The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: laptop

Cormac McCarthy to auction his typewriter

Cormac McCarthy's venerable typing machine
(Cormac McCarthy’s venerable typing machine)

This is a heavily worn Lettera 32 – it’s an Olivetti portable typewriter. It’s clearly seen some heavy use. I find it hard to imagine just how much use it’s seen though — about 5 million words across 7 books and numerous smaller works.

I’ve blogged about my own Olympia SG-3 earlier in the year and this is the absolute opposite end of the scale. The portable typewriter is a smaller, lighter, portable option. It’s not at all dissimilar in its intended use to the laptop of today:

(There’s a really good photo showing how a portable typewriter is used in the same way as a laptop on the BBC News site but it’s a getty image and I’m not going to risk embedding it here – BBC link)

That’s the very good thing about the portable typewriter. They really are portable. They are designed specifically to fit into a bag and be light enough to carry around. You could even get cases which allowed you to carry files, accessories, supplies along with the typewriter etc — very much like a laptop bag.

My big model sits on a desk in my room and stays there until I get someone to help me move it. In return it’s a considerable chunk of springs and gears which can do some amazing things with no more than a cunning use of gears and springs (decimal tabulation anyone?) and is pretty hard to hurt. It’s really up to the user — you wouldn’t say that a laptop is better than a desktop to type documents on. It may have different features but at the expense of portability, for example. If you only need to type notes any typewriter will do that fine.

I can’t possibly afford Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter but I think I’m content with my current typewriter altogether. It’s given me a good few months of reliable, handy service so far and long may it continue.

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Sky news explores the IT repair trade

IT repair

It is not uncommon for people who repair computers to do things which are relatively harmless but still pretty unethical – stealing your music, for example, is quite commonly done. While that is not particularly horrible it does sort of show the attitude in some repair shops to the customer’s data.

I take the view that computer repair is in no way a more privileged job than washing machine or TV repair people. Perhaps, given the much greater range of wrong doing with computer repair it is actually a less privileged job. You can do just about anything to a washing machine that you’re repairing but if you wander through a customer’s files you end up on thin ice.

The industry has the slightly uncomfortable set of affairs where the job is little understood but relatively easy. A lot of the job of IT repairs is taking prefabricated parts out of clearly marked slots and replacing them with nearly identical replacements. The design and manufacture of those parts are extremely difficult, make no mistake, but the installation gets easier nearly every year. That does not mean that it make any more sense to someone when their computer stops working but it means that nearly anyone could be an IT repair guy and there’s absolutely no vetting.

Computers are unique for their ability to take a really significant chunk of your innermost life and make it both quickly accessible and very copyable. Without the Sky News investigation the worst I thought would happen is that my MP3s and videos would get copied into some monolithic tower of hard drives in the heart of the secretive repair lab. It turns out that rather worse things could happen.

The investigation

Sky News apparently asked PC Pro (a Dennis publishing computing enthusiast magazine) readers for horror stories of “rogue traders” and then they set up a honeypot laptop – they loaded it with folders marked “Private” and filled with bank details, pictures etc. They then filled it to the gunwales with spyware that would record what the technicians did, what they clicked or typed, what files they accessed and would take periodic pictures with the integrated webcam.

To create a simple, painless and easily remedied error they loosened a memory chip on the motherboard so that it would incompletely boot and give an error message. To fix this you would open the bottom panel, take the stick of RAM out, blow on the connectors (it really works!) and put it back in. At that point the computer would work again.

The problem, as I hope I have shown, was not rocket science and for people doing this day in, day out it should not have posed a great challenge.

Sky News discovered that the shops investigated were not keeping up the professional end of the deal. One of the shops presumably tried to turn it on, read the messages, fixed the problem and handed the computer back to the stunned Sky News researchers within minutes – that is to their great credit. While they didn’t charge this is up to the people involved. I would see no problem with charging for the work done, it’s not a lot of work but it’s still someone doing their job.

The other shops were much less ethical – they all managed to fix the fault quickly enough, but generally diagnosed a motherboard fault and charged for a replacement part. This is like charging a car owner for a new engine if you’ve tightened some screws. They also returned to the fully functional computer to see what they could get out of the hard drive – the folder marked “Private” becoming a very tempting target. The folder contained photos of the researcher wearing a bikini – which Sky (and Dennis) faithfully reproduced in the final reports – which was faithfully copied to a collection of similar photos on a technician’s USB drive.

