Portable WiFi hotspot handy to stay connected on safari

Article and photos by Gary Cox

Lounging on the porch with my iPad and the RoamingMan hotspot in the Thornybush Nature Reserve

On our most recent safari trip to South Africa we took a 353 gram RoamingMan (RoamingMan, Ucloudlink (America), Ltd, 119B Hester St, New York, NY 10002, www.roamingman.com, supportus@roamingman.com) hotspot device, to connect to the internet with our electronic devices (laptop and tablet) using the nearest and strongest cellphone signals. Although most of the lodges where we stayed offered complimentary WiFi, many of the networks were unsecured, allowing anyone with a WiFi card and some basic skills to become an amateur eavesdropper. Others required a password known by many staff and guests. Because cellular 4G networks are encrypted and require expensive specialized equipment to hack we often felt safer using our personal hotspot than the property's WiFi. The RoamingMan device also provided internet access while we were transferring between properties, which was often a good time for us to go online and check emails.

Operating the device was easy. We turned it on and connected to the WiFi using the password on the screen. The 4G connection was fast enough to be useful for web browsing and emails. The hub, manufactured in China, was a little larger than a deck of cards and solidly built with a few simple controls. It weighed about eight ounces, came with a charging cable and was packed in a zippered case. The internal battery, rated to last up to 15 hours, held its charge when powered off for several days.

The RoamingMan WiFi device came with a charging cable and a zippered case.

Almost every device we travel with requires USB power to charge these days, and the charging cable had a pass through plug on the back, allowing multiple devices to charge from a single adapter. It performed double duty, as a WiFi hotspot and a standby battery pack for emergency charges, able to charge a cell phone or mp3 player in a pinch, a feature that came in handy a time or two.

RoamingMan rented the small Android based hub for a daily flat rate with unlimited data. The device we used was a customized version of the GlocalMe, with support provided by RoamingMan instead of the manufacturer. The WiFi hub used a cloud based SIM technology to allow global roaming, supposedly finding the best rate and connection, but what was critical to us is that it mostly worked well in South Africa. There was one day when we drove through the mountains in the Blyde River Canyon where reception was poor, but that was the exception. Connectivity was good in most places we tried.

While sitting by the dry riverbed at The River Lodge I connected to the internet with the RoamingMan hotspot and my tablet

Delivery was of the hotspot unit stateside was efficient and convenient. The company shipped the device before we departed and activated it on the date we requested. When we returned home, we packed it into the shipping box, placed on the return label they provided and dropped it off a local UPS pickup spot. We were glad to have it with us, for the extra security of using cellular data without the challenges of figuring out the costs. This is one simple to use device that we will consider packing for future international adventures.

Camera bag could double as stylish briefcase

Camera bag could double as stylish briefcase

Article and photos by Aaron Lubarsky

The Tenba 15 Cooper Bag was made from a light grey canvas material with black leather accents. 

The first thing I noticed about the Tenba 15 Cooper Bag (Tenba, 75 Virginia Road, North White Plains, New York 10603, +1 914 347 3300, www.tenba.com, info@tenba.com) was that it is handsome, movie star handsome. Made from a light grey canvas material with black leather accents, the minimal design is at once sophisticated and restrained. Style-wise it was a big upgrade from my bulky black Lowepro camera backpack.

 I counted ten pockets

I recently put the Cooper 15 through its paces during a documentary shoot in San Francisco, California. I flew from New York, and as a carry-on bag it’s a class-act with enough exterior pockets and pouches to handle all of my needs, from a water bottle to a Kindle to a boarding pass. Tenba says the bag has “tons of pockets” but I counted ten, which was sufficient for me, including two slim expandable side pockets. The compartment for the laptop was easily accessible and just padded enough to comfortably hold my 15 inch MacBook Pro.

The bag’s interior was deceptively large.

Made in China, it's light weight (3.6 pounds) with a peach-wax cotton canvas water-repellent exterior. The base is leather and waterproof, a feature I appreciate, although it doesn’t feel like the kind of bag that I would take out in rough weather conditions, even though it should be able to handle it.

The bag’s interior was deceptively large. Its dimensions are 15 inches wide by 11 inches tall and 6.5 inches deep. I was able to pack all of my regular gear (including sound gear) with room to spare. Surprisingly, it held as much as my larger, bulkier camera backpack. It has a removable padded camera insert, which I configured to my taste. Because the storage area is one large deep pocket, I had to stack things on top of each other. When I had a lot of items it was necessary to do a little unpacking to grab what I needed, which wasn’t ideal for run-and-gun situations.

It held as much as my larger, bulkier camera backpack.

 A shoulder bag that fits in anywhere

But, I wouldn’t categorize the Cooper 15 as a run-and-gun workhorse. This is the bag I take with me to a meeting with a high-end client. It’s a shoulder bag which meant I wore it over my shoulder (go figure) or carried it like a briefcase. It has a useful trolley strap, but there were times I wanted to toss it on my back, making me miss my go-to camera backpack, which makes me look like a third grader coming home from school, but at least left both of my hands free.

