Tips - Laptop Security  

Posted by Laptop Tips

Airport Security Checks
Airport security has been tightened dramatically as a result of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. This has obvious ramifications for travelers. Get to the airport two or three hours earlier than normal. You can expect security clearance to take an unprecedented amount of time.Take nothing with you on your person or in carryon bags that has sharp edges or could be construed to be a weapon. This includes pocketknives, corkscrews, dinner and carving knives, forks, screwdrivers, pointed pliers, letter openers, scissors and similar items. After highjackers used box cutters as weapons, the FAA has issued guidelines that will be interpreted strictly by airport security workers. All suspect items will be confiscated so if they are necessary to your trip either pack them in luggage that is being checked or send them to your destination in advance.

Plan ahead. Pack your laptop with security and boarding gate checks in mind. Use an easily accessible inner or outer compartment of one of your carry-ons so that your laptop can be easily removed and restowed at the security checkpoint. Also make sure to use a carry-on that won't be deemed too big at the boarding gate - or be prepared to quickly remove your laptop and stow it in a smaller case if it is.

In preparation for airport security checks, use the "suspend" mode (Windows) as an alternative to making sure your battery has enough power to boot up. Activate the suspend mode the last time you use your laptop before going to the airport. It will restart quickly and consume almost no battery power, leaving the maximum battery charge if you want to work during the flight. (for Mac users, it is the "sleep" mode)When you go through airport security, you may be asked to turn your laptop on. Make sure your battery has enough power left to avoid delays. The process may also be sped up by booting from a floppy diskette.X-ray machines at airports are not a threat to your laptop's hard-drive or floppy disks. However, the security checkpoint conveyer belt is a target for thieves who watch for unattended equipment passing through the x-ray machines. As a result you may want to have a security guard hand check your machine rather than putting it through the conveyer.

Hotel Room Security
If you're feeling insecure about leaving your notebook computer in the hotel room. leave it stowed in your room but take the removable disk drive with your when you leave.

Disguise Your Laptop
To help safeguard against theft, disguise your computer while traveling. Trade in the traditional computer case for a less conspicuous bag such as a Crumpler Case.

5 Tips for Using a Laptop Computer  

Posted by Laptop Tips

  • Un-ergonomic Laptops - the design of laptops violates a basic ergonomic requirement for a computer, namely that the keyboard and screen are separated. In the early days of personal computing desktop devices integrated the screen and keyboard into a single unit, and this resulted in widespread complaints of musculoskeletal discomfort. By the late 1970's a number of ergonomics design guidelines were written and all called for the separation of screen and keyboard. The reason is simple - with a fixed design, if the keyboard is in an optimal position for the user, the screen isn't and if the screen is optimal the keyboard isn't. Consequently, laptops are excluded from current ergonomic design requirements because none of the designs satisfy this basic need. This means that you need to pay special attention to how you use your laptop because it can cause you problems.

  • Laptop User Type - how to you use your laptop? Are you an occasional user who works on your laptop for short periods of time or are you a full-time user with the laptop as your main computer? Occasional users will have less risk of problems than full-time users. All users should pay some attention to how they use their laptop, but full-time users may have more problems.

  • Laptop Posture - as indicated above, laptops violate basic ergonomic design requirements, so using a laptop is a tradeoff between poor neck/head posture and poor hand/wrist posture.
    • Occasional Users - because the neck/head position is determined by the actions of large muscles, you are better off sacrificing neck posture rather than wrist posture. For occasional use:
      • find a chair that is comfortable and that you can sit back in
      • positioning your laptop in your lap for the most neutral wrist posture that you can achieve
      • angling the laptop screen so that you can see this with the least amount of neck deviation
    • Full-time Users - if you use your laptop at work as your main computer you should:
      • position this on your desk/worksurface in front of you so that you can see the screen without bending your neck. This may require that you elevate the laptop off the desk surface using a stable support surface, such as a computer monitor pedestal.
      • use a separate keyboard and mouse. You should be able to connect a keyboard and mouse directly to the back of the laptop or to a docking station
      • use the keyboard on a negative-tilt keyboard tray to ensure a wrist neutral posture
      • use the mouse on an adjustable position mouse platform
      • follow the postural guidelines for working at a computer workstation
  • Laptop dimensions - many laptops offer large screens (15" plus) and can work as desktop replacements (giving the viewing area of a 17" monitor). However, think about where you will most use your laptop to help you choose the best size. The larger the screen the more difficult it will be to use this in mobile locations (e.g. airplane, car, train). There are a number of smaller notebook and ultraportable laptops on the market. Consider issues of screen size and screen resolution. A small screen (e.g.12.1") will be useful in mobile settings, but if the resolution is high (e.g. XGA - 1024 x 768) make sure that you can read the screen characters and can easily use the input device to point to areas on the screen. The smaller the laptop, the smaller the keyboard, so make sure that you can comfortably type on a keyboard that may be only 75% the size of a regular keyboard.

