The Gadgets Page

January 9, 2012

CES 2012: Powertech Ultra Slim USB Charger

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 6:15 pm

Last night at CES Unveiled, my favorite new gadget was the Powertech Ultra Slim USB Charger. The foldaway plug shrinks in size to create a flat charger that easily stores in your laptop bag. It wasn’t connected to power, so I couldn’t check to make sure the USB ports were strong enough to power an iPad, but they will definitely work on your iPhone, Kindle or other USB charging device. In addition to the two USB ports, there were two electrical plugs as well.

You can see a video of it here:

I have been using Powertech’s EZ GO Travel Outlet for the last few months and it has been a very reliable charger. The USB ports aren’t able to power my iPad, so I have to plug in the charger to one of the outlets, but other than that, it has been wonderful. I love that the cord is long enough to reach behind the nightstand in the hotel. That is one thing I DON’T like about this new Ultra Slim Charger. Without a cord, it makes me leave my iPhone, iPad and other things that need charging near the outlet. Sometimes nothing can beat a good old extension cord.

August 22, 2011

Are Solar Trees In Our Future?

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

An ancient force has been harnessing the power of the sun for longer than we have existed. It’s called photo-synthesis and trees have been doing it efficiently for eons. Why did we never consider branching our solar panels out the way a tree does? It took a thirteen-year old child, Aidan Dwyer, to notice this and he has been given a patent on the design, although, nature kind of has first dibs.

After studying how trees branch in a very specific way, Aidan Dwyer created a solar cell tree that produces 20-50% more power than a uniform array of photovoltaic panels. His impressive results show that using a specific formula for distributing solar cells can drastically improve energy generation. The study earned Aidan a provisional U.S patent – it’s a rare find in the field of technology and a fantastic example of how biomimicry can drastically improve design.

It makes sense that a tree design would be able to capture more sun than a flat surface would be. With solar panel “leaves” facing all different directions, they are more likely to be facing the sun at different times of the day. Now, if only we could allow the solar “leaves” to rustle in the wind, they would be even MORE efficient.

I’m very excited to see where this technology leads in the future!

August 17, 2011

Deluxe Doggie Stairs: Not Just For Doggies

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Deluxe Doggie Stairs at Amazon.comI always thought little stairs like the Deluxe Doggie Stairs were for spoiled and pampered dogs who had been bred too small for life in a normal household, but after using these stairs for the last few months, my entire outlook has changed. Back in March, Mike and I learned that our beloved cat, Maggie, is dying of kidney failure. We have tried to make her life more comfortable and have done our best to keep her healthy despite this death sentence. We have a set of these stairs next to our bed, so she can climb up, even in her weakened state.

It has been a godsend to us because she is slowly dying, but she still loves to cuddle at night, kneading on my shoulders and back with loud purrs. As long as she is able to do that, Mike and I are going to keep dosing her with medicine and fluids to keep her alive.

Maggie has given us such joy that now that it finally has come to the end of her life, we feel that we should do everything that we can do to make her comfortable. She is nearing the end and soon we will have to make a decision, but until then, these stairs have made the difference between a nightly snuggle and a kitty hiding under the bed.

Maggie may not be able to cuddle me like this for very much longer, but as long as she can get up the doggie stairs, I will do my best to keep her alive.

June 23, 2011

Sunbeam Shavemaster

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 2:24 pm

I found this old booklet for the Sunbeam Shavemaster from 1947 and I thought I would share it. Click on it to see full-size.

It looks like Sunbeam doesn’t make shavers anymore. I always find it fascinating when companies stop making products after DECADES in the industry. The Shavemaster was introduced in 1936 and Sunbeam continued making shavers until the 1970’s. After forty years of making a product, they stopped.

Here is an old ad from the 1970’s for the Shavemaster:

December 6, 2010

Review: InCase Convertible Magazine Jacket for iPad

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,Misc. Gadgets — Michael Moncur @ 4:32 am

InCase Magazine Jacket

I’ve gone through about five different cases in less than a year of owning an iPad. Apple’s case is thin and lightweight, but has ugly seams and sharp edges. Most of the others are so thick they double the iPad’s thickness. This new entry from inCase is my favorite so far.

The Convertable Magazine Jacket is loosely based on InCase’s leather Book Jacket for iPad, one of the cases I ruled out because it adds far too much weight and thickness to the iPad. By contrast, the Magazine Jacket is thin—it’s the only case I’ve reviewed that can be considered as thin and lightweight as Apple’s case.

