Saturday, November 19, 2005

Travelling Companion

Dear reader, you may be forgiving for thinking, from reading my earlier posts, that all my gadgets are electronic and digital by nature.

Nothing could be further from the truth. A great many of my gadgets are electronic, but let's not forget one of the few essentials I tend to carry everywhere. Ladies and Gentlement, I present to you The Leatherman Squirt.

This is one of the smallest Leatherman tools, yet it is built using the same exacting standards of its bigger brothers. The precise nature of the opening mechanism provides wonderful feedback as the handles snap into position and the clever spring arrangement requires close inspection if you are the slightest bit interested in how the tool is engineered.

Now, I say this with some regret, but this is a better tool than an equivalently sized pocket knife from Victorinox - the blades are heavier duty and more finely machined. Don't get me wrong - I love my Swiss Army Knife, and for years carried the bulkly but infinitely useful Swiss Champ, but I've grown to respect the Leatherman tools over time as being a lot better for a lot of jobs a lot of the time.

On many Leatherman tools, and those from other manufacturers, you'll see a pair of pliers as the main tool that is presented when you snap the handles back. I'm the first person to geek out on a well engineered plier, but on a small keychain sized tool, it's scissors that you want. I've blunted these a bit by using them to cut copper wire, but they are every bit as effective as the main blade in the sharpness stakes.

These scissors are relatively large given the size of the tool and I find them essential when travelling.

The other blades on the tool are equally well engineered. The main blade may only be 4cm long but is razor sharp. There is a finely made 1.5mm flatblade driver as well as a chunky 5mm driver which doubles as a bottle opener - essential. There is another blade, which although flat, is designed to remove cross-head screws. There is a blade with a nail file and gouge for cleaning under the nails. Finally, cunningly hidden, there is a tiny pair of tweezers, much as you'd find on a typical Swiss Army Knife.

I travel a lot and carry this with me most times. I say most times, because I'm often away for only a few days and travel very light. In these instances, it sometimes isn't worth the hassle and time checking in a small amount of luggage for the sake of one tiny blade. And it's not worth risking getting it confiscated by security if I forget I'm carrying it.

So, more often these days, I leave it at home. Thanks, Osama.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New iMac!

Well, folks, it finally arrived on tuesday, 3 1/2 weeks after ordering. Now, a computer at home is a fairly essential bit of kit for most, including myself, so classifying it as a gadget is a bit of a stretch. So I'll talk instead about the gadgets the computer comes equipped with, rather than a blow by blow account of the machine itself.

First, the iSight. It's a tiny camera built in at the top of the screen bezel and kind of reminds me of a miniature HAL staring back at me. Fire up Photo Booth and select one of the distortion filters for true HAL-like vision. It's a tiny mobile phone type lens, so I'm not sure how it measures up against the original iSight. Anyway, mustn't grumble since it came 'free' with the machine. It's also the first step towards the RoTM.

Next the Mighty Mouse. So named because 'A-lot-better-than-any-previous- Apple-attempt-at-a-mouse' Mouse doesn't have quite the same ring. As a mouse it's pretty good. I use a Microsoft Intellipoint Exploder in the office and it's also quite good, after you get used to it's automobile sized proportions. I mean, really, it's like having a Volkswagen Beetle under your right hand. However, I digress.

The gadget nature of the Mighty Mouse should not be underestimated. The device uses the same mouse-shell-as-a-button mechanism of previous Apple mice. The twist is that there is a sensor under the surface that detects which type of 'click' you do. So it's a single button mouse that can differentiate between left and right clicks. Very clever. And very easy to get used to as I have discovered.

The next gadgety bit is the pea-sized scroll ball. I wondered how my finger could exert enough traction to pull round a tiny ball, but the ball requires very little pressure to move it. There is a slight 'grain' to the movement to give it that extra bit of tactileness. The ball also rolls sideways, and if there is a grumble, it's that you can't independently adjust the up/down, left/right sensitivity of the ball. When set to moderate up/down scrolling, sideways scrolling is very slow. Grr. The ball also acts as a button insofar as if you press it to click down the shell of the mouse, the computer sees it as a third button.

Lasty there are the side buttons, or button. You give the mouse a firm squeeze and it activates whatever you configure. By default, it activates dashboard. I like that it takes a firm squeeze - the Explorer's side button activate if you breathe on them meaning I have to disable their functionality.

Call back soon for an update and pics!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Leaf peeping

No. Not really. More like leaf sucking. I got a Flymo GardenVac a few years ago and never really used it much. But my garden has lots of trees and the leaf problem was getting a bit much the other day, so I got the Vac out and what do you know? It actually worked for a change!

The trick is, of course, not to try picking up leaves just after it's been raining. Something which is quite hard to schedule in Scotland in November. Nevertheless, the thing worked as advertised, even picking 'stuck' leaves on the patio.

The downside to this garden gadgetry is that it has given me a really sore neck and paracetamol is having limited effect as I write.

On a different note, and I haven't mentioned it yet in the blogs, but our iMac G5 is due to arrive on Monday. Oh Lord, can it be true? The only application that drives me nuts on this iBook because of slowness is iPhoto. Surprisingly, iMovie is pretty usable... but I'm really looking forward to the delights of the complete iLife package. Watch this space.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What's the charge, Officer?

It's been a few days since the last entry, I know. I've been way on business, which can be a rich seam of gadget related adventures because I insist on carrying quite a few gadgets wherever I go.

One of the problems of travelling with gadgets - at least modern gadgets - is the need to keep them charged. Often I find myself carrying five, six or even seven different chargers for all the kit I carry. This is partly because most devices these days contain rechargeable cells, but mostly it's because I'm mad enough to carry all that gear at one time.

Another problem is charge management. Picture the scene. There you are, in your Travel Inn - actually Travel Inns are quite good in this respect - your phone is flat, your works phone is flat, you want to surf the net using the convenient hot spot, but the laptop needs juice... see where I'm heading with this? Yep, there are only two spare sockets. A Travel Inn is a bad example, because you typically get two spare sockets anyway, plus you can unplug the telly and the kettle... but hey you get the idea.

Some hotels have hard wired appliances or strange round pinned plugs and typically have only one or two free sockets. So there's the dilemma. Miss EastEnders, but charge two phones. In hotels such as these, you can't watch the lights dim as you plug in your kit to give it an overnight top-up.

Speaking of chargers, one of the coolest I use (and believe me I'm pushing the envelope calling a charger 'cool') is the one for the Oral-B Sonic toothbrush. It works by induction. There are no metal contacts - the toothbrush is a waterproof sealed unit, and by simply sitting it on the plastic holder (which is attached to the mains) the toothbrush receives charge. Cool, eh? There was a slight twinge of technological sadness when I realised the toothbrush was running on a Ni-Cd cell as opposed to Li-Ion. Only a matter of time until the memory effect makes the product unusable