(Written April, 1992)
George Carlin does a wonderful comedy routine about stuff. When you travel, says George, you leave most of your stuff behind and take just what you think you need. You move into a hotel, and when you leave your room, you leave most of that stuff behind. Sooner or later, you get down to the bare essentials.
I travel very much like George Carlin's tourist, especially as it concerns computers. When I leave on a trip, there are two computers in my bag. Silly? Not if you think about the real value of portable computing.
My two laptops
Often, when traveling, the best computer is two computers. Here's why.
Like anyone, I work best in the environment I know. So I see to it that my bag includes a laptop that mimics my desktop environment. In fact, the laptop I carry is my desktop system, sans color monitor and laser printer. (I've never needed to print anything on the road. Have you?) This system is a 386SX laptop wih 6M memory, a 60M hard drive doubled by Stacker, and a full complement of Windows applications. It's systems like this that convince me that the twenty pound desktop computer, for most people, is about as necessary as the ten pound desktop calculator. But when I take my office on the road, there's trouble from beginning to end. On the plane, the computer barely fits on the tray table and the mouse is an illegal hazard to aerial navigation. And once I'm in my hotel room, my eight pound laptop is just too much stuff to lug around- to meetings, seminars, trade show exhibits- and even if I chose to suffer, it wouldn't last half the day on a single battery charge. And while suspend/resume means I don't have to wait to boot every time I use the computer, the twenty second resume delay doesn't always fit my need for computing now.
So there I am. As much as I'd like to type my lecture notes on the computer, or to carry my itinerary or the Comdex exhibit database with me, it's just not worth it. From the steadily dimininshing number of laptops I see at seminars, it appears other people agree. The designs of contemporary laptops contain about one order of magnitude too much stuff.
Enter the Poqet. Too small to be a full service PC, too big to be a pocket organizer, it nevertheless has the stuff I really need when I leave the hotel. It has a keyboard that allows passable touch typing. It runs real DOS applications on a 25 by 80 screen, so I can reach back into the dim memories of pre-Windows days and use it like an old desktop. The Lotus Works software is easy to use, and produces workable text files, 1-2-3 compatible spreadsheets and DBase-compatible databases that my hotel-bound laptop swallows with ease. The batteries last forever- about 25 hours on a set of alkaline AAs. Pressing the On button gets me computing within two seconds. And an airplane's overhead spotlight is the best screen illumination anyone could ask for.
The Poqet is not the ideal portable computer, by a long shot. But it has served me well for four Comdexes, outlasted three laptop/luggables, and taught me what I want in a carry-around computer.
I'm not talking about full-power computing here. What I want is a system that I can take anywhere, carrying whatver information I need for the day and returning with all the new information I've gathered, ready to be seamlessly combined with the data I've left in my hotel room. I have no illusions that this will be the only computer I carry- the size, weight and battery requirements mean that it will be much too small for full-time use. Here is what I need:
A keyboard that can be used for touch-typing- should be able to type with passable accuracy while watching a speaker or presentation, even if it's too dark to read the screen. So what if my notes are filled with typos? That's why I have a spell checker back at the hotel.
A size that will fit on a lap or an airplane tray table when open- really.
A size that will fit comfortably in a briefcase or a trade show giveaway bag when closed. A coat pocket fit would be even better.
At least 12 hours of battery life, with at least an hour of low battery warning. Cheap disposable batteries are a nice touch, although it's harder than you think to find two AA batteries in Las Vegas.
Easy connection to a desktop machine for file transfer. Familiar software like Laplink would be nice.
Applications that write common file formats. My Comdex booth database, fleshed out with product comments typed in on the show floor, becomes an Excel table and the heart of my final report. DOS is not a necessity, but I do like to be able to run my favorite small DOS utilities.
Instant suspend and resume. On a typical day, I turn the Poqet on and off over a hundred times. I just can't afford to wait around if it doesn't happen right away.
And finally, I'd like an airline-safe travel case for my big laptop so I can check it as baggage. For working on an airplane, one little computer is all the stuff I need.