Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: Gadgetry
Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Review
Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: Gadgetry
by Michael R. Harvey
Just cool and interesting stuff to give or get
There is always a large selection of possible stuff to give or get during the holidays. From bath towels, to luxury SUVs. Following are a few choices that fall somewhere in between those extremes.
The folks over at Photo Control Corporation (www.bookendzdocks.com) have their fingers in several pies. The one that we are most happy with is the BookEndz line of products. For years now, these guys have been making docking stations for many of Apples laptops, from the 1997 G3 all the way to the current 12 inch aluminum PowerBook. We looked at the one they have for the Dual USB iBook. It's a small, compact, rectangular box that simply plugs into the ports on the left side of the iBook. It is available in both white and black. And, it just works. Plug the BookEndz into the 'Book before turning it on, and you are set. Plug once, instead of two, three, or twelve times. It's really, really, handy. FireWire, USB, network, and modem are all there. The RGB connector on the iBook is converted to a VGA connector to make it easier to attach an external monitor. Likewise, the A/V connector is converted to RCA jacks for audio left, right, and video. The only caveat with the iBookEndz is that it won't work with s-video on the iBook May 2002 model. The white colored iBookEndz is $159.95, and the black colored dock is $144.95. Anyone who has a PowerBook will find one of these docks incredibly useful, and would just love to get one for the holidays (hint, hint).
This application began life as a web-based tool in 1998. Since then, Plumb Design (www.visualthesaurus.com) updated it, and released it as a stand alone product earlier this year. Visual Thesaurus, as its name indicates, provides you with a graphical way to find words, their meanings, and their synonyms. It uses the WordNet database provided by the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton University (www.cogsci.princeton.edu/~wn/). It handles English language words only.
It is, if nothing else, a unique approach to looking up words. While moving over to another program in order to look up a word is less than ideal, having to move over to this program may make it not quite so hard to deal with. Can you find the synonym to that word to need to make deadline? Sure, although because of the graphical nature of the presentation, it may be more difficult than usual to find exactly what you are looking for. That doesn't necessarily seem to be the point of this program, however. I found myself just exploring related links to words that jumped out at me. It became a fun sort of game to follow along a random selection path to find out what would pop up next.
Visual Thesaurus is available directly from Plumb Designs web site for $29.95 (plus shipping and handling if you want them to send you a CD).
When the guys at Netalog, Inc. (www.everythingipod.com) came out with the Transpod, I thought it was, hands down, the best iPod accessory ever created. I still think that. This device is a combination FM transmitter, and iPod charger for use in your car. It plugs into the cigarette lighter of your vehicle, eliminating the need for any cords or wires. It can be set to any FM frequency to allow you to broadcast your tunes on your car stereo. By law, the transmitter is very low power, so you pretty much have to have the volume nearly maxed on your iPod, and radio, in order hear the music. The kit comes with the main body of the unit, a mounting bracket (if you want to screw a bracket to your dashboard), a power cord to plug the dash mount into power, the articulating arm for plugging the unit into a car power adapter, and last, an extender arm so you can place the Transpod in a usable position even when your cars power adapter is in an out of the way location. The one thing to note about the arms is that while they can be adjusted up and down, there is no left and right articulation. This proved to be somewhat distracting when trying to read the screen, and having to lean over to do so. This device is $89.99 direct.
That's not all, however. Soon after the release of the Transpod, Netalog came out with the Transpod 2. Similar to its predecessor in appearance, but designed to give you a one piece solution to hold and charge your iPod, while letting you plug the setup into either a cassette or direct audio plug. There is no FM transmitter in this model, but for what it does, you don't need one. IT comes with the same parts as the original, but also adds the cassette adapter, and direct connect cables. Obviously, a direct connection garners better sound quality than FM, so you get as good a listening experience as your car stereo system can produce. This version of the Transpod is available for $59.99.
FireWire 800 Hard Drive
The folks at WiebeTech are the answer to many technicians dreams. They have a range of products designed to make the administrators life a little easier. The MicroGB800 hard drive (www.wiebetech.com) is a truly outstanding gift choice among their offerings. This miniature portable drive has dual daisy chainable FireWire 800 interfaces, and a USB 1.1/2.0 interface. It can be either bus powered, or run off the included AC adapter. A FireWire 800-800 cable, FireWire 800-400 cable, and a USB2 cable are also included. USB operation requires the AC adapter. The drive is plug and play without drivers under OS 9, and Mac OS X (you can boot from this drive on the Mac OS), not to mention Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, and XP. A very nice carrying case is included, which gives the drive case a bit of protection from scratches. FireWire 800 operation requires a FireWire 800 host, otherwise the connection speed will revert to FireWire 400 automatically.
