Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gear additions

Portable Speaker
In a previous post, we talked about how the Nexus 7 has been the only addition to our electronics gear, during our travels.  That’s not quite true, and we have since added once more piece.

While travelling in New Zealand, we had a rental car that predated MP3 players (the age made the car extremely affordable, and we had no other issues with it), so it had no auxiliary input for playing music on the road, and playing through the speakers in our little Android music players was a little tinny.  While exploring a market, we noticed the purple device pictured above, playing music.  It’s an acoustic transducer and a tweeter with a washable adhesive pad.  You stick it to a surface, and the mid and bass range are vibrated into the surface, transforming the entire surface into a large speaker element.  The high range plays through the tweeter.  When not in use, it nests in the square housing, which is an amplifier, and carries two AA batteries for portable use when it cannot be powered by a USB cable.  It works amazingly well, depending on the surfaces you have available.  An empty plastic water bottle works quite well, as do many of the rigid plastic surfaces inside a car.  Glass doesn’t work very well, but most other large, flat surfaces produce surprisingly good bass response.  In the picture above, we’re using a 3 ring binder from the hotel with a cover very similar to a hardback book, and it sounds great.  Drywall also works really well, but it sends the music towards you and towards whomever is on the other side of that wall, who may not enjoy your taste in music.  Clearly, we’ve moved beyond just using it in the car; it’s nice to have some music in the evening as well, or even a podcast over dinner.

The other acquisition dates from our road trip in the US, but we’ve only mentioned it in passing.  It’s the black device on the left, a Microsoft Arc Touch mouse.  It’s one of the nicest mice we’ve ever used, and it’s fantastic for travel.  It’s pictured folded into the curved shape that you would use it as a mouse in, but it snaps to a flat, compact shape that fits easily in a bag (and it switches off when flattened).  For storage, the wireless USB dongle next to it sticks to the underside of the mouse, held in place by a strong magnet.  The silvery-grey strip between the two mouse buttons is a touch-pad that emulates a scroll wheel, and it generates minute vibrations to give your finger the sensation of clicking a traditional scroll wheel.  If you work with photos much, or any other pointer-centric programs, skip those miniature “travel” mice.  This one has the feel of a full size mouse, and yet takes up less functional space, because it is so slim.
We’ve been conscientious about not weighing ourselves down by accumulating stuff as we travel, and for the most part it’s been quite easy.  It was obvious, even before we left the US, that stuff gets in the way of the experience of long-term travel.  It hasn’t even been a struggle.  Nor do these two items don’t feel like we gave in; they’re both light and small, and offer a significant payoff for their size.  The speaker slides between two of David’s packing cubes,  and the mouse slides into a bag of USB cables in Lana’s pack, both with no noticeable impact on our backs.