The Social Contract of an Invitation

I am a social person.  I tend to invite people to my home, my golf course, or even just to lunch because I enjoy spending time with people.  I also recognize that not everyone is like me.  Many people aren’t crazy extroverts who want to be surrounded by others all the time.

We’ll get to why this matters in a moment.

First, I want to understand a social problem that only seems to be getting worse: the RSVP.  When putting together a large get-together, you tend to invite a large number of people, with the understanding that some of them either won’t be able to, or just don’t want to attend.  If you look around at an invitation site, like evite.com or even Facebook Events, nearly every event I’ve ever been invited to looks something like this:

Invited:  55 people

Attending: 6 people

Declined: 7 people

Maybe: 42 people!

Should the organizers of the example event above plan for 6 people to attend?  Probably not.  There will likely be many more than that.  What keeps people from making a commitment?

Question 1:  Why do so few people respond to electronic invitations?

The second part of my thoughts on the “invitation” is arrival time.  Every event has a distinct start time.  It’s the time that the host is planning on their guests to begin arriving.  In my experience (I’m guilty of this too), the average arrival time is nearly an hour after the event has begun.  Is this an attempt to be “fashionably late?”

Question 2:  Why doesn’t anyone show up at the time an event is scheduled?

Before anyone reaches out to call me a “whiny child,” I want to be clear, here.  Yes, this stuff bothers me, because I think about crap like this all the time.  No, I don’t cry myself to sleep when someone doesn’t RSVP.  I’m sincerely interested in the social dynamics of an invitation, and I’d love to hear your perspectives, my dear readers, on these topics.

Any developers looking for a free phone? I got ‘em.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced the future of Windows Phone, and it looks amazing.  Multicore devices, multiple resolutions, native code, NFC (near-field communication), and a remarkable digital wallet solution that I’ve been begging for from ANY mobile platform for 10 years now.

In the meantime, yesterday was an announcement. Devices aren’t available yet, and the SDK won’t be available until later this summer.  So how do you get on this bandwagon today?

By building apps for Windows Phone 7.5.

Any apps you’ve built today will run on Windows Phone 8.  Heck, they’re even going to compile them in the cloud for you, so that they start and run even faster.  You’ll be able to take advantage of the new features of Windows Phone 8 in your v2.0 app.  You’ll have all of the fundamentals you need to build apps for Windows Phone AND Windows 8 at that point.

I know what you’re thinking:  “Jeff, why would I build an app today, when the Windows Phone 8 SDK will be available this summer?”  Because you’ve waited this long already.  The Windows Phone 7 SDK was available 2 years ago, and you haven’t gotten started.  What suddenly changed your mind?

Oh, and I’ll give you a free Nokia Lumia 710.  That’s unlikely to happen for Windows Phone 8.

Before you jump the gun, there are a couple of restrictions on who I can give these phones to.

  1. You must live in one of the following states: Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin
  2. You must be willing and able to build 2 real apps for Windows Phone before October 1, and get them published in the Windows Phone Marketplace.   (If you miss the deadline, you will have to send it back to me.)
  3. You can’t have already received a free phone from Microsoft.  (Yes, I have the list.)

If my list of requirements doesn’t seem overwhelming, and you’re interested in getting a free device, email me at jeblank [at] microsoft [dotcom] and I’ll be happy to discuss it.

Finally, I’d had many people ask me what “qualifies” as an app.  My quality bar is simple:

If you truly believe that people you’ve never met would use it, it qualifies.

So what are you waiting for?  Send me an email, and we’ll get this started!

Dropbox vs. Skydrive

As many of you may know, I’ve been a HUGE advocate of Dropbox over the years.  You get a free 2GB of offline storage, which can be upgraded if you ever need more space.  The greatest benefit of the service, however, is that it is automatic.  I save files on my local hard drive, and they are automatically synced to my online Dropbox storage.  That’s huge.  I’m currently subscribed to get 100GB of storage from them, and it costs $199 a year.  We store our entire collection of family photos, videos, files, etc. in there, with the confidence that if something terrible happened to our computers (or our house), our data would be safe.

