Everywhere But Home

News and musings from wherever my crazy life takes me. My body may be back in Illinois, but at least for now, my mind is still in Mongolia.

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In Praise of Universality

Lest I get myself unintentionally embroiled in the Mac/PC war, let me preface this by saying that I am an Apple user, not a worshipper. I freely acknowledge that Apple has its fair share of issues with universality, especially when it comes to things like proprietary software and file formats. But when it comes to charging the devices it makes, Apple’s got its act together. I love that all Macs use the same chargers; that they can borrow someone else’s, regardless of what year or model they’ve got, makes it so much easier when someone forgets to bring theirs.

And then there’s this little thing, which is one of the most useful electrical devices I own:

Yes, it’s an iPod charger. But because so many other devices can be charged with a USB connection these days, I can use it to charge all manner of other things: my camera, my Kindle, my cell phone (my US phone, at least). My friend Lauren could use it to charge her awesome self-sterilizing water bottle. So as long as I’ve got these three cords on hand, I can plug in almost anything I have that requires charging – and probably anything a friend needs charged, too. Remember the days of junk drawers filled with almost-identical phone chargers that only worked for one specific model? Yeah, I don’t miss them either.

Now, most of the aforementioned devices come with their own USB-to-wall pieces. The reason I like the iPod one is that the wall outlet part is detachable – a fact which holds little importance within the US but becomes highly significant once you leave it.

I have the adapters for Australia as well, but I didn't bring them with me. Only the ones I knew might be useful.

Clockwise from the bottom right: UK/Ireland/Hong Kong, Europe, China, US, Korea

This little adapter kit is kind of pricey, but it was well worth the expense. I bought it before studying in France so that I could plug my computer in without having to worry about bringing my cord and an adapter with me anywhere I went, since you can swap these in for the extender part of the cord and just plug the transformer straight into the wall. But you can also use them for an iPod charger. With a couple pieces of white plastic that fit easily into a plastic sandwich bag, I can charge anything anywhere.

The one exception is my Mongolian phone, which is a Nokia brick that hails from the pre-standardization days.

It’s also dual-voltage, which means I don’t have to worry about a voltage converter, another plus. (Though happily, most electrical devices smarter than a hair dryer are usually dual-voltage. Things like hair dryers, curling irons, and flatirons still tend to overheat and melt even if you convert the voltage – but since I own exactly none of these things, that’s happily a non-issue for me.)

Having an array of charging options is especially important here in Mongolia. Given its location, what kind of plugs do you think you would need here? Chinese? Korean?

European, it turns out. Which makes a lot of sense, given the strong Russian influences here, but it’s still not what you’d expect of a country that is patently in Asia.

Unfortunately, the wall outlets aren’t always the European sort. Sometimes, you find yourself on a train and discover that it was apparently made in China – or at least, the wall outlets were. Or the extension cord in your office wants British plugs. Or you’re being med-evacced to Korea, which uses yet another type of wall outlet. (Thankfully, only the first has actually happened to me.) Whatever the reason, chances are you’ll find yourself in at least one situation that calls for a plug that isn’t European.

Another gadget, one that is both more and less useful:

A universal power strip. Brilliant.

I’ve never seen these before, but they are brilliant, and I am definitely taking this one with me in case I find myself residing in Europe some day. The lesser part of its usefulness is that it can only be plugged into a European-style wall outlet. But so long as you have one of those, you can plug pretty much anything into these. And that’s really a necessity in a country where nothing is standardized. During my orientation, for example, my dorm room had three pieces of electrical equipment: a tea kettle, a television, and a refrigerator. And a universal power strip, without which I could not have used any of these thing; the kettle was British, the television Korean, and the refrigerator Chinese, and each was thus incapable of being plugged directly into the wall outlet.

When it comes to living things, diversity is something wondrous, to be cherished and protected. In my electronics, however, I am a huge fan of universality. If your digital camera requires me to buy proprietary cords in order for me to charge it or upload its pictures, then I’m sorry, but I ain’t buying it. I’ll stick with something that works with all the other equipment I already own, thanks all the same.