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Old 02-18-08, 10:39 PM   #1
valygrl
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Laptops & theft

For those of you who travel with a laptop, what do you do to prevent it being stolen?

Up till now, all my tours have been moderately light on technology, and all my valuables fit easily in a handlebar bag, which goes with me at all times. (wallet, camera, ipod, phone, passport, m&m's)

This year, I am considering taking a laptop on tour, because I can work anywhere there is power and internet, if I have a laptop. I sure wish I didn't have to do this, but it's starting to look like a choice between working on tour and not touring. Due to the nature of my work (GUI report programming), I need more screen real estate than the Asus EEE provides, although if they released the rumored 8.9" version I would be golden. Whatever I get, it has to have at least a 9" screen and run windows xp/tablet.

As an aside...
I'm not really seeing anything out there that fits the bill and is still small enough to live in my handlebar bag, after being encased in something waterproof and shock absorbing (even bubble wrap and a ziplock would probably be ok). Suggestions welcome. Current front-runner is the Fujitsu P1610, at 2.2 pounds and 9.5x7.5. It might fit, but it might not. If it did, that would be the solution. I'll just have to put my m&m's somewhere else.

And back to the main question:
So, what do you all do? Does the computer come with you every time you leave your bike? or do you cross your fingers and take your chances, under the assumption that no one will know you have a laptop in your pannier? What about camping, I usually am pretty comfortable leaving all my junk in my tent except my HB bag, but the laptop?

What am I missing, how is it done?
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Old 02-18-08, 10:45 PM   #2
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You can get a special locking device for your laptop ... check with Universities and see what they recommend their students do. It might be useful for when you're in a hostel or similar place, and maybe it would be possible to somehow subtly lock it to a tree or something in a campground.

If it were me, that laptop would be coming off the bicycle with me everytime I left the bicycle.
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Old 02-18-08, 11:52 PM   #3
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We carry a laptop on tour

Tim and I (Ok Tim carries it in his pannier) have traveled with a laptop for almost 6 years. They have gotten smaller over the years. We never, never leave our laptop in our tent in a campground, it always goes with us. If we feel comfortable with our hotel, we ask the staff not to clean our room and then we leave it behind. Depending on the country, the street can be more dangerous than a hotel room. We keep all our valuables together and carry them in one bag, however, it is larger than a handlebar bag. Hope this helps.
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Old 02-19-08, 02:42 AM   #4
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We have a similar routine to Tim & Cindy. Never leave the laptop alone while in a tent. We almost always leave it in hotel rooms but don't leave our key at the desk so they can't clean our room. If we have to leave the bikes unattended for a while with the panniers on we make the bag with the computer in it the least accessible (up against a wall, behind the other bike) and lock them up well. We don't flash our laptop around. We very rarely take it out in public and even if we're staying with a family, unless we get to know them really well we won't admit to having a computer with us.
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Old 02-19-08, 04:51 AM   #5
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Why not keep all of your valuables including laptop in a small rucksack strapped to the top of your front or rear rack. That way when you stop one well place bungy cord is all that need to be undone and a quick pick up of the ruck sack and you are off.
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Old 02-19-08, 06:42 AM   #6
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Physical security is fairly important obviously. But do be sure to also secure your data. Use something like Truecrypt (free) to create an encrypted volume to store any private/sensitive information while on tour, it is bad enough loosing a laptop, but to have someone gain access to your email and who knows what else. That is the pits.

