Technology and 21st-Century Camping

Photo by Teemu R on Pexels.com

Spring is here and summer is just around the corner. The weather is getting great for camping, and there’s nothing like the great outdoors. Forests, mountains, and lakes have the same ability to awe and calm today that they have always had, but in this Digital Age of constant connection, it’s even more imperative (and often necessary) to seek temporary solace and solitaire in nature.

For better or worse, modern technology has changed camping quite a bit. The tents, knives, and equipment we carry are lighter, sharper, and more durable than ever before. On the digital side of things, cell phones, GPS, and the Internet provide a wealth of information even out in the boonies, information that you could never pack out in years past.

Some campers and outdoorsmen shun technology altogether and stick to old-fashioned maps, compasses, and backcountry knowledge. Others willingly embrace technology on their trips because they can carry a small library of outdoors guides on a tablet, for example.

I fall somewhere in the middle. When I go camping or do anything outdoors, I carry my phone and maybe a tablet or e-reader with me, but use them minimally.

Regardless, we live in the 21st century, and if you’re planning a camping trip or outdoor excursion, you should consider taking advantage of technology to improve your trip. Below are some things you can do to make sure you and your devices make it into and out of the backcountry safely. If you click on a product link in this article and purchase something, I get a small tip at no cost to you. Much appreciated!

Turn devices off when not in use. Enjoy nature and leave the ‘Gram behind. Besides, if you’re lucky, you’ll be out of cell range anyway. If you want to take pictures, consider taking a camera specifically for the purpose, and share the pictures to social media when your trip is done. This will also help you re-enjoy the trip as you sift through your shots.

Portable chargers, also known as power bricks or power banks, are essential when heading out into the wild without a way to charge your devices. The Anker PowerCore+ 10050 shown here is a great option that I used on a recent trip to Utah. Just make sure you charge your charger before leaving!

Take backup power. Regardless of how much or how little you use your devices, their batteries will drain. I carry at least two power banks when I travel, one dedicated to charging devices and another that can jump-start a car (because there’s nothing worse than a car that won’t start when you’re miles away from civilization). I recommend the Anker PowerCore+ 10050 portable charger for phones and tablets and the DBPOWER 2000A 19200mAh jump-starter for vehicles (which will also charge phones and other devices).

Solar chargers are also an option but you should be aware that solar power charges devices considerably slower than a battery bank will. Solar is also dependent on whether the sun is out, so if it’s a cloudy day, you won’t be able to charge your gear.

Consider buying a satellite phone. While I personally have no experience with this, if you know you’re going to be really out there (good for you!), you should consider acquiring a sat phone for your trip, as you will likely have no cell service. This would have been great on my recent trip through the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona, as my brother and I had no cell service for over twenty-four hours as we more or less traversed the entire upper-right quarter of the state. Get one in case of emergency.

At the very minimum, carry an old phone if you have one. Even if it no longer has a SIM card (meaning it’s not on a phone plan), you can still use it to dial 911 in case of an emergency. The caveat is that you still have to have service in order to call 911. That aside, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Use GPS, but take a map or atlas anyway. A couple years ago, my family took a trip to Fredericksburg, TX. We got as far as Cleburne (not very far) before the route went down to one lane under construction and traffic was backed up for miles. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps provided no alternate routes. Fortunately, I whipped out my trusty Texas map and cobbled together a new route that got us out of traffic and safely to Fredericksburg, where beer and brats awaited. It just goes to show that technology is not infallible.

You can buy a Rand McNally road atlas at Wal-Mart for under $10 that covers all states in the U.S. and all provinces in Canada, with an overview map of Mexico to boot. Also helpful are the Wal-Mart locations indexed in the front of the atlas. If you’re a AAA member, stop by your local office and pick up maps for the states you’ll be traveling through. And, when you get to wherever you’re going to stay, acquire local maps so you know your way around the surrounding area and trail or park maps so you don’t get lost while hiking.

If you have a tablet, load it up with outdoors books and guides. How do you know whether that berry is poisonous? How do you treat that kind of insect bite? What are you supposed to do, again, if you encounter a bear or mountain lion? With the right books at hand, the answers are just a few page swipes away.

If you have a tablet, such as an iPad, Samsung Galaxy, or Kindle Fire, you can easily and cheaply load your digital library up with great outdoor reference works. Yes, I agree that there is still no substitute for a real, tangible book, but when weight is an issue and you can’t feasibly pack out your entire library of outdoors guides, digital editions on your device of choice are a great alternative.

