Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gear me up, Gear me down (The Electronics Post)

Well, this is a post I've been threatening to write for over one year.  It's finally time.  What electronics did we bring on our grand tour?  And how did they hold up?  There have been a few mishaps, drops, falls, thefts, and more, but overall the stuff we brought worked really well.

I've categorized the electronics into 1) Portables, 2) Computers, 3) Cameras, and 4) Others.

NOTE: The Amazon links are still here, but with electronics, make sure you go for the newest and more up-to-date models.  See how much I love my readers, this little piece of advice just sent tens of cents down the drain.

Where applicable I have included the electronics nickname in quotes along with its full name.

Apple iPhone 3Gs
(32 GB)

Jailbroke and unlocked, the iPhone has perhaps been the most important item we had on the trip.  First, the mapping feature saved us from countless wrong turns, missed sites, and hours of walking in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go.*  Second, throughout most of the world buying a SIM card is as easy as stopping in the first convenience store you happen upon.  We loved having a local number to book hotels, make plans, and generally stay connected.  And in many countries we were able to buy cheap data plans to load the map or check email, or generally just puttering around on the net.  Third, throughout the world free (or for the cost of a cup of coffee) WiFi abounds.  With the phone we were able to quickly log in and do all the fun things one does on the internet (like reload the map to figure out how we had gotten lost, despite what I just wrote about how well the map app works…).

* Importantly, the mapping feature of the phone works even if you don’t have wifi or data enabled (this works even if your phone is locked).  You can load a map when you do have internet, and then as you travel the purple locator will still travel with you, often giving you enough information to get where you need to go. 
Apple iPad 1st Gen (64 GB, 3G+WiFi)
Paddy is great for consuming data, like watching TV, surfing the net, playing Plants v. Zombies.  Inputting data, such as typing or working with photos is a bit of a challenge, and much more efficient on one of the computers.  All in all though Paddy has been a great toy and we’ve watched hundreds of TV shows and movies on him.

ZAGGsparq Portable Battery
"Battery Backs"
With our dying iPhone we needed this guy on almost a daily basis.  He can fully recharge an iPhone 4 times, and give the iPad one full recharge.  He can also charge anything that charges by USB, so our kindles, iPod, and even CZ (our newest camera).  Given the frequency that we find ourselves on 10, 20, or even 30+ hour journeys, this extra power has been a lifesaver many, many times.  We (I) lost our first one and we immediately bought a second one.
Kindle "Kindler"
Hundreds of books in 8.5 ounces.  Built-in light.  Tough.  The kindle is awesome.  We bring these guys everywhere and they are great.

Samsung N120-12GBK 10.1-Inch Black Netbook
"Sammy Netbook"
Sammy netbook has been a real warrior on this trip.  We treat him rough, and he is still going strong – except during the Supertrek, when he just couldn’t push on anymore.  Remarkably, a 2 hour visit to Pantip plaza and some on-the-spot soldering, fixed him right up.
Apple MacBook Air

MacDaddy worked great, he did pictures, music, and videos fast (even though he is the older model) and turns on and off even faster still.  Plus, because we bought him in Bangkok, he had a Thai keyboard in case we ever learn the language.  Sadly, MacDaddy's screen was smashed to pieces by a rogue earbud incident.  He was replaced by the newer and improved MacBook Air, MacDiddy.
Toshiba Canvio Plus 1 TB USB 3.0 Portable External Hard Drive
"Harvey Hard Drive"
Over 19,500 photos (as of August 13, 2011) need to be stored somewhere, and backed up somewhere else.  We keep two of these external hard drives synced to our computers to back up photos, videos, documents, whatever.  The importance of backing up locally, and remotely (in the cloud) cannot be overstated.

We actually always had two or three working hard drives during the course of the trip.  One was carried with the computer, and one was carried separately, e.g. checked in my luggage, to protect against the simultaneous loss of the computer and the back-up.  This is important, as the risk of loss, theft, or damage to the bag that contained both the computer and back-up was much greater than computer failure.  Thankfully, we've had no data loss issues.
Transcend 4 GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive
We always have a bunch of these floating around.  They are cheap and super handy when the internet is slow.  Or for sharing songs, TV shows, and movies with other travelers (legally, of course).  I like the SanDisk Cruzer Micro because the USB portion retracts into itself, so it is less likely to get dirty, crushed, or broken.  Jesse dislikes the retractable USB key because she has a hard time sticking it into the computer.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS2
Full Name:
Clementine Meshkov
Our first rugged camera was not so rugged.  We broke him.  But he took good pictures, and was way tougher than any other point and shoots, so when the time came we upgraded to his younger, new and improved brother, Remy, a Panasonic TS3.

Clemy RIP.
Nikon Coolpix S3100
Full Name:
Blue Camera
This was a small, cheap point and shoot we bought after Clemy died.  Getting what we paid for BC could barely handle the Annapurna trek sometimes later and he died on a beach in Thailand (hey, there are worse ways to go).  The photos he took, however, were pretty good.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3
Full Name:
Red Clemy Meshkov
Remy, the new and improved Clemy has proven a great success so far.  He loves the water, he doesn’t fear falls, and is impervious to dirt and dust.  It’s great to have a camera that is tougher than you are.  Oh, and he has a built-in GPS (it’s a bit slow, and sucks power) but how cool is a GPS tag on every single one of your pictures?  Way cool.  Sadly, Remy met his demise in Ulanbatar, where he was cam-napped.  Picked from my pocket at the Dragon Bus Station, Remy was never seen again.  Not even at the Russian market in UB.