Now, some of you just balked at that price.  $199 annually seems like a big chunk of cash for 100GB of storage.  Take a step back from it now.  If your house burned down last week, how much would you be willing to pay to get all of your children’s photos back?  I’m betting that price is higher than $200.

Anyways, this article is actually a discussion of Dropbox vs. Skydrive.  Last week, I would have told you a story about how Skydrive is this service that Microsoft has had for years, and it gives you 25GB of cloud storage for free.  In fact, if you have a Windows Live ID, you already have a SkyDrive account.  But, there wasn’t a great way to sync with it.  There were some workarounds, like mapping your SkyDrive as a drive on your computer, but it was awkward, and wasn’t automatic, which is without question the greatest feature of Dropbox.

Yesterday, however, that story changed.  Skydrive now has an application that is available for Windows 7, Vista, and Windows 8, in addition to Mac.  It provides all of the functionality of the Dropbox that I’ve known and loved, plus some surprises I wasn’t expecting.

  1. All of the functionality of Dropbox, but it starts at 7GB, instead of 2GB.
  2. If you log in this week, they’ll let you keep your 25GB of storage for free.
  3. Upgrade prices are SIGNIFICANTLY less expensive than Dropbox.  Remember that 100GB I was paying $199 a year for?  Skydrive offers an additional 100GB for $50 a year.
  4. By linking your computers to your Skydrive account, you not only get online access to all of the files you stored in your Skydrive, you also get online access to all of the files on your computers that are connected.
  5. On Windows Phone, all of my files are already synced to my Skydrive account, so now I don’t have to manually move them to my Dropbox for backup.

Needless to say, this is the first time that I’ve ever dropped a service or product that I absolutely loved.  But the price and functionality of Dropbox just got destroyed by Skydrive.  I’ll be switching today.

To read more about the new features of Skydrive, you can check out the full article by Steven Sinofsky.

The One Where I Love Board Games

For those of you that know me personally, you’ve probably noticed my steadily growing collection of (and addiction to) board games.  I’m not talking about games like Monopoly or Chutes and Ladders, mind you.  There’s definitely a place for those, but those aren’t the type of games this article is about.  The games I love involve a rich layer of strategy spread over a game thick with replayability, with a side of geekery, if possible.

Instead, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favorite games, with a little explanation of each.  I’m publishing this article today, in celebration of (evil?) Wil Wheaton’s new online show called Tabletop.  (You can read all about it on the Geek & Sundry website.)  I have no idea which games they’re going to be covering in the show, but I’m looking forward to it.

Finally, if you’re attending the Stir Trek conference on May 4th, don’t forget that there is a Nerd Dinner the evening before, on May 3rd.  We’ll be camping out in a mall food court to meet the speakers and organizers, as well as play many of the games listed in this article.

OK, the wait is over.  Here’s my current list of favorite board games.

Settlers of Catan ($37)

Up to 4 players, expandable to 6.  My 8-year old daughter mastered the game mechanics at 6 years old, and is getting stronger on the strategy side of the game.  This is a great family game.

Settlers of Catan was probably the “gateway drug” for many of you that have ventured into board game land in the past 10 years.  The basic idea behind this game is that you are settling on a new island, and are trying to expand your civilization by collecting the five different resources that the island possesses: sheep, ore, brick, wood, and wheat.  Because the game encourages players to trade, and even create “alliances,” you’ll likely hear the phrase “I have wood for sheep” more than once.

In order to collect these resources, you build your settlements at the intersections of hexagonal tiles.  Each tile is assigned both a resource type, as well as a number between 2 and 12.  Each player’s turn begins with a roll of two dice, and the resulting roll awards the specific resources to the players that have settlements on the appropriately numbered tile.

