On October 4, I played hooky from work and hung out instead at the Mojave Airport, where aviation entrepreneur Burt Rutan's rocket plane, SpaceShipOne, took off and breached the 62-mile-high border to space, then landed again, winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
I had flown down there the night before, where I met another entrepreneur, Wayne Correia, a cofounder of Critical Path. He had driven down in the mother of all mobile offices, a 40-foot-long Prevost bus that he's turning into the ultimate geek haven. At 2 a.m. on the morning of the X Prize launch, I was hanging out in his bus, talking with Wayne and other space nuts, and writing e-mail on my laptop as if I were sitting in my own office.
Wayne does everything on a large scale, as you'll see when I describe his bus setup in more detail. But his experiments can inspire mere mortals with less time to tinker and smaller budgets.
Wayne's Net connection came courtesy of a giant MotoSat satellite dish perched atop the bus. Whenever Wayne parks the bus, he flips a switch, and the dish majestically unfolds from the roof and automatically locks onto a Hughes relay satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Wayne uses an Apple AirPort Express Wi-Fi access point to distribute his bandwidth throughout the bus. (The bus's steel exterior effectively prevents the signal from being usable outside.) Wayne says he gets 2Mbps downstream and up to 90Kbps upstream, which is plenty fast for Web surfing, e-mail, and other applications. The round-trip time (latency) is at least half a second, though, which makes real-time apps such as Internet telephony sketchy. But at 2 a.m., who was I going to call?
It's not very often that the average businessperson needs to connect to the Net via satellite. Wi-Fi does the trick in most places, and when it doesn't, people who need it use a cellular data link. But if you're in the middle of a desert or an area that's not served by a communications infrastructure (such as a remote farm or a job site in a developing country), there are less expensive satellite Internet hookups, such as Hughes's DirecWay system, which uses the same type of dish as satellite television.
At 2 a.m., we didn't want to be running a noisy generator to power the bus's lights or its satellite receiver. Wayne has stashed a thousand pounds of Concorde AGM GP-4D batteries in a bay under the bus floor--enough to run his gear, including all of his computers, his television, his lights, and his stereo for several hours. He also has a 17.5KW diesel generator to run the air conditioners and to recharge the batteries when noise isn't an issue.
As he described his energy storage setup to me and some other tech heads earlier that evening, we couldn't help wonder if, with some serious tinkering, he could possibly connect a few direct-current motors to the batteries, thereby turning his bus into a Prius-crushing hybrid.
Mere mortals aren't going to lug a ton of batteries around, bus or no bus. But if the batteries on your laptop don't have the stamina you need for your job, I recommend you check to see if there are extended-life cells available for the model you use. Dell, Sony, and IBM offer extralife (and extracost) batteries for many of their laptops. To really become free of AC for a day or two, look at specialized notebook battery packs. They're generally as big as laptops themselves, but many will also recharge your cell phone.
The owners of many buses like this turn the acres of roof space into a deck. Not Wayne. He's angling to put some of Sanyo's new 190-watt solar cells up there. He'll even have some panels slide out from under fixed ones to give him more surface area than exists on the roof right now. (He also plans to install an interlock to automatically retract the panels and the satellite dish, should he forget to retract them himself and start driving with them still out.) With the batteries he already has, the generator onboard to charge them, and the solar cells he's hoping to install, he could come closer to achieving a kind of energy independence for his electronics and appliances. But that's just for the gadgets. Once underway, he gets only six miles per gallon of diesel.
Few businesspeople really need solar power for their electronics, but if you must, say, juice up your laptop, cell phone, or iPod when you're camping, there are solar rechargers for your gear. And you might want to check out the Solar Scott eVest. It's a jacket with solar panels on the back that will recharge gizmos you store in its pockets. Of course, if it's sunny enough to recharge electronics, you probably won't want to wear a jacket; in that case, check out the Voltaic solar backpack.
Keep it clean
Finally, one of the bus's biggest selling points to Wayne, who's 6 feet 7 inches tall, is its own bathroom and a shower that he can stand up in. Some $10 million private jets don't have this luxury, but then, Wayne's bus doesn't go 450 miles per hour.
Businesspeople needing remote hygiene are advised to head to the grocery store and pick up some premoistened towelettes.
The bus was a trip, and I didn't even get to ride in it when it was moving. What's the largest, most outlandish tech hack you've had the pleasure to use? Share it in TalkBack!