For the last few years, I’ve had a dream of having a completely mobile office. I want to be able to spend my life bouncing from city to city, country to country, in the company of a special person, all while earning enough money for the next plane ticket, bed, and dinner. The way I plan to do this is programming. So far I’ve been able to travel while working a bit, and only time will tell how much more I can do it in the future. But, this post isn’t about traveling and working. It’s about the equipment used to do so.
Right now, I usually work-travel by bringing along my laptop and an external mouse. This works, but there are a few issues with it. First, I never have space in my bag to bring an external keyboard, like I have in my home office. This leaves me typing on my laptop’s keyboard, which is a pain. You have to hunch over it and lift your arms into an uncomfortable position. After 8-10 hours of that, I end up in a fair amount of pain.
Second, my monitor size is quite limited, and directly related to the overall size of my laptop. I certainly cannot pack my external monitor in my travel bag. Even though ubuntu has a nice workspace switching feature, only having my single 17 inch laptop monitor adds a bit of stress the daily grind. I’d like to fix that.
Third, a laptop is fragile, bulky, and something people are likely to want to steal. If I were to mishandle my bag a bit and break my screen, my work-trip would be ruined. I’d have to buy a whole new computer, which I probably wouldn’t have funds for after airplane tickets and lodging. Even if it never breaks, it adds an awful lot of weight to my backpack, and takes up a fair amount of valuable space. I can assure you that, as an overweight and lazy computer programmer, adding 8lbs of laptop to my bag is a tolerated, but certainly not welcome addition. Lastly, although I’ve never had the issue, people consider laptops to be valuable, and a malintentioned individual would recognize my laptop instantly, and steal it just as fast. Perhaps we could trick people so that there wasn’t even a recognizeable computer in my bag.
Fourth, my laptop doesn’t fit in my pocket. I want an office that fits in both my pockets.
Using some fancy new compact technologies, I think we could overcome all of these problems and build ourselves a perfect little office that fits nicely in my travel backpack (or pocket). Lets scrap the idea of bringing along a laptop and see what type of mobile office is possible these days.
The computer of choice for my backpack office is the CuBox. This little guy is a computer in a tiny (2 inch) box. Available for pre-order at $135, this computer seems like it makes the perfect base to my mobile dream office. Sure, its probably not powerful enough to run my IDE, doesn’t have much RAM, and probably couldn’t even store all of the code I would need. But, this guy should be powerful enough to run a remote desktop program. Instead of carrying around a fully capable computer, my new dream office will consist of this little guy as a shell to log into a powerful desktop sitting at home or maybe in some hosting company’s data center. Its incredibly small and light, and a potential theif would probably not be able to recognize it as a computer. If it did get stolen, it wouldn’t have all my data on it, and buying a new one at $135 would be much more budget friendly than purchasing a whole new laptop while on the road.
Monitors are the sticking point in this dream. Initially, I had hoped that the smart people had already invented my ideal mobile monitor. I want a monitor that can be rolled up like a piece of paper. Imagine a 26×26 inch flat piece of paper which could be rolled up like a poster, and unrolled and taped to a wall when in use. I think these will be available in the future, and it looks like they’re already very close. But, I can’t wait around for that to be invented, and once it is I probably can’t afford it. So I decided I need to compromise here. My paper-like monitor compromise is a mini projector that fits in the palm of my hand. The good news is that these are already available on amazon for about $100. The cool thing about this is that it meets the “fits in my pocket” requirement, and should also allow for a pretty large screen projected onto any nearby wall. I don’t know about the resolution or anything, but that seems like a minor detail which we could deal with. The downside is I’d need a pretty dark place for this to be functional, but if I’m able to work from a greek island or a tropical beach, who cares if half the day I’m inside a dark room?
Finding a keyboard that meets the “fits in my pocket” requirement seemed like it would be very difficult, but thanks to our friends over at ThinkGeek, I think I’ve done it. Check out this rollup keyboard which you can even go swimming with. Although you would require pretty big pockets to fit this in there, it’s certainly do-able. Traveling with this keyboard would be a non issue, and as it’s detached, I could put it anywhere I wanted for wonderful ergonomics. Also, pricing in at $20 its quite affordable.
It looks like I could have my entire dream office for about $265. Of course this doesn’t include the actual computer that the cubox would connect to, but I assume most people looking for a mobile office already have one of those at home. I also left out the mouse, because I already have a suitable one, and I assume most others do too. A mouse is already travel-sized. The only thing stopping me from buying this mobile dream office today, other than the fact that I’m currently saving all extra dollars for traveling, is that the CuBox is not readily available. It looks like it can only be pre-ordered at this point, but these cheap tiny computers (RasberryPi) are becoming increasingly available, so I have no doubts the CuBox or something similar enough will be up for purchase in the next year. Another main drawback is internet connection speeds. Right now, I think remote login from europe to the USA would have enough latency to make this dream office less than ideal.
What do you think? Would this work? Is there a better way? Perhaps using my android phone instead of a cubox, if that would work? Not sure how I could connect my mouse and keyboard to it. Would the latency be unbearable? The projector too hard to work from? Can this dream come true before the end of summer?