Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Road Warrior, come out to play

I barely leave the house enough to qualify for the Road title, much less Warrior. Still, there are a few items I find essential when travelling with my laptop.

Microsoft Wireless Notebook Mouse External Hawking WiFi Adapter retractable cable set

A good wireless optical mini-mouse. Touchpads and nubs are fine when there's no other option, but for quicker, more precise work, you gotta have a mouse. I've played with a few notebook mice, and there are some hidden gotchas. I was very pleased when Microsoft introduced their new wireless mini-mouse. I can tell you first hand that it passes the annoyance tests that the others failed:

  • The cheaper mini-mice can't deal with even moderately shiny surfaces. Like hotel desks. It gets really frustrating when you have to prop a piece of paper under your laptop for the mouse to track over. Microsoft's mouse passes all but the most extreme glass and mirror surface tests.
  • I owned one wireless mini-mouse that had no "off" button. Which meant that I had to manually eject the battery or else have a dead battery in a month of non-use. Microsoft's mouse has a very clever off switch that's triggered by snapping the wireless receiver into the bottom of the mouse for transport. How cool is that?

You'll also want a USB wireless adapter with an external antenna. In my experience, the prevalance of free WiFi is wildly overrated. I'm sure it's great in places with New York City population density, but "in the wild", I struggle to get weak signals most of the time. That's why I now carry the Hawking Technology HWU36D Hi-Gain Wireless-B USB Adapter with me whenever I go on a trip. You just can't expect to get a decent WiFi signal from your laptop's puny internal antenna except in the most optimal of conditions. The Hawking, or something like it, is ideal:

  • It is external and can be positioned for optimal signal, eg, facing the correct direction, which may have no relationship to the way you want to sit and use your laptop. It can even be moved around or placed on a window ledge.
  • It has a relatively large, directional antenna for much better reception.
  • It is completely USB powered and folds for storage.
Of course, now I want even more. Screw portability, I'm tempted to carry a cantenna with me for those truly difficult to reach signal locations, like my Mom's house. Her neighbors have WiFi, but they're just far enough away to be marginal even with the help of the Hawking's external antenna. Curse you, large house plots!

Finally, I love retractable cables, such as these Zip-Linq models. I carry a complete set: RJ-45, RJ-11, Firewire, USB B, USB A. If you don't plan to use them all at once, ThinkGeek has a neat multi-adapter retractable cable set, so there's even less to carry-- just put the right adapter on each end.

I love the "warriors, come out to play" meme. I can't help it.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: http://twitter.com/codinghorror