Saturday, January 14, 2017

VLC for Android as a Music Player -- How to Play Songs Continuously, Icons and Controls Explained

I converted a cheap Android phone to use as my music player, when swimming.  I bought a waterproof pouch that allows me to use waterproof earbuds, and the combination is pretty great.  I have pretty good control over the touch interface through the waterproof pouch.  I taped a small square of packing padding over the inside front window of the pouch, which pulls the front of the pouch away from the touchscreen of the phone enough so water does not mess with the controls. 

I use VLC on the Android to play my folders of mp3 files.  I used to use an iPod Touch, but the battery life on the thing was terrible (while sitting, not while playing).  I had perhaps four iPods, and all of them would die after sitting for two days.  I tried copying all my music files and folders to another iPod, and it took a day of research and five hours to simply duplicate all my music from one iPod to another.  I am done with iPods. 

With my Android phone, I just copy my music folders and files to a micro-SD card, and that's pretty much it.  Boom -- duplicate music library on another phone. 

I chose VLC to play my music folders, since it could choose a folder on an SD card and play all the music files on a folder.  Recently, I'd choose songs in a folder (not a playlist) and get stuck -- VLC would only play the one song, then stop.  This was a hassle.  I did some research and discovered that no one out there has fully explained the controls for VLC's audio interface, nor how to make all the songs in a physical folder play continuously. 

The phone that I use for swimming has VLC version 1.7.5, an older version.  I describe using VLC version x below. 

VLC v1.7.5: How to Play All Songs in a Folder (Not a Playlist) Continuously, Without Stopping After Every Song.

I have my music mp3 files in folders on my computers, making it easy to put folders of music on CDs and SD cards.  These are physically separated into folders, not organized into playlists on the phone -- which VLC can do. 

To play all songs in a folder continuously, so every song plays one after another without stopping until the last song in the folder, do this:

Go to the folder level of the SD card.  In my case, I open VLC, then using the menu icon at the top left of VLC (three lines), I choose sdcard (rather than Internal memory, since I've stored my mp3 files on an SD card).  Then I choose the topmost folder, which contains all the folders of mp3 files.  I called this "Music SD card".  Once in that topmost folder, I see all my folders (usually albums). Choose "Play" from the three dots to the right of the folder you wish to play.  Once you do this, the folder will open, and you can choose any song in the folder to start playing. The songs listed in the folder will then play in succession.  If you just choose the folder of music files and then choose a song in that folder, without choosing Play at the upper level first, then the song you choose will only play once, then the music player will stop. 

Now, if you press the bottom of the VLC player, you will bring up a small inset screen that allows you to scrub through the song while it is playing, pause,  jump ahead to the next song, or go back.  I've encountered these symbols and icons before, so I don't describe them. 

There were a couple of icons that I've never seen and did not understand.  Here's what they do. 

Here's the folder of music files, with the song presently playing "opened" at the bottom:

You'll notice this icon, or symbol, at the right of the widget player:

What the heck does this do?  I could not find an explanation anywhere.  I searched for quite a while, and experimented with my phone.  By pressing this icon, you can change the icon to black, and then the number "1" will appear inside the arrows, in black again. 

Here's what I think this icon does.  I believe that this icon controls playlists -- so this icon does not do much for me, since I don't use playlists.  I'd rather just organize my music files physically, in folders on an SD card or computer.  Regardless, here's what this does:

1.  Orange means that this icon is turned off -- the playlist will not loop, or play itself over and over again. 

2.  Black means that loop is turned on -- the playlist will play over and over again, continuously. 

3.  Black loop symbol with 1 digit in it: plays a single file over and over, so you hear the same song that you selected over and over. 

I experimented with this icon in the pool, without knowing the above, trying to get my folder of music to play all songs continuously.  It took quite a while to figure out what the loop icon meant.  I just selected one song in a folder, had it play -- so it was the only song in the playlist.  Selecting the black loop, with or without the number 1 in it, meant that the same song played over and over again.  See, the playlist only consisted of one song!

What do the two crossed arrows at the left mean? 

If black, the next song in the playlist will play. 
If orange, the music player stops after playing the current song. 

Again, these are playlist controls, so I am not real sure.

