On the Road Again ...

During the summer, I become a road warrior. On business trips and vacations, I've found some products useful when I'm away from home with my notebook computer and other digital paraphernalia.

On long cross-country drives, I use my notebook computer to play music. I grab 4GB or 5GB of Windows Media Audio (WMA) files from my home music server so that I'll have a good selection of music. I use the notebook computer and a cassette-deck adapter to play the files. Cassette-deck adapters are available in just about every consumer electronics store.

Using my notebook to play music requires that I have AC power in my vehicle. Batteries last only so long, and I drive just like your father did—I stop only when I need gas. To keep my notebook running this summer, I needed a mobile power inverter to convert my car's 12-volt DC power to the 120-volt AC my notebook's power brick needed. Power inverters are also common, but I decided that I needed something beyond the run-of-the-mill device, so I got the APC Travel Power. This small DC/AC inverter is designed to power your notebook computer not only from a car lighter socket but also from aircraft power connectors. This small inverter has a combination plug that you can configure for AC and DC connections. Given how much time I spend on airplanes, this device is a good choice for me. I can watch DVD movies on a cross-country flight and still have fully charged batteries when I arrive at my destination. The APC Travel Power also has a great feature for in-car use; it automatically shuts down when the voltage it's getting drops below a certain level, which indicates the car isn't running and the device is draining your battery. You can find more details about the APC Travel Power on APC's Web site.

On road trips, I also use another cool little device—APC's USB Mobile Phone Charger. I've been using this device for almost a year. I can't remember how many cell-phone chargers I've left behind in hotel rooms, and the USB phone charger lets me avoid that problem. I use the mobile charger to plug my cell phone into a USB port on my notebook, and my phone stays charged while I work on my notebook in the hotel room. Once or twice, I've even used my notebook only as a cell-phone power source at the end of a long day when the cell-phone batteries I typically carry were exhausted and I still needed phone power. During summer road trips, using the USB charger means that I need one less lighter socket to keep my cell phone charged. You'll find more information about APC's USB Mobile Phone Charger on APC's Web site.

The USB ports on my laptop let me bring another little toy along when my family and I are on summer vacation. My wife loves to use our Sony MiniDV Handycam camcorder to shoot video and still images. I'm not suggesting that we do digital video editing while we're driving (and the Sony camcorder requires an IEEE 1394—FireWire—connector to do so). But because the camera uses a Memory Stick for storing the still images, we can use the Belkin USB Media Reader/Writer for Memory Stick to pull images off the camera storage, review them, and organize them. The reader shows up as a storage device on my Windows XP-equipped notebook, and I can treat it like a hard disk.

To further complicate matters, the digital camera that I carry doesn't use Memory Sticks for image storage; it uses CompactFlash (CF) cards. I could get another Belkin reader (Belkin makes readers for CF as well as for Memory Sticks and SmartMedia), but I have another solution that works great for me. I use a PC Card adapter for CF. TDK makes the adapter I'm currently using. I got it free in a package deal when I bought a 128MB CF card for my camera. If you plan to use CF devices, keep in mind that CF has two standards: Type I and Type II. Type I CF devices can't read Type II cards.

As my family travels cross-country, we stop to visit relatives. In the twenty-first-century world, that means sharing the digital images of our trip. Getting pictures from my notebook computer to our relatives' desktop computers means that I either need to burn a CD-ROM at each stop (I'm fortunate that the notebook has a CD-ROM burner) or find another solution. Few of my relatives have home networks that let me plug in and transfer files, but they all have relatively recent computers, which means I can use USB connectors. So I use Belkin's USB Flash Drive, which has a storage capacity of up to 128MB. I can quickly move many pictures from my notebook to the flash drive, then plug the flash drive into the relative's computer and download the images.

Summer road trips can be challenging. But having a few of today’s digital devices can enhance even the old-style family car trip.

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