Off-line developing during an intercity trip in 2019

Laptop showing a no signal sign

As you might imagine from the title, I am at the moment of writing this article sitting in a train from Berlin to Hamburg. For those of you who have never been in Germany…we do have WIFI on the trains here, but contrary to what you might expect it is really bad. (And if it is sometimes fast enough, you get only 200mb of traffic <= Thanks to mac address randomization that can be bypassed)

Wait, what? Bad WIFI on trains in the first world industry nation Germany? Yes, even during my travel on a train in Thailand I had way better WIFI than I ever experienced in the German trains. There are two main factors for that:

  • Bad mobile network overall…if you leave the bigger cities you most of the time do not even have Edge (yes kids, slower than 2G) or a mobile network connection at all. So sad!
  • Cheap hardware in the trains. Actually the modems in the trains are standard 3G modems you may also purchase as mobile hot-spot device. Sure they are a bit more powerful, but they are not made for this special use case: Connection to new base stations in at a high ratio. It actually is a quite hard technical challenge to have a modem do this on a high speed train. But we have 2019 …thinking about sending people to mars…and as we can see in other countries this problem is apparently solved. Maybe some more money would be good invested here.

But enough ranting about the WIFI in here (that is BTW current non existent)

OK sorry one more thought: Looking around me I see a lot of people in nice suites working on there laptops. Imagine them earning 60€/hour and they need double the time for a task, because the WIFI is so weak. Assuming there are 100 (conservative calculation) of such people on a train. So during this single trip from Berlin to Hamburg (2h) there is 60€ * 100 * 2 = 12 000€ of wasted human capital….better not tell that any company paying their employees the train ride and the “work time” during this trip.

Actually this article is about tech

I experience this not the first time, but why am I triggered this time that much, that I decided to write a blog post about this topic? As web developer I am currently working on a live chat project (gramchat.me – please be kind, the landing page would be finished if I actually could work here) where I wanted to finish the landing page & documentation during this trip.

Now I experience myself sitting here and my laptop, normally the device paying my rent, is not more than a dump black box….close to every work flow I have does requires the Internet, I can’t work off-line. grrrrr

How could that happen? Normally I am always at places with good WIFI or mobile network (Berlin Big City Life) and so some bad habits sneaked in:

  • Development work
    • Google fonts
    • Payment gateway that needs to be configured
    • Documentation (How could anyone write software before stackoverflow?)
    • Package tools for just in time downloading of dependencies
    • Github Issues and Board for organization
    • Backend infrastructure is build on AWS lambda (can’t test that offline)
  • Entertainment
    • Movies are on netflix
    • Music is on spotify
    • I read mostly blog posts and web articles (via Hackero ;))
  • Communication
    • Telegram/WhatsApp/Email
  • Information
    • I am struggling to write this article as non-native speaker as I can’t use Google translate
  • …and so on

Short interruption: Because of other issues I had to change to another (slower) train. This one does not have WIFI at all…so now next level shit.


I sit here and have basically three options what to do:

  • Compose electronic music with LMMS, what I downloaded a few weeks ago but have no clue how to use it :’D
  • Code something in Go. Thanks Goland for your awesome build in standard lib documentation!
  • Write this article ranting about the German train situation and about myself of being so depended on a resource I thought about as natural as air

So here I am writing the article 😀

Prevent such a situation in the future

So the biggest fail, is me not being prepared for off-line usage of my devices. So what will I do to prevent this in the future? Technical problems need technical solutions:

  • Entertainment
    • Music: Have at least some of my favorite playlists available offline
    • Movies: Actually I see it not as a big problem not binch-watching for some hours => Keeps me focused on working
    • Get a off-line “read it later” system. A while ago I used wallabag and will reinstall it on all my devices.
  • Communication
    • You actually can not do much about it…so nothing to improve here
    • If you do not have an off-line usable email and messaging client you should get yourself one. (Telegram has a nice desktop standalone) It is nice to at least be able to search trough archived emails/chats
  • Information
    • Off-line dictionary it is
    • Is there a Firefox/Chrome Plugin that save all the web pages I visit to an off-line storage? So that I can go back in my history and access the pages I visited before…if not I might code one.
  • Development work
    • There are a lot different off-line code documentation systems. I did choose zeal as it works on Linux and is standalone (the other ones work in the browser and as I most of the time surf in private mode they would not work for me, as I wipe the local storage at least every few days)
    • Off-line PHP server => Was actually quite easy. Did you know PHP has a build-in server? php -S localhost:8080
    • AWS lambda offline testing framework? No clue how to this yet…maybe a good topic for another blogpost
    • There are actually some clients for github with offline issue support. I will give them a try
    • Cache/save web resources locally. Maybe a good idea overall..better not include Google as dependency in your project as they will abuse that data you send them with every visitor
    • There is an (sadly old) StackOverflow dump, that could end up in some tool to search trough it…would be amazing. (but maybe will take a lot of disk space)

Oh girl, another thing came up: I have to show my train ticket, wich is a PDF attached to an email…that I never downloaded. What is going on here…my life goes nuts without Internet. Download your important tickets/documents


So overall this trip showed me how depending I am on the Internet and that I should change that. Please see this post as work in progress as I will update and add off-line tools when I get to know them and have more experience with them.

Overall there is one main learning: Download stuff instead of only opening it in the browser. (Same here with my university pdfs…never did download them for offline use, so no research for me no)

If someone was in this situation him or herself and found out other tools that helped I would love if you share them with me, so that I can introduce them into my stack and update this article.

So now I hope that the Edge Internet connection I have on my mobile Hotspot right now will be enough to upload this article :’D

Wish you an awesome (online) time!

Simon

p.S. Another thing I found: Check what applications are using Internet on your machine, so that if you only have low bandwidth this important resource does not get sucked away by an open Skype or so.


No WIFI Icon made by Freepik from Flaticon is licensed by CC 3.0 BY