I discovered some more updated symbols that VLC uses, which do the same thing as the above:

This website had some explanation of what VLC does when used as an audio player:

You can create your own playlists by selecting a song to start off with and then clicking ‘append’ (found in the drop down menu) on every song you want to add. In the same way that you can change the song order of albums you are able to do the same with your custom playlists. VLC will also remember the last playlist you created, so that you don’t have to keep selecting the songs every time. It also has the same extra features that the video player offers: change the playback speed, add a sleep timer and jump to a certain time in a track.


Another phone that I use as a music player has VLC 2.0.6 on it. 

With this version of VLC, playing all songs in a folder makes more sense.  Just find the song in the folder that you want to play, and choose "Play All" by selecting the three dots to the right of the song. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Another Website Hall of Shame: Best Western's Website STINKS

Want to get irritated?  Try booking a room at the Best Western website.

You'll find a room.  Then, as a member, you will have to endure not only checking a box stating that you are not a robot, but having to choose among several images as to whether those squares are street signs.  What is a street sign anyway?  Does a sign on a street qualify?  How about a real estate sign?

OK, you can do this.  Now you notice that each time you click login -- the password that you just filled in gets replaced with the website telling you to re-enter the password.  You do this three to six times, more if you are like me.

Oh, and I did not get this in the screenshow capture, but at several points in the process, the "prove you're not a robot" captcha comes up again, demanding an intelligence test from you.  Over and over again.  Arrgh.  

You can never get in.  The website is insane.  You book a room at another hotel on a website that actually is not annoying and make you scream and destroy your computer, such as


Hey, yes, I stay in Best Westerns sometime.  They are great to stay in, when in Australia.  And in certain places on the Oregon coast, they are the only places that allow me and my dogs.

Oh, as it turns out, I was entering the wrong password.  I use 1Password to manage my passwords, so I think BW changed it.  I did call BW customer service, and they said that they have been having problems with the new site.  But of course, the agent had no idea what I was talking about, since she never used BW's website.  Why is it that us customers out here generally know more about a company's offerings and websites than the company's own representatives? 

Here's a link to the old site, where I was able to figure out how to reset my password.  I hate it when companies change their websites.  They never seem to do enough testing.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

AT&T U-Verse Modem/Router Combination -- YES You CAN Host a Web Server Behind It

In the past years, I had both Comcast cable Internet and AT&T DSL service to my home office.  Both Comcast and AT&T offered a public or externally-facing IP address.  With this IP address, my clients (almost never more than two at one time) could access web pages that I served from a Mac Mini behind a router.  I could also access and control IP security cameras, and I even served up a simple Filemaker database showing my video clips.  Comcast gave my service a pretty permanent IP address; whereas AT&T's DSL service changed my IP address pretty often, perhaps twice a week.  I used the dyndns service to let clients access my webserver where the IP address changed often -- you can read more about it at 

About nine months ago, I changed to AT&T U-Verse service.  AT&T has been trying to kill off their old DSL service over copper lines.  The nice things about the old DSL service is that you could buy a DSL modem, and then use your own router behind that modem.  The same thing applied to Comcast's cable internet service.  I highly recommend using your own router, regardless of how you get your internet.  You'll have to get a modem to decipher the internet signal from Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon -- but your router will then do the important stuff.  Having a router that you can configure easily is important. 

With U-Verse service, AT&T forced me to use their own modem/router combination.  I wasn't very happy about this, but I had no real reason to serve up my own web pages any longer.  Like most folks, I have a web hosting service that serves up my web pages.  The problem is, sometimes I'd still like to have my Filemaker database up for clients -- and having a web hosting service host my Filemaker database(s) is more complicated than doing it myself with a Mac Mini behind my own router. 

Over the past nine months, I halfheartedly researched the web and tried some testing to see how I could get my Netgear router to work behind the U-Verse router.  I could not find any answers to my questions.  I finally had time this past week to troubleshoot the situation.  Here's what I learned for sure: Yes, you CAN put a web server behind an AT&T U-Verse router and access it from outside.  Yes, the AT&T U-verse internet IP address is public, and it is forward-facing -- so someone typing in your IP address can reach your webserver. 

