Road Warrior
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These laptops we take with us everywhere can take quite a beating. If we expect them to keep working, we need to do a little preventive cleaning now and again. For instance, to keep your keyboard in tip-top shape, you should give it a blast of air every so often. If you can't find compressed air at a computer store, you can usually find a can at a hardware store or a place that sells boating supplies. Attach one of those little red straws to the nozzle. Drag the straw along row by row and blow the debris right out from under your keys. (It may be helpful to tip the keyboard at an angle.) YOU'RE WAY OFFLINE You can be on a plane, in a hammock, or at any number of locations nowhere near your printer and still send a document to the printer. It's not any sort of high-tech wireless magic, just deferred printing. It saves you the time and logistics of having to keep a printer (even a portable one) nearby/connected. You can turn on this feature manually by selecting Start, Settings, Printers, clicking the printer you'll eventually print from (it already has to be installed), and selecting Printer, Use Printer Offline. Deferred printing stores the print information until the next time you have your printer connected. At that point, you just have to go back to the Printers folder and choose the Printer, Use Printer Offline command again (to deselect the feature), and the document(s) you sent to your printer offline will begin printing. ERGONOMICS 101 By definition, laptops are portable. Because of their small size, it's even easier than with desktops to slip into bad habits in terms of posture and repetitive strain. That's why we want to remind you from time to time how to practice sound ergonomic laptop computing. To start with, you'll want to adhere to the following basic rules: Be sure to keep the computer on a consistently level surface at a comfortable height and distance from your body. In general, your body should be relaxed, as you maintain proper posture with your weight evenly distributed. Make sure to avoid straining your eyes by keeping them focused on the screen--but not for too long and without staring.Most of all, if your wrists, hands, and/or arms begin to bother you while typing, take a break. If that discomfort doesn't go away, consult a physician right away. KEEP IT HIDDEN In order to minimize the risk of being victimized by travel crime--especially prevalent abroad--it's important to keep your valuables hidden. (Why give a thief a reason to target you?) So for those items that you HAVE to have on your person at all times in your destination city, use either a money belt or a neck wallet (that goes under your shirt) to carry your hotel key, trip itinerary, tickets, a credit card, travelers checks, and spare cash. Naturally, it doesn't make sense to include anything in one of those secret compartments that you may need to access often. That would sort of defeat the whole purpose. WHICH IS YOUR BETTER PROFILE? Since your dynamic little laptop most likely has multiple environments, it most likely could use multiple configurations. Your way of telling your computer which drivers and devices you'll be using during a particular session at home, office, or on the road is by creating different hardware profiles beforehand. You can create a new profile by basing it on an existing one. To create a new hardware profile, go into the Control Panel and double-click the System icon. Click the Hardware Profiles tab; then click the profile you want to base the new one on. Click Copy, type a name for the new profile, and click OK. Now you just have to differentiate between the two profiles. So click the Device Manager tab, click the plus sign next to the hardware type, and then double-click the hardware you want to enable/disable for that profile. In the Device Usage area, you'll find check boxes to do so. If you should see a message suggesting that you restart your computer, click Yes. The next time you start up, you'll be prompted to select which profile you'll be using. TROUBLE INSTALLING THAT NEW CARD? Installing a new PCMCIA card in your laptop isn't always "Plug and Play." Sometimes you'll have difficulty installing a card and continually receive an error message stating that the driver isn't available. The problem lies in the fact that the information about your card isn't included in the Registry's PCMCIA database. Fortunately, you can easily add the info and get on with using your new card. To add an entry, you'll need to know the name of the product, the manufacturer, and the name of the driver for the device (in the form of driver.sys). Next, you'll