The gadget page describes the origins of this hobby and there are some stories in the gadgets category of the blog about gadgets. This page is an archive of things posted between roughly 1997 and 2002. I removed the links because many of them are no longer valid. Just use your favorite search engine if you want to find information about anything on the page.
The Garmin Street Pilot had been a great GPS device but I decided to experiment with the Magellan products. The SporTrak Color had excellent tracking and accuracy, showing your position to within 3 meters, even in difficult environments such as cities or mountains. It had a 10 MB North American mapping database built in. The main attraction to me was the high contrast, full color 240 x 160 pixel display. An additional 22 MB of memory enables an expansion of mapping capabilities by uploading detailed maps from an optional Magellan MapSend® CD. The SporTrak Color also has a built-in barometer and a 3-axis compass. It also was waterproof and rugged.The SporTrak could store up to 20 routes, 500 waypoints and 2,000 track-points. At a mere 6.8 oz. the SporTrak Color was compact and lightweight enough to slip into your pocket. It also fit nicely on motorcycle handlebars with the bracket which was available. The best part was the battery life. The StreetPilot used six AA batteries and lasted about an hour or two at the most. The SporTrak used just two AA batteries and lasted up to 14 hours of continuous use. This was a very good device for hiking.
On an August 2002 trip to Alaska I acquired one of the Ulu Factory’s Legendary Knife of the Arctic. The ULU knife (pronounced ooloo) was the most renowned knife in Alaska. Native people of northern Alaska invented this knife centuries ago. It was used for hunting, fishing, skinning, filleting and every other imaginable domestic cutting need by the Inuit (Eskimo) people.
Christmas 2001 brought me a new favorite gadget, the SiPix Pocket Printer A6. The printer was only 4″ x 6″ by 1″ including the roll of paper inside. It was compact and lightweight and ran on four AAA batteries. It used Infrared for communication (also had a USB connection) and could print easily from my Kyocera SmartPhone or my ThinkPad.
It wasn’t that long ago I said PDAs and Cell phones would not converge in a very practical way for a long time. Kyocera proved me wrong. The SmartPhone 6035 was a really nice device. It was a bit big for a cell phone and a bit small for a Palm Pilot but given it included both was a reasonable compromise. They did a really good job of integration. You can look up a name on the “Palm”, touch it, and the phone dials the number. Really well done. It also had a speaker phone built in. I really liked it.
I loved to wear the Oakley Shoetwo? Maybe a stretch to put shoes in the gadgets section but they were different. I wore them to work and often wore them when riding motorcycles. I like really liked the design, raised outsole which attached directly to the shoe upper. This protected the midsole with a vulcanized membrane while expanding surface area for traction. Moisture transport and shock absorption maintain comfort. The vulcanized outsole was rendered directly from 3D digital master. The company had introduced the Shoe2.1 which I added to my wish list.
Normally I wouldn’t think of a hat as a gadget but the Nike Cool crown definitely qualified in my book. I had been looking for the ultimate running hat for years. I had finally found it. This Nike cap had a built in cooling system. The Dri-FIT terry sweatband absorbed moisture, then the hydrophillic material pulled the moisture onto the entire cap and bill surface. As the air passed in and around the cap, moisture evaporated and the sweat-band felt dry.
The Nikon Super Coolscan® 2000 featured great color accuracy and could even remove surface imperfections from your scans. I used it to scan 35mm slides with the goal of eventually creating a digital library of family history going back to the late 1940’s when my father first started taking 35mm pictures. The average scan takes 20 seconds at 2700 dpi optical resolution and there was an Auto slide feeder allowing unattended batch scanning of up to 50 slides at a time. I wrote a Reflection about the old media wearing out you may want to read.
The Garmin GPS 40 Global Positioning System receiver was one of the first gadgets in this section. It was a great sidekick for me on my travels for years. Most of the entries in the “Where I have been lately” section were captured with the GPS40. An IBMer in our microelectronics division was very much into GPS and when he showed me his new GPS III the urge began. I looked all over the Web to find the best deal and had a few false starts. Then I ran into the nice folks at Safe Trac. They rushed me the new receiver and it caught up to me at the Portland Regency Hotel in Portland, Maine where I was just starting a short vacation . The next several days of traveling around Maine gave me the opportunity to learn all the features and functions of the GPS III. It was an amazing little device. The difference in speed vs. the GPS40 was impressive. The display and user customization were more than I expected.
The Garmin GPS 40 was a great device. The GPS III was even better. Unfortunately, during an April 1999 train ride from Brussels to Luxembourg my GPS III was stolen. That is the bad news. The good news is that I replaced it with a GPS III Plus . I mounted it on the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. My latest was the Garmin Color Street Pilot. What a dream. It worked great on the other motorcycle but also easily transfered to my car.
