Gadget blogs

Today’s CBC web column…

I love gadgets. I wrote my last novel on a gadget, my Pocket PC cell phone, using a fold-out wireless keyboard. The only thing that keeps me from drowning in gadgets is that I can’t afford them all. But I can do the next best thing, and read about them on the Web.

I think my favorite gadget site would have to be Gizmodo. As of this morning, this site had photos (and in some cases video) of: a Jacuzzi party atop 15,711-foot Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps; outrageous audio equipment (such as a $350,000 amplifier, a $100,000 turntable, a $13,000 power cord, and wooden tweeters—um, that’s a kind of speaker); scary furniture, perfect for your Hallow’en haunted house (if you have the budget and really want an innocent-looking baby crib that a full-sized skeleton erupts out of); a prototype colour-screen ebook reader from Fujitsu; and the very practical “Five ways to extend your gadget’s life.”

Gizmodo, like many of these sites, is in blog format, which just means that as each new item is posted, it moves to the top of the main page, so the freshest thing is always the first thing on there. But it’s fully searchable and also categorizes posts by topic, so you can find whatever has been written on whatever gadget or type of gadget you’re interested in.

I should probably warn you, though, that Gizmodo has a sense of humor that’s…well, “irreverent” would be the nice term, though “sophomoric” is probably more accurate…and just might rub you the wrong way.

If a prefer a more “serious” site, check out Gizmag (full name Gizmag Emerging Technology Magazine). It provides more information with less snark than Gizmodo. It covers an enormous range of technology: its sections range from Aero Gizmo (sample post: “Preparations for world’s first human landing WITHOUT a parachute ,” Around The Home (“For the man with everything – the V8 snowblower,”) and Baby Gizmo (“Fold up stroller converts to backpack”) alphabetically down to Spy Gear (“Lipstick Pistol – The Kiss of Death”), Telecommunications (“New data transmission record – 60 DVDs per second”), Urban Transport (“T-Rex three-wheeler superbike”) and Wearable Electronics (“Electric Cinderella Shoes with built-in stun gun”).

As with Gizmodo, the biggest risk is that you’ll end up with a severe case of gadget envy. I mean, who wouldn’t want electric Cinderella Shoes with a built-in stun gun?

Also on the more serious side is the New Scientist Technology Blog. New Scientist is my favorite science magazine, and it has a number of associated blogs. The technology blog focuses on…well, technology. Not just gadgets, but gadgets certainly show up there a lot. The New Scientist Technology Blog usually offers a bit more analysis, and a whole lot of links to related information. A recent post talked about 3D printing: fabricators that can be programmed to make just about anything. That’s the ultimate gadget, in a way, because it can be used to make other gadgets. Engineers, designers and architects are already using fabricators to make scale models, but they’ve also been used to make custom shoes and even flown by the military to sites were spare parts like machine-gun mounts are needed.

Some gadget sites focus on specific types of gadgets. For example, there’s Jalopnik, a sister site to Gizmodo, whose focus is entirely on automobiles. There’s DefenseTech, which talks about military technology. And then there’s one of my favorites, MedGadget, whose focus is entirely on medical gadgets (and, to a certain extent, medical news in general). Recent posts there, for instance, have talked about new discoveries in the mechanism of hearing, new high-tech methods of diagnosing cancer, and exoskeletons developed in Japan that enable an individual to lift a 100-kilogram weight as if it weighed only half as much—which could eventually make it easier for nurses and other caregivers to assist bed-ridden patients.

If you’re thinking a lot of this stuff sounds like science fiction…well, you’re right. And so, the website of the Science Fiction Channel in the U.S. (the equivalent of Space here in Canada), has a blog called SciFi Tech, which points to gadgets that seem particularly science fictional—like an alarm clock that’s a big talking robot head, new car designs, a Japanese robot that massages your face (it only looks like an alien torture device), radio-controlled robotic insects, and a new OnStar feature that will automatically bring a stolen car to a stop and render it inoperative.

Which comes first, the love of gadgets or the love of science fiction? For me, it was definitely the latter: reading science fiction got me interested in science and technology. Which is why I particularly enjoy, where a feature called “Science Fiction in the News” links new technological developments to stories by science fiction writers (sometimes decades old) that presaged them.

Thus, new material developed by University Michigan, a kind of plastic that’s as strong as steel, is linked back to “plasteel,” a super-strong substance in Frank Herbert’s Dune novels that made an appearance even earlier in a 1956 story by Harlan Ellison called “Trojan Hearse.” (Apparently plasteel is not just a science-fictional made-up word, either, but a word used in the real world back in the Second World War for steel covered with plastic, used to replace aluminum. Who knew?)

I like to say that we live in the kind of science fictional world I only read about as a kid. All that’s missing is our flying cars…and I read about a new design for one of those on one of these gadget sites just yesterday.

Just give it a couple more years…

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