The most worrying thing, and the most serious offence, was the repairman who then used some (fabricated) bank details on the laptop to attempt to gain access to a Net West bank account. Since the details were false the man was unable to access the account but that did not stop him trying for several minutes. God alone knows what he would have done if he had gained access but I think we really have to consider that attempted fraud.

Computers may seem like magic, and for a large part that’s what they are, but the IT repair industry should not get any extra leniency when it goes too far than any other repair industry. Now – where are the police investigations into this misconduct?

This sort of wrong doing hurts me more as a (fingers crossed) future professional than as a computer enthusiast. I’ve never used a computer repair shop, I’ve never had to. My parents sent our first Mac off to Applecare (and that held my games and my sister’s university thesis, not personal photos and bank details) and I’ve always just been able to muddle through since. However, not everyone has spent so much of their childhood spurning sunlight and perhaps can’t do their own repairs.

One big reason for why you might send your computer off to be repaired, even if you can fix it yourself, is that you’re too busy. High flying corporate lawyers working 70 hour weeks can hardly come home, get out their mini screwdrivers and fix their laptop after a hard day at work. They might desperately need their computer for work. In that case paying someone to repair it for you would be extremely tempting. If you are a high flying corporate lawyer your laptop might well contain suitably high flying private data and you hardly want your hard drive cloned (copied in full) in a repair shop.

The best ways to get around this are to keep personal data off your computer and on an external drive but this is a Herculean task since personal data is nearly everything you do on a computer. There is always the option of taking the hard drive out – if you can – but the hard drive can often be the fault that needs fixed. You may want to not let it out of your sight, you can get call out tech support that comes to you but this is expensive. The corporate lawyer in my example might be able to get it fixed by inhouse tech support at his firm, but that’s a long shot for most of us.

Beyond that encryption is quite sensible, but this needs to beat a bored, curious IT professional and that’s quite a substantial test. It may also work out that you need to let people look at your computer logged in and working. Encryption does not equal logon password (which is no protection at all), although my disc encryption (on Linux) is tied into that password prompt.

I think the best protection is taking the same measures as Sky News, recording what files are accessed, what’s clicked on, what’s typed etc. I don’t think you can take photos of them without their consent no matter what sort of crime they’re committing – the police actually gave me a warning for this over the summer. Sky News gets away with it because it’s a huge company and it gets to use the “public interest” journalism defence but I don’t know if individuals would, especially since most technicians won’t try to do something blatantly illegal like hacking your bank account. This stinks of closing the door after the horse has bolted but at least this means you can show what happened and that’s quite a useful measure in your defence. After all, you’ve not left your laptop on the train, you’ve brought it to a shop to be fixed.

5 Backup Strategies for students

Ever since the student was invented centuries ago the worst thing that could happen to him was he could lose his notes and this is just as true if the student is using parchment and quills or solid state drives and the latest ultra portable laptop. He needs a way to keep track of the files he has and a good way to back them up. This used to be a massive undertaking in the days of hand writing notes (and I still look at my overflowing lever arch files and decide that I’m never going to copy them out again) which became only slightly easier when the photocopier was invented. The computer, however, revolutionised copying in a way which can (and has) give a music exec the cold shakes and it’s now so easy to keep multiple copies of every file you use that it’s no one’s fault but your own if you don’t use the same logic on your work as your music collection. The only problem for someone wanting to protect their files is picking which method you want to use*.

The best method

This is your humble author’s best bet for simple file protection while you’re at university:

Wikipedia

[A USB drive ready to be plugged into a computer, source: Wikipedia]

There’s a lot of sense in using these small, inexpensive devices to store your data while you’re studying. They are extremely portable, not only between locations but also between computers. I could plug my USB stick into a university lab computer, hand it to a print shop or plug it into my own laptop and the files on it can be read off with no problems or issues whatsoever. I often copy files that I wanted printed copies of to my USB stick so that I can print them off on the much cheaper bulk laser printers in libraries than on my inkjet at home.

It depends on your requirements, obviously, what you need but generally I would go for a stick with a capacity of a few gigabytes. There’s really no reason not to do this now because costs have dropped so much. Fancier models are nice but speed and security are often overpriced in the eyes of users who just want a plug and play flash drive. I picked my 8GB stick off Amazon.co.uk for about ten pounds. An 8GB stick will be effectively limitless as far as your homework is concerned. I keep a great deal of information on my USB drive, case reports, journal articles, coursework, etc but try to ensure that there is no personal data on the stick, just in case I leave it lying in the library or have it stolen from me and 8GB goes a very long way when you are using it to store text.

