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Computers in the Airstream

It’s not all fun and games. Today the morning has started cold (40s) and the sky is cloudy, which puts a damper on my plans to go for an extended bike ride. Plus, there’s work to be done. We are burning a 30-lb propane bottle every five or six days due to the overnight lows in the 30s, so I’ve got an empty bottle to fill, and I might as well do that errand on a day when the weather is not great.

But what I want to talk about is the computers. We travel with a pair of Mac laptops, which are the nerve center of our work and communication. Most of the time they require no maintenance, but the reality of computing life today is that a 30 or 40-megabyte system update or “security update” arrives every few weeks. Try downloading that over a cell phone. Even my Internet in Motion system would take hours to download something like that.

Also, occasionally friends or magazine contributors email me files which are just enormous. To protect myself against hour-long downloads, I have set my email program to tell me when an email is greater than 500 kb (half a megabyte). It gives me the option whether to download it, delete it, or save it for later. Most email software will do this for you.

At this point I’ve got two huge emails sitting in the box, awaiting downloading, and a few system updates, so …

Off to the local cybercafe! Most of the time we use Panera Bread for their free wifi, but today there is a place called The Daily Grind just three miles down the road. I brought both laptops, bought a Spiced Chai Latte ($2.60), and settled in with the newspaper while the laptops downloaded their updates and mega-emails.

This is one of the reasons I recommend that anyone who wants to travel with a computer, buy a laptop. I see many Airstreamers with full desktop systems set up in front, and I know why: they are cheaper, have bigger screens and keyboards, and are more expandable. But I couldn’t live without a laptop. You can’t haul that big tower into the cybercafe to download a system update! And I like to work outside under the awning when the weather is nice.

And finally, I should acknowledge that some people should never have a computer in their RV. If you work on a computer all day, and want to get away for just a few days to relax, my advice is to leave the computer at home. Sometimes you just have to unplug, and leaving the temptation behind might be the best strategy.

Since we full-time and I have no choice about bringing my computer, I make a point of putting it away in a closet when I’m taking time off. Out of sight, out of mind. Another small advantage of the laptop, if you care to look at it that way.

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