Gizmos and gadgets and gear-- Oh my!
by Alan Zisman (c)
1999. First published
in Vancouver Computes,
December?the time of year when our minds naturally
turn to peace, goodwill
to all of humanity, and such. Or do they turn to gizmos and gadgets and
gear (oh my!)?
Here are some of the later that might really make me
sit up if they
appeared in my stocking.
-- You may not easily remember the name of Sharp?s
VN-EZ1 Internet ViewCam,
but the gadget itself is pretty memorable. It?s a video and still
camera that easily fits into your shirt pocket. It uses MPEG-4
to save video and audio clips, making small enough files to post on a
site or send as e-mail attachments?clips can be played back with
Media Player. Capture the kids under the Christmas tree and e-mail the
video clip to Grandma?
The camera uses a postage-sized SmartMedia card?a 4
meg version is bundled
with the camera, while 16 and 32 meg cards are available from
sources. Files are transferred to a PC by slipping the card into a
that fits in the computer?s floppy disk drive. A set of four standard
batteries are good for about an hour?s recording time.
The tradeoff for compact file size is in resolution
and quality. Don?t
expect to use this to film the next Blair Witch Project. The camera
a maximum of 320x240 (1/4 VGA screen) video clips, and 640x480 stills.
And at that maximum video size, the frame rate of 2 to 5 images per
will result in pretty jerky movement?but for home movies viewed over
Net, that?s about state of the art.
The price hasn?t been set at mid-October, when I got
my turn to play
with the ViewCam, but Sharp?s Michael Weinstein expects it to be
Too rich for your blood?
Microsoft has offered a series of keyboards promising
while looking like they were ripped from the cabin of the Starship
The latest is the Natural Keyboard Pro, which continues the sculpted 3D
look and feel, while adding 19 hot keys for common Internet activities
(back, home, and the like). It works with standard PS/2 or USB ports,
it can be used with both PCs and newer Macs. About $99?other models
fewer features for less money.
The company also has a new take on the mouse?the
has no mouseball (no jokes, please), and no moving parts?so it doesn?t
get dirty and always moves smoothly and accurately?and eliminates the
for a mouse pad. The $99 model is titanium coloured and includes
programmable buttons and a visible coolly glowing red light. A $79
looks like the previous generation of IntelliMice, only with the red
instead of the ball.
And fans of first-person gaming?the games where you?re
a character moving
through a violent, 3D environment, will be intrigued with Microsoft?s
Dual Strike?a controller that combines traditional game pad functions
controls that up to now required keyboard and mouse movements. The odd,
black design has two halves joined in what seem to me like the ball and
socket joint that attach our thighbones to our hips. That lets the game
player twist and turn the two halves independently, turning the
head independently from the rest of his or her body?at least in games
support it, like Sierra?s HalfLife. About $80.
I know your kids want games?but get them a CD-ROM
(or as well) and their homework will thank you. Check out Microsoft?s
Encarta Reference Suite?a 5 CD package (or one DVD disk) that includes
the newest version of the multimedia encyclopedia with an interactive
atlas and what Microsoft claims is the only completely new English
dictionary of the past 30 years. Besides giving English language usage
worldwide, the dictionary includes Roget?s Thesaurus, an almanac, a
of quotations, and more. $149 before a $50 mail-in rebate.
If, like many PC users, you?re just thinking of using
the USB port on
your computer, you may feel overwhelmed by the variety of USB gadgets
the market. Xircom (www.portstation.xircom.com) offers a neat way to
them all together?literally. The new PortStation isn?t a single
but a set of USB products, which snap together like a line of Lego
Buy the pieces that you need now, knowing that you can always get
modules to snap into place when you need them.
Modules have varying costs that are in line with
Xircom is currently offering 4 and 7 port USB hub modules, serial and
port modules, 10-base-T Ethernet modules, and 56k modems in the
format. Promised but not yet available are 4-port Ethernet hubs, and
DSL, and cable modem units, and a home phoneline networking module. Mix
and match or choose from several pre-selected starter kits.