Settlers of Catan, is, without question, one of the best combinations of strategy, game play, and ease of learning (which you will find becomes very important when teaching your friends how to play)  It’s easy enough to pick up and play that you can teach your friends very quickly.

Ticket To Ride ($38)

Up to 5 players.  Recommended age is 8 – 12.  Haven’t played this one with my daughter yet.

My wife and I love this game, and it has become a family event favorite when our parents come to visit.  The basic concept of this game is that you are an up and coming railroad tycoon looking to expand throughout the United States (there are also excellent variations on this game for Europe, Asia, India, and even the Nordic Countries.)

With a randomly selected set of route cards, you have to connect all of the cities those cards indicate.  You do this by collecting sets of rainbow colored train cards, and trading them in to capture routes across the map.  You’re competing with the other players, however, and before you have a chance, the route you were hoping for gets taken.  You’re constantly balancing between having enough trains and capturing routes quickly enough, and since you have new routes every single game, it’s a completely new experience every time.

Of all of the games on this list, this is probably the easiest one to learn.  There’s little to no math, and there’s almost no reading either.  In fact, the most challenging part of this game for newcomers might just be their personal strength in geography.  It is increasingly valuable to know where cities are on the map, without having to scour it for your city.

Dominion ($32)

2 – 4 players.  Once you explain the simple game mechanics, I’ve seen 6 year olds grasp the concept and strategy of this game pretty quickly.

Dominion is one of the most popular new games available right now.  The entire game is based on a large set of 300 cards, and really introduced the concept of a “deck building” game.  In short, you start with a small set of 10 cards that is identical to your opponents.  Dealing 5 cards on each turn, you use these cards to acquire even more cards, without ever actually discarding any of them permanently.  They end up in your personal discard pile, and when you run out of cards, you reshuffle your discard pile and keep on rolling.

Cards you can aquire might give you more money, more cards in your current hand, or even the ability to buy more than one card on this turn.  Ultimately, you’re trying to acquire as many of the “Victory” points you see in the photo below (they are the green ones with the numbers 1, 3, and 6.)

Your deck accumulates many more cards quickly, giving you a completely random hand of 5 powerful cards each turn.  What makes this game great, much like the rest of the games on this list, is that it is constructed to be a completely different game each time.

In the photo above, you can see that there are 10 “types” of cards you can buy (the two rows of five cards).  The game actually comes with 25 different types, which means you’re highly unlikely to play the same game twice.

This is another game that is very simple to learn, but I think that the true strategy of this game comes only after you’ve played it a few times.  There are many beginner pitfalls that you will discover, and after a few games under your belt, I think you’ll find your approach completely changes.

This game has exploded with expansions lately, and there are currently 7 stand-alone editions of this game available.  While similar, each game has its own theme, but can be combined with the original for even more variety.

Product Details Product Details Product Details Product Details

Product DetailsProduct Details

Quarriors ($40)

2-4 players.  My 8 year old daughter LOVES this one.

Quarriors is, in many respects, much like Dominion (above).  Instead of collecting cards, however, you’re collecting dice.  And instead of buying Victory points, you get to summon spells and monsters to destroy your opponents’ monsters, which ultimately also scores you some points.

Ah, the dice.  These richly colored little cubes make the game exciting.  Instead of randomizing a deck of cards, you keep your dice in a small bag, and you randomly pull six of them from the bag on each turn.  By rolling these dice, you can gain money (referred to in the game as Quarry), monsters, spells, portals, and any number of other fun things.

It has the same concept of a “store” where you can purchase a new die on each turn, which gets added to your bag, and eventually makes its way to the table for rolling.

This is another simple game for you and your friends to pick up, but I will issue a warning on this one: your non-geek friends are not going to respond in a positive way to creating dragons that have a defense of 6 and an attack of 8.  It definitely happens, and it’s core to the game.  There’s goblins, primordial oozes, wizards, you name it.  The moment my wife heard the words “how many defense points does your monster have?,” she was uninterested in playing.

