The Gadgets Page

November 16, 2007

Pocket Calculator’s Vintage Sony Walkman Museum

Filed under: Audio and Video,Retro Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I never owned a Sony Walkman. I wanted one really bad, but I was too poor to afford one. I had a Emerson tape player instead and it lasted me years before it finally started eating tapes. Looking at the photos of these old Sony Walkman’s didn’t make me feel nostalgic until I saw this one:

Sony Walkman

Those boxes were more familiar to me than anything else. I remember looking at the packaging inside the locked glass cases at K-Mart and wishing I could afford one. In junior high, the Walkman was the cool thing to have. Just like the white earbuds now, the Walkman DEFINED cool.

You can see more photos here:

Pocket Calculator makes a point:

We owe much gratitude to Sony, for they were responsible for making the personal stereo cassette player a reality.

As cool as iPod is now, Sony Walkmans were when I was a young teen. What happened, Sony? Why do you hate me now. EVERY product that you have released lately has been “meh…” Reclaim your past and reclaim your territory. Make something that doesn’t suck, please…

Via: Moustache

November 15, 2007

UPS Brown Goes Green with ZAP Trucks

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

UPS Brown Goes Green from Flickr

UPS has leased a fleet of 42 electric ZAP trucks to deliver small packages in Northern California. Instead of loading up their huge brown delivery trucks, and running them up and down every street in Petaluma, they are separating the smaller packages and using electric cars to do a lot of the zipping around town.

This appears to be a test program because the drivers are keeping close track of their electrical usage so that UPS can analyze the cost-savings and emissions reductions.

“This is the missing link for small package deliveries in congested areas,” said ZAP CEO Steve Schneider. “Packages go from the airplanes, to the tractor trailers, to the delivery vans, then to the drop-off nodes. From there the ZAP trucks make the final delivery to the consumer in a zero-emission vehicle that costs less to operate. It’s a perfect example of how green technology can help corporate America’s bottom line.”

I’m interested to see how it works out. Companies are quick to put out press releases saying that they are “Going Green,” but if the experiment doesn’t cut costs or reduce emissions, they aren’t so eager to announce when they “Go Back To Brown.”

You can see the entire Flickr set here:

UPS delivers load of packages in ZAP electric truck from Flickr

My biggest concern is boxes disappearing off the back of the truck. Since the back of the truck isn’t enclosed, they can’t lock them. How is the driver supposed to deliver a package and watch the rest of them at the same time? I’m sure they’ll work out the bugs, but I’m really eager to see a follow-up and I doubt UPS or ZAP will give me one unless it’s a raging success. Let’s all hope for a raging success, shall we?

November 14, 2007

Top Gear Reviews The Peel P50

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

The BBC’s Top Gear did a review of the incredibly tiny Peel. It was a car made in the early sixties and gave “small car” a new meaning:

This is what I thought riding in a Smart Car would be like. Fortunately, the Smart Car is MUCH taller and easier to get into.

The Peel ran on a 49cc moped engine and got 100 mpg. THAT’S fuel efficiency!

Via: Cute Overload! – The cutest car EVAR

November 12, 2007

Review: IronKey Secure Hardware-Encrypted Flash Drive

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals — Christy Strebe @ 5:00 am

IronKey Secure Hardware-Encrypted Flash Drive at Amazon.comIt’s not very often that I’m truly impressed by a gadget. But when I find something that fills a serious need in a clever and intuitive way that I’ve never seen anyone do correctly before, I’m impressed.

I’ve finally found my cross-platform secure file storage and transportation solution: The IronKey.

The Problem:

As a computer security analyst, I frequently have to store and transport files that are sensitive to say the least. I primarily use a Macintosh, so my solution in the past has been to create an encrypted disk file on the Mac and store it on a standard USB drive. You can mount my USB drive and read it anywhere, but you cannot get the data out of the encrypted file unless you know my decryption key. It’s secure, but it’s not cross platform—I can’t read those files on a Windows or Linux machine. This is a major problem for me because I work on a lot of Windows computers.

In Windows, encryption is not easy because the operating system does not come with useful file encryption software. Yes, technically there is a service called the Encrypting File System, but to make a long story full of technical minutiae short, it doesn’t really work in the real world, especially not for moving files securely from machine to machine.

