The Gadgets Page

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 | CraziestGadgets.com

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 Smarthome.com. 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 wintrol.com, and INSTEON I/O Linc modules, and an ISY-99 home automation controller from smarthome.com to implement this project.

May 13, 2010

Inventive Storage in a 344 Square Foot Apartment

Filed under: Misc. Gadgets — Laura Moncur @ 7:51 am

When Mike and I lived in an 800 square foot house, we got quite inventive with our storage and multi-use rooms, but nothing like the ingenious work done by architect, Gary Chang, in Hong Kong. His sliding walls can create many rooms in a 344 square foot apartment. Check out the video from the Wall Street Journal below.

The idea of creating one room with sliding walls that create a different room is a stroke of genius. The media storage wall of the living room slides away to reveal a dressing area.

Living Room wall slides to reveal a dressing area

The guest bed folds down over the bathtub.

guest bed folds down over the bathtub

The master bed folds up into the wall just like an old Murphy Bed.

Murphy Bed

The wall holding his television slides away to reveal a kitchen including a bar.

TV slides away to reveal a kitchen

Gary’s entire apartment is a gadget lovers dream! The walls slide so easily, despite being loaded down with books or a heavy television. I wonder what mechanism he used to make the panels move. The next time you’re feeling cramped in your home, remember Gary and his inventively creative use of space.

April 1, 2010

Datexx Cube Timer

Filed under: Kitchen Gadgets,Misc. Gadgets — Christy Strebe @ 2:29 pm

Cube Timer at Amazon.comI’ve been in search of a kid friendly timer for a while now. I needed something that was accurate and my kids wouldn’t break on Day One. I had tried the traditional egg timers but they were inaccurate and broke easily.

While at CES in Las Vegas I walked by a booth for Datexx and did a double take. Sitting on the counter was a cube with large numbers. I stopped and discovered “The Miracle Cube Timer”. I had to try it out and purchased one that day. This has been the best timer. It is easy to use, keeps reliable time and has lasted so far (even after being dropped).

This timer is very easy to use – you turn it on pick the time you want and set it down with that time face up. The cube has four different preset time amounts: 5min, 15 min, 30 min, and 60 min. It also has a small screen which shows how much time is remaining, and a blinking red light to show that it is on. It is powered off 2 AAA batteries which have also lasted (I thought for sure we would be going through batteries but we are still on our first set).

The only problem with this timer is if you want a different amount of time then 4 choices it gives you, you might have to set it multiple times, and the alarm at the end is loud (which can be good or bad, depending on what you are doing with it).

We use the timer so my kids know when their allotted computer or Wii time is up. But it could also be used for cooking, games, naps, exercising or a number of other activities. If you need a timer that can stand up to the abuse that kids can dish out, the Datexx Cube Timer is the best I’ve found.

February 8, 2010

CES 2010: Motorola’s REAL Grass

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

CES 2010 Motorola boothI have NO IDEA what Motorola exhibited at CES this year. Seriously. I don’t know what iPhone knockoff they were showing to the amazement of others. When we walked into the Motorola booth, I noticed only ONE thing. Their booth display had large expanses of REAL grass.

To me, it was an amazing feat for them to have live plants in their booths, just for atmosphere. I reached down and let my fingers indulge in the soft and cool of it. I called out to the other Gadgets Page writers to come look at the grass, but they looked at me like I was insane. They urged me to come along.

CES 2010 Motorola Booth real grass

I expected every person walking by it to reach down and touch it like I did. I filmed a minute of convention goers walking past the grass displays.

For every one person who reached down and enjoyed the touch of the plants, there were ten who didn’t even notice. We live in a world of wonders and we walk right past them on the way to the next Motorola cell phone.

If you would like to see what Motorola exhibited at CES this year, Engadget didn’t get distracted by the grass either.

February 1, 2010

CES 2010: Cyber Clean

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

Cyber CleanYou know it’s a slow year at CES when a company like Cyber Clean can afford a booth on the main floor. Despite the cheesiness of their presentation, it looked like a really cool product.

Cyber Clean is a gooey compound very much like my childhood toy, Slime, except the texture is thicker and less runny. You press it onto your keyboard, cell phone or other difficult to clean gadget and it picks up debris, food and dust. They were demonstrating it with some sand-like material on an older Apple keyboard.

At the show, they were showing this commercial on huge screens to attract your attention.

I prefer this commercial, however, because it makes Cyber Clean look like a tiny little superhero!

They gave us a free sample of Cyber Clean to try out at home. I keep my electronics very clean, so I couldn’t think of a way to test it, but I remembered the old iMac in Kristen’s room. I decided to try it out on her keyboard. Here is what it looked like before I used Cyber Clean.

iMac keyboard before Cyber Clean

I really crammed the goo into the keyboard. I figured it’s an old computer and it doesn’t matter if it gets a little gummed up. All the Cyber Clean came out, however, so I didn’t need to worry about hurting the keyboard. If you look closely, you can see a little dirt that came off the keyboard.

