Become your own cable guy

Keeping in touch
Ensuring you have a steady supply of power when travelling is hard enough, but in today's converged world you also need to consider how you connect the devices to your PC or to each other.

This used to require a broad range of proprietary plugs, although that problem has been lessened somewhat by the convergence around standard USB plugs. A good-sized USB cable should be a constant travelling companion, both for syncing data with cameras and mobile phones as well as for charging many devices. If you use Firewire for your video camera or portable hard drive, you'll need a suitable cable for that as well.

A single USB cable (centre) lets you charge and synchronise a mobile phone, download pictures from a digital cameras, and connect other USB devices. iPod owners will need to bring the cable (left) and you should also throw in an Ethernet network cable (right) to make sure you can get online in any hotel or office.

Be aware that both USB and Firewire have two different plug types; notebooks normally only include the smaller USB Type A and 4-pin Firewire connectors. Make sure, then, that the cable you bring doesn't have the larger square USB Type B plug (used in scanners, printers and other desktop devices) or the 6-pin oval Firewire connector - unless you specifically need one for a particular device. The end you plug into the camera or other device will most certainly need to be of the USB Mini-B or 4-pin oval Firewire connector type, although make sure of this as many vendors have taken to shipping proprietary USB connectors.

Because your notebook PC is likely to become a central charging and data storage hub of sorts, you'll probably find yourself swapping plugs more than you would like. We got around this problem by investing in a 6-port USB hub, which is plugged into the notebook PC when it's on the desk and unplugged when the notebook goes into the field. Into that hub are plugged an external mouse and keyboard, iPod charging cable, generic USB charging cable, the desktop external hard drive, and the desktop printer - all of which are available to the notebook simply by plugging in the USB hub.

Wireless standards can go a long ways towards reducing the number of cables you have to carry, particularly now that notebook PCs can use it to sync data or set up modem connections with mobile phones. Bluetooth handsfree units can be liberating in the field, while Bluetooth can be used to link notebook PCs with devices such as printers.

Ditto a wireless LAN, which can be easy to set up and provides healthy bandwidth around your hotel or office-away-from-the-office. Before you pack all those cables, consider which of your devices can communicate using Bluetooth, WLAN or even older infrared ports, although IR's slow speed makes it unsuitable for large files.

When it comes to moving data around, another indispensable tool is a flash drive, although you may just as easily be able to store data on your MP3 player or mobile phone. Make sure, however, that you have a data storage device that can be easily plugged into a variety of devices; this may require you to carry around a USB cable, although some MP3 players have USB plugs built into them.

If you're going to be doing a lot of digital photography, one other thing to consider is buying a digital storage device that will automatically suck your photographs from your camera while you're in the field. These devices - either purpose-built, or marketed as having 'USB host' functionality - can save you a world of bother in trying to bring enough storage cards into the field to hold all your pictures. Just download your pictures from the camera whenever it fills up, then plug the device into your notebook once you get back to your hotel or office.

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