There are a range of options and pricing for this drive. Starting at $159.95 for an empty, install your own drive, case, up to $449.95 for an 80 GB 4200 RPM drive. There is one higher option that WiebeTech recommends for getting the most out of the FireWire 800 connection. A 60 GB, 7200 RPM drive for $529.95. Anyone who needs to move a lot of data around, and needs high speed access to it will find this stocking stuffer invaluable.
The iSleeve is Terforma's entry into the iPod accessory market. These folks have produced a carry case for both original and newest iPods that is supposed to be "a sleek, protective rubber case for business-to-sport versatility, but also unfettered access to the iPod's dial interface and display" according to the press release. And that is a fairly accurate description of the unit. The main rubber case that surrounds your iPod is fairly sturdy, as is the plastic back panel. The rubber has openings to allow you access to the ports on the iPod. The case has even been molded to allow an iTrip from Griffin Technology (www.griffintechnology.com) to plug in without removing the case, a nice touch creating a product to allow easy use of other company's stuff. Installing your iPod into the case is simple. Visual instructions are provided, as are padded strips to help get a custom fit for your particular iPod. Getting the iPod in and out is easy, but the case still holds it securely, so you don't need to worry about it falling out. The back panel has both a belt clip, and a hand strap for holding it while exercising. It is also designed so that you can store your ear buds out of the way, but easily accessible. Getting the ear buds in and out takes a bit of getting used to , but it's not impossible. Access to the dial and buttons is better than most other cases and sleeves for the iPod out there. The iSleeve comes in black and white, and has versions for both the original and new iPods (named G1 and G2 respectively). The iSleeve is available directly from Terforma for $49.99.
FriendlyNET FR1004AL Wireless Router
Okay, so the 802.11g wireless standard, nee Airport Extreme, is the coming thing. That doesn't mean, however, that the 802.11b standard is ready to be cast aside. There's a ton of plain old Airport need still out there. Over the last several months, I have looked at several different 802.11b wireless routers. The FriendlyNET FR1004AL was my overall favorite. Many of the models I checked out had something to recommend them as well as detractors, the Asante offering included. The FR1004AL came out ahead overall, with the best set of features, and the fewest issues to complain about. Physically, this router is great. The case it good, sturdy metal (not flimsy plastic, like most others). The antennae screw on securely, and are also of good quality. This router was the only one I tested that had four ports on it. Most had only two. So, for the FR1004AL, you most likely wouldn't need to put a hub in to handle multiple computers. The range on this beast is great, better than any other router I tested. I literally walked out my front door with my iBook, and down the street a full block before losing the signal. It's got really good signal strength, too. A few others had higher overall signal strength, but none had that in combination with its range. On the inside, the software is uber simple to set up. It almost does itself. And, that's about where it ends. With this router, you don't have the depth of settings you have with some of the other offerings out. That said, what you can do with it is likely more than enough for most. Everything is done via web interface. This router is definitely the perfect gift for that special someone who needed to unplug form the wall. The FR1004Al can be found at many online stores for $90 to $100.
Now this one is really cool. One thing about the Apple displays that always bugs me is their very limited adjustability. This product takes care of that problem in marvelous fashion. Innovative Office Products (www.lcdarms.com) has several different styles of lift arms for taking LCD monitors up off the desk, and they have created one specifically for Apple Cinema and Studio Displays. These ridiculously sturdy, metal arms have 360 degrees of swivel at all three joints, provide 18" of vertical movement, 27" of horizontal movement, and 200 degrees of tilt. Wire management is handled by threading cable through the arm itself, or via plastic snap on ducts, and clips. The kit has easy to follow instructions, and all the parts, and tools, necessary to put the lift arm together to get it off the table. The only alteration you need to make to the Apple display is to remove the rear support arm by taking out three screws, then pulling off the arm, and a plastic cover from the hinge. One cool thing about the kit is that parts are included to mount the arm any one of several ways. It can be either wall mounted, mount to the desk with a clamp, or anchored to the desk, if you are willing to drill a hole into it, among others. Once the device is assembled, you will need to turn a few screws to get the tension, and pneumatic cylinder adjusted for the weight of your display, but that's it. Your LCD is floating above your desk, and can be easily adjusted to any height and angle you need.
There are two version of the arm. The CinemaLift is for the 20 and 23 inch displays. The StudioLift is for the 17 inch Apple display. The cost of the CinemaLift is $369 with the StudioLift being somewhat less.
Michael R. Harvey