InCase Magazine Jacket

The Magazine Jacket functions as a cover for the iPad, complete with a Moleskine-like fabric band to keep the cover closed. It easily snaps onto the iPad, and the plastic corner mounts offer some protection if the iPad is dropped. It’s very slim, with two plastic protrusions on the back (which facilitate use as a stand) the only thing making it significantly thicker than an un-jacketed iPad.

InCase advertises “One working position and two viewing positions” when using the Magazine Jacket as a stand. I had trouble figuring out what these positions were at first, and the drawings on the package left both Laura and I scratching our heads. After half an hour of experimentation, we figured it out.

The “working” position, shown at the top of this article, works well for typing. The cover folds into a triangle and supports the iPad at a low angle, slightly lower than that of the Apple case. It works great for typing on a table but isn’t completely stable when used on my lap.

InCase Magazine Jacket

The first “viewing” position, shown at right, uses the same triangular fold, which nestles under one of the case’s protrusions for a very stable TV-like viewing angle, slightly leaning from the vertical. This configuration can also be used in portrait mode, which positions the iPad vertically.

InCase Magazine Jacket

The second “viewing” position, shown at left, was hard to figure out—in fact, I just tried it again for this picture and it took a moment to find the position again. The cover folds into an L-shape and rests on the second protrusion on the back. This is a shallower angle that works well on my desk. It’s probably the least stable position, but still works for light typing.

The great thing about this case, once you figure it out, is the ease of switching positions. I previously used a Macally Microfiber Case which was so difficult to put into position as a stand that I almost never did. With the Magazine Jacket I can switch it from stand to cover and back very quickly, and as a cover it’s sleek and comfortable to use.

This case is hard to find right now at most stores, but it’s available in the Apple Store for $49.95.

September 17, 2010

Inside The Redbox

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

A special thank you to Thom Allen, who allowed me to post this photo he took of the inside of a Red Box Machine. If you have ever wondered how that cool gadget works, here is a peek.

Click to see full-size

I’m impressed with how Red Box has taken the polar opposite business model of Netflix. Instead of offering you EVERY movie with a delay in the mail, Red Box gives you the most popular twenty movies at every convenience store in the city. Both methods of business are profitable and it’s surprising to me to know that there is room in the market for both.

Photo via: Inside The Redbox | Official Website of Thom Allen

August 31, 2010

Pooch Power Shovel

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 10:00 am

Pooch Power Shovel at Amazon.comCan we just have a shout out for Inventive Ingenuity?! Take, for instance, the Pooch Power Shovel. No matter the size or texture (ewhh!) of the waste, the Pooch Power Shovel can suck up your pet’s mess without letting it touch you or the machine. You load it with a small bag, wrap the bag around the nozzle and the machine does the rest. It’s cordless, rechargeable and (according to the video) does the job pretty well.

It all looks awesome until you realize that it costs a hundred bucks.

Rake Set by Four Paws at Amazon.comI’ve been using the small version of this rake and pan scooper set for the last eight years. I never have to touch the waste because I dump it in a small garbage can lined with a grocery bag. It’s not as high tech as the Pooch Power Shovel, but it cost me less than a third of what the Pooch Power Shovel costs.

Inventive Ingenuity is a wonderful thing, but only when there is a NEED. Necessity is the mother of invention has long ago been abandoned. The Pooch Power Shovel may be a cool way to remove pet waste, but it is a far cry from the simplicity of a rake and shovel.

Via: Electric Pooper Scooper: The Pooch Power Shovel |

August 25, 2010

When Cats Dream of Laser Pointers

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 11:51 am

Anyone who has ever had a cat and a laser pointer in the same room has noticed how much cats love to chase that elusive red dot. But, what do they wish for if they actually were able to CATCH it? The ever-brilliant comic, XKCD, has brought that desire to life:

Click to see full-sized comic

American Science & Surplus Red Laser Pointer With Case and Batteries at Amazon.comIf you have never played with a cat and a laser pointer, now is the time to try it out. Here are a couple of good and inexpensive ones:

July 15, 2010

When To Go To LED Lighting

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Matthew Strebe @ 7:16 am

EvoLux S 13 Watt LED Medium Base Long Light Bulb, Warm White at Amazon.comLED replacement bulbs are the most efficient bulbs on the market. A 13 Watt LED light bulb generates as much light as a 100-Watt conventional bulb. I’ve been testing various LED replacement bulbs and really like the EvoLux 13 Watt Warm White lights from They replace any medium sized light bulb and come in both short (for recessed lighting) and long (for lamps) lengths.

LED replacement bulbs are expensive, retailing for about $60 compared to the $2 cost of a typical light bulb. But LED bulbs last 50 times as long as conventional bulbs, and they use 1/8th the power. These two factors can lower the lifetime cost of an LED bulb dramatically.