I use a [Windows briefcase (remember those?) on my flash drive which will sync with my home computers with a single click. The Briefcase is an ancient feature in Windows since Windows 95 but one which proves very useful to me nearly every day.

For other people simply dragging the folder over will be more than enough to keep a copy of your work but it lacks the synchronization features that using a Briefcase (or another sync program) will give you.

The online method

Online storage is a relatively old phenomenon but one which has only recently taken off. While people have had the opportunity to store their files remotely for many years the tipping point has come when it became easy and fast to do so. While people who still have dial up connections will gladly tell you how slow it is to browse web sites this is nothing compared to the ~3kb/s effort of sending a substantial amount of data the other way.

The most common domestic Internet connection is the Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) which divides a phone line up into various bands for upstream, downstream and voice. This allows the connection to do all three operations at once. That’s great for being able to answer the phone at the same time as use the internet but the way that the phone line divides up the data frequencies does not divide it equally – it’s asymmetric. Generally people will have hugely quick download speeds and considerably slower upload speeds, maybe as little as 10% of the download speed. This provides a massive barrier to anyone who wants to send a lot of data across their connection because it simply takes a lot of time.  For smaller amounts of data, though, it’s very convenient.

There are many options for online storage:

The handiest application I’ve found for my online storage has to be the Gmail Drive. This shell extension for Windows allows you to mount your googlemail account as a drive in Windows and copy files to, save to it from programs and generally use it as you would any other drive. The only difference is that the files are saved in your Gmail account as attachments in emails which you can access from anywhere you have Internet access. The storage limit is about 8GB and no single file can be more than 10MB but if you only use it to back up your text file homework and notes this is more than enough. You may have to reduce the length and complexity of file names to get it working just right but that’s a rare issue for most users.

You could do this manually by emailing yourself files as attachments which will let you access them from wherever you have Internet access but the drag and drop of Gmail Drive is particularly convenient for me.

A slightly more involved method is simply to use an online storage provider; these can be free but often charge monthly fees for their services and provide gigabytes of easy to access storage which you control through an often very colourful and polished downloadable application. I find these to be too much for my requirements which are served by not much more than an email account but they are a good, easy to use option for people who don’t want to get too involved in the technical background.

The network method

If you have more than one computer in your house, for example I have my work laptop and I have a more powerful desktop computer that I use for games and other entertainment tasks, you can use them to store your data in more than one place and improve the redundancy. I personally use a simple Windows SMB based network to create network shares that I can mount and use as regular drives and that does everything that I need the network to do, backup wise.

Even if you don’t have another computer you can still use a network to back up your data. Most people on broadband connections use a router to connect their computer(s) to the Internet and the router is a device which is naturally good at connecting lots of devices to networks. The standalone option is a NAS device:

One example of a consumer NAS

[One example of a consumer NAS, source: Amazon.co.uk]

Network Attached Storage is a previously only business technology which suddenly became considerably cheaper and suddenly a lot more economical for the home user. These devices are roughly speaking specialized, low cost computers that have enough power to control a hard disc and a network connection and some have features like automatic Bittorrent downloads, which allows the device to run all day and night and not tie up a “real” computer. They come in two main varieties – prebuilt and barebones. Barebones units tend to be a cheaper purchase (but there can be a premium once you factor hard drives into that price too) than complete versions but you have to provide your own hard drives but that gives you flexibility as to your capacity. Prebuilt versions already have drives installed and generally arrive at the user ready to be plugged in the wall and used.

The sneakernet method

Sneakernet [sic] is a term that describes when instead of electronically connecting two computers you save the file you want to share to a disc and physically take it to the other computer. This is useful in situations where you want to save a copy of your work for future reference and want it to be safe from hard drive failure or being stolen from you while you’re out. It is not a bad plan to burn coursework and other essential pieces of your own work to a CD so you can store it at home if the worst should happen. Given the size of coursework files you could get a sizeable portion of your entire written handiwork stored on an old school floppy disc, I certainly remember family members finishing their entire university career with a small stack of floppy discs tucked into their notes. Those discs will still faithfully hold the files that were put on them in years past and that’s all that can possibly be asked of a backup.

No matter what method you use, remember to do it often!

