Updating these Web Pages.

This page is probably only of interest to people who wish to publish a web site similar to this one whilst traveling with a laptop computer in fairly remote places. It assumes a reasonable understanding of computer hardware and software.

I was recently asked for advice on the mechanics of updating a web site like this one "on the move". This page attempts to provide this advice in relation to software and logistics, for information on the hardware to use click here.

There are three interrelated problems that make maintaining a web site like this "on the move" more difficult (and costly) than maintaining an equivalent site from home, and they all relate to the available Internet bandwidth.

File Size.

In order to reduce the cost of uploading pages to a web site of this sort considerable care needs to be taken to reduce the size of each file and to minimize the number of files uploaded. In fact the best way to do this is probably not to maintain the web site directly but to e-mail the required pages (as plain text) and any photographs to a friend with broadband Internet access and let her format them into HTML, add links etc. and then upload them. If this is not possible then the following points should be considered.

Web Authoring Software.

Web pages can be created with almost any text editor (including Notepad). Often the more sophisticated the software the larger the resultant files. For example this page (up to this point) is 1.21KB saved in plain text, 2.01KB saved as simple HTML by Hot Metal Pro, and 4.64KB saved as HTML by Microsoft Word. So use software that lets you control exactly what is included in the HTML and keep it very simple.

It is also important to pick a simple structure so that when you add a new page you do not have to update (and therefore upload) a lot of other pages. For example, simply by having a "next page" link that requires you to update a previous page when you add a new one can double the number of pages you have to upload each time. Keep your index page short. If it grows too big cut it in half so you do not have to upload a big index page every time.

Photographs and Maps.

The addition of photographs and maps greatly enhances the attractiveness of an "on the move" travel web page, but at a cost. The text on a typical web page on this site is around 6KB, but each small photograph adds around 10KB.

Most of the small photographs on this site are between 250 and 400 pixels wide and are saved as JPEG files (without the EXIF data produced by most Digital cameras) with sufficient compression to reduce them to around 10KB using PaintShop Pro. As each image is produced a "high quality" one of about 20-50KB is also produced and saved separately. These images will be substituted for the "low quality" ones at a later date.

Maps that are sufficiently detailed to be of use and still cover your whole route are often large. Since you may well need to update your position on the map often this can cause problems. For example the "base" map used on the index page of the Siberia 2004 trip is 39KB (See here). To avoid having to upload a slightly changed version of this map (showing our current position) each time the site is updated, the "pop-up" map on the index page is actually two images. A static map in the background and a transparent "overlay" with our route and current position. This overlay, which is updated often, is only 7KB (See here).

The combined image can be seen as a "pop-up" by clicking here.

Internet Access.

Three different methods of Internet access are used to maintain this web site "on the move". GSM (Cell) phone, Iridium satellite phone and Internet Cafes. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.

GSM (Cell) Phone.

In most of Europe and much of Asia it is possible to use a standard UK (or other European country) GSM phone to access the Internet. Assuming you have a UK SIM in your phone and a UK ISP it is usually cheapest to call home (i.e. the UK) rather than try and use an ISP in the country you are in. There are exceptions and if you intend to remain in one country for a long time then it may be worth getting a local SIM card and ISP account. I only know of one country that automatically provides low cost Internet access to roaming cell phone users, without account name or password and that country is Latvia (well done LV LTM GSM).

In some counties the GSM infrastructure only appears to support a limited number of concurrent data calls, so there are often times when you can make voice calls to the UK but not data calls. The availability and reliability of data connections is dependant on the network used and it may be necessary to try all the available networks before you get a good connection. Although not backed by statistical evidence I think users of the UK O2 network do better than Vodafone and Orange users in the "Stans" and China..

If possible you should time your calls to your UK ISP so that they are "off peak" preferably between 03:00 and 06:00 UK time. The very best data rate you can normally get is 9600 bits per second. It is worth having several accounts with different ISPs so that should one of them fail you still have an alternative.

You should, of course, check that all your hardware and software works before you leave home. If you can not get it to work reliably in your front room then it won't work in Tibet! When it does work don't change your set up. Resist the temptation to add software or hardware to your computer once you have set off.

If possible use a wired (USB/Serial) connection between your computer and your phone rather than Infra Red or Bluetooth (both of which add yet another unnecessary layer of complexity). I have used a simple Siemens C35 phone for several years and carry a spare phone, available on eBay for about $30USA (without a SIM card).

