Monday, September 20, 2010

Off the Grid, On the Web

I have to admit that, like a lot of men, I have a certain amount of affection for gadgetry. I'm not into giant TVs or cars or gaming consoles, my favorite toys are the portable gadgets, all the little doo-dads I can jam into my briefcase and take with me. I've got my netbook, my iPod and my smartphone, enough to set up a pretty cozy digital base camp on the coffee shop sofa.

But my favorite, my "desert island" gadget is definitely my Amazon Kindle. Mostly because in spite of my attachment to my toys, reading is still one of my greatest joys in life. My e-reader lets me carry a selection of books, a newspaper and even a few word games (crosswords, anagrams) in a relatively compact space. Add the Moleskine cover I have for it and I've got my notebook and pen in the same package.

Another neat thing about the Kindle is the fact that it comes with free 3G wireless internet. It's not fast, or graphics intensive, but I can check my Gmail account and surf text-heavy blogs and other pages pretty comfortably. Did I mention it's free?

Now, just like my other gadgets, the Kindle needs electricity to function. It needs a lot less than, say a laptop computer, and in fact has far, far better battery life than an advanced cell phone (it gets about 4 days with the wireless on, but if I take it offline I can read on it for nearly two weeks between recharges).

Since it uses a pretty negligible amount of socket-juice anyway, I thought, wouldn't it be cool if I could charge my Kindle entirely on some renewable energy source, say, solar power?

I'm pretty poor, and solar cells are not as cheap as they should be yet. Most of the solar chargers in my budget are pretty weak, they can take a couple days in the sun to accumulate enough of a charge to fully recharge one of your portable devices. This means for the phone, which needs to be plugged in every day, or the laptop, which takes significantly more power, solar isn't affordable for me right now. But I can afford to wait three days to recharge the Kindle.

So I picked up a solar battery charger for $20, which stores the power for later use, and am now going to attempt to run my Kindle entirely on solar power. This means, using readily-available, unmodified consumer products, I should be able to have text-based internet, email and, of course, reading material (including many free books) for free.

Yes, I'll still be using my netbook to blog and do the bulk of my web surfing, but now I can rest assured that when I finally run out of money and am forced to live in a handmade shelter in the woods (or when I finally have had enough and decide to do that voluntarily) I can stay connected, kind of a digital Thoreau.

And yes, Walden is available for free download.

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