I like its zen-like balance of style and function.

The only part of the design I found irksome was the top-zipper. The idea is nice: to grab my camera quickly I unzip the top of the bag and voila I should be able to reach my camera. But two layers of zippers made it cumbersome to reach my gear. Once I tucked in the interior layer I solved the problem. Another thing to keep in mind: dirt and stains showed easily on the light gray canvas. To keep this bag’s dashing appearance requires some maintenance, but it’s easy to wipe clean.

The main thing I like about this bag is the zen-like balance of style and function, appropriate for an out-of-town shoot. Even though it was designed as a camera bag, it could suit travelers without cameras who need a large, stylish briefcase. I’ll be taking it with me to my next uptown meeting.

Documentary illustrates how airplane has changed world

Living in Age of Airplanes

Living in the Age of Airplanes*

For most of mankind’s 200,000 years of existence, walking was the only way to get around. Today, only 175 years after the introduction of the steam engine, airplanes are an essential way of life across our planet. In Living in the Age of Airplanes, a 47-minute film released in the United States recently, Brian J. Terwilliger, director, illustrates how the airplane has changed the world. The film is available for purchase online.

From Living in the Age of Airplanes

From Living in the Age of Airplanes

Narrated by Harrison Ford, a licensed pilot, and featuring arresting cinematography, the film has an original score from Academy Award winning composer James Horner, and takes viewers to 18 countries across seven continents. Terwilliger and his crew traveled to 95 locations for the film. He has produced, directed and raised financing for three aviation documentaries. The movie was produced by Terwilliger and Bryan H. Carroll. The director of photography was Andrew Waruszewski.

*Photos Courtesy of Living In The Age Of Airplanes


Living in Age of Airplanes

Click to buy Living in the Age of Airplanes


RFID blocking Neck Stash performed well on Europe trip

RFID blocking Neck Stash performed well on Europe trip

Lewis and Clark Passport Neck Stash

The RFID-Blocking Luxe Neck Stash in Olive from Lewis N. Clark

On a trip to Europe this spring our contributors took a $22.49 RFID-Blocking Luxe Neck Stash in Olive from Lewis N. Clark (owned by LCI Brands, 2781 Katherine Way, Elk Grove Village, Illinois 60007, +1 312.455.0500, www.lewisnclark.com, info@lcibrands.com). The slim made in China nylon neck bag, 8 inches by 5.5 inches, performed well and only weighed 5.5 ounces. It hung from a thin adjustable neck cord and could be tucked beneath clothes to conceal it.

While they did not require Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) blocking for credit cards and passports it was good to know the Neck Stash had it should the need arise. Pluses included the discreet olive color and size as well as its single see-through window and dual zippered pockets. A central Velcro flap pocket that opened at the top was ideal for passports. The neck bag was convenient to carry important documents and cash around cities, and for easy document access at airports and while traveling. The durable, ribbed TravelDry fabric was designed to resist shrinking, odors, and mildew. It showed no signs of wear after six weeks.

Peak Design straps made it easy to carry cameras outdoors

Article and photos by Gary Cox

 The Clutch holds the camera in position, ready to shoot

Using the Clutch I held the camera in position, ready to shoot during a cliff side hike

I had a chance recently to field test the Slide and Clutch camera straps from Peak Design. Prior to using the new straps, the Canon EOS-7D SLR I use when traveling sported the manufacturer supplied neck strap and I rarely gave it a second thought. It was a bit annoying when using the tripod to have the strap hanging off the camera, but it was too much trouble to remove or even adjust the old fashioned length clips, except in extreme circumstances.

When walking around to photograph a property or a destination, the strap provided a measure of safety to avoid dropping the camera, but I had to be alert and hold the camera in my hands to prevent the lens or body from smacking against something and being damaged. When hiking, I usually place the camera into a padded pack or case. With the camera securely packed away, I noticed a tendency to only pull it out and use it at particularly special spots, sometimes passing up shots that I would regret later. Holding the camera with the Clutch make it more likely for me to take those spontaneous photos, and for that I was glad.

The Slide shifts the weight of the camera from the hand for long walks

The Slide shifted the weight of the camera away from my hand during long walks

The Peak Design straps offered some noteworthy innovations that made it easier to carry the camera securely and be ready to take a shot at anytime. The Clutch was a surprising pleasure to use. It allowed me to hold the body securely with my hand positioned to shoot. I adjusted my grip using its small strap to fit my hand snugly in place. Adding the Slide strap made it easy to carry the camera along on a hike, ready to shoot at all times, while shifting the weight to my neck. The Slide strap was sturdy, made from the same material as vehicle seat belts, and reinforced with padding in the center. It was simple to adjust the length of the Slide by opening the clips, moving the strap through them and locking it securely.

