Don't rough it alone! Tips for computing in remote and demanding locations

Are you planning a trip to the outback? Don't leave home without these tips for computing in demanding locations, as learned from the TechRepublic editors climbing Nepal's Island Peak.

TechRepublic editors Mike Jackman and David Bard are currently trekking through Nepal on their way to the Imja Tse peak at 20,285 feet. On their high-altitude journey, they will be testing several pieces of high-tech equipment, including a satellite phone, a laptop, and a PalmPilot.If your job takes you to remote destinations throughout the world, here’s an overview of what you can likely expect from these cutting-edge technologies.
Are you planning to travel to a remote branch office anytime soon? Perhaps you’ll be visiting a global facility in a developing country. If you’re planning on taking your laptop or Palm device, here are some tips for using software in remote and demanding environments.

Only the basics are necessary
The first thing to consider when running software on your laptop or Palm is power consumption. Large programs require massive amounts of power from the battery in order to operate. So then, what would be the solution to this dilemma? Go for the basics.

For example, say you are using e-mail on your expedition. Instead of using a powerhouse e-mail program like Microsoft Outlook to check your mail, go with something much simpler, such as Outlook Express or a text-based reader. Outlook Express is a much smaller program and does not require much from the CPU to load and operate.

Windows may not be the best solution
Another thing to consider regarding power consumption is the operating system you use on the trip. No one ever said that you had to take a full-blown copy of Windows 98 along. You can do a bare necessity installation, where you only have essential software on your machine.

Sometimes, however, it’s better to use another option. A good suggestion would be to take an OS that can send e-mail, FTP, and do other various tasks without using a GUI, such as Linux. You can replace your Windows GUI software with simpler Linux ASCII programs, such as Pico for word editing, pine for e-mail, and Lynx for Web browsing.

Take some floppies with you
One thing you can always count on when you are using a laptop in remote environments is power failure or program crashes that will cause you to lose valuable data.

I recently spoke with Ted Sulker at MIT, who has climbed Mt. Everest and knows what to expect from hardware and software in such remote environments.  He suggests taking along several floppy disks so you can back up your data often. This way, if something does indeed happen to the laptop, the data that you have collected will not be lost forever.

Use software that you are familiar with
Mr. Sulker also gave another very useful tip. He suggests using software with which you have expertise. Since you will be using most of your energy trying to just navigate the area that you are in, it doesn’t make sense to waste energy trying to figure out a program that you have only used a couple of times before the trip.

Another plus to knowing the software is that you can operate quickly. You can create, save, and send data speedily and efficiently so that you don’t waste valuable battery life.

Take a break
Consider the environment that you are in. Give yourself a break and don’t spend too much time staring down at your computer monitor trying to get work done. Since your body may not be used to its new environment, it needs as much rest as possible. Try to schedule breaks every 10 minutes so that your body can get much-needed rest.

Ed Engelking is a Web editor for TechRepublic.

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