GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide - June 2006

Mac User
Rumbling Around with a Mac

This month’s Mac User column is in tune with the theme of this issue, mobility for lawyers. I’ll explain how I use my Apple PowerBook 15” laptop while away from the office (my MacBook Pro is ordered, but I haven’t put it to traveling use yet).

First, if you’re traveling, make sure to back up your data, a topic I covered in my previous Mac User column (“The Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How of Backup,” GPSolo, vol. 22, no. 8, December 2005, Next, be sure your laptop and other accoutrements are covered by your office or some other insurance policy. There are also computer-specific insurance policies that cover problems beyond theft and loss. One I know of is Safeware (, although I’ve never had to submit a claim. And, of course, there’s AppleCare, which is a necessity—and a bargain—for anyone using an iBook, PowerBook, or MacBook Pro on the road.

Road Mac Essentials

My Mac running OS X (Tiger) provides me with everything I might need in a computer wherever I am, whether at home or traveling.

First, my PowerBook has WiFi capability, which means it can wirelessly access the Internet at airports without the need for a phone or Ethernet cable. Gone is the day when I needed to be tethered to a wall to connect to someone else’s computer or to go on the Internet. Obviously, if you use WiFi, you should have your internal firewall activated (you can do this automatically in OS X as part of the System Preferences) or other protections in place to prevent snoops from accessing your computer without your knowledge.

While on the topic of laptop security, a reminder: Be sure to set your PowerBook to not run in administrative mode. Create a separate “user” for administrative purposes only and leave yourself as a “standard user,” without access to the root level of your drive. That way malicious downloads or hacks will have additional barriers to breech before infecting your machine. At times it’s frustrating to have to enter an administrator name and password yet again, but for security purposes it’s a great tool and costs nothing.

Also, using OS X itself or with third-party applications, you can access your own office computer as if you were sitting right there. A favorite application among Mac users is Timbuktu ( I haven’t tried it yet, but I gather from others that it is a great idea for people who either want to work from home with access to the office computer or have staff access the office computers while working from home.

Finally, I use the Sync feature in OS X and my .Mac account to back up data and save data in a place that I can easily access. A .Mac account now features 2 GB of space, more than enough to post photographs, podcasts, and web pages with the various tools that come with OS X and iLife. If I need something while I’m traveling anywhere across the country or the world, my staff can simply upload it to my iDisk, and I’ll easily be able to access it, work on it, and return it the same way.

One of OS X’s features is called File Vault; it allows you to create a master password and encrypt your Home folder. Of course, if you forget your password, you are in the soup. There’s no way Apple or anyone else can figure out the password and, as Apple says on its site, it might take 149 trillion years to crack the code. That’s one reason I haven’t (yet) felt the need to create a File Vault master password. I did check with the MacLaw list ( and received the following information from another Mac user, Greg Metcalfe: “I use it and I really like it. If my PowerBook is ever stolen, I have a greater degree of comfort in knowing there is less likelihood that my info will be compromised. In my experience, there is no detectable change in performance or function. The only exception to this rule is that every so often when I reboot, File Vault will ask to optimize my disk space.” File Vault is a military-strength security system for your Home folder; it’s the best protection you can have, but it might be overkill for most of the contents of your laptop. (For more on File Vault, check out;;; and

If you think File Vault is a bit too much, you can simply create an encrypted disk image using OS X’s Disk Utility and save your most confidential files there. It’s very easy to do, can be made as large or small as you need, and provides the same protections as File Vault without affecting your entire Home folder. If you have music and photographs in that folder as well as sensitive documents, creating an encrypted disk image might be the way to go.

In addition to using File Vault or an encrypted disk image to store your sensitive items on your laptop, you can also use OS X’s Keychain to store encrypted notes in addition to user IDs and passwords. And you can set your Keychain to automatically lock up when your computer is asleep or inactive for a time.

My Recent Road Trip

Recently, I had to travel for a few days to depositions in a city about 200 miles away. I have a routine that I follow when I leave the office on a business trip: First, I have important databases and information set to back up nightly to two places: (1) a folder on my desktop that I can easily move and copy to my USB Travel Drive, and (2) my .Mac account, should I need or wish to access the data at a different computer. Being overly cautious, I also back up the data through syncing with my iPod. Then, I either copy my client’s digital file onto a CD or directly onto the laptop’s hard drive; I have all the necessary applications on the PowerBook that will allow me to access and use the data easily. I also back up my PowerBook to the office system, so its contents are saved there, just in case (remember Murphy’s Law). I then update my iPod with the latest podcasts and music (I enjoy listening to my music as I work into the wee hours of the morning), as well as essential data, and pack speakers and necessary wires with it; plugging the iPod into my PowerBook or the car cigarette lighter will rejuice its battery. My car ends up being loaded with my traveling gear for the office: the PowerBook in its bag, a 3-in-1 extension cord with RJ11 and Ethernet cabling and jacks, an external FireWire hard drive, a blank CD (just in case), my USB Travel Drive with essential office data on it (a calendar, address book, a copy of the client’s entire digital file, etc.), as well as some basic office supplies. With this gear and a WiFi- or Ethernet-enabled motel room, I can work just the same as I would in my office.

To help me remember all this stuff, I carefully follow a set checklist while packing. Despite all these safeguards, I forgot a file in Des Moines that I really needed at the deposition. But I didn’t panic—I knew that I could access it wherever I was. Unfortunately, it was too big for my staff simply to e-mail to me, which otherwise would have worked fine. Instead, I gave instructions to my paralegal on accessing my iDisk’s public folder on .Mac; she did so and clicked and dragged the file to that folder. Then, I went online and went to that folder, downloaded it easily to my laptop, then deleted it off the .Mac site.

Obviously, there is more to going out of town on work and being able to feel confident about your ability to access necessary data at any time of your choosing, but the above are some of the basic steps required. Again, I must stress the importance of backing up your data and using some sort of encryption or other security device to guard the sensitive information on your laptop. Lawyers, especially, need to be sensitive to the need to protect their work product and the confidences of clients.

Using my 15” PowerBook, I can travel anywhere—and have—with all the tools to work as if I were back in my office. I recently purchased a 12” PowerBook, a smaller and lighter version, to take with me on photographic workshops and journeys. I spent a week in Venice a few months ago with my 12” PowerBook and was able to e-mail, audio iChat, and even enjoy a video conversation with a lawyer back in California at the end of the day. Actually, my audio and video iChats worked better than they sometimes do at my office. In any event, bringing a laptop, taking care to protect against loss and damage, and having access to all your necessary information allows you to be as productive in the sunny Grand Tetons as you would watching the rain and hail outside your office window.


Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She can be reached at


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