The Gadgets Page

November 27, 2009

The Dodge Diplomat Was A VERY Cool Car

Filed under: Cars & Transportation,Retro Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:26 am

click to see full sizeI’m trying not to be offended because Go Retro has named the Dodge Diplomat number four on its list of bad car names.

  • Go Retro!: Bad Car Names

4. Dodge Diplomat: Despite a long production run (from 1977 to 1989) I’ve never heard of anyone who owned a Diplomat, and I’m not sure that those who did really did feel all that more important. Check out the vintage ad I’ve posted above – shuttle diplomacy? A misguided advertising attempt to make a soccer mom feel like she’s royalty or something.

When my dad moved out, my mom’s friend from work, Carol, moved in. She drove a Dodge Diplomat. It didn’t look like the one in this advertisement. It looked like this, except it was white (not silver) and the cloth top was a dark blue, not brown.

Click to see full size

It breaks my heart that we don’t have a photo of that car, because we had so many good times in it. Carol and Mom took Stacey and me to Wisconsin in that car, driving across I-80 through the desolation that is Wyoming and the boredom that is Nebraska. We had a lot of good times in that car.

I never realized how cool it was until I was fourteen years old. By that time, Carol had been living with us for five years and the car was just the Diplomat. It was the family car and we took its luxuries for granted every day. That day, in ninth grade, Mom picked up a bunch of us from a school function. Crammed in the front seat, were the two cutest guys in the Quest program. While I was stuffed into the back seat with four girls, they fiddled with the radio up front. They were so impressed with the digital tuner on the radio (this was 1984, so digital tuners were VERY rare back then). After the ride, they told me how cool my mom’s car was and I beamed with pride.

Did riding in the Dodge Diplomat make me feel like royalty? That day, it sure did. Not to mention the fact that the car could hold six stranded teenagers. Sorry, Go Retro, you’re wrong. The Dodge Diplomat was a VERY cool car.

November 25, 2009

BYTE Magazine

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals,Retro Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 3:11 pm

Everything about this advertisement for BYTE Magazine reminds me of the Eighties.

Byte Magazine: click to see full size

It reads:

Expand your knowledge Subscribe to BYTE

The 1980’s are here! The decade of the personal computer has arrived, and BYTE has made it happen! BYTE – the small systems journal devoted to personal computers – has helped usher in the new era. Leading the personal computer revolution, which is already transforming home and personal life, are BYTE’s 160,000 enthusiastic readers. Their enthusiasm has made BYTE the largest computer magazine in the world!

To be knowledgeable in the 1980’s you need to know how to use personal computers. BYTE is your personal guide to the new era. BYTE tells you how to build, buy, and use computers for fun, practical purposes, and profit. With help from BYTE, you can experiment right in your own home with graphics, word processing, computer music, speech synthesizers, simulations, robotics, personal data base management, business computing – and hundreds of other fascinating hardware and software applications.

Resolve now to expand your computer knowledge. Subscribe to BYTE!

I remember when the idea of having my own computer sounded so wonderful that I felt it would never happen for me. I was so jealous of my friend, Mike Moncur, because his dad had bought an Atari 800, just like we programmed on in school.

That old computer lives on even today, stored in our basement with all of its floppy disks. The two of us are unwilling to let it go. I think it represents all that excitement and potential of the “new era” of the personal computer.

I wonder if I will feel the same about my iPhone in twenty years.

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November 23, 2009

Sears Tele-Games: Speedway IV

Filed under: Retro Gadgets,Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 3:24 pm

Before my mom bought us an Atari, my Dad was the hero. One weekend, when we were visiting, he had this game connected to the television and waiting for us.

Sears Tele-Games

He had found it at the local Deseret Industries. It was broken, but he had been able to solder it back together. Stacey and I played “tennis” all night long.

We played with that simplistic video game for months until my mom and Carol gave us the Atari for Easter. After Atari, the Sears Tele-Game was just a cheap knock-off.

I have no idea what my dad did with that video game he rescued from a thrift store and nursed back to health, but he was the hero for those few months before Atari entered out lives.

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November 20, 2009

Video Game Stickers

Filed under: Retro Gadgets,Toys and Games — Laura Moncur @ 8:49 am

Mike and I moved from a tiny house to a huge house last July. All of our things that have been in storage for the last six years have been brought out of the storage unit, dusted off and reclassified. One of those finds were these:

Video Game Stickers by LauraMoncur from Flickr

I bought these stickers from Scholastic Books when I was in grade school in the early Eighties. I cannot remember what the two missing stickers were, but they must have been the coolest of the bunch. If I find them in my old sticker books, I’ll post them here as an update.

