The Gadgets Page

December 17, 2008

Park A Dream On Your Bedroom Wall

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

I found this advertisement from General Motors in Seventeen Magazine back in 1984.

Click to see full size

The ad reads:

The Future of Transportation is Here

Park A Dream On Your Bedroom Wall

This concept car was designed and built for the future by General Motors. You can’t see it on the highways yet (the actual concept car can be seen at EPCOT CENTER), but you can see it every single day in your own room. For this full color poster…

Why they advertised so regularly in a teen girls fashion magazine, I’ll never know. The irony of the whole thing is their catch phrase if it were only finished correctly:

Park a dream on your bedroom wall, because you’ll never be able to park it in your future.

I’m still waiting for this car, GM. Maybe THAT’S why you guys need a government bailout…

December 16, 2008

Atari Computer Camps

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals,Retro Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Atari Computer Camps by LauraMoncur from FlickrDid you know that Atari Computer Camps existed?! I had no idea and I was EXACTLY the kind of kid that would have LOVED Atari Summer Camp.

Last month, I was doing some research at the library for Starling Fitness by looking through old Seventeen magazines from the Eighties. I happened to find these two advertisements for Atari Computer Camps and even now I wonder how I didn’t hear anything about this. I READ those magazines back when I was a teenager. You’d think I would have noticed these ads a little more than the “It Feels Good To Be Thin” ad that I remembered even after twenty years.

I first learned how to program in BASIC on an Atari 800 at Kennedy Junior High. I would have LOVED to go to Atari Computer Camp. Look at that photo! I would have thought it a dream come true to go to a COED camp with BOYS.

Atari Computer Camps by LauraMoncur from FlickrThis advertisement makes a big deal about that “feature” of the camps. It reads:

Why do girls like Atari Computer Camps?

Maybe girls like Atari Computer Camps because of our full program of sports and recreational activities. Maybe it’s our professional and dedicated staff. Most probably it’s because they have the unique opportunity to get computer skills that will serve them the rest of their lives.

And of course, it could just be that Atari girls happen to like Atari boys.

It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

I found this article wrote in 1983 about the Atari Camps:

The schedule looked like this:

9:00-10:25 a.m. Computer Instruction
10:30-11:10 Drama
11:15-12:00 Tennis
12:00- 1:55 Lunch – Rest Hour
2:00- 2:55 Computer Workshop
3:00- 3:35 Free Swim
4:00- 5:25 Softball

They even had famous visitors:

Once a week on banquet night a special guest speaker, usually a computer game designer/programmer, appears to talk about his work. The week before our visit, Chris Crawford, author of Atari’s Eastern Front, talked about his programming experience and his new games, soon to be released, called Gossip and Excalibur. The day we visited the camp, Vince Wu, designer of the famous Donkey Kong arcade game, was scheduled to speak.

I would have loved to go to a camp like this! I wonder how my life would be different if I had.

December 15, 2008

Bluetooth Who?

Filed under: PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

Nokia Music Headset HS-43 at Amazon.comMs. Jen over at Black Phoebe has a fantastic review comparing her bluetooth headset to her new Nokia H-43 Headset:

Here are her reasons for loving the Nokia wired headset far more than her bluetooth:

  1. Wires. Good old fashioned copper covered in plastic & cloth makes for a better sonic / audio experience.
  2. Stereo. Hey, novelty! I can hear sound, be it music or spoken voice, in both ears!
  3. No need to remember charge the wired headset.
  4. Friends and family can hear me speak during a phone call much clearer with the wired headset, even when I am walking along the beach in a stiff breeze. Hello, Seal Way, the killer of all phone calls, you don’t kill my calls now.
  5. Oooh, baby baby… the best feature of the HS-43 wired stereo headset is the one that seems most bizarre when you first pull it out. It does not look or act like your usual wired headset, as the back/top is not a headband but a 1/4 inch wide black fabric that is about 6 inches long that have two lanyard style clamp/unclamp at each end. Thus, when the danged thing gets all tangled up into a wad of wired hell, you just pull the two clamps apart and YAY the tangles are gone. If you by accident attempt to pull it out of your purse too fast or out from under the dog and you think, “Oh Crap! I have just broke the headset!”, oh no you have not, the clamps release and you can pull it out nicely and reclamp it.

