The Gadgets Page

December 21, 2005

Other Uses For My Stovetop Grill

Filed under: Kitchen Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

View grill details at AmazonWe bought The Lodge Pro Grill over a year ago. It’s a cast iron grill that fits nicely over two burners on your stove. More importantly, it stores in the same space as a cookie sheet. The smooth side is great for making pancakes and eggs. If you flip it over, there is a ridge grill side that is great for grilling meat. Just like to George Foreman grill, the fat drips down and stays away from the meat.

Who knew it would be good to cool cookies?This holiday, we found a new use for it. Since we keep it on our stove at all times, we noticed that it would be ideal for cooling cookies. We’ve never had a cooling rack for cookies and we have always thought that we really “should” have a cooling rack instead of putting the cookies on paper towels on the countertop. The ridged edge of the grill works perfectly with cookies and they cooled nicely. I love it when I find a new use for a gadget I already own!

Additionally, Mike and I take this grill with us when we go camping. It fits right over the two propane burners of our camping stove and is a huge space for cooking those early morning pancakes when you can still see your breath in the air. The surface heats pretty evenly. It’s warmer where the burners (either electric or propane) are touching it, but the difference between the warm areas and cooler areas aren’t enough to cause any problems cooking. We’ve never tried using it over an open fire, so I can’t recommend using it for that.

This has been a great grill and I’m so glad that we have found yet another use for it.

December 20, 2005

Nike Sport Headphones

Filed under: Audio and Video — Laura Moncur @ 5:16 am

View headphone details at AmazonI was really excited about these Nike Sport Audio Headphones when I bought them. I have been running and riding my bike for a long time and my sweat can eat through that soft spongy stuff, leaving it in disgusting tatters. I love the behind the neck form factor and have trashed two sets of Sony headphones with my acidic sweat. I thought these Nike headphones would be great because they don’t come with any of that spongy stuff. I was looking forward to many workouts with those headphones.

Unfortunately, headphones are a product that can only be tested after you buy them. Most of the time, they come blister-packed, so you can’t try them out at the store. Other times, you might be able to try them at the store, but the true test is after an hour of sweaty running. The only way to really test headphones is to shell out the money for them. Don’t bother with these ones.

They felt alright when I first put them on, but after five minutes, they were pinching the tops of my ears. They are on a pivot, so I thought they would move out, but they bounce back, squeezing my ears in the process. By the end of my first workout, these headphones were relegated to the “Rejects” box. They sounded great, but they hurt me. I’m not subjecting myself to pain just for good sound.

Mike took them out of the “Rejects” box and tried them for his workouts:

Mike Moncur’s Additional Review: These headphones sound great with particularly good bass. After an hour or so of wear, they started to hurt my ears and they never really felt comfortable.

December 19, 2005

Bicycle Powered Generator

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Since I’ve been riding my bike regularly on an indoor bicycle trainer, I have thought a lot about bicycle energy. If my trainer had a generator attached to the back instead of a resistance module, I could be charging an automobile battery or maybe even powering my television. It feels like a bunch of wasted motion.

Mike and I have talked about it a lot and he is the electrical expert of the house. He says that the energy I generate on a workout isn’t enough to power a 15 watt light bulb for an hour. I would do better for the environment if I just unscrewed one bulb in the living room chandelier.

I found this website that took a bicycle trainer and attached a generator to it, measuring the output while his friend rode the bike:

Based on his findings, Mike is right. The best I could hope for is to keep a car battery charged. If I could run my computer off a car battery, then I might be able to be a little bit more self sufficient. Trying to do anything else would be difficult. When he tried to test the power with a circular saw, the tool ground to a halt when they tried to cut through a 2X4. I could do better with a hand saw.

This website has detailed instructions on how to build a bicycle generator out of an old exercise bike, including part numbers and places to order things like the generator:

I know that I could generate enough electricity to charge a car battery every day. I’m attracted to the idea of self-sufficiency, but I’m not about to hack my brand new bike trainer just to try it out. For now, I think I’ll just ride away and enjoy myself.

December 16, 2005

What Heart Rate Monitor Would I Buy?

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Timex Ironman Triathlon Digital Heart Rate Monitor # T5C351I had a reader on Starling Fitness ask me what kind of heart rate monitor I would buy if I needed to buy one right now. Here’s my best answer:

I have come to depend on my heart rate monitor as much as my treadmill. I need it to tell me when I’m working too hard, since I tend to over-do exercising. Since I love the one that I have right now so much, I would probably buy the same thing all over again.

December 15, 2005

Emjoi Optima Epilator

Filed under: Health and Beauty Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

View product details at AmazonI got the Emjoi Optima Epilator about a year and a half ago and I have been happy with how it works. An epilator is a machine that pulls out hair from the root.