need to launch the Registry Editor and edit the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\PCMCIA\database To make the change, select database, then select Add Key from the Edit menu and enter the manufacturer name. Next, select the key you just created and click Add Key again, entering the product name. Select this key and Add Value name Driver as type REG_SZ. Enter the driver name without the extension. Finally, save your changes and restart your system. Your new card should now install without a hitch. NIRVANA UNPLUGGED? After leaving your notebook computer unplugged and not using it for an extended period of time, you may notice upon turning it on again that the main battery's power level has diminished. That's because in addition to powering your unit in the absence of an AC connection, the main battery also charges the other backup/auxiliary batteries. Those batteries, in turn, provide the power it takes to keep the date, time, and other setup features in memory when the unit is turned off. So it's a good idea to plug in your laptop at least once a week, even if you don't plan on turning it on. THE "IN" COMMUNICADO? One of the challenges of business travel is consistent communication. Constantly checking in for voice mail, faxes, and e-mail separately can literally leave you at a loss. Well, now one company, JFax, makes it easy to check all three at once. If you register with its service (for about $12 per month), you are given a private phone number (anywhere you choose in its global network!) to pass along to your colleagues. When people call that number, they hear a message (personalized by your own sweet voice, if you wish), and they can send you a fax or leave you a voice mail--which gets forwarded into your personal e-mail inbox as an electronic message with an attachment. Thus, when you check your e-mail, you get everything in one fell swoop. So surf on over to to get the scoop. And be sure to click the link (at the bottom of the first page) called Road Warrior (no relation). "A VERBAL CONTRACT ISN'T WORTH THE PAPER IT'S PRINTED ON." Of course, that famous quote is attributed to movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn (no doubt in reference to the fickle and sometimes cutthroat world of Hollywood). But a similar notion applies to the popular new world of electronic ticketing. Although it's a smarter, safer way to travel, it can present you with a small problem when it comes to filling out an expense report. Some airlines do automatically mail you confirmation/proof of travel upon ticketing. But just in case yours is one of the ones that doesn't, always be sure to ask for a hard copy receipt when electronically ticketing a flight. That way, you get the benefits of ticketless travel AND you can still fill out your expense reimbursement sheet at work, instead of having to wait for your credit card bill (which may have information on it that you might not be eager to share with the accounting department anyway). ASSUME THE POSITION We all know that good posture is important. We've been hearing THAT since elementary school. But the science of ergonomics is more than just "sitting up straight." It has to do with a sensible, relaxed body position as you interact with your home/office equipment. Thus, you should do your best to practice the following: Keep your keyboard and forearms parallel with the floor. As a rule, you shouldn't have to bend, arch, or angle your wrists. Keep them in a nice, relaxed, neutral position while typing. Also, you can improve your circulation by taking breaks to exercise your hands, wrists, and arms. You shouldn't have to twist your neck or body to type or see the monitor. In fact, the top of the display should be no higher than eye level--which means no slouching! Adjust the display panel to avoid any glare. And if you use a paper holder, set it at about the same height and distance from your eyes as the computer to minimize your inherent strain. PERFORMING IN ITS GREATEST ROLE Much like in film and theater, you can sometimes find great performances on your computer in smaller, yet important, background roles. For instance, do you know how to get your laptop to optimize its hard disk drive performance? No, not "practice, practice, practice." Go into Control Panel and double-click the System icon. In the Performance folder tab, click File System; then next to Typical Role of This Machine, click the drop-down list and choose Mobile or Docking System. Click OK a couple of times, dim the lights--and it's performance time, baby! Of course, unlike with actors, your computer won't ask you a bunch of times, "So what's my motivation again?"

