Brenda and I went to Paris recently for a development launch and brainstorming meeting for Freedom Fone. In addition to picking the brains of a small handful of experts in the field, we thought it would be a good opportunity to have some of our equipment assessed. So in my bag I packed my own laptop, and digital audio recorder, a Voice Blue 4-SIM card GSM Gateway, and a full sized CPU tower, as well as the various power cables and USB connectors for this equipment.

The tower didn’t fit in the elegant, cabin sized roller bag we’d hoped it would, so we had to put it into my tatty duffle instead. It was quite amusing in the office trying to get everything to fit. Eventually, we settled on opening up the computer and taking off its feet – this meant it could lie down on its side in my bag and be slightly less conspicuous – standing up it definitely looked quite suspicious and I was sure I would be stopped.

I had strict instructions from my colleagues about the importance of clearing the equipment properly with customs in Harare – serial numbers, declaration forms, and such like. We decided it wasn’t such a good idea to pack my knickers right next to the computer – since likely I was going to have to take the computer out and show it to the guys at customs. But, much to my surprise, when I arrived at the departure gate, all I had to do was fill in a form and be on my way. No one asked to verify my serial numbers, and I didn’t even have to take things out at the X-Ray machine.

In Johannesburg for the connecting flight, we tried to find a different bag to carry the CPU in. We had three criteria: a) must be easier to carry than the unwieldy CPU in a duffel option, b) must by carry-on size, c) must be less likely to split across its seams than the bag it was in. We tried the backpacks at the camping store but they all had these lovely lean aerodynamic lines that made them too sleek for our clunky box. The soft duffels would have at least addressed issue c, but whilst they filled out at the bottom, their openings were far too constrained, so we moved on to another shop.

We completely charmed the woman at the luggage store and she took it upon herself to Help Us Out. We tried a big black pilot’s case, a hard pink roller case, a soft paisley duffel, and a gold lame shoulder bag. But, after taking the stuffing out of bag after bag, and trying to cram the CPU into each of them, none quite did the trick. So we settled on some DIY wheels which we could strap onto the duffel. They were about six inches too short for my arm, so I spent the rest of the trip with some kind of odd praying mantis type walk to keep everything balanced. But at least it reduced the beating my legs were taking from the server banging against them every step. And best of all, I was able to glide right through Immigration in France and back out again in Harare without so much as a sideways glance.

I was carrying the full sized CPU because we want to be able to connect Freedom Fone to high capacity E1/T1 style lines using a Digium card, which needs to plug into the computer’s PCI slot – the smaller Shuttle we’ve used as our Freedom Fone server doesn’t have a PCI slot, only a full sized tower would. Of course, as someone at the meeting pointed out on the very first night, we could bypass the whole need for a Digium card (and hence the PCI slot and full sized tower) by instead getting an Analog Telephony Adapter – handy, palm-sized gadget that it is.

Wish I’d known that in the first place!