In terms of models of laptops. The new macbook air should run windows decently, nice and thin/light for the panniers and even a solid state model to avoid shock damage to any physical hard drive that you would of had. But, depends on cost and what your looking for.
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Old 02-19-08, 08:48 AM   #7
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I would recommend getting an Asus EEE
It's small, cheap, has WiFi, and you can install Windows on it
It should be suitable for whatever you need to do, as a bonus it has a flash harddrive
My hard drive in my laptop died on my tour, most likely due to the thousands of miles of vibrations it had to endure :S
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Old 02-19-08, 08:53 AM   #8
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I would recommend getting an Asus EEE
It's small, cheap, has WiFi, and you can install Windows on it
It should be suitable for whatever you need to do, as a bonus it has a flash harddrive
My hard drive in my laptop died on my tour, most likely due to the thousands of miles of vibrations it had to endure :S
Yes I want that... but i'm afraid that with a 7" screen and all the toolbars I end up with for my work, I'll have about a millimeter of actual work space. I can't find anywhere to visit one in the Denver Metro area (same with lifebook, actually). I could buy & try, but I can't find one with a liberal return policy. Sigh.
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Old 02-19-08, 10:14 AM   #9
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Yes I want that... but i'm afraid that with a 7" screen and all the toolbars I end up with for my work, I'll have about a millimeter of actual work space. I can't find anywhere to visit one in the Denver Metro area (same with lifebook, actually). I could buy & try, but I can't find one with a liberal return policy. Sigh.
I had a Fujitsu Lifebook P7120 with me
It was a nice little laptop with a 10" screen, but it wasn't too suitable for touring
During my trip my LCD, hard drive, and keyboard died
I really wouldn't recommend bringing an expensive laptop with you
By the end of my trip I was actually running my laptop without a harddrive (since it was impossible to find a 1.8" hard drive in Central America unless I wanted to buy and gut an iPod)
I was running a copy of Windows XP off a live CD and was running portable versions of all my applications off USB sticks
Trust me and get the Asus EEE, you won't feel bad if anything happens to it, buy USB drives if you need more space
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Old 02-19-08, 10:59 AM   #10
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What am I missing, how is it done?
http://www.dynamism.com/

Very few real subnotebooks are made for sale in the US. The imports are pricey but will be smaller. You can get a PC card that gets you Internet via cell phone service. It'll chew up your battery life, though, and service / coverage is likely to be spotty.

Another alternative, by the way: Bribe a friend to set up a Windows 2003 Server with Remote Desktop / Terminal Services over HTTP. You go to a library or Internet cafe, pull up the web page, and voila you are logged into your very own server and can work.

Internet connections may be hard to come by, especially if you're camping. When I did Route 1 in CA last fall, I swear I went 2-3 days without any cell phone service.

How long are your planned tour(s)?
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Old 02-19-08, 11:55 AM   #11
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Trust me and get the Asus EEE, you won't feel bad if anything happens to it, buy USB drives if you need more space
It seems that the OP's concern is not storage space, but rather screen real estate. Clearly you're in love the Asus (and I'd love to get one, too), but it sounds very likely that OP knows what she needs in terms screen size for what she needs to do.

That said, if you can afford it, Muttsta may be right in that solid state may be the way to go, although depending on quality and/or luck, it also seems very possible that if you protect the laptop and never have it one while it's loaded you may be fine. Certainly laptops are made to move around, but that may not be the same thing as bouncing down the road for 10 or more hours a day. Or maybe keep a backup OS on a flash card, since it seems that the hard drive would be the most likely component to fail. But then I have no personal experience with taking any of this stuff on the road. My iPod has a hard drive, though, and I've heard people talk about hard drive failure when they use their HD-based iPods running or cycling. Mine does seem to be getting a little glitchy two years in and occasionally a bump will have it restarting, so it may be on the way out.

But as far as keeping your laptop safe, it seems a waste to cram it into your handlebar bag if you're not actually going to be using it on the road. Maybe what you need is a bag, maybe a backpack, that's just big enough to hold your laptop and your handlebar bag. Keep the bag in the top of of one of your panniers with the laptop inside, and when you leave your bike parked, drop your handlebar bag in and go. Doing it that way, it seems like it might not be too difficult to both keep it with you and not make it obvious that you're carrying a laptop, both of which would go a long way towards preventing theft.
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Old 02-19-08, 12:37 PM   #12
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Hi all, thanks for the responses.

