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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.

  1. The first, and sure to be popular, is the Lego product [1]. 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.

    [1] http://www.legomindstorms.com/

  2. 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 [2] 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.

    [2] http://www.qualcomm.com/cdma/phones/portables/theq/theq.html

  3. Qualcomm has also introduced the new pdQ phone [3], 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.

    [3] http://www.qualcomm.com/pdQ/

  4. 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 [4].

    [4] http://www.olympusamerica.com/cgi-bin/section.cgi?name=cameras-digital

  5. 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.

  6. For the hard-core netizen with multiple computers at home, consider hefting an APC Smart UPS [5] 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.

    [5] http://www.apcc.com/

  7. 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 [6]. 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.

    [6] http://www.empeg.com/

  8. Finally, pointers to some set-top boxes that are not yet available for purchase -- Real Soon Now. Both [7] and [8] 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.

    [7] http://www.tivo.com/
    [8] http://www.replaytv.com/

[ TBTF for 12/7/98 ]


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