John Kirriemuir, digital nomad (!), has written a great post for us on his remote working kit: from hardware to software, apps and web sites.
My name is John Kirriemuir. My website and blog are currently gathering dust at www.silversprite.com. I’ve been self-employed for nearly a decade now; time flies when you are having fun.
About a third of what I do is examining the use of virtual worlds in education in the UK, under the banner of Virtual World Watch which, in a nice way, is a tie-in to Marieke. UKOLN is where I used to work as web editor of Ariadne and it’s where I met Andy Powell, who now is a “big cheese” in Eduserv Research. A few years ago, we got chatting about virtual world uses in education and decided to try and work out who does what. And that’s basically what Eduserv fund me to do i.e. a series of “snapshot” reports on who is doing what with virtual worlds (not just Second Life) in UK education.
Anyway, the moral of that little digression is to never neglect your contact network. One day, week, month, year or (in my case) decade, it’ll put food on the table.
Self-employed is different for working for an organisation in many ways, but the things that stick out in my mind are:
- I choose who I work with and for. No-one else chooses. I don’t like the client; they aren’t the client.
- I do, however, have a sort-of ‘line manager’. It’s my bank balance and can be quietly persuasive.
- You are always working. When you aren’t doing paid work, you are looking for paid work.
- The big downside, compared to working in a university: no expense claims. No swanning off to every conference in a tropical location that is even slightly related to the digital library project you are working on, unless you negotiated a spectacularly good contract with a client.
My definition of ‘remote working’ is therefore a little different from someone who works for an organisation, but operates out of their home. To me, ‘remote working’ has meant:
- Working in the three areas of the world I spend most of my time inhabiting and travelling around, namely Britain, the USA and Scandinavia.
- Working while travelling by plane, train, boat, car or coach – in that order of preference. I don’t drive a car for the same reasons as David Mitchell, so I’m always the passenger. When you’re on an 11 hour flight to Los Angeles, this gives you a lot of time to do work and hope that your laptop battery will last.
- Doing work ‘stuff’ where the client (or your line manager) isn’t looking over your shoulder.
- Not having to share an office with people I don’t like, or choose to share an office with. This is a huge plus; life is simply too short to spend it being forced to listen to the utterances of people I don’t like.
How does all this relate to ICT? Well, I need stuff that:
- Allows me to continue my work whether travelling, or waiting to travel, or based in somewhere expected – or unexpected.
- Is portable.
- Isn’t going to land me with large bills wherever I am in the world.
- Can get through airport security okay.
- Is easy to back-up. I haven’t suffered a disaster through not having data backed up, and I’m not going to have one now.
- Allows me to communicate with clients and my work sector with ease.
- Allows me to monitor and change my financial ins and outs with no restrictions.
So what’s my kit then? I’ve got an iPhone, MacBook Pro, EEE laptop, Camera, credit card, passport, toothbrush, thong and a pair of speedos – that’s my basic kit for being able to go anywhere and work.
- The iPhone.
- I’ve had one for several months and find it indispensable now. When abroad roaming is usually turned off to avoid massive bills but it’s still good for places where there’s free wifi – in the case of the USA, many restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and even launderettes.
- MacBook Pro 2.66 GHz.
- Runs Second Life like a dream, and has software such as Scrivener and Numbers (more on these later) which tipped the balance for me between getting a Mac or a PC when my last laptop croaked out on me. Very reliable, which counts for a lot when you are self-employed. Time really is money – my money, and when I’m not working, through technical or other problems, I’m not earning. The only downside is that it’s bulky, though the screen clarity is worth it.
- Asus EEE.
- ‘Samantha’ was my travelling companion on a month around America last autumn and proved herself to be robust and reliable. It’s true, you wouldn’t want to write an article on it, or try running Second Life in any serious way. But for doing Flickr uploads, light webbing and emailing, it’s fine. The weight and size of it also makes it good to sling into the shoulderbag for day trips out.
- Sony Cyber-shot camera.
- Partially replaced by the camera on the iPhone, I still use this for taking pictures for mainly adorning Flickr.
- Various back up devices.