In terms of my 'main' question, sounds like pretty much what I was thinking - you have to keep it with you. Bummer, but not surprising. I usually travel solo, which means that I'm going to have to take it with me ALWAYS - every convenience store, every bathroom, etc. I already do this with my HB bag. I feel like if i was removing some other bag from my bike for this sort of thing, it would become very clear to anyone watching me that there was something valuable in it. I guess I could try for the backpack strapped to the rear rack, and make that my "purse" instead of the HB bag. I'll have to find somewhere else for my tent and/or sleeping bag, though. God, am i going to have to go back to my huge Arkel panniers? They are so heavy

SO, it has to fit in the HB bag, or I'm not going to be very happy. So, new biggest HB bag I can find is in the works with a new laptop.

My business constraint is that the application(s) I work on have lots of toolbars and a code window and a GUI report development window, so the 7" screen on the Asus won't work. Believe me I have been drooling over that thing, it would be perfect if the screen was bigger. I have been trying to work today in a 10" window on my current machine, and it's just barely do-able. 7" is not do-able. Even on the 10" screen, there are dialog boxes that are so big I can't get to the "ok" button, it's off the screen. Also, it has to be able to run Microsoft Access locally.

Muttsta, I'm sorry to hear the fujitsu didn't survive travelling. That's really a bummer. How did you carry it? It sounds like some others have been able to carry theirs without damage, and it would be useful for me to know what is ok and what isn't.

Bacciagalupe, that's a neat site with some interesting subnotebooks that I hadn't been aware of. Too bad the really great ones start at $3500 - I can choke out about $1000 or a little more for this project, but if I was carrying a $4k laptop it would ruin my tour, i would be worried about it all the time. and it is so overkill.

In terms of remoting in, I'm already going thru 2 levels - Citrix desktop to remote desktop, and every level eats another little strip of screen. And the Citrix desktop requires a plugin, which I can't install at a library. And i'm a little worried that there are already too many connections in the system, adding yet another... jeeze. plus, if i have my own computer i can get a hotel room and work a couple of days in a row totally comfortably, not constrained by library hours, time limits, etc.

I'm planning a 2-4 week trip in the spring and a 4-8 week trip in the late summer, but I don't think I can go on either of them if I can't keep my clients happy while I'm travelling - they'll find another contractor if I disappear for so long. So working on the road seems inevitable. Last year I didn't get away for more than a week at a time because of this, and I want to do something about that this year.

More thoughts from everyone appreciated.

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Old 02-19-08, 01:14 PM   #13
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It sounds like the main problem is screen size. In the "old" days, we used to use the TV as a larger computer monitor, though this required a converter. Nowadays, most TVs are digital and might even have plugs that you can use to directly connect a PC to. I realize that the PC has to have the memory to drive the monitor but an add-in card might solve that problem.

In addition, it seems that you are planning to work a few days from a hotel room while you are on tour. Are these planned or do you have to respond to problems that need to fixed ASAP? If they are somewhat planned, you might be able to arrange your tour so that you find yourself in cities/towns that have "business centers" where you can work from.

Another idea would be to rent a PC when you are at a place ready to work. You could carry a thumb drive with you containing installable programs and code and set-up any rented machine fairly quickly.

I realize that renting a PC in the middle of nowhere can be a problem, but most every place that has any kind of broadband service (which you would need anyway) also has a way to rent a computer.

Ray
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Old 02-19-08, 03:37 PM   #14
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Front rack with a platform on top. Then you could use a diffrent bag as handle bar type bag. Like a rack pack. This could fit a bigger laptop hance bigger screen. I don't know about windows but I know on linux you can set up a desktop bigger than your screen size and scrole around that. If there is something like that avalible for windows this would alow you to use a smaller screen to beable naviage around your GUIs to find all the bits and have your debug console. Again I don't know about windows but on linux I make use of multiple desktops this may help with your small screen size if it is avalible in windows.
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Old 02-19-08, 07:13 PM   #15
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For $1000, the best you can hope for is a used 12" Thinkpad. However, you'd have to be extremely careful if it does get stolen, since the data on there could be used to, for example, access your client's systems or get to your online banking or email.