V-Moda Vibe Duo Earbuds / Headset (iPhone Compatible) at Amazon.comI feel EXACTLY the same way about my V-Moda Vibe Duo Headset for the iPhone. When I’m having trouble hearing, they are BETTER than just talking on the phone because I hear the other person in both ears and the earbuds block out some of the ambient noise. They can hide in a tiny case in my purse forever until I need them and I never have to worry about charging them.

In fact, I’ve never owned a bluetooth headset BECAUSE of the charging issue. When I was a real estate agent and I was on the phone enough to warrant a bluetooth headset, the battery would have conked out halfway through the day. After I stopped being on the phone enough to use a headset, I stopped REALLY needing one. When I’m driving, I prefer to not talk on the phone at all and letting the call go to voice mail. I use my V-Moda headset to listen to music far more often than talking on the phone. In fact, I use it for phone calls when I’m in a noisy environment and I can’t hear the other person on the line. Those earbuds are amazing for blocking out noise.

In the end, bluetooth headsets seem like a transitional technology to me. For now, I agree with Ms. Jen. I’d MUCH rather be wired.

December 12, 2008

Binder Clip iPhone Stand

Filed under: PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

There are a couple of iPhone apps that looked really cool for when we travel, but I never downloaded them. Even though they were free, I couldn’t see us using them, so I didn’t download them.

Then I saw this iPhone binder clip stand and I immediately downloaded both of the apps.

Binder Clip iPhone Stand by LauraMoncur from Flickr

It only took me two minutes to follow richsipe’s instructions and I had my own iPhone stand. I actually made two and packed one in my travel bag because it’s so small and compact. Now I can keep my iPhone by my bed, charging, playing music while I fall asleep and telling me the time.

This is how it looks with the Night Stand app from SpoonJuice, which is free on iTunes.

iTunes Link to Night Stand

Binder Clip iPhone Stand by LauraMoncur from Flickr

This is how it looks with The Time app from OctoDax, which is also free on iTunes.

iTunes Link to The Time

Binder Clip iPhone Stand by LauraMoncur from Flickr

Personally, I like The Time better because the numbers are crisper and the display shows the day and date, but both are excellent for turning your $300 iPhone into a $10 alarm clock.

Via: Daily Tech: Wired Celebrates 40 Years of Mighty Mice | Daily Tech, mouse | geeksugar – Technology, Gadgets, & How Tos.

December 11, 2008

National Geographic Sling Bag

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

I know this bag is meant to hold cameras when you’re out on a safari or something, but I’m pretty stoked about this National Geographic Sling Bag. It is the perfect shape to wear over your shoulder or around your body.

National Geographic Sling Bag by LauraMoncur from Flickr

There were pockets for things like cameras, keys, money, etc.

National Geographic Sling Bag by LauraMoncur from Flickr

There is a pocket on the strap that is large enough to hold an iPhone with room to spare. It’s easy to take it in and out.

National Geographic Sling Bag by LauraMoncur from Flickr

Most importantly, it doesn’t look girly. Try as they might, a lot of camera bags look like glorified purses to me. I don’t even like my purses to look very girly, so this bag is PERFECT.

National Geographic Sling Bag by LauraMoncur from Flickr

Plus, I like the National Geographic logo. It makes me think that I might be going on a safari at any time. For a lightweight bag to use on a daily basis, the National Geographic Sling Bag is perfect.

December 10, 2008

Isis Dei Protective Covers for the MacBook

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals — Laura Moncur @ 2:15 pm

We saw Isis Dei at CES last year. Here’s a photo of their booth.

Isis Dei at CES 2008 by LauraMoncur from Flickr

I recognized them because I already owned an Isis Dei protective cover for my MacBook. It has been a handy savior whenever the clumsiness in me spills water on my laptop. They are called Jimmies and I can’t imagine owning a laptop without one.