The most laughable sticker is in the bottom right hand corner and reads, “Terminal Video Fever.” I guess they were worried that Buckner & Garcia would sue them if they printed, “PacMan Fever.” If you’re unfamiliar with the song, here it is:

Video games were so new and cool when I was a kid that it was all I thought about sometimes. I was a lot like Marshall in this episode of Square Pegs, except I played on the Atari at home instead of the arcade.

Video games are so ubiquitous now that it’s hard to imagine there was a time when they were new, but these video game stickers in my box of old stuff brought the memories back full force.

November 3, 2009

Twitter Updates for 2009-11-03

Filed under: Site News — Laura Moncur @ 4:00 pm

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Apple Magic Mouse

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals,Reviews — Matthew Strebe @ 10:00 am

Apple Magic Mouse at Amazon.comI’m quite a picky mouse user. While I bought a Mighty Mouse when they came out, it was relegated to my laptop bag as a spare. I replaced quickly with a Logitech VX Nano because to be frank, the Mighty Mouse sucked. It’s resolution and tracking was poor compared to modern laser mice. While it played nice with Macs, it simply wasn’t worth the bad tracking in my opinion, and I didn’t like the tiny roller ball. The heavy metal ballistic roller on the VX Nano was vastly superior for scrolling.

The Magic Mouse fixes all of that. It has a high-quality laser optics, high resolution, and is extremely responsive. It slides with noticeably more resistance on wood than the VX Nano, but not so much that it is problematic.

Apple Magic Mouse at Amazon.comThe entire surface of the mouse is a gesture track pad. Sliding your finger around scrolls smoothly and naturally in all directions. It’s so intuitive that you immediately get used to it, and once you start doing it, it’s difficult to go back to a regular mouse. Use two fingers to the right or left to go back or forward in your web browsing. Hold down the control key and the same up/down gestures zoom the screen in and back out.

The design is exceptionally sleek, with an aluminum base and a white polycarbonate top surface. There’s a tiny power switch and LED on the bottom to let you know when it’s off, and due to its thinness it travels very well. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a MacBook.

The VX Nano was by far the best laptop mouse I’d used, until the Magic Mouse, which I strongly recommend for all Mac users. The only problem with the mouse is the tape they use to stick it to it’s packaging, which leaves gummy residue on the bottom of the mouse when you open the package.

November 2, 2009

Powermat Wireless Charging System

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets,PDAs and Phones,Reviews — Matthew Strebe @ 9:26 am

PowermatAbout two weeks ago, I got notice that the Powermat system was available for purchase. I went to, read up on it, added one mat and two iPhone cradles to my cart, and then hovered over the buy button for about five minutes. At $180, my highly impulsive gadget-buying urge was tempered, and I didn’t buy it. A week later, Powermat sent me an evaluation kit at no charge for review.

So I plugged in the charging pad, put my iPhone in the charging case, and set it on the pad. The pad chimed its acceptance, a charge LED went on, and the iPhone indicated that it was charging. Having seen Powermat’s viral video, I said (out loud, much to the chagrin of my wife) “It’s f—ing charging!”

After using it for two days, I really like it but I’m still glad I didn’t pay for it. Despite how much I love the idea of it and the clever design, my recommendation is to wait until the price is down by half overall and until they have clip-on adapters or cases for at least three devices you own and use daily.

Clever design aesthetics permeate the entire system. The portable mat is a tri-fold device that comes with a magnetically closing case. There are buttons on the mat to control sound volume and LED brightness. The universal charger is small and comes with a magnetically coupled case that holds four of the seven tips included with it. The power adapter is designed to let you coil the extra cable around the adapter and clip it in, so your charging station looks tidy. Even the boxes that the system comes in exhibit excellent design.

PowermatThe only missed opportunities I noticed were the lack of a booster battery on the iPhone charge case, which would have sold me on the whole solution when I first looked at it, and the fact that the wireless charge receiver on the iPhone case protrudes about two millimeters from the case, which is annoying to my wife to the point that she’d prefer to use the upright iPod charger. I don’t mind it. In my opinion, the portable pad is a better value than the standard mat because it’s portable and I think it looks better.

The mat contains coils that create a magnetic field. When you place a device that has a compatible coil on it, it induces a current in the device and that current is used to charge the device. Powermat adds some clever engineering to detect when devices are present to shut down when power is not needed, thus saving that 20% of power that would be lost to inefficiency when no device is present.

