Thule Vectros Hard Shell Case for MacBooks

Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air
Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air

Anyone who travels with A laptop spends time worrying about the safety of their computer on the road. When that computer is expensive, and the lynchpin of your business. It becomes critical to protect it at any cost.

Protecting your work computer is vital

My recent purchase of a MacBook Air to replace a five year old ASUS Zenbook was a big investment. I do not change computers frequently, so protecting the asset became an immediate priority.

I purchased the Thule Vectros 13″ bumper case. This is a black hard shell polycarbonate bumper that fits top and bottom with an inner component that is ribbed silicone. It provides a substantial thickness of padding around the outside, but is open in the center, with optional clear inserts to protect the top and bottom. I left the bottom skin off, swapping scratch protection for better cooling.

The bumper design provides a “lip” around the outside of the device that allows a good grip on the hard polycarbonate exterior. It is designed to survive a one meter (3’3″) drop with no damage. The web site provides a graphic comparison video of a Mac being dropped onto a corner with and without the case. I recommend a look at the video, if you have doubts.

Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air

The inner, soft silicon insert protrudes to provide four sturdy soft feet that give a good grip on any surface.

The case has very positive locking lugs to keep it attached to the computer. Make no mistake, installing and removing this case is an exercise in fear. It must be installed exactly according to the instructions. It will not fly off when the case is dropped. It has a positive latch on the lid, so it will not open when dropped. The top and bottom shells transmit pressure around the case, protecting the computer. I suspect it will protect from a significant amount of pressure, even someone inadvertently sitting on a backpack or case with a laptop inside. I do not suggest trying it, but this is one very tough bumper case.

The Thule Vectors Case is no compromise protection

My only problem was that the case does not provide holes for the dual microphones on the left side of the 2015 MacBook Air. I had to drill through the case in two spots, and then remove the soft silicone material from the inside with a scalpel.

I loved this case, but adds 401 grams or 6.6 ounces to the weight of the laptop. It increases the height of the closed MacBook Air to 2.6 cm or 1 inch. This is a significant addition. The case cannot be added and removed. Once on, it takes five minutes of careful work to get it off without damaging the MacBook. It is all or nothing.

Thule Vectros Case For MacBook Air

If I were permanently on the road, the Thule Vectros bumper case would be my constant companion. I really do like it! The engineering and manufacture are second to none. It fits perfectly and looks great. It also makes the laptop stand out in a coffee shop or shared workspace. No-one is going to walk off with this computer un-noticed.

Another side effect of the shell is that if you want to anonymise your computer, it is easy to insert a photo, or otherwise cover the Apple logo on the lid. The case disguises the distinctive MacBook shape, making it less of a target for theft.

If you are looking for a sleeve rather than a case, I recommend the Thule Gauntlet zip up sleeve. It is cheaper, lighter, and offers good protection, including a waterproof zipper. It can be found here:  Thule Gauntlet TAS-113 13.3″ MacBook Pro and Retina Display Sleeve (Black)

Old Hardware Never Dies, It Just Gets Recycled

Two Old Friends
Two Old Friends

I have spent the morning cleaning out some old hardware. A pair of desktop computers that have not been started up for four years or more.

I do not consider myself a hoarder, but letting go of old computer equipment is always hard.

Computers and technology tend to be big purchases. We invest in them.

In this case the machines were ones that I had built, rebuilt and upgraded by hand. I had used them as workstations, sitting for hours, days, weeks, months while they had whirred tirelessly away under the desk.

I wrote software and articles. Thousands of pieces of e-mail flowed across the screens. hours of music had played through the speakers.

Operating systems and software had been upgraded, replaced and, at times re-installed or wound back. Disk repair, defrag and backup software had kept them running many nights.

In each case they had become too slow for the latest software. They had been relegated to workgroup servers (an undemanding job in a small workgroup) and eventually were shelved as “backups” for newer machines.

Today their performance and capacity seems ludicrous, but each machine was a big investment, carefully chosen, and lovingly used.

I name my computers.

Old hardware never diesOver the years I have named computers after moons, characters from books and movies. Currently I am naming them after spacecraft and mars rovers. I am typing this on a Chromebox named Firefly, while my Chromebook, Viking recharges beside me.

These two were named Banichi and Jago. I will leave it for the sci-fi fans to figure out who they were named after.

