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August 22, 2003

Pluses and Minuses of Wireless

A good test of the success of a technology is whether after you have it you wonder how the hell you lived without it. I'm definitely beginning to feel this way about wireless technology. At the moment, I'm writing this in Athena's room, on the floor the computer propped up on my lap; Athena is behind me on her bed making up a Powerpuff adventure. Three weeks ago I would have to be in my office to type this and Athena would be coming in about every six seconds to ask me something or to ask me to do something or whatever, which means I would actually have a difficult time getting work done when she was around; now she's happy to let me work because I have proximity to her. She still asks me questions and such, but once I've answered she's off on her own thing.

Interestingly, this also works with Krissy; she's more content to let me do work if I'm in line of sight. There's a real psychological difference between being in the office all the time, away from the family while I'm doing work, and being in the room, doing work while the family is doing stuff around me. It's useful for me (especially when I'm on deadline, like I am right now), and it's better for the family.

The drawbacks: I'm having to retrain myself to be able to work while stuff is happening around me. I've had my own home office for years, and I'm used to having some imitation of quietness while I work. Being able to roam around the house while I work is nice, but the ambient distraction level is much higher, and as you may know, I'm very easily distracted.

So I'm re-learning how to "tune out" background noise to some extent -- a skill I had in college and also when I worked in a newspaper, where people are talking and making noise all around you. At the moment, Athena's helping me by providing a non-stop stream of noise, which I'm tuning out varying levels of success. To describe Athena as a talker is understating the issue. As her grandfather, who is a fairly quiet man asked after bringing her home after a visit: "Does she ever stop talking?" Well, no, not while she's awake.

The other issue is that I'm used to writing at a desk, and writing on laptop presents its own set of ergonomic challenges. Everybody likes the theoretical idea of being able to write from the couch, but in the real world, the couch cushions get in the way and your elbow gets all jammed up and you end up just being really uncomfortable. Having a tablet PC makes it easier to do some things (I do a lot of Web browsing from bed now), but when it comes time for actual work, it's a very mixed bag.

Ironically, however, I do find one thing easier to do on my laptop than my desktop: type. My hands are relatively small (because as most of you know I am a relatively not big man), and the "travel" between keys on my new laptop is a lot more comfortable than on my desktop keyboard. So I end up typing faster, at the very least. This is good because typing with a computer on your lap causes me to hunch my shoulders and there's only so long before I can do that before I get such a cramp.

On balance, however, the wirelessness is a very good thing. Try it. And then type from the floor of your daughter's room! You know you want to.

Posted by john at August 22, 2003 10:59 AM

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