Category: Gadgets

Swift Hitch, first viewing

Jul 31, 2007


So a friend of mine recently returned from the Upper East Side of Manhattan reporting a New Yorker cartoon seen live: A madame parking her large and shiny SUV while getting backing directions from a lady friend stationed on the sidewalk via cell phone! No wonder there’s a Web site for rear-view cameras. Which, in fact, quite likes this portable Swift Hitch device. I’m fairly impressed too. It was just a matter of installing the li-ion battery in the display, charging it and the camera’s built-in battery with the dual 12v charger before I turned them both on and—lights, action!—everything worked fine. Hitting the main button reverses the image, which is helpful when also using the rear view mirrors, like above. I also tried it in the dark and the automatic infrared lights came right to life (the image goes to grey scale then, but is usually color, if not exactly rich color).

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Bird zapper, a test undone

Jul 19, 2007


I’ve had a rotten day, and maybe you too could use a laugh (aside from the must-see “big ass table” video JT brought to comments). The other day I found the prototype above under a few years of dust in a remote nook of the lab, never tested or returned. Its goal is to disuade birds from perching on your spreaders and leaving a mess, and to do so it converts small quantities of 12v DC into 8,000–15,000 volt DC 600 HZ current. Don’t ask me how, but I was told that the resulting zaps are very effective at avian behaviour modification! However, though the developer has had a string of hit products since, this one never came to market. I’m guessing for the same reasons I somehow never got around to plugging it in, a behaviour I’m rarely guilty of. (I am often slow returning things, but this is a record.)

Waterproof cameras, and gadget lust

Jul 13, 2007

Sanyo Xacti E1In today’s New York Times, the inexhaustible David Pogue reviews three waterproof digital cameras—the Olympus Stylus 770 SW, the Pentax Optio W30, and this Sanyo Xacti E1. Now the first two are not exactly brand new. In fact, I tested the Olympus over a year ago. Then I actually purchased the Pentax last November. Contrary to Pogue’s conclusions, I liked the Pentax much better, mainly because I think it takes much sharper pictures. Still, I ended up gifting it to my daughter and buying a Canon PowerShot SD800 IS (as foreshadowed in that entry). This little camera I adore, and you’ve seen the results in many recent Panbo entries. It takes amazingly good video too. But its not waterproof, and now, damn it, Pogue reports that the truly new Sanyo Xacti, which is primarily designed as a video camera (spec page here), takes better stills than both the Olympus and the Pentax! By the way, aside from the wonderous Woot, I pretty much satisfy my gadget habit at Amazon these days. It’s hard to find a better combination of ease, service, and price. Plus Panbo is an “Associate”. Which means that if you need one of these cameras, and of course you do, please generate a commission for Panbo by using the link below to buy it. Thanks!

Sanyo Xacti VPC-E1
Canon PowerShot SD800 IS
Pentax Optio W30
Olympus Stylus 770 SW

Purosol Screen Cleaner, wicked good

Jun 6, 2007

Purosol c Panbo

The joke going around edit circles after Purosol’s press release about its super duper Sport/Marine screen cleaner—which purportedly is “non-toxic, hypo-allergenic, contains no CFCs, no detergents and no solvents of any kind”—was “sounds like…water!” But it’s not so. In fact, I tasted it (what we do for you people). More important, I’ve tried it now on about five screens, all with possibly fragile coatings, and it not only cleans better than the standard suggestion—which is water—but it leaves a smooth non-static coating that you can feel but not see.  It is not cheap at $7.95 per ounce bottle, microfiber cloth extra, but, man, it does the job. Available direct from Purosol, and soon, I would hope, from your friendly electronics outfit.

Wetter Infobox, smart design

Jun 4, 2007


Back to business and a big thanks to Roy Mevers, Electra’s professional skipper and a freelance offshore racing navigator, for showing me this little cutie. Who knew? Inside that box, which is maybe four inches long, is a dual channel Navtex receiver, a ferrite rod antenna, and a re-chargeable battery. It can run three days on its own and has enough internal memory for “762000 indications”, which I’m guessing means characters of Navtex weather reports, nav aid warnings, etc. Plug it into your computer via USB and the batteries charge while you can use any web browser to access the reports, and control the receiver, via an attractive master page living in the box. Apparently the instructions simply explain how to make a shortcut/favorite to the box, and thus the Wetter Infobox can work with Windows, Macs, even Linux, no software needed, or even power and antenna cables. How smart is that?

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Gadget sizes, the eye can fail

May 31, 2007

Y-Tronic AISB antennas c Panbo

So I rarely discuss dimensions and weights when I write up electronics, figuring that it’s fairly obvious, or at least easy enough to find on the manufacturer’s Web site. But the latterPanbo_Photo_Studio is not always true, and some products just don’t look their true size, even when pictured with a little context. For instance, when I first saw a  photo of Y-Tronic’s dual antenna AIS accessory, my eye failed to see how petite it actually is, even though the plugs are familiar. (And I still don’t understand how it mounts on a rail, though I’ve got the question in). Nor did I get how chunky the Lowrance iWay 600c is from its first photo. I’ve come to like the thing quite a bit, but shoppers should know that it weighs about 2.6 pounds with the accessories below (bigger here), and the AC brick is a whopping 1.6 pounds more. The weights are not given at (that I can find), but the manual does wisely recommend resting the unit on a dashboard so that the suction mount doesn’t take the whole strain. By the way, I’m quite enjoying my new photo set up, above, but an explanation of the lab coat will have to wait a while!

