|Back to Computers||Back to Home|
Nomad is my first, and for now, my only laptop. For years, I would never get near a laptop, due to the expense, the decreased performance, and the difficulty in upgrading. To my mind, a laptop was the nearest thing you could get to a disposable computer, and at twice the cost of a standard desktop or tower. Still, hardware changes, needs change, and attitudes are modified. What finally sold my on getting a laptop, was a vacation I took a year or two back. This convinced me of the utility of a laptop, for certain situations. In addition, prices have come down, battery technology has improved, and it is even possible to do some limited upgrading of today's laptop. Such upgrades tend to be limited to memory, a possible hard drive swap, and perhaps the addition of some USB drives or devices; but this is still a significant advance over what had recently been possible.
Some time ago, I took my first ever trip to The Grand Canyon. I was able to use my laptop from work and bring it along. The laptop was handy for loading photos from my camera every night, and was also a handy way to make trip notes, keep a trip journal, and start my web pages about the trip. A few years latter, I took another trip, this time to Minuteman Missile. My original micro drive had failed, and I needed some new memory for my camera. At the time, a 1 GB CF card cost around $100, and I figured I would need at least four or five of them, to give me enough photos. While I was shopping the electronics store for drives, I came across a laptop on sale for around $500. It had a 20 GB hard drive, so there would be more than enough room for me to store all of my photos. In addition, it could be used as my old machine had been, for writing and journaling. There was more though. This new laptop could play DVD movies, and had built in wireless internet, so that I could get on the web, while on the road.
I quickly named the machine nomad, put my favorite programs on it, and put it on my network. Nomad is a Toshiba Satellite A105-S2081 computer. I have updated the drive to 40gb, and the ram to 1 GB. No further changes have been required, or wanted. This machine comes with me on all of my trips, and adds a bit of civilization to my camping and travel. The first really long trip I took with this machine was a 19 day journey to the Southwest. I have many great memories of that trip; but two involve this computer.
On my first day of travel, I made it all the way from Milwaukee, to a point on the Oklahoma Turnpike, part way between Oklahoma City, and Tulsa. It was getting late, I had come a long way, and I was tired. The turnpike has these huge combination picnic areas, rest stops, truck stops and general stores. I stopped at one. Pulling over, I found a place to park, among acres of trucks. I stopped in at the cafe, and looked around the general store, before calling home and then turning in for the night. I fired up the computer, took a sandwich and soft drink out of my cooler, and settled down in the bed, at the back of my conversion van.
Laying in the back of the van, I had my reading light on, and was busy loading the digital photos I had taken, in to the computer, in order to give me an empty camera memory the next day. While doing this, a looking the photos over, I saw an indicator on my computer, that advised me a wireless network was available. Accessing the network, I sent off some emails, sent some photos to friends and family, and had myself a pretty good time. I was miles from home, out in Oklahoma, and yet I was right at home. A few days latter, I had a similar experience at the Grand Canyon, where I had arrived after 10:00 P.M, after having driven all day. Everything was closed, and everything was that deep dark that you only see when far away from the cities. Backing into my camp site, I shut the van down, changed into my robe and slippers, got some dinner out of my cooler and settled down in from of my computer to look at pictures and write. I then put in a DVD, and drifted off to sleep. From that time on, my laptop always comes with me on any trip. The whole works, including keyboard, mouse, card reader, 90 watt power supply, and blank CDs fits into a nice little carrying case.
This is not a great laptop, by today's standards, and was not top of the line when new; but like much of today's technology, it was cheap, available in quantity, and more than good enough. When traveling, I generally bring a USB keyboard, and mouse, as I never have gotten used to a laptop keyboard.
These newer generations of laptops are getting to be pretty amazing, for their low prices, and for their completeness. One of my big objections to owning a laptop was the inability to really do any upgrading. Most of today's laptops are complete enough, that an upgrade will likely not be needed. Previous generations were incomplete, and often used docking stations to proved needed connectivity for desktop use. Connectors on this laptop include two USB ports on the rear, and right hand side of the case. The right hand side also has a connector for attaching a standard phone cable to the unit's built in 56K modem, and contains the drive bay, which normally included a DVD/CDRW. This is also where the switch is located to turn the built in wireless modem. At the rear of the unit is an RJ45 connector for connection to a hard wired network, as well as the power connector. The left hand machine has an SVGA connector, a PS/2 mouse port, and a slot for an older style PCMCIA card.
Battery life is an hour or two, depending upon what I do with the machine. Using the DVD player, and having an external mouse and keyboard, pushes the battery life down closer to an hour than to two. Transferring data, from one of my camera memory cards also seems to put a bit more load on the battery, as does burning a CD. I have an extra 90 watt power supply for the unit, which always stays in the case. The other unit will be plugged into my computer, either at home, or into the power converter in my van. I only needed to misplace my original power supply once, while on a vacation, to immediately see the wisdom of having an extra.
In addition to everything else, this machine serves as my navigator. I have a USB satnav unit, along with a mapping program, that can really come in handy on a trip. This too, puts a load on the battery, which was one of the reason I got a power converter for my van. Still, there is something very pleasing about having a map displayed on your computer, seeing a little red dot marking your position, and even seeing the dot move along the map as you drive. You can also check distances, local attractions, and even get directions. Twice, in Arizona/New Mexico portion of the Southwest, this unit prevented my from becoming hopelessly lost. All in all, a laptop computer is a great way to bring much of civilization, and many of the comforts of home, on a long distance camping trip, or other exploration.