BOOT CAMP 216 (12/03/02)




Our love affair with and growing dependence on technology means that many of us, myself included, would never dream of travelling anywhere – whether for business or pleasure – without a small suitcase full of electronic gadgets. Agreed, it’s a sorry situation and we are to be pitied but there’s no cure, and it can only get worse as the number of widgets we apparently can no longer live without increases so the next two Boot Camps are devoted to ways of making your load just a little bit lighter.


It really is getting out of hand. A basic business traveller’s kit these days usually includes a laptop or organiser, mobile phone, and radio-alarm clock, and maybe a memo recorder and that’s if you’re travelling light… If you’re going on holiday or expect to have some spare time you’ll probably want to take a camera, digital or otherwise, and possibly a camcorder as well. A personal stereo comes in handy for whiling away long journeys (don’t forget the blank tapes, cassettes and discs), if kids are involved there’s likely to be a hand-held game or two and if you’re really cutting-edge how about a pocket GPS receiver and satellite phone? Then there’s the electric razor, maybe an electric toothbrush and if that’s not enough there’s all of the paraphernalia that goes along with all electrically powered devices in the shape of spare batteries, chargers, cables and adaptors.


Ask yourself; do you really need to lug a top-of-the line laptop with a 14-inch screen around with you? Of course you might have a good reason for taking a full-blown PC, particularly if you need to do some serious work using mainstream Office applications or web surfing but it’s worth considering the space-saving alternatives.


Several lightweight laptops are available with 10-inch (or smaller) screens, my preferred travelling companion is a trusty little IBM ThinkPad 240, now sadly discontinued in the UK, but good examples can be found selling on on-line auctions like ebay ( for under £300. I also keep an ancient Toshiba Libretto on standby for occasions when there’s no room for the ThinkPad. This classic micro Windows PC is not much larger than a VHS cassette and also makes regular appearances on ebay, often for less than £200.


Compact laptops do not usually have floppy and CD-ROM disc drives built-in (external drives are usually supplied or available as optional extras). You’re unlikely to miss the CD-ROM and don’t be fooled into thinking laptops with DVD-ROM drives will keep you entertained. Few models have sufficient battery power to get through a movie. If you are concerned about backing up data on a PC without a floppy drive the simplest solution is to use memory cards, the same as those used in digital cameras. Most types of memory card (Compact Flash, Smart Media, Compact Flash, Memory Stick etc.) can plug into the laptop’s USB port or PC Card slot using an inexpensive adaptor. The PC treats a memory card as a separate disc drive and you can easily store files on them and transfer data between other PCs. Memory cards are available in a range of sizes, if you shop around 256Mb Compact Flash cards can be found selling for as little as £82 ( If you also have a digital camera use the same type of card as the camera to carry both data and photographs and transfer images to your PC, so you can view them and email them back home.


Incidentally, memory cards are very robust and are not affected by airport X-Ray machines but it makes sense to take care of them and not subject them to extremes of heat, humidity or shock and always keep them in their protective cases when not in use.


If you can do live without full-blown Windows but still need to work with Office applications like Word, Excel, Outlook etc., consider a pocket PC or organiser using the Windows CE operating system. A few models are available with proper keyboards, see Hewlett Packard’s range, and many pocket organisers can be used with optional foldaway keyboards. As an added bonus most pocket PCs and organisers have quite respectable battery running times of several hours, compared with the hour or two that you’re likely to get – if you’re lucky – on a normal laptop. (And yes, Windows CE does come with Solitaire and Minesweeper…)


Communications on the move means a mobile phone. GSM modules, which can be used with organisers and pocket PCs seem like an attractive option but in spite of some of these units being able to function as a phone, when docked with an organiser, you will probably still end up carrying your normal phone as well. They tend to be quite bulky and battery life is not usually very good (compared with a typical handset).


The ease with which you can link your mobile phone to your PC or organiser will depend on the makes and models of the equipment involved but from personal experience infrared and wireless connections often prove more trouble than they are worth, but if you can get it to work it means one less cable to pack. However, whatever system you use, make sure it works and do a dry run, so you know how to use it well before you travel. 


Next week – Travel Tips 2





Global Positioning by Satellite – fleet of low earth orbit satellites that broadcast highly accurate timing signals that can be picked up by small hand-held receivers, giving the user’s location anywhere on the planet to within a few metres



Global System for Mobile communications – digital cellular telephone system used by the Cellnet and Vodaphone networks in the UK and in more than 150 other countries



Universal Serial Bus, high-speed industry standard connection system for peripheral devices



Microsoft Word has lots of useful undocumented features, here’s one that will save you a lot of time and trouble. The next time you want to replace a chunk of text forget the backspace or delete keys, just highlight the block and continue typing. One click, that’s all, Word automatically places the cursor at the start of the highlighted section and replaces the text as you type.

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