The father of invention

When traveling for business I try to pack more than enough gear for the job at hand—computer, spare battery, camera, cables, backup disk, USB keydrive, iPod… whatever the job calls for. Though I was sure I’d done the usual thorough job of packing prior to jetting to San Diego for the departure of Holland-America’s luxury liner, the Oosterdam, and its accompanying MacMania 4 cruise to the Mexican Riviera, I neglected to include what two-thirds of my traveling party believe is our most essential piece of gear.

A night light.

You see, I’m accompanied by my wife and child and yes, I forgot to pack the night light that my four-year-old daughter relies on for a solid (and secure) night’s sleep. Dad was in the doghouse.

Oh sure, I could have discretely asked around the ship to see if some other instructor or luminary had a solution. Leo Laporte is here with his mother Mary and maybe she never broke the habit of carrying a light and binky for her darling boy. Andy Ihnatko, who unfailingly packs a bizarre collection of hardware in his bandolier, was another possibility. And I’m sure Woz would have been happy to fashion a suitable night light out of parts scavenged from the on-board casino. But I’m on a Geek Cruise, dagnabbit, and if I couldn’t solve this little problem on my own, I deserved to be stripped of my Mariner’s Badge and meal card.

I’m happy to report that I’ve salvaged my honor and—as I type this—my darling daughter is resting easily, bathed in the glow of her ad hoc night light.

The inspiration for its fashioning came from a line I routinely use when discussing iPod power management.

“The iPod is not a flashlight. Use backlighting when only absolutely necessary.”

And any father who doesn’t believe that “when only absolutely necessary” means when your daughter threatens to stay awake until sun-up, bouncing Furry Frog, Texie the Armadillo, and Dino the Fluffy T-Rex off your head because it’s too damned dark to do anything more worthwhile, deserves the carbonized waffle and flat, non-alcoholic beer that will undoubtedly grace his breakfast table this June 18th.

You have the hint that the iPod’s backlight supplies the needed illumination. I chose it rather than my PowerBook’s illuminated screen because, well, frankly, I’ve got a couple of iPods to spare and I’m unwilling to tax the life of my only laptop’s screen.

I routinely carry an iPod Y-cable that sports Apple’s dock connector on one end and splits out to USB and FireWire connectors on the other. (I don’t, however, usually carry an iPod power adapter as the PowerBook charges it perfectly well.) I plugged the FireWire connector into the accompanying port on my PowerBook, plugged the PowerBook into the power strip I carry, and closed the lid of the PowerBook, which now charged the iPod. (I specifically chose the FireWire connection because a sleeping Mac will continue to charge an iPod connected via FireWire—something it won’t do with a USB connection.)

I then went to the iPod’s Settings screen, selected Backlight Timer, pressed Center, and chose Always On in the Backlight screen. I then placed the PowerBook under my daughter’s fold-out bed and set the iPod on the table between us, pointing at her.

Does this ersatz night light pass the test? The sleeping forms of Furry Frog, Texie, Dino, and Daughter prove it.

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