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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Eye in the Sky Our Readers Write

We Sing the Paddler Electronic

August 30, 2011

Where did the summer go? It seems like only yesterday that we were shoveling snow. Then spring came (and went) in a flood. And summer? Gone in the blink of an eye — a few weeks of blast‑furnace heat, punctuated by wild storms. Now the leaves are starting to turn. So that was that. Our summer was sultry, short, and stormy. Of course, the heat never seems so bad when you're out on the water, does it? No way! Which meant that we paddlers had the best of reasons to wet our blades as often as possible.

Yet In the Same Boat readers didn't spend every hour of the brief Canoe Country summer paddling. They took a little time off to write to us, as well. That's what the size of our virtual mailbag suggests, anyway. And since the last "Our Readers Write" in May, we've been getting a lot of letters on high‑tech topics. Tamia's recent articles on the Kindle probably had something to do with this, but whatever the reason, it's time to get down to business, singing the paddler electronic. (Thanks, Walt!)

  —   Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat

A High‑Calibre Workhorse

Dear Tamia,

I very much enjoyed your recent articles on using the Kindle in the backcountry. I recently received a Kindle for my birthday, and hadn't thought of a number of the uses you came up with. (Too bad they got me the non‑3G version, because getting Wunderground on the trail would have been great.)

Anyway, have you heard of or used the software Calibre? I originally downloaded it to fix the metadata on a Gutenberg e‑book (Three Men in a Boat, of course), but found that it's a great tool to convert one e‑book format into another, most importantly, PDF to MOBI. It works best on PDFs that don't have images, but it really speeds up the pages and readability.

Also, its main purpose is to organize your e‑book collection, and that has become invaluable to me. I download most of my e‑books from free sources other than Amazon, and it's great at organizing them on my computer and uploading them into my Kindle. I heartily recommend it, as you seem to be making and syncing a lot of your own content.

You keep writing 'em, and I'll keep reading 'em,


• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the props, John. I've heard a lot of good things about Calibre, and Farwell is already a fan. But I also have to sound a cautionary note: Calibre's high‑caliber algorithms can really heat up a processor. My two‑year‑old MacBook's fan howls like a banshee whenever I run it. That's not such a big deal, though. I just grab time on Farwell's desktop workhorse when I need it. Problem solved. (Three Men in a Boat? Great book!)

Don't Ignore Sony's E‑book Reader!

Dear Tamia,

Cool that you finally got a Kindle. I've been using a Sony e‑book reader for a few years now, and it's my favorite toy of all time so far. The battery life is phenomenal, but I've found that as you have more gigs (thousands of books) in memory on the SD card, recharging the battery needs to be done more frequently. Sony doesn't have the wireless capability of Kindle (yet), but they're just about bombproof even with the glass screen. My only wish is that Sony made a solar‑recharging book cover for it so I could bring it out in the woods indefinitely, with no other charging equipment.

By the way, I really like these free e‑book sites:

  • MobileRead  Great source for all e‑reader info and discussion
  • ManyBooks  Source for books available in all formats, for any device

Cheers, and happy Kindling!

Chris O'Neil

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks for the leads on the free book sites, Chris. And I hadn't realized that having an SD card was a battery hit, either. In fact, I've been thinking that Amazon's failure to make provision for add‑on memory in the Kindle was a drawback. But maybe it's not such a bad thing, after all. The Kindle's "staying power" — I sometimes go a month or more between charges — is a real plus.

Let the Sunshine In!

But even Kindles run out of juice sooner or later. And a lot of paddlers besides Chris would like to harness the power of the sun. Luckily, help is on the way…

Hello, Tamia!

I, too, love to read and always take at least one book with me even on short trips. I enjoyed your article on Bibliotrekking. As you mentioned, portable electronics — from cell phones and computers to Kindles and iPods — will eventually run out of power. There are two products I know of on the market that can really help. The first is basically a portable battery/recharger like the Brunton Inspire. I have used a similar model to recharge my iTouch and cell phone on trips. You wouldn't be able to charge something as large as a laptop, but something smaller like a Kindle might be possible. I can get approximately two full charges on my iTouch (about 4 hours of video or days of music per charge). It's small and tough, and I never had any concern about dropping mine or throwing it in my backpack. It is NOT waterproof though.

The second product I have not used, but they are becoming more and more common in the outdoor industry. This is the Brunton solar panel. They are rugged, water‑resistant, and compatible with most USB devices without an adapter.

I know there are other companies with other products on the market. These just happen to be the ones I'm familiar with. As always I've enjoyed reading In the Same Boat.

Happy boating!

George Caudle
NRS, Inc.

• • •

Tamia replies:

Thanks, George. It's good to hear from you again. And I appreciate the heads‑up about chargers. A solar charger has been on my wish list since I made the switch to rechargables.