SUBSCRIBE TO A DAILY VARIETY Above and beyond good posture and positioning, avoiding discomfort and injury from repetitive strain is a matter of varying your daily routine. Scheduling tasks that break up the monotony can reduce stress and actually improve your efficiency. The main goal is to avoid performing the same activity over and over again for an extended period of time. So take a moment to get up every once in a while (at least every 15 minutes or so) to stretch out your muscles--and don't forget to relax your eyes! One trick is to look away from your screen, focus on a distant object, close your eyes, and picture black velvet (the material, not the whiskey--although that could be relaxing too). --By Scott Tharler

WIPE AWAY YOUR TROUBLES As you probably know from having accidentally touched it when pointing, laptop screens are delicate things. Still, even delicate things need cleaning. (Sounds like a Woolite commercial!) In any case, with all the action your laptop may see while moving around, sooner or later the monitor is liable to need a good cleaning. You may want to check with your laptop manufacturer before putting any cleaning agents in contact with your monitor. But, in general, here's a fairly simple solution (sorry) on how to clean your screen: With your system turned off, dilute a glass cleaner by adding an equal amount of water; then give a little spritz on a soft, clean cloth and gently wipe the screen. Again, contact your manufacturer if you notice any change in the monitor's performance. --By Scott Tharler

MONITOR YOUR MONITOR Anything to conserve energy and prolong battery life, right? Depending on the age and make of your notebook computer, you may be able to save energy by regulating the amount of power directed to your monitor. To check, right-click an empty space on your desktop, then choose Properties and click the Screen Saver tab. If you see a section called Energy Saving Features of Monitor, you're in luck. Click an X in the box next to Low-Power Standby and set a time limit in the associated box; then click OK. From then on, if the system is inactive for the number of minutes you specified, the monitor will automatically switch to standby mode. It's sort of like a screen saver in the way it's activated and deactivated, but it differs in that it uses less power. However, you CAN use the two in conjunction with one other. For instance, you could set your screen saver to kick in after the system is idle for three minutes and then set the Low-Power Standby to kick in after the system has been idle for eight minutes. --By Scott Tharler

THAT GIVES ME AN I.D. When you travel abroad, it's a smart practice to make at least one copy of your passport picture page and have it laminated. Furthermore, if you carry it with you at all times (e.g., in a neck wallet or money belt), you can help ensure an easier time of proving who you are at the American Consulate. And that could come in handy if, say, you should ever have the misfortune of losing or misplacing your official passport and trying to get back into the country. --By Scott Tharler

THE DELICATE BALANCE OF POWER In a previous tip, we mentioned that leaving your laptop unplugged and unused can actually drain the main battery because it's responsible for continually powering the time/date functions and storing your setup information in memory. Well now we're telling you not to keep your laptop PLUGGED IN and unused for more than several weeks at a time. Apparently, as some manufacturers advise, THAT can drain a battery as well. So what to do? Find some kind of balance between the two: If you're not going to be using your laptop, be sure (to remind yourself if necessary) to plug it in overnight at least once a week or so. --By Scott Tharler

HANDHELDS: FRESH OUT OF THE BOX--PART 3 OF 6 Very soon after you unpack your new handheld, learn and master the method for connecting it to your PC. This connection is vital for data backup. You never want to have your only copy of contacts, schedules, finance data, or other information stored on a battery-powered device. Make sure you regularly synchronize the data between your desktop and handheld.

HANDHELDS: FRESH OUT OF THE BOX--PART 4 OF 6 Taking notes, creating messages, and jotting down appointments are all great things you can do with your handheld's handwriting recognition software. Unfortunately, you probably won't find this feature very effective when you first start using it. As with any new skill, you have to practice, practice, practice before you're any good. Until you've mastered handwriting on your handheld, use an alternate form of input. For example, most handhelds offer a virtual keyboard, which allows you to select letters from a digital keyboard by touching them with your stylus. You might also try entering your data onto your desktop PC with your desktop keyboard and mouse, then synchronizing the files with your handheld. Make sure you read up on your product's handwriting recognition abilities, because you can most likely adopt special skills and strategies that allow the device to recognize your writing with a high level of accuracy.

HANDHELDS: FRESH OUT OF THE BOX--PART 5 OF 6 A smudge, scratch, or blister on a touchscreen can make it very difficult to read. This type of damage may also affect how well you can input data or select objects with a stylus. To avoid damaging your touchscreen, make sure you use the protective case or hard plastic cover that comes with your device (or purchase a case separately if your handheld didn't come with one). If you live in a foul-weather area, you might also consider getting a water-resistant case to protect your product from the elements.

