The Other Every Day Carry Gear – The Not Quite EDC

So I wrote two articles about my every day carry upgrades and the two significant things I changed over the last year or two. One thing I learned about myself was that I don’t like carrying a bunch of extra stuff on my person. Keys, wallet, cell phone, pocket knife, headset and I’m done. No smart watch, no pen, no field notes notebook, none of that stuff. The pen thing is a little inconvenient sometimes but I am usually in an office and there are thousands of pens.

So here’s a list of what I like to call “Semi-EDC”. It’s the stuff I typically carry every day but don’t usually have on my person. Since it isn’t on my person all the time every day, it’s Semi-EDC.

Surface 3

Regular old Surface 3. I don’t believe in laptops anymore. It pretty much does what I need though. I can run Aptana Studio on it, Office 365, remote into work, run Skype and since it actually charges with a microUSB port and not a proprietary cable I don’t have to carry a lot of weird cables around.

I also carry the Surface Pen too. I’ll post an article about why you should maybe consider a tablet over a laptop one of these days.

NiteCore LA10 Flashlight

I’ve got a big old school Maglite at home, but it’s not super practical carrying it everywhere. I was searching around for a smaller aluminum or steel bodied flashlight to carry with me that also didn’t use huge amounts of batteries. I found the LA10 on Amazon. It uses a single AA battery, and has three modes of operation. There is a bright setting, a super bright setting and a ‘beacon’ mode. The light also extends out like lipstick and can be used as a small lantern. This seemed ideal for server closets with no power as well as spontaneous camping trips and such.

The link above comes with an EdisonBright alkaline battery according to the description. I looked the batteries up and all I could find were relatively expensive rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Mine came with a Duracell AA battery that looked like it is labeled for the Japanese market.

Leatherman Skeletool


I talked about this in my pocket knife article. I really like this multi-tool but I don’t like carrying it on my person all the time so it goes in the bag.

Moleskine Notebooks

I carry two in the bag. One of the 3.5″ by 5″ soft cover ones and one of the “large” 5.5″ by 8.5″ soft cover ones. The large one is set up to work with the “Getting Things Done” system and the smaller one is just for general note taking. Basically a fancier version of the “Field Notes” notebooks I make fun of in the EDC boards.

Amazonbasics 16100 mAh Power Bank

Figured out these are inexpensive, have two output ports and can charge both my surface and my phone no problem. There are companies that sell larger capacity batteries but this one isn’t any bigger than a smart phone in a good size OtterBox.

I highly suggest everyone carry one of these, or something like it. They are really useful little devices and can extend your working day from a couple of hours to all day pretty easily if you are somewhere that power isn’t easily accessible.

I like the 16100 mAh one for the value. I have several power banks and I’ll probably review them in a separate article.

Rav Power Charger

This is an upgrade from the little cheap dual port USB chargers I prefer. It’s also got some Qualcomm circuitry built-in so it can quickly charge certain kinds of devices. I don’t have any devices that are Qualcomm compatible yet, but it’s there when I need it. They make a smaller USB charger that just has the 2.4A ports on it that I like as well.

I thought it was prudent to get a higher quality charger. While I’ve never myself had a device die because of a cheap charger, I’ve heard the stories. The chargers from RAVpower advertise built-in surge protection, as well as overheating and high current protection. Something the little cheap ones just don’t have. The one I have also seems extremely durable. So while it was kind of expensive for what is basically a cell phone charger, I’d definitely recommend it.

Micro USB to Type C Adapter

You’ll read a lot of articles about how bad an idea these are. I haven’t had a problem with this specific brand though. I have two. One for the office and one for my bag. I will say that I have some pretty decent cables though and I don’t use the cables if the ends are bent up. I really suggest investing in some good cables and chargers if you go the Micro USB cable with these adapters. These look like they are engineered really well and the good cables I have fit in tightly. I have a few cheap cables that when I plug them in, they fit really loose and move around inside. I wouldn’t trust that loose connection with my phone.

These saved me a lot of money when I got my Nexus 5x. I like the Type C thing, but I really wish Google had gone with some other quick charge method.

