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Tiny, extra-useful gadgets groove 

Cool toys, handy tools continue to amaze and amuse 

ISSUE 605: Currentz Section: May 29, 2001
by Alan Zisman 

Gear Guide Column

Gadgets that do double duty or come in ultra-small sizes are a big deal. From scanners to cameras and clocks, things aren't always what they seem. 

Is that a scanner in your pocket... 

Wizcom Technologies ( has shrunk a scanner into its Quicklink Pen Personal Scanner, a pocket-sized, pen-shaped personal scanner. With OCR technology, it can convert scanned text into word-processable text and can hold up to 1,000 pages in its built-in memory, ready to download to a PC, Palm-style PDA or even a compatible cell phone. About $270. 

It's a camera... no, it's an MP3 player 

No, it's the Polaroid Photomax MP3 Camera (, a gadget with a split personality. Part of the time, it's a low-end digital camera (640x480 pixel resolution), and the rest of the time it's an MP3 player. A 16-MB Compact Flash memory card is included, practical for storing images, music or a combination. You'll probably want to pick up a memory card with more capacity, however. About $375. 

It's a cassette tape... no, it's an MP3 player 

This MP3 player won't take pictures, but the Digisette Duo-Aria MP3 ( looks like a cassette tape and, in fact, fits into most standard cassette players. Inside the shell is a standard, USB-connecting MP3 player, complete with 32 MB of memory, expandable to 96 MB with a Sandisk Multimedia Card. Slip it into your pocket and listen to tunes through headphones or insert it into your car stereo or other tape deck to let your music blast. Lacking an LCD screen makes it awkward to try to work your way around a playlist, however. About $375. 

It's a Discman... no, it's an MP3 player 

I've been critical of the relatively high price and limited playback time of RAM-based music players. One alternative, Creative Labs' Nomad Jukebox, got around the short playback time by building in a 6-GB hard drive, but it still seemed too expensive to me. 

Budget-minded music fans have recently been treated to the release of portable MP3 CD players, from a range of manufacturers. Looking like a standard Sony Discman, these all play standard music CDs, but also play CDs filled with compressed MP3s, letting anyone with access to a CD burner tote around disks each holding 10 hours worth of music. 

Check out, for instance, the D-Link DMP CD-100b (, about $179. Certainly, being able to store 10 hours on a 650-MB $2 blank CD beats storing an hour's worth of music on a $170 64-MB Compact Flash card, as far as I'm concerned. 

It's a clock... no, it's an MP3 player 

Wake up to downloaded music. 

The Visitor MP3 Clock ( connects to your computer to download music. It stores a single song, which it plays to wake you up. (Actually, it only holds 50 seconds of your favourite tune). 

Connecting via parallel port, it's PC-compatible only. Sorry Mac fans! 

About $70. 

Something fishy going on here 

Many of you have seen aquarium screensavers, which turn your computer screen into a virtual aquarium. And some of you probably have an old compact Macintosh in a closet or basement. Techquarium ( puts them together, turning old Macs into real aquariums. Who needs virtual fish on a computer screen when you can have real fish inside a computer screen? 

Download the plans and build your own.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan