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Burney's Legal Tech Reviews - Laptop Bag Fanatic; Could the Pen be Mightier than the Stylus? Mapping with Microsoft

By Brett Burney, Published on June 2, 2002

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com's Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal-technology questions at bburney@bburney.net.

 

Your laptop bag is probably something that you don’t think about very much. You either received a bag from the store when you purchased your laptop, or if you’re lucky, your firm supplied you with one when they doled out firm-issued computers. But in today’s world when it’s almost as important to pack your laptop as it is to pack an extra pair of socks, the laptop bag is becoming a serious consideration.

The Good, The Bag, and The Ugly

Call me a little silly but I take my laptop bag very seriously. Not only do I give my bag the all-important task of protecting my can’t-do-without laptop, it’s now become my briefcase, my overnight bag, my portable file folder, and my general all-around carry case. I spend extra time choosing a great bag that I know 1) is comfortable, 2) is sturdy, and 3) will last for a long time.

My main complaints with many laptop bags are a lack of internal protection for the computer and inadequate handles. Sure most bags supply some padding inside but I want a bag to snugly envelop my computer. Handles are also a pet peeve because I use my bag so much and I need a handle that feels good in my hand and doesn’t start fraying after so much toting around.

Other complaints on laptop bags have to do with the clips that hold the flaps in place and very poorly designed (read: uncomfortable) shoulder straps.

Are You Wired for the Road?

All of these things make for an unhappy legal professional. As I mentioned above, most people wouldn’t dream of traveling anywhere without taking their laptop with them. Not only that, but many people lug their laptop home with them every night and they need a bag to make the commute easier.

Musing upon the shortcomings of laptop bags, I was very excited to find a company called RoadWired out of Henrietta, New York. They make bags for just about any kind of computer/electronic equipment that you can imagine. One of the products that caught my eye was a bag for laptops called the MegaMedia Bag. This is a very popular product for RoadWired and features 36 different compartments to hold anything you can imagine, including your laptop!

If you think I’ve gone a little cuckoo with the handle, just wait until I tell you about the zippers. While most laptop bags may provide a little extra something on a zipper to grab on to, most of them don’t differ too much from the zippers we might find on our pants. But the MegaMedia Bag features expertly contoured zippers that provide a firm and secure item to grasp. My thumb fits perfectly in the zipper handle groove and it takes little effort to zip or unzip.

Mega-Excitement for this Mega-Bag

The first thing I noticed about the MegaMedia bag made me very happy – the handle is unique. Whereas many laptop bags have small nylon straps that pass for handles, the MegaMedia bag has a handle that appears as if it’s built around a small pipe. The main strap of the handle is wrapped around a small cylinder which gives you a fantastic item to grip. The underside of the handle has a soft, rubbery-like finish to it that prevents slippage and contributes to a firm grip.

At first glance the MegaMedia Bag seems to be larger than a “regular” laptop bag but it handles it’s size very well. First off, the MegaMedia Bag has a flattened portion on the top which helps the bag to keep a squared-off shape when it’s being carried. In addition to the regular clips for the flap on the bottom of the bag, there are two additional clips at the top which help to hold the bag shut. The only disadvantage of this is that you have to undo four rather than two clips each time you need to get inside.

There are a ton of other nice features in the MegaMedia Bag. First, the shoulder strap looks like a car seatbelt – it’s got the same weave and construction. The clips that hold the shoulder strap on to the bag are sturdy and provide for easy maneuverability when slinging the bag on your shoulder. RoadWired provided some extra padding for your shoulder too which I found to be very comfortable even when weighed down with a computer and several files.

Next, the internal compartment of the MegaMedia Bag is cozy and spacious at the same time. There is one main divider and several padded strips which are all adjustable thanks to the miracle of Velcro. The two folder pockets on the front are filled with elastic pockets that will hold a variety of items including your digital camera, cellphone, PDA, or even your Gameboy.

Lastly, there’s a small hidden pocket on the inside top of the main flap – RoadWired suggests that the pocket is a perfect place to hide your credit card or some extra money. There’s also a removable organizer that is Velcroed inside a pocket on the outside of the main flap. You can use this organizer to store your valuables and/or your passport so you can remove it and take it with you. It’s a neat idea.

The Bag is your Friend

The MegaMedia Bag that I reviewed was made of Ballistic Nylon. RoadWired also sells the MegaMedia Bag in Nappa Leather which would certainly make for a very nice gift.

The only inconvenience factor you’ll need to consider with the MegaMedia Bag is weight. While some laptop bags skimp on protection and comfort to give you a lighter carrying load, the MegaMedia Bag is 5 pounds all on it’s own. Add to that a 6-9 pound computer and a good stack of papers and you have a fairly noticeable weight-lifting challenge on your hands. On my recent trip to New York I was able to fit my Toshiba Tecra 8100, 5 magazines, many (slightly full) folders, an extra battery for my laptop, my cellphone, PDA, and a bunch of miscellaneous papers into the MegaMedia Bag. My load was heavy but the handle and the shoulder strap made it all very bearable and manageable.

The Ballistic Nylon MegaMedia Bag is waterproof (which helps in the rain) and is just a good, solid feeling bag. RoadWired is an excellent company to deal with and they tout a “zero tolerance” for defects in their products. They also provide a very comprehensive warranty.

If you’re interested in upgrading your “hardware” and not just your computer’s software, I would certainly recommend looking at what RoadWired has to offer. If you’d like to see the MegaMedia Bag in action, RoadWired even has a short video that you can watch located at http://www.roadwired.com/ProductDemo.cfm.

Could the Pen be Mightier than the Stylus?

An often overlooked aspect of PDA usage is the stylus. Every PDA comes with a stylus which is usually tucked neatly away in a small slot in the back of the unit. Those "default" styli are great for most people but there’s a large market out there for users who want a little bit more.