Isis Dei Protective Covers for the MacBook by LauraMoncur from Flickr

They also make cool laptop sleeves for MacBooks as well:

The Retro 13

This one is my favorite. It’s called The Retro. Of course, there are a bunch more to choose from.

Mostly, I like Isis Dei because they have saved my butt. On two occasions, I have spilled drinks on my laptop and the protective cover gave me enough time to get it sopped up before it destroyed my computer. They aren’t perfect, but they are just enough of a barrier to prevent a tragedy.

December 9, 2008

Telescopic Lens For Your iPhone

Filed under: Cameras,PDAs and Phones — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

SNY iPhone 3G Camera Telescope Lens with Crystal Clear Case at Amazon.comThere’s no arguing that the iPhone camera lens is wimpy. The camera itself has more pixels than my first digital camera, but the lens is smaller than a dime. This iPhone case from SNY, however has a detachable telescopic lens.

I tested something like this at CES last year, but their design glued a magnetic circle to the iPhone instead of incorporating the lens holder into a case. Here are some other photos:

SNY iPhone 3G Camera Telescope Lens with Crystal Clear Case at

SNY iPhone 3G Camera Telescope Lens with Crystal Clear Case at

If you have been wishing that you could get 6X zoom with your little iPhone camera, this is a pretty lightweight accessory to add.

December 8, 2008

Microsoft Softwear Clothing Line

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I’ve worked almost exclusively on a Mac for years, but I still consider myself bilingual. I own a PC that I use monthly for very specific tasks. That’s why the Microsoft Softwear Clothing Line appeals to me. As much as I am a Mac, I’m a PC as well.

Here is a video describing the t-shirt collection.

My favorite is The Albuquerque:

Microsoft Softwear: The Albuquerque

You can see the rest after the break: (Continue Reading…)

December 4, 2008

Review: SanDisk Cruzer Enterprise

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals — Matthew Strebe @ 5:50 pm

Cruzer Enterprize 2GB at Amazon.comThe SanDisk Cruzer Enterprise is a new entry in the “Secure Flash Drive” market currently dominated by IronKey. Like IronKey, SanDisk Cruzer Enterprise provides on-board data encryption to ensure that nothing you store on the device will be compromised if you lose it. For individual users, this is all the security you’ll probably ever need.

Secure Flash Drives work by emulating two devices: A CD-ROM and a flash drive. The CD-ROM contains software that allows you to provide a secret key to decrypt the flash drive contents, and this allows the flash drive to appear as a removable device.

SanDisk Cruzer adds Enterprise management features that allow network administrators manage passwords for these USB drives centrally and remotely disable them in case they’re lost. IronKey on the other hand simply bricks the device if you mistake the password more than ten times. Both are effective at preventing data loss.

SanDisk markets this as an “Enterprise” product, meaning that they specifically target large businesses. Enterprises have two masters to serve: The individual user, and the security policy of the corporation. These devices serve the individual well, but they don’t measure up to Enterprise security requirements.

SanDisk Cruzer Enterprise flash drives cost about the same as IronKey devices, and provide a similar technical feature set. Unfortunately, SanDisk Cruzer Enterprise flash drives are not Macintosh or Linux compatible (the IronKey is Mac compatible) and unlike the IronKey, the SanDisk is made of plastic and can be easily disassembled. Performance is lack-luster with the SanDisk, reading at 11MB/sec and writing at 6. IronKey devices are substantially faster.

Cruzer Enterprize 2GB at Amazon.comAs for security flaws, there are two possible attacks that these devices are susceptible to: Firstly, if the device remains powered after being unlocked, it will continue to provide access to data even if it is removed to another running operating system. In practice, this is so difficult to achieve that the attack is esoteric, but you can confirm it by unlocking the device in a virtual machine and then disconnecting the device from the VM. The device will mount on the host with its encrypted drive available (even on a Mac or Linux).

