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Keep it safe

Lock but verify

Most barrel locks—such as those made by Kensington, Kryptonite, and other makers of computer, bike, and general-purpose locks—can be easily picked with a ballpoint pen. Many combination locks for laptops can be opened with a thin piece of ordinary plastic. So what works? The only lock that Marc Weber Tobias (the expert behind Security.org who claims to be able to pick any combination or barrel laptop lock currently on the market) recommends is the PC Guardian ComboLock ($40 -- see Best Current Price ).— Glenn Fleishman

Label your latop

Once, at an airport security checkpoint, a pilot standing behind me almost took my iBook. He saw what looked like his laptop, grabbed it, and proceeded to walk away. Luckily, I was paying attention and asked him to look on the bottom of the notebook. He saw the label with my name on it and immediately apologized for the mix-up. Moral of the story: Your mother was right. Put your name on everything.— Rich Cruse **

Secure your e-mail

If you use a standard hotspot to send e-mail from the road, all your transmissions—messages, user names, and passwords—may be picked up by nearby snoopers. SSL-based e-mail—which encrypts your transmissions—is one good solution. But while most e-mail clients support SSL, not all ISPs support it. Enter FastMail. This Australia-based service offers free accounts that include secure Web mail. Customers can use SSL-based POP, IMAP, and SMTP to securely send and receive e-mail from any Mac e-mail client. Accounts cost $25 or $40; the $40 plan includes 2GB of storage and 3GB of monthly inbound and outbound e-mail. FastMail also offers self-service aliases, domain names, and spam handling.— Glenn Fleishman

Buy insurance

Your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance may not cover your portable computer equipment against theft or damage while you’re traveling. So you should consider purchasing a computer-specific policy from a company such as Safeware. A $10,000 policy, for example, costs $200 per year, with a $200 deductible. It covers accidental damage, theft (even, under certain circumstances, from an unattended vehicle), vandalism, and other losses, and provides the full replacement cost of both your hardware and software.— Joe Kissell

Let OS X protect

OS X has several built-in features that can safeguard your laptop data. In the Security preference pane, select the Require Password To Wake This Computer From Sleep Or Screen Saver option; if your computer is stolen while it’s asleep, the thieves won’t be able to see your data without your password. Also select the Disable Automatic Login option, so merely restarting your computer won’t automatically enter your password. Finally, to prevent anyone from booting your laptop from another volume (such as a CD), launch Open Firmware Password (in /Applications/Utilities) and set a machine-level password.— Joe Kissell

Encrypt your files

Panther’s FileVault can keep your files safe by encrypting your Home folder. But like any other files, its disk images are prone to damage that may render all your data unusable. A safer alternative is to create your own encrypted volumes and use them to store your sensitive files. Apple’s Disk Utility can make encrypted disk images, but PGP Disk ($59 as part of PGP Personal Desktop), offers stronger encryption and more configuration options. It also lets you encrypt e-mail messages.— Joe Kissell

Laptop cases for the true road warrior

Everyone needs a laptop bag, but some people need a laptop case, the kind that protects not only against scuffs and scratches, but also against bumps, bruises, dents, and drops. For these users, a heavy-duty enclosure is in order. These three packs will protect your precious PowerBook or iBook throughout the roughest of trips.

Ballistic briefcase

At first glance, passers-by might think you’re carrying national security secrets in Matias’s slick and stylish Laptop Armor ($150 to $180). Only you need know it’s just your precious PowerBook. The Laptop Armor has a rigid aluminum outer shell and padded inserts that fit any laptop; the company claims that the case can help your laptop survive a 10-foot drop onto concrete, so it should have no problem with everyday abuse. Interior pockets hold a power adapter, a PDA, a mobile phone, and a few files, and a padded shoulder strap gives your hand a rest. The sturdy latches are lockable for additional security. The Laptop Armor is available in aluminum, black, and white. (Secret-agent handcuffs not included.)

Armor plating

For people who need the ultimate in crush-proof protection and who don’t care about pockets for PDAs and pens, RadTech’s MacTruck ($200 to $230) is made of thick aluminum-alloy plates that won’t bend, let alone break. In fact, the MacTruck isn’t so much a case as an exoskeleton: You leave your PowerBook in the MacTruck during use—it gives you full access to all ports, its air channels allow for cooling, and thick pads keep your laptop safe and stable. RadTech claims that the MacTruck is sturdy enough to protect your PowerBook from being run over by a truck—hence the case’s name. However, this heavy-duty protection is also just plain heavy—the case alone weighs between four and six pounds, depending on the size.

Bike-safe backpack

If you’d rather wear your laptop on your back, Axio’s Urban ($150) could be the bag for you. It features a rigid polycarbonate outer shell and lots of padding—you never want to take a spill off your bike or motorcycle, but in case you do, the Urban is like a helmet for your other brain. Interior compartments hold PDAs, an iPod, and other gadgets, and an optional Tek-Pack attaches to the outside of the Urban to accessibly store smaller items or a hydration pack. The Urban is available in titanium silver, metallic gray, and metallic olive.—Dan Frakes

What’s in your carry-on?

Dori Smith

I travel about three days a month; I have about 40,000 frequent-flyer miles (I just redeemed a bunch for trips to Hawaii and Florida). I have two travel kits: the light bag and the heavy bag. The light bag goes everywhere (as you might guess), while the heavy bag comes along only on longer trips or trips where I’m going to need more hard-core tech gear.

What’s in the light bag:

• 15-inch PowerBook (and power brick)
• Sony Ericsson T610 phone (and USB charger)
• iPod (40GB)
• Green-beam laser pointer
• SendStation PocketDock
• Griffin PowerPod
• iSight
• Jabra BT200 headset and power brick
• Targus Ultra Mini Retractable Optical Mouse
• Targus USB Retractable Notebook Light
• Macally 128MB flash drive
• Keyspan 4-port USB minihub
• AirPort Express
•  2 Dimple Gel wrist rests
• Discgear Discus 22-disc carrier
• Cables (FireWire, Ethernet, and two extension power cords)
• Adapters (CompactFlash PC Card, iPod cassette, 3-to-1 AC [with surge protector], DVI-to-VGA dongle)

What’s in the heavy bag:

• All of the light bag’s contents
• Citizen PN50 printer (and cables and power brick)
• Garmin GPS
• Tungsten T PalmPilot (with cradle)
• Canon Powershot S300 Digital Elph camera (and charger)
• Griffin iTalk
• RJ-11 cable
• S-Video-to-composite adapter

[ Contributing Editor Christopher Breen is also the editor in chief of Playlistmag.com. Contributing Editor Adam C. Engst is also the publisher of TidBits.com. Glenn Fleishman wrote Take Control of Your AirPort Network (Peachpit Press, 2005). Senior Writer Dan Frakes is also the reviews editor at Playlistmag.com. Joe Kissell wrote Take Control of Mac OS X Backups (Tidbits Electronic Publishing, 2005). Doris Smith is a coauthor of JavaScript for the World Wide Web:Visual QuickStart Guide, fifth edition (Peachpit Press, 2004). (** = Macworld reader.) ]

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