Today we offer the second of three free articles from our new premium articles, taking the place of Copyediting newsletter. In addition to writing our How To blog posts, Adrienne Montgomerie also writes our Technically Speaking articles, which look closely at all types of tech and tech issues that concern editors. Remember that after June 21, 2018, our premium articles will require a paid subscription.–Ed.
Whether you dream of living life on the road or just need a change of scenery, you can make your mobile office almost as good as the permanent one you created with tools from the last column. This time, we’ll look at some items that can help.
You’re not going to lug around a desktop computer and monitor, so a laptop is an obvious choice. You might also consider an iPad or other tablet instead. The app version of Word does not have all the same features as the full software (though that could always change!), but PC tablet users can install plug-ins like PerfectIt.
Here are some other things you’ll be glad to add to your carry-on.
The problem with portable computers is that their screens tend to be small. If the keyboard takes up part of the screen—as it does on a tablet—you have even less working space. To regain the efficiency of multiple monitors, carry a portable monitor or an HDMI cable so you can plug your laptop into any TV, such as the one in your hotel room. (Paid subscribers can read Adrienne’s article on using multiple monitors in the April–May 2018 issue of Copyediting newsletter. –Ed.)
While a tablet makes a good second screen on its own—for the style guide, reference material, or web browser—an app can turn it into an extension of your first screen, so you can spread your working documents out on a single computer desktop. Louise Harnby, a proofreader and editing trainer, recommends Duet. (There are apps for pairing various operating systems on your computer and tablet.)
Until we get monitors that roll up, you’ll need one that’s robust enough for travel. Search online for “travel monitor” and you’ll find several pages of recent reviews. In her book The Digital Nomad, editor Rachel Stuckey notes that these displays tend to tip over, so securing them is advised.
There are also palm-sized portable projectors if you want a bigger screen for less weight. Just pay attention to the resolution, brightness, and lamp life. Some boast 30,000 hours of lamp life but the specs on their resolution (and whether it would be good enough to work on text in daylight) are harder to find. The Cocar is one well-reviewed model.
With a clip, you can attach these second (or third) screens right to your laptop. The Mountie clip has gotten good reviews from editors, and it works with a phone or tablet either horizontal or vertical.
The arrangement of screen and keyboard on a mobile computer is less than ergonomic. A separate keyboard can really ease the strain on your body. A corded keyboard is just fine but a flexible one is easier to pack, and a projected keyboard is easiest of all. Of course, the projected keyboards can’t quite keep up with typing 90 words a minute, but most editing tasks don’t require a lot of typing; maybe you could slow down. And maybe you could use voice recognition instead when you do have a lot to write (or use text expanders more).
Speaking of ergonomics, you’ll want to get those screens up to a proper height, one that doesn’t strain your neck. While the Work-ez standing desk is collapsible and transportable, I only take it when traveling by car. It’s bigger than a serving tray. “The Roost Laptop Stand has taken the digital nomad world by storm,” Stuckey says. Its simple design is light but sturdy and collapses to the size of a small umbrella, so you can slip it into a laptop bag.
Whether it’s a mouse, stylus, or track pad, you’ll want to bring a pointer device to maintain the best ergonomics while working on the road. Because you probably don’t want to travel with a full-sized Wacom stylus–trackpad like I do (described in my previous newsletter article), look into an external track pad or optical stylus. The advantage of the optical stylus is that it’s as ergonomic as a typical stylus, but you can use it on any surface—even your thigh. The disadvantage is that they require charging or batteries. Of course, you could always just pack your favorite mouse.
Whether you’ll be working at the pier beside sea lions, on the train, in cafes, or in a hotel room with your family, there will be times when the environment is simply too loud and distracting to be productive. To the rescue: noise-cancelling headphones.
Unlike earplugs, true noise cancellation is a powered feature that generates a frequency opposite to that of the room noise to cancel out sound. Most models are large over-the-ear types. They can cost hundreds of dollars and need to be recharged. Most in-ear styles use insulation (plugs) rather than electronic countermeasures.
Even inexpensive insulated earphones can do an excellent job of blocking out room (and construction) noise when paired with a noise-generating app such as Noisily or My Noise. I have used the sound of a thunderstorm on an app to block out the sounds of an espresso machine and a snoring roommate—quite a feat. You can read more about such apps on the blog.
If you are traveling overseas, you’re going to need a plug adapter—possibly more than one, depending on how many places you visit. Get high-quality ones; you don’t want to put your electronics at risk of damage from bad power conversion or fluctuations. Before you buy, research whether the brick on your laptop cord has some current conversion built in; if you’re not sure, an electronics store can help.
Do you need a cell phone overseas? Nearly all of an editor’s work happens online, and you can even make calls through your computer. But you’ll need an internet connection of some kind, even if only to transfer files and send invoices. Most coffee shops and hotels have abysmally slow Wi-Fi; large files can time out before sending, and Skype calls lag frustratingly. You can get much better connectivity by tethering your computer to the data on your cell phone, but you’ll want a roaming package from your usual cell provider or a more reasonably priced local service. If your phone is unlocked, buying a local SIM card (and service) can be an easy and affordable way to get online in many countries. Barring that, look into a coworking space or library.
Whether you are living the nomadic life, working on vacation, or traveling for work, there’s no need to live without the technology that makes your work easier, faster, and more comfortable. And you don’t need a cargo ship to take it all with you. Pick the items that will make the biggest difference to you—things you can’t improvise—and then hit the road. We look forward to your status updates.