Backups are of no use to you whatsoever if you haven’t got a recent copy of a file that’s suddenly disappeared. If you leave your backups for too long you risk running into a situation where the copy you have is not one which can really help you. I personally keep my USB drive nearly perfectly up to date because I keep the USB drive plugged in a lot of the time and it’s a moment’s work to click “Update All” in My Computer when I’m finished working.

Try to get yourself into a habit of backing your files up regularly when you’re working so you’re not left with outdated copies when disaster strikes.

Hopefully habits picked up in university with stay with you throughout your professional life and in an era where data losses seem to occur on a weekly basis you will be the professional who knows to keep a redundant copy of your client records locked up in a safe place and to use encryption (more on this later) on data that goes out of the office.

*If you’re particularly fervent in your quest for data protection you can bear in mind that the protection that backups give you is redundancy and the only thing that using more than one of these systems can do is improve your security. I personally have copies stored on both my computers as well as on flash drives.

Merry Christmas from SLS (And “Don’t mess with my computer”)

christmas-tree

Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this, I hope the holiday is relaxing and no one needs to do too much today. I’m looking forward to ridiculous calorific intake over many hours today, it’s at least one day of the year when the Pot Noodle is simply not on the menu for students after breakfast.

I thought I’d mention a story from across the pond which might reassure everyone who thinks they might be taking this law thing “too seriously.”

Alex Botsios is a 1L (first year of law school) at Arizona State University. Like many students his dorm room is a ripe target for thieves. One particularly bold individual appeared in his room through the unlocked window during the night brandishing a baseball bat. The thief (committing aggravated theft, of course) demanded he hand over his possessions. Botsios, being trapped in a room with an armed man, agreed and later said:

“ he had no problem giving a nighttime intruder his wallet and guitars. “

However, greed was to be this thief’s downfall, not content with the gift of music he went back for more:

“When the man asked for Botsios’ laptop, however, the first-year law student drew the line.

“I was like, ‘Dude, no — please, no!” Botsios said. “I have all my case notes…that’s four months of work!” “

I agree with this feeling, I slipped on ice during the recent freeze and escaped a pretty nasty injury by landing on my laptop and cushioning my fall with a mighty cracking sound and I recall, straight through the sense of embarrassment at decking it and the pain of landing so heavily that I felt physically sick, firstly because I might have had to find the money to buy a new computer from somewhere and also because I might have lost my work right before I was to submit assignments.

Botsios, unlike myself, had a target to vent his rage at and attacked his robber. Literally, he managed to hospitalise a hardened robber in his quest to save his laptop.

“ At that point, the law student wrestled the bat away and began punching Saucedo, Botsios said.

“I basically grabbed him and threw him this way, and he held onto the bat so it threw him to the ground,” he said.

Police said they took Saucedo to the hospital for stitches before they arrested him on charges of armed robbery and kidnapping. Other than a bruised knuckle and a few scratches, Botsios was unharmed.“

In a fairly amazing job of rubbing salt into the robber’s not-only-figurative wounds he left with this final quote:

“It’s my baby,” he said. “Don’t mess with my computer.”

A sentiment I think we can all get behind at T minus 1 hour to a deadline.

And the man who suffered all this?  This is the robber, stitched lip and all:

This is the man after the law student was done with him

NB: Speaking as a not very secret IT person I would recommend that anyone else who has invested enough into their work to fight to defend it from robbers should invest in a reliable backup strategy so that even if you wake up or come home to find your dorm / house trashed and your laptop missing you can still get back to work quickly.

The thought occurs that this is a big enough topic and important enough to be a blog entry on its own at a later date, so stay tuned.

Notes

I take notes in lectures using a ballpoint pen and seemingly endless pads of paper which all get collected together by subject into a big file in my bookcase at home, this year I managed to fill and a bit extra a lever arch file with handwritten lecture notes. There’s a lot of material covered in lectures.
I was warned that bringing too many notes into university leaves me at the risk of losing huge amounts of work in the case of my bag being snatched or misplaced, or perhaps just falling in water. (Glasgow has a couple of big rivers running through it and I’m comfortable admitting that if my bag fell into either I would just have to let it go.)

I’ve not seen the levels of crime that seem to affect students at other universities, we have the odd warning about opportunists in the library but nothing approaching a crime wave so I feel alright carrying relative valuables (not real valuables, I’m a student remember) and I could claim those back on my insurance if I really had to. But notes are awkward to replace – I’d have to hunt down a colleague and photocopy sheet after sheet to get back to where I was before. It’s a thought that I’m more concerned about my notes than my laptop.