One day I stopped into the local Mobil Gas station where I live and saw they had something new called Speedpass . It worked like E-ZPass and other transponder based toll systems. I immediately knew it was something I must have. I took the literature home which contained a form to mail or an 800# to call but I thought instead I would give mobil.com a try. Sure enough I found a path to Speedpass. A very simple SSL enabled secure form was waiting for me and less than ten days later I had the transponders in hand. I installed one immediately and went to the gas station. Just as advertised I was able to just pull up to the pump and watch the Red Flying Horse light up. I got out of the car, took the pump nozzle in hand, filled up and off I drove. No credit card, no fuss. Very cool! Even the Public Sector is getting cool. With EZPass I could drive all around the New York area and soon an even much broader area with no fuss with tolls. I had one on each car and ordered another for my motorcycle. I heard it would work from within my motorcycle jacket pocket!
Many people said the Screwpull Lever Model by Le Creuset was the Best Corkscrew on the Market. I can’t say for sure but I was very impressed. I was pleasantly surprised when some dear friends presented me with this fine instrument as a Christmas gift. The Screwpull featured a clamp-style hand grip to hold any bottle steady. You simply swung the lever handle to insert the Teflon coated spiral into the cork, lift the lever to extract the cork, and pump up and down again to extract the cork out of the machine. The Screwpull immediately struck me as quite high-tech and appeared to be made from the highest quality materials. The body is Zytel which was the same material found in the Stealth Aircraft. It features over 30 individual parts and it comes with a spare Teflon spiral and also a matching foil cutter. The best part was some fine print I found in the literature which came with the Screwpull. It said “After between 400/600 bottles, the Teflon coating on the screw/spiral may gradually wear off – and you will notice that the Lever Model is a little stiffer to operate. In this case, please replace the screwpull with the spare provided, following the instructions”. Sounded like it would last a while!
One of my most used gadgets was the Kodak Digital Science DC210 Zoom Camera. I have to say this was quite an extraordinary camera. I have used the DC-50 for several years but the DC-210 enabled me to capture even better digital pictures with ease. It had a 2X zoom lens to get close to the action but the most amazing part was the megapixel technology which provided pictures with vivid colors and dazzling detail. The camera came with Picture Easy Software for downloading, manipulating and sharing images. I believe the DC210 was one of the first point-and-shoot cameras with a true megapixel CCD, meaning it captured one million (1152 864) pixels per image. Perhaps the neatest feature of all was the color LCD Display on the back of the camera. It lets you review and preview your pictures and also set preferences. It seemed to use a lot of battery power but was well worth it. The DC210 came with a 4 MB Picture Card, allowing you to store up to 59 pictures, depending on the format you choose. All image processing was done within the camera, so you could see your picture on-screen immediately and begin working with it in less than ten seconds so there was no need to transfer pictures using an intermediary software application like the DC-50. You could actually drag and drop images from your camera right into your software application. The camera could also talk directly to your IrDA-enabled ThinkPad via infrared technology. I heard it was slow but had not tried it yet. The DC210 came with video out capability so you could view your digital pictures on TV with ease through a standard PAL/NTSC interface cable. The built-in flash unit automatically fired whenever it was needed, and had a red-eye reduction option and a focus-free lens. It may have been 1% of the capability of today’s iPhone.
The REX PC Companion by Franklin was definitely my smallest gadget to date. It had a very good on the fly compression technology which enabled it to store a lot of information. I found it a good companion to my IBM WorkPad . The REX was read only so I just kept it in my pocket for quick reference to names, numbers, calendar, etc. I hoped it would soon have sync capability with Lotus Organizer 97 GS which is what I used for all my personal productivity data.
Probably my second smallest gadget was the ICD-50 Voice File IC Recorder by Sony. This incredibly dense set of silicon goodies allowed for the recording of up to 99 messages in each of two files. It weighed just 1.8 ounces. No moving parts. It could store 8 minutes in SP mode or 16 minutes in LP mode. The quality in LP mode was crystal clear. Great for dictating idle thoughts and ideas just as you would with a pen and pad but even when you did not have a pen and pad. I experimentedwith it for quite a while. I had often thought it would be neat to have something like this while running or exercising. I often got ideas and had no place to jot them down. I can’t say all my gadgets are instantly productive but I found them all exciting, at least for a while. I got the ICD-50 at a bargain price from J&R Music World which is where I bought many of my electronic things.
A gadget I found hard to be without was the WorkPad by IBM. I have to admit it was a pretty powerful mobile productivity tool. Sleek at just 4.7″ tall, 3.2″ wide and weighing only 6-ounces the WorkPad PC companion gave me instant access and update capability for my address book, calendar, call list and to do list. Data backup and synchronization was pretty simple. You just slipped the WorkPad PC companion into its synchronization cradle, pushed the HotSync button, and data was quickly exchanged with my PC.