OS X is a little better in this respect IMO, as long as you use Filevault. I'd seriously consider springing $1800 for a MacBook Air, $50 for Undercover, d/l the Citrix client, use Filevault to protect your data, and put on a firmware password. If you really can't do that, a used 12" G4 Powerbook might still be in your price range.

Personally, I hate working on tour, even just fielding emails and phone calls. And are you sure your clients "I was crossing the Rockies" as an excuse for missing a deadline?
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Old 02-19-08, 07:32 PM   #16
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For $1000, the best you can hope for is a used 12" Thinkpad. However, you'd have to be extremely careful if it does get stolen, since the data on there could be used to, for example, access your client's systems or get to your online banking or email.

OS X is a little better in this respect IMO, as long as you use Filevault. I'd seriously consider springing $1800 for a MacBook Air, $50 for Undercover, d/l the Citrix client, use Filevault to protect your data, and put on a firmware password. If you really can't do that, a used 12" G4 Powerbook might still be in your price range.

Personally, I hate working on tour, even just fielding emails and phone calls. And are you sure your clients "I was crossing the Rockies" as an excuse for missing a deadline?
Heh... well, i guess i didn't mention i was a windows developer, and i don't want to open a can of worms trying to develop windows on a mac, which i have never used before. just seems .. nah. not really seeing why spending 1800 on a mac would be better than spending 1800 on a windows machine. And either way i still have to carry the little bugger around so it isn't stolen. macbooks aren't that light, by the way - 3 pounds.

The security situation is definitely food for thought. My access to my client's site is already password protected, and of course I wouldn't save any passwords on my travelling machine. the machine i am looking at is fingerprint protected.

i don't want to work on tour - believe me! but if it's that or not tour or lose my clients.... i don't want to make any excuses to my clients that would cause them to say "I think we can find someone else" - that way lies full time employment!

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Old 02-19-08, 07:33 PM   #17
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Front rack with a platform on top. Then you could use a diffrent bag as handle bar type bag. Like a rack pack. This could fit a bigger laptop hance bigger screen. I don't know about windows but I know on linux you can set up a desktop bigger than your screen size and scrole around that. If there is something like that avalible for windows this would alow you to use a smaller screen to beable naviage around your GUIs to find all the bits and have your debug console. Again I don't know about windows but on linux I make use of multiple desktops this may help with your small screen size if it is avalible in windows.
This idea is growing on me, I'm going to let it percolate. Thanks
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Old 02-20-08, 12:25 AM   #18
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Certainly alot of good suggestions ... why not a pocket pc like the HTC Wizard or any of the Pocket PC phones. I am trying to think the screen size though probably to small. On securing it, without experience i could not offer an opinion on that. I wish you the bst of luck though.
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Old 02-28-08, 01:32 PM   #19
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Current front-runner is the Fujitsu P1610, at 2.2 pounds and 9.5x7.5. It might fit, but it might not.
The Fujitsu P1610 is almost exactly what I have. Well, I have the P1120; the P1610 is the newer and better version (the higher resolution would be especially nice). I bought it specifically for my first tour, in 2004, but in fact it's stayed on as my main computer ever since then. It's probably my favorite technological device that I've ever owned. Whenever I see people getting excited about the Eees or UMPCs or subnotebooks in general, I'm always amazed how rarely the Fujitsus come up in conversation. After 6000 miles of loaded touring, plus three years of daily use, the touchscreen connector started coming loose, but I was able to easily repair that, and that's the only problem I've ever had with it.

It fits perfectly in my Arkel Big Bar Bag. I slide it down vertically right against the front wall of the bag (the wall closest to the handlebar and bag opening). It's almost like there's a custom-built pocket for it. I do all of my mapping and route-planning on it, so I access it all the time. I'll even just stop on the shoulder, open the bag, pop it open, and check a turn I might have just missed.

And then of course since it's in the handlebar bag, along with my camera, money, etc., it automatically goes with me everywhere.

