Electro Gazmotronic Wizardry (Commo & Navs)

OK, so this is Mike writing, and the disclaimer comes first:  Admitting to being an engineer by education and a tinkerer by avocation (definitely a genetic affliction), gadgets are groovy and very often, irresistibly so.  For me, there is indisputable inherent grooviness in this kind of stuff.

(begin rant) To all my Neo-Luddite friends, get over it.  If you truly believed your shtick, you wouldn’t be looking at a computer anyway.  (close rant)

Back on topic:  To be selected to make this trip, any candidate gadget or gizmo has to exhibit the above-cited inherent grooviness, but functional grooviness as well.  And durable grooviness.  And weather-resistant grooviness.

What follows is the evolution of the collection/winnowing/selection of a suite of durable, weather-resistant, inherently  groovy gadgets chosen to make the trip.  And we’ll start with….


The Baisics — Internet & E-mail: The good news is that the internet is, literally, damn near ubiguitous.  Internet cafes, hotels with business centers and WiFi, nice people who don’t secure their wireless networks – the world has truly opened up and that means e-mail can be had within a few hundred miles of almost any point on the planet.  It also means we can maintain this blog, pull down maps of the next day(s) routes, pay bills, post photos and video – you name it, the internet pipe carries it all.

Haciendolo2010@gmail.com is an address set up specifically for this journey (but it is currently active and monitored), and in looking at the “route”, there should never be more than a few days of e-mail silence anywhere along the path.  Existing personal accounts should be accessible as well.  No, it won’t be the near-constant connection we’re all strung out on here in the States, but it’ll be plenty…maybe more than plenty.

Imagine trying to explain to Magellan (first cat to sail around the bottom of SA) that he would never be more than a day or so away from the ability to send a message home to Spain, complete with images and video?  Now THAT would be fun.  “Dios mio!”

Computer/ing: The MacBook I’m typing on now has a neoprene case and will make the trip.  It’s maiden voyage was last summer, a 4k mile loop to the east coast and back, and it held up fine.  Still toying with the idea of a small, ruggedized hard drive to archive photos and video.  Alternate strategy is to just upload stuff to an archive service on the net – or send everything to someone back in the States for archive.  So this subject isn’t fully resolved, but the MacBook is definitely on the packing list.

Telephony: Now that we have this wonderful pipe called the internet, why not run voice through it?  Enter “Skype”.  Skype is one among many VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) systems for the use of normal folks who travel to faraway places.skype_logo

Skype is actually a free service if you want to call computer to computer – and even supports video teleconferencing for free, but most folks really don’t want to mess with the headsets, web cams and overall nerd-ocity inherent to such activity.

The solution: For a nominal cost, Skype provides a real telephone number, that looks and behaves like a telephone number, that you can use at any location in the world tht has a high speed internet connection.  And voicemail messages left at that number can be pulled down anywhere you may travel, because on the internet, there is no such thing as geography or distance..

Photo/Video: For photo stuff, it will be Sony snapshot digital cameras, which should be more than adequate given the skill of the operators.  They have limited video capability and plenty of resolution for stuff destined for the internet.

Video was not on the list…until gadget-boy read a few reviews of this little critter:


It’ll normally be on a handlebar mount, and we’ll see if that produces anything of any interest to anyone not personally on the trip…though duct-taping it to James’ melon for the zip-line canopy tours in Costa Rica does have a certain attraction…

Navigation/”Where the heck are we?”:    Two types of info will be addressed – a) how to get where you want to go, and b) letting others know where you are.

For the “a” need, for several years I’ve been using a Garmin Zumo for navigation, and it is amazing.  It has internal mapping for damn near every road in America, and also (I’m told) Europe.  E-maps for everything below the border is a pretty sketchy scene, though the Garmin has a “base map” of the world loaded inside.

This means that latitude/longitude navigating is supported by the Zumo, and the biggest of roads are in the magic box, but the wonderful turn-by-turn function that got me around Chicago just isn’t there yet south of the border.  If anybody from Garmin reads this, now would be a wonderful time to announce release of Central and South American versions of the mapping software…but we’re not counting on it.

So the basic nav is likely with maps.  And there are plenty of good maps available.  And slowing down to read a map is maybe a good thing, and not a bad thing.

“Where the heck are we?” for others:  The solution for letting others know where you are and that you are ok can be had for a couple hundred bucks, and this is truly an amazing gadget for the money.  This is going to turn into one of those “why didn’t I buy stock in this company??” things, and their web site is at:


I used the tracking feature on this little critter last summer, and friends were able to know exactly where I was at all times (when I wanted them to know) – literally down to plotting my location on a web-site that was updated every ten or twenty minutes.  It literally looks up to the gps satellites, figures out where you are, and calls home as often as you tell it to.  Amazing.

Bike to Bike Commo:  In order to make full use of the above-mentioned gps (Garmin Zumo), getting the audio into your helmet while riding is a necessity.  This used to involve lots of wires, which was irritating.

Enter the Scala Bluetooth headset for helmets ( http://www.cardowireless.com/scala_rider ).  scala_rider_main_1_0The best part is that this bit of kit doesn’t just hook you to your GPS, the company claims that two of these headsets paired together enable up to 500’ of bike to bike commo.  Still untested (by us), this is the intended solution.  Really looking forward to trying this setup out, which should be REALLY important when in city traffic.  Given the alternative of “if we get separated, see you someplace in Lima”, this bit is important to get right, and will get lots of attention.

So – for the present, that’s the deal.  It’s a lot of gadgetry, and all gadgets can (and will, at some point) fail.  But each of these meets the requirements listed above:  each is durable, weather resistant, and functional and has earned a place on the ride.  Long term success and suitability reports to follow…

And if you hear of another gadget not listed above…please keep it to yourself!!  Unless, of course, it is trooooly groooovy…..


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