Here's how to do it.  I have an AT&T U-Verse modem/router, model Pace 5031NV.  I connected my normal Netgear router with an Ethernet cable to LAN port 1 on the AT&T router.  I then reached the setup page on the U-Verse router by typing 

The U-Verse router is unexplainably slow to respond, but not terrible.  I went to Settings -- Firewall --> Applications, Pinholes, and DMZ.  I saw that two devices were connected to the AT&T router, under "Select a computer."  One of these was my Netgear router.  Any router attached the U-Verse router will have a confusing name; I only recognized that my router was named as such because I had given it a username when I used it with Comcast; and the other computer attached to the U-Verse router was my Mac Mini, named as such. 

I then chose the Netgear router, and chose the button called DMZplus mode at the bottom of the screen.  This states: Allow all applications (DMZplus mode) - Set the selected computer in DMZplus mode. All inbound traffic, except traffic which has been specifically assigned to another computer using the "Allow individual applications" feature, will automatically be directed to this computer. The DMZplus-enabled computer is less secure because all unassigned firewall ports are opened for that computer. 

Basically, DMZplus mode lets all traffic flow through the U-Verse router to my Netgear router.  This is exactly what I want. 

In the Status page for the U-Verse router, I can see that my device allows all applications through my Public IP. 

That's all I needed to do! I had already set up port forwarding in my Netgear router, so that my Mac Mini served up web pages through port 80. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

New York Times Won't Allow You to Cancel Your Subscription Online, Must Wait on Hold for Over 15 Minutes

Back in November, I signed up for an 8-week digital-only trial subscription of the New York Times newspaper.  It was pretty easy to sign up for this digital-only subscription.  I was able to do it online in about one minute.

Today, I decided to cancel the subscription.  I was surprised, because I always thought that the New York Times was a publication with some class.  Nope.  The New York Times makes it extremely difficult for anyone to cancel a subscription.

When you go to the "Cancel My subscription" page at the New York Times, you will find that there's no way to cancel your subscription online, as opposed to how easy they make it to sign up.

You have to call or chat.

I tried the chat for over 26 minutes.  You can see how that went (I have kept the chat window open and the count is now 28 minutes):

 at 10:00, Jan 6:
Please wait for an agent to respond.

** Please do not share your credit card information, security code or CVV during this chat **
Thank you for contacting The New York Times. We appreciate your business and are always happy to help.
 at 10:02, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:04, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:06, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:08, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:10, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:12, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:14, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:16, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.
 at 10:18, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.

 at 10:20, Jan 6:
All agents are currently assisting others. Thanks for your patience. An operator will be with you shortly.

I finally gave up on getting this done via chat.

So I tried calling on the phone.

I was on hold on the phone for over 20 minutes.  Finally, a representative named Shayla, who spoke so quickly that I could barely understand here, came on.  She gave me some marketing pitches and asked a bunch of questions such as why I was cancelling.  I kept insisting that I just wanted to cancel my subscription, and she finally agreed, I think.  We will have to see.

Wow, really, New York Times?  The "Gray Lady" has to resort to such practices to try to keep subscribers from BEING ABLE TO CANCEL their subscriptions?

Monday, January 2, 2017

Underwater Photography: Are Glass Domes Better Than Acrylic Domes?

Underwater photographers seem to be using (and are being sold) glass domes more and more.  I've been stunned at the rising price, bulk, and weight of these glass domes.  I have shot behind acrylic domes for most of my 28-year career, and I've always preferred acrylic ports.  I've always thought that images shot using acrylic domes were just fine in terms of sharpness. 

Here are some pros and cons of glass domes versus acrylic domes:

Glass domes are heavy and expensive compared to acrylic domes. 

If a glass dome is scratched, then it's difficult, if not impossible, to get that scratch out.  Glass domes are more resistant to being scratched.  On the other hand, I've been able to polish out scratches in my acrylic domes for years.  In Bali once, I forgot my polishing kit, and I was able to polish out a huge scratch in a surf housing dome with progressively finer sands from different beaches. 

I've had glass domes over the years, and one of the earlier problems was etching of the glass.  There are ways to prevent this, but it is a hassle.  Once a glass port is etched, then there's no way to remove the etching, as far as I know.  I had this happen with a glass dome recently, even though using newer coatings on the glass has supposedly solved the problem. 

