Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Day My Fiscal Resolve Broke Down: FreeLoader Pico, I Don’t Regret You.

pico-freeloader Hey guys, I’m back!

I had initially hoped that during my extended hiatus I would become repeatedly inspired, and thus would file awayall of the experiences that I had accumulated during my Charge-Shot-cation for future comfortable postings. Unfortunately, I realized that I lead a pretty uninspiring life when it comes to news, entertainment, media, or anything else than any other normal reader of this blog cares about, so I didn’t end up finding anything interesting to report about except my one nerdy confession.

About two weeks ago, I made my first online impulse buy, and it wasn’t [finally] a PS3

I’m pretty tight with my money as the people who know  me might attest to. To this day, I have not once purchased my own video game system or game, relying entirely on the generous hand-me-downs of others. I played old playstation one games until my friends upgraded to a PS2 slim and passed on their old bulky one to me. I have been thinking about buying a PS3 for almost a year now and I have yet to pull the trigger. When I look into buying DVDs I usually wait about three months to see if a price drop on Amazon coincides with a moment of clarity where I’m sure  I need those DVDs.

So you can imagine that when the air cleared from the smoking gun that was my online purchase receipt, I was a bit taken aback when I realized that in less than four minutes from first sight to final mouse-click, I had committed almost $50 (shipping included) to the Freeloader Pico portable solar charging unit, made by Solar Technologies International, a company based out of the UK.

The Pico – an odd name that parallels with the iPod nano, and fittingly the device has roughly the same dimensions – is a portable Lithium-Ion battery that you can use to charge almost any small electronic device using one of the device’s four adaptors (including a mini USB, the standard iPhone/iPod jack, and output that fits most GPS units, and one that fits nicely into my crappy nuclear-war-surviving Samsung). The unit’s internal battery can be charged via USB, reaching a full charge in about three hours, and it can output this charge to your device in about 30 minutes.

There are plenty of portable chargers out there that are essentially just dischargeable batteries, but what makes this thing badass is the solar panel on the front. I charged my phone with the sun!

It wasn’t fair. The marketing attacked me from two sides. It was so sleek, so sexy, so trim and lightweight. Not only did it touch on my environmental nature, urging me to contribute economically to a budding industry of imperfect solar devices that need to be proven marketable to the general public, but it also spoke to the inner techno-science-nerd of my soul. The gadget itself was just so damned cool. My eco-technology subconscious rose up and overpowered my rational miserliness. The Pico whispered softly to me, “I’ll always be there for you with my 1-year warranty and my strong customer support network. And I was powerless before it.

As a scientist, I am fascinated with the discoveries that have paved the way for alternative energy, and solar is a sea of potential for advancement and innovation. The average citizen has no idea how cool the physical processes behind solar energy are. Who cared how well it worked? The scientist in me had to have one. Immediately.

After owning it for about a month now, I’ll be the first to admit it’s slightly ridiculous. I’m aware of all of the ironies here, one of them being that I make my home in Portland where the sky is pretty much overcast 79.8% of the year, and so a sun-powered charger is somewhat obsolete most of the time. I would also note that the time the solar panel takes to fully charge the battery when the device is placed directly in high-intensity sunlight at just the right angle is 10 hours, which is unreasonable unless you live in northern Alaska in the appropriate season. It’s also mildly delicate given that it’s paneled with a precisely designed solar cell that probably shouldn’t get dirty, scratched, wet, or cleaned with any strong detergents. Advertised as an outdoorsman’s best friend for that pesky, electricity-free wilderness, it isn’t particularly rugged. It’s also hard to really leave it out anywhere for 10 hours without the fear of it getting broken or stolen [or in my case rained on]. So it’s really only got a limited practicality.

Nevertheless, yesterday I ran my cell battery down with no access to the charger for several hours, and only the fortune of a sunny day in Portland and a fascination with cute solar-powered gadgets got me through the day and one episode of a wallet left at home that I needed a friend to bring to me. I even received an emergency phone call at 5:30 from someone looking for directions and if it hadn’t been for that little extra charge, they probably would have been lost forever, and maybe dead in some ditch too. So it was totally worth it. During the upcoming three months of summer, I plan to take this thing camping until I accidentally leave it out during a surprise  Oregon rainstorm.