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Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: Toys

Volume Number: 19 (2003)
Issue Number: 11
Column Tag: Review

Gift Guide for Geeks 2003: Toys

by Jono Bacon

Cool toys for grown up, and not so grown up, geeks


When the AIBO robot dog was first released some years back, its birth was met with some cynicism regarding just how realistic a dog replacement the robot could be. Since those early days, the AIBO line of products has continued to develop and there is now a range of different models for different types of consumer. Although similar in many ways to a dog, the AIBO robot has been likened to a new life form that shares dog attributes, but benefits from being a robot (such as rotating its legs a full 360 degrees; a feat that dogs can certainly not do).

The AIBO robots comes in a variety of forms from the lower cost Macaron series with fewer sensors and capabilities to the ERS-210 series with more sensors and robotic dog styling. Additional models include the futuristic looking ERS-220, with even more features, to the brand new ERS-7, that includes a built in wireless card and improved sensors.

AIBO robots are very flexible machines and are comprised of a number of limbs and sensors that allow you to interact with them. In addition to these sensors, the AIBOs include temperature, distance and visual sensors to ensure that the robot always knows what is going on around it. The main AIBO units are very well built and are pretty sturdy, although it is not recommended to take your new cyber-pal out for a walk in a muddy field.

The range of emotions and responses from the AIBO is dependent on its brain; the Memory Stick contains the AIBO Ware software to bring your AIBO to life. This range of software includes the AIBO Life 2 product in which your AIBO starts life as a baby that cannot stand up or walk and needs constant attention, just like a real child. As you spend more time with AIBO, it will grow up and gain more skills such as standing, then walking, and then become more inquisitive about its surroundings. Included with the AIBO is a pink ball in a teenage AIBO can kick around and tap. Another AIBO Ware product is the Explorer memory stick. This product provides a fully-grown, inquisitive AIBO, with more capabilities and responses. A recent product has been the AIBO Recognition stick which will allow AIBO to recharge itself when it needs power by going over to the charging station (sold separately) and sit down to charge. When AIBO is charged, it will get up and wander around as normal. The new ERS-7 robots are taking the AIBO concept further and include extra sensors (electro-static sensors that do not require pushing in), more LEDs, pattern recognition and the ability to pick up a small bone with its mouth.

Although certainly not cheap, the AIBO line of robots is a fantastic gift for someone who loves gadgets and electronic toys, and playing with AIBO is a true joy. The only problem you face is getting too attached to your little electronic companion....

PlayStation2 Eyetoy

Within the realm of game consoles, there have been many attempts to vary how you control the on-screen action. Attempts have included light guns, infra-red sensors, steering wheels, and dance mats, among countless other gimmicks. Recently, I have tried a new contender in this area, one that not only changes the way you use your PlayStation2, but is also incredibly fun.

The Eyetoy is a small black web camera that plugs into a USB port on the front of the console. Included in the package is a game disc that has over 10 mini games where you interact with on-screen characters using yourself as the controller. The games on this disc vary greatly in what you need to do, but highlights include the soccer game in which you keep a ball in the area using your head, a boxing game in which you fight a robot and a karate game in which you fight off legions of miniature ninja's intent on kicking you in the head.

The Eyetoy is not only a fun addition to your PlayStation2, but is immensely fun to use. When I first received the unit through the post, I was expecting it not to work quite as well as I was anticipating. To my surprise, the EyeToy works very well at interpreting your image and actions within the game that you are playing. As is the case with the dance mat, the Eyetoy really comes into its own at parties and gatherings as you marvel at Uncle Bill punching at thin air. If you want to make a fool of yourself and have some great fun while doing it, the Eyetoy is highly recommended.

PlayStation2 Network Adapter

When the PlayStation2 was first released, there was much fanfare about its up and coming network gaming abilities. As is typical with commercial products, the network adapter was held back for quite some time before its eventual release. The finally released adapter is a sleek black box that slots into the back of the PlayStation2 and provides the various necessary network connections. If you are based in the USA, there are modem and Ethernet connections, and if you are based in Europe, you get just the Ethernet port.

Included with the network adapter is a start-up disc that to get you connected to the Internet and some software to access the PlayStation2 gaming portal from your console. Settings for your network access are stored on a memory card, and the start-up disc has a number of DSL/Cable providers already included, so installation is a snap.

The range of online games capable of supporting the adapter is increasing all the time, and a number of publishers have confirmed titles that will be available in time for Christmas. One of the most popular of these games has been SOCOM: Navy Seals; a first person perspective action game that includes a USB headset with which you can talk to your team members to develop attack strategies.

The network adapter is ushering in a new era of game play for PlayStation2 owners. Although the other consoles have their equivalent products, the PlayStation2 has secured a number of publishers to create online content, and it looks as if online gaming will be a pre-requisite in future game titles.

Belkin 54g Wireless Access point

Wireless networking is fast becoming a standardised and popular method for networking machines together in the home and small office. The most common method used to implement a wireless network is to buy an Access Point and plug it into your LAN. Although a simple solution, access points have been limited to the 802.11b standard which can transmit data at 11MB/s; suitable for sharing internet connections and small amounts of data, but not suitable enough for transferring large files across your network.

The Belkin 54g Access Point was one of the first products to implement the 802.11g, or Apple monikered Airport Extreme, standard. The unit actually implemented the draft standard before that standard was finalised. Despite that, it works well with products using the now finalised 802.11g standard. Additionally, an upgrade patch is available from the Belkin website. This standard increases the bandwidth of the unit to 54MB/s and still supports 802.11b devices. It is important to remember however when discussing wireless devices, that 11MB/s and 54MB/s refer to the fastest theoretical possible speed, and obstructions such as walls, ceilings and doors can all reduce the signal throughput of the access point.

The Access Point is simple to install and merely requires plugging it into the back of a hub or network card. The unit provides you with a variety of features such as WEP and WPA encryption, MAC address filtering, upgradeable firmware and a variety of other features, all controlled by a web based interface. With the unit plugged in you just need to obtain an IP address, and you can connect to the network.

For most home users, wireless technology is useful for preventing unsightly cables being dragged around the house and drilling holes in the ceiling for computers upstairs. Although not the most expansive of access points on the market, the Belkin 54g provides a simple means of getting your wireless network up and running in no time at all. If you are going to consider giving this as a present or asking your nearest and dearest to get you one, don't forget to also include a request for one of the Belkin 54g network cards (PCMCIA and PCI version available) so you can connect as fast as possible.

Jono Bacon


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