"On the road again, I just can't wait to get on the road again..." Well, Willie, for a travelin' technoweenie, it can be great to get on the road, but only if you have the right connectivity tools. Those of us who need to stay wired to cyberspace as we move around meatspace need a suite of tools to do so. We've covered a number of these essentials here on Street Tech (see below). 1-800-Batteries, a direct mail company specializing in (can you guess?) laptop and cellphone batteries, carries many of the tools that make high-tech nomadness possible. One of their latest products is the new! improved! Road Warrior Survival Kit Plus.
The Road Warrior Survival Kit Plus (let's just call it "RWSK+") comes in a nice black faux-leather zipper case. The kit includes:
The 8' phone cable reels into a cool PC-card-sized cartridge. Personally, I think 8' is too short and always travel with at least twice that much phone cable. As I've pointed out before, most hotel phones are on the desk between the beds and the desk is someplace else in the room. Eight feet might make it in most hotel rooms, but the whole point of this kit is having the tools you need for all situations. 1-800-Batteries sells a 14' retractable cable for $19. I don't know why they didn't use that in the kit instead. The dual outlet surge protector is nifty. It looks like a two-headed 3-prong wall adapter but it offers international EMI/RFI protection for line voltages up to 230V. It also has an indicator light on the front of it. The four different phone line adapters in the kit all have different functions: the inline coupler allows you to connect two RJ11 phone cables to each other; the dual adapter lets you connect two phone cables to one wall jack (esp. handy if the wall jack is behind the bed); a polarity adapter allows you to flip the polarity of a phone line that's wired incorrectly (as indicated on the included line tester). The line 1/line 2 adapter can be used when all four wires of an international phone line are hooked up. Using the adapter, only the correct two wires are live so your modem doesn't get confused.
The new addition to the RWSK+ is the Modem Saver Plus Line Tester (a kit with everything but the Modem Saver is available for $40). This little gizmo plugs into the wall jack of the phone system you're testing and connecting to. The unit has three lights (green, yellow, red). Lights, or combinations of lights, communicate various line conditions. A red light indicates that the phone system is digital and dangerous to plug your modem into it without a digital connector. Yellow and green indicates that it's a standard line but the polarity of the wires is reversed (and you need to use the polarity adapter). A green light means that the line is standard and polarity is A-OK. There are six condition states that can be displayed. The Modem Saver also acts as a phone line surge protector offering protection up to 360v. With this unit and the dual outlet surge protector, both electrical pathways to your computer are protected.
"High Tech Tips for Road Warriors" is more of a booklet than a book, but it does contain useful information such as travel website URLs, travel and connectivity tips, instructions on using mobile tools, and a phonebook of computer laptop and software companies, US embassies, hotels, airlines, car rentals, etc.). One obnoxious feature is that many of the pages read like ads for 1-800-Batteries, with all roads leading to their product plugs. It would've been a lot classier to just give the information straight and then list all of the 1-800-Batteries products in the back of the book.
The best thing about the RWSK+ is the convenience of being able to get all of these tools in one purchase (with a case to carry them in). You might be able to shop around, at the Shack and other road warrior speciality stores and put together your own custom kit, but the RWSK+ bundles most of what you need to connect from the road. Seventy dollars seems a bit steep, but maybe it's not for those whose work requires that they stay connected under ever-changing circumstances.
- Gareth Branwyn [5/13/98]