I’ve tried typing notes during a lecture, but firstly I felt self conscious with my happy, noisy typing style. there’s a bit difference to writing down every word the lecturer says with a quiet pen and tapping it into a computer, so I was immediately put off the lecture. Secondly, remember to disable any alerts you have on your laptop, if Outlook is retrieving email at the same time as you’re typing it might not disrupt your typing but it will distract you. A lot of my problems stemmed from being distracted by the fact I was typing instead of writing. The other point is the speed of setting up a laptop is more than the same process with paper – pretty much uncap your pen and pull a pad out of your bag, so you spend a little more time at the start of the lecture getting into the right mindset. This does not even begin to consider if you get distracted and accidentally wander onto bebo.com or youtube.com at which point you can consider your participation in a lecture to be over.  It’s hard enough to catch up in a lecture that you’ve come late for never mind one which you have tuned out of and given a generally more interesting distraction.

The benefits of typed notes are clear though – they are searchable, always legible (although still with the same hazard of not necessarily making sense to you afterwards) and more compact. Other commentators who do take typed notes admit they are more likely to look back over typed notes than written notes, which means that as far as a revision aid goes the typed notes are better.

There’s a lot to be said to taking notes with a pen – firstly there’s a pragmatic issue of muscle memory, your brain is likely to associate writing with language from a much earlier age than typing on a keyboard so you’re more likely to retain the information, the information is also being reinforced in a form which is the same as how you want to be able to express it – with a pen during an exam making it a more efficient process. Clearly, if you go into an exam and your secret weapon to pass is the fact that you’ve written your lecture notes out you may be disappointed but the issue is there – your brain will have a delay interpreting your typing revision to be the same as the written essay answers because it’s a different motor skill.

Remembering that university is supposed to help you build skills for later life, remember that there’s an entirely different body language given off by someone writing notes and someone typing notes. In a professional legal situation, the fact your lawyer is scribbling notes and the fact your lawyer is typing those same notes into their computer mean exactly the same thing – your story is being listened to and the trained legal professional is taking a record of important details. They just look different – the person behind the counter at the bank also types into a computer as you give details but as a profession the law tries to get away from the image of themselves as the people behind a counter, the creative lawyer writing stories for you to get you out of a problem is a better look to go for. You may work as a person behind a counter for money as you study but no one endures the work load a law degree involves hoping to become the equivalent of the person behind the counter.

It’s a tiny difference but there’s a lot to be said about small differences in body language which significantly affect the overall experience. I also find that I write considerably faster than I type, and I can simply get more details onto paper in a lecture if it’s through a pen – in this your mileage may vary, I was actually using my sister’s computer for university before my primary school gave me chunky pencils but I can still write faster than I can type no matter what I try.

I would never, ever submit a handwritten document to a paying client, whether as a lawyer or as a plumber, (Actually, I might submit my hand written receipt as a plumber because the illegibility might hide what I charged for) because I feel the look of a handwritten document, particularly a messy one, would take away from the hoped for quality of the content. If my penmanship was infallible and looked professional I would reconsider this immediately. This is similar to taking notes, for your own use, by hand for the image that it lends. It’s a matter of appearance for a world where appearance is extremely important – sharp suits are as much an indicator of your economic success as they are a pleasure to wear and people may not like to see a lawyer in an expensive suit but nevertheless like to be represented by someone who appears successful, and therefore good at their job. It’s just as important to try to distinguish yourself as a lawyer from other professionals who someone might deal with, you’re not being paid to tell someone what they can’t do, you’re being paid to use your imagination to tell them how they could do it and acting in a way that implies your creativity is never a bad thing in that situation.

Computers for law school

I’ve been planning to make a post on this for a while now but I thought it would make the most sense during the summer. A computer is, near enough, a requirement for law school nowadays. We may not be at the level of business students who need a laptop with them to be taught how to present but there is still a lot of benefit to having a computer with you. My university has embraced IT in a big way and there are plenty of computers available for students to use on campus and it is very possible for someone to get by on these alone for their typing use.

The question is if someone needs to use a computer at irregular hours (typing a paper at 11pm for a midnight submission is not impossible) or for a long time because then using one in a university computer lab might not ideal. Having a computer available to use on your own terms is ideal, and will let you work in a way that you find more natural to you.  People who study at night may particularly appreciate this freedom.

