Toys for geeks
from TBTF for 12/7/98
December 6, 1998
Dan O'Neill <dano at cadence dot com> sent me this holiday shopping
guide for the geek on your list. He promises to pass along more
cool electronic toys as he encounters them, so set up a
Javelink watch on this page.
The following material is Copyright © 1998 by Dan O'Neill,
<dano at cadence dot com>.
Since it's that time of year, let's talk about gifts for the geeks
in our lives.
The first, and sure to be popular, is the Lego product
. It's pricey but very cool.
From what I know about this, Mindstorms is
the result of a collaboration between Lego and some brilliant people
at MIT. My collegue in Chelmsford, MA, purchased a set a few months
ago and is having a blast. This product sells for about $240 and is
in short supply.
Next is the new Analog and Digital Q-phone from Qualcomm Inc. This
phone is the size of a 60's Star Trek communicator. Just flip it
open to talk, close it to hang up. The picture
is for the older Q-phone -- the new one has an
internal antenna. This phone sells for about $300 with service
activation, $700 without new service.
Qualcomm has also introduced the new pdQ phone
, the first
integration of the wildly popular Palm Pilot with a cellular phone.
It's a bit on the large side, but this is the phone for you if you
already own both and want to consolidate. The pdQ will list for $800.
Digital cameras are dropping in price and blossoming with features
(Eastman's Law?). Olympus is making a fine, low-priced,
point-and-shoot model with lots of nifty features. The D340L model has a
1.3-megapixel CCD (that's a lot of pixels) and is priced around $410 at
various mail-order / online stores. Here's the starting point for
exploring the complete line of Olympus cameras
Recordable CD drives are hitting their stride in terms of price and
performance. If you haven't tried a CD-R drive, get one. You'll
never use your Zip or other magnetic external media drives again.
Yamaha is making a 4x4x16 SCSI drive that sells for about $350 at
your local computer store. A TDK 650MB / 74 minute write-once disk
is about a $1 in quantities of 20 from CostCo. Re-writeable media is
running about $12. What can you do with a CD-R drive? Create your
own party CDs of your favorite songs. Backup 650 MB of data onto an
archive format in about 15 minutes. If you write the wrong song or
backup the wrong data, so what? It's only a $1.00! One of the
greatest things you can do is write in ISO9660 + WinNT/95 extensions
and create a CD that can be read on any OS platform. Just about
every computer, Unix, Mac, or Windows, has a CD-ROM drive these days.
For the hard-core netizen with multiple computers at home, consider
hefting an APC Smart UPS
under the tree (the small ones weigh 30-40 lbs). These uninterruptible
power supply systems can be connected, via a serial
cable, to one or more computers. Each computer runs a program
that monitors the information on this connection and performs an
orderly shutdown in the event of an extended power outage.
I'd been reading a bit about MPEG-3 technology over the past several
months (a bit late, I've found) and ran across this guy who wanted
to listen to MP3-encoded music in his car. So in true hacker
fashion, he built himself a small portable computer running Linux
that could hold hours and hours of digitally recorded music. The
next step in his master plan: build and sell a commmercial version
Shipping in December is a car MPEG-3 player with a 2.1-GB
internal drive capable of storing about 35 hours of music. This
thing is awesome! The price is projected at $949.
Finally, pointers to some set-top boxes
that are not yet available for purchase -- Real Soon Now. Both
aim to replace the VCR with an episode-recording system that is
user-friendly, net-connected, relatively intelligent, and 100%
digital. The idea is that you can program this system to record
Frazier by simply entering something a simple as "Record Frazier
every week." The system will figure out, from a database acquired
from the Net, the time, channel and do all the necessary programming
to record the program for you. Since it's entirely digital, you
could set it to record the NPR News Hour every night, arrive home 15
minutes into the news, and simply start playing what was recorded 15
minutes ago. The system will continue to record the program in the
background. Thus truly "time shifting" the program. Costs are
estimated at $800 to $1000.
[ TBTF for 12/7/98 ]
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