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Geek Speak column
[Published in the Key West Citizen Locals Guide on September 24, 2010.]
In Key West, October involves a lot of travel. Multitudes of Fantasy Festers are coming and going, some of the seasonal population is on the move, and there are locals who try to get out of town to make room for the revelry. Whether travelling by plane, boat or car, new technology can smooth the ride and help make for an enjoyable and safe trip. Here are a few travel techno-tips and gadgets…
Personal Entertainment. Let’s start with an update on what’s available these days to keep you entertained while on a long ride or flight. On-board DVD players are now a fairly common option in cars, and the average laptop nowadays can be your own personal entertainment center on the road. However there are a few new developments you may not be aware of. For example, did you know that the long-promised “TV glasses” have finally become a practical reality?
As far back as the 1980s gimmicky black and white video could be viewed on clunky mirrors mounted on a pair of glasses. But it was fuzzy and expensive. The latest versions of these can make you feel like you’re viewing a movie on a 50” or 60” high-resolution screen – and the price is actually lower than before (though still not cheap). They’ll even do 3D. Expect to pay $300+ for the 60” equivalent wide-screen ones, but the smaller versions are now below $200. They’ll plug into anything with a composite video jack (such as portable DVD players, camcorders, iPods, laptops, etc). Earphones are built-in, and they’ll do 8 hours on a charge.
There are new portable gaming machines that can use those video glasses, but don’t require them. Both Nintendo and Sony have updated versions of their popular DS and PSP players. These continue to blur the line between gaming machines and personal entertainment. They both connect to the internet or other players for multiplayer gaming and can download games, movies or music. Expect to pay about $150 for the Nintendo DSi or $250 for Sony’s PSPgo.
Convenience. We’re moving closer to the “Babelfish” from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy these days. Electronic translation dictionaries have been around for a while, but you still had to figure out how to pronounce the phrases you looked up for that impatient French waiter. The newest devices actually will recognize your speech when looking up a phrase, find the translation, and speak that for you. It’s an actual personal interpreter. And on top of that, it works both ways, so it’ll attempt to translate and speak that waiter’s answer, if it recognizes the response. Note that these boxes still aren’t omniscient, so you will still have problems with those who speak elaborately or with heavy dialects. But it’s a far-cry from the old Berlitz books. Expect to pay $400 or so for a single language box, add some for additional languages.
And while you’re in that other country, are you worried about drinking the water? With just a couple of AA batteries you can power a small portable ultraviolet light water purifier that will sterilize a glass of water in less than a minute. Fits in your pocket, but will kill those nasty cryptosporidium and other microbes just by sticking it into your glass and turning it on. About $80.
Emergencies. Forgot the charger for one of your many rechargeables (phone, ear-piece, iPod, etc)? Or worse, find that they don’t work in the country you’re visiting? Or maybe your travel spot suffers a power outage before you got a chance to recharge? Or your battery runs down before the flight is over? No need to panic, as long as you make sure that you always carry a flexible emergency charge device.
As long as you have planned ahead, you could be carrying an ultra-slim $20 “IOGEAR” battery-pack that provides a bunch of universal adaptor connectors. This is the quickest way to get back online in a hurry, at least once or twice. But you have to remember to charge it before you travel! Better yet, carry a small solar-charger or hand-crank charger (good for night-time power-failures) for $20 to $30. The crank ones generally include a flashlight, and sometimes a radio.
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