HANDHELDS: FRESH OUT OF THE BOX--PART 6 OF 6 Many of us store confidential data on our handheld devices. You might end up putting expense reports, credit card accounts, personal notes, and other sensitive information on yours. Before you start using your new handheld, read up on all the security elements your particular model provides. Most include some form of password protection that will hinder intruders attempting to access your files. Be careful, though. Read the specifications on security measures. 3Com's Palm series allows you to set an access password and mark files as private. However, if you've forgotten your password, or if a thief has stolen your device and is attempting to gain access to your confidential information, you do have some protection--the Palms allow the user to delete the password and start over. It will then delete just those files marked as private, protecting them from prying eyes.

MOBILE MP3--PART 1 OF 2, at sells an eGo MP3 portable player designed for use in your car or hooked to your belt. The eGo is expandable up to a whopping 680MB of memory and starts at $189 (for a unit with no memory). At the maximum memory capacity, this player beats all challengers in terms of how much music you can download from the Internet and take with you on the road.

MOBILE MP3--PART 2 OF 2 Varo Vision, at combines an MP3 player, a voice recorder, and an organizer functionality in its new VaroMan Plus device. The unit contains a built-in 40MB Iomega Clik drive you can use for transferring data to other computer devices. A version sporting a USB port is also available.

NOTEBOOKS ON AIRPLANES--PART 1 OF 2 Before you purchase that new notebook computer, take a second look at its pointing device. Is the device placed at the very lower edge of the notebook (closest to you)? If so, you may have difficulty using the pointer within the cramped space of the latest coach airline seats. In case you haven't noticed, the distance between coach seats is now shorter than ever. Even pointing devices positioned in the center of a notebook, like the pencil eraser-size TrackPoint, are hard to manipulate in these tight spaces. Edge-skimming designs, like the TouchPad, are next to impossible to use. If you travel frequently on business, you may need to include this fact in your shortlist of notebook configuration details.

NOTEBOOKS ON AIRPLANES--PART 2 OF 2 In addition to cramped hands and fingers, the close confines of airline coach seating belie another problem--prying eyes. The latest notebook displays offer both brilliant colors and wide viewing angles. If you don't want someone looking over your shoulder at your confidential documents and spreadsheets, consider a display filter like 3M's Notebook Privacy Filter--see the Web site, These tiny grid-pattern filters fit over your notebook screen, narrowing the viewing angle severely. Only the person working on the notebook sees the screen clearly--others see black. 3M offers several filter sizes to fit different-size LCD panels.

COMMON PALM TROUBLES AND SOLUTIONS--PART 1 OF 4 Are you having trouble successfully synchronizing your 3Com Palm device with your PC over a cable connection (HotSyncing, in Palm-speak)? After you've first checked to make sure you have the cradle cable firmly attached to the PC's serial port, check your software. Make sure you aren't concurrently running another software package, like WinFax Pro or AOL, that is managing the same serial port for its own purposes. A software conflict over the port can cause a connection problem.

COMMON PALM TROUBLES AND SOLUTIONS--PART 2 OF 4 Are you having difficulty transferring data between two Palm devices using their infrared ports? Check the distance between the two devices. For this type of transfer, people often put the two Palms right up against one another (planning perhaps to transfer the data using osmosis). However, 3Com recommends a distance of at least 2 inches and at most 40 inches when you want to "beam" data between two Palms.

EASY DIGITAL IMAGE TRANSFER Digital camera designers have come a long way with usability. Now it's fairly easy to transfer digital images from your camera to your PC. Many cameras feature USB ports, allowing you to connect a cable between your desktop and the camera. Others use some type of disk-based portable media you can pop out from the camera and insert into a special desktop drive. Lexar Media at has an even easier method for offloading photos. Its USB Enabled CompactFlash Digital Film comes with its own USB port. This means you can use Lexar's USB JumpShot cable to connect the film cartridge and your PC and transfer images. Your camera can be in your car, in your briefcase, or in the office while you offload the photos to your PC.

