Seven Technologies to Take to War

by brian d foy

A year ago I went to war. Besides the stuff I always have on me (10 meters of parachute cord, Leatherman multi-tool, infra-red chemical lights, and various weapons and ordnance), I took a lot more to the Gulf War Iraqi desert to keep me busy during the long stretches of inactivity. Luckily, we have plenty of desiel fuel and the generators that use them.


I started this war with a 20 Gb iPod, and it could not hold everything
I had, although 15 Gb was recorded episodes of href="">This American Life. We often end
up far away from our home base for a couple of days, so the iPod is a
great way to take my entire music collection with me without
sacrificing space for other important things, like food and water.
With Audio Hijack, my wife
records my favorite NPR programs and sends them to me as MP3 files.

Since then Apple has even larger iPods, and I hear that other companies have ones even larger than Apple's.

Laptops with DVD drives

We often have long periods of nothing to do but wait. I could buy a $200
dedicated-DVD player, but that only plays DVDs. Besides a larger
screen (up to 17 inches now), a laptop can also play games, work with
email, organize photos, play music, and a lot of other things to pass
the time.

Wireless networking

A lot of people have laptops, but we do not carry around cables and
routers. I can turn on my laptop's Airport to create a
computer-to-computer network. Some people use access points for
multi-player games. It is quick, easy, and works between different

USB memory keys

I do not get to use my own computer on the Army's network. I get stuck
with approved computers. Even if I could use my laptop, I do not carry
it with me, and I never know when I might get to use a computer. I,
and a lot of other people, carry thumb-sized USB devices that
store hundreds of megabytes. We write email to send later so we make
the most of our limited network time. I installed Windows software
for SSH terminals, web site suckers, and a lot of other things I like
to use but cannot install on public computers. Windows and Mac OS X software live peacefully together on the same device.

Digital cameras

Everyone seems to be passing around CDs of photos, starting from
events before the war to stuff that happened last week. We cannot
remember from where some of the CDs came or which units were involved, but we have some awesome pictures.
Indeed, digital cameras have become so useful that we carry them
almost constantly to document events that may be important later,
including pictures of people we meet, the cars they drive, and the
neighborhoods they live in. Cameras are a cheap and portable copy
machine too.

CD Burners

Burning CDs is the easiest way for us to share photos and anything
else that we want to pass around. We run the risk that our disk
drives could take a bullet, although the dust and heat seem more
dangerous, so back-ups are more urgent. A lot of disk drives have
taken a beating in the desert.

We can also send CDs home for free, which is a great way to share
full-size photos with friends and families, especially since our
bandwidth is often very limited.

Minidisc recorders

For most of the adventure I have carried a mini-disc recorder, and
have recorded close to 200 hours of audio diaries and sound effects.
I can make personal recordings that I send back to my wife, and
keep track of what I am doing for other projects. I can transfer
the audio to my PowerBook with AudioX or Peak, rip it with iTunes,
and burn it to a CD to send home, although I usually just mail the
mini-disks themselves.

What else might you need when you go? Solar powered battery chargers, rechargeable batteries (not just for the laptop!), power adapters that work with car batteries, 220V<->110V transformers, and duct tape.

What would you take to the remotest places on earth?


2004-01-05 13:04:23
Web site sucker
What "web site sucker" do you recommend?
2004-01-05 13:04:52
Which PowerBook do you have and how is it holding up?
2004-01-06 05:46:45
Web site sucker
I have used Web Devil for several years (it has Classic and Mac OS X versions), but even that does not do everything I need. I usually write my own since web sites get more sophisticated, and then I forget where I left the source and write it again.

My latest efforts, about half finished (meaning I still have to futz with it to get it to work sometimes), is in my SourceForge project CVS repository under the module name webreaper. This is one of the things I have wanted to do right for years, and if I allow myself to make slow progress on it (I typically like to spend lots of time on things, so things that take a lot of time never get off the To Do), I might actually have something nice.

Randal Schwartz just released a Perl module called File::Finder that can select files based on all sorts of criteria, and I would like to add that sort of thing, but for the web (e.g. files of this size, names that match this pattern, and so on). Maybe that sort of fancy thing will get there when I fix the big problems (like conditional GET support).

Andy Lester has a wonderful module called WWW::Mechanize that does a lot of the same things if you want to write your own.

2004-01-06 05:51:32
I have one of the second generation Ti-books. I forget the fancy name for it.

It is doing alright now. In the summer it had a lot of problems with the heat---the temperature in the shade was up to 130 F one day---and it would save itself by shutting off all of a sudden, or, at least, that is my theory.

The case has a lot of scratches, the paint is peeling in some places, and it has a dent in one corner, but other than that it has held up well. I store it in a two gallon ziplock bag to keep out the dust, which gets into everything not completely sealed.

I would not really mind if, in a couple months, it completely died because I could then justify getting a new one, but, alas, I think this one is going to live unless it takes a literal armor-piercing bullet.

2004-01-06 09:03:08
Web site sucker
Thank for making time to reply.

I'll check those tools out. I am looking for something to let me browse at a client site (without a connection to the Net) after I unhook from my cable modem in the morning. Sounds like this would do the trick.

Everyone I know supports your efforts 100%. We wish you the best of luck in 2004.

2004-01-06 09:05:04
"Two Gallon Ziplock bag" Excellent!
Make sure the seal turns "green" (or whatever color it turns).

Seriously.. I might use one of those next time I travel in case of moisture or an unexpected coffee spill in the minivan on a long trip..

2004-01-06 10:36:29
Web site sucker
See if the client can give you the entire site as an archive. :)

The link structure is usually the biggest problem for that sort of browsing. Things that use full URLs or paths that start with / break all of the links. Indeed, whenever I get around to it I want to code a link rewriter option into my downloader.

On the other hand, you can just install the entire website as is and run your own web server that locally serves that site, and that takes care of most of that.

Good luck!

2004-01-06 10:38:58
Almost everything I have in the military has a ziplock bag associated with it. I got lazy about that in the summer when it was really dry and there was no rain, but we are in the middle of the rainy season now.

I can put a complete uniform (top, bottom, tshirt, socks, etc) in a single two gallon ziplock so it is just grab and go. This is especially handy when I am living out of my rucksack since I only need to find one thing.