I suggest you download the free Amazon Kindle app and check out the following titles:

  1. 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition by Clint Emerson
  2. Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury
  3. Boy Scout Handbook (currently in its 13th edition, although you can also buy the highly-revered 1st edition from 1911)
Bushcraft 101 is comprehensive and inexpensive: only $1.99 for Kindle!

Also consider stocking up on some good, adventurous reads in case your hiking plans get washed out by a day of heavy rain. Again, nothing beats a hard copy, but a tablet loaded with e-books lightens your load considerably. Here are some of my favorites to get you started:

  1. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (though anything by London is fair game)
  2. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  3. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (part of the five-book series called Brian’s Saga, aimed at young men but entertaining for adults as well)

Finally, keep your gadgets clean and dry! Dust, dirt, sand, water, and bugs are just a few things you might encounter out there, and while you are washable, your tech probably isn’t. Keep phones and tablets in water-resistant or waterproof pockets or containers, as these will also protect against dirt. I bought my brother and I each a Pelican 1060 Micro Case for keeping our phones dry while kayaking the Colorado River in Austin. It’s not a bad idea to use these whether you’re on the water or not.

The Pelican 1060 Micro Case is excellent for storing phones, keys, wallets, and more when in wet or dusty environments. Clipping it to your person, a backpack, or kayak with the included carabiner ensures that it doesn’t get lost or end up in Davy Jones’ locker.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip and stay connected as need be. Just remember to take nothing but pictures and leaving nothing but footprints—and enjoy being outdoors, away from the Internet and social media!

So, who’s going where and what are you taking?


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What if you could feel inspired and empowered to fix your computer the next time something goes wrong with it? Now you can! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in simple English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections. When computer woes happen, you’ll never have to worry again.

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on all Amazon sites for Kindle and in paperback. You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!

It’s Official…

Look at that shiny orange badge!

It’s official… my book is now officially ranked as the #1 New Release in the Consumer Guides category on Amazon. I’m amazed. I don’t like to brag, but I’m very proud of this accomplishment!

As you can also see in the image above, How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t also got its first review… and five stars no less! It reads:

The prose is good, it reads well. It’s factually accurate, even when it touches on matters of opinion and taste. Does a good job of defining terms. I think it could give someone dealing with their computer good guidance, and enough, but not too much, confidence; it draws a well positioned line explaining where the reader should go for expert help.

That eloquently expresses the aim of this book. I’m glad the point got across, and I’m grateful for the review!

If you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, you can do so by clicking on the buttons below. Currently, the Kindle and paperback versions aren’t linked, but this is something that usually takes a few hours (or days) to occur on Amazon. For the time being, the buttons below will take you to the respective product pages.

Enjoy! Until next time, onward and upward!

Tech Tip: Better than Bookmarking

This weekend, Mom baked a birthday cake for my brother, but spent quite a bit of time searching for her go-to yellow cake recipe in her browser’s bookmarks. Unfortunately, she could not find the exact recipe, so she picked another one. (Fortunately, the cake turned out better than any she’d made before, so it all worked out!)

This has happened to me on occasion, too. I’ve bookmarked a fantastic article or blog post only to go back to it later and find that it’s vanished from the face of cyberspace. Even though they say that everything’s permanent on the Internet, it doesn’t seem like it when a link is broken or content has been taken down.

There is an alternative to bookmarking webpages, and that is printing them to a Portable Document Format (PDF) file for viewing in programs like Adobe Reader. If you find something online that you want to save (maybe like this Tech Tip?), you can easily save a copy of the content in a Portable Document Format (PDF) similar to how you would print a hard copy with a printer.

To do this, press the Ctrl and P keys (Windows) or the Command and P keys (Mac) to bring up a print menu in your browser. There should be an option to print to a file or PDF instead of to a printer. The exact options and procedure will depend on your operating system and web browser, but the end result should be the same: the digital equivalent of the webpage printed out.

The standard print menu in a web browser. Instead of clicking “Print”, click on the “Change…” button to select a different printer.
After clicking the “Change…” button in the previous image, select the “Save as PDF” option. When you click “Print” now, you will be prompted for a filename for the PDF printout.

Once you have the webpage saved in a PDF file, store it somewhere you can easily retrieve it on your computer. I suggest creating a folder called “To Read” or “For Reference”. You could also back this file up to your cloud storage service of choice so you have an extra copy. If you wanted to, you could also print the PDF out later.

