Office Hours 😎💻🌲🏞

Overview

"Office Hours" is a working title that captures a few changing norms:

  • It's hot af in the summer time, particularly in places with less A/C like Seattle.
  • Remote work is more of a thing than it used to be, particularly after Covid.
  • Working outdoors hasn't always been practical, but that's changing, and it's actually pretty nice!

Living in a top floor apartment, I've been iterating on the preferable configuration for a few years now, and lay out some of my findings below. Disclosures abound: Your Mileage May Vary. Suggestions, notes, corrections all welcome: jon.c.culver@gmail.com.

Revision Summary
  • Updated July 5th, 2024, with more about M3, USB-C / Power Delivery being The Way™, and a few other products that are worth a look.
  • Updated May 3, 2023, with notes about forthcoming M3 Mac, Lower Power and Low Data Modes, and a little Zen.
  • Originally published August 7, 2022.

Tech Gear

USB-C / Power Delivery is The Way™

We're accustomed to plugging in our devices into the wall with its AC adapter, right? I don't know if it's upending the AC vs. DC battle exactly, but I've gotten quite a bit of proverbial mileage out of USB-C's newer Power Delivery feature. It does the same thing as your AC adapter, just more intelligently, and with greater power efficiency, and you don't need to haul as many device-specific cables around; in my experience it just makes everything easier. Each recommendation below builds on that.

With that in mind, I recommend you size up your needs ( laptop, internet source ) first, to inform what power or solar combo you might need to keep it going all day.

💻 Laptop: Apple Silicon MacBook Air ( M1, M2, M3 )

The M1 line is coming up on four years old now, and they're getting cheap ( as are their more powerful and efficient successors, M2 and M3 ): starting at $759 refurbished.

🛜 Internet

Two options seem most appealing:

#1: Hotspot

Easiest way to get started. Most cell phone plans come with "hotspot" data, meaning you can share its internet connection with your laptop. If you already have a healthy / unlimited data plan, this probably makes the most sense.

#2: T-Mobile 5G Internet

T-Mo offers 5G "Home" Internet through a dedicated device, but you can also take it on the road. It even works while driving ( good for road trips, kids with devices, etc. ). It gets better reception than my phone generally, also has an ethernet port, and the device sips pretty sparingly on power (7-8W) using Power Delivery. The device is free, and service is $50/mo, but given that you can take it anywhere 💁🏻‍♂️ Great bet to split between home and out and about. I've been super pleased.

Impressive ( satellites! going to space! ) but expensive and power hungry. It does has more service area than cell-tower-dependent 5G though. So if you are a committed visitor to more those more remote locations, it probably makes good sense.

🔋 Power

I'm really excited about the Jackery Explorer 100 Plus It's tiny, and delivers enough power delivery (specifically, 15V / 3A) for the T-Mobile internet gateway. This and an afternoon of solar charging can easily deliver a full day of laptop use. $89 is going to be easy to rationalize.

If you don't need the gateway, there's plenty of chargers in the $20+ range that can keep your laptop and phone combo happy. ( If you're not on the USB-C / Power Delivery train, You probably need to reach for something bigger; Jackery's 240 is probably a good place to start. )

☀️ Solar

Powered by that regenerative ball of helium in the sky, even a little dab of solar can make even a fairly modest setup last all day. This 30W panel for $60 folds up to the same size as my laptop.

🤝🏻 All Together Now:

With a laptop, both of these setups fit in a backpack or shoe bag.

Hot Spotter Starter Pack ($65)
Repeat Customer ($150-200)

👨🏻‍💻 Hacks, Protips, etc.