So in Windows, you have to rely on 3rd party software. Which means you have to install 3rd party software. Which means you can only use your secure thumb drive on computers where your 3rd party software has been installed. Which means it’s basically useless for transporting your files unless you want to buy a copy of your encryption software for every computer you’re going to use it on ever. Not really a solution.

Furthermore, there is no encryption application that works with encrypted files the same way on Windows and Macintosh except some very primitive command line utilities that basically nobody is ever going to use because they’re horrifically inconvenient.

The Solution:

The IronKey looks like a typical USB flash drive in a shiny metal case. It’s a little heavier (because it’s waterproof and filled with a non-conductive rosin to make it impossible to open) but otherwise pretty much what you’d expect. What’s different about IronKey is that your data is written to the flash memory in encrypted form by a microprocessor onboard the device itself. There’s no software installed in your computer to make it work, and it works the same way on all platforms. Furthermore, the IronKey uses AES, a very strong form of encryption that will keep everybody including the NSA out of your data.

When you mount it, two new devices show up: What appears to be a CD-ROM drive and an empty removable media drive.

The virtual CD-ROM drive is what makes the IronKey so clever. It is used to mount a read-only software partition that contains the software you need to use to unlock the drive’s secure partition—so you don’t need to install software on your computer and the software is always available.

Using the drive is as simple as opening the CD-ROM partition, running the IronKey application, and providing your password. The encrypted partition will then mount as if it were a regular USB flash drive.

When you first use the IronKey, you have to provide a password and initialize the key during which time the encryption keys are generated. IronKey uses AES encryption. Initializing takes about 30 seconds and can only be performed in Windows at the time of this writing.

When the IronKey is locked, the drive appears as if it were ejected—the drive letter appears but the computer will tell you to insert a disk.

Also included is a secure backup utility that makes a copy of your data in encrypted form on your PC’s hard disk. The data cannot be accessed unless you restore it to an IronKey, so the backup is safe from prying eyes. The backup utility provides peace of mind that losing the key doesn’t mean losing your files.

Portable Firefox is also included, which is a version of Firefox that stores all its data on the USB flash drive, leaving no trace of your browsing on the computer that you use. It’s actually a free product from portableapps.com, but it’s a great program to include. You may want to check out www.portableapps.com for other great free software that you can use securely with this device.

Best of all, the IronKey works the same way on the Macintosh—just double click the IronKey CD-ROM drive, and run the IKControlPanel app. It takes your password and the new IK_SECURED drive shows up. Viola, cross platform. On the down side, the Mac utility cannot yet initialize the drive, change passwords, or backup the IronKey data the way the Windows software can, so if you don’t have access to a Windows computer, you will need to wait until they’ve finished porting those functions to the Mac. The device does work fine in Parallels, vmware, and Bootcamp, so if you have a windows installation on your Mac you can use it to set the device up.

IronKey does not yet support Linux or other Unix operating systems. Unix is a bit harder to support since each operating system is somewhat different, but IronKey could provide a Java applet for unlocking the key. That would be a way to support all Linux and Unix users since Java is pretty ubiquitous.

Security

IronKey encrypts data with an onboard processor implementing AES encryption with an xxx bit keylength. The crypto keys are stored on the device in a special portion of memory that cannot be read via USB—it can only be unlocked and read by the onboard processor. Unlocking the key storage is performed through a challenge/response mechanism to prevent the secret password from being transmitted via USB.

The only theoretical security flaw in the process is the possibility that a computer with a mounted IronKey could also be running a keylogger. The keylogger could potentially capture the password as the user typed in the password. A better method of sending the password to the device would be to randomly place characters on the screen and have the end-user click on the letters. This would defeat mouse and keyboard logging or playback attacks against the challenge/response algorithm. It could be provided as an alternative mechanism for times when you don’t necessarily trust the computer you’re accessing your key from.

Conclusion

I strongly recommend the IronKey for anyone who has a requirement to carry private, classified, sensitive, or secret information. While a keylogging vulnerability exists, this flaw also exists in most other security software available at the moment, and it is a flaw that could be closed in a future release. IronKey is the first cross-platform solution to secure file storage that I’ve found that is convenient enough to actually use.

November 6, 2007

The Fly-Wheel May Power Our Next Green Car

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

GyrobusDamn Interesting has an excellent article talking about the fly-wheel and how it could be used to power the next green car that comes on the market.

The fly-wheel has the potential to store far more energy than standard batteries, but it is dangerous as well.