The first epilator that I ever used, The Epilady, was something my mom purchased when I was in high school. It had a large coil at the top of the machine that rotated and pulled out the hairs. It was painful to use at first. I remember after the first time I used it, my legs swelled and were a blotchy red. That’s how it was the first few times I used the Epilady, but my skin got used to having its hairs ripped out and I never have that swelling anymore, even if I shave instead of epilate for a couple of months.

The Emjoi Optima Epilator is much better than the Epilady that I had as a teen. Instead of a coil, it has 36 tiny tweezers that are highly effective at pulling out the hair. I can do my legs in half the time with this epilator. Of course, that means that it’s pulling out twice as many hairs at a time as other epilators, so if you’re new at this, it WILL be painful the first couple of times you use it.

It will be worth it, though. When you epilate (instead of shaving) the hair that grows back is fine and much softer than the hairs you pulled out. You only need to use the epilator once a week or so instead of shaving every day. It takes time for your body to grow back hair from scratch, which gives you more days of hair-free legs.

Depending on your tolerance for physical pain, the Optima can be used on the underarms and bikini area. Try it slowly at first, only doing a small patch at a time until you can handle epilating the entire area. Once you do it a few times, the pain is far less intense.

I’ve enjoyed the Optima and I’m glad that I bought it instead of some of the other epilators out there. It has the most tweezers of any of the other brands, so it only takes a few minutes to do my legs. Considering that I’ve had it for a year and a half with no problems, I think I made a good choice.

December 14, 2005

StepMania: Like DDR, but FREE

Filed under: Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 5:13 am

StepMania Dance Simulation

I love DDR. It has been a fun game for me to play for a long time. For a while, Xbox only had one DDR game available and it was too hard for me to play as a beginner. There was only one or two songs that I could play and not get kicked out. DDR Ultramix 1 was the most frustrating experience for me.

StepMania is a dance simulation game that is open source and works on Window, Mac and Linux. I downloaded it when my frustration level became too high with DDR-UM1. I bought a USB-to-PlayStation 2 adapter from Red Octane that worked really well. I was finally able to play without getting kicked out of the songs.

It took some work to get StepMania working on my PC. Mike found an article on DDR-UK that really helped us get it working:

My only problem was that I didn’t want to download songs that officially belonged to Konami. I didn’t want to feel like a criminal and original songs were hard to find. Now, however, there are tons of original songs available for download on StepMania’s offical website:

Not only that, there is software available that will take any song and add step patterns to it so you can play with it on StepMania:

I haven’t tried any of these new original songs and I haven’t played with Dancing Monkeys, but it looks like StepMania is a lot more workable on a PC than it was a couple of years ago when I downloaded version 1.0. Right now, I’m happy with DDR-UM2 and UM3, so I don’t really need to search the Internet for more songs, but I’m glad to know that there is a ton of stuff out there that is legal.

If you have been wanting to try out dancing simulation games, but you don’t have a gaming console, this is probably the best thing that you can try inexpensively to see if you would like it.

December 13, 2005

10 Gadget Gifts under $100

Filed under: Kitchen Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Michael Moncur @ 5:00 am

Looking for a holiday gift for someone who enjoys gadgets? Here are ten devices that would make great gifts, all under $100. While most of these aren’t groundbreaking new inventions, it’s amazing what you can get for $100 these days. Many of these items would have cost quite a bit more last December.

Some of these are things we’ve bought in the last year and will be reviewing in detail here soon. Others just looked like a great deal. Got any better ideas for gifts, or comments about any of these? Let us know by leaving a comment.

(Continue Reading…)

December 12, 2005

Why Isn’t Singstar Available in the U.S.?

Filed under: Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 2:18 pm

I hate it when I read a review of something that is available in tons of countries, but not the United States. This game, which seems like it would be similar to the Karaoke Revolution games that I love so much, is available in tons of other countries in Europe.

I thought America was a huge market for video games. Why haven’t they made at least one of these for us? Is it the licensing issues? Do I have the RIAA to blame for denying me really fun games to play?

If you have a PlayStation 2 that works with other regions, then you could order the game from Amazon UK, but I don’t have that option.

I think I’m going to run into these problems more and more the longer I hang on to my old Xbox. I sure hope Playstation 3 is backwards compatible. At least my current dance pads would work with them. All I can hope is that I don’t feel more and more left out until we are able to see what the future will look like.

Via: the play girlz gaming blog » Random Gaming Stuff

December 11, 2005

Getting the most from your LCD monitor

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals — Michael Moncur @ 1:16 am

I’ve been using an LCD monitor for several years and I’ll never go back to a CRT—while the colors aren’t as clear, at least on my ancient LCD, it’s tiny, looks cool, and most importantly I haven’t had a problem with eyestrain since switching. Since LCD monitors have crossed a price threshold and are now becoming more common than CRTs, here are three tips that might be helpful to flat panel display owners.