I persevered, and showed her that it’s actually a fun game, and I’m not going to be dragging her down into the graph-paper laden Dungeons & Dragons.  She’s definitely a fan now (as she already liked Dominion).

I think there’s a similar level of strategy to Dominion in Quarriors, but I can’t help feeling like the game was designed to be WAY too short.  Most games last 30 minutes or so, but it often feels like you’ve FINALLY gotten the dice you need to be successful when the game ends.  I can’t recommend playing to 20 every time, no matter how many players you have.

Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot ($22)

2 – ? players.  My daughter had no problem playing this game at 7 years old, but there are many pop culture references that are either WAY over her head, or slightly inappropriate.

This is probably my favorite game in the list.  Not because of the strategy, though there is some.  Not because of the gameplay, because it’s ridiculous.  I love this game because the “playing” of the game is far more rewarding than the actual “outcome” of the game.  I will tell you up front, that winning this game is the result of shuffling a deck of cards, and hoping one of your cards matches the one on the bottom of this shuffled deck.

The basic concept of this game is simple.  You have a gigantic deck of cards, and everyone draws cards from it.  You have a queue of two cards that lie face down in front of you, and 5 additional cards in your hand.  The two queue cards are referred to as your “top run” and
bottom run” cards.  Perhaps a photo illustration will help.

Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot

On your turn, you turn over your “top run” card, and do what it says.  That’s the incredibly refreshing part of this game that, with expansions, can have over 800 cards in the deck: all of the rules are written on the cards.

By following the instructions on the cards, you slowly try to acquire bunnies, which then unlock your ability to use more and more aggressive cards against your opponents.  Not having a bunny makes you a very docile player, because it really limits what you can do in the game.  Thankfully, the deck is stocked full of all sorts of bunny cards.  On the downside, it’s also full of devestating weapons and devices designed to kill them as well.

Killer Bunnies

You use your cards to acquire as many of the Magic Carrot cards as you can, and once all of the carrot cards have been “gotten,” the game is over, and results in a random draw for the winner.

Along the way, you’ll see every kind of interaction you can imagine, with an inside joke or pop culture reference behind every one of them.  You’ll build alliances, only to turn on your friend the moment it benefits you in the slightest.

This game, while good as the base game of Blue and Yellow decks, gets increasingly more fun, interactive, and outrageous as you add in the expansion decks.  I can’t recommend getting all of them enough, but start with the original Blue & Yellow first.  Make sure you like the game before investing in the rest, because this game will definitely run you up over $100 when all is said and done.

Killer Bunnies: Red Booster DeckKiller Bunnies: Violet Booster DeckKiller Bunnies: Orange Booster DeckKiller Bunnies: Green Booster DeckKiller Bunnies: Twilight White Booster DeckKiller Bunnies: Stainless Steel Booster DeckKiller Bunnies: Perfectly Pink Booster DeckKiller Bunnies: Wacky Khaki Booster DeckKiller Bunnies Chocolate Booster

Killer Bunnies: Ominous Onyx Booster Deck

Summary

So there you have it.  A quick summary of some of the games from my ever-growing collection.  If you already own all of these, I might also recommend a few more here, without the exhaustive writeups.  In addition, if there are games that you are playing, and you absolutely love, leave them in the comments.  I’m always looking for a new challenge.

  

 

  

Be A Creator, Not a Consumer

Things you’re not allowed to think as you read this article:

  1. I don’t have enough time.
  2. I’m not smart enough.
  3. I don’t solve problems every day.

Many years ago, I created a talk called “7 Steps to Shameless Self-Promotion.”  The idea was to explain how to get famous (or at least well-known) in your career field.  As I’ve grown, both personally and professionally, I’ve realized that it really comes down to one simple idea:

Be A Creator.

Write a book.  Start a blog.  Build a website.  Publish some software. Contribute to an open-source project. Participate in forums.  Leave an indelible mark on your community.  These are creation.

