Coworking, Jellys & The Future of Freelancing

Working for yourself rocks.

But working alone? Not so much.

I recently attended my first Jelly, a network of fortnightly ‘work together’ or coworking events.

Jelly was started in New York City by Amit Gupta and Luke Crawford with a mission:

“[To] provide chairs and sofas, wireless internet, and interesting people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off of”.

Whether you work solo, remotely or in full-time employment, coworking offers a change of pace as much as a change of scenery.

The atmosphere at Jellys is deliberately casual and chatty – perhaps not the ideal place for a hard days GTD.

Instead, the events offer the chance to meet some interesting faces and throw new ideas around. For myself and those that I met, the opportunities more than compensate for a little lost productivity.

Last week’s Berlin Jelly was predictably popular with fellow internet geeks. Most were web designers or developers, reflecting common expat vocations in a city where local employment is elusive. The event was hosted by Robin Slomkowski, a developer on the Flock browser.

Coworking events in other cities, like London’s Tuttle Club – in my diary for my return to the Big Smoke – attract a broader crowd, from professional musicians to marketing consultants. Others specialise in a particular field, like art.

Jelly events take place in dozens of cities around the world, as listed in the Jelly wiki. The coworking wiki lists dozens more non-Jelly events worldwide.

Interested in learning more? Watch Amit’s video introduction to Jelly.

Been to a Jelly or coworking event elsewhere? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks to Mokolabs for the photo of a San Diego Jelly.

Why I Like Mondays… in Berlin, at Least

WebMontag is a monthly geek get together. Four people give ten minute talks on their pet projects. Being Berlin, beer follows.

Last night, The Hype Machine founder Anthony Volodkin gave a talk introducing the MP3 aggregator to the city’s web geeks.

Anthony wins points for being the only person I’ve met to take his whole team – Taylor, Zoya and Scott – for a month long adventure abroad…

Next up was, a social network for flexible workers.

Say you’re working in freelance mecca Sankt Oberholz. HallenProjekt lets you can see who else is working on the same network, what they do for a living, their current status etc. Seems like a great idea for solo workers if it can reach critical mass.

The third talk was on Couch DB, a SQL database alternative sponsored by the Apache Foundation. Last up was (private beta), a VoIP voice messaging community. Confused? Me too, but I’m sure it does wonderful things.

I didn’t get a chance to speak to organisers Markus and Falk, so if you’re reading: thanks for a great evening!

PS. My German sucks, but I soon learned that jokes about Twitter being offline are an international language…

The Lazy Geek’s Travelling Office

One man’s mission to create the ultimate ‘on the road’ workspace.

Best thing about running my own business? No contest: travel.

Over the last few years, I’ve spent 3-4 months each year abroad. Friends always ask the same question: “How do you work while you’re away?”.


Like many self-employed geeks, working remotely is pretty straightforward. Forgive the cliche: the hard part is deciding to do it. Tim Ferris’s Four Hour Work Week (both the book and the blog) has some good practical advice.

Since I arrived in Berlin last week, I thought I’d give the lowdown on my mobile office.

My mobile office in Berlin

I’m no fan of living in hotels. It’s also usually *far* cheaper to rent apartments short-term via Craigslist, so I look for places with a decent workspace and plenty of natural light.

Apple MacBook

Apple MacBookMy PowerBook (RIP) was built like a tank and perfect for travel. My dilemma: replace it with a small, light MacBook or a more powerful, more rugged (but bulkier) MacBook Pro?

I chose comfort over speed. My souped up MacBook has travelled 10,000s of miles over the last year with a Noreve leather case. My laptop casing took a heavy dink, which Apple replaced gratis under AppleCare.

AppleCare is the only warranty I’ve ever paid for. I’ve dealt with support staff in Toronto, New York and London, and every time they’ve helped me get up and running again pronto. Don’t forget a spare laptop battery for long flights.

(NB. I’m no Apple fanboy. The sales staff were so rude when I went to buy my PowerBook, I nearly walked out of the Apple store…)

Tivoli PAL Radio

Tivoli PalFact: laptop speakers suck. And who wants to travel without music or the BBC World Service? The Tivoli PAL has been my weapon of choice for three years. It’s waterproof, rugged and rechargable, and will double as an amp for your laptop/iPod too.

Yes – it’s pricey, mono, and there’s no DAB/satellite radio. But the sound quality is exceptional. Plus tuning stations on the monster FM dial makes me feel like a safe cracker…


Quad-Band Cellphone

Nokia N95I spend *way* too much time online without an iPhone, so I got a Nokia N95. Big mistake: it crashes like Windows 3.1 never happened.

A reliable multi-band cellphone is a must (memo to self: ditch the damn N95). Invest in an unlocked handset, if possible, so you can use cheap pay-as-you-go SIM cards abroad. They’re easy to find in the UK, less so in the US. Take my tip: search eBay for ‘unlocked cellphone’.

I use Skype for most phone calls while abroad, and use my phone mostly for SMS, voicemail and Gmail mobile.



Belkin Snagless Ethernet Cable

Ethernet cableMy rule of thumb: the availablity of reliable wifi is inversely proportionate to how much you need it.

Even in developed countries, wifi is often not as common as it is in the UK/US . In 2006, I spent a month reviewing hotels in Spain; maybe half my hotels had wifi that was dial-up speed, unreliable or dead on arrival.

The answer? Invest in a l-o-n-g, high-quality ethernet cable. The network cables in hotels, internet cafes etc are never quite as long as you need them to be…


Shure SE310 Earphones

Shure Se310 earphonesAfter years of using cheapo headphones, I was given some SE310’s. The sound quality blew me away and I became an instant convert.

They mould to the shape of your ears after a couple of hours use, which helps the sound-isolating design cut background noise. That means clearer sound and reduced risk of hearing damage with lower volumes.

Yes, they’re a luxury, but no other earphones I’ve tried come close.


Post-Its, Sharpies, Paper…

Some people use fancy GTD tools to keep organised. I use:

  • My iCal calender
  • Post It notes
  • Sharpie markers
  • A4 paper

That’s pretty much it.



Kensington All-in-One Plug Adapter

This travel adapter is the most elegant solution I’ve seen to convert plugs. It covers 150+ countries, has no removable parts and works both ways (eg, UK to US and US to UK).

Now if only it could stop me leaving my plug adapters behind when I travel…



MyBook Backup Hard Disks

MyBook HDI learned the hard way: It’s not if your hard disk will fail, but when.

I use MyBook external disks to keep backups. They’re Firewire compatible, built by Western Digital and cheap. What’s not to like?

That said, next time I write one off with a clumsy elbow, I’ll probably buy a more rugged alternative (eg, LaCie Rugged All-Terrain HD) or perhaps get over my fear of relying on online backups.



Zip-Linq Road Warrior Kit

Ziplinq USB cableZip-Linq make retractable cables. Their USB cable and phone charger go everywhere I travel.

They felt flimsy when I got them, but have lasted two years now with no complaints.




Zyxel AG-225H Wifi Finder

Apparantly some geeks use open wifi networks without permission. Obviously, I think this is morally reprehensible… but if I didn’t, I might use a Zyxel AG-225H wifi finder to find unsecred networks.

Unlike other wifi finders I’ve used heard about, the AG-225H shows signal strength and is rechargable via USB. Better still, it’ll turn any PC with an internet connection into an instant wifi network. Just plug it into a USB port and you’re good to go.

What are your favourite tools for working on the road?