Remy RIP.
Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-TX10
Full Name:
Carl Zeiss Lens Sony TX10
After Remy was stolen we needed, another, small camera.  And having learned our lesson about cheapo point and shoots we decided to spend the extra money to go for one that had the features we wanted (needed?).  Drop-proof, waterproof, dust-proof.  Basically as indestructible as you could get.  And we stumbled onto CZ, Sony’s rugged, yet stylish, model.  And we love him.  He takes great photos, has a sliding cover that was strange at first, but now very convinent (and gives a very satisfying click when he closes), and best of all he takes great photos!  So, two thumbs up for CZ.  We’ll see how long he survives. 
Nikon D90 (body)
"Fatty D"
Fatty-D (D90) is our DSLR.  He is big, but takes great photos.  He offers complete control, but is expensive.  For us, it was worth having this type of camera because I enjoy using the manual controls.  If it’s not important to you, or aren’t going to learn how to use it, smaller, less expensive cameras may be a better option – especially if you are not going to take it out with you.
Nikon D60 (body)
"Flaco D"
Note: In Spanish flaco means thin or skinny
Flaco-D (D60) was our DSLR when Fatty-D was on the mend.  Lighter and smaller (and thinner, duh) than Fatty-D he seemed like a great camera until he was compared head to head with Fatty-D.  The entry-level D60 was slower and less responsive when compared to Fatty-D, and didn't feel as solid in our hands.  When Jesse admitted this, it was sweet sweet music to my ears.  I made her repeat it.  And then repeat it again.

NOTE: We only carried one DSLR during our trip.  When Fatty-D got sick and was sent back to the states for repairs we had Flaco-D.  Then we swapped back to Fatty-D.
Tamron AF 18-200mm zoom lens (that's an 11x zoom lens)
This all around lens was the right compromise for weight, space, and cost for us.  More lens would be great.  Nikkor lens would be even better, but this one has performed well (though we do get f—errors fairly often, which we easily (but perhaps improperly) correct with a slight jiggle of the lens).  The biggest downside to this lens is it lacks Vibration Reduction, but those types of lens cost hundreds of dollars more….

Specs: 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di II LD Aspherical (IF) Macro Zoom Lens with Built In Motor for Nikon Digital SLR
Black Rapid RS-7 Camera Strap and BRAD (Black Rapid Arm Defense) Strap
Black Rapid Camera Strap (RS7)    This camera strap attaches to the bottom of the camera (the tripod socket) and is worn diagonally across the torso from shoulder to hip.  The camera, hanging upside down, rests comfortably at your hip or in the small of your back – out of your way and far less obtrusive than it hanging on your neck.

The few downsides are that because the connection is on the bottom of the camera it cannot rest squarely on a flat surface, for example, to take a timer photo.  I understand that Black Rapid has put out a newer connection piece that is thinner than the original one I have.

Nonetheless, I love this strap and will continue to use it for any large camera that I own.

The BRAD (Black Rapid Arm Defense) MOD is an additional strap that gives a more secure fit during my action packed shoots. You tuck the BRAD under your arm, and it makes sure that your strap (and camera) stays put, but I found that to have it tight enough to fully secure the camera, I was not able to effectively shoot.  So, it was good for demanding hikes or rock scrambles.
Zing 502-205 SXGY1 Large SLR Cover
Shaped just so for Fatty-D, I was very happy with this neoprene cover for our camera. It gave us the ability to chuck Fatty-D into a larger backpack with and not worry about him getting to banged-up. This case even protected Fatty-D when he was thrown from a galloping horse in the middle of the Gobi desert.

Belkin Mini Surge Protector Dual USB Charger
This mini surge-protector with 3 outlets and 2 USB chargers is invaluable on the road.  Paired with the all-in-one travel plug adapter we create charging stations that would make any geek proud.  The only thing to note is that the outlets are close together, so chargers that plug directly into the outlet (e.g. Remy’s) basically take up two outlets.
Kensington 33117 International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter

This guy works just as he is supposed to.  All over the world he goes into the power outlet, the Belkin mini-surge protector goes into him, and combined they are a formidable charging station.

There is a new model with a built in USB plug.

Two examples of the fully loaded charging stations.
Computer Earphone with Microphone Headset
This super cheap microphone/earpiece has worked really well for us.  Importantly, it has a separate plug for the microphone and speaker.  This is both good and bad.  Some computers, like Sammy Netbook, have separate jacks.  Others, like MacDaddy, RIP, MacDiddy, Paddy and the iPhone have a single jack.  Because of this, we needed to carry another microphone/headset with us...
Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic
These headphones and mic worked for a while.  Now only one ear bud works, but that is good enough for Skype calls.  The major downside of these is that they are not comfortable.  So we don't use them very much.
Audio-Technica's ATH-ANC3 QuietPoint Active Noise-Cancelling In-Ear Headphones
These headphones are OK.  The noise reduction works – when you have a charged AAA battery in them.  Importantly, they will still play music when the battery is dead, a feature many noise reducing headphones do not have.  The downside, the ear buds can pop off the headphones, and when that happens (as it often does in a jumbled electronics packing cube) it is a hassle to find the little plastic nub.  These ended up being more hassle than they were worth.

Its funny, noise reduction seemed important when we left.   Now, noise is the last of my concerns when embarking on multi-hour journeys...
Belkin headphone splitter
Way more important than the headphones is the headphone splitter.  Watching movies, listening to music, whatever, it’s more fun to do it together.

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