As I look around our societal landscape, I’m noticing a trend where more and more people are specifically focused on consuming content.  Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, television, books, and magazines are all great things, and I even contend that without some consumption, creation would be incredibly difficult.  Everything you consume, whether it’s an interesting blog article or even an episode of Jersey Shore (please don’t), it shapes you as a person.

That being said, you’re currently looking for some ways to change or improve your life.  It’s the New Year, after all…why not make some impactful changes in what and how you live it?

I have spoken with thousands of developers, and I pose the same question to each of them:

When you solve a coding problem, where do you publicly share that information with others?  A blog?  A wiki?  StackOverflow?

The answer, almost always, is this:  Why would anyone read what I write?  I pose a similar question to you, my dear defeatist: Why do you read anyone else’s blog?  Is it their incredible use of iambic pentameter?  Maybe they rhyme the last word of every line.  Or maybe, it’s because you find solutions to your problems in their ramblings.

So in this year 2012, I want all of you to create something.  Maybe it’s a piece of art.  Maybe it’s a new presentation. Maybe it’s a Windows Phone application. Perhaps you’ve found the motivation to write a short story.  Whatever it is, DO IT.  The easiest way to get started?  Start a blog and write about your hobbies.  Go to WordPress and set it up.  Once a week, write down the new thing that you learned.  Maybe it’s that you finally solved a cool coding problem, or realized that bacon really makes your Cinnamon Toast Crunch taste better.  Write it down!  Someone will enjoy what you have to say, and at a bare minimum, you’ve now documented your solution, so you’ll remember how you did it the next time.

Let me know when you’ve done it.  I need some stuff to consume. Smile

An Open Letter to Netflix

Dear Netflix,

You’ve gotten some bad press over the past few days.  First, everyone hated your new plan structure and pricing, and then Starz confirmed that you weren’t going to be able to stream their library of movies anymore.  That’s a tough couple of days.

I’m writing you, however, because I’m optimistic.  I truly want you to succeed, but probably not for the reasons you think.  I want you to succeed because of your technology.  You have constructed a streaming video service that is ubiquitous.  It’s everywhere.  My Xbox 360, my Wii, my Roku boxes, my mobile phone, my laptop.  And the list is certainly growing.  You’re not really a “brand” to me so much as you are the portal to the content I want to watch.*

*That is, the stuff I want to watch that you also have a contract to stream.

And there’s the rub.  Being a Netflix subscriber means that I’m glaringly aware of the fact that content will constantly come and go.  It means attempting to stay aware of the relationships you’ve built with specific studios, as well as the expiration dates of those relationships.  I don’t want to do that.  I want to pay you a reasonable fee (we’ll get to that), and I want to know that I have access to new content when it’s available.

I really don’t want to subscribe to HuluPlus also.  But that’s where the new TV shows are.  Well, SOME of the new TV shows.  And HBO?  Oh, that’s a third place.  What about channels like HGTV, Discovery, or Nickelodeon?  Yep, can’t get those anywhere except with a cable subscription.

Now, at $7.99 a month for streaming what you have, I’ve got nearly no reason to complain.  You offer a sufficient amount of content for that price.  My question to you is this:

What if I were willing to pay more?  Significantly more?  What could you do then?

I have some ideas I’d like to share, and I’m sure that my readers could offer some creative solutions as well.  Ultimately, I want you to be the clearinghouse for all of the video content that I watch on my television.  TV, movies, heck, let’s throw YouTube in there as well.

Plan #1

Much like I had with your DVD offering, why not offer a plan that includes unlimited streaming of all content that is over 12 months old (like you basically do today), but add the ability to stream up to 4 brand-spankin’ new movies a month.  What would it cost me to make this happen?  $20 a month?  Done.  $25 a month?  Probably still a yes.

I understand that movie and television studios are your challenge.  They deserve their own open letter.  Without them, however, you’re nothing.  You need to create an appealing enough situation that they’re willing to partner with someone else other than the cable companies.  The world is slowly moving away from cable, and you could be the reason it happens.  Embrace that.

