Frugal Mobility 101

While the price of doing business (and everything else from driving a car to buying groceries) continues to soar, there are several new developments that make it easier to do business from any location.

Many of these mobile tools are remarkably effective and some of them I consider essential. Even better (considering today’s economy) many of them are low-cost or free!

Take advantage of online apps

You all know about some of the more popular online web-apps like Google’s suite (Gmail, Google Docs and GCal), but you may not know some of the more recent additions.

Desktop: Interested in having a web-based desktop that you can customize and access from anywhere you can launch a web-browser? That dream is now a reality thanks to the good folks at eyeOS. A simple log in will create your personal desktop that is universally accessible. It’s an awesome idea, and it’s brand new.

Music: Pandora lets you carry your favorite music with you and listen from any browser. You can sample your favorite artists and get exposed to new ones based on your tastes. By ranking the songs in your personal “radio stations” the system learns what you like. I work with music and this helps me to feel “right at home” anywhere I’m working. It’s wonderful — and it’s free.

Accounting/Timer: Keeping the books and keeping up with your billable time has never been easier. I can work from any Internet capable machine by simply logging into my Cashboard account. The timer keeps my records, and I can shoot off invoices and get an instant overview of my accounts (who owes me money and who I owe time). Working somewhere else isn’t the hassle it once was. This one isn’t free, but it’s reasonable and it adds enormous flexibility.

Thumb drives are cheap and convenient

If aren’t an early adopter, you may not have an ongoing love affair with your own personal “lipstick” (aka “jump” or “thumb”) drive yet. Today, with the prices plummeting on these little gems and the available storage space moving up, it’s time to begin the romance.

Owning one will open up new mobile worlds. If you are buying your first one, get the largest one you can comfortably afford. An 8 gig is ideal.

If you are worried about security, consider TrueCrypt. It’s not a simple setup, but it’s bulletproof. Be sure to back up your thumb drive to your computer once a week.

Keep your personal stuff with you

Bookmarks: If you feel lost without your Firefox bookmarks, you can now take your bookmarks with you too!

You can use Foxmarks to sync your bookmarks from anywhere to anywhere else or you can use a portable version of my favorite browser to carry it all with you on your thumb drive, external hard drive or iPod. I’ve tried several bookmark sync extensions over the years, but none are as sweet as Foxmarks and you can access them from any webbrowser (even IE) by logging into My Foxmarks, once you set up your account.

Quicklaunch: The bookmark toolbar in Firefox is probably one of the most productive tools I’ve ever set up. I use it to keep my most often visited sites a single click away. Syncing with Foxmarks or using my portable Firefox means I have this information at fingertip access. I use this for my Google calendar, Remember the Milk (task list program that merges with GCal), Cashboard, twitter, Facebook, financial sites, Pandora, W3 validation site and my own websites.

Email: By setting up IMAP email, and running it through gmail, I’m able to take full advantage of the superior spam filtering and search options offered by Gmail and I an access my email from the web from anywhere. I can also check it from the portable version of Thunderbird I keep resident on my thumbdrive.

IMAP means that I’m looking at the most up-to-date version of my email from everywhere. The changes you make on one machine are visible anywhere you log into your email accounts. Ask your host if IMAP is available for you. It’s a bit tricky to get it set up, but once it’s running, it’s maintenance free.

Research: I adore Zotero! If you do online research and use multiple machines, get Zotero and store your database on your thumbdrive and take it with you wherever you go.

As such, I can point my Linux Firefox browser to the same collection area that I use in my Windows Firefox browser. If I’m at someone else’s machine who doesn’t have Firefox, I can boot my portable Firefox and use the same database from inside my thumb drive without leaving a trail of personal information on a machine that doesn’t belong to me. Unfortunately, for IE lovers, this genius Addon is available for FireFox only.

Passwords: Do you find that you often get out and need tiny snippets of personal information, usernames, and passwords? KeePass Portable to the rescue!

I use the same method for keeping a central (and always up-to-date) database in KeePass as I do in Zotero — I have the Linux version and the Windows version both point to the database on my thumbdrive. I also carry a portable copy of this secure, opensource program on my thumbdrive, in case I’m using someone else’s machine when I realize I need the info. It really is one password to rule them all!

As open source programs, web-based apps and compact media storage continue to improve, so does the ease with which technology workers can live and work. Now that’s nice!