Office Hours 😎💻🌲🏞


“Office Hours” a working title / term of endearment for an idea I've been iterating on for a while. Basically:

  • Working inside, especially an office, is generally suboptimal.
  • Working outside is a pretty great experience by comparison. Reconnect with nature, enjoy a little natural beauty + nice weather, and make some headway on whatever it is you're working on.
  • It's fucking hot. This makes both my top-floor, no-A/C ( because, Seattle ) apartment roasty, but also constraints the criteria for where to work.
  • Attempting to work outside comes with its own more technical challenges, and could involve snagging some new gear to suit.
  • Climate change regrettably is only going to make the heat more severe, and Covid has the long-awaited "return to office" continually snoozed. Unknowns generally encourage more flexibility / adaptability, so I'm leaning into it. ( And being in outdoor public spaces is highly superior to indoor public spaces, on the Covid note 👍🏻 )

Through all these factors, I've retooled toward more outdoor work, and in the process also a bit more mobile in general.

How's it going ?

Pretty fucking excellent. It's been a very good change. I think there's something very therapeutic, and natural ( I mean it's *right there* in the word ... ) about carving out more time to enjoy the outdoors. I'm honestly happy as a clam out there.

And even if it's mid/upper 90's out, finding a cool grassy, shady spot with a good breeze generally plays more like mid-70's. I'll relocate a couple times as the sun moves, usually following tree cover, but paired with some cold bevs ? I'm set.

It's taken some minor trial and error to get to a place where it's highly doable, so I'm hoping to share a work in progress on what has worked well, in terms of where to go, gear to consider, and other helpful tips so that you can stay cool and / or move on from the office, if that's possible.

Obviously a lot of personal preference baked into this; Your Mileage May Vary, but I hope this helps. Suggetsions, notes, corrections all welcome:

Revision Summary
  • 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

Highly Apple centric. Android / Windows folks will need to adjust sails.

Breakthroughs in tech will only make this easier and more tenable, but I'm pretty decidedly against the notion you need to spend a bunch of money on the newest, most powerful and expensive gear for this. Feels wrong, for one lol but on the contrary, in a lot of cases, older tech ( and newer tech designed toward efficiency & less power consumption ) are probably best suited for the job. I ebb toward the 6-24 months old, slightly-yesteryear hardware. Apple has been releasing new products, built with older generation internal hardware for pretty cheap ( MacBook Air line, and iPhone SE line ), and I have been happy to take them up in supporting this model. 👌🏻

Laptop: M1 MacBook Air (2020)

Update: As of writing ( May 2023 ), the M3 rumors have been circulating for some time, touting a much more power efficient processor ( ~30% ). This is gonna be a quantum leap forward when it drops; more efficiency makes the whole solar / charging seesaw all the easier to navigate, just baked in.

So the big constraint for most office-worker folk like myself, is your computer. Phone battery can maybe last all day but you can only get so much done on an iPhone. It's long been the case that laptops are usually only good for maybe 3-5 hours. But that's changed I think in the last few years. Apple's M1 line has crazy good battery life ( briefly for the uninitiated — they started producing laptops with their own chips, way more efficient 👍🏻 ). I am running a late 2020 M1 MacBook Air model and I have completely drank the [ tasty red sugary beverage ] on their efficiency and battery life pitch — I can get through most of a work day on a single charge. Most of my work is code and web, but it can handle Photoshop, QGIS, and other more intensive applications pretty handily for my uses. Video editor folks, you might not be there yet 🤷🏻‍♂️ but for most office / developer / designer folks, it's worth a look. Or the Pro might get you there if the Air's coming up short, but I favor portability and I'm perfectly happy.

If your laptop isn't going to cut it, but upgrading is out of your budget, bigger batteries are generally much cheaper by comparison and you can compensate by just bringing more power with you. More on that in a bit.

Cell phone: iPhone SE 3 (2022)

The next constraint is an internet connection. WiFi's an option in some places, but definitely not offered when you get farther away from civilization.