The quick release clips make length adjustments easy

The quick release clips made length adjustments easy

The Anchor Link quick-connectors attached the Slide to the camera body and the bottom of the Clutch. The top of the Clutch attached directly to the camera, with a quick release spring to prevent accidental release. A plate provided with each strap could be mounted onto the bottom of the camera body using a standard screw. Multiple quick-connectors could then be attached to the plate. I prefer to use my custom fit plate from Kirk Photo on the camera body because it allows me to turn the camera sideways on the tripod and provides a stable surface to set the camera onto (provided the attached lens is not too heavy). Fortunately, my Kirk Photo plate includes a nice little slot to mount the quick-connectors. Aesthetically speaking, I prefer the sleek lines of my single plate which is custom shaped to the Canon body and will not twist or turn when I adjust the camera on the ball head.

The plate supplied with the straps provides four mount points

The plate supplied with the straps provided four mount points

The Kirk Photo custom plate also provides a useful mounting point

My Kirk Photo custom plate also provided a useful mounting point

The quick-connectors allowed rapid attachment and removal of the straps, perhaps my favorite feature. They gave the set-up solid feedback, and could support 150 pounds each, according to the manufacturer. The interlocking of the lozenge shaped anchor into the clip provided easy visual confirmation that the strap was secure. With a few extra Anchor Link quick-connectors on hand, my spare camera body can be ready for action quickly. All it requires is that I move the straps. I liked being able to remove the strap when placing the camera onto the tripod, eliminating one potential tipping hazard. I never found it necessary to detach the Clutch, other than when I was playing with different configurations of the Sling, a few of which used the top attachment point on the camera body.

The Anchor Link quick-connectors securely attach the straps to the camera

The Anchor Link quick-connectors attached the straps to the camera securely

The Clutch attachment does not use the quick-connectors, but is still easy to open

It was a matter of moments to set up the Clutch attachment to the camera

Peak Design took the mundane camera strap and updated every aspect of it. They improved the method of attachment, how it is adjusted, the options for carrying the camera and enhanced my overall experience as a photographer. I plan to continue to use those straps as part of my ongoing equipment configuration. The Peak Design mission of enabling "photographers, adventurers and outdoors enthusiasts to better capture the beautiful world around them" appealed to me. I was pleased to discover the products fulfilled this mission for my purposes. Peak Design, 2325 3rd Street Suite 410, San Francisco, California 94107, http://peakdesignltd.com +1 312.203.8427, info@peakdesign.com.

What I liked about the Playaway all in one audiobook player

Article and photos by Gary Cox

 The Playaway audiobook

The Playaway audiobook player (headphone jack along the bottom)

For many years, I have enjoyed listening to audiobooks. They fill the hours on long flights and often go with me while I'm doing routine chores and running errands. Audiobooks bring the text to life, with a good narrator strengthening the performance with different voices and proper emotional emphasis. It is easy to imagine the appeal of radio programs before television made visual entertainment the dominant force that it is today.

The process of downloading audiobooks involves multiple steps and the menus in my favorite player require extensive navigation to play a book. I have gotten used to it because I enjoy the medium, but I suspect that less technologically inclined people might not survive the effort.

The case and the player

The case and the player

I recently had the chance to try out the Playaway all in one audiobook player assembled in Ohio. It is an audiobook with a dedicated player bundled in a convenient plastic case. The case and player I received mimic a book cover, with a typical summary description of the story and credits. The case held the two ounce player and a single AAA battery (for longer term storage to avoid any chance of corroding the player). The player fits comfortably in my shirt pocket. The top of the player is heavier with the battery and slides into a pocket naturally. The standard headphone jack in the bottom (headphones not included) of the player faces the top of the pocket so that my headphones remains untangled.

The case holds the player and the battery

The case holds the player and the battery

The player controls are standard, allowing me to navigate the contents of the single audiobook, with a back lit LCD display clearly showing the current position and messages during startup and shutdown. The layout of the flexible rubber buttons allows space for large fingers. The buttons respond to comfortable pressure, and the power button toggles a lock to prevent accidental pushes when in a pocket. The player features a speed button, allowing five different playback speeds.

The player displays the book cover

The player displays the book cover

The main target audience for these audio books is lending libraries and facilities where multiple people can borrow the books to listen and return them when they are finished. There are thousands of titles offered on the site in various genres. According to the seller, the audio players are well suited for children, seniors and visually impaired individuals, as well as avid readers like me. My personal experience of using the Playaway audiobook has been positive. 

The battery compartment is on the end the player

The battery compartment is on the top of the player

In our house, we read many paperback books. Once finished, they go to a local charity or recycling bin depending on their condition. We keep several bookshelves of fiction too good to part with after the first reading. These consist of hard to get, no longer in print, or favorite authors we expect to take out again. It is easy to imagine using the Playaway books to build a library of audiobook favorites. In summary, the Playaway all in one audiobook offered me the convenience and simplicity of function in an attractive portable package. Findaway World, 31999 Aurora Road Solon, Ohio 44139, 1-877-893-0808, www.my.playaway.com, jbelardo@findawayworld.com