How To Create a Portable Office (Content)

Content is king!  Just ask anyone who is serious about the web and they will tell you, unless they're in the midst of getting you to sign away your content at the moment.  As a consultant or other person on the go, you should be ready to capture content at a moment's notice.  Now, I do a ton of community work, so I probably take this to extremes, but you should consider these options. Video Capture Video Camera A picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is king.  Be it user groups, scrums, product demos or anything else having a video camera close at hand can solve a ton of problems.  I carry a nice cheap video camera in my backpack which I picked up during a Black Friday sale.  My unit is a Panasonic PV-GS85, which has a great built in LED light which can help with close up camera work in dark rooms.  The model is not important, they key here is that having some sort of video capture really helps.  There are three levels of video cameras these days.  Flash, Tape, and Hard Disk.  Mine is a tape unit, that records to Mini-DV.  This means I can record a lot, about 1.5 hours per tape, but it means I've got to rip the tape back to digital files at 1:1 speed when I'm done, which means 1.5 hours of recording is 1.5 hours of ripping. Flash units store less, but also store as digital files so they transfer to a computer much faster.  These can also be very small sometimes, which is nice.  They can also be cheaper than tape. Hard disk units are more expensive, and about the same size as tape units but they also transfer to your computer faster because, again, they are storing files to that hard disk. On all of these, when you get a unit realize you're not trying to film a movie, O.K. quality will likely be fine.  Good enough, is by definition, good enough. Mono-pod Video cameras are great, but shaky video isn't.  I carry a mono pod in my backpack that I can whip out whenever I need to stabilize a video.  These gizmos are handy, but remember that mono means 1, that's 1 leg, which means no walking away.  For walking away you'll need... Large Tripod I bought a "large" tripod at my local camera shop.  It stays in the car, to big for the backpack, but it is still relatively nearby if I need to record a longer session.  Usually I know this on my way in and will carry it with me.  I've made a habit of recording our company meetings for Sogeti so that they can be shared on our SharePoint portal.  This has worked great for me. Small Tripod But sometimes you want to walk away, and haven't got time to get the large tripod.  For this, we use the wonderful QSX 1001 tripod.  This tripod packs up into a 2 inch diameter, 7 inch long tube.  It rides in the water bottle pocket of my backpack, and is always ready to be pulled out.  Now, even fully extended this only rises to a height of about 12 inches, but resting on a table this is perfect for interviews. Web Camera Sometimes the full camera isn't what you need, instead its time to participate in a Live Meeting session or other Webcast and you just need a web camera.  I carry a Microsoft LifeCam NX-6000 for this.  I'm a fan of this unit, but it's drivers are enough to drive me crazy.  The drivers install a service (MSCAMSVC.exe) which can start consuming tons of CPU cycles even when the camera is disconnected.  I now keep the service disabled until I plug in the camera.  What I really need is a better Web Cam at some point that lacks these problems.  This unit is workable, just realize you're going to have to seize control of that service of your box will seriously suffer. Audio Capture & Playback Sometimes you don't need video, and audio alone will be plenty.  Sometimes you just want to listen to some tunes while you're cruising along to your code.  Here are my tools for this. MP3 Player We all need tunes, and we want them on the go.  While I own Zunes and iPods, as Alton Brown says, I hate unitaskers.  The Creative Zen V Plus, I've used for years and remains the staple generic MP3 player in my work backpack because it not only plays WMAs, MP3s, and Audible audiobooks, it also has a built in recorder.  Now, this isn't super high quality audio, but if you've got a morning Scrum that you need to record, or if you need to write yourself a verbal note, then this is the unit for you. Audio Recorder If podcasting is your goal, then the Zen V Plus won't be up to the quality you want.  You need a good quality recorder which can capture audio in multiple different ways.  For my purposes, this is the Zoom H4.  This unit can record with its two built in microphones, it can accept two direct inputs from guitars or other instruments, or it can take two XLR microphones and provide them up to 48V of phantom power.  Best of all, it just plugs into your computer for retrieval of the information, and stores to common SD memory sticks.  It also comes with its wall socket adapter, or can run portably with 2 AA batteries.  I use this for my podcasting efforts, and have been very happy with it so far. Listening When you're done capturing, you're gonna want to listen to all that wonderful content.  I've raved in the past about the Logitech Freepulse headphones, and I'd still recommend them.  The customer power scheme still bothers me though. Image Capture There are more than cameras to image capture... Cameras No cameras are in my backpack, at the current time the camera in my phone has always been enough for what I've needed.  When I vacation I might add my wife's camera, but otherwise camera phones are the key here. Scanners The technology most locking down the modern mobile office is fax.  There are a bunch of service options for this, but those services don't also help with the problem of being handed a piece of paper that you want digitized into OneNote or other computer note taking software.  For this, I carry the Pentax DS Mobile 600 which is a wonderful, USB powered, color scanner.  This unit will rip through your pages of hand written notes and digitize them for your digital consumption.  Fair warning, at the current time there are only 32 bit drivers for this unit.