A gadget great to go running with was the Shockwave SL-SW202 Portable CD Player by Panasonic. The neat thing about the shockwave technology was it could deliver outstanding audio quality in the toughest outdoor conditions. You literally could shake it and not notice a skip. It was also water resistant for running in the rain thanks to a rubber seal along the edges of the lid. Panasonic’s Anti-Shock Memory worked by spinning the CD at a higher speed than normal, enabling it to store extra sound data in memory. When a bang or vibration caused a tracking error, the system played back up to 3 seconds of music from memory until correct tracking resumed. This means the stream of data you heard was not interrupted, so you got high-quality sound with virtually no skipping. A Dual Lock System kept the lid firmly closed even under the toughest conditions.
A gadget I enjoyed every weekend was the freeSound RS6 Wireless Headphone System by Sennheiser. These headphones were great for walking around the house or working at my computer while listening to great classical music. The transmitter and receiver operated at your choice of either 925.4, 926.15, or 926.5 MHz. In Germany, where the headphone system was manufactured, the frequencies are 433.4, 434.13, and 434.50 MHz. So much for global standards! The specs say the range was approximately 300 feet. I wore them outside and walked to the end of my 375 foot driveway and they were still playing with perfect fidelity! Modulation was FM stereo and Signal-to-noise ratio was 73dB. The headphone battery was rechargeable right from the transmitter base. The headphones had automatic on/off. They weighed just 160 grams (just under 6 ounces by my calculations). Sennheiser claimed to have an RS8 model which additionally had noise cancellation with a SNR of 110dB. Unfortunately, they were not available anywhere I could find. I was very pleased with the RS6.
A gadget I wore every day was the Data Link Model 150 Watch by Timex. It had a memory capacity of up to 150 entries which could include phone numbers, calendar reminders, etc. I used it to store my frequent flyer numbers. It displayed a 31-character scrolling. To get the data into the watch you just held your hand near the display of your PC and a photo eye read bar codes from the screen. It could also download the latest time, alarms, chime tones, etc. I got the latest time on the PC to be accurate by using the Atomic Clock . In spite of all this function the Data Link watch claimed a three year battery life!
An addition to my gadget collection was the Motorola TalkAbout Two-way Radio . I got two of them (the cobalt blue model) on the fourth of July. They used the new Family Radio Service (FRS) designated frequencies. This was a new license-free, short range, two-way radio service which was established specifically for family and individual recreational use. The range was supposed to be “up to two miles”. So far the best I have achieved is about one mile. I was anxious to try them out on the Lake during my summer vacation and see if I could get more range across the water. The TalkAbout had 14 channels between 462.5675 and 467.7125 MHz. There are 38 “Interference Eliminator Codes” available for each channel. The codes range from 67 to 250 Hz. The channels are 250 Hz apart and the 38 codes divide that space roughly equally in 3-4 Hz chunks. The net of all this was you really got 532 channels (14 x 38). I guess they described it as channels and codes just to make it simpler to use. You just selected one of the 14 channels and then chose a code. I used mine on channel 4, code 18. Reminded me of CB radio which I used back in the 70’s .
I don’t know how I ever got along without the DeLorme Earthmate . It connected to my ThinkPad 600 and allowed me to see exactly where I was when driving. The only problem was to be very careful and not be watching the ThinkPad instead of the road!
Garmin GPS 40 Global Positioning System receiver. It was a small hand held receiver and I carried it in my briefcase wherever I went. When I got somewhere I had not been before I took the latitude/longitude from the GPS40 and put them in my Web site on my ThinkPad. You can see this in the “Where I have been lately” section of my Web site. The other thing I did with the GPS co-ordinates was to send e-mail to my staff and friends and include a link to a Map of exactly where I was. Essential or even needed a little: no. Fun to do and talk about: yes. I guess you could say this about all my gadgets
One of my newest technology acquisitions (gadgets) was the Polar Accurex Plus Heart Rate Monitor . I had some commentary on it in the Races section of my Web site. It is linked from Running, which is one of my other hobbies. I uploaded the heart rate information from the Polar Accurex and then I could display various graphs and comparative information.
There are so many other gadgets I enjoyed so much, StarTAC, Pilot, CDPD modem, Connectix camera, DC-50 Camera, Lifeform software (I think of it as Quicken for the body), Atomic Clock (dials Government time server and adjusts your PC clock), and of course Kona (Lotus components), Domino , some experimental software from IBM Research which made my right mouse button a scroll bar for Web pages, and the list goes on but I guess my all time favorite, most used gadget was my electric lighted peppermill. I happen to like pepper on food so it had a practical application but I think what I liked most about it was every time I used it, it made my wife or kids or guests laugh and made me laugh. I always say, “I don’t know why everybody doesn’t have one of these”.
Footnote as of Christmas 1997: I never thought my lighted peppermill could be replaced but my family surprised me that year with “The Pepper Ball“.