The office, then and now.

As recently as last year, my office occupied a windowless room, 3.6 meters wide and 7.6 meters long (12’X25′). To reduce the dreariness of the previous homeowner’s knotty pine, we painted the whole place white and outfitted it with white custom cabinets and shelves. My office assistant, Ann, and I each had steel and glass desks for our workstations. Across from us was a two-meter-long heavy glass table, with everything we needed for paper layout, shipping, and any activity that needed to spread out. We had a laser printer, several inkjet printers and an all-in-one fax-copier-printer attached to a dedicated land line.

Old windowless office

Crowded, but comfy.

Ann retired, and I began doing more and more work outside the office. We received fewer than four faxes each year on the landline, and the eFax service had been silent for two years (at USD 16.95/month). I was saving files as PDF’s rather than printing them.

During 2012, I carried my office by car to the ATISA Conference at South Padre  Island, Texas, in March and in the sag wagon on the Climate Ride (500 km from New York to Washington) in May. Then in July and August, I rode my bicycle unsupported for three weeks, continuing to take in translations, articles for review and other work. My clients never knew or cared where I was. I had proven that I could take my office on the bicycle – at least for a month or so.

I began to picture downsizing the office drastically. In 2013, the perfect occasion came along: my son, Daniel, and I began renovating the house. The first phase involved the northern half, which included the kitchen (upstairs) and my office (downstairs). I moved everything I was using into my room at the other end of the basement. The old office space will be part of a future division of the basement, probably an entertainment room.

workstation in my flat

The workstation in Charlottesville. The laptop is on the shelf to the right.

By this time, I was using my Toshiba Portege laptop as my main computer. I would plug it into the wireless mouse/keyboard, large monitor, and laser printer, when I was home.

In fact, I was using the laptop with a small USB mouse and a USB numeric keypad at Starbucks more than this arrangement at home. You can see the road rig in the banner of this blog, where I am working at the Route 29 Starbucks in Charlottesville.

I still needed the home office setup for dictation, which is how I “type” large amounts of text incredibly fast. I could not be dictating in a café or restaurant. However, I could tote a small microphone on the road, to dictate in hotel rooms.

I continued to refine the idea of getting everything on the bicycle. The smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S3 in my case) replaced four pieces of electronics: the PDA, the GPS, the dumb phone and the eBook reader. With business centers in most hotels and office support services at places like Fedex Kinko’s, UPS Store and Staples, I no longer needed peripherals on the road.

Today, the laptop with its essential accessories (power supply, number pad, mouse, earphones, microphone and USB adapters and cables) is in its computer bag (by Swiss Gear®) in the pannier. The smartphone rides on the handlebars (www.bracketron.com), keeping me up with email, SMS and navigation between Wi-Fi hotspots. A small solar panel (http://www.blackburndesign.com/) keeps the smartphone from running down too fast, and a small USB power pack in the handlebar bag is ready to recharge the phone after the sun goes down.

Anything “printed” is saved as a PDF and either attached to email or faxed using one of the many fax services on the internet. I have used Efax in the past; currently I am using faxbetter.com.

Until this year, I depended completely on Wi-Fi hotspots, such as Starbucks®, Panera Bread® or countless coffee houses and public places. I would plug the phone into the computer and spend some time working, while the phone charged back up.

This year, I have purchased a “Wi-Fi hot spot” from my cellular phone carrier. About the size of a deck of cards, it will connect up to 15 devices within a range of 8 meters. As far as the phone company is concerned, it’s another telephone number, with a data plan. I am still partial to the social ambiance of a coffeehouse, but I am glad I have this small device in case the place I am does not have WiFi service. One potential downside: I will be “roaming” out of my carrier’s area most of the time, so data access may be spotty. I will report on that as we try it out.

The Toshiba Portege is showing its age, so I have purchased a new ASUS laptop to replace it. Same general performance specs, but it is lighter, thinner, and equipped with Windows 8 and a touch screen. Windows will be upgrading to version 8.1, and I want to be ready. Thanks to my smartphone, I am becoming comfortable with touchscreens.

This week, I am converting the one dictionary CD that I kept in the Toshiba CD-ROM to am image file, because the ASUS does not have a CD-ROM drive. I’ll let you know how that works out. Anyone out there know how to create an image file? The techies I have asked all start with step 2 when I need step 1. I have Virtual Clone Drive, but can’t use it yet (no image file).

Some have asked why I don’t use a tablet computer. The laptop is as small as I can go for the intensive word-processing that my work involves. I am a ten-finger typist, so a full-feature keyboard is part of my work environment, even when dictating. If you don’t have the text production requirements that I do, you might be able to downsize even more than I have.

Next week, I will discuss the bicycle, and how my relationship with it evolved.

Smooth roads and tailwinds (SR&T),

Jonathan.

10 thoughts on “The office, then and now.