Unlike CRTs, LCD monitors really only work at a single resolution setting, called the native resolution. There are an exact number of pixels on an LCD, so a higher resolution is impossible. Most models will let you switch to a lower resolution, but they only approximate it by combining native-resolution pixels, which results in a blocky, hard-to-read display.

The native resolution is usually 1024 x 768 for 15″ monitors, or 1280 x 1024 for 17″ monitors. See your monitor’s specifications to make sure, or check your computer’s resolution settings—if your monitor has the correct drivers, the largest resolution you can choose will be the native resolution.

If you find your monitor’s display looks odd, make sure that your computer is set to its native resolution. This does not happen automatically, and I’ve even seen big-name computers with bundled LCDs that arrive set to a lower resolution than the native one.

Font Smoothing (ClearType)

ClearType up close One problem with LCD screens is that the characters seem pixelated—as far as I’m aware, that’s just because the pixels are perfect squares with no overlap, but it still doesn’t look as good as a nice CRT. Microsoft’s ClearType, available since Windows XP, solves this problem by using subpixel rendering: to make a long story short, it takes advantage of the offset between the red, green, and blue portions of each pixel on the screen to get higher-resolution text. There’s an occasional color artifact, but the clear text is worth it.

You can turn on ClearType from the Display Control Panel (select the Appearance tab, then click Effects), but for the best performance you should use the ClearType tuner. It’s available as a web tool or as a control panel applet.

MacOS X also supports a similar feature called Font Smoothing. To change its settings, run the System Preferences utility and select the Appearance icon. Near the bottom of the dialog is a font smoothing style drop-down where you can choose Standard, Light, Medium, or Strong. Apple recomments Medium for LCD displays, but you might want to experiment with the others and see what looks best.

Incidentally, if your eyes have trouble reading text at your monitor’s native resolution, sometimes switching to a lower resolution and turning on font smoothing doesn’t look too bad.

Calibrating LCD Monitors

test image There are two types of LCD monitors, analog and digital.

Which type do you have? If your monitor is hooked up to the PC with a normal 15-pin monitor cord, it’s analog. If it’s hooked up with a DVI connector, it’s digital. Some of the newer ones support both, but you need a DVI cable and a card that supports it to use digital mode.

Analog LCDs work surprisingly well—I’ve used one for years–but they seem to need calibration every now and then. Most have an “Adjust” or “Auto” button that automatically calibrates the display. Mine drifts out of calibration every week or two, and sometimes I don’t notice until I get a headache from reading text.

I created the image above and put it in my browser’s homepage to remind me to calibrate my monitor. It’s composed of alternating black and white pixels. When the monitor is out of alignment, the image comes to life like TV static for some reason. If you have an analog LCD, try pressing your Calibrate button to see what I mean, and feel free to copy the image if it’s helpful.

December 9, 2005

The Bell Spinfit Calorie Speedometer

Filed under: Cars & Transportation — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

View speedometer details at AmazonI purchased the Bell Spinfit Calorie Speedometer for my bike at the beginning of spring this year. The biggest risk with a bicycle speedometer is that when you store your bike away for the winter, you’ll forget how to reset the speedometer and get it in some stupid mode where you have to remember the magic number for your size tire. Worst of all, by the time next spring rolls around, you know I’ve lost the instruction booklet. How does this speedometer rate now that I’ve lost the booklet?

Fortunately this speedometer is easy enough to use that I don’t really need to hunt down the instruction manual each time I try to use it. The top button changes the display from Calories Burned to Speed (MPH). If you hold down the button while on Calories Burned, it will clear that screen so you can reset it for each workout. The bottom button switches between Time, Trip Time (Chronograph), Trip Distance, Odometer, Average Speed and Max Speed. The Chronograph will stop counting when the wheels stop spinning, which is very convenient if you’re timing how long you’ve been working out. You can reset the Chronograph and the Trip Distance by holding down the bottom button while you’re in Trip Distance mode.

I have lost my instructions, so I don’t know how to reset it for my weight or what the magic numbers are for my tire size, so when I have to change the battery, I’m out of luck. I wish the manufacturers of these speedometers would just let us input 27 inches for the size of our tire. It would take a little more programming, but it would greatly increase the ease of use. It would also be helpful if Bell would have PDF files of their instruction manuals online so that when someone does lose their manual, they’re not lost.

The instructions state that the sensor should be mounted on the front tire, and that’s the easiest way to install it. If you’re going to use this speedometer with a bike on an indoor trainer, then you should mount it on the back tire. If you missed it, here are the instructions on how to do that.

I have really liked this speedometer because it’s easier to use than others I’ve had in the past. It’s very easy to reset the Trip Distance and I really like that the Chronograph stops counting when the wheels stop turning. It’s a great buy and I have really enjoyed using it.

Update 06-23-06: I’ve received so many comments about the instruction manual that I scanned mine in. You can find it here:

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