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On the Road with PC Alamode
Don't Leave Home Without It
August 2003

K. Joyce McDonald

Joyce is a senior technical writer for a local software company.

See her web page

I'm getting a lot of response from readers now, the content of which is quite good. If you write, be sure to let me know if I can use the content in an article and if you want me to use your name and/or e-mail address.

My days as a business traveler ended three months before September 11, 2001. However, having spent many days and nights developing “road warrior mentality,” I still evaluate my activities and purchases in terms of their applicability to life on the road. Items developed for travel offer portability and flexibility, virtues advantageous to the general population as well. Proof of this concept is evidenced by recent sales statistics on laptop computers, which for the first time outsell their desktop counterparts.

My travels in recent months have accentuated the irony that confronts today’s traveler. Just as the technological tools for travel have matured, travel with those tools has become infinitely more difficult — so difficult that on my last plane trip (in June to Los Angeles) I left my ever-present laptop behind. My decision was prompted by a February trip to Indianapolis, during which my laptop drew so much attention from the security personnel that I feared both damage to my laptop and missing my flight.

For most business travelers, leaving the laptop behind is not an option. I used to carry two laptops, a palm top and PDA. Since this issue of PC Alamode deals with “computing on the road” this article shall proceed on the assumption that when you travel, you’ll have one or more computers with you.

Once on the road, you’ll have several needs to fulfill. Those needs fall into several categories: entertainment, exercise, food and some way to receive our spam (and possibly some legitimate e-mails.) Your computer can help you to fulfill all of them.

Depending upon where you’re headed, the last two needs can occasionally be combined. If Austin, Texas is on your agenda, you’re in luck. Not only do you have the usual Wireless Access Points provided by T-Mobile at Starbucks ($6 for an hour or $30 per month). Now you can actually get free wireless at some cafes, such as Schlotzky’s or a mom-and-pop called “Wild Wood,” a café and art store that sells hand-carved animals from Oaxaca, Mexico. The Schlotzky’s near the airport is in the process of providing a transmitter strong enough to serve Austin Bergstrom airport customers as well. Or, if you’re headed for Manhattan (New York, not Kansas) McDonald’s is wired up and will soon offer wireless in many other cities.

At other times, eating on the road can be problematic. No matter how generous your expense account, it won’t compensate for a diet of overly generous restaurant servings, room service breakfasts that don’t materialize, or a full day of plane travel with only a bag of pretzels as sustenance. To address the problem of eating on the road, may I recommend The Reluctant Cook?

In a shameless act of unrestrained commercialism, I introduce you to my recently developed cookbook for the Palm PDA. Much of the content of this cookbook was developed during my traveling days. In addition to suggestions for reasonably healthy foods and snacks to carry on the road, I have developed a collection of recipes that can be prepared quickly with commonly used ingredients by the most inexperienced cooks. Many of the recipes can be made in small spaces, some with no kitchen. Lest you consider The Reluctant Cook a health food cookbook, I assure you that it contains a few recipes that would make a food cop cringe. For the Gourmet, it offers very little besides a good laugh. The cookbook requires the Palm Reader (versions of this reader for the Palm and Desktop can be downloaded free from Palm.) Under development is a browser version and a Pocket PC version.

The need that is most difficult to fulfill on the road is exercise. Out of town business is by definition stressful. When you return to your room after a full day, the last thing you want to do is exercise. Exercising in a cramped hotel room or finding a suitable place to exercise can also be problematic. May I suggest Tai Chi? Tai Chi is easier than you imagined, can be performed in small spaces, and you can carry your instructor in your laptop. Tai Chi Master, Beijing Gold Medallist and Tenth Degree Black Belt, Master John Yong Man So can teach you a beginning ten form and an extended Chi Gong warm up via a CD-ROM entitled Tai Chi for Everyone. Released in June, this tutorial, specifically designed for beginners, is a result of a collaboration between Mr. So, who provided the content, and me, who provided the interactivity. In addition to the usual static pictures and explanations, this tutorial features slide shows and video clips demonstrating the sequence of movements for the Chi Gong warm up and for each of the ten Tai Chi forms. If the fates allow, Mr. So will participate in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which will surely feature the oldest Olympians on record as part of Beijing’s optioned Tai Chi event. Should you be interested in the cookbook or the Tai Chi tutorial, please e-mail me for details.

After dinner and exercise, you’ll be in ready for entertainment. If you have a laptop with a DVD player you won’t have to pay the exorbitant fees hotels charge to watch anything on the TV besides infomercials. If you packed two or three of your favorite DVDs into your CD carrier, you’re all set. I like to carry those DVDs that I can watch over and over, such as Steel Magnolias, Best in Show, Meet the Parents, Father of the Bride and Chocolat. Pass up the depressing and violent shows. Travel is stressful enough.

Pack a couple of Laptop magazines and don’t forget a few PC Alamodes. They’ll make good reading on the plane when you can’t turn your computer on.

If you don’t have a laptop lock, get one immediately, and run some backups before you go. The lock may prevent theft but if your laptop gets dropped or fried, you’re still up a creek without a backup. You can also ensure the integrity of your data by turning your laptop off (not putting it on standby) whenever you move it. You can ensure better battery life by plugging the plug into your computer before you plug it into the wall outlet. This protects the battery from the sudden power surge that occurs when you hook up the opposite way.
While you’re packing, if you’re flying, pay attention to luggage. Luggage allowances, even for checked baggage, are getting smaller. Since you’re only allowed one carry-on, plus a handbag or briefcase, you might be inclined to get the largest rolling carry-on you can find. This can be a mistake. Many of the planes flying now are so small that a standard carry-on does not fit in the overhead bin. Even if your bag might fit under the seat, the attendants won’t let you bring it on the plane, requiring you to surrender your bag to be stowed for the duration of the flight. They return your bag as soon as you get off the plane, but if you intended to use something in the bag, or if you have a short connection time, this unexpected turn adds stress to your commute. I have found the smaller rolling cases specifically intended for laptops to be the best carry-ons. If you also have a briefcase or tote that has a Velcro strap that slides over your rolling carrier’s handle, you have a combination that is neat and easy to port.

Now pack your neck pillow, blinders, chewing gum and a refillable insulated water bottle and have a good trip!

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