The second possible flaw is that because the key exchange is provided via the computer’s keyboard, a hardware or software keylogger can intercept it. The ideal solution would be to have a biometric fingerprint reader on the USB device so that the key needn’t travel through the computer. This would also make the device universally compatible.

There are three major enterprise security problems with USB drives, and these devices only solve one of them. The three problems are:

  • Accidental loss of data due to loss or theft of device.
  • Intentional copying of data by employees or others with direct access to computers.
  • Introduction of malware via documents or applications stored on the flash drive.

The first problem is eliminated by secure flash drives, but the second and third problems are both more likely to occur. The Department of Defense recently outlawed all USB flash drives due to a worm outbreak that was carried into the network on a secure flash drive—the worm came from a home computer and was encrypted just like everything else on the drive. The drive did its job—but it was the wrong job.

Both IronKey and SanDisk tout enterprise management features as though they completely eliminate all security problems, but nothing about these devices prevents documents that an employee can access from being removed from the facility without permission, nor do they provide any substantial facility to mitigate malware that might be contained on the device. Finally, they don’t prevent the employee from simply using a different non-secure flash device to circumvent the security measures that these devices do have.

Both SanDisk and IronKey are guilty of whitewashing enterprise security issues that their devices don’t solve. These devices provide “opt-in” security—users who allow themselves to be restricted by their features can be managed, but anyone can “opt-out” by simply using a different device.

The only way to securely manage removable media is for the computer to reject any media that has not been securely paired to the network, which is functionality that no device by itself can ever provide.

For individuals looking to protect secrets, these devices are fine, but the IronKey devices are better than the SanDisk devices in every respect. There is no flash drive that is ready for Enterprise data security in my opinion, so the additional network management features provided by the SanDisk Cruzer are basically meaningless—and could be considered harmful if IT has been convinced that they are secure in all respects or has overlooked the fundamental problems associated with all removable media.

If you’re looking for real enterprise data security, don’t allow removable media drives on your network at all.

December 1, 2008

Review: Yamaha P-85 Digital Piano

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals,Misc. Gadgets — Michael Moncur @ 5:00 am

Yamaha P85 Digital Piano at Amazon.comA piano is a bulky, wooden beast that will go out of tune if you look at it funny. Fortunately, those of us who are interested in playing piano today have a number of electronic alternatives that can sound convincingly like a piano while being portable, inexpensive, and staying in perfect tune.

Digital pianos range from cheap consumer models (about $300) to studio-quality equipment (thousands). The Yamaha P-85, at about $600, is a good compromise: the keyboard feels like a real piano, the sounds are good, and it supports pedals and other features professionals will find useful.

First Impressions

The Yamaha P-85 comes in a box that seems quite heavy, unless you compare it to a real piano. Inside you’ll find the P-85 and its AC adapter. Yamaha was also thoughtful enough to include two accessories they could have charged extra for: a plastic music stand that mounts to the top of the keyboard and a plug-in sustain pedal.

The keyboard itself isn’t as heavy as the box would suggest—it’s about 26 pounds and can easily be moved by one person. It has the standard piano allotment of 88 keys. The P-85 has a black case, while the otherwise identical P-85S has a silver case. A subtle red highlight between the keyboard and the case adds a bit of style.

Unlike a real upright piano, you’ll need a stand to support the P-85. Yamaha offers an optional wooden stand, or you can use a convenient desk or table. Keyboard stands are also available at your local music store, but be aware that the bottom of the P-85 is not entirely flat—I had to use a bit of padding to make it sit securely on my keyboard stand.


Unlike many computerized gadgets that require booting, configuring, or such nonsense, the P-85 gets right down to business. Turn it on using the button conveniently located on the front panel and, after about a 1-second delay, it’s ready to make noise. Speakers are built in, and the volume control is also conveniently up front.

