ICT on the road

14th May 2004 at 01:00
Ray Fleming, and family, continue their travels with bags packed with technology

We're now into our 10th month of backpacking around the world. Charlotte, our eight-year-old, continues to learn a limited curriculum through our tablet PC, but a huge amount through just travelling - although not always things covered in the curriculum. Since the last update, we've been to five south-east Asian countries, and are looking forward to a few more before we head homeward.

With all this travelling, it's a great time to take stock of the performance of the technology.

We set off with more kit in our rucksacks than you'd expect to have on a desk at school. In addition to an RM Tablet PC, we also took a Canon Ixus digital camera, an Archos CD-writer, a Beatman MP3 player, a Sony digital video camera, an Ericsson mobile phone and a mess of power adapters and rechargeable batteries. Along the way, we added to the load with a further, higher resolution Canon digital camera. Over the last year we've carried them without any special protection in our rucksacks on the roof of buses, the handlebars of motorbikes and along the dustiest, bumpiest roads we've ever experienced. And what's happened to the technology has surprised us.

The bits of technology we'd expect to take knocks, because that's what their life is all about, have all gone wrong. First our CD-writer died completely. We had to buy a replacement immediately so we could keep copies of our digital photos updated. The new Iomega CD drive is still going strong, and seems a great piece of kit.

Then our Ixus camera failed, with a jammed lens. That's when we discovered that digital cameras only have national warranties - so we had to send it home with friends to be repaired, and it took three months to return. Then, in one week, our MP3 player and mobile phone just stopped working, for no apparent reason.

The Sony video camera, on the other hand, hasn't even hiccupped - even when it was kicked by an elephant (a great bit of film, but it makes me wince every time I look at it).

What amazes me is that our RM Tablet PC has survived intact, and is as good as the day we left home - it is, after all, the most complex of all the technology we're using, and it hasn't been carried with any special padding or protection. Instead, it has travelled inside my rucksack in the standard leather-look slip cover. And the software on it has stood the test of time - without RM Maths Charlotte's maths lessons would not have gone anywhere, and Where in the world is Barnaby Bear (www.sherston.com) is still a favourite for Emily, our four-year-old.

So when you're sitting down planning your technology for school, what have I learnt that can help you? Well, I'd say I've been surprised by the tenacity of technology in the face of extremes of heat, dust and rough-handling, but I've also learnt that if it can go wrong, it will go wrong - and at times like that the internet becomes invaluable in finding a solution. Whatever the problem, type the description into Google, and you'll find that somebody's not only had it before, but probably posted a solution! The other thing I've learned is that mechanical things go wrong - if you're choosing between two nearly identical cameras, go for the one with the simplest mechanics. But most of all, don't rely on a single piece of technology too much - because Murphy's Law says it will work perfectly every time, except when you're in front of a class!

You can check out our web diary at www.rfleming.net

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