Two Micro USB Cables

I have a retractable USB cable and a regular 10′ micro USB cable I carry as well. I got both off of AliExpress actually. I don’t seem to have a problem with either except the ends on the ten footer are a bit long.

Tactical Pen

I got a few of these on a flash deal for Christmas a few years ago. I keep one in the car too. They write pretty well and have a glass breaker tip if you need to break a window out or something. I guess this would be considered a decent self-defense item if you needed it. I like it because it’s extremely solid and has a good ink cartridge in it. So besides being a really good pen (most of them I’ve seen on Amazon have good reviews on the pen part) this one at least seems solid enough to be used for a lot of other purposes. Personally, I’ve wedged it into doors to hold them open and jammed my car’s break pedal down to work on the brake light switch.

Sharpie Pens

These are what I like to write with these days. Just a preference over ball point pens.

A Sharpie

For marking on things.

The Techno Survivalist – Earbuds, Headsets and Audio

I’ve been thinking about Every Day Carry lately as it relates to this idea of what I’m calling Techno Survivalism. So I started going through what I carry around every day and what I need to do every day so I can adjust my “EDC”. I know many IT guys carry a lot of crap around in a backpack every day but I’ve turned more towards the minimalist approach to everything. I don’t carry a backpack, I just have my four pockets.

The last couple of jobs I’ve had required a lot of travel to various parts of the Panhandle and I know a lot of places have policies about having some kind of hands free system in their car. Lots of cubicle work requires that you have earphones because you can’t play a radio at your cube either. Most cell phones these days include a pair of ear buds so you may ask why I’m even writing this article. Well here are a few reasons why you should ditch the stock ear buds you get with your phone and get the two products I’m about to tell you about now.

The stock, cheap ear buds you get with your phone usually suck for the following reasons:

  • They have plastic cords that tangle up really easily.
  • They have cords.
  • The sound quality is abysmal.
  • They break easily.
  • They’re generic looking.
  • The cords get caught on things.
  • The cords are never long enough.
  • Did I mention they have cords?
  • No volume control (unless you have an iPhone).
  • No track skip features.
  • Basically all they do is start/stop what you’re listening to and answer calls.

Why even carry a headset as part of your EDC? In this day and age, audio is how you keep yourself informed, educated and entertained. For most people, a smartphone is as essential in day to day life as a stone knife was to a cave man in the paleolithic era. The headset is part of the connection to the phone. You listen to audio on the phone with it, talk on the actual phone feature with it, and can input data and receive information through the voice command system with it. Having a good one is crucial. I want to break you away from carrying a dinky corded headset, and get you to carry a stereo Bluetooth headset as your main audio interface. It will free you up, and add a new level of interaction to your smartphone.

Bluetooth Headset and Why You Should Have One All The Time

 

Book Cover
The first product I want to talk about is the LG Tone+ HBS 730 Stereo Bluetooth Headset . I’ve had one of these since March of 2013 and as of this writing is has not failed me. The biggest reason I got this was because I like to listen to podcasts and I got tired of breaking regular ear buds. The cable would get caught on something and break, or they’d just wear out. I didn’t want a regular Bluetooth headset because people can’t tell when you’re listening to one, and they generally make you look like a jerk. This headset can be hidden under a shirt, lets you control your music, answer calls, control the voice commands on your phone, has volume control, and track skipping functionality. With newer phones all the functions work. On my Galaxy S2 the track skipping didn’t work, but everything else did just fine.  On an iPhone, or my HTC One, everything works flawlessly. The battery life on this thing, even after almost two years as of this writing is well over eight hours of listening time, when it was new it was well over the ten they promise. The audio quality is great, I can tell the difference when I have to use a regular set of ear buds.

The biggest advantage is I don’t have to have my phone on me and I can still use the headset for most things. I can make and receive calls, and listen to audio and leave the phone on the charger in another room if I need to. This makes long road trips a lot more pleasant.