The nice thing about a digital piano is that it doesn’t have to sound like a piano. The P-85 offers a choice of 10 sounds, all with their own buttons on the panel:

  • Grand Piano 1—A nice-sounding grand piano, sampled from a real Yamaha grand. The default sound.
  • Grand Piano 2—An alternative piano sound. This one sounds a bit brighter and sharper, and I think I like it better than #1.
  • E. Piano 1—An electric piano. I believe this one is based on a Fender Rhodes, but it mostly sounds like a toy.
  • E. Piano 2—Another electric piano with a much better sound. This one sounds right out of a Supertramp or Stevie Wonder song.
  • C. Organ 1—I believe the “C” here stands for “Cheesy”. This organ would feel right at home under the Big Top. I like it, but it’s hard to take seriously.
  • C. Organ 2—This “C”, on the other hand, definitely stands for “Church”. This is a very nice sound that makes you want to learn to play Bach fugues and laugh like the Phantom of the Opera.
  • Strings—An electronic string-like sound. Musicians call this a “pad” sound, and it’s a pretty good one.
  • Harpsichord 1—A harpsichord. I usually like harpsichord sounds, but this one has kind of a toy sound.
  • Harpsichord 2—A slightly better harpsichord with a brighter sound.
  • Vibraphone—A very nice Xylophone-like bell sound.

While I bought this for the great piano sounds, it’s nice to have a few alternatives. I’m especially pleased with the E. Piano 2 and C. Organ 2 sounds. However, if I could have had more piano sounds (like a good upright piano or a honky-tonk piano) I would have gladly given up some of the novelty sounds like Strings and Vibraphone.

Other Features

Along with the basics, the P-85 has a few other features you might find useful. I especially like the built-in metronome, which plays through the built-in speakers. It has its own start/stop button and buttons to change the tempo.

Record and Play buttons allow you to record yourself playing and play it back. You’re limited to one recording at a time, but this would be very handy for piano students wanting to evaluate themselves. I also found it fun to record the left-hand part to a song and then play along with my right hand.

The Dual Voice feature allows you to play two of the P-85’s sounds at the same time. Hold down one of the sound buttons and press another to access this feature. I found that the combination of the two piano sounds makes a good third piano sound, and I especially like the combination of the two electric pianos. Combining piano with strings gives you a subtle ambience when you hold down chords.

Be sure to keep the user’s manual that comes with the P-85. There are some more advanced features, such as setting the amount of reverb on the sounds, setting the metronome to a precise tempo, or fine-tuning the unit, that are accessed through bizarre combinations of keyboard keys and front panel keys, and you’ll never figure them out without the instructions.


The P-85 has a weighted keyboard, meaning it takes some effort to press down the keys, just like a real piano. It even is slightly harder to press the keys at the bottom of the keyboard than those at the top, which I never knew was a feature of real pianos.

The P-85 feels just like a piano to me, although I’m no expert. It’s very easy to press the keys lightly to get quiet sounds or pound on them to get louder ones, and the sounds respond the way they should—quiet sounds are clear and subtle while really pressing on the keys gives a slightly distorted sound.

The built-in speakers are great for practicing piano, but they’re not perfect. If you’re an audiophile you’ll probably want to hook them to a sound system. Unfortunately, there is no 1/4″ output as is standard with studio equipment, so you’ll have to use an adapter to plug a headphone output into your system.

Optional Accessories

Yamaha offers an optional wooden stand that makes the P-85 more like a real piano. There is also a 3-pedal unit that attaches to the stand and gives you the same three pedals as a real grand piano. I haven’t tried either of these accessories, although I might end up ordering the stand.


Yamaha offers several other models of digital piano. If you want something cheaper and lightweight, the new NP-30 might be a good choice. I liked the way its keyboard feels, the sounds are good, and it weighs about a third as much as the P-85. However, it doesn’t have a full 88-key keyboard.

Other manufacturers offer pianos ranging from $300 to several thousand. I recommend you visit a local music store to try them because the feel and sound of these units is highly subjective.


I’ve owned several music keyboards, most claiming to make piano noises, and the P-85 sounds much more like a piano than any of them. It has a keyboard that feels just like the real thing, and the front-panel buttons and built-in speakers make it very easy to use. I’m very happy with my P-85 and would recommend it to just about anyone.

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