Being A Computer Hobo

Being A Computer Hobo

Despite being a tech geek with a daily internet habit, I actually hate traveling with a laptop. While not the backpack-dominating bricks they used to be, they’re still a significant size and weight in your bag killing your posture. Additionally, laptops are a single point of failure: if it dies or gets stolen, you’re dead in the water, not to mention when your laptop walks away, who knows who now has your data.

So even if I’m still lugging my laptop around with me, I have focused as much as possible on “off-shoring” my computing, giving me the same access to my usual tools and data from pretty much any computer with an internet connection. By using install-free web tools, I’m left free to ditch the laptop if I so choose and become a computer hobo, living on the move off borrowed resources; all the freedom, none of the smell.


Safety First

First and foremost to remember when using a public computer is that your information is inherently less secure. This isn’t to say you should avoid using them, but it is important to be more aware of how you use them and exercise some common sense. I’ve worked in computer security for over 10 years, and easily 90% of personal information theft can be avoided just by taking some basic precautions and not leaving your info around for the next person to simply pick up.

When you’ve finished using a computer, remove your files and clear your browser cache; if you don’t know how, ask the guy at the desk. Limit how often you log into sites with access to bank account and credit card info, and pay attention to account activity while and after you’re traveling. And finally, this is as true no matter where you are, DO NOT write down your passwords. It’s as good as leaving the key in the ignition.


Just In Case

Because internet access is never a sure thing, you may still have miscellaneous files that you want to access quickly and easily (you never do know when you might need to print out your resume for a sudden opening as a Beach Cabana Quality Analyst). A 4 or 8GB USB flash drive will store files, photos, even some extra music for your iPod if necessary, fits anywhere, and are often damn near indestructible. I’ve washed mine multiple times, and it’s still ticking.

A small USB hard drive is also an option, and will store more music, movies, games, whatever, but are more prone to failure or theft. They can however be quite handy for a long trip. For either type of drive, if you’re particularly sensitive about the contents, they can be password protected as well.


The Tools

Your web tools of choice may vary, especially since some of them you are probably already using, but here are some of my essentials.

Gmail – I’ve been using various webmail services or my own homemade webmail solutions for a while, and I’ve finally fallen to the sway Google as my all-in-one solution. You can check multiple accounts in one, it ties into your personal calendar, you can do dynamic filters, sorting, all kinds of tweaks. And with over 7GB of space per account, you can even use it to save your files online.

Oh, and you can read and answer your email with it, too.

Online Password Managers – Just because you shouldn’t write down your passwords doesn’t mean you have to use the same one for everything or remember a mess of different ones. An online password manager will let you keep hundreds of different passwords, but only have to remember one. I use an older custom password manager, but a number of sites like Passpack and Clipperz are out there to use.

Online Banking – Honestly, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be doing this anyway. The ability to check your bank balance at any time, pay your bills from anywhere… I haven’t actually written a check in over 4 years. – All those links to sites you want to use later, be it to the train schedule or a very poignant lolcat? lets you store those links publicly or privately by categories of your choosing. There are even Firefox plugins to integrate into your regular bookmarks.

Google Docs – This one I’ve been waiting on for a long time. Documents, spreadsheets, presentations, all creatable in your browser, and all stored online. Any document you create can be shared for collaboration, saved locally in various formats including PDF, or emailed as an attachment. There’s even a template library to choose from. Google, you had me at hello. – Those who wander are not lost, and those who wander without an iPod are not music-less. With the ability to stream music from nearly every artist I’ve thrown at it, lets you listen to your music and check out new music from anywhere in the world. – If you use instant messengers like Yahoo or Skype with any frequency, you don’t want to have install the client just to have a chat. While still in alpha stage after two years, works amazingly well for covering all your IM client needs. It also claims to offer voice chat to any contact on any IM client, which I have not had a chance to test.

Now get out there and mooch some time off your friend’s laptop.

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