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.
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.
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.
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),