As an example of cost a GSM data call from China to the UK in 2002 lasting 190 seconds on O2 cost £3.88 ($7.00USA) and was used to upload a couple of simple web pages and one small photograph.

The downside of GSM phone access is that it does not work in some countries (e.g. Iran) or in some remote parts of some countries (e.g. most of Tibet) and it is expensive for anything larger than a simple web page or small photograph.

Iridium satellite phone.

There are a number of satellite phone and/or data systems available but the only one I have used is Iridium. The good news is that it works (not necessarily legally) almost anywhere on earth. The bad news is that it is slow (2400 bits per second) and expensive £1.00 ($1.80USA) per minute. The data rate is not quite as bad as it sounds because Iridium offer software (Apollo Controller from Brand Communications Ltd.) that connects you to the Iridium server in the USA via a compressed data link and this means an effective data rate (for text but not for JPEG photographs) of about 4800 bits per second.

As an example of cost an Iridium data call from Iceland in 2003 lasting 460 seconds cost £8.17 ($14.70USA) and was used to upload a simple web page with two photos.

Internet Cafes.

Without doubt Internet Cafes provide the most cost effective way of uploading a web site like this one "on the move". (All the "Photograph" pages on this site have been uploaded via Internet Cafes.) But you first you have to find one, then you have to get your web pages and photographs on to their computer or you have to connect your computer to their network.

Although you may be able to use floppy disk or CD to get your files onto an Internet Cafe computer the most convenient method is to use a plug in USB flash-memory disk. These come in the form of small pendants, pens, key fobs or even watches. Nearly all the PCs found in Internet Cafes have accessible USB ports and run Windows XP or 2000, and as a result all you have to do is plug your "disk" in and your files are available. Some people ask permission to plug in, others just do it.

The alternative is to take your laptop to the cafe and try to connect to their network. Unless you are very familiar with setting up TCP/IP networks under XP/2000 I do not recommend this approach. I have made it work but it is hard work. So far I have not found any Internet Cafe with a working wireless networking outside Europe. But I will continue to look.

Uploading Software.

Most Web Authoring software includes (or is bundled with) a suitable FTP client to upload your web pages. Often this software will "synchronize" your local copy of the web site with the copy on the server. Only if you can connect your laptop to the network of an Internet Cafe is this software of any use.

If you are using a GSM or satellite phone connection the overhead of this type of software is unacceptably high. If you are trying to upload at an Internet Cafe via a USB "disk" then this software will not be available to you. Luckily the answer to both these problems lies in a simple batch file and the standard Microsoft command line program FTP.EXE that is included with all recent versions of Windows.

Before making your phone connection or taking your USB disk to the Internet Cafe you should create a suitable batch file to upload just the files you have added to your web site. Below is an example batch file of the type used to upload this page. Note that the line numbers are for reference only and should not be included in your batch file.

01 echo off
02 echo open ftp.yoursite.co.uk>ftp.tmp
03 echo user youraccount>>ftp.tmp
04 echo secret>>ftp.tmp
05 echo cd silkroute>>ftp.tmp
06 echo cd siberia2004>>ftp.tmp
07 echo bin>>ftp.tmp
08 echo put 20040526.htm>>ftp.tmp
09 echo put index.html>>ftp.tmp
10 REM
11 echo cd graphics>>ftp.tmp
12 echo put graphics/route01.gif>>ftp.tmp
13 echo put graphics/dcq_4381.jpg>>ftp.tmp
14 echo put graphics/dcq_4363.jpg>>ftp.tmp
15 echo put graphics/dcq_4345.jpg>>ftp.tmp
16 REM
17 echo close>>ftp.tmp
18 echo quit>>ftp.tmp
19 type ftp.tmp
20 pause
21 ftp -n -s:ftp.tmp
22 pause
23 del ftp.tmp

Line 21 of this file is the one that does the work. This line invokes the command line program FTP.EXE with the script file ftp.tmp. Lines 02 to 18 create the script file ftp.tmp. Line 04 provides a password for logging in to your FTP account. Line 19 lists the script file for you to check. Line 20 pauses execution of the batch file to allow you to make the GSM/Satellite connection.

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2004-05-30