Today they were carted into the back yard, minus disk drives, that will be destroyed, and added to a pile to go to the recycling depot as e-waste. Finding a home for them, minus keyboards and monitors is impractical.

I will not miss them, but I will remember them as old friends now departed.

00175 – Image Courtesy of Wilson Afonso

How to Avoid Pain and RSI Using a Portable Office

Mobile Working Without Pain
Mobile Working Without Pain

Every coffee shop, train and park bench is filled with people (mostly, but not always) young, working on laptop computers or tablets.

Silently, RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or ( ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder) is resurfacing. This time it is not factory workers. It is knowledge workers. Home, Portable and Mobile office users. Digital nomads, teleworkers and more.

The smartphone and tablet have become the consumption device of choice, but except for quick email, notes and checking appointments, we need a laptop computer of one type or another. An ugly, but as yet little discussed side effect of using laptop computers is the damage you can be doing to your body and hands. Back, neck and wrist pain can become chronic and debilitating.

In the 70’s and 80’s millions of dollars were spend on the design of office workstations. Standards and rules were developed. Injuries were reduced, and the people rejoiced (well, not that perhaps) but injuries fell dramatically. Then came the laptop. And much of that work went out the window, with the office…

For digital nomads and mobile workers the idea of a workstation is not on the radar.

Think Again – You Have A Workstation!

Your Workstation is the place you sit down (or stand up) and work from. It may be a coffee shop, bar stool, airplane seat or hammock, but if you work there for more than 10 minutes, it is a workstation. And it needs some thought.

A recent survey in the UK found that 79% of people using mobile devices were having health problems, 10% said “nomadic Working” had created long term problems and 5% had been forced to give up their jobs.

RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is not associated with age, it is associated with hours in front of a keyboard. ( in some areas The term ‘RSI’ has been replaced by ‘CANS’: Complaints of Arm, Neck and/or Shoulder, but RSI is best known)

It is very easy to make a mistake. Especially digital nomads who tend to be young. You are young, active and healthy, and then, suddenly, you are not.

Then it can take months or years to fix even the simplest problems, because you cannot work without aggravating the problem. Imagine not being able to type (at all) for 3 months. How is that online business looking now?

So, lets look at the solution.

The Workstation

The “Workstation” is your whole working environment. For Mobile Office users, the basics are this:

  • Avoid glare on the screen
  • Have the top of your screen at about eye level
  • Have your arms nearly horizontal to the keyboard
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor
  • Your hips should be slightly above your knees
  • You should be reasonably upright, with the chair supporting your back (or no back, forcing you to sit/stand straight)
  • You should be able to read the screen without leaning forward or back. If necessary, get reading glasses specially for the computer.

If you have nothing but a laptop, you are screwed have a problem.

One solution is to raise the screen or back of the laptop with a stand. The options here are endless, so I will not offer a suggestion. It can be a simple as a pair of socks or a glasses case.

Dozens of laptop stands are being sold, from large desk based base stations to light weight folding stands.

The best solution is a stand, keyboard and mouse. This may seem like an impossible load for a digital nomad, but it is not.

The following Article looks at a simple, light, solution for a travel workstation.

Tablets and smartphones

Protecting against iPad neck or tech neck.

the IOS Press web site has an excellent 11 page PDF with the results of a study done into problems caused by the typical low postion tablets are used in.

On its excellent page on Perfect PC Posture, the British Chiropractic Association says “Never sit at the computer for more than 40 minutes; less if possible,”

My personal approach is to use the widely recognised Pomodoro technique that requires working for 25 minutes and the taking a 5 minute break. I have tools in place to reinforce this approach.

Stand up, walk around, roll your shoulders, and head. Make your eyes focus on distant objects. Don’t just switch from work to checking Facebook. Actually make your body move for five minutes. Your body will thank you.

Take Regular Breaks!

Some excellent resources on this subject:

And and excellent  Wall Street Journal video:

Three Steps to Securing Your Online Documents

Google Drive & Docs
Google Drive & Docs

You want your documents and data to be secure, accessible everywhere and easy to access. As the saying goes, You can have any two of those requirements you want, but never all three at once. It is simply impossible to have all three. Unfortunately, most people choose easy over secure, and then complain bitterly when their documents are stolen and made public. Or simply deleted.

The dream of instant access to all of you documents is now a reality with cloud based services such as Google Docs and Drive, Dropbox and a host of other services.