  1. Thanks for starting this blog about travelling and translating, Jonathan. It makes for fascinating reading for cyclists and translators alike.
    I enjoyed the technical details in this post. Just a couple of questions – Can’t you use your Samsung Galaxy S3 as a hot spot? Sounds like extra equipment to have a separate device.
    Also, I wonder how much you miss the big monitor from your old office set-up? You don’t mention your laptop screen size, but if it’s 13″ or so, isn’t that challenging to work from on a permanent basis?
    Wishing you plenty of SR&T!
    Emma

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    • Dear Emma —
      Thanks for the comments. No, the Galaxy phone does not act as a hot spot. As you guessed, it takes another small device, called (surprise) a mobile WiFi hot spot. They cost about $30 when attached to an extension of your carrier plan, or $200 at a retail store. The major carriers sell them. I got mine for free, using my reward points from US Cellular. The device has its own phone number and sets up its own data link to the nearest tower. Then it acts as a wireless router for any wireless devices near it. You can also buy a USB device to plug into your computer, but then, only your computer has a data link and you can’t share it. When talking to the wireless hot spot, my phone goes to WiFi, not data link, so I am not charged for having two devices on data.
      I have a 13″ screen on the Toshiba and the new ASUS. I have travelled for up to a month like this without the big monitor. When I will feel really homesick for it remains to be see. We will also see what I do about it. Maybe I can plug the monitor in a hotel lobby into my computer when the staff are not looking!:-)
      SR&T, Jonathan

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  2. Jonathan, your new blog is awesome, as are you! While my bicycle has been in storage for longer than I want to admit, you have inspired me to haul it out & get moving! More immediately, I loved your tech tips and started shopping this morning.

    So glad you are running for the ATA Board. While chapters like NCATA are not allowed to publicly endorse its own members (you and Evelyn), I know who I will be voting for. Good luck, and thank you for sharing your experience.

    Marjon van den Bosch
    Dutch/Flemish/Afrikaans>English
    Alexandria, VA

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  3. Hi Jonathan,
    Great new blog.
    It is quite simple to create an image file from a CD. You just need a software like ImgBurn. I will be happy to lend a hand (in more details) if you need me to.

    As far as I know you can use your SGS3 as a hotspot, i.e. connect your phone to the internet via your data plan and then your laptop to it. To do that you just need to enable Data usage on your phone (if not already active), toggling on the relevant feature (I think they call it Portable HotSpot).and connect your laptop to that network as you usually do.

    Also, it is worth giving a special consideration to security when connected to public networks (such as those in coffee shops). Routing the connection trough a VPN is a great option, but there are some special softwares that are based on common best practices, but make it easier on less techie people to do that.
    Another security consideration is protecting your data in case the laptop gets stolen, especially if you have sensitive (business or personal) information on it. Encryption is the best practice here.

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck with this blog, and I will be sure to follow it.

    Shai

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    • Dear Shai,
      Thanks for the great information; I’m sure many others will find it helpful. I was unable to download Virtual CD, so I will try img.burn. I never tried the option with my phone itself; I will try that and report back.
      SR&T, Jonathan.

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      • You might not even have to create an Image file, it all depends on how you use the software on the CD. Sometimes it is sufficient to copy the content of the CD to your Hard Drive, other times a different process is required, but usually it is not too difficult or complicated.
        As I’ve mentioned, if you need any help I will be happy to try and assist, just drop me a line.

        You phone should support the Portable HotSpot feature, and that could save you the separate device and its associated (double) costs.

        And mobile security (both against eavesdropping and data loss) is quite important. Things like password protection and management (hint: it is not recommended to let the browser manage them, especially when using public networks) that often go unaddressed can make a difference.

        I’m planning to write a series about safe computing at some point. I hope that it will touch upon this subject in more details. Some of the practices are universal.

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      • Dear Shai —
        Thanks again. I know I need the image file, because I must create a physical drive to trick my dictionary software into thinking that I have a CD installed, or the software won’t run.
        Emma mentioned the Portable Hot Spot feature, too, which I did not know about, and which the sales people at US Cellular “forgot” to mention.
        SR&T, Jonathan.

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  4. With ImageBurn it is simple. Insert the CD to your optical drive (in your old laptop), start ImgBurn and from the wizard choose the Create Image File from Disc option. Then select the destination folder into which it will be saved, give the file a name and start the process. When it is done, transfer the ISO file to your new laptop. You said that you have Windows 8 on that laptop and Windows 8 has a built-in tool for mounting ISO images (just double click the ISO file or select the appropriate command from the Ribbon or Right-click context menu) so it should be quite straightforward from there.

    However, If for some reason it doesn’t work (it should) as expected, or if you will find yourself using a computer with an older version of Windows you will need to use tools like WinCDEmu or the aforementioned Virtual Clone Drive (and there are others).

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