There aren’t really that many drawbacks to this headset and I can’t say enough good about them, but the best reasons to have them are pretty self-evident. One is they work exactly like a regular set of corded ear buds without the cord, and a lot more features. Another is that since there isn’t a cord to get caught on anything, you won’t have the problem of the cord dragging the phone out of your pocket and then the phone breaking because it drops to the ground. Since the ear buds on this pull out more like a head set, people can see that you have them in, as opposed to a normal Bluetooth headset, which most people just think you’re being rude when you use one.

A couple of drawbacks are that the buttons can be pressed accidentally. You can’t charge it while using it, and you just get too dependent on the darn thing after a while.  It will also turn around on your neck sometimes, but I’ve found this doesn’t really happen that much unless the headphone cables get twisted up around the device.

The best part is that these hardly cost more than a really good set of regular earphones. They run about $65 on Amazon. I got mine for less than that watching the sales. I highly suggest getting the 730, every knock off company tries to imitate these and sell theirs for less and those knock-offs are utter garbage. That’s an indicator of a quality product, when people copy it.

LG also makes a few more models with different button layouts that might work better for different people for about the same price ranges. Here they are:

 

LG Electronics Tone Pro Bluetooth Stereo Headset – I think this is the HBS-750. I’ve seen a couple of reviews from golfers who like this one. The main difference is the buttons are on the side and not the top.

LG Electronics Tone Ultra (HBS-800) Bluetooth Stereo Headset  – This one has more Google voice commands integrated than the other models. The buttons look like they might be more flush with the headset.

LG Electronics TONE INFINIM Bluetooth Stereo Headset – This one is a lot more expensive. The ear buds are retractable which solves one tiny issue with the other headsets, but honestly the reviews on this one don’t look good for the price compared to the 730, 750 and 800 which are the ones most people seem to prefer the most.

These all charge up with USB so that portable battery pack you should be carrying will charge up all of them!

Corded Ear Buds For Your Spares

For your EDC I am a strong proponent of the Bluetooth headset for your cellphone. It just makes life easier. However, you do still need at least two good pair of corded ear buds for spares, though not necessarily for carrying on you. You want two with the control button, and microphone, if not the volume control if you have an iPhone (this feature won’t work on Androids as of this writing). There are a lot of good sturdy corded sets out there, usually with flat cables and stuff like that. I don’t particularly like those. Mostly because they don’t work well with ScotteVest coats and hoodies. The ones I recommend, just because I’ve had really good luck with this kind are the sort with the braided cloth shell over the cable. They aren’t QUITE as tangle resistant as their flat cable counterpart, but they’re just as sturdy, if not more so. They’re also cheaper in most instances and work with the cable management features in a lot of those fancy coats.

What got me hooked on these was a freebie I got with a Newegg order. They weren’t the best ear buds, but I still have them and they take a lot of abuse. Unfortunately, they don’t have the microphone or the button for smart phones, so I just tossed them in my bug out bag for the radio.

Having a couple of these around where you can get to them gets you a couple of things. Personally I keep one in my ScotteVest hoodie in the winter all the time, I look kind of stupid with two headsets but when I’m on an airplane I can’t really use the Bluetooth.

  1. A spare if your Bluetooth breaks, forget to charge the battery, or need to conserve power.
  2. Many smart phones have a radio built-in now and need a headset to act as an antenna.

Here’s a few links to some I would suggest. The ones pictures above are the basic Altec Lansing MZX736MIC Bliss Headphones  in black and silver. Their equipment is pretty good, pretty generic and those will run you about $20. That set is Prime eligible so you can get them in about two days.

M.M Braided Cord In-ear Earphones with Microphone – These are about $9. I found identical ones for about $18. They supposedly have a microphone, don’t see it pictured. These should be half decent. A couple of these work in a pinch until better ones could be bought.

Obviously these are just spares, if you want quality ones there are plenty of good options to choose from. I’d get a couple of the Altec Lansing ones and throw them in the bug out bag. I’ve got a set very much like them on my hoodie permanently. I’ve got a couple generic stock ear buds thrown different places like my car bag, and my desk drawer just in case something breaks or someone needs a pair (I keep all the extra ear pieces, because yeah that’s gross sharing).