As interesting as the article was, the comments are even more fascinating and from the people who actually worked on this project:

With an ear-piercing squeal the highly spinning metal gave off its death cry. The device literally came apart sending shrapnel in a vector perpendicular to the common axis of the flywheel. The safety shield that encased the device did not live up to its design as the debris tore through it like so much tissue paper. Unfortunately there was a fellow standing in front of it when this happened. Like a scene out of some sick horror flick, he was instantly split from crotch to forehead. Considering the amount of damage, it was amazing that we suffered only the one death.

The project was canceled shortly after that.

…as interesting as this article is, I wish that I had not read the damn thing. It brought back bad memories. Memories that are just as vivid as if it just happened. I was standing next to him, and as he fell I tried to catch him…

Let’s take a moment and thank the researchers who have given their lives trying to design more energy efficient vehicles.

November 5, 2007

Halo 3 Teaches The Logic Of Suicide Bombers

Filed under: Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 12:20 pm

Halo 3 at Amazon.comHalo 3 hasn’t been out for very long, but it seems the the ability-divide among the good players and the bad players has already been established. A player with less time on his hands than others stumbled across an amazing insight in which suicide bombing makes sense.

Reading about war isn’t the same as fighting one, even if the war is imaginary.

But the fact remains that something quite interesting happened to me because of Halo. Even though I’ve read scores of articles, white papers and books on the psychology of terrorists in recent years, and even though I have (I think) a strong intellectual grasp of the roots of suicide terrorism, something about playing the game gave me an “aha” moment that I’d never had before: an ability to feel, in whatever tiny fashion, the strategic logic and emotional calculus behind the act.

He found that when you have so little to live for compared to your enemy, suicide bombing makes sense:

The structure of Xbox Live creates a world composed of two classes — haves and have-nots. And, just as in the real world, some of the disgruntled have-nots are all too willing to toss their lives away — just for the satisfaction of momentarily halting the progress of the haves. Since the game instantly resurrects me, I have no real dread of death in Halo 3.

How do we end suicide bombings? Make the lives of the “have-nots” worth living.

Via: random($foo)

November 2, 2007

Xacti VPC-E1 Camera Test at the Craft Store

Filed under: Cameras — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I wrote about the Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1 before:

I was finally able to get one and what did I do to test it out? I took it to the craft store.

Click here to see the video

Download this video for your iPod

Everything in a fabric store is so vividly colored that it’s the perfect place to test your camera. I can’t do a better review than Ryanne did back in July. All I can do is show you how pretty the colors are.

November 1, 2007

Windows Startup Screen Montage

Filed under: Software — Laura Moncur @ 5:00 am

I love this video of a montage of all the Windows startup screens.

Just seeing those old screens made me feel all the excitement I felt when I was just starting out with computers. Those blue screens and that font reminded me of all the possibilities that computers represented to me. Then hearing the old sounds, especially from Windows 3.1, spurred my nostalgia. I remembered walking into Egghead Software over on State Street by the Shopko. Mike and I used to go there several times a week just to look around.

Now, we hit the Apple store several times a week, but it all feels the same, yet different.

I wonder if I’ll ever feel nostalgic about the Vista noise.

Via: Windows Startup Screens | Joseph Scott’s Blog

October 31, 2007

Wil Wheaton Takes His Wife On A Geek Date

Filed under: Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 8:16 am

Ah… Geeks in love. It makes my heart go pitter-patter.

Wil Wheaton took his wife to an arcade for beer and video games. It had been years since he had gone to an arcade. So long that he had a new video game enemy to contend with:

My most recent game, however, was a disaster for me. I didn’t even break 3000 points, while Anne cleared the first three boards on her first man, on her way to a 17000 point score. It turns out that Guinness, while certainly delicious and filled with the cure for what ails you, slows down your reaction time.

Yes, if you have ever needed to know whether or not you’re too drunk to drive, just try to play your favorite video game. If you can get the kind of score you usually get, then you’re probably safe to drive. Dollars to donuts, however, you’ll probably tank before you get past the first level.

I’ve forgotten how fun it is to just go to an arcade and play video games. I’ve been playing games at home for so long that I’m actually kind of wary of going back to the arcade where strangers can watch me play.

October 30, 2007

Gonna Buy Mii a Wii

Filed under: Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 8:07 pm

If you can get past the slightly off-key singing, this is pretty funny!

I haven’t had a really good game for the Wii since Rayman. I’m waiting for Animal Crossing for the Wii. It’s about time for a new one.

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