Keep on moving

Apologies for the lack of updates: I’ve spent the last week or so in what you might call “moving hell” – that’s right, moving house for the second time in six months. I’ve now move into a new flat, with a new flatmate, and obviously that’s been taking up a lot of time.

Because it’s a completely new flat, converted from a house, getting connected has been more of an issue than you’d expect. There’s no phone line, which means that a BT engineer – that rarest of things – has to actually physically come to the address and install wires. Because there’s no BT phone line, I can’t get an ADSL line installed. And because we have no TV, I can’t get NTL to install cable (they need a TV to test that the cable box works).

All of which means that I’ve been finding out what it’s like to work in a completely mobile fashion, using public WiFi hotspots as well as connectivity through Starbucks’ T-Mobile deal. You might expect that, after always-on connectivity, being able to connect only for a few hours a day is a pain – but actually, it’s not only made work more productive, but it’s incredibly easy.

My daily routine at the moment is something like this:

9.30am – Starbucks. Pick up email, browse for any good stories or interesting items. Using NewsGator makes this easier, particularly for sites which have full-text feeds (Starbucks charges in 15 minute chunks, so the shorter the time I spend actually online, the better). Gasp at the overpriced coffee – how do they get away with it?

11am – Back home. Digest information, decide what I’m going to write, and do some writing.

2pm – Head to The Crescent, a pub up in the Seven Dials part of Brighton which has free WiFi. The Crescent isn’t actually the closest pub with free WiFi, but it’s the one I like best – nice food, and it’s lunchtime so I eat and surf at the same time. Using the Ziff Davis VPN, I post up anything that needs to go on Extreme iPod and send any replies to mail that needs sending.

4pm – Back home. Noodle around on work, and stuff to be sent tomorrow.

There are good points and bad points about this. The good points are that no permanent Internet means no distractions. I write about twice as fast when I don’t have the constant “ping ping ping” of email arriving. It makes me realise just how undiscplined I am about email – I read and answer quickly, when probably 95% of what I get really ought to be deferred until much later. When an average day sees 400 emails arrive, you spend a lot of potentially productive time reading email that doesn’t add anything to your working day.

One great thing: Starbucks/T-Mobile’s service allows you to buy time on your mobile phone bill if you have a T-Mobile phone. This is so much more convenient than putting in a credit card number, and probably more secure too (the T-Mobile hotspots are not encrypted, so you’d be putting your credit card number into an unlocked, public wireless network – not a great idea).

Secondly, battery life is key to doing this kind of thing – and it’s the one area that my most-used laptop, an Acer TravelMate C111, isn’t good at. The Acer sacrifices battery life for size, which means that you can end up running out of battery after less than two hours. Having to go home to charge is not good – and not every place with a wireless hotspot is happy for you to plug in your laptop. Were it not for the fact that the battery in my iBook is semi-dead, I’d much rather use that machine.

A good mobile phone is essential for this kind of work – and the one that I’m using, a Nokia 7610, is great. Battery life is great, the screen is great, everything about this phone is great. I can’t recommend it enough. Don’t forget, though, that not everyone can call you on a mobile – it’s common in the US for office phones to be locked against calling mobiles, particularly internationally, so don’t expect that everyone can get through easily.

The down side is that more and more people and companies expect you to be instantly available via IM and email, and are likely to want quick responses to questions. Annoyingly, if they don’t get an instant response, they tend not to follow up with a phone call. If there’s one thing that this has taught me, it’s that there’s a lot of value in just phoning someone straight away.

So could you do without a permanent Internet connection permanently? It depends on your work. For my work, I suspect it’s not sustainable in the long term, but works reasonably well as a stop gap. For others it might work better. I’m still looking forward to getting a permanent net connection back – if only because the iTunes Music Store is calling me…