Unfortunately, you can’t just throw your iPhone on the pad randomly. You have feel around for the (strong) magnetic field and wait for the charge sound or your device might not couple correctly. iPhones are finicky about charge power unfortunately, and about 1/3rd of the time my phone fails to charge even when the mat thinks it should be. Removing and replacing the phone usually fixes it. I have figured out that placing the iPhone quickly with a slight circular wave helps find the right spot to couple better than placing the device straight down on the pad, and now that I’ve gotten good at it, the phone couples about 90% of the time. That’s 10% of the time less often than dropping it on my iPhone upright dock.

But you don’t want to spend $180 on a wireless charger to wind up with a system that is slightly harder to use than dropping your iPhone in a dock. Now, for devices less finicky than the iPhone, such as the Nintendo DSi (Powermat Charging Case for the DSi) and most current Blackberry models (except the Storm) it works a lot better. Its included charger adapter for other devices is light enough that the magnetic field pulls it to the right spot and it works every time.

The Powermat comes with an array of plug-in adapters for other devices. But avoiding the use of plugs is the point of the Powermat, so without a clip-on adapter that stays with the device, there’s little reason to use the Powermat over any other universal wired adapter. If you think of the Powermat as a tidy universal adapter charging station system with the ability to become a wireless charging system for a few of your devices, you’ll be really happy with it. Its plug-in universal adapter can charge nearly all of the devices I use on a weekly basis, including my Mophie Juicepack Air and my stereo Bluetooth headset. Only my Sony cameras and camcorders are left without a solution.

The Powermat is exciting technology. When the initial adopters have paid back the company’s investors and the Powermat company is comfortable reducing the price to be competitive with wired universal chargers, and the number of natively supported devices is in the teens, it’ll be a compelling purchase. Until then, it’s an interesting vision of the future that’s still firmly in the future for most consumers.

October 30, 2009

Cell Phones For The Dead

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

Buried with his cell phoneThis article from MSN talks about the recent occurrence of people being buried with their cell phones or iPods.

The funeral directors have noticed this trend, even during the funerals:

“We had a young man die this past summer and they put his cell phone in the casket for the viewing and it rang constantly,” he says. “It was turned to silent, but you could see the phone light up so you knew people were calling. And they were leaving messages. They knew he was dead, but they were still calling.”

Here is the story of a woman who buried her husband with his cell phone and printed his number on his gravestone:

I like the idea of an iPod being buried with a loved one with photos, music and the person’s favorite videos. It’s like a time capsule for the grave robbers of the future. Just like we were able to learn about the life of King Tut from the treasures he was buried with, a full iPod of cherished songs and videos, photos and journal entries, can tell anthropologists about the life of our loved ones.

Unfortunately, I doubt the anthropologists of the future would see such a thing. Grave robbers are still alive today. The iPod would be pilfered by the funeral home staff or graveyard staff far before the historians would get a chance to look at it, and honestly, that’s a better future for an iPod. Being trapped in a coffin with the soup that our bodies eventually become is not the best environment for electronics.

October 29, 2009

Show Your Best Side, Not Your Beast Side

Filed under: Cameras — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Samsung has created this funny and enjoyable tutorial on how to take a great self-portrait.

Perfect for this holiday, try clicking on each of the portraits for a fun how-to video on showing your best side instead of your beast side.

Samsung 12MP Dig Camera 5X Opt 3 In LCD Red at Amazon.comMy biggest problem with taking photos of myself and my friends (or fellow zombies), is that I can’t see myself in the viewscreen. The cameras Samsung is promoting with these funny videos, the ST 550 and the TL 225, have viewscreens on the FRONT of the cameras in addition to the large ones on the backs. If you are constantly taking photos of yourself, then this camera might be a good option for you, but most of the time, I am willing to take the photo a few times and check it to make sure that it worked and try again.

October 28, 2009

Burroughs Class 5 Adding Machine

Filed under: Computers and Peripherals,Retro Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

I sometimes wonder what our lives would have been like if we had followed the adding machine path for computers instead of computing with tubes and microchips. I love this ad from 1948 for the Burroughs Class 5 Adding Machine.

Burroughs Adding Machine

My grandfather had an adding machine like this in the basement of his house. Stacey and I would play on it for hours pretending to be business people. We never quite learned how to use it. Here is a video showing how it works:

Whenever I start to feel like my computer is too slow or that I want something smaller or faster, all I need to do is look at these old machines and realize how very lucky I am to have a computer that is far more powerful in my pocket.

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