My New Mobile Office

I recently moved into a new house in San Francisco which is perfect in all respects except one: it doesn’t have an additional room for me to use as an office. This is the first time in my entire life that I haven’t had a room completely set aside for working, so I’m being forced to adapt. My solution has been to put together a mobile office, or a collection of everything I need to work wherever in my house I can find a flat surface and a little peace and quiet.

The most important piece of equipment is obviously a laptop. Fortunately, I’ve been using laptops almost exclusively for many years, but I’ve also been using them with a 19" IBM ThinkVision monitor which I’m now learning to do without. Rather than having all my applications spread generously over a combined 34 inches of monitor (19 inches + my laptop’s 15 inches), I’m trying to adjust to a cycling through full-screen applications and windows. So far, so good, but I do wish OS X were a more keyboard-friendly operating system.

A wireless network is a given for nomadic offices. I’ve had a wireless network set up in my house since the very first non-commercial wireless routers were available (still using the same hardware, too), but in order to be able to use it from every corner of my house, I had to position it a little more strategically than I normally would. My cable comes in through my garage where I split it, ran it from a modem to a router to a wireless access point which I positioned under the floor right in the center of the house. Even with my ancient equipment, I get a strong signal everywhere I go.

A mobile phone is also a given. No change there. I recently switched from a Treo 650 to a Nokia 6680 which has the two things I need to make it an effective office phone: bluetooth and a speaker phone. (It also has several other features which make it an amazing phone, but that’s a post for another time.)

I used to listen to music in my office through iTunes, a 100GB firewire drive, and a set of Altec Lansing speakers. No more. My new setup consists of a 60GB iPod Photo and a pair of Bose QuietComfort II headphones. It’s not quite like having music playing in the background, but it’s an acceptable substitute.

When I wasn’t using my 19" ThinkVision monitor for work, I was using it with my Xbox through a special DVI adapter. Since losing my office, I’ve had to replace my Xbox with a PSP. Actually, I shouldn’t say "replace" because playing Lumines or Tony Hawk on my PSP doesn’t even come close to playing Halo 2 online, but it’s something, and it is portable. Maybe I’ll eventually get a Nintendo DS to help supplement, as well.

I used to have a Sharp atomic clock hanging on my office wall which I used to set my watch, computer, Xbox, etc. Since I no longer have an office wall on which to hang it, I wear an MSN Direct SPOT watch which not only calibrates itself, but also provides a constant stream of other useful data.

I used to have a bookshelf full of references which are now in boxes in the garage. My plan is to replace them all with eBooks and a good eBook reader. I’m hoping to find a Sony Librie from Japan on eBay one of these days, but so far, no luck. I can’t believe eBooks haven’t taken hold. Maybe I’ll get an O’Reilly Safari account in the meantime.

The last piece of my mobile office is a nice, big, compartmentalized and padded backpack to keep everything in. I’m using a Brenthaven that I bought at the Apple Store about 2 years ago, and is the best computer bag I’ve ever had (and I’ve had quite a few). Unfortunately, I can’t use my rare and beloved blue Macromedia Timbuk2 bag because as cool as it is, it just isn’t big enough.

Anyone else in the same boat? Any suggestions or anecdotes about your mobile office?

6 Responses to My New Mobile Office

  1. ericd says:

    I had to get an Airport Express to use as a repeater in the house – but I also use it to connect my XBox to XBL, and I can throw a pair of speakers connected to iTunes anywhere around the house if desired. They are a great addition to a mobile office I would think (esp. for travel too).I REALLY like the idea of Flash Reference Material delivered in eletronic format… eBooks would be perfect for that. Searchable. Thousands of pages of documentation in a slim form factor. Any idea if MM will ever come out with a AS2 reference manual as an eBook?

  2. Christian, you should check out the range of Crumpler bags, I’m certainly overjoyed about my “Very Busy Man”: they’re one of the few that make a bag that you can stuff a 17inch PowerBook into – they appear to be like a Timbuk2 on steroids. Oh and I found that to have total wireless coverage throughout the house I simply had to turn the router’s antenna horizontal and bingo!