A recent glass dome port I bought came with a neoprene cover.  My glass dome got etched after two weeks of whale photography, where we were jumping in and out of the water constantly.  The boat crew put the wet neoprene cover on the dome (as they should have).  The coating on the glass dome became etched.  As it turns out, the worst thing you can do to a glass dome is put a wet neoprene cover on it for hours and hours.  With glass domes, you should rinse them with freshwater as soon as possible (hopefully immediately after coming up from a dive) and then dry them with a microfiber cloth. 

I had been told that the etching problem had been solved with new glass ports -- but this was not the case.  I therefore still don't trust glass domes.  You have to wash them with fresh water after every dive?  You should not use the neoprene cover with the domes in the field?  OK, now I know better, but they require a lot of care, are heavy, and a lot of the benefits being touted for glass domes don't hold water.  Excuse the pun.  My acrylic domes all work great, some after 20 years.  

One final reason some folks prefer glass is that there is supposedly less flare when using acrylic.  I have not been able to test this. 

Are glass domes  sharper than acrylic domes?  I decided to test this. 

For this test, I used a Zen 170mm glass dome for Nauticam mirrorless housings (zen-dp-170-n85), which retails for $999.  It weighs 2.5 lb. and the amount of glass across its face measured 7 inches. 

The Nauticam 7-14mm acrylic dome port for Nauticam mirrorless housings (36133) retails for $480.  It weighs 1.5 lb. and the amount of acrylic across its face measures 6 inches. 

To produce these comparison images, I used a single Panasonic GH-4 camera body in a Nauticam GH4 housing (a superb housing, by the way).  The housing was mounted on a tripod, and the camera was set to a 4:3 aspect ratio to use the full sensor area.  I took a series of shots with a Panasonic 7-14mm lens with a Nauticam acrylic dome port first, and then replaced the port with a Zen glass dome port.  When taking the housing off the tripod and back on again, it was jilted slightly, or not put on in exactly the same spot again... this was a mistake. 

All images in the comparisons were shot at 1/250th second, at f8, in manual mode.  I focused on my foot (about 4 feet away) before putting the housing on the tripod for each “swap”, and then changed the camera to manual focus. 

Here are the comparisons and explanation of the images in the folders:

Compare sharpness of a Panasonic 7-14mm lens behind an acrylic dome and a Zen glass dome.

Acrylic dome on the left; glass dome on the right for all images

Screenshot 1: comparison of angle of view:
The 7-14mm lens behind the acrylic dome is the photo on the left.  The same lens behind the Zen glass dome is on right. 
The image taken with the glass dome seems a bit wider.  The alignment of the images is off; I must have shifted the tripod a bit, or mounted the housing on the tripod shoe off a bit.  Forgive me.  It was cold and wintry in the pool, and I was using a tripod that was not firmly mounted.  Still, the image taken with the glass dome seems a bit wider. 

Screenshot 2:
Looking at corner sharpness: the image from the glass dome seems a bit better the corner, but it is hard to tell.  The only points of comparison are the leaves in the lower left of both images, and the leaves got shifted around.  Neither dome is that great in the corners in terms of sharpness.

Screenshots 3 and 4:
Comparison of images of Ikelite strobe about 3 feet away: Both images at various magnifications look similar in terms of sharpness. 

Screenshots 5 and 6:
Zooming into the pony bottle in the background: both images seem very similar.

Conclusion: There is not a significant difference in sharpness between acrylic and glass domes. 

The Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD 30: The Perfect Rolling Suitcase

Helicopter packed with Coleman coolers, Antarctica

I've been lugging cases of diving and underwater photography gear around the world for 30 years.  I started my career in the glory days of air travel, the 1980s, when you were allowed three bags at 70 pounds if traveling internationally (and two bags at 70 pounds when traveling within the US).  I routinely crammed my gear into three 100-quart Coleman coolers and taped them up with duct tape.  After 9/11, airline security would not allow my coolers to be taped up (my friend Bob Cranston supplied me with aluminum bars and hitch pins instead, solving the problem), the airlines began charging for bags, and I had to change my packing habits.  I got older, too, and lugging three 70-pound coolers along with a carryon and backpack up three flights of stairs was no longer something I could do (I'm talking about YOU, old San Jose Costa Rica airport!). 

