Balancing Computing and Commuting

Planning ahead is a key part of commuting and one’s computing needs are something that should be considered in your travel planning.

"Amsterdam Commute" by stephenrwalli/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)It’s no secret that I do a lot of traveling in Phoenix by non-automobile means. I’m one of those crazy Phoenicians who doesn’t have a car. I live within a stone’s throw of one of Phoenix’s METRO stations and I choose places to go and meet that are likewise near a station. It’s called a 20-minute city, which is defined as places to live, work, eat, shop, and have fun that are a 20-minute walk, bike ride, or public transportation trip from each other. (In central Phoenix, it’s sort-of here.)

I also do a lot of bicycle commuting. But unlike a lot of other Phoenicians, my bicycle commuting is done in conjunction with another method of transport, e.g. bicycling to a final destination after taking the train for the first part of the journey. (I’ll write more on that in a later post!)

The point that I’m trying to make here is that when I travel by my usual means, I’m cognizant of what technology I bring with me. My computing/commuting theory is this: Bring only as much technology as you need to do while you’re running errands and nothing more!

My main computer is my MacBook Pro. In addition to being a significant investment that I made, it’s got my entire digital life on it (photos, music, personal & professional documents, and some irreplaceable/invaluable information). Consequently, it rarely leaves the house. If my travels include bicycling, it will never travel with me. If I get into an accident while commuting, what would happen to that machine? Would it be ruined? I never want to find out so that’s why it rarely leaves my house.

To bring some element of computing power with me when I meet with community partners or clients, I have an iPad and wireless keyboard that I bring with me. It can do about 95% of the tasks that I require of a computer when I’m on the road: scribe notes or a document, send emails, preview pictures, and check my finances as well as my firm’s balance sheet. It’s small in form so it fits easily in my backpack or in my bicycle panniers. Also, because it’s designed as more of a mobile device, it’s more robust in its design. That being said, it has a form-fitting case as well as its own bag for additional protection.

There are times when I know that I’ll need to bring a computer with me which is why I recently purchased a refurbished Dell Latitude XT2. While I listed my reasons to purchase it on that post, I purchased it because it is a lightweight computer that I can throw in my backpack or bicycle panniers and not be overly devastated if it gets damaged or destroyed should the worst happen. If I am going to do some longer typing sessions, this is the device that I’ll bring with me. Or if there’s a time when I need a full computer with me, it comes with.

That’s how I commute. What tips do you have for commuting and to successfully balance your computing and commuting balance? Share them in the comments.

Linux Chronicles: Dell Latitude XT2

It might seem difficult getting your new Dell Latitude XT2 to work with Ubuntu; however, taken one step at a time, it’s pretty easy.

My Dell Latitude XT2I got a new computer the other day. Well, that’s a partial truth — it’s a machine that’s new to me. (The machine was shipped to its original customer in February 2010.) It’s a Dell Latitude XT2, a notebook computer that converts into a tablet PC with a resistive touchscreen. It came with a neat little stylus that works quite well for being a pressure-activated screen!

I bought the machine from Dell Financial Services’ Direct Sales unit for cheap. With shipping and a one-year warranty, I only spent about $500. By comparison, when the machine was shipped new in 2010, the street retail price started just under $2,000! It was a good purchase for me because as I’m starting to run more and more errands for my consulting, sometimes schlepping around an iPad alone just doesn’t cut it. There are times when it’s important to have a full computer. As I do a lot of commuting by bicycle and public transportation, I also don’t want my MacBook Pro to suffer the wear and tear of my commute…or worse, get damaged or destroyed if I were to get in an accident. The XT2 was a small purchase that, although I’d be sad to destroy or damage this machine, I can afford to purchase a replacement should I need to.

Enough philosophy: let’s get to running Ubuntu on this machine. The machine came shipped with Windows Vista but that was the first thing to go. I replaced it with Ubuntu 12.04.2, codenamed Precise Pangolin within minutes of turning it on for the first time just to make sure that it worked well. I read through several online guides about how to make this machine work and although the steps seemed daunting, I found that they were largely unnecessary and not needed. In simple terms, my steps were this:

  1. Ensure that the system OS is up to date with the latest standard Ubuntu kernel
  2. Update the system’s BIOS to the latest version (at this writing, it’s version A12)
  3. Check the system BIOS to see what wireless cards are enabled or disabled
  4. Install the Magick Rotation utility
  5. Have a lot of fun!

If you’re interested in my steps that I took in greater detail, I’ll go through them. Do note that most all of this is done from the terminal so your typing accuracy has to be spot on. Your results, although they should be like mine, may vary: please make a backup of your data before embarking on this journey (and don’t blame me if anything bad happens!).

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