The Stylus

You use a stylus to interact with your Palm or PocketPC PDA. It’s the “stick” with a pointy tip that you use to tap on the screen of your PDA to make selections or scribble text and numbers. Most styli are nothing more than straight plastic implements. Some PDAs, such as the Sony Clie, put a little more effort into their stylus and allow you to unscrew the top and bottom of the stylus to reveal a small screwdriver and reset instrument.

The stylus originated as an computer input tool several years ago when graphic artists needed a way to interact with computers beyond a keyboard and mouse. It was normally attached to an electronic tablet which transmitted the coordinates of the taps back to the computer.

The stylus obviously resembles a pen which makes us more comfortable when we want to input information into our PDA by handwriting. It makes sense, then, that many companies have taken that concept a step further and created writing instruments that double as styli.

Stylin’ Styli

The market for pen/stylus combos is huge. You can get anything from the simple pen/stylus combo to pens with multi-color inks … and a stylus.

My current favorite pen/stylus combo is from a company called Retro 51. They mostly make regular pens and a few other desktop office items. But they have one product based upon their successful line of “Tornado” pens called the “Twin Tornado” (go to http://www.retro51.com and click on the “Product Catalog” link).




The Twin Tornado is about half the size of a regular pen but has an excellent heft to it. While I normally like regular sized pens, the Twin Tornado fits easily into my shirt pocket or laptop bag. I have the Stainless Steel model which is all silver and looks very sleek.

Retro 51’s Tornado pens get their names from the fact that you have to twist the top of the pen to extract the ballpoint. With the Twin Tornado, I twist one way to extract the ballpoint pen, and twist the other way to extract a fluorescent yellow stylus tip.

I like the Twin Tornado’s stylus tip mainly because it’s sharper than the tip on my PDA’s stylus. It doesn’t sound like that should make much of a difference when using my PDA but I much prefer to use the Twin Tornado when I can.

I know that your PDA stylus may not be at the top of your “tech list,” but you owe it to yourself to explore the exciting world of styli if you’re an everyday PDA user. I recommend the Twin Tornado from Retro 51 because it looks good as a regular pen and works very well as a stylus too.

Mapping with Microsoft

I never understood why people chose to purchase computer map programs when they could get the same thing on the Internet for free (Yahoo! Maps, MapQuest, MapBlast, etc.) Plus, I’ve always assumed that Internet maps would be more up to date than computer programs where the user had to continuously purchase upgrades for the program. But my hard-nosed perspective on computer map programs changed slightly after I used MapPoint from Microsoft.

You Can Map Point A to Point B

I have to admit that I’ve had a blast working with this program. The install is huge, however. It takes 410MB of space and that’s just for the application. I chose to save space by loading the maps from the CD rather than installing them all on my hard drive (which takes up closer to 700MB). Happily, within a minute of two of launching the program, I was zooming in and moving around my neighborhood without a problem.

The first big advantage I found in using a computer map program over the Internet is speed. I was zooming in and out and moving around the United States at lightning speeds compared to the Internet (although I did have to wait a second or two for the CD to catch up sometimes). I was also able to view things in more detail than I could at Yahoo! Maps or MapBlast.

Another great advantage of MapPoint being a Microsoft product is that I can download maps to my PocketPC. Included with the full version of MapPoint is Pocket Streets which allows me to download maps that I’ve created and customized in MapPoint straight to my PocketPC. I can then literally take these maps with me on the road and I don’t have to worry about folding the map back up when I’m done.

MapPoint will allow you to place pushpins of all sorts on your map. You can place titles and small notes on these pushpins that can include URLs or other information.

You also have the same drawing tools available to you in MapPoint that you can find in other Microsoft Office products. This allows you to draw rectangles or circles around points on your map.

If you enjoy getting accurate directions on your computer before setting out in the wild blue yonder, MapPoint has some excellent tools for you. The “Route Planner” can accept and factor in several “stops” and will allow you to pick several options like your average driving day, driving speeds, and fuel costs along the way. I found the directions to be surprisingly very accurate when I put in several routes that I knew from heart. You can also elect to have hotels and restaurants show up on the map but I found this option to be sort of limited and not very helpful.

Visualize and Mesmerize

Microsoft doesn’t simply refer to MapPoint as a mapping program, they instead call it a “Mapping and Data Visualization Solution.” This refers to the integration that MapPoint enjoys with other Microsoft Office products like Word and Excel. While it’s very easy to import maps into Word documents or PowerPoint presentations, MapPoint can also take data from Excel and place it visually on a map. This can be very helpful in determining certain business trends or information on certain territories.

The other neat integration feature is how MapPoint can work with Smart Tags. The version of MapPoint I’m reviewing here is 2002 which means that it’s compatible with Office 2000 and Office XP. If you have Office XP and have Smart Tags turned on in Word, you can use the Smart Tag on addresses typed into Word documents to quickly bring in a map or plan a route. I found this function to work very nicely and I never would have imagined that it would be so easy to suck a map into my Word document.

There are two quick things that deserve honorable mentions. First, MapPoint features “DriveTime Zones” that allow you to pick a spot on a map and illustrate all the places you can visit in a specified time period.

Second, I really liked being able to update road construction information when I was planning a route. MapPoint connects to the Internet, and apparently to the U.S. Department of Transportation Web site, to download up to date information on road construction in your planned route. You can’t beat that.

So yes, there are limited uses that you might find for MapPoint in a legal environment but if you need a program to help you sort out or visualize a bunch of geographic data, then it just may be your solution.

Please feel free to e-mail me (bburney@bburney.net) with any questions, suggestions, comments, or any helpful tips and tricks that you might have relating to technology used in the practice of law.