Stuff That Works
I was in Israel for most of the past month, doing research for a book. That’s why I haven’t been able to deliver a new Writing Wednesday each week. My apologies!
The sojourn in the Holy Land produced mucho grist for future WWs, however. But we can bang one post out immediately: Product Recommendations.
Stuff I took with me that actually worked.
I offer the following consumer report (with NO connections, financial or otherwise, to any product recommended or reviled below) for my fellow aspiring journalist/novelist globetrotters …
1. SwissGear IBEX laptop backpack.
I had noticed, doing book signings at West Point, that the cadets all had black Victorinix rucksacks that they carried their books in. My friend Lisa Corsiglia turned me on to the civilian version. I bought one ($99.99 at Best Buy) just for the Israel trip and it was great. The interior is divided into layered pockets, one on top of the other. One has a sleeve for a laptop (or a sweater or windbreaker), then four more pockets of decreasing sizes. Perfect for recording gear, cameras, passports, iPads, water bottles. I used it every day and it was a joy to work with.
I knew I was going to be doing a ton of interviewing, so I wanted something pro-level for sound quality, reliability and ease of use. My friend Mike Sita, who’s a video and sound editor, ordered this for me for $299 from B&H Photo on Ninth Avenue in NY. It worked great the whole way. The device takes memory cards—1G to 16G—which I found to be ideal. A 4G card records about an hour and can be swapped out in two or three minutes.
Two disadvantages to the H4n: it’s hand-sized, too bulky to stick in a shirt pocket for walk-and-talks—and if it has a mike jack, I couldn’t find it. For outdoor interviews I had to use a mini-recorder with a lavalier mike.
I walked around Jerusalem one whole day with tour guide Roni Gilo. I was able to stick this recorder in his shirt pocket and pin a lavalier mike to his collar. Only problem: not enough memory. The DS-30 doesn’t take cards; memory is all self-contained. Two hours and the window said “MEMORY FULL.” Not good.
This one did take micro-cards, up to 16 gigs. Only problem: the first card jammed in the slot and I couldn’t get it out (it’s still jammed now.) Bottom line: $99.99 and a total bust.
I used my iPhone’s recorder as a further backup. Not bad. And my MacBook laptop with a free downloaded VLC program. Didn’t use this enough to give a report, but it looked promising for indoor use.
5. Data roaming.
My hotel in Tel Aviv had wi-fi but I wound up paying extra to AT&T for a month of overseas data roaming. Expensive ($199) but worth it to get e-mails on my iPhone and to have local GPS, which was indispensable.
I never figured out how to use a SIM card. I wound up borrowing a cell phone for local calls. Any advice, readers? Help!
Webmaster Jeff Simon set me up with this, which proved invaluable. Dropbox is the cloud. I have iCloud on my MacBook but I’ve had troubles with it—like 22 hours to upload a one-hour interview—and I didn’t want to take a chance on the highly-lauded but, in my opinion, totally indecipherable Apple system.
Dropbox is a free download, with a premium version available. I used the free one and it had more than plenty of storage space, even though I used so much memory on this trip that I maxed out the hard drive in my MacBook.
It would take me an hour to ninety minutes each night at my hotel to upload to Dropbox.com what I had recorded during the day, but that included copying the files to iTunes, then compressing them from .wav format to MP3. Way worth it, as my primal dread on this trip was to spend XX thousand dollars to get XX critical interviews and then lose everything when someone stole my laptop.
7. Hertz at Ben-Gurion Airport.
My friend Danny’s laptop was stolen out of the trunk of my Hertz car at the airport. Enough said.