You can sit down at any computer or tablet and access almost all your documents immediately.

But there is a downside to that. Others can also access documents from the cloud if they have your login details. They can access your documents if they can access your computer.

So how do you ensure the security of cloud hosted documents? Let’s look at the ups and downs of adequate security.

1. Choose a Good Password

Number one on the list is the level of security we have on our cloud account. The most obvious question is, how good is your password? If your password is 123456 or monkey, secret, letmein or similar, you have a major problem. Security breaches over the last few years have resulted in millions of passwords being leaked. These passwords have been analysed by both good guys and bad guys, and now everyone knows the million or so most used passwords.

For the curious, I have listed the 12 most common passwords of 2013. If you are using one of these, bow your head is shame, and know that any time a hacker wants your data, he will have it in minutes…

  1. password
  2. 123456
  3. 12345678
  4. abc123
  5. qwerty
  6. monkey
  7. letmein
  8. dragon
  9. 111111
  10. baseball
  11. iloveyou
  12. trustno1
Lastpass Password Manager
Lastpass Password Manager

Clever passwords are not so clever. If you think s3cret is more secure that secret, think again m0nkey and monkey are pretty much the same when someone decides to use a password list of a million common passwords to crack your account. Use a long, random, different password for every site you visit. If you cannot remember passwords, use a password manager app or plugin for your computer or browser. I use Lastpass, and have had no problems with it. I let Lastpass generate passwords for me. Lastpass is highly respected, well designed and a Trust No One (TNO) app. Lastpass cannot give your passwords to anyone, because they do not have them. they are encrypted for everyone but you.

Don’t Save The Password on Your Computer. Do NOT write your passwords down in a file named Passwords and save it on your desktop. Just read about the Sony hack to find the down side of that approach.

Add Two Factor Authentication

Then, for better security add two-factor authentication.

Google Authenticator
Google Authenticator

For Google, Dropbox and Lastpass, and many more online services, an authenticator app like Google Authenticator or Authy work perfectly. I prefer Authy because I can make it require a PIN when it starts up. There is a little effort involved in getting an Authenticator working, but they are well documented. Just be prepared to spend 10 or 15 minutes setting it up on your devices

Authenticator
Authenticator

You need the app running on your phone or tablet, preferably both, and when you log into your cloud service from a new computer, or every few weeks, you must authenticate by providing a six-digit code that changes every 30 seconds. This means you need the password and the mobile phone with the authenticator to log into your cloud account.

Print out a few “Get out of jail” keys so you can log in without your device in an emergency. But secure these printed keys well. See the documentation for your cloud provider.

Secure Your Computer, Phone  and Tablet

Authenticator App
Authenticator App

This makes it very difficult to get into your cloud accounts from another computer. However is someone steals your laptop, phone or tablet while they are unlocked, they will have access.

So make sure you have a password or PIN that is strong enough to keep a thief out. Ensure that a PIN or password is required to access your computer whenever it starts or comes out of standby.

Remember, if someone steals your phone and can access your cloud accounts and your  Authenticator, they can change the password. So keep that phone or tablet secure.

I always close the lid of my laptop or HP Chromebook 11 when I walk away from it is a shared space. In fact I rarely get more than a couple of meters away in public or shared space.

I have made a habit of putting everything into a pocket or bag when I put it down in a public or shared space. Basically I treat a laptop, phone or tablet the way I treat cash. I NEVER leave it lying around unattended.

Here is an example of why…

If you work in an office or have a desktop computer, make sure you lock it when you get up and walk away. Having a screensaver that locks it after a few minutes is probably enough in an office environment. I work largely alone in my home office, so I simply set

Chromebook Lock Button
Chromebook Lock Button

the screensaver to come on after five minutes. If I was is a co-working space or an office with a lot of people, I would (and have) activated the screensaver manually when I walk away. This is easy to do on computers running Linux. I think it also an option on later versions of Windows. On Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, it is in the bottom right corner of the status window.

Remember the simple security rule. If someone can access your unsecured hardware, they can do pretty much anything. A running, logged in PC is the crown jewels for a thief. Don’t assume everyone in your office is trustworthy.

Follow these three steps, and you will be well on the way to having secure and safe access to your cloud based files and documents.

There is a price. It takes a little longer to log into your account, there is a bit more friction. But after a few days it becomes second nature.

Enjoy! – Phil Stephens