So I would highly, highly recommend that option. The dimensions of the P1610 vs. the P1120 are slightly different, but I think it would still fit the same way. If you happen to have that Arkel bag, or would be willing to get it, let me know and I could ask my manager to bring in his P1610 to confirm the fit.

Neil

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Old 02-28-08, 02:18 PM   #20
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Just a question and option to consider:
How about a smaller main unit, and add a docking station of some sort or a portable folding keypad and separate monitor to use when you need the display real estate. The separate keyboard and monitor could be stored deeper in the rear panniers and brought out when needed, and you can use the smaller main unit to check for email and if you need to stop and log in someplace for the full-screen work. Plus the spare screen and keyboard would be easier to replace if they got damaged on tour or if they got stolen since you'd probably have the handlebar bag with the main unit with you while away from the bike.

Just a thought, got no idea if it's even realistically possible.
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Old 02-28-08, 03:59 PM   #21
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The Fujitsu P1610 is almost exactly what I have. Well, I have the P1120; the P1610 is the newer and better version (the higher resolution would be especially nice). I bought it specifically for my first tour, in 2004, but in fact it's stayed on as my main computer ever since then. It's probably my favorite technological device that I've ever owned. Whenever I see people getting excited about the Eees or UMPCs or subnotebooks in general, I'm always amazed how rarely the Fujitsus come up in conversation. After 6000 miles of loaded touring, plus three years of daily use, the touchscreen connector started coming loose, but I was able to easily repair that, and that's the only problem I've ever had with it.

It fits perfectly in my Arkel Big Bar Bag. I slide in down vertically right against the front wall of the bag (the wall closest to the handlebar and bag opening). It's almost like there's a custom-built pocket for it. I do all of my mapping and route-planning on it, so I access it all the time. I'll even just stop on the shoulder, open the bag, pop it open, and check a turn I might have just missed.

And then of course since it's in the handlebar bag, along with my camera, money, etc., it automatically goes with me everywhere.

So I would highly, highly recommend that option. The dimensions of the P1610 vs. the P1120 are slightly different, but I think it would still fit the same way. If you happen to have that Arkel bag, or would be willing to get it, let me know and I could ask my manager to bring in his P1610 to confirm the fit.

Neil
Looks like we may have a winner, here.
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Old 02-28-08, 07:21 PM   #22
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I think a larger bag up front is a good idea. What about a front basket with a backpack in it? I may have to try that out. A Wald basket with a backpack like the Freight Baggage backpacks would be perfect. It would replace your handlebar bag, but it would remain waterproof and easily accessible.
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Old 02-28-08, 10:00 PM   #23
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Thanks all. Neil G, a dimension-confirmation would be much appreciated, I have a different bar bag but it's almost ready to be replaced anyway.

I really wish I could find a P1610 to actually see and try, to determine if the screen is big enough. I'm itching to pull the trigger on the purchase and go on tour with it.

treebound, thanks for the interesting idea, but the large-enough screen size would be needed 100% of the time, so that would just add more weight and another bag that needs to be 100% waterproof and not-stolen.
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Old 02-28-08, 10:18 PM   #24
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I've heard good stuff about the reliability of Fujitsu notebooks if that means anything. I recently purchased a Fujitsu S6510 actually, and I've been very pleased with it so far. I doubt you will be able to find one in your price range, but the Panasonic Toughbook Let's Note notebook series would be excellent for what you want. They are ultra durable, ultraportables ranging in size from 10" to 14".
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Old 02-29-08, 10:02 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Ken Wind View Post
I've heard good stuff about the reliability of Fujitsu notebooks if that means anything. I recently purchased a Fujitsu S6510 actually, and I've been very pleased with it so far. I doubt you will be able to find one in your price range, but the Panasonic Toughbook Let's Note notebook series would be excellent for what you want. They are ultra durable, ultraportables ranging in size from 10" to 14".
Yes, I read up on those Toughbooks they look great, but they are too expensive for me.
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