Diving and Film crew Unpacking, Antarctica

Even traveling with rolling duffel bags became difficult.  Sometimes I've had to walk a good mile or two with my rolling duffel bag (I'm talking about YOU, SFO airport from the rental car lobby to the international terminal!), and the weight on my arm from the duffel bag on two wheels gets REALLY heavy. 

The new spinner cases, with four wheels, are a solution.  However, most of them are not big enough to carry all my gear. 

I've therefore become an expert on luggage with large capacities and wheels.  I am constantly researching and comparing the lightest, largest, sturdiest, and easiest-to-move wheeled bags. My garage is filled with rolling bags, duffels, backpacks, and carry-on bags from different manufacturers. I've compiled a full folder of notes and spreadsheets on various bags that contain the specifications of various bags, backpacks, and carry-on bags. 

I traveled to England and Scotland last year, to photograph basking sharks off the New Hebrides Islands.  We were based in the small town of Tobermory.  To get there involved a flight into London, a connecting flight to Glasgow, then a $500 taxi ride to Tobermory (luckily, five of us in the group shared the ride), involving a scenic 4-hour drive and a ferry to the island of Mull. 

One of the reasons I enjoyed this trip was because for the first time in years, I was able to travel with a fairly small amount of gear.  Normally, on a diving and photography trip, I travel with two large bags, a large backback, and a heavy rolling carry-on case.

I am usually packed to the gills with my diving and photographic gear, and if I get to a city like London, it is a real hassle to travel anywhere with all my bags.  I am usually traveling by myself, which makes local travel with all my gear just about impossible.  I usually fly to London or other city, connect to another flight as soon as possible, arrive at my diving destination, and that's that.  It's just too much work to stop in a connecting city and see the sites, or visit friends.  For instance, I've always wanted to explore New Zealand -- but I've been through Auckland airport perhaps a dozen times, and never have managed to spend more than a few days (in transit) in New Zealand. 

This trip was different, as were my trips later in 2016.  With the smaller cameras I've been using (Panasonic GH4 Micro 4/3rds cameras), I was able to travel with just one rolling suitcase, a backpack, and rolling carryon bag.  After our basking shark trip, I was able to travel by train from Glasgow to Birmingham to visit a friend.  It was great to be able to travel around like a normal person rather than having to lug around the usual mountain of gear.  Taking the Virgin train from Glasgow to Birmingham, in first class, was just wonderful compared to flying in cramped coach -- it cost less, was far more comfortable, and took less total time in transit. 

Having bags that I could easily wheel around train stations and cobblestoned streets was important.  I wrote Eagle Creek, which has sponsored my expeditions in the past, and they supplied me with an Eagle Creek AWD Tarmac 30 case.  I requested this rolling case after researching it.  It is a huge case and has four wheels, not two -- so I could wheel it for miles around airports and city streets with little effort.

I've been a longtime fan of Eagle Creek ORV rolling duffel bags, which are huge.  But they only have two wheels.  With my two-wheeled duffel bags, the weight of the case on my arm eventually becomes too much.  With the Tarmac AWD 30, I was able to walk long distances with no arm fatigue.

I have spent hours of time researching and calculating which rolling bags have the most capacity and weight the least.  Here are ones that I have used, which have the following weights and capacities:

Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD 30: my new choice for traveling with gear:  8848 cubic inches (expanded), 11.5 pounds (four wheels). 

Samsonite 27" spinner: 5900 cubic inches, 9.0 pounds. 

Eagle Creek ORV Super Trunk: what I've been using since the year 2000: 8200 cubic inches, 12 pounds (two wheels). 

Coleman 100-quart cooler: what I used for years of travel in the 1980s and 1990s: still made: 6076 cubic inches, 17 pounds (no wheels). 

It's surprising to me that the Eagle Creek AWD Tarmac 30 case has more capacity than my longtime Eagle Creek ORV Super Trunk rolling duffel.  The Tarmac case has a huge interior capacity -- 50% more capacity than a Samsonite 27" spinner case!  It's been a great boon to my travels since I received it, with all kinds of attention to detail, which Eagle Creek gear is known for.  Here are some of the features:

One side of the Tarmac 30 case is hard sided, which provides protection for the handle as well as the contents inside the case.  A zipper allows the case to expand (capacity is 7737 cubic inches when not expanded). 