The requirements that law students have are pretty minimal and the most important factor is a word processor which can save in a format which markers will accept, most commonly Microsoft Word files (.doc). If you are shopping on a tight budget never forget that the primary medium you will use during your degree is the written word – coursework assignments for a media student stretch to DVD sizes, coursework for a law student can be around just 100 kilobytes of nonetheless painstakingly researched text. It could be just as much work but you don’t need nearly as powerful the computer to do it. It is very possible to buy a used computer and use it successfully during your degree: you will not be at a disadvantage if you use a non Core 2 Duo laptop.

PC or Mac?

This is a very general decision and the choice to use an Apple computer will not hinder you at law school. If you are able to afford a Macbook Pro or are happy to settle for using some older models of Powerbook you may find the particularly good keyboards make typing assignments a little more comfortable but it is a very subjective issue and the best test will be to try the keyboard out before buying the computer. Apple hardware is well made in my experience and is a useful accessory for university. PCs are just as useful and the programs you will need for your degree are generally very similar, a word file saved on a Mac will be identical to a word file saved on a PC and the reference databases are generally exactly the same on either platform. LexisNexis is picky about the system that you use to access it, however but is still usable without the Windows and Internet Explorer it recommends.

Desktops

Briefly, I think that students who are living on or near campus are perfectly able to operate a desktop as their main computers, using portable storage and campus computers as needed. However, I do not recommend that someone buy a new desktop for law school over a laptop – many students in this situation will end up buying a laptop for themselves anyway.  Desktops are bulkier, heavier and more flexible than laptops and there is still a price premium for portable computers, so there are benefits for a student aiming for one of these.  As a student who is fond of using wireless networks to check my mail in the park I think it’s really worth the (now invisible) cost. However, you also eliminate a lot of the theft problem. The problem is that the primary benefit of desktops is the extra power that is available. It used to be that a basic desktop cost much less than a comparable laptop but the difference has narrowed greatly. Instead the advantage is now the extra power available – additional power which law students do not honestly need for their studies. If I was doing a media degree and needed to process video or similar at home (but universities allow you to process your video on their workstations) for coursework I would consider having access to a computer with a fast processor, big screen and lots of storage to be a positive investment for my education. Instead, I’m doing law, which is much less strenuous on hardware. A law student only needs a word processor and a web browser and for the most part everything else is extra functionality.

Laptops

The quintessential law school laptop was highlighted by the movie Legally Blonde, released in 2001, and it contains a scene where every student (except from Reese Witherspoon) sat behind an IBM Thinkpad, which is now produced by Lenovo. This visual joke has a lot of truth to it; a Thinkpad is a wonderful tool for a law student. My own (slightly dated) experience of the keyboards is that they were as good as billed, and a law student can expect to be typing for their degree enough to be sick of it. A good keyboard is a very good idea for your own health and productivity.

Interestingly, Witherspoon’s own choice from Legally Blonde – the Clamshell iBook – is still a passable option for a law student’s word processing machine as it will provide all the functionality which they will need for their studies, at a price premium due to its rarity and sought after nature and at the cost of being under powered compared to newer computers – lowendmac.com can explain how to work with these older computers.

Personally, I use a budget laptop which I bought online new for a few hundred pounds a bit over a year ago. I agree that looks are important so I chose one which was powerful for the money but still pretty timeless in style. It’s black and grey and it’s a little over an inch thin when closed, thin and black will never be unacceptable in a laptop. It uses an older, single core Pentium M processor which does not provide the same power as the newer models (but cut around £100 off the price when I bought it) but I have hooked up an extended life battery and I get around 6 hours away from a plug, which covers me perfectly while I’m out of the house. I back up my files to a flash drive which also means I can use them on the campus systems – useful for centralised printing. The combination means that my work is secure enough to protect it from accidents like drive failure or, in the worst case, the theft of my laptop.

My very functional HP 510 (pdf) gets well looked after and will continue to serve me as a portable typing, emailing and browsing machine well after university, it is not a speed demon but the combination of low cost, highly clocked processor and long battery life means that I consider it to be one of the best purchases I have made in a long time. For people who want more power from a laptop, there are pricier options but my lower end option works extremely well for me as a typing and researching machine.  All the posts on this site are typed on this machine.

Finally, if you are not a very technical person I suggest the first thing you do is find a techie friend at your university, my first love was computing so that shows it’s even possible to find one within your course, who can talk you through what can be pretty complicated configuration for campus networks etc which will save headaches in the future.