There you have it! A quick and easy way to ensure that you will always have access to the information you want, regardless of what happens online. I’ve already suggested Mom do this with every great recipe she finds from now on just in case it mysteriously disappears. I made sure she did it with this yellow cake recipe.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this blog post, I think you’ll also like my book, How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t. It explains, in simple English, how the computer you use every day operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections.

You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!

One-Thousand Downloads in One Day

Wow! How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t got over one-thousand downloads on launch day. That’s pretty incredible, and way above and beyond my expectations. If you’ve downloaded a copy, thank you!

If you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, you can still get it for free today by clicking here. And please be sure to share this with your friends and family who are computer-challenged!

For those who want a paperback copy, I promise it’s coming soon! If you’d like to be notified when it’s available, follow this blog by clicking on the “Follow Matthew R. Baker” button on the right side of this page (or the bottom if you’re viewing on mobile) or join my email list, where you will also receive access to free bonus content from How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

Enjoy!

Want a Free Book about Computers?

It’s here! This weekend is your chance to snag a free Kindle copy of my new book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

All you need to do is click the button below!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t will be available for free through Saturday (February 2). Be sure to claim your copy and share this deal with your friends before it expires.

You can also sign up for my email list to gain access to the book’s bonus content and stay in the loop on future books and sales (I expect both in the near future!). I promise you no spam!

For those who prefer a hard copy, I’m working on getting the paperback version published and will have it available very soon. You too can sign up for my email list to be notified when it’s available.

It’s my hope that this book will help you understand more about computers, how they work, and how to work with them when they aren’t working with you. If you have friends or family who would benefit from this book (think of the tech-challenged people in your life!), please share this with them so they too can grab their free copies.

Thank you, and enjoy!

My First Book is Going Live (and Free)!

Steve Jobs once famously said, “Real artists ship.” What he meant was that any artist, be that a painter or a writer or a software developer, must put aside perfectionism and put their work out into the world.

I have finally shipped. How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is the product of over two months of writing, editing, and content-gathering preceded by a life of tinkering with technology.

This book is written for all users, but particularly for those who have trouble using or understanding computers. I’ve taken the technical knowledge of computers and translated it into simple English so everyone can understand what makes a computer tick. I’ve also distilled what I’ve learned from years of repairing and troubleshooting computers into The Seven Principles of Solving Problems that can be applied to any technical issue. In addition, I’ve provided guides with easy things you can do to keep your computer running smoothly and speedily, as well as things you should do if it’s not. Finally, I included a reference guide for buying a computer so that you can acquire exactly what you need without breaking the bank.

If all this sounds interesting to you, it gets better. I’m offering the Kindle version of How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t for free this weekend. When you sign up for my email list, you’ll receive an email with a link to the book on Amazon when the deal goes live.

For those who prefer a hard copy, I’m working on getting the paperback version published and will have it available very soon. You too can sign up for my email list to be notified when it’s available.

If you’d like to read more about How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, head over to my book page. And be sure to sign up for my email list so you can be notified when the book goes live plus additional bonus content!

It’s my hope that this book will help you understand more about computers, how they work, and how to work with them when they aren’t working with you. If you have friends or family who would benefit from this book (think of the tech-challenged people in your life!), please share this with them so they too can grab their free copies.

Thank you, and enjoy!

On Airshows

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The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Snowbirds performing at the 2018 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. They are as graceful as their name sounds.

Airshows are awesome. If you’ve been, you know; if you haven’t, go and find out.

I grew up going to airshows. My dad worked in the aerospace industry and took our family to as many airshows as he could in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I’ve been to at least fifteen by my reckoning, maybe as many as twenty. I’ve seen both the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels at least three times each, likely more. I’ve also seen a very realistic Pearl Harbor/Tora! Tora! Tora! reenactment with Mitsubishi Zeroes, several AV-8B Harrier demonstrations, and a rare Russian Mi-24 Hind helicopter flight. (If you don’t know what those are, follow the links!)

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Yours truly with the Mi-24 in 2016. “Never smile at the crocodile.”