Cyber Clean pulls up dirt off the iMac keyboard: Click to see full size

In this picture, it’s easier to see how much hair, dirt and even feathers (Where’d the heck those come from?!) it picked up off the keyboard.

The Cyber Clean picks up hair, dirt and feathers

In the end, it didn’t really do all that much. The keyboard was still a little dusty after I thoroughly squished it into all the crevices. I could have done just as well with a paper towel dampened by Windex. Here’s how the keyboard looked after the cleaning.

iMac keyboard after cleaning with Cyber Clean

Cyber Clean High Tech Cleaning Compound- Single Pack at Amazon.comIt DOES smell good, which is something I didn’t expect, and when I opened the package, I felt like a little kid playing with Slime all over again. It really had that nostalgic feel to it. I wasn’t impressed with its cleaning abilities enough to forgo my usual paper towel and Windex techniques, but if you have to clean a lot of keyboards, Cyber Clean might be a way to make your day a little brighter.

You can buy Cyber Clean at Amazon:

I liked the idea of Cyber Clean and it did a pretty good job of cleaning up Kristen’s keyboard, but I think I’ll stick with a paper towel and Windex.

January 27, 2010

Why e-book Readers are Doomed

Filed under: eBook Readers and Peripherals,Misc. Gadgets,PDAs and Phones — Michael Moncur @ 10:00 am

E-book readers, like Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader, had a huge amount of sales this last Christmas season—in fact, our smackdown between the two recently became our most popular post, and the Kindle was Amazon’s best-selling single item. We saw about 20 new entrants into this market at CES. Nonetheless, I think the current generation of e-book readers won’t be flying off the shelves by next Christmas.

Yes, the Apple iPad is probably one reason. But I think e-book readers have been flawed from the beginning. Here’s why.

They use black-and-white e-ink displays.

The Sony Reader was the first popular gadget to make use of e-ink technology, an alternative to LCD displays that looks more like paper, has longer battery life, and doesn’t require a backlight. This was seen as innovative, and copied by the Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s new Nook. But I think it’s time we started wondering why anyone would buy a device with a black-and-white display in 2010.

The phone in your pocket probably has a nice color LCD display that can display perfectly readable text. The Amazon Kindle app certainly looks great on my iPhone. Why buy a book reader that’s stuck in Gutenberg-era black-and-white? Paper books have had colorful illustrations since about 1890. Why can’t electronic books?

E-ink advocates talk about better contrast and better battery life, but I like the contrast on the iPhone screen better than the grey-on-light-grey displays of the e-book readers. And only the most devoted of readers will stare at a Kindle’s screen long enough to notice the supposed benefits to the eyes, or to take advantage of the long battery life. Most of us don’t read for more than 1-2 hours at a time.

And don’t say “but you can read in bright sunlight!”. Who the heck does that? People who enjoy sunlight have better things to do than read, and nerds like me who read for hours on end rarely see sunlight.

They aren’t good Web browsers.

While I still read books regularly, I do far more reading on the Web. Why would I want a reading device that can’t also read Web pages? The Kindle has a very limited Web browser on a black-and-white screen, and the Sony Reader has none at all. Neither one has Wi-fi access.

This is the 21st century. The Web should be as readable as a book, and when an e-book mentions a URL I should be able to click on it and see that page.

They can’t show video.

You can watch videos on a Sony PSP, on a phone, or even on a watch. Why on earth would a device that gives me access to books not also include video? Or even audio? Or even color pictures?

I’m as much of a literary elitist as anyone. I enjoy reading Shakespeare and Dickens, and I certainly don’t want books to be replaced with video. I don’t even want the cheesy “bonus video content” that e-novels of the future will undoubtedly be bundled with. But think about non-fiction books—what if a computer book could include a video to show you how to use software? What if a book on how to play the guitar could include audio examples? Old-fashioned paper books already have this feature, thanks to the high-tech approach of sticking a CD inside the front cover. Why can’t 21st century e-books do the same thing?

And anyway, it’s a device with a screen. Let me watch a TV show when I’m done reading my book.

Maybe they’re not really doomed yet.

There’s one reason I think people will still be buying Kindles and Readers next Christmas. Someone (probably Apple) will introduce a device that does all of the things I’m asking for. But given the current cost of things like 10″ color LCD screens, that device will be expensive. Maybe the Kindle, Reader, and Nook will survive for a few years as low-cost alternatives for people who don’t want to spend $900 on a “real” e-book reader.

I hope I’m right about that. I really want an e-book reader myself, but I don’t want the limited, monochrome, low-cost alternative. I want the real thing, and I’m willing to pay for it.

January 12, 2010

CES 2010: Inada Massage Chairs

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

It had been a long day and the thought of a massage sounded so relaxing. At CES Unveiled I walked past the Inada Massage Chairs table. They had two chairs lying prone. There was a bit of a line to try one out, but I thought it might be fun to try it myself.

I walked up to the guy in the chair nearest to me.

CES 2010: Inada Massage Chair

“You don’t look very relaxed,” I said to him jokingly.

“I’m not,” he replied.

I decided I didn’t need to give them a try after all.

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