Kick The Digital Tires

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I enjoy writing about electronic accessories. It started because I had to carve a niche for myself while fighting for ink against the likes ofJohn Markoff. I started writing what I called “tire stories”. These were stories that weren’t sexy or provocative but solid enough to get in the paper.  What are tires, after all, but a couple inches of inflated rubber? But consider how important that thin layer rubber and compressed air becomes when it blows out at 65 mph? Your life and the life of your passengers come down to you not spending a few hundred dollars for steel belted radial.

Hyperbole aside, a lot of our digital life can go blooey because of something seemingly minor. Here are some personal horror stories because I didn’t pay attention to my “digital tires”.

During the 1994 Northridge earthquake, I helped coördinate coverage for The New York Times. The amount of electronic gear I took with me to get around the anticipated infrastructure collapse is still mind-boggling to me these many years later. I took walkie-talkies and a portable repeater to extend the range to 50 miles and a dozen cell phones during a time when nationwide plans barely existed. I carried extra laptops for those reporters, who left from home and didn’t come by the office to pick one up. This was also in the days when not every reporter at the paper was issued a laptop. This was where my tires blew. I left the AC adapters back in New York.

I once co-authored a book, Computers in the Classroom. The reason no one ever read it was because of a power surge that fried my computer and every bit and byte on it. Of course, I had no backup.

I started using a PDA back when the Palm Pilot still existed. I still have a functioning Palm TX. I don’t take it with me very often these days but I did take it to a seminar in Changsha, China a few years ago. My Smartphone carrier and China Mobile weren’t partners then. The TX worked like a charm and kept me on schedule until I realized that I hadn’t packed the sync cable and couldn’t backup to my laptop.

To avoid some of these disasters, here are the top 5 must have accessory upgrades:

  1. Keyboard
  2. Mouse
  3. Surge Protector
  4. External Backup
  5. USB Hub

For frequent travelers:

  1. Keyboard—a good keyboard is even more important on a laptop
  2. Mouse
  3. Surge Protector
  4. External Backup
  5. USB Hub
  6. Universal AC adapter
  7. Travel outlets

I’ll go into greater detail in upcoming articles with suggested products and services.

Steve Miller
Stephen C. Miller is an editor, reporter and technology consultant. He writes the blog, The Future Was Yesterday: Technology in the Real World. He has spent nearly 30 years training African journalists throughout the continent in investigative techniques.

Formerly he was Assistant to the Technology Editor at The New York Times. He retired in 2008 after a 20 year career there. While at The Times he supervised the training of reporters and editors in the use of new technologies. Miller started his career in broadcasting, spending 12 years at CBS News in a variety of positions, including Night News Manager.

He is on the Board of Directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors and is past President of the New York Association of Black Journalists. He speaks frequently on how technology is affecting journalism.
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