LCD: EASIER ON YOUR EYES Reading text on a mobile computing device has never been as easy on the eyes as reading printed text on paper. Microsoft hopes to change all that with its ClearType technology. The concept is to improve text resolution on LCD displays and make digital viewing much more like reading a real book or magazine. Browse the ClearType section of Microsoft's site at for more information and an e-mail address where you can send comments and ask questions.

CHOOSING A VIRTUAL ORGANIZER All-purpose organizers are popping up all over the Web. Companies like the new at will let you send and receive e-mail, store files, keep a calendar, and share data with colleagues, friends, and family--all free on their Web sites. These services can be convenient, especially as an alternative if you don't always want to carry a heavy notebook around. But as you might suspect, not all services are the same. Over the next few days, I'll pass along some tips that might help you choose among them. First, inquire about security. You'll want your Web-based organizer to use a fairly robust encryption scheme--unless you don't care whether others can gain access to your e-mail, schedule, contacts, and so on. Ask whether the encryption extends to both your e-mail and the files you store at the site, and whether the site account has password protection.

COMMON PALM TROUBLES AND SOLUTIONS--PART 3 OF 4 Is your Palm confusing your numbers for letters when you handwrite notes? You're probably scribbling too far over to the left. Remember, you need to jot numbers down in the right side of the Graffiti writing area of the Palm touchscreen. The Palm reserves the left side of the area for writing letters.

COMMON PALM TROUBLES AND SOLUTIONS--PART 4 OF 4 Have you forgotten your password? You can delete this password and create a new one using the Security application, but doing so will also delete any organizer entries you marked as private. What you can do is synchronize the Palm with the PC (HotSync them) before you delete your password. This process will back up all your entries, even the private ones, so that you can reload them later.


Are you wondering how you can use your new USB devices on your notebook? Many notebooks don't have USB ports, but you can add USB functionality by spending $89 on the USBX-501 USB Port-Card Bus Host from ADS Technology. The converter can add USB ports to any Windows 98 notebook that features a Type II PC Card (aka PCMCIA) slot.


Are you still carrying around books made of paper? Well, all right, most of us still do. But times may change that sooner then you might think. A couple of portable electronic book devices like NuvoMedia's Rocket eBook at: and SoftBook's SoftBook at: are already available. Expect to be inundated with more options for reading books on mobile devices in the coming year.
Whatever you do, don't just settle for the features of the first electronic books you encounter. Look for specific features that will make your digital book reader purchase successful. Over the next few days, I'll pass along some points you should keep in mind while shopping.
First, never buy a digital book reader device until you've seen the LCD screen in action. Without question, the screen is the most important element of any digital book. Make sure the screen is big enough so you won't need to press the forward and back (or next page, previous page) buttons every few seconds. Make sure glare isn't a big problem. If you can't read in natural light or in a room lit normally with incandescent light, how good is the product? Also, look for backlighting capability that will allow you to read in dark rooms without lights. If you're going to read digital books, they may as well have new features traditional books lack.


Should your device do more than display electronic books? The people at think so:
This site provides free software that lets you read selected digital books over your Palm OS- and Windows CE-based devices. To me, the typical screens of palmtop devices seem too small for digital books--smaller than your average paperback.
However, the Rocket eBook people at are trying to incorporate additional functionality into their product. Now you can subscribe to regularly updated content from trusted sources like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. You can download stories from these and other sources every morning before you head off to work or start your day.
Look for the adaptation of other digital book products to the speed of Internet publishing, as the Rocket eBook has. Choose the one with the features that best suit your lifestyle.


