Digital Camera Chronicles
23 -- Time is a precious commodity
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Time is a precious commodity these days. We never have enough of it, and we're forever thinking of new ways to save time and become more productive. We try to avoid getting stuck in traffic or having to wait in lines. More often than not it's a losing battle (ever tried to get Windows to boot faster?) but there are some areas where we have control over and save a few minutes here and there. For me, one of those areas is batteries and power supplies.
It is amazing how dependent we've become on those things. Without batteries my six-year-old son's toys don't work (not a pleasant thought), the exploding population of remote controls for all our audio and video gadgets is useless, my PDAs become expensive paperweights, the alarm system sleeps on the job, the thermostats won't tell the furnace and A/C to heat or cool my house, and, worst of all, my digital cameras won't take pictures.
There was a time not so long ago when batteries weren't much of a problem. You simply kept a supply of the three or four common sizes in the pantry and you were all set. Not anymore. As the number of battery-powered devices in our modern life has grown exponentially, so seemingly has the number of different kinds and sizes of batteries. It's no longer possible to stock some of each. To make matters worse, different gizmos require different kinds of batteries of the same size. While a flashlight, a toy, a computer, and a digicam may all accommodate AA cells, they work best and most economically with standard "heavy-duty" (a misnomer if there ever was one) cells, alkalines, NiMH, or Lithium cells, respectively. An increasing number of devices use proprietary and other hard-to-find batteries, and some have built in powerpacks that need a separate external charger that easily gets lost.
The bottom line is that managing the power requirements of our gadgets has become a major draw on our time. I've spent entire Saturday mornings trying to hunt down a particular battery -- not a good use of my time. And I am getting tired of devices I can't use when I need them because their battery packs are dead and I can't find the charger. That is, of course, in part my fault because I am not the most organized person in the world. But I won't take all of the blame because I didn't ask for all those different batteries sizes and battery technologies, and I also didn't ask for every gizmo to require its own separate charger with a unique adapter that won't fit anything else. I also didn't ask for chargers that are unlabeled so that I can't remember what gizmo they go with, and certainly not for devices that needlessly waste my time by requiring nonstandard, hard-to-find, expensive power packs. I mean, why would I want a camera -- something you're meant to take with you wherever you go, on and off the beaten path -- when it needs some exotic battery available only in specialty stores to work?
I am mad and I won't take it anymore.
Now I know that I can't change the world to suit my needs, but I can establish some rules for myself. Unless absolutely necessary, I won't purchase or use products with proprietary batteries that need frequent replacement or recharging. Instead, I am standardizing, to whatever extent possible, on equipment that uses common AA or AAA cells. I've long been a big believer in rechargeables. I have chargers strategically placed throughout my home and my office so that I'll always have freshly charged cells available when I need them. My current favorite is Kodak's new "Max" line of chargers. I like them because they can accommodate both AA and AAA cells and there is also a rapid charger that boosts a depleted set in less than three hours. I am also partial to Kodak's AA NiMH cells that have reached a capacity of 1,700mAH and soon will go up to 1,850mAH. I so strongly believe in standardization that I returned the Nikon Coolpix 995, which uses a non-standard pack, and went back to my old Coolpix 990 and its trusty quartet of AAs that I can find anywhere.
And I can try to use my position as editor of two national technology magazines to ask manufacturers to use a bit more common sense and have a bit more consideration for their consumers' needs (and time). Here are some requests. Please, manufacturers, help us save time and money by:
Give us a hand, will you?
- using standard batteries whenever possible. I know that's not always feasible, but when it is, don't go with an expensive, exotic pack that costs a fortune and can't be found anywhere when you need one.
- designing power bricks as small and handy as possible so that they don't hog two or more outlets on a power strip.
- clearly labeling power supplies with your company name. There is nothing worse than trying to pick from a bunch of adapters all saying nothing more than "made in China."
- standardizing power adapters to whatever extent possible. Ideally, I'd like to use a single adapter for a whole class of devices.