- A Lacie external drive (despite mixed reviews), three USB memory sticks, and online storage eliminates most possibilities of SPF (Single Point of Failure). Unlike other people – and I am surprised how often people do this – I don’t carry all my devices and their associated backup storage media in the same bag.
Software, apps and websites
I do a lot of travelling – I’m writing this while on my 52nd trip abroad, and my 7th to the USA. And in another window, I’m planning trips 53 to 56. Hence, a lot of the software and websites I use are to do with travel or finance.
First, there’s the standard ones. On the Mac, there’s Numbers (spreadsheet) and Pages (word processing). Numbers, especially, I use a lot. Being self-employed, owning two houses and generally having a complicated life means lots of monies going in and out of various places, and I’ve found that Numbers trumps Excel in the ease of helping me keep an eye on things.
iPhone apps. I rarely use the iPhone for making phone calls, and I’m not alone in this. It’s all in the apps for me, and here’s ten of those I use for work and related logistics much of the time:
- Twitterfon (for, of course, Twitter).
- Currency, so I can find out if the UK pound is worth more than a dead herring locally.
- Urbanspoon to find somewhere to eat.
- iRail for accurate European train times.
Flight Status for lots of information about future and current flights.
Airline Seat Guide for finding the better seats on a plane. Use in conjunction with SeatGuru to minimise your chances of being in a cramped seat with no amenities and being served food last.
QuickVoice so I can record something instantly.
PayPal for doing transactions.
Fring. An alternative way of trying Internet Messaging and the like.
Ocarina. This has no work purpose at all, but it’s a great app (especially for a Zelda fan) and there’s little better than falling asleep listening to people around the world playing Ocarina music on it in real time.
Skype, for making cheaper calls. Which leads us onto applications I use through the MacBook .
Skype Essential for making phone calls. Alas, not everyone can cope with emails and the like, and it’s necessary to be available for calls, and to make calls. Skype has saved me a considerable amount of money over the past year, and as this trip around the restaurants and baseball parks of America enters its third month, continues to do so. Set up is easy; quality varies – but then again, so does making a landline call from the USA.
Twitter I use more than email now, as most of my work colleagues and contacts are on it, I have a twitter window open all of the time, and it’s quicker than email. Plus, using Twitter DMs means that replies to questions are (usually) short and snappy, encouraging Yes / No responses rather than (time consuming) essays. At the core of Twitter is the ability to build your own perfect community, with content streaming in from ONLY those people you find interesting and/or useful. Oh, if only real life was like this. So, Twitter is also a highly concentrated source of information that’s relevant to work. There are so many things e.g. reports, events, news, that I would have missed, or been late to, without Twitter.
Flickr which many people assume is solely about pictures. Well, it’s not. As well as the email capabilities, it’s a useful piece of social networking software for finding people and content e.g. pictures for presentations, as well as identifying places to visit and planning trips. For example: unsure about a hotel? Combine using Flickr and Trip Advisor to check out how other people have seen and experienced it.
Scrivener is basically software for writing books. It’s a dream to work with, being as intuitive as you can get and letting you focus on the dumping of content and ideas, and the organisation of it into something readable. I’m trying to write three books at the same time on different topics, a process which was, literally, inching along under Word. Using Scrivener, it’s quicker and less stressful.
I spend a lot of time looking at finance and travel-related websites. Trip Advisor I use, with some caution, to identify places to stay at – though as I’ve got loyalty accounts and points with several hotel chains it’s usually a back-up option. Expedia and Opodo I use to identify flight options, and websites such as Eurocheapo and the list in Wikipedia are useful for identifying more airlines, but I usually book flights and accommodation directly with the hotel or airline. The less companies and people involved, the less chances of things going wrong and (increasingly) the better chances of the best room or seat.
Other social software? Facebook I occasionally use, but more as a directory of people I know. The same goes for linkedin which I haven’t found generates much in the way of new connections to new and useful contacts; Twitter has been the predominant tool for me in that area.
There’s many more websites I use as a “remote”, travelling and self-employed worker; I’ll go through some of these in my next posting for Marieke.