 

Emergency Smart Phone Preparedness In the Urban Landscape

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It was this cold! That was falling water in the summer!

Thought I’d diverge from the Geeky Faith stuff for a while. Stuff depresses me sometimes. Get back to good old geeky electronics and techno-survivalism. Thought I’d relate a story that my fiance and I went through about a year ago in Edmonton, Alberta.

I was up there visiting during the winter and we decided to go out to eat one really cold evening. It was about -20 C outside, which is a respectable 0 to -2 or -3 in non-heathen units. Might have been colder, once it starts getting down that cold in Canada you cease caring about actual degrees and just start gauging temperatures in “Negative Jesus’s”. Which is basically when you get up in the morning, look at the weather to see how much coat you need and say, “Oh it’s negative.. Jesus Christ that’s cold.” The more expletives between Jesus and Christ is roughly how many layers a non-Canadian will feel like they need to wear.

So we finally decide to go to Famosa’s, which is a really great pizza place in the Alberta area. Have us some great pizza and realize it’s pretty late, and aren’t sure if the bus runs at one in the morning, and we’re on the other side of town. We can’t check the cell phone because mine doesn’t work in Canada and hers is almost dead, and screws up sometimes anyway. I figure no problem  because my tablet is in her backpack and has a USB port and she carries a spare cable. No luck, because no cable. Can’t use the restaurant phone to call a taxi because they are jerks, so we’re about half freaking out. Can’t swap SIM cards because different sizes, and the aggravation goes on and on. Just to add to the annoyance, no payphones anymore that we can find. So we figure we’re basically stranded in a cold, unforgiving Canadian parking lot with half drunk Edmontonians doing donuts on the ice in their gigantic pickup trucks if the public transit isn’t running.

The story has a happy ending because the buses ran for a few more hours and we caught one back to where we needed to go. There was a good fifteen minutes of utter uncertainty though. I made it a point to make sure neither of us were in that position again. Getting stuck either in the extreme cold of Canada or the heat of the Texas Panhandle sucks, and if you have  your smart phone it might not be a survival situation so much as a find the information you need situation. It’s really the little things that cause the problems, not the big things.

First thing I did was came up with some protocol to avoid the situation in the first place.

Smart Phone Protocol

  1. Make sure cell phones are at least mostly charged before heading out for more than a few hours, especially somewhere using public transportation.
  2. ALWAYS carry a cable and a means of charging in purse, backpack, pocket, coat, wherever.
  3. Make sure any information that’s needed is pulled up on the web browser or written down somewhere just in case there’s no signal before it becomes a problem. A little piece of paper in the case is pretty handy.
  4. Know basically how long your cell battery lasts from a full charge until dead under normal use.

The Tech

The second thing is that we had a way to charge the phone if we had a cable but what it was pretty bulky and we might not have always had that tablet with us. If we had just a cable and a wall charger it might not have helped much because there weren’t any outlets anywhere convenient. So having an alternative energy source would have been super handy. The very first thing I did when I got home was research external USB batteries. What I found is that there are a few types.

The simple kind are just a battery with two ports. One charges the battery up, and the other charges the device. The other kinds have two means of charging. They can either be charged through the USB port or through some other means like solar, or mechanical energy. I like this type the best.

Either kind of these batteries can be carried in a purse or backpack. Most of us guys tend to walk out the door with just what we have in our pockets so maybe this isn’t super practical if all you’re wearing is jeans and a white Hane’s t-shirt. However, in the dead of winter, you’re probably wearing a jacket, I’ve carried mine in my Scottevest hoodie.

Opteka BP-SC4000

This one has pretty good reviews, comes with a TON of different charger tips, including a lot I don’t recognize, and you can put any cable you want in it. It charges with a regular mini-USB so if you have any gear that uses those, it can use that cable. It also charges solar as well. I’ve tested this thing with all kinds of light conditions, it will charge slowly in dim light indoors, sunlight, and by shining a bright flashlight on it. It does take a long time to charge via solar (something like ten hours), but you can attach a lanyard to it, put it on the outside of your backpack on a sunny day or whatever and let nature take its course.

