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February 2001
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On The Road

12 Things You Always Want With You on Trips

By Ross Kodner

DID YOU ever notice how many many legal road warriors brag about their latest svelte 3.5 pound ultra-lightweight laptop -- but they still carry a computer case that tilts the scale at more than 30 pounds?

12 Things You Always Want With You on Trips For the seasoned mobile lawyer, there may be method in that madness. Thriving with mobile technology tools is only possible if you travel with "the right stuff."

So here, not necessarily in order, are the "Top 12 Things You Should Never Mobile Compute Without!"

1. A Great Bag

Face it: By the time you add all of the extra drives, batteries, cables, accessories and peripherals that you'll want for any extended trip, your bag is going to weigh at least 20 pounds.

Invest in a good quality laptop bag that is easy and convenient to carry, and will hold everything you need, including the work you plan to do.

First: Outgrow the leather case phase. They may be chi chi, but they are too heavy and too attractive. The last thing you want is a case that screams out, "Here's a $4000 laptop with irreplaceable client data inside. Steal me!"

A favorite among traveling lawyers is the Tumi SafeCase Computer Briefpack, model 8650 (MSRP $350 at most luggage stores). It has a variety of conveniently sized and located compartments and pockets that hold everything you'll need to carry, and is ergonomically correct. It is a backpack-style case, with curved straps that balance weight comfortably in the middle of the back, instead of sliding to one side, as straight straps tend to do.

It's easy on back and shoulders as well as incredibly roomy. The Tumi reputation for quality is well-deserved -- the construction quality is evident. It's not cheap, but it's worth every penny.

Another good quality, roomy backpack, with a more comfortable price tag, is the Kensington Saddlebag (a bargain at $69). This backup-style case has separate pockets for your computer gear and your paperwork. It's roomy enough to hold most anything you'll need for a few days on the road.

You also can purchase a separate padded sleeve to protect your laptop, and put it in any bag that suits your needs. Similarly, if your favorite laptop case doesn't have wheels, you can invest in a collapsible luggage carts. Take a look at the CompacCart 100 and 200 from Moveasy.

2. Spare Battery

Murphy's first law of mobile computing: The likelihood that you will have enough battery power to finish that all-important document on the airplane is inversely proportional to how urgent it is, multiplied by a factor of how many miles away the nearest electrical outlet is.

You will never regret buying a second computer battery. One of the best sources for laptop batteries is the former 1-800-Batteries, now called iGo.

3. Surge Protectors

Never, ever plug your laptop into an AC outlet without capable surge protection! There are a variety of small, portable electrical surge protectors available for computers, and many also include surge protection for telephone lines.

Spend the $20 to $40 to buy a good quality surge protector to protect your very expensive computer and priceless data. APC's Notebook SurgeArrest and SurgeArrest Pro are tops, Kensington and Targus are good, reliable bets.

4. Phone Connection/ Modem Line Tester

Many offices and hotels often use digital phone systems, which can literally fry your modem, and even your computer itself.

A modem tester will let you know whether it is a safe lower voltage analog phone line. Try the IBM Modem Saver and the Modem Saver series from Road Warrior Internetation -- the latter also doubles as an inline telephone surge suppressor.

Also: Pick up a retractable telephone cord that is at least 15 feet long. Forget the cheapies. The $19 retractables from iGo.com retract with a simple tug.

There is nothing more frustrating than having $3,000 worth of computer gear and being unable to pick up your e-mail because you can't find a $3 phone cord.

5. Swiss Army Knife

You just never know when you are going to need it. Victorinox, the legendary purveyor of genuine Swiss Army knives makes two for computer users: the CyberTool 34 and CyberTool 41). If these are a bit heavy, choose a miniature one that at least has the little screwdriver (to get into your computer), a scissors (to get into those darned shrink-wrapped software packages) and a good sharp blade (to carve open that hermetically sealed plastic that is molded around every gadget you buy).

Come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea to throw some adhesive bandages in there, too and a small roll of duct tape.

6. Crossover CAT 5 Network Cable

This handy, cheap little device ($6 to $12 at any computer store) is virtually guaranteed to save your bacon. Plug it into the network ports on two computers running Windows 95/98/2000/Me, and you are a few well-chosen clicks away from having an instant Windows peer-to-peer network, without a bulky hub.

This makes it possible to quickly transfer files without copying to diskettes. (Remember those?)

If laptops are properly set up, you can even use it to share a single modem connection or a high-speed hotel Internet connection.

The catch: it won't work as a regular network cable, so you might want to carry one of those, too.

7. Printer Cable and Printer Drivers

Even if you don't carry a portable printer, bring along a printer cable, so that you can plug into a borrowed printer.

Forget those monster 10-foot parallel cables -- they weigh as much as some laptops. Consider Belkin's 2.5-foot compact parallel printer cable. It's under $10 and takes up far less space in your laptop case.

However, a cable won't do you much good unless you have a compatible printer driver installed. Pre-install a raft of the most common Hewlett Packard Laserjet, HP Deskjet and perhaps Lexmark laser printer drivers.

Some of the least common printer denominators include the HP Laserjet 4 series drivers and the HP Deskjet 500 series inkjet drivers --they'll work with nearly any HP printer you might encounter in a hotel business center.

8. Locking System

Laptop theft is endemic. All laptops manufacturers have built in an oval port designed just for attaching steel locking cables or motion-sensitive alarms that are available from a variety of companies.

A good bet is the Kensington MicroSaver at under $40. Or, try the even heavier-duty products from Kryptonite.com.

9. Backup Your Hard Drive

The bottom line: You must backup the programs and data on your laptop. Whether you copy files to your office network; perform spot backup on a Web site (such as connected.com or @backup or even just copying files to sites like xDrive.com or Driveway.com); or via a CD-RW drive or ZIP; just do it! Take a look at CMS Peripheral Inc.'s ABS -- Automatic Backup Systems. This cleverly designed device plugs into the PC card slot or USB port of a laptop. It connects a 2.5-inch ultra-lightweight hard drive ranging in capacity from 6 to 30 GB. The included software immediately begins and then maintains a full system backup.

10. Antec Scanner

The Antec Attacheis a one pound, hand-fed portable scanner, in the rough shape of a Paperport, but about three-quarters of the size of the popular Strobe model.

It connects to your laptop via a PC Card, which is also where it sucks power, so no power brick. It's TWAIN-compatible (24-bit color, 300 dpi) so you can use it with any popular scanning software including Scansoft's Paperport and your favorite OCR software. It runs about $150.

11. Foreign Adapters

After literally hours of scouring Web sites and viewing every travel adapter kit known to humanity (the international kits at Port.com are truly a thing of mobile beauty), I ended up at tried and true Radio Shack.

Ten bucks later, I had a heavy-duty, laptop-specific collection of AC power adapters, ready to connect directly inline with my Toshiba's power brick -- simple, easy, cheap and worked like a charm.

For modem line adapters, which you may actually need, check out your local travel store or visit Port.com.

12. Callback Number

Want to make your life easier? Get an international callback number. If you're traveling overseas, long-distance phone rates can get ridiculous. For international-to-U.S. calls, try Aquila International Telecommunications. This callback system meant my calls home from Singapore were only 18 cents a minute, instead of the 85 cents a minute Sprint wanted.

Ross Kodner is president of MicroLaw Inc., and a member of the LTN Editorial Advisory Board.

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