Off-Grid Electronics, by D. Smith

When I am looking for electronics for my cabin that is so far back in the woods it is cost-prohibitive to get grid power, I look for certain things: Low energy use, flexibility of use,and a long service life.
I don’t have a lot of extra room in my cabin but I love to read, so I have an e-book reader. Several years ago, I bought a book scanner and scanned in most of my books to make them e-books. Some people say this is a legal gray area but I have no moral qualms about format shifting an item that I have purchased.

So I have quite a large number of e-books to read, but without an electric outlet most of the e book readers out there will go dead within in a week or so of use. Also, due to the format of my scanned books, they take up quite a lot of space so I need a e-book reader that would take removable memory like SD or micro-SD. Also, I wanted replaceable common batteries like AA or AAA.

The closest thing I have found to my dream product for my cabin is the ECTACO jetBook LITE. It takes SD cards and uses 4 AA batteries. I would like it even more if it had an e-ink display that uses less power, but it is still closest thing to my dream reader I have found. The device reads most of the common e book formats like .pdf and .epub, plus several others. It will show a couple of picture file types such as .jpg and .gif in black and white which comes in handy for maps and screen shots I wanted to save from my home computer plus family pictures. It will run over 20 hours on one set of rechargeable batteries. There are several place online to get free e-books. Most of them are older out-of-copyright books but some nice free ones can be found on Amazon.com and web pages can be saved for offline reading. I bought e reader for less than $60 and it allows me to have most of my at-home library to read when I am back in the woods.

Another similar device that I really enjoy and find endlessly useful is the Wiki reader. It is about 3-1/2 by 4 inches square and holds all the text of Wikipedia, all the text of Wikiquotes, all the text of Wikidictionary, and a huge number of free books from project Gutenberg. All of which runs for months on two AAA rechargeable batteries. To get all of this on the machine, I had to upgrade the micro SD card and download the files for free. This device only cost me $20 on a deals web site and it is great. Recently I was trying to remember how to find the diagonal of a square for laying out the footprint of a out building. Geometry was a LONG time ago for me. Five minutes of playing with my wiki reader and I found Pythagoras’s constant 1.414 and away I went. One night my wife and I were discussing history and wanted to figure who the last non-Germanic monarch of England was. It took about 10 minutes to find that out. Sometimes when I am alone at the cabin and don’t want to read a full book or listen to music I will read wikiquotes. Everything from great minds to television shows are in there. Fore example, I really love the Firefly quotes for light reading.

The one downside to either device is they don’t waste their batteries on light so after sundown you need a light. I prefer a head light that uses double a batteries so I don’t have to keep as many kinds of different cells around and since I recharge them, I usually have extras just waiting. A good solar battery charger is really important for my non-paper information needs. I couldn’t find one quite like what I wanted, so I found a nice battery charger that would charge AA and AAA off 12 volt and use either the solar cells for my cabin or the accessories plug in my truck when I have to go out.

The final electronic item that I use at my cabin is a RCA Lyra RD1028 MP3 player. It lets me listen to my favorite music and audio books, plus old radio shows. There are a ton of free non-copyright music and radio shows for downloading on the Internet. This device runs up to 20 hours on 1 AAA battery and takes, again an sd card so I have 6 different cards of audio books and music to listen to. It doesn’t have its’ own speaker, so I had to buy an external speaker and amplifier that runs on – you guessed – AA batteries, but that was a small price to pay. This way if I am working on my land I can put the player in an arm band or even a shirt pocket and use the ear buds. Then when I come home to the cabin, I plug it in and listen to a book or radio show.

All of these devices run on commonly-available batteries that can be purchased as one use or rechargeable. They also all use the standard SD or micro SD cards, so I can expand my collection all the time. They are all fairly cheap although some you must now purchase used. I find they are more useful in an off-the-grid situation than a smart phone or tablet or non-replaceable, non-expandable e-book reader. Since we now live in what’s been dubbed the information age, you can find a lot of free or cheap content to listen or read so you don’t end up bored out of your skull arguing with yourself.
So in short I look for devices that use replaceable common batteries. Expandable memory in the from of sd cards is very desirable. The ability to easily afford redundant back up with tech that is a few years old but still function wonderfully. If other people have devices other than the ones I mentioned that would fill this bill please let us know.

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