Useful things I carry in my laptop bag

I never know what I will need when I am visiting a location I am not familiar with. Over the years, I have settled on bringing along a default set of “things I shouldn’t have to remember to bring along, but I do anyway ;-)”

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You are in a meeting room, with a nice giant display. You have something you want to show the six people in the room. While the figure might look ordinary on your 13“ laptop’s screen, it would really impress everyone in the room if they could just see it on that large screen. Who knows, maybe the grumpy person sitting at the far corner of the table might even join in on the conversation.

But, and it seems there is always a but, the administrative assistant who has the key to the cabinet which holds the RFID card which opens the drawer which houses the incredibly precious extra display cables is nowhere to be found. And, because those display cables for visitors are so precious, nobody else can open the cabinet which holds the RFID card which opens the drawer which houses the extra display cables.

Only, this time, you are prepared. While HDMI is becoming more and more common in conference rooms, I still encounter classrooms and auditoriums with just VGA port available to connect to the projections system. Then, of course, there is network connectivity. If you have a one hour meeting, and the first 20 minutes is spent trying to get your computer hooked up to a display, and get online, that meeting is already lost.

So, these are the connectors I always bring with me:

Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter MB572Z/A: This is for my mid-2010 13“ MacBook Pro. Your Apple product probably uses some other connector. I am not up-to-date on the display adapter varieties used throughout their product line, so double check first. I just have to say, this came in extremely handy many times. You may want to also look at Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter MB572Z/B to make sure you have the right one.

Of course, it is not enough to have the converter. You don’t want to end up in an awkward situation because you have to stay close to the connector. That’s when the Cables Unlimited PCM-2240-06 SVGA Cable comes in handy. This one at 6 ft long is just long enough to be handy while keeping the weight in check. It also has a standard audio cable which you don’t need very often, but when you do, it is a life saver.

My go-to laptops, being the “ancient” machines they are, all have built-in Ethernet adapters (one of them even has a modem that works in Linux ;-) But, I like having the UtechSmart USB 2.0 to 10/100 Ethernet adapter just in case I am working with someone who only has USB and wireless. It’s good to save the day like that. Of course, I actually carry around spare network cables as well.

It is always good to be able to connect to HDMI displays, if only to watch free Amazon Prime movies in your hotel room. So, I also carry around Tera Grand’s Premium Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter Cable with Audio Support (yes, I am a cheapskate), and an HDMI extension cable to go along with that.

Every now and then, I check out cheap USB flash drives, and stuff one or two extra in my bag, just in case. While it is not the greatest format for data safety, exFAT is extremely convenient in that almost all reasonably recent operating systems support it, and it gives you files sizes greater than 32GB. Just be cautious, and don’t let your computer go to sleep while accessing it. In principle, a reasonable operating system should not let anything bad happen in that case, but my MacBook Pro messed up my Mushkin Ventura Pro 64 GB Flash Drive that I had to contact tech support (something I very rarely do), and some special software to re-initialize it.

It’s good to have a blank USB drive so as to prevent someone else’s filesystem monitor from accessing your files for another client. Keep in mind that plugging flash drives into other systems is inherently dangerous. There are some precautions you can take, but, I do not know how to protect against hardware level malware short of never using USB flash drivers, but, I don’t think anyone does either, but I do like to have my own blank drive, initialized in Linux with me, and if my drive has been connected to another computer, I like to check it out first in the same environment, copy the file over inside that environment. This method provides reasonable protection against software based malware, but, if I were to ever receive a flash drive with builtin hardware based malware from Amazon, I would never know it. Such is life. Until recently, I had no clue such a thing was even possible.

For those times, I do carry around with me another drive with ArchLinux installed on it.

Finally, I do love cool pens, so I always have a lot of pens with me. But, for thinking, nothing beats your standard pencil. Mechanical pencils are too annoying, especially when doodling, which means I also have a good pencil sharpener. Complete the set with the best eraser of all time. It is also useful when you need to clean memory card contacts.

The one thing I really want is a decent modem I can use from Windows, OS X, and ArchLinux, for those times I need to fax something while on the road, but I do not leave a copy in some random fax machine at a hotel business center or UPS location. Any recommendations?


I forgot about the most important thing: HICKIES Elastic Lacing System. One time, half way through a particularly long string of flights, disaster-struck. No, I am not referring to the belly landing. After the umpteenth security checkpoint, the laces on one my shoes just broke. Having packed light, these dress shoes were the only ones with me, and I wasn’t carrying any spare shoe laces. I might be hallucinating, but I believe there used to be a time you could find a pair of shoe-laces at a decent-sized international airport. Apparently, those days are long gone. Luckily, a Brookstone store had a box of HICKIES in assorted colors, including a set of dark grey and black. I ended up keeping them on my shoes for the entire week I was working on site, and no one noticed that my dress shoes did not have proper laces.

They are a little looser than regular laces, but they do make going through security checkpoints a breeze. Of course, I put regular laces on the moment I got a chance to pick a pair, but now I do have a box of HICKIES as a backup plan.