Give back with Kiva and GiveCamp

So you need only flip back about a year ago on this blog to find that I am clearly a fan of pushing people to contribute to their community, and their world, in a positive way.  I was a huge proponent of the We Are Microsoft event last January that has since morphed into the GiveCamp initiative nationwide.  I've been thrilled to watch that effort franchise itself around the United States, and am sure that it will reach further will.  GiveCamp's are based on the idea of using our skills, as developers, to impact a local charity in a positive way.  This is an incredibly high touch, high impact donation of skills that many charities simply lack.  But at its heart, it is about giving back.  So what can we do between GiveCamps?  How can we impact our community and our world in a tangible way without picking up and doing three years of field work around world? Well the truth of the matter is that in between we need to work closely with those people who are on the ground around the world and know where impact can be created. is an organization that lets us do exactly that.  They are a micro-financing group who helps bring small loans to people throughout the world.  While a $50 dollars might buy you a new video game for your XBox 360, it will also help fund two different loans to entrepreneurs around the world. What is Micro-Financing? Micro-Financing is about helping lend money directly to entrepreneurs around the world which can make a real impact to their local economy.  It is based on the principals of capitalism, and can be explained much better by sites such as WikiPedia or Kiva themselves. How does Kiva help? Simple, they work with partner organizations on the ground to make known to you the needs of these entrepreneurs.  They provide a way you can work with others to finance such a loan.  They handle collecting those funds and returning them to you. GiveCamp @ I've created what Kiva calls a Lending Team for GiveCamp on Kiva's website.  Through this team we can contribute to these entrepreneurs as well as track our impact over time.  This is a long term effort, but even $25 can really help change the lives of those involved.  Go to, create an account, join the team, and look for someone in need of a loan that you would be willing to back.  I've already got a handful of loans out there.  A word of advice though, join our Lending team first, before you fund a loan, because it will only be counted towards the team if it is made after you join. Absolutely no skin in this game... I want to be very clear, there is ZERO personal profit motivation for me in this.  Teams are merely a community building effort and there is nothing about making a loan as part of the GiveCamp team that in any way accrues to the personal benefit of myself, or anyone else.

How To Create a Portable Office (Overview)

One of the things that I have had to do as a consultant is get used to moving from location to location.  Even if I'm at a client for many months, I'll often be moved around their facility because I'm not permanently moving in.  This has meant that I've developed quite the interesting bit of tooling to help me keep a portable office.  So there are a few different areas of concern: Organization Network Connectivity Content Capture & Playback Computing Resources Fallback Plans Personal Comfort This is a run down of what I carry, and what I think of it.  My bag is not perfect, as you'll be able to see from my reviews, but it works for my needs.  What works for you will likely be different, but there will likely be overlaps and this list should prompt some ideas. I'll update this post with links to each of the posts as I get them up over the next week.