I’ve been using a Macbook Air as my main computer for a couple of years now, and I’ve generally been happy with the setup. The only real shortcoming of the Air was attempting to program while on away from my home office (and the external monitor). There just isn’t enough screen real estate on a Macbook Air for source code editor, test applications, and documentation simultaneously. While using Spaces can ameliorate the problem, it’s not a solution that works well for me.
The real “aha!” moment came with the introduction of Air Display for the iPad. For the low cost of $10, my iPad becomes a second (or third) monitor for my Mac and PC. I had a chance to test out the viability of mobile programming while at DevHouseDC-1. I did a little iPhone programming using the combination of the Macbook Air and iPad. Most of the main action stayed on the Air, but Apple iOS docs and a iPhone test instance both ran wirelessly on the iPad as external monitor. The results were fantastic, since the iPad support portrait and landscape use (dynamically), it was the perfect screen for documentation pages. Weird side effect, Air Display supports touchscreen input on the iPad, so I was testing my app in the emulator using touch input. I didn’t even notice what I was doing at the time, until someone pointed it out. Pretty surreal moment realizing you’re running touchscreen emulation on a touchscreen.
The combination of my Macbook Air (2010), iPad, and Air Display gets me more resolution than a 15″ Macbook Pro (even with the high resolution screen), and reasonably close to the pixel count of a 17″ Macbook pro (2.08M pixels vs. 2.30M pixels). The additional benefits of choosing the orientation of the screen and touch input probably even make up for most of the difference there. The whole package even comes in lighter than a 15″ Macbook pro, and I have the flexibility to leave either part at home if I don’t plan on doing any coding. Overall, I can highly recommend this setup to anyone who wants to do Mac/iOS development on the road, and it’s worth considering for any mobile coder.
I finally got around to posting the photos from our trip to France on my Flickr photo stream. I didn’t bother editing the photos at all, otherwise I’d be posting them to the photo blog. Let me know which photos you like, and I’ll edit them for the photoblog.
You can see them here.
There are more pictures from the Tour de France including some panoramas I took on the new website:
Kim and I have been in France for a day now. While we haven’t done much more than walk through the city in the evening; so far Paris is as lovely as I remember. I snapped a quick photo from the “Pont de Tuilleries” last night, that hopefully will show up along side this post (made on my iPhone). For those interested in following our progress more
closely, I commend you to my Twitter feed that I’m going to try to update whenever I have Internet.
While I might spend a few days at a beach resort with just my lightweight travel kit, for work related trips a “full” laptop is necessary. So here’s my normal travel setup, which centers around a new Macbook Air, and support accessories.
Clockwise from upper left:
- Macbook Air – I’ve spent most of the last decade living with a top of the line 15″ Powerbook/Macbook Pro. Even though 6 lbs. doesn’t sound like much, it was the day to day of hauling it around town that got to me. The Macbook Air suits most of my mobile needs while still hooking up my desktop monitor for full programming sessions. I’ve chosen the solid-state drive version to minimize the likelihood of a drive failure while traveling. Some users bemoan the limitations of the Macbook Air, but I see most of them as necessary evils to get the best possible travel laptop. Working tethered to a desk in a hotel room isn’t comfortable or convenient so I always bring a wireless access point, instead of depending on in-room ethernet. I rarely use the CD/DVD drive while traveling, and if I do want it, can add the external DVD burner and still come in lighter than my old Macbook Pro. Much has been made of the lack of swappable batteries in the Air, but if I wanted to carry an extra two pounds of power, I wouldn’t have minded a larger/heavier laptop. Overall the MBA seems rugged and comfortable enough for prolonged use. Look for a long-term review after I make a few long trips with it.
- Steve Sleeve – (under the Macbook Air) Ok, this is more just a cute case than a practical travel case. I’ve already ordered a Tom Bihn Brain Cell for real travel.
- TrekStor Microdisk 120GB – the smallest drive I could find that would allow me to clone a bootable version of the internal drive in my Macbook Air. I make a complete backup clone of the laptop hard drive the night before a trip, and take it with me. In the event of some kind of failure on my Mac, I can get by with any other Mac that can boot from USB (which is most of them).
- Zip-Linq USB cable – There are a lot of cheap USB cables available. This one is reliable even with high-powered USB devices, and doesn’t take up much room in my accessory bag. This cable is used to connect the external hard drive and my digital camera (see below) to the laptop.
- Logitech Premium 4-Port USB Hub – This small USB hub fits in well with my travel kit, and seems like a good thing to carry considering the single USB port on the Macbook Air. My external hard drive works with this hub, but the special Apple DVD drive still needs to be connected directly to the MBA. But the hub is still small and useful enough to carry for my other USB devices.
- D-Link DWL-G730AP – I usually bring a wireless access point on work trips, since hotels sometimes only provide ethernet connections (or charge per user). The smallest, most versatile access point I have ever found, this D-Link access point, has the benefit of: being tiny, running on USB (see the USB power adapter from my ultralight kit), and doubling as a wireless adapter and ethernet-wireless bridge. That kind of versatility makes the G730AP a worthy addition to any geek’s kit.