Getting Ahead With the Power Curve

And George isn't the only reader who's all charged up about solar power…

Dear Tamia,

You left one thing out in your discussion of electronic gadgets. Anyone with electronics can use a G24 Innovations Power Curve solar charger. I bought one at Academy for USD35. It is a great small‑sized solar panel. Check it out.

Penny Harper

• • •

Tamia replies:

I'll do that, Penny. Thanks for the tip.

Using (and Protecting) an iPad

Of course, any tool worth having is worth protecting, and one long‑time reader has given this matter considerable thought:

Great article, Tamia. I am going to look at the GPS maps for my iPad. With all of your activity, did you put a screen cover on your Kindle? If not, maybe you should consider it. There is one that is just the right size, called "Invisible Shield." The one for the iPad was USD30. Thanks again for the [weekly] installments!

Ric Olsen

• • •

Tamia replies:

Howdy, Ric! Please keep me posted about your experiences with GPS on your iPad. And, yes, I thought about getting a screen cover for my Kindle. In the end, though, I decide against it. I keep the Kindle in a freezer bag when it's not in use. (The freezer bag also slips into a custom neoprene cover.) That does a pretty good job of protecting the display, especially as the Kindle (unlike the iPad) doesn't use a touch screen. So far, I've had no problems. Fingers crossed.

On the Map With Kindle

The Kindle is a boon to paddling bookworms, to be sure, but Ric's mention of maps reminds us that it's also an aid to navigation. In "Kindle in the Backcountry," Tamia described how to import and display USGS quads, then went on to tell how she creates and loads custom PDFs of all sorts. Here's one reader's response:

Dear Tamia,

This is an excellent, well‑detailed article. Thanks for letting us know that USGS topos are now downloadable. I didn't know that until I read your story!

Mike Sidey

Printing Topos to Go

Mike wasn't alone. Tamia's earlier article on the free, downloadable topographic maps available from the USGS Store generated a lot of interest. Her column didn't say anything about printing them out, though, and one reader has a suggestion:

Hi, Tamia!

Thank for writing about topos to go. I will use this! How about printing the maps out on waterproof paper on your inkjet printer? Many paddlers do not know that it exists. It would be great if you wanted to keep the maps and use them again.


• • •

Tamia replies:

Great idea, Bara. I never even considered the possibility of using waterproof paper in my inkjet printer. Thanks!

More Free Maps!

And you're not limited to topos, either:

Dear Tamia,

First let me tell you that I love your articles. They're very well written. I just read the one you did on maps and would like to share a resource I found and use, the "Federal Lands and Indian Reservations" map page at the US National Atlas.

Keep up the good work,

• • •

Tamia replies:

Glad you're enjoying In the Same Boat, Timothy. And thanks for the link. What a great site!

Thinking Small — The iPod Touch

Of course, the Kindle isn't the only portable e‑book reader. The Sony reader has already been mentioned. But there are many other possibilities, too, each with its own advantages…

Dear Tamia,

Kindle? Too large. I read all sorts of books on my IPod Touch. I re‑read all of Jane Austen and lots else while sitting with my husband in hospital for three months last year. I haven't yet figured out how to get it recharged while on a trip, but this doesn't seem to be much of a problem as I seem to fall asleep the minute I zip up the mosquito netting of my tent for the night.


• • •

Tamia replies:

I hope you husband is on the mend, Anna. And thanks for pointing out the virtues of the Touch. I had considered getting one, in fact, but I found that the Kindle's larger screen was a little easier on my eyes. For paddlers with better near vision, though, the Touch could well be ideal, and given George Caudle's and Penny Harper's experience, the charging problem shouldn't prove insurmountable, either. Thanks again, and please give your husband our best wishes.


Day's End


From hospital bedside to riverbank camp, we can't escape the electronic age. And why would any of us want to? Yes, the technological revolution of the last three decades has its downsides. But there's little doubt that our lives are much richer for it. Paddlers have more to be thankful for than most, too. Whatever the job at hand — staying found on the water, staying sane while tent‑bound through a three‑day blow, or staying in touch with home from the trailhead — all canoeists and kayakers have reason to join in singing the paddler electronic.

And speaking of staying in touch… Keep writing. We'll be back with another collection of letters in November. There's a lot of good paddling to be had between now and then, of course, but if you find yourself with a little time on your hands and something that needs saying, just do it. After all, it's "Our Readers Write."

A little fine print: Although we often ask, just to be sure, we assume that it's OK to reprint any letter you send us, unless you tell us otherwise. (Just put "Not for Publication" at the head of your letter. That's all it takes.) We will never put your e‑mail address online unless you specifically ask us to, however. We also edit letters occasionally for length or clarity, and we add links to articles or other resources wherever and whenever appropriate.



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