My AWD Tarmac 30 case was blue, not black.  This made it much easier to spot when waiting for my bag after the flight -- it stands out from all the black suitcases on the baggage carousel. 

The wheels are sturdy, and has typical Eagle Creek quality so that these wheels -- and the case itself -- will last for years and years.  The case rolls easily, and it took little effort to roll it through the streets, airports, and train stations of Glasgow, with my backpack and carry-on bag attached to the top and sides. 

The Tarmac 30 case comes with a bungee strap -- called a Coatkeeper -- which allows you to carry a coat or package on top of the wheeled case.  This bummed me out -- because I had just bought a Travelon Bag Bungee that does the same thing, for $12 from Amazon. 

The upper, outside pocket on the case also contains a wide strap with buckle -- perfect for quickly attaching a rolling carryon bag, or even a huge two-wheeled duffel bag, like the ORV Super Trunk. 

Inside the case is a cargo net, and even a bottle opener.  Eagle Creek has thought of just about everything with this case -- there were handles on the top, side, and bottom -- anywhere I ever needed a handle. 

Very important -- the Tarmac 30 case comes with a lightweight, but heavy-duty handle.  I can put a backpack with a trolley sleeve, or a cooler with a sleeve, on this handle.

My only complaint -- and it is a minor one -- is that the case has two equal halves.  One half has the cargo net (detachable), so you can pack your clothes in that half.  The other half is just as deep as the top half, so the halves get heavy, and opening and closing the case gets tiresome.  I'd prefer a case where the top is just a lid that closes over a deeper bottom. 

I enthusiastically recommend the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD 30 case as the largest capacity rolling bag around, with all the features any traveler needs.  So, the problem of what to use for my check-in bags is solved.

I am still looking for the perfect backpack to use when flying.  I have a great rolling carry-on case, the Lowepro Pro Roller x200 AW.  I do wish that this terrific rolling carryon had four wheels, so it was a spinner.  I also wish that this case had an outer pocket to store a laptop that would zip up.  As it is, I often store my laptop in the outer pocket, but the laptop is in danger of falling out since the outer pocket has no zipper.

The backpack might be the most difficult item to find -- I would like a backpack that is unobtrusive yet full of small and large pockets, can hold a laptop, has a trolley sleeve, weighs little, has decent hip straps (perhaps removable), and has a huge capacity.

I've had various business-class backpacks, like Swissgear Synergy, High Sierra Rappel, and Targus XL packs.  None of these worked well.  The Synergy was too small.  The Rappel was too large.  The Targus was not well made. The ideal backpack will be light, have tons of pockets and compartments, and will have a trolley sleeve -- allowing it to fit over the handles of my Tarmac case and Lowepro Pro Roller.  I have a Toshiba backpack now, similar to a really old (now discarded, never-to-be-found again Swissgear pack) that nearly fits the bill.  It has thee compartments to fit laptops and ipods, a large front pocket with an organizer, a pocket on the front pocket for things like hand wipes, two side pockets for things like fruit or a sandwich, and water bottle pockets over those side pocket.  It has another pocket for sunglasses near the top.  It's just a bit too small, and has no hip straps. 

If I find myself having to walk two miles through the Bali airport (which I've had to do several times), for example, I want a rolling carry-on that has spinner wheels, and a backpack that fits securely and easily on this rolling case, so that I can walk the two miles without becoming overly tired or putting a lot of weight on one hand and arm.  Similarly, if I find myself traveling to the Bahamas (as I did just last week), I'd like to be able to put a full complement of photo gear (including a camera, lens, underwater housing, and large glass port) in my backpack quickly. The backpack should not be so large as to attract attention, so it needs to expand in the horizontal direction as much as it is tall. I don't think that I am asking too much. 

One trick I've had is to bring an inexpensive soft-sided cooler, which has a sleeve in the back, so it will sit on top of my rolling carryon bag unobtrusively.  I often will have fruit, sandwiches, and even camera gear in this fairly small cooler (often small but heavy gear which I've taken out of my checkin bag to avoid excess weight). 

My travel is getting easier.  After all this research, I've finally found the perfect rolling case for my diving and photography gear when traveling.  It's the Eagle Creek Tarmac AWD 30.