Licensing fees aren’t the only way to compensate the studios.  Instead of millions of dollars for a license, what if you just threw them $2 every time one of their movies was watched?  I think you’d see a change in their tune, and that would still leave you

Plan #2

Offer EVERYTHING.  Television shows.  Entire series, not the last 5.  New releases.  Every movie ever made.  What kinds of costs would you have to pass on to me to make that happen?  Fifty dollars?  I’d pay it.  Licensing costs are outrageous.  I get that.  But the music industry has been able to figure this out with Spotify, Pandora, even Zune Pass, and there’s WAY more record labels than there are movie and TV studios.

Summary

In short, you’ve got a grand opportunity here, and I understand that the studios have you in a tough financial situation.  How do you make money from your service when more than all of your profit goes to licensing?  You need to make this work.  Because if each studio comes out with their own streaming service, you’re just another place to get the same old videos.  Don’t do it.  Change your approach, or someone else is going to Blockbuster you.

What’s in your laptop bag?

In my reading today, I stumbled upon a short article by Cali Lewis titled “My Must Have Travel Gadgets.”  It got me thinking about all of the cool stuff I keep in my laptop bag.  There’s adapters, cords, devices, and other stuff I need everywhere I go.  I’m sure many of you have an awesome array of coolness in your laptop bag, so I thought I’d pose the question, and then show you what I’m currently carrying.

So, what do you have in your laptop bag?

The Laptop

The size of a developer’s bag is always directly proportional to their laptop, so I’ll start there.  I’m currently carrying the Samsung Series 9.  It’s .62” thick, and weighs less than 3 pounds.  It’s a 13” laptop, and I’m sure most people carry a 15” or 17”, but for a machine that I’m carrying all over the country/world, this thing is perfection.  I’ve got 4GB RAM and a 128GB SSD inside, so it’s zippy, as well as GORGEOUS.

9-Series-Laptop_13_1

The Bag

Because I’m carrying such a small laptop, I decided to go with a smaller bag too.  In the past, I’ve been carrying a huge (but awesome) bag from BBP Bags (thanks to Kevin Kuebler for the introduction).  In this case, however, I was looking for something smaller, almost satchel-like.  I found a great bag at eBags.com (made by Ducti) that fits my needs perfectly.  I’m not a huge fan of the “HIGH VOLTAGE” shoulder strap, but it’s growing on me, and gets plenty of compliments.  And though you’ll doubt it by the end of this article, yes, it holds all of this stuff.

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The Headphones

Depending on the type of trip I’m taking, I have two different sets of headphones.  For short trips, where I’ll likely only be using headphones in conference hallways or coffee shops, I’ve got the Skullcandy Chops over-earbuds.  Audiophiles generally hate Skullcandy’s sound, but I think they’re as good as any earbuds I’ve ever used, and they’re $15.  Can’t beat that.chop-09-black-chrome-headphones-glamor

For trips involving flights, I generally want to block out the noise of the flight, the crying baby, and the chatty couple from Boston that I’m sitting next to.  These are also my everyday headphones when I work at my desk, so I was shooting for extremely comfortable, amazing sound, but portable.  For this purpose, I have Sony’s Studio Monitor Series DJ Headphones.  Without question the best set of headphones I’ve ever owned, and Amazon has them for almost 50% off.

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The Notebook

You never know when you’re going to have a great idea for an app, or just need to jot some notes down during a presentation.  For this, there’s still nothing better than pen and paper.  I’ve been a big fan of Moleskine notebooks for years, and having spoken at the Kalamazoo X Conference the past three years, I’ve gotten one as a gift each time.  They’re durable, small in size, and easy to tuck into your existing bag, and they’re less than $15.

