of each other. The new clean system definitely feels smooth and well-functioning. It feels like a digital and mental “shower”, getting ready for the new year!

Goodbye to Facebook

I am happy to say that I have already completed my first and only new year’s resolution this year: getting rid of my Facebook account.

It turned out to be much easier than expected, as there is a separate, easily accessible delete account page on Facebook. I just had to type my password and a captcha and that was it. Now my Facebook account is disabled, and will be permanently deleted after 14 days. What a relief!

There are several reasons why I wanted to get out of the whole thing:

Time: Although I haven’t used Facebook very actively over the last years (and not before that either), I have somehow felt the need for checking my account every once in a while. This does take up time, time that I would rather spend differently.

Private-professional confusion: While Facebook can certainly be interesting for both private and professional communication, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges with such a semi-open communication channel. The addition of multiple levels of friends, groups, networks, etc., a few years ago, has added to the confusion of who you are actually communicating with. In fact, it seems like Facebook deliberately wants to make the privacy settings difficult to use. Now what we have is a semi-closed platform that, at least to people that do not care so much about their settings, gives a false sense of privacy and safety. Adding to this comes the rapid nature of social media, people firing off comments at all times of the day, in all sorts of settings, and under different types of clarity of the mind. Not to mention that short, written messages is a very mono-modal communication type compared to direct human communication. The end result is that postings can be easily regretted. I have always had the idea that everything I publish on the web, including on so-called closed platforms, should be written in a way such that it can see daylight. Being Head of Department for almost a year now, I have become even more careful about how I use Facebook myself, and what I get to know about other people (including people whom I am in charge of as employer). All in all, this point in itself was sufficient enough for me wanting to get out.

Lack of openness: Another important point that many Facebook people seem to forget, is that there is still a lot of people that are not on Facebook (now also including myself). I have noticed that more and more companies and organisations use Facebook for communication, including the University of Oslo. While there is nothing wrong in spreading information in different channels, I am somewhat worried about spending too much time on communication in a closed and limited channel. Particularly when there are good and open alternatives available, like the rest of the web…

Web politics: I have been interested in issues of open (source) software, systems, and platforms for a long time, and see Facebook as one of the main challengers of an open internet. While I at first found Facebook fascinating and fun (I got my account when it was still only a university student network back in 2007), the enormous growth and recent commercial orientation is a big turndown. Particularly the idea of embedding everything inside one, closed, commercial platform I find problematic. The beauty of the world wide web, e-mail, file sharing, etc., is that they build on open standards and protocols. This means that anyone can (at least partly) read content on HTML pages, send e-mails, transfer files, etc., independently of the OS and software they use. The Facebook approach of building their own approach to “web pages”, “e-mail” and “chatting” inside a closed platform threatens the open channels.

Security politics: My last point may be the most important from a global, democratic perspective. The year 2013 brought the Snowden leaks and was a turning point for many people when it came to realise the scope of global surveillance. Obviously, social platforms like Facebook are extremely interesting since they not only contain information about ourselves and our interests, but also all the information about our networks.

All in all, there were many reasons why I wanted to get out of Facebook. I have been thinking about it for several years, but now finally did it. Fortunately, as they write on Digitaltrends: “Deleting your Facebook account doesn’t have to mean you’ll drop off the face of the Earth.”