Tools of the Trade – Stuff I Carry (Hardware)

Long time, no blog — no excuses except the normal (crazy travel, lots of client meetings, lots of projects). Given a crazy schedule, having reliable tools is absolutely critical — I’m not sure if anyone else is all that interested in what it takes to do my job but I figured why not find out.

So, here’s what I use at a physical level roughly in order of most used (software/applications for a later post).

  • MacBook Pro (1 generation back) — could I use Windows? Sure. Do I have lots of Windows VMs? Yep. Am I hands-down more productive personally on a Mac than otherwise? You’d better believe it.
    • 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 (Dual Core), 8 GB RAM (a must for running VMs), dual video cards (integrated Intel for lower battery life and nVidia for more power), 500 GB 7200 RPM HD, OS X 10.6.7, Glossy Hi-Res Screen (1680×1050)
    • Battery life for what I do is really good — 4-6 hours (yes, that’s lower than Apple claims but it’s a 2x jump compared to my last MPB). After 118 charge cycles, battery health is still at 94%.
    • External adapters for Displayport–>VGA (presentations) and Displayport–>DVI (2nd monitor in home office).
  • iPhone 4 on AT&T — nuff said. I don’t want to get into Android vs. iOS but this is by far the best option for me. I’m not crazy about AT&T but it’s been all right for me overall and they have greatly increased their 3G footprint over the last 2 years. There are still regular dropped calls with tower handoffs though (not every tower handoff but enough to be noticeable given I drive 800+ miles/week).
  • Voyager Pro Plus — I almost never put my phone up to my ear anymore….just way too much hassle/harder to drive/have hands free to gesture while I talk. 😉 This is my third high-end Bluetooth headset and by far the best (thanks to Paul Penny for the recommendation). I’ve previously used the Plantronics 925 and Jawbone II which both had various weaknesses (sporadic noise canceling, battery life, sound quality). I particularly like its iPhone battery meter integration and A2DP (so can use it to listen to music/podcasts/etc.) while still having one ear free.
  • 2nd MacBook Pro Power Supply — so I can always keep one in my bag and one at my desk at the home office….way too likely I’ll forget if I have to pack it up each time.
  • 2nd Monitor — just a Westinghouse 19″ no-name type monitor but the screen resolution (1680×1050) precisely matches the MacBook Pro which just makes things a lot easier. Bought at (found via Google not in stock anymore) for under $100 as refurb….working well 6 months in.
    • I specifically wanted the physically smallest monitor that could match the MacBook Pro’s screen resolution.
  • Verizon MiFi 2200 w/unlimited data plan (grandfathered) — while I use AT&T for my phone (didn’t have a choice when I got my first iPhone a couple years back), Verizon had and still has far better EVDO (aka 3G) coverage in the Carolinas. I find myself on my MiFi about 50% of the time in hotels and of course use it regularly when need to get some work done before/after meetings. I’ve actually found myself turning it on during meetings recently so can easily look up questions/check documents without needing customer network access.
    • I really couldn’t live without this.
  • 2 TB Western Digital My Book Studio External Drive for Time Machine via Firewire 800 — if you have a Mac, you should be doing Time Machine. Period. If my hard drive drives/machine gets stolen/whatever, I can get up and working exactly as I was (all applications, documents, etc.) within a couple hours of getting a replacement.
    • I also use SugarSync for a 2nd copy/accessible copy of all my work documents.
  • LaCie Rugged Hard Disk 80 GB via FireWire 800 — this is a bit older but I run some VMs off here to avoid disk contention issues on my internal SATA drive. Once 480 GB SSDs come down I won’t need this anymore.
  • Cables and whatnot I keep in my bag — a decent number.
    • Retractable USB/iPod Cable for syncing and also plug into the regular iPhone mini-power brick (goes on the bedside table in hotels to charge and be an alarm clock). No-name (bought at Mustafa in Singapore I think).
    • Retractable Cat5e network cable by Belkin.
    • Retractable Earphone/audio male/male cable + male/female extender — I use this for presentations and also at Hyatt Places which have a fantastic media connector console (can pipe music through the big screen TV….quite nice when working late). No-name bought at Wal-Mart.
    • Audio splitter — split a single iPhone/computer to (2) audio outputs.
    • (2) USB to MiniUSB cables — one for the Voyager headset and the other for the Mifi…use to charge when at the hotel at night. The 2nd cable is power only so it will charge the MiFi while I can still use it via WiFi (otherwise mounts as a USB modem….annoying).
    • (2) 1 GB USB keys — random brands (Lexar & PNY). I had a nice 16 GB high speed USB key in my previous job but haven’t missed it so haven’t bought another one.
    • 9 LED flashlight — nothing fancy but works well in pinch..mostly for looking at cables in the back of dark racks.
  • The Slim Cargo bag by Acme Made — this is precisely the size I need to fit everything without being any larger than necessary. Lots of styles and colors but I just do black. Fantastic bag — on my second on right now (and may need a third as I’m wearing out the strap after a couple years of non-stop usage). Maybe I’ll do the Polka Dot version next time… 😉
  • Stuff I used to carry but don’t anymore.
    • Small USB hub — just found I never used it.
    • Small network switch — ditto.
  • Wife’s iMac — while this stays at home, given it has 8 GB RAM I keep an “EMC Tools” VM running on it that I can access remotely….great when processing large amounts of performance data which takes a while to run (can start something running and let it keep going while I hit the road).
    • Long-term this VM will fold into the home lab hopefully.

Wow….that’s a lot longer than I thought the list would be when I started.

Do you need all this stuff? Nope…..just what works for me. This is based on about 2.5 years of working for a reseller (with a decent amount of travel) and 20+ years of general Mac/computer usage.

I’d love to hear what other people use (either in the comments or as a blog post).

2 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade – Stuff I Carry (Hardware)

  1. Great list! Very similar to my own list, with a few differences:

    – MacBook Pro. I have the current generation. The SSD + Core i7 combo is amazingly fast. I don’t miss the extra space yet, but I may soon…
    – I use the white Apple earbuds. I like my music in stereo 😉
    – Sprint 3G/4G MiFi. Great speeds in 4G coverage areas, and acceptable speed elsewhere.
    – 1TB Seagate FreeAgent for Time Machine. Getting full, may need an upgrade soon. Also use Crashplan for offsite backup.
    – 500GB LaCie Rugged drive. Don’t use it much, but keep in my bag, since it’s very handy in a pinch.
    – Cables and such. I really need to look into those retractables!
    – Swiss Gear backpack. Been traveling with this bag for 2 years, and i love it! Holds all my stuff and keeps my hands free.


  2. I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a while.

    Some things I (try to remember to) carry:
    1. Belkin Mini surge protector with USB power (
    This is especially handy if you’re in an airport or hotel room were outlets are scarce. It has three normal outlets and 2 usb charging ports. The plug swivels, making it easier to fit in awkward setups.

    2. Extension cord
    Also great if you’re traveling. GSP’s outlets are on the floor and there’s only a couple seats close enough to reach them. Also, sometimes the MBP power brick doesn’t fit in the floor outlets.

    3. DVI to HDMI cable and male-male mini plug cable
    These allow me to attach my MPB to most modern hotel TVs, so I can watch things on the bigger screen.

    4. Small bluetooth keyboard and iPhone stand
    I think this is the keyboard I have:
    It’s a Microsoft one with a slight curve. It’s great for typing e-mails on my iPhone when I don’t want to have to pull out my laptop or when I don’t have a WiFi signal. I have an iPhone stand made out of a paper clip and one made out of binder clips. Both work pretty well.


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