- Zip-Linq Cat6 Ethernet cable – Again, there are smaller, less expensive alternatives, but this Cat6e seems to be the most reliable in adverse (e.g. travel) conditions. This cable was more useful when I travelled with a laptop that had ethernet built-in. These days it connects my portable wireless access point to in-room ethernet. Since I don’t use it as much anymore, I’ll probably switch to the smaller & lighter cat5 version soon.
- Mini DisplayPort to VGA – Pretty much a necessary accessory if you plan to give a presentation with any of the current Macs. I’ve used some version of this adapter for years so I’m used to carrying it. Frankly the mini DisplayPort gives me as much flexibility as I ever had on the Macbook Pro.
- USB Key – as large an amount of memory as I can get at a good price. When 128GB flash drives become available, I’ll probably replace the TrekStor with one. I’d like to set-up one these with Windows XP to dual-boot the Macbook Air, but this seems to be a pretty large project. I’ll have to see if I can manage it.
- Ricoh GX200 – On longer (or more interesting) trips, a better camera than my iPhone is warranted. While I’d like to take a full digital SLR setup, a single point and shoot is much more convenient. The Ricoh GX200 is a photo geek’s friend, with manual focus and exposure modes. The 24-72mm focal lengths might seem limiting, but it’s a wide enough range for my needs; available tele/wide converters can extend it’s flexibility for more demanding users. Unfortunately, it requires it’s own charger which adds to the bulk of the setup.
Adding this set of devices to the ultralight travel kit provides me with a relatively small computing configuration with minimal comprise. I usually pick and choose the right setup for each trip, and the results have kept me happy so far.
What tools do you find indispensable when traveling?
I love to travel, but I don’t like carrying a bunch of luggage. Unfortunately, the geek in me needs a few tools to make it through the day. In this first travel kit entry I’d like to present my choices for trips where computing isn’t meant to play a large role. When travelling to destinations where “getting away from almost it all” is the goal here’s my ultralight travel gear for geeks.
Surprisingly, the iPhone has been a pleasantly capable travel companion. Besides allowing for phone calls the iPhone also serves as a digital camera, media player, and computing platform. While I wouldn’t try to do any programming on it, the iPhone is sufficient for some blogging, web surfing, e-mail services, and limited general purpose computing. The iTunes App Store provides a wealth of programs to extend the capability of the iPhone. Some of the more useful apps for on the go geeks:
- Maps: Google Maps functionality w/GPS integration
- Free Translator – iPhone interface to Google Translation Services
- Ultralingua Dictionaries – Expensive but comprehensive foreign language dictionaries
- WeatherBug – international weather information
- WordPress – makes is easier to blog while traveling
- Netshare: computer tethering (no longer available)
- iSSH – ssh and telnet client
- Jaadu VNC – remote computer control
- iWant – find various types of nearby services/vendors
- fring – use the iPhone for Skype over wireless connections
- Google Earth – neat and sometimes useful while traveling
and for good measure some games for entertainment:
The other items in my travel kit just support the iPhone 3G. The Air Jacket is a minimalist hard plastic cover and clear screen protector. The usb cable and power adapter allows me to recharge the iPhone anywhere in the States. International travel might require a different or additional adapter.
I used this kit while I was in Jamaica over the summer, and it was great being able to travel without a laptop. The minimal addition to my baggage was not an imposition, and Kim still managed to send her resume in for a promotion from the beach-side bar.
What tools are essential to you when you travel?
First order of business, “Miss I” is really named Kim. Since just about everyone now knows that we’re together, there’s little point in keeping the pretense up any longer.
Fresh out of surgery and with staples still holding me together, we made the trip to Long Island, NY to have Thanksgiving with her family. All 35 of them. Sadly, her uncle is battling cancer and festivities were muted, but everyone managed to be nice in spite of their obvious suffering. No one was particularly focused on the food, and with my limited ability to eat I didn’t mind in the least.
Friday after Thanksgiving included a scare for us as I took a turn for the worse (lethargic and exhibiting a pretty serious set of symptoms). A quick phone call to my surgeon confirmed that I might need to be re-admitted to the hospital. I resisted going to the emergency room 250 miles from home, but Kim was a trooper and got us back to Maryland by late afternoon. The decision all around was to wait and see if the symptoms continued, and if so to head straight to the ER in Baltimore.
Luckily my condition improved and I managed to stay out of the hospital (far too much time there as it is).
I’m just back from the 2007 Richard Tapia: Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference. I had a good time, and the weather in Orlando cooperated nicely. I met a lot of great people, found out about a bunch of post-graduate positions, and enjoyed several excellent presentations.
Part of the conference included a backstage tour of Disney IT operations. Their presentations weren’t particularly technical, but it was nice seeing behind the veil. I was somewhat put off by the uniformly pro-mouse nature of the people, but I suppose they wouldn’t work there if they didn’t like it.
I also managed to see La Nouba — Cirque du Soleil is always fun.