Bare Necessities

Shutterstock/ Julia Tim
Shutterstock/ Julia Tim

Your laptop is The most important piece of technology for estimating on the road. Don’t skimp on this item. Before buying a computer, check the requirements of your estimating software. If you cannot find this information online, ask the vendor. Most often, there will be minimum and recommended requirements. If you go with the minimum, you may eventually be unhappy. Exceeding the recommendations will help your new computer keep pace with future software updates. A faster processor and more memory will always reward you with a better performance. If you want to connect the laptop to a larger screen, it should not be a problem because almost all new computers, monitors and televisions have an HDMI port.

Internet connectivity is the next problem to address. First, if you intend to work in an area without a good, fast broadband connection, cloud-based software will not work. For that reason, I stick to the computer-based versions of my estimating software.

Last month I mentioned that you should not use a public Wi-Fi connection to send or receive sensitive information. The reason is hackers are waiting to steal anything they can.

The hotspot feature on your cellphone is far more secure. You may know that many cellphones can create a small Wi-Fi network in the area of the phone, and you can send and receive data over the cellular network. Besides requiring a phone that can create a hotspot, you will need a cellular plan that allows it. Generally, hotspots transmit data slower than a regular Wi-Fi connection, but it is still fast enough for most people’s needs. My experience has been that, even in the middle of the forest, with only two bars of reception on my cellphone, I was able to send and receive large files and stream a movie when I was done working.

Another technology that can increase security is a virtual private network (VPN). In a standard internet connection, data is sent to the internet provider, which then routes it to the website. The provider can see everywhere you go and can hand off browsing histories to advertisers, government agencies and other third parties. If you use a VPN, software on your computer encrypts data and sends it to the VPN’s servers before routing it to the internet provider. The VPN servers hide the computer’s address and keeps the data safe. Most of the VPN services I found while writing this article cost less than $5 per month. By the way, cellular network encrypts the data on their network, and the VPN adds another level of encryption, so even if hackers get your data, they will not be able to read it.

Another piece of technology to consider is a second monitor. In my office, I have two 27-inch monitors to augment my laptop’s screen. Even at 17 inches, my laptop screen can be stressful to read. With 27-inch monitors costing less than $150, you could purchase one for the road. Another option is a small TV. A quick internet search revealed many 32-inch TVs for $150 or less. If you want to use a TV for a computer monitor, I recommend a minimum of 1,080p resolution. Of course, don’t forget a HDMI cable and a good surge-suppression power strip. The power in some of the places I have stayed has been less than reliable.

For those who really like to get away from civilization, keeping devices charged can be a problem. The idea of writing this article or polishing off an estimate while camped next to a beautiful alpine lake sounds quite attractive. There are at least two ways to keep things powered up. The first is a battery pack. I saw an advertisement this week for the Halo Bolt 44400 wireless charger, which weighs less than 2 lbs. It has two USB outlets, a 120V outlet, wireless phone charging, a flashlight and can start your car’s dead battery. Another option is a small solar panel. They are available in many sizes and prices, starting under $10 and going up to “suitcase” solar panels that fold up for easy carrying.

Well, the sun is going down on the lake, so I’m going to shut this down and start the campfire.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or steve@electrical-estimating.com, and...

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