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My mobile office

July 7, 2014

This is a modification of an article first published here on August 7, 2013. The changes were necessary because two computers mentioned in the original story became an example of Murphy's Law by dying at almost the same time. One developed an intermittent stopping problem and the other received a catastrophic drenching with beer when a clumsy person came near it just before I was about to give a presentation in a hotel dining room. (It worked for the PowerPoint show, but never recovered after it dried out.) In both cases the cost of repair exceed the cost of replacing the machine. Both were replaced by a single laptop. As an indication of progress in computers, the new machine weighs 100 grams more than the little netbook but is at least twice as fast and has four times the disk capacity; its speed is comparable to the old laptop, it weighs well under half the weight, and again has much more disk space. The price of the new machine was a little less than I paid for the netbook and one sixth of the price of the laptop five years ago (and I got a good deal on that because it was the last one in stock and I bought it wholesale).

This what my office looked like then.

I used to rent an office. It was a nice office, handy to public transport, near nice places to eat or buy take-away food and all the shops you find in a rather large town. One day the landlord wrote to me to say that the rent was going to be increased, and that's when I tried to think of the last time any client or prospect had come to the office. I am a consultant, so I did most of my work at clients' premises. I cancelled the lease, took my computer equipment, fax machine and some of the furniture home, gave everything else to other tenants in the building and saved a lot of money. (I looked in about eighteen months later and the suite was still vacant with my company name still on the door. That was a very expensive letter that the landlord wrote, because moving is inconvenient and inertia is strong.)

That was a few years ago and,  strangely, I now do a lot of my work from my place rather than trekking out to the clients' offices, because a lot more can be done remotely now. Still, however, clients do not come to me – if we meet I go to them.

So what does my office look like now? Well, basically it looks like the work area of any resident of a cube farm. There is a computer with two monitors, a combined inkjet printer/scanner, a colour laser printer and some bits and pieces that connect me to the Internet. But I also have a second office, and it lives in a backpack. Here is a picture of it.

My mobile office

The laptop computer doesn't always travel with me. I only take it when I might need to do some web site changes, audio mixing, other things that work best with a screen and mouse, if I'm going somewhere where I need to use a computer projector and don't want to have to worry about compatibility between the software I need to use and someone else's equipment, or if I'm going to be away for some time and need to be able to work as if I'm in the office. It is synchronised with all the things I need for my business – ACT!, email, accounting, web site development, current and recent documents. I can remotely control it from the Samsung tablet using GoToAssist so I'm not tied to it and can walk around while giving presentations.

Now we get to what goes in the backpack. The Samsung Galaxy 10.1 tablet does a lot of the things I used to carry a computer for (but not all), weighs less and has much longer battery life. It has both 3G mobile broadband (through Vodafone) and WiFi capability and has all the tools I need to remotely access and control the computers back in my fixed office and those at client's premises. There are two mobile phones in the picture - one for business and one for personal use with an extremely restricted set of people who know the number. I have a third phone which I carry as a spare if I will be away from the office for any extended period. (You can see something I wrote about mobile phones here.) Another thing on the table is a Telstra WiFi hotspot. This allows me to use the Internet on the computer (and on the tablet when Vodafone is unavailable) when travelling. As an aside, I can always check on the availability of mobile phone service on any network, with the business phone and the hotspot using Telstra, the tablet on Vodafone and the personal phone connected to Optus. (The tablet and one of the phones can also be used as WiFi access points, giving me Internet as long as at least one network is available.)

The last two things that go in the backpack are backup battery chargers for the phones and the tablet. Like fire insurance you never need these until you do.

Two pieces of equipment stay back in the office and make my travelling life easier. I have an Epson inkjet printer which connects wirelessly to my ADSL router and has its own email address, so I can print to it from anywhere. The other is a disk drive that lives next to the router and gives me access to files when I'm away. I hate to use the word "cloud", but both of these devices are promoted as part of a "personal cloud".

So now when people ask me where my office is I can point to the backpack and say "In there". The only problem I have is with clients who have followed the same path I have and moved to a totally mobile workplace. But that's what coffee shops are for. And they often have free WiFi as a bonus.

And yes, when I travel overnight I've got to carry all those charger cables as well. Nothing's perfect.

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