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a nerd goes camping

Last weekend, through a conjunction of what turned out to be happy accidents, I experienced my first two information-technology-free days in eight years.

Last weekend, through a conjunction of what turned out to be happy accidents, I experienced my first two information-technology-free days in eight years.

To my surprise, they turned out to not half-bad at all, and I have the bone-headedness of electrical engineers to thank for them.

As even semi-regular readers of this column already know, I am a certified and unrepentant technology nerd.

My wife, who was with me over the course of those two days, tells me I can keep the “nerd” word to myself, so I can more diplomatically describe her as a digital enthusiast.

Together, we were two IT-junkies getting organized for a camping trip, featuring two overnight stops at Twin Lakes and then Moose Creek campgrounds, on our way to Dawson City.

While we did intend to “rough it” a bit in a tent we still hadn’t figured out how to assemble, it was not really our intention to retire our electronic devices.

I had my iPod and iPad and Blackberry phone stored away in my day pack; and my wife, who was working on some English-to-Portuguese translations of some academic essays, was bringing along her laptop for work purposes.

Our troubles arose when we tried to get our equipment together to make sure we could keep these things powered up – and herein lies the seed of my story.

I had secured a two-port cigarette-lighter charger for my USB devices, and purchased a generic cigarette-lighter adapter for my wife’s Dell; but our plans ran afoul of the engineering bone-headedness I mentioned heretofore.

In my wife’s case, the Dell would not accept any of the available socket adapters provided by the charger system – she needed a proprietary adapter from Dell itself, it seems.

In my case, my own absent mindedness was a contributing factor to my techno-frustration: I forgot to bring along the proprietary USB connecting cables provided by both Apple and RIM, so I was stuck with whatever power I happened to have already in the batteries of my equipment.

My solution was to turn off all the devices, with the idea I would only turn them on only for the relatively short periods when I might want to listen to some music or read an e-book, or check my emails when I hit areas where there was cellular service.

As it transpired – with the sole exception of a single email check in Carmacks – I found I never had cause to turn any of those devices back on – I was having too much fun more or less roughing it – such as the hour or so my wife and I spent figuring out how to assemble that little tent, without benefit of instructions.

I should explain that, though I am a frequent and enthusiastic day-hiker, I am not much of a distance trekker or camper.

As I said, it had been eight years since I had last gone through any kind of woodland expedition that took me out of range of the IT world I habitually live in.

That time, it was my one and so far only trek with a friend over the Chilkoot Trail, when I was more intent of the fact that I had just given up smoking on the first day of that trip than on the fact that I was going through IT deprivation.

For one thing, information technology was easier to get away from, in those days and therefore easier to do without.

There were no iPod or iPods to put in your pack in those days.

There were PDA’s (personal digital assistants, for the younger and less technologically initiated among you), and I had one, in the form of a Palm Pilot Iliac; but they were not much by way of an information medium for anything more advanced than keeping track of phone numbers.

There were cellphones – and, again, I had one, in 2003 – but they were pretty basic affairs, and cell service was analog-only, expensive, and restricted to Whitehorse (and with large areas of service-failure even there).

All that has changed, for good or ill, over the interceding years, but one thing has not: The electronics industry persists in producing devices that, for no good reason, require custom-made AC power adapters.

The European Union recently took a salutary lead in passing rules requiring harmonization of chargers for cell phones sold in their area of jurisdiction.

I think the time has come for similar rules to be passed in the Americas, too – and extended beyond just cellphones, to all portable electronic devices.

That kind of legislation would save us all a lot of hassle, confusion and money, and spare the environment a lot of wasted wiring and transformers.

It might also cost me my occasional weekend of technology-free holidays, of course; but I am ready, in this case, to take one for the team.

Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.