Whether or not LED bulbs make sense for you depends on where you live. In San Diego, where I live, I pay 28¢/KWh for the majority of my power. This means that a typical light bulb costs me $30 per year to operate, whereas an LED bulb costs just $4. I’ll also have to replace that incandescent bulb each year based on normal lifetimes, so in ten years I’ll have paid $320 to operate a normal bulb, but just $100 to operate an LED bulb. That’s less than 1/3rd the price overall. Over the 50 year lifetime of the LED bulb, it’s 1/5th the price.

However, if you pay 10¢/KWh for power, you’ll never actually recoup the cost of an LED light bulb at $60.

For me, it’s already time to make the switch to LEDs. Your rule of thumb is simple: When LED bulbs cost twice in dollars what you pay for a KW of electricity in cents, it’s time to make the switch. For example, if you pay 15¢ for electricity, LED bulbs make sense at $30 retail.

The current generation of LED lights are not dimmable, and their light is quite directional, so they are best used in recessed ceiling lights rather than in lamps. Also, most LED bulbs cast a cold white glow that people often find to be harsh, so if you like the warm yellow glow of incandescent, make sure you order warm white bulbs with a color temperature below 3500K. Finally, you’ll have to remember to take your LED light bulbs with you when you move, or you’ll lose their cost effectiveness.

In the end, LED lighting has a initial investment that may seem daunting, but can be well worth the investment, depending on your electricity bills. With a little research, you may find a way to save yourself money AND save the planet.

June 3, 2010

The Case For Automating Your Windows

Filed under: Green Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Matthew Strebe @ 1:04 pm

We pay for a lot of power at the highest billing rate in Southern California because we have eight people living in a 5000 square foot home. When we moved in, our average summer time power bill exceeded $700 per month. Cooling the house with A/C was ridiculously expensive, and it put me on a quest to reduce power usage dramatically. I wish I could say I wanted to save the environment, but it was the money that motivated me.

So I looked at my options and came up with two potential solutions to the massive power bills: Solar, and on-site natural gas cogeneration. Either would be big, expensive projects, so in the mean time, we just ran around the house and opened the windows whenever it got hot, leaving the A/C off.

With my roof and location, I can get up to 3.5Kw of solar power generation installed for about $20K. Going through the numbers, it looks like I’ll reduce my power bill by about $220/mo. on average.

Automated WindowsAs we tired of the daily window opening and closing, I setup a simple home automation system to automate the problem. I put motors on the crank-style casement windows and used a $300 home automation controller to setup simple rules, such as “Open the windows if it’s cool outside and hot inside.” The whole setup cost less than $2000 and took me about three days to get running, most of which consisted of fishing wires through the walls to the window motors.

Then I looked into on-site natural gas cogeneration. Natural gas energy is much cheaper than electricity in California, but unfortunately cogeneration wasn’t feasible with a generator. While possible technically, the generators wear out every year. They’re noisy, and it’s not clear that they’re legal. On cost grounds, by my analysis, it would be twice as expensive as paying for power due to the short generator lifetime. I looked at fuel cells as well: Highly efficient, silent, and long-lived, but also very expensive. The payout would be fifty or so years, longer than the unit’s lifetime.

When I revisited the power bill after automating the windows, I discovered that this simple, interim solution had reduced our power bill by over $300 per month! The house was comfortable all the time, and the A/C hadn’t come on since I got the system running. A $2000 investment in home automation equipment would be paid back in just seven months, and was reducing more utility bill costs than a $20,000 solar system would.

The system automatically opens and closes the windows based on the home’s interior temperature compared to the weather outside. I have a simple program that runs on a $300 embedded controller computer (a Universal Devices ISY-99) that monitors the inside temperature, an RSS feed of the weather station where I live, time-of-day, and likelihood of rain, and makes decisions about whether and when to open or close the windows.

This setup saves me, on average, $320/mo. compared to the months when we first moved in and left the windows shut and the A/C and heat on a 68/74 degree thermostatic setting. Those months we were averaging over $740/mo. for power, and now we’re averaging $360.

Before you spend a lot of money on generating electricity, do everything you can to reduce your electrical use. Big wins for us included eliminating AC with natural ventilation and ceiling fans, replacing CRT and plasma televisions with LCD, replacing old appliances with new more efficient models, cold-water laundry, and line-drying clothes. We now have our power consumption down by two-thirds over-all, and have reached a point where adding solar may take us down to zero.

I used Truth casement window operators and controllers from, and INSTEON I/O Linc modules, and an ISY-99 home automation controller from to implement this project.

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