Hardware Hardships

Gadgets need TLC, too.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the April 2000 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Last winter (1999), I drove from Washington to New York on what I'm certain was one of the coldest days of the year. Factoring in the windchill, temperatures must have plunged well below zero. I foolishly stored my notebook computer in my car overnight when I stopped at a friend's house in Princeton, New Jersey, completely forgetting it'd get icier than a deep-freeze after dark.

The next morning, I took the portable into a diner to catch up on some correspondence. The laptop wouldn't start-the keyboard felt very cold to the touch; the screen was dark and looked gelatinous. My heart almost stopped, and I thought: "This is it. I've just destroyed a $3,500 computer."

Fortunately, the hardware thawed out a few minutes later. But not every story has a happy ending. Gadgets are damaged or destroyed at a higher-than-normal rate by road warriors, wiping out data and leading to hours of lost work time. According to data protection and recovery firm ONTRACK Data International Inc. in Minneapolis, 32 percent of computer data perishes because of human error. That figure includes, but isn't limited to, equipment being dropped, mishandled or exposed to the elements.

That's not the only thing travelers have to worry about. New personal digital assistants are getting so small, they're almost as easy to misplace as airline tickets and passports.

A couple years ago, frequent travelers didn't need to concern themselves with these issues. Laptop computers weighed as much as today's PC towers. Cell phones were as bulky and heavy as bricks. Personal digital assistants were more cumbersome than college dictionaries. You couldn't lose these things no matter how hard you tried.

Today, however, the technology is smaller and more sensitive than ever. "Travelers seem to be losing their gadgets more often," observes Dan Koch, former chief operating officer for Pilot Island Publishing Inc., a developer of software for the Palm operating system. "But there are precautions you can take. Without a doubt, this is something that people need to think about as the technology evolves."

Here are a few tips:

Always back your data up on another computer. Personal Digital Assistants may be "synced" to PCs to prevent the loss of information stored on them if they go MIA.

Keep the gadgets close to you. PDAs and cell phones should never be far from their carrying cases when you travel. Out of the case, they're far easier to misplace.

Leave them at home. New hotel rooms now come equipped with PCs, rendering the need for a laptop computer obsolete. If possible, leave the easy-to-lose gadgets back at the office.

Don't pack them away. New high-powered security scanning devices for checked-in luggage can damage magnetic storage systems.

Christopher Elliott is a writer in Annapolis, Maryland. Contact him at http://www.elliott.org

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