The cost of your digital book reader device is one thing, but you only pay that cost once. As you choose from different digital book devices, what's more important is the cost of the books themselves. The price of your average fiction bestseller in Rocket eBook format, for example, is the same or more than the cost of the same book in hardcover form. This is truly ridiculous--with modern publishing techniques, we know that all books are already in electronic form during the publishing process, so there's no real cost associated with translating a book to a particular digital format, and with a digital book there's no paper, printing, or binding involved.
When you shop for a digital book reader, look for a device that passes along the savings to you. You should spend less for a digital book than you do for the same book on paper.


Like other mobile computing devices, your digital book reader will most typically run off batteries--and its battery life is crucial to a positive experience. Consider this: Many of us read for a longer period of time in one session than we would spend computing, especially when we're traveling. So you really want a digital book device that offers a longer battery life than your average PDA.
Also check for rechargeable battery options when you shop for a digital book device. You'll save money and help the planet by buying fewer batteries in the long run.


Some of the same people who worked on the PalmPilot developed the Handspring Visor. The operating system is licensed from 3Com, so the device can run applications with that familiar interface. PC World Online's Yardena Arar tested a preproduction Visor and found it had some advantages over current PalmPilot models. You can read her preview at:,1212,12950,00.html


Desktop computers are not the only systems with roomier hard drives--notebook computers also come with several gigabytes of hard drive storage. But if you already own a notebook, you probably don't want to buy a new computer just for a larger disk. Fortunately you don't have to, because most notebook manufacturers offer hard drive upgrade kits for their popular models. Prices vary tremendously depending on your brand of notebook and the size of the hard drive you want to buy: from about $300 (for a 2.1GB drive) up to $1000 (for an 8GB drive). Ask your notebook manufacturer for specific information about upgrading your notebook's hard drive.


Do you really need to access e-mail or the Internet through your handheld device? The idea of this type of portable communication sounds great, but it may cost you. Some handhelds connect to the Internet only via special ISPs, so you may incur yet another monthly bill. Moreover, with a separate e-mail ID, you may confuse your friends, colleagues, and customers--should they send e-mail to your standard e-mail ID, your new handheld ID, or both? With that in mind, you might decide to use your handheld just for contact and calendar information, rather than for e-mail and the Internet.


Will your Web organizer profile you? Ask before you sign up. These all-in-one free Web organizer services end up knowing quite a bit about you--after all, they control your e-mail, store your files, and manage your address book. If they plan to sell your data to businesses, you might end up the target of thousands of pieces of junk mail, and the senders will know all about you. Look for a service that lets you "just say no" to selling your demographics to a mailing list.


Many PC Card (aka PCMCIA) devices have fragile end connectors that stick out of your notebook. To ensure these don't break off during the jostling of travel, make sure you transport all your PC Cards inside plastic cases. You'll find inexpensive plastic PC Card cases at your local computer store.


At an airport, it often seems that if you're not rushing around trying to catch a flight, you're rushing around trying to find a place to connect your laptop between flights (whether to work on it or simply to charge it). In order to maximize your work or charge time, we offer the following suggestions on quickly finding a power outlet.
First, go for convenience: Look on the support columns throughout the passenger waiting areas, or look behind the gate agent's desk. If those places turn up dry, go to the airport bar. No, don't give up and drown your sorrows just yet. Find out if you can hook into one of the outlets invariably found back there (for blenders and such). Another good out-of-sight spot to search is under banks of pay phones. And if all else fails, think like a custodian (after all, they have to plug those vacuum cleaners and floor buffers in SOMEWHERE): Look around the backs of pillars and along the walls and floors of long corridors. Finally, as we've mentioned before, always carry an extension cord with you, so you can connect more easily to these out-of-the-way sockets.


Does your Web organizer offer wireless Web access or have plans to do so in the near future? Wireless Web devices will hit the market en masse in the year 2000, and mobile computer users will be among the first to adopt this technology (some already have). You don't want to sign up with a Web-based organizer service that isn't gearing up for wireless Web--their competitors will soon leave them in the dust.
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