  • Turn off unnecessary services. I've found I can get quite a bit more battery life out of my devices with a couple tweaks:
    • Use USB or Ethernet; Turn off WiFi — When I'm hotspotting, just plug my phone into my laptop via USB and skip the WiFi. ( T-Mo's Internet Gateway device lets you just plug in via ethernet also; same idea. ) If both your laptop and phone aren't constantly looking for a WiFi signal and are just transmitting data over a predictable wire, you'll get markedly faster speeds for one, and longer battery life to boot. Both are toggle-able in Control Center.
    • Turn off Bluetooth — Same idea, same uptick in battery life. If you have AirPods, park 'em when you hit the road, and embrace a little nostalgia of your beloved 3.5mm jack wired earbuds. You can listen to The Shins and dream longingly of getting your clickhweel iPod back.
  • Low Data Mode and Lower Power Mode — MacOS and iOS I believe too both offer these, to transmit less data and constrain performance a bit. This was a relatively recent change I think, will report back with some more usage, but Apple's smart 💁🏻‍♂️.
  • Maybe upgrade your cell plan, or definitely look at it. Mine was $50/mo for "unlimited" internet ( sounds great, right ? completely garbage hotspot speeds though; capped at ~600k ) OR I could pay them $10/mo more for ~50-100mb/s. I have a strong distaste for this form of highway robbery, and also, this is a no-brainer for me. If it's a dealbreaker for you, the FCC offers up to $30/month off your bill through their Affordable Connectivity Program which might make that more doable.
  • I mentioned upgrading devices above, but wireless companies run promotions all the time. A couple years back, I got my iPhone SE 2020 free ( FREE ! ) just for becoming an Xfinity Mobile customer. And I just recently moved back to T-Mobile to get the iPhone SE 2022 for a cool $99. 💁🏻‍♂️ The 2022 version comes with 5G, huge bump up in speeds, so this was low-hanging fruit for me.
  • Refurbished might be worth a look if you're in the market to upgrade your gear. Basically brand new stuff, only $100-200+ off retail price. Avid deal hunters can definitely score some wins on CraigsList, OfferUp, FB Marketplace, etc.

🪑 Seating

Many parks have amenities that might work fine ( benches, tables ), but I just bring my own chair so I can plop down anywhere that seems good — this is especially helpful I'm finding if you want to find the good breezy + shade covered spots, as those might shift with the sun throughout the day. I lean toward the backpack style, folds up pretty portable; throw my stuff in the pouch and it's off to the races.

Locations

If you see an oddball tech Dad comfortably enjoying himself amongst a tapestry of gadgets out at a local park, and think, "that *might* be Jon?", feel free to come say hi & I will happily recharge your cell phone. 🔋

Log Boom Park
17415 61st Ave NE, Kenmore, WA

Home turf. 🙌🏻 Newly revamped, tons of grassy tree covered spots, good breeze off the water. All good things.

O.O. Denny Park
12302 Holmes Point Dr NE, Kirkland, WA

Don't tell Log Boom but this might be my favorite of the lot. Something like 50 acres to spread out, tons of tree cover, a stiffer breeze off the water, and solid 5G service. Gold standard IMO.

Enatai Beach Park
3519 108th Ave SE, Bellevue, WA

Cute but fuckin' tiny. Limited utility for that reason, but when in Rome ...

Lake Sammammish State Park
2000 NW Sammamish Rd, Issaquah, WA

Underwhelming tbh. Huge, but gets such little breeze stuck down at the bottom of the lake, it's just fucking hot. Good for recreation if you're out in the water, but if you're looking for a work / hangout spot, I'd skip.

Big Eddy Public Water Access
178th St SE at U.S. Highway 2, Gold Bar, WA

Almost heaven. Somewhat busy on the weekends, but good mix of tree cover, rocky and sandy beaches, and the gorgeous views of the Skykomish River Bridge. Going to insist that I be buried here.

Innis Arden Reserve Park
17717 15th Ave NW, Shoreline, WA

First Puget Sound-facing spot, and I dig it. Short walk from the car, and seems plenty to explore here. But I found a good shady spot overlooking the Sound + trees + Olympics and I'm perfectly pleased.

Houghton Beach Park
5811 Lake Washington Blvd NE, Kirkland, WA

Not much tree cover, and among the more crowded spots, but still a solid option to have in the roster.

Idylwood Beach Park
3650 W Lake Sammamish Pkwy NE, Redmond, WA

Was quiet and not too crowded when I went. Great spot!

Golden Gardens Park
8498 Seaview Pl NW, Seattle, WA

Can't be listing beach parks and not give Golden Gardens a shout right ? Generally hella busy & that ~80% sand cover gets pretty hot. But on the South end, it's got more grass + tree action.

New River Overlook
1004 Hinton Bypass, Nimitz, WA

Field report from Jeff Viniard: Plenty of bars if you have a hotspot, I\’ve been RDPing into a workstation here all week and it\’s been bombproof. Close to the Dairy Queen. You would have another GeoNerd working a few feet away to bounce ideas off of. Overlooks the New River.

Edmonds Marina Beach Park
470 Admiral Way, Edmonds, WA

Yooo 🤘🏻 not the biggest footprint of tree cover but the ~235 degree views are tough to beat and the wind is whippin' 👌🏻