  3. Simeon says:

    I was very wary of converting to a powerbook after having 1600×1200 res on my old dell. Eventually I decided that a bit smaller laptop would treat me well, and I bought the 15″ model. Although i love my pb, having a single screen and lower resolution I went looking for another solution. What I found was “Desktop Manager” ( This app allows you to have multiple desktops which you can have different apps on. So I keep up 4 desktops. 1 for code editors, 1 for browsers 1 for email, and 1 for terminal and chat. you can have as many as you like, and there are great keyboard shortcuts for moving around between them and managing which apps running on which desktop.Beyond that, occasionally it is necessary to switch between windows in an application. Dreamweaver on the mac is a good example. OS X switcher only allows you to switch between applications not app windows. However there is a great little app called “which” that fixes that. I just assigned option tab to which and now I can get around very quickly.As for safari bookshelf I can say nothing but wonderful things. i pimp it to anyone I come in contact with. For just 19.99 a month you get a 10 book book shelf with 5 download credits a month. I usually have to remind myself to use the download credits because they expire after 3 months. I dont tend to need them much, but if you find there is a chapter of a book you refer to a bunch, then pop it off as a pdf and keep it, even after you take the book off your shelf.I very much enjoy my timbuk2 bag I got from you at max last year 🙂 but if you are looking for abigger one, you should try and hit somebody up from the mxdu conf. I saw tim buntel with his and i am pretty sure you could fit an old vw in that thing.good luck with your mobile office.

  4. I mostly live nomadically at the Macromedia campus these days as my desk is off in a remote office building – consequently I’ve adapted to a mobile ‘workspace’ myself, very similar to yours!The iGo power adaptor line is really great (adapts to just about any outlet/device combo) – I recommend the EverywherePower 7500 with the dual tip adaptor (charges both a laptop and a handheld device from the same charger), and leave all the stock adaptors at home! Insanely handy to have 1 single charger that can fill up any/all of your devices from just about any wall/air/car electrical outlet known to mankind.And this may be a really obvious suggestion, but I like to keep a few flexible ‘cable bags’ in bag to help keep all my ‘must have’ accessories in one place. RhinoSkin makes some great PDA cases that fit many applications well like this one, which I currently have spare USB/Firewire cables, flash memory/jump drives, stylii and a few PSP games stuffed within. Heck, you’ve probably already got a few spare gear bags lying around, too- repurpose!I’m fully behind Eric with his AirPort Express suggestion, too. If I’m leaving home for anywhere except the office, I’ve got an AP-E in my backpack- no questions. That’s one flexible piece of hardware you get addicted to quickly.Enjoy your newfound freedom- mobility rules!

  5. Hi Christian,Dude you need to hook yourself up with one of these for you home mobile off :o) only it synced with ipods.

  6. Ben Simon says:

    Even though we’ve always had a room designated as “the office,” I never actually sat in it to do any work. So, with that said, I can appreciate your situation, Christian, as I’m in the same boat as you. My office is where I make it.Here’s what I use:General computing: I have a couple of old laptops spread around the house, along with a desktop. To get work done, I simply open a new putty connection or an xterm + ssh to my linux box at work. By using emacs + screen, I have my entire work environment at my disposal wherever I choose to connect to it.Email/IM/blogging: Lately, I’ve been using my Sidekick to do everything from respond to emails, catch up on my bloglines and post new blog entries. This, of course, is a mobile solution that follows me wherever I go.Music: There are various clock radios spread throughout the house. (My wife informed me that I should take advantage of XM online, as we should get the most for our money.)Clock: Simply wait for my wife to tell me it’s time to stop working. (Seems to be about that time now.)Phone: See Email/IM/bloggingNetwork connection: Each room is wired for 10baseT wired ethernet. No newfangled wireless signals here to interfere with our clock radios.Carrying case: Phone is attached to my hip at all times. Other computers are simply left on the ground.Welcome to the world of the nomadic geek.