31G7xMCdxWL__SS400_

Also, because I use these notebooks for app ideas, UI sketching, etc., I’ve found a great set of templates that I keep in the back pocket of my Moleskine.  They’re from a company called UI Stencils, and they make templates for sketching iPhone, Windows Phone, and Android apps. The stencil comes with a cool mechanical pencil to fit neatly into the small spaces of the template (and your bag).

windows-phone-stencil

The Internet

Yes, I keep the entire internet right in my laptop bag.  Actually, I have the Verizon Mifi 4G LTE device.  The 4G is surprisingly fast, relatively affordable, and about the size of 10 credit cards stacked on top of each other.  It allows me to connect up to 5 separate devices to the internet at once.  This is not something I would use as my primary source of internet access (you only get 5GB of data per month), but if you use it whenever you can’t get free wi-fi, it’s great to have.  You can probably get the device for free with a 2 year contract (@$50/mo), but even folks that don’t want to negotiate can get it for less than $30.  For presentations that require internet access, this is an invaluable part of your bag.

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The Phones

I always keep my development phones with me…just in case I need to try something out.  Currently, I am using the Asus Prototype Windows Phone running the Mango update, as well as my trusty HTC Arrive.  They can both connect easily via wi-fi to my Verizon Mifi device, so I don’t need a plan just to have extra phones to work with.

Asus-E600-Windows-Phone-7-MWC-2011htc-arrive-sprint_xl

The E-Reader

I’ve never been someone who people would consider a “reader” until I got this device.  I’m reading 2-3 books a month now, thanks to my nook touch.  This is not a tablet, it’s not even in color, but the touch screen works remarkably well, and is ideal for reading.  I can get books out of the library for free, and I can put all of the e-books that I’ve received from O’Reilly and other technical publishers on this device.  That means that I can keep all of my reference material with me, on a great device for reading, with a battery life around 2 months!  This is a must have in my bag anymore.

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The Chargers

It used to be that for every device, you needed another cable to charge it.  As you know, I’m dabbling heavily in the mobile app development space. This means that I’ve got several phones with me at all times, and I need a way to charge them. I’ve found that the Barnes & Noble nook charger absolutely meets all of my needs.  Some micro-USB cables only seem to work with certain devices (I’m looking at you, LG).  The nook charger provides not only a 3 foot cable, but also a USB power adapter.  This means that I can charge up my phone without having to use up one of the precious USB ports on my laptop.  And together, they only cost $15.

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The Backup Power

As you may notice in this post, I like to plan for every possible contingency.  Sometimes, you’re not in a place where you can sit near a power outlet, or perhaps you’re on the move, but your phone died.  This is where carrying backup power comes in very handy.  In my case, I’m using the Energizer “energi to go” battery pack.  I have the smaller model, the Energizer XP8000, but for most purposes, it’s probably plenty for your needs.  I actually got it from Woot.com for around $40, but it generally goes for about $85 on Amazon.  It will give you about 4 extra hours of charge on your laptop, and about 16 hours of power for your mobile phone.  (The picture below is actually how big it is.)  It also comes with nearly every adapter you can imagine, so you should be ready to go out of the box.61R4mGfi81L__AA1333_

The Laptop Accessories

Nearly everything else in my bag is related to my laptop in some way.  Cables, dongles, converters, a mouse, etc.  I’ll cover all of the notable ones here.

Mouse

First, I carry a mouse with me.  There are some that will live and die by their track pads, but the moment I can use a mouse again, I’m happy.  I’ve traditionally been a trackball user, but trackballs aren’t generally small in size, and since I’m not using any of this equipment for 8-10 hours a day, a mouse is sufficient.  I’m currently using the Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 4000.  It’s small enough to fit in a compact bag, but big enough to feel like a real mouse in your hand.

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Ultimately, however, I think I’m holding out for the Microsoft Touch Mouse that’s coming out in August.  It incorporates gestures into a small, wireless form factor.  I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on one of these.  It’s like a trackball/mouse combo that fits in my bag.