I hotspot and I've been pretty pleased. I've been on an iPhone SE 2020 for almost two years now and been happy with it, but did recently upgrade to iPhone SE 2022 for the 5G data service ( a big jump up in data speed ).

ONLY THING I'M NOTICING — 5G services still throttle the shit out of certain SSH upload operations. Speed test will offer up >= 100mbps downloads but heavily throttle uploading files through command line. Less than ideal if your workload depends on uploading hefty packages, ~160kbps is fuckin' weak !

If you're going really remote, Starlink might be worth a look. But unless you're doing overnight trips, RV-ing, etc., it's impressive but pretty costly and probably overkill.

Power / Management / Solar ?

The problem then moves to power. How much do you use? How much do you need? To what extent do you lean on solar to recharge? Remember, the more you need, generally speaking the more you need to haul in ( in the form of either a bigger / heavier battery, or more solar equipment ). This is a whole big topic of continued obsession and optimizational tinkering, but high level:

Light weight: $60

If you're just running your laptop and a cell phone, honestly you can probably get by for much of the day with a smaller power bank. This handlheld Conxwan from Amazon is $35. Maybe snag a couple if your devices use more power. It can charge my laptop probably twice if need be, and can charge my phone several times over I'm sure. I can head out for the day with an iPad-sized tablet bag and be pretty set.

Key distinctions here: it uses USB Power Delivery (PD) which I have personally found to be more efficient than using AC adapters ( the wall plugs ). Works great with my MacBook Air.

For solar with a smaller power bank, you can get a ~10-25W panel, often foldable / portable, on the order of maybe $30-40. Here's one on Amazon for $25.

Medium weight: $130+

If you have a more power hungry laptop, more family members to accommodate and whatnot, you probably need to move up. Take a look at Jackery, they start at about $130 and go up from there. The Jackery 160 boasts 10 hours of run time for a MacBook Pro ( and that's, I presume, on top of whatever battery life your laptop would provide fully charged on its own; so probably more like 15-20+ hours ) or charge your iPhone 16 times.

Heavier weight: ...

You really don't need much to get started IMO, but depending on how enterprising you want to get, someone will happily sell you the equipment.

Companies in the space to check out:

And if you're REALLY enterprising and want to build your own shit, I'm sure you could make some engineering magic happen with e.g. a car battery and a few electrical components :D but personally I'mma stick to software.

Also / on that note — I'm working on some mini-calculators to try and make quesitons like "how big of a battery should I get?" or "how much solar should I look at getting?" more intelligible for non-nerds 🙋🏻‍♂️ that's a work in progress. 🚧

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:
    • Turn off WiFi — I just plug my phone into my laptop via USB and skip the WiFi. If both 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.

A little Zen

Learning about new gear, hunting for deals, fussing over different measurements and units of electricity, a little song and dance testing internet speeds, all while juggling getting said gear loaded and carted around ...

It can feel like a lot. The potential to go overboard is addictive and tempting; a little FOMO inducing.

The exercise at the end of the day is, coincidentally, about needing a little less. Sure, you could haul out 300W solar station and some absurd mini power grid, but eh. Do you need it ?

And getting back to the climate crisis, the main goal at the end of the day is really about reducing consumption. Less "let's over provision in case we need it," and more, "get what you need and will use, and even then, maybe aim to trim that up, where feasible ?"

We all need to, right ?

I've had days where I head out with more than a few backpacks worth of gear. More recently, for a variety of reasons — portability, and just being more conscious about my usage, perhaps the top two — I've been aiming much smaller.

Laptop. Likely a small battery pack. Maybe a smaller panel if I'm gonna be out there for a while. And that's it.

I'll continue putting this more minimalist setup to the test, but napkin math is telling me that's gonna do me fine, and early test runs are bearing that out..

Not exactly like going camping with a fishing pole instead of three weeks of food ? But, analogous.

Overprovisioning is an easy impulse. Planning for what you might need takes some thought and research. Experimentation can tell you quite a bit.

And as always, a work in progress.


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, a stiffer breeze off the water. 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

Disappointing 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' 👌🏻