It’s 4000mAh, though I’ve seen a tear down somewhere showing at least a few have bigger batteries. My HTC One gets almost a complete charge from it. My Windows Tablet won’t charge, but will run off it and my camera will charge from it just fine. I got about two charges from it on my Galaxy S2 and an iPhone 4 seemed to charge about once from it. I was also able to charge it from my tablet.

Basically it works a bit better than the manufacturer advertises. The only problem I’ve had with it is the power button on mine doesn’t always seem to turn it off when you hold it down. I’m not sure why. But it might be because I’ve dropped it. The other one we got works flawlessly. Both have charged to 100% or very close to it off of solar in the sun.

The “Lipstick Battery”

This is the other style battery I’ve seen that might be better for people who don’t carry around a bag. Like I mentioned before, most guys just go out with almost nothing on them but a wallet, keys and a phone. I personally take more crap with me if I’m going out a while, especially if I’m somewhere my car isn’t available. While these things aren’t super small, they’re a lot smaller than the solar charger above.

Anker® 2nd Gen Astro Mini

This one seems to be fairly small, and charges with a micro USB cable, which it comes with. This is probably what your devices use anyway. It looks like it’ll charge a few of the more popular phones today to 100% capacity and the Galaxy S4 to about 80%. Not bad for something so small. The same company makes a few higher capacity battery packs too that might be worth looking into. I’ll probably be purchasing one of these very soon to stick in my ScotteVest hoodie for an EDC during the  fall/winter months since my solar one is a bit big for that.

Airport Charging Kit

I wrote a post a while back on keeping your stuff charged at the airport and presented a few parts to minimize the amount of stuff you have to haul with you. My goal was to charge three items on one outlet through USB power. Well I don’t carry a laptop anymore, I carry a tablet.

So here are the devices I took with me and some pictures of me charging them off of one outlet.

  • ASUS VivoTab RT
  • HTC One Phone
  • Olympus SZ-12 (took the pictures with this so you can’t see it)
  • Garmin Nuvi GPS (not charging this at the airport, charges in the car)

The Vivo Tab seems to power just fine on the non-Microsoft AC adapter, but it isn’t actually charging. It’s annoying when companies make USB powered items and bizarre proprietary parts. It has a nine hour battery life so I’ll probably just charge the phone or charge it and charge the phone off the USB. Camera doesn’t need charging here that bad.

The camera and phone both charge just fine off the dual port AC adapter I got. The camera is plugged into my tablet.

 

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Phone and Dual Port Charger
Phone and Dual Port Charger

 

Keeping Your Electronics Charged at the Airport

I am a relatively frequent traveller, I find myself in the airport several times a year for business or pleasure. I’m also really cheap so I end up spending a whole day at the airport due to layovers. As a techie working in IT I need to stay connected and that means keeping things charged. I’ve come up with a small kit and a few strategies for doing this at an airport where electrical outlets might be far and few in between.

Feel free to skip to the bottom if you just want links to stuff you need for your devices to make this all work.

Strategy

Here are a few things to keep in mind when packing your electronics.

1. Minimize Your Stuff

Decide what you actually need before you throw anything into your luggage. I decided to whittle down my electronics when I figured out I was carrying enough that the TSA would comment at the airport. So keep to the least you can get away with. For me that is the following:

Tablet – An Asus Windows RT Tablet

Cell Phone – Galaxy S2

Camera – Sometimes a small point and shoot, sometimes my DSLR.

GPS – A Garmin GPS, charges with a mini-USB cable.

I occasionally take a laptop or a Gameboy with me.

If at all possible you want all these to be using the same USB cable for power, but that rarely happens. Most Android devices all use the same cable, and Apple has been until recently fairly consistent. Point is though, they all typically use standard USB to charge and you just need the right cables. So you just need a charger with a USB slot on it.

2. Get Rid of Wall Wart Chargers

Practically all small electronics short of laptops use USB power to charge these days. Tablets, cell phones, cameras, portable gaming devices, and just about everything else all are capable of charging with a USB cable plugged into a computer. If you’ve got a phone that doesn’t have a USB cable option, get a new phone.