My earliest airshow memory was talking to the pilot of an E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft at age three. He let me sit in the pilot’s seat, wear the headset, and play with the throttle controls. I then remember walking through the aircraft, past the computer workstations (where seats would normally be on a commercial aircraft), out the aft door, down the mobile stairs, and to where Mom and Daniel were waiting in the shade of a B-52 Stratofortress, Daniel still being in a stroller at the time. It’s all documented on an old camcorder tape somewhere, along with plenty of shots of vacant sky as a fighter jet whizzes past!

Airshows never get old for me; in fact, I appreciate them more and more as I get older. I still enjoy seeing the aircraft, but now I also enjoy talking to the pilots and crew. Most of them spend the day standing around in the heat, cold, or rain, just waiting for someone to ask them about their planes. You can learn some interesting things from striking up a conversation with them, and they’re more than happy to talk. I got to speak with a B-2 Spirit pilot this past weekend (though he left his B-2 back at Whiteman AFB, darn!). Dad told me that one time, back in the late 80s, he asked an F-14 pilot about the video targeting pod on his aircraft. The pilot looked at Dad incredulously and asked, as if it were classified info, “How do you know about that?” Dad replied, “Tom Clancy wrote about it in Red Storm Rising!” (It pays to read good books.)

Perhaps above all else, I enjoy airshows because they are tangible reminders of the sacrifices that American men and women make so that we can be free in this country. For every B-17 Stratofortress that survived World War II, there were hundreds that bit the dust or limped back home over European skies; and the life expectancy of a B-17 crewman was just a handful of missions, if he was fortunate. The men and women who build, fly, and support military aircraft do it not for their own sakes but for ours, so that we may live freely, safely, and comfortably on our own soil. They have my fullest respect.

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Yours truly with the “Texas Raiders” B-17 Stratofortress in 2016. This particular B-17 was used in a very iconic Don’t Mess with Texas commercial.

So, get online and find out if there’s an airshow near you. If there is, go. Bring your friends and family. Take good walking shoes, sunglasses, and sun protection—and a camera, too. Even if you know nothing about airplanes or aviation, go. Watch some air performances. Walk around the static displays. Talk to some pilots: ask them about their aircraft and what a day in the flight suit is like. Smile and thank them for their service. Many will autograph bulletins or even have posters they will autograph.

And, most importantly, have a great time and make great memories.

Coming soon: pictures from the 2018 Fort Worth Alliance Air Show. Stay tuned.

On Redundancy

I woke up this Monday morning and powered on my Mac to check my emails, only to find that it wouldn’t fully boot up. Apparently, an update didn’t install the way it was supposed to, so macOS just gave me an error. After restarting my machine a couple times, I clicked around in an effort to find a solution, and rebooted again. This time around, I logged in and the OS loaded like normal. I don’t know what I did (or didn’t do) to solve the problem, but this was a perfect reminder of a principle that the Navy Seals live by.

Two is one and one is none.

Think about it. You have one computer, which works ninety-nine percent of the time. Ninety-nine percent of one year means that it doesn’t work three or four days out of the year! Speaking from experience, a computer isn’t usually down for just a few days; if it ain’t an easy fix, you may find yourself schlepping it to the local repair shop or calling in your friendly neighborhood nerd—but in the meantime, you still don’t have a computer to use. (Mac users, you aren’t immune to this.)

My suggestion is to acquire a cheap, refurbished computer to keep as a backup in the event that your main machine gets sick or, sad to say, dies suddenly by the Blue Screen of Death. Have a “beater” that gets mission-critical tasks done, at least until your primary one recovers or is replaced. If you upgrade to a newer computer, don’t put your old one out to pasture just yet—it can serve as your secondary.

Oh, and back up all your data in some way, shape, or form. I recommend an external hard drive, but USB sticks or DVDs will also work. It’s also a good idea to back up sensitive information on a USB stick or DVD and place it in a safe deposit box for, well, safekeeping. If your computer’s hard drive kicks the bucket, you’ll still have your data on hand (though I wouldn’t load it all onto your backup machine and potentially slow it down; copy over only what you need), and should some unfortunate circumstance destroy your backup, you’ll at least have your critical data safe at the bank. If something happens to your safe deposit box, you’ve probably got more pressing problems to deal with.

I wrote this with computers and data in mind, but the principle of “two is one and one is none” applies to pretty much anything. Flashlights, house keys, knives, home-defense firearms (unless it’s a revolver or a Glock, both of which should fire on every trigger pull), eyeglasses, good books, and the Bible (the best book), are a few things that come to my mind. Figure out what you own that you can’t live without, and consider acquiring a second of each item.

Be redundant!