  • Laptop weight - if you are a mobile professional who will be frequently transporting your laptop think about the weight of the system. By the word 'system' I mean the weight of the laptop plus the required accessories (e.g. power supply, spare battery, external disk drive, zip drive, CD_RW etc.). Many lightweight portables can become as heavy as regular laptops when you add the weight of all of the components together. If your laptop + components weighs 10lbs or more then you should certainly consider using a carry-on bag that you can pull along. If you want a smaller bag and can comfortably carry your laptop consider a good shoulder bag design
  • Geek to Live: Laptop tips  

    Posted by Laptop Tips

    You just got a shiny new laptop to use on your commute to the office, on business trips, vacations and at the coffee shop down the street. Congratulations! You'll be a productivity powerhouse! But hold your horses for a minute there, bucko.

    Any road warrior will tell you life with a lappie isn't always easy. As a freelancer with a keyboard permanently propped up on my thighs (like right now on an airplane bound for Seattle), I've got a few hints and tips for extending the life of your laptop and easing the pain of the never-ending outlet and hotspot hunt.

    Extend your battery life.
    Laptop productivity on the cold, cruel and often electrical outletless road often depends entirely on how much juice you've got left. The screen draws the most power from your battery. When you don't have access to an outlet, dim your screen to the lowest setting to make your battery last as long as possible.

    Also, disable unnecessary CPU-cycle-eating processes - like auto Bluetooth device and wifi network detection - to save juice and make your battery last longer.

    Save your keyboard and screen.
    At the beach house there is sand, at the coffee shop there are crumbs, and right now your fingers are covered in Dorito dust. Protect your keyboard from stray crumbage getting into the cracks with a protective cover. At a reader's recommendation, I invested in the iSkin which does double duty: it keeps crumbs out from between the keys and also protects the screen from keyboard scratches.

    Another way to prevent screen scrapes is a piece of rubberized shelf liner cut to fit inside your lappie like the bologna in a sandwich when you shut it. I've also seen people use a thin piece of cloth.

    If your laptop keys are already sticky and furry, give it a good cleaning with some compressed air, cotton swabs and elbow grease.

    Keep it cool.
    After an hour or so, a computer can burn one's thighs and wrists (like my super-heat conducting titanium Powerbook). If this is a problem for you, get material that doesn't conduct heat well between your skin and your lappie, like a lap desk or your laptop sleeve. Long-sleeved shirts with big cuffs help on wrists when the top of your keyboard gets hot to the touch.

    Work offline.
    Web-based email's great, but the dream of always-on Internet connectivity hasn't yet come true. Get yourself set up to work offline on your laptop on the plane and other wifi-less locations.

    For example, Mozilla Thunderbird is a must-have install on your laptop. In addition to downloading all your mail locally for working with offline, Thunderbird 1.5 has excellent SMTP management so you can switch which server you send your mail through when you get online very quickly. Using a NetZero dialup account that requires you use Need to use the secure SMTP server at the office for work mail? No problem. You can set up multiple SMTP servers and associate them with different email accounts with Thunderbird.

    For more on working offline or with a super-slow connection, check out previously-posted feature How to survive a slow internet connection.

    Secure your data.
    While you're out and about and on open wireless networks, make sure you've got a secure firewall installed on your laptop and that its settings are extremely restrictive. Turn off folder sharing and any local servers you have running (like a web, FTP or VNC) to keep others from peeking in on your data. Make sure your laptop's logins have strong passwords assigned.

    Also, consider encrypting the data on your disk in case of theft, using a utility like Mac OS X's FileVault. If you're really concerned about someone grabbing your laptop and running, check out "Lojack for Laptops" software which helps you trace and recover your stolen computer.

    Carry it well.
    Your laptop spends a lot of time swinging over your shoulder, banging around on your back, bumping into the guy next to you on the subway, and sliding around on your car's back seat. Wrapping it up in that spare Linux tee-shirt and shoving it into your messenger bag full of gadgets probably isn't a good idea. Make sure that sucker's snug as a bug in a rug. Invest in a padded sleeve or bag made to carry laptops that'll protect it when your bag falls over or gets kicked. I really dig the spendy but stylish Booq bags and sleeves; a little research will turn up the right one for your budget and style.

    Back up when you get home.
    Portable computers deal with a lot more wear and tear than desktops, and this increases the risk of hard drive failure. So most importantly, make sure you back up the data on your laptop.

    A few months ago, a panicked Lifehacker reader wrote in saying the laptop from which she runs her business was stolen and that she had no recent backup. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. Create a lappie docking station space at home where you can plug in to recharge the battery and hook up an external drive to backup your data. See more on how to automatically back up your Windows data here.

    Pack some helpful extras.
    If you've got a CD-R or DVD-R drive in your lappie, keep a few spare blanks or a USB drive for easy backup on the road. A 2 to 3 prong electrical plug adaptor might help in places where your 3 prong plug needs to go into a 2 prong outlet. And of course, an extra charged-up battery, an ethernet cable or phone cord or an extra mouse might be a helpful addition to your portable arsenal.

    Next up: how to find a wifi hotspot when you're out and about with your laptop.

    Got any portable computing strategies to share? Let us know in the comments or at tips at

    Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, sure wishes she'd packed an extra mouse. Her semi-weekly feature, Geek to Live, appears every Wednesday and Friday on Lifehacker.

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