You’ll drastically reduce the amount of weight that you have to carry just by getting rid of the wall wart chargers.

 

Wall Wart with Micro USB End
This is a “wall wart”. These are bad. They only have one end, and you have to take one for every device you want to charge simultaneously.

3. Charge More Than One Device At a Time

This is pretty important. There are a few options in the “Kit” that will help you do this. The idea here is that you might get one outlet jack and you want to maximize how much you can get out of it. Ideally you want to be able to plug in all your devices at the same time from a single outlet jack.

If you carry a laptop, check how many USB ports it has, and how many of them can power something when it is plugged in. New ones usually have more than two and all of them can be used to charge when the laptop is on AC power. One of those will almost always be able to power things when the laptop is on battery.

Check out the kit at the bottom for the non-laptop carrying way to deal with this. If you carry a laptop you can skip the chargers and just carry cables and use it to charge everything in your hotel room at night if you like to live dangerously.

 

This is a good example of a two port USB Charger. It only takes up one outlet.

 

Put Together an Airport Kit

After you’ve figured out what you need and don’t need, this part is easy. I’ve put together some items for a kit for you to pick from that will solve 90% of your travel power needs.  This is all based on the idea that you just need one singular USB charger and a few cable to do the job. This minimizes the amount of stuff you have in your carry-on bag (which is typically all you’ll have with you in the airport).

Here’s my kit:

Small Two Port USB Wall Charger – For the airport/hotel/wherever I’m staying.

Small Two port USB Car Charger – For the rental car. Can charge phone and power GPS this way.

USB Cables/Multi End Cable – One common one for each same type device. If they all use the same tip then 2. I carry four cables, each about a meter long.

Some Kind of Pouch or Container I’ve got a little drawstring cotton pouch I use for this. Keeps everything together and make it easier to swap backpacks.

The Links

Personally I prefer Amazon because a lot of third party retailers sell through them and you can buy this stuff cheap. If you tried to get this same stuff at a store it would be marked up 500%.

Chargers

Small Two Port USB Wall Charger

Small Two Port USB Car Charger

Please note that these chargers are for North America only. You might need adapters or totally different chargers for international travel!

General Cables:

Micro USB Cables (Type B) – Charges most Android devices. Blackberries, Amazon Kindles, Nooks, some bluetooth headsets and a lot of other devices use this type of cable as well. If you look at the end, it has black plastic in it. The type A which is less common will have white.

Mini USB Cables – Garmin GPS units use these. A lot of bigger devices like cameras tend to use these.

USB 3.0 Cables – The ASUS Windows RT tablet uses this type. I’m sure there will be other devices that use it soon enough.

iOS 30 Pin Cables – These are the old style Apple device cables that the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch used to use. If you’ve got an iPhone 3/3G/3GS/4/4S, iPod Touch up to 4th generation (maybe 5th) and iPads up to the “iPad 3”, they use this cable. You need to find the one that is for your specific device as while they should all charge, they might not all sync. This one should work for all though.

iOS Lightning Cable – These are for newer Apple devices. The iPhone 5, “iPad 4”, iPad Mini, and the 6th gen iPods and higher (I think) use this cable.

Camera Cables

Some camera companies use proprietary cables for their cables. You need to see if the camera can charge the battery internally. Most can, some don’t. Here’s some Amazon search links to get you started. You can add your model number after the search and get better results. Some of these cables are less than a dollar!

Nikon Cables – Nikon seems to use Micro USB for most of their cameras.

Olympus Cables – Olympus uses a proprietary cable. If it’s a standard cable type I haven’t found it. Every Olympus camera I’ve seen or owned uses this type though.

Canon Cables – Canon seems to use Mini USB cables.

Kodak Cables – These look like they might be MIcro USB but I can’t tell from the pictures.

Sony Cables – This is another proprietary cable type. It might be a standard, some cell phone use this kind of cable. Sony is all over the map in terms of cable usage so make sure it works with your model.

Polaroid Cables – Polaroid seems to use mostly Mini-USB cables as well.