Disaster Tech

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Like many of you, I’ve been watching the events in Japan continue to unfold, and perhaps thinking to myself, “I’m glad something that devastating didn’t happen here”.

But what if it did, would you be prepared? I like to think that I am, but sadly, I’m probably not.

Yes, I have a first aid kit, and I’ve got some camping supplies, but it’s not organized nor is it handy. And it’s likely not enough, which is why the Canadian Red Cross created these handy plans.

Getting Prepared
The Canadian Red Cross has this excellent resource for building and maintaining an Emergency Preparedness Kit listing what you need to survive for 72 hours or more.

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Ok, step one is taken care of…or is it.
In my case, I’ve got pets so I need to extend my kit and plans a bit with this Emergency Pet Plan & Kit

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Now I’m set, except for some of the tech. Usually tech is the last thing you want in your kit; it requires power, isn’t easy to fix when it breaks, and doesn’t fare well when wet. Yet there are some exceptions.

Gearing up
These plans and kits all call for a battery or hand-crank flashlight and radio. And I’ve found one that suits my needs perfectly.

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The Etón FR160 self-powered safety radio uses hand crank or solar power to re-charge the internal nickel metal-hydride battery and features AM/FM radio and Environmental Canada weather band channels to provide emergency weather information/public alerts. In addition, the FR160 has an integrated LED flashlight, 3.5 mm headphone output and a USB port for charging cell phones.

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The unit is small, lightweight, and won’t take up valuable space in any emergency kit.

Of course, I tried it out, and yes, it does work well. Radio reception was fine, and the crank, while a bit noisy, did charge well.

And as a bonus, Etón Corporation contributes a portion of every Canadian Red Cross branded unit sold to support the mission of the Canadian Red Cross.

If you’re looking for more information on the FR160, you can check out the manual here (pdf).

And yes, this will find a home in my soon-to-be-complete emergency kit.

But I’m sure you’ve got some tech-thoughts on additions to my kit — what tech would you pack in your kit?

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It’s cold! Pamper your tech

frost_250.jpgWith the amount of gear I have around I’m surprised this doesn’t happen to me more often.

The weather in Edmonton has been rather cool of late, in the -20 to -30 degree range in fact. And today, since it’s warmed up to a reasonable -2, I decided to drive the car, rather than our other, warmer, SUV.

After digging it out, scraping it off, and jumping in to wait for it to defrost, I rummaged around in the centre console — and discovered that I’d left my TomTom GPS in the vehicle since the fall.

Hmmm, this was not good. Weeks of cold-soaking the batteries at extreme temperatures can harm their life, and perhaps even physically damage them.

As well, bringing the device into a nice warm room also has it’s own hazards. As anyone who wears glasses and shovels snow in Canada knows, moisture quickly accumulates on these frozen devices. Wet electronics are not a good thing.

So, what can you do to keep your gadgets safely working through the winter? Here’s a few ideas:

Don’t let them freeze (duh)
Staged Warming – If they do freeze, warm the slowly, in stages, in a humidity free environment. In my case, I left the GPS in my garage for an hour (warmer than outside), then moved it to my car (warmer than my garage), and finally moved it inside the house. This reduced the shock to the components, and reduced the capacity for humidity to form as the unit was warmed.

Outdoor use
Cameras, music players, phones — keep them in an inside pocket, next to your body if possible. This’ll keep the batteries warm and extend the charge of the unit. Cold temp reduces the power of a charged battery.

While not all electronics are designed for Canada’s extreme cold swings, there are things you can do to enjoy your devices in the great outdoors. What do you do to keep your tech working in the weather?
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The Decline and Fall of the Physical Media Empire

When’s the last time you bought a CD – the actual physical media? Do you remember the artist or album name?

I can’t remember either. It’s just not a media format that has relevance to me now, in the age of wifi and online media stores.

When once upon a time I used to have my discs proudly shelved near my CD player, today they are gathering dust in my closet — long since having been ripped to my digital media centre. Especially since the DRM wars are mostly over. Mostly.

Continue reading “The Decline and Fall of the Physical Media Empire”

Dilemma: Offloading old tech

phonedump_250.jpgOk, so here’s the deal. You want a new computer, or iPad, or BluRay player or whatever. But your old one is still working perfectly fine. Yet, the features of your next technological acquisition are so good, so cool, that really, that new tech item will make your life much better.

Great, so you go out and get it, but what do you do with the old item?

And there’s the rub.

You’ve got the old tech, that still works and you’re comfortable with. And you’ve got your new tech that you’re learning and works and is Jobs-gift-to-humanity.

For me, there’s huge reluctance to get rid of the old stuff. Sure, it’s already been replaced by better stuff — but it still works! It can still do things. So here’s what I do:

1) Resell — this one is pretty obvious, but takes a bit of work. Listing on (competitor) or Kijjiji requires setting up an account and managing the process. If you’ve done everything right, you’ve got a buyer for your tech-stuff and you’re both happy.

Other alternatives that often work are pawn shops. If not, proceed to step 2.

2) Regift — it’s entirely possible you’ve got a very young neice or nephew that could use a ‘first’ computer. Once properly refurbished, your ‘gift’ could meet that need. Of course, you’ll be the first in line for hardware support, but isn’t that what being supportive in a family is all about?

3) Repurpose — Older computers still work well running older operating systems. Given your hardware won’t be your daily desktop box, nothing’s preventing you from giving it new life as a dedicated server, a home security system, or a media centre box.

4) Recycle — this one is actually my favourite. In Edmonton, we have local EcoStations that are set up to take our tech. As well, FutureShop has an amazing Electronics Take-Back program in Alberta and Ontario. What better way to keep your older tech out of the landfill and ensure it (or its component material) is being put back to work.

Obviously, this won’t work for every situation. For example, I’ve got a few old cell phones and  PDAs gathering dust in my closet. I’ve not figured out nor taken time to determine the best ‘end’ for them, yet. Your mileage may vary…in fact, I hope it does! And I hope you share your best ‘tech recycle story below…because frankly, I could use a bit of help 🙂



This post of is one of many I publish weekly at the Future Shop Techblog. Read more of my stuff here.