Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tools of the Trade

As I have become a peripatetic writer of late, I have learned the particular value of certain of my tools.

While I do love my nice big desk top computer with its screen that I can actually see and its keyboard the fits my fingers, I have learned to love more portable devices as well.

The last few times I've traveled abroad I haven't taken my laptop. It weighs, conservatively, 7.5 lbs dripping wet and by the time I add its adapter and power cord, it's closer to 9 lbs. It also rarely cooperates when I want to get on the internet. So mostly I use it to write on at home because, as it won't get online, it's a perfect refuge from the temptation to read email or surf the net.

Enter the mini-notebook -- in my case the wonderful Asus eee pc, otherwise known as "eepie."

There are quite a few sub-notebooks on the market and I'm sure many of them are fine. But I've had my eepie for over 6 months now and I love it. It's been a lot of places, though not clear around the world like Anne Gracie's has been, and it hasn't let me down yet. It starts up in less than a minute. It stores as much as I need. And it weighs just over 2 lbs.

With the eepie I can work on my book wherever I am. I can carry it to record offices or libraries and not feel burdened. And I can get online almost anywhere. Generally speaking I don't leave home without it these days.

I love my flash drives, too. My current best friend is called Big Red because, well, he is. And he carries 8GB of my stuff around on his back and never complains. In fact he loads so quickly I don't even keep my book on my hard drive now. I just leave it on Big Red and move him from the eepie to the laptop to the desktop as the occasion arises.

Digital cameras have made a huge impact on my researching. I can take photos not just of scenery and places and people, but pages in books, newspapers and original documents of all sorts. Mine takes video, too, as most seem to these days. I find that while stills are great for certain details, the ambience is often better captured in a video. You get not only sights but sounds -- and if I'm feeling articulate I can add a voice over as well. And as it's no bigger than the palm of my hand, I can tuck it in my bag and barely know it's there.

Right before I left for England I bought a tiny Flip camcorder that takes an hour's worth of video. Yes, I know I said my digital camera does the same -- possibly even better because it's more sophisticated. But as I used up an SD card in Ireland taking too much video and then was stuck without space when I needed it, I decided a palm-sized camcorder was worth it. I used it extensively in Cannes -- capturing a lot of footage on a history tour of the city (complete with commentary). It gives me a feel of being "in" the setting. I wouldn't be without it.

Lest you think I've sold my soul to technology, let me assure you that I take along a full complement of pens (right now I'm partial to Staedtler triplus fineliners that I bought at a stationer's on the King's Road in Chelsea) because there are twenty different colors which means I have a pen for every mood (and the variety has proved enchanting to 8-year-olds with mono).

And I have lots of small (say 5" x 8") lined-paper notebooks. I use one as a sort of journal 'day book' to jot memos and references and ideas for the book that will flee if I give them half a chance. This is a catchall, but I wouldn't be without it.

I use another to keep my family history references that I intend to look up and record what I find. And I use a third for the current book. These don't spend the day in my bag, but I add to them as I discover I need to. And they preserve a sort of traveling record of what I've wanted to do and what I've actually done.

There are other things I find useful -- like my cell phone (and I'm thinking a world phone would be a better idea as mine was useless across the pond), and my wallet-sized tube map of London, and my tiny Time Out guide to Cannes and Nice and the French Riviera, which I read ahead of time and left home.

I needed to. I pack too heavy. Just ask Sophie Weston.

I need lessons from Sophie who took a tiny tote along to France and still had room to stuff 2 one-liter bottles of water into it when required to do so.

But I think it will be the clothes I cut down on, not any of the above.

Besides, however lightly I pack, it's impossible not to bring home books and magazines, even if they do weigh a ton. When you go into a bookstore and there are three magazines with cover stories on Hugh Jackman and two with Daniel Craig, I defy you to pack light!

What do you consider essential when you travel? Which would you leave out?

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Blogger Liz Fielding said...

I'm off to google Asus.

13 November, 2008  
Blogger Margaret Mayo said...

Me too, Liz. Thanks for a wonderfully informed blog, Anne. It was so interesting to read what sort of gadgets you consider 'essential' My DH is a gadget man so I dare not let him read your blog or we'll have a mini camcorder by tomorrow.

13 November, 2008  
Blogger Anne McAllister said...

Liz and Margaret, you should BOTH look at Asus. They have great computers at reasonable prices (and they aren't paying me to say that). I used mine extensively when in UK in Sept/Oct and then in Texas in Oct/Nov. I took it to SF and to Seattle, to Missouri and Minnesota.

I can tuck it into my shoulder bag (along with the mini-camcorder, Margaret) and be well equipped. I have my digital camera along, too. It's not that big a shoulder bag, either.

Margaret, the Flip Camcorders are selling in some places in the US for under $100. Let your Gadget Man loose on them!

14 November, 2008  

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