Lowrance iWay 600c hardware c Panbo

Boatsense, hip hip for the home team

May 25, 2007


Wasn’t I tickled to discover that what looks like a fairly simple and affordable new remote boat monitoring device is being made right here in Maine. And further tickled when Boatsense Solutions cofounder David Jacques zipped right up and explained more about what’s in that little bomb-proof (epoxy potted) box…i.e., more than explained in the so far rudimentary brochure and manual. And tickled even more when I fired up a test unit last night, taught it my phone number, and successfully simulated a high bilge alarm, all in a few minutes.
  Boatsense is a GSM cellular modem set up so it can send text messages wherever GPRS data service is available (much of the world). It monitors battery level with just its power feed, plus has an input for most any kind of bilge alarm switch, and three more for whatever sensors you want to add (including output from an existing on-board monitoring system). That’s it; no screen, no GPS, no Web page…but it’s only $499 list and $180 per year for up to 20 messages a month (extras 10 cents each). Distributing partner Hamilton Marine has a package deal here, and if you do a search on “boatsense” there you’ll find a selection of sensor options. I’m going to test this baby more on Gizmo (wished I’d had it last July, rigged with a magnetic motion switch), but I’m pretty sure that it’s well thought out and may well be a winner.

Lowrance iWay 600c, impressions #2

Apr 26, 2007


I’ve already written a bit about listening to tunes while navigating the highways on the iWay; how about boat nav? First is the good news that Lowrance has fixed the problem with “obstructions which cover”; you may recall that the “really nasty rock” above, and many like it, were not shown on earlier NauticPath charts. (In fact, the first iWay I got didn’t have them either, but when I piped up, Lowrance said the wrong files were accidently loaded, and sent this one. If you have NauticPaths, you might want to check). Note that the yellow note window popped up when I touched the symbol, and I could get a whole page of info by next touching the “i” icon upper right (ditto with the tides, notes, marinas etc. in the lower image).
   Note too that tapping the “X” upper left would take me out of this pan and zoom mode and back to my vessel (or car), leaving only a map orientation button lower left. Tap that and you cycle through top down/north up (as shown), top town/course up, and 3D. This applies to any type of navigation; in fact, most everything does. Unlike some Garmins—which switch screen sets and units of measurement along with nav mode—when you go from turn-by-turn car nav to point-to-point marine nav, the only other thing that changes is your choice of cartography. Changing to knots/nautical miles isn’t even a choice elsewhere. In other words, as well as the nautical charts are displayed, boat navigation is secondary to auto nav on the iWay (for more check the manuals here). But let’s not forget the 25 gigs of goodies include nautical charts for the whole country, plus a lot of lakes, plus zillions of POIs, street maps, and photo maps. The latter cover many cities, like Boston’s North End below. (I guess I picked that spot remembering my time there a year ago, getting a little ‘treatment’. Glad that’s over.)


i-Blue GPS/logger, wireless & solar too

Apr 25, 2007


When Captn Jack’s lent me an i-Blue 757 GPS last month, they were clever enough to put it in “logging” mode before they sealed the box. Thus, once I sorted out the included software and downloaded the saved log points (30,591 of them!), I was able to see the box’s UPS trip from Massachusetts to my house overlaid on Google Earth.I-Blue757-Pro-Solar-GPS_xl1 Now that’s a damn sensitive receiver that can hold onto GPS satellites inside a box inside a series of brown trucks! And obviously the i-Blue’s 1000mAh Lithium battery is pretty long lived even when it’s not being trickle charged by its 25mA solar panel. By the way, note the lat/longs shown in the i-Blue’s PC utility software below; in Google Earth I was able to drill down to a factory parking lot in northern Taiwan where the unit was probably tested for the first time.
   While I like logging for tasks like mapping island trails, and the i-Blue is certainly an easy way to bring home a visual cruising history, I found that it also serves quite well as a Bluetooth GPS sensor to Pocket PC and laptop charting programs. It even has a unique standby feature that worked fine, and is well explained in this thorough Pocket GPS World review. Note that you use a USB cable to charge the i-Blue and also to download logs and set GPS and logging parameters. I didn’t check if someone without Bluetooth could use the USB connection as a GPS feed, and the otherwise good manual doesn’t say, but I will get another chance as I liked this gizmo so much I’m buying one. I tried an EMTAC Trine Bluetooth GPS that Captn Jack also sells, and while I’d say it’s noticeably sturdier than the i-Blue, I’m going for the lower price and logging capability. I do like how Jack’s is selecting good, better, best products in several categories like this and WiFi, and recommend downloading the new catalog PDF, which seems to include some gear not yet on its Web site.


Universal remote followup, hello Nevo

Apr 23, 2007


My May PMY column “Universal Aggravation” is now online, and I'm tickled with Nevo SLHomeWheelhow Craig Wallace Dale realized our opening illustration idea. How’s that for action electronics photography! You may recall that testing the Harmony 890 won me over to Logitech’s online programming system, but there may be even better solutions out there. I’d heard that Atlantic Marine Electronics programmed a Harmony for every Viking Yacht launched (an impressive move on Viking’s part), but when I called them it turned that they are now using the NevoSL, which is partially touch screen and according to AME “more intuitive.” I also learned from my friend Kim Kavin’s excellent megayacht site, CharterWave, that at the very high end Crestron has a remote that can summon 24 hour cabin service, an idea Kim is not so sure about.