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Memory Stick

Even though most files can be emailed or uploaded, those technologies are still no match for a trusty USB stick at your side.  I’ve actually got a jar of USB sticks that I’ve saved over the years, ranging from 16MB all the way up to 4GB.  But there’s only one that lives in my bag, and it’s the “just in case” drive for almost any purpose.  It’s a 32GB EMTEC drive.  It’s probably not the best drive in the world, and it’s certainly not the fanciest, but it works great, and it’s affordable.  It’s under $40 at Amazon.com.

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Laser Pointer and Presentation Controller

When you’re in front of an audience, there’s nothing worse than being stuck standing behind your computer, just so that you can advance your slides.  That’s where this becomes invaluable.  I carry the Logitech Professional Presenter R800.  It has a unique green laser (rather than the far more common red) pointer, as well as all the controls and features a presenter could want.  It connects via a USB wireless receiver, which is surprisingly fast and responsive.  You can go forward, backward, blank the screen, and it even features a programmable timer, so that it will vibrate in your hand as you approach your allotted time.  It is $60, but I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of this 4 or 5 times already. 

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USB Hub

You never know when you’re going to need to plug 19 peripherals into your laptop at a conference, or charge a few friends’ phones, so having a small USB hub never hurts to tote around.  I have a very cheap one that was probably a giveaway at some conference, but it’s been ultra-reliable and super portable.  Best part of this hub is that cable snaps into the bottom of the hub, so there’s nothing just dangling off of the device.  I found a similar one on Amazon.com for less than $9.

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Backup Display Options

Because I give many presentations in many different facilities, sometimes your laptop just doesn’t want to play nicely with the currently provided projector.  If that’s the case, I need a plan B and plan C as soon as possible.  The presentation starts in 5 minutes.  To accommodate this, I have several different devices in my bag.

Plan A is a mini-HDMI to full-HDMI cable that I got on Monoprice.com for around $4.  This, combined with the gorgeous orange 1,5 ft. HDMI cable that I also carry allows me to plug straight into any projector that can handle an HDMI input.  Unfortunately, I’d say less than 25% of the projectors I have encountered (my sample size is hundreds) actually have an HDMI input.

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Plan B is to use the cable that came with my laptop, a mini-HDMI to VGA converter dongle.  This has worked 100% of the time that I have used it.

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Plan C only even exists because I’ve heard horror stories of people with my laptop not being able to use the first two options.  This is a last resort, but as a professional speaker, I can’t afford to fail.  This plan includes taking the video output via USB, and converting it to VGA or DVI using a USB Display Adapter that I purchased from Monoprice.  It costs around $50, however, so don’t get this unless you’re as panicked as me that something will go wrong.

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Dust Cleaning Cloth

Part of having a pretty laptop is having a clean laptop.  (Thanks to Brian Gorbett for teaching me this obsession.) Fingerprints, dust, and smears make even the nicest machines look gross.  I recommend a cloth similar to the ones you get with a new pair of eyeglasses.  Microfiber, very thin, easy to store.  They should be relatively inexpensive, like these from Amazon.

The Deck of Cards

You never know when you’re going to need to pass the time, and a deck of cards solves that in many ways.  Solitaire by yourself, and hundreds of games with your friends, like Gin Rummy, Euchre, or any type of poker.  What I’m saying is that it never hurts to have a deck of cards.

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The Spare Batteries

My mouse and my presentation controller take AAA batteries.  You never want to be without power, so I always carry an extra set of fresh batteries, just in case.  I’d recommend you do the same if you’ve got devices that can’t be charged.  They’re small, and they’ll save your butt.

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The Summary

So, that’s the list of everything I carry with me everywhere.  There are a few pens, and probably an extra laser pointer in there, but for the most part, this in an exhaustive list.

I’m sure there are many things in your bag, and I’d love to hear what they are.  Is there something I hadn’t considered?  Is there something fun that you carry around instead of a deck of cards?  Leave a comment, or write your own article.  I’d love to know what’s important enough for you to carry around all the time.