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It’s Good to Accessorize
August, 2007. Sometimes,
interesting tech products aren't high tech at all. In fact, what grabs your attention is how low tech they are. Take for example an extension cord, flash
light and battery. No, these
accessories are hardly essentials to your TechNeeds, but there's something
about their design and application that surprisingly provides benefits to items
so otherwise-low on the tech food chain.
And as such, very worthy of taking a look at.
POWERSQUID SURGE 3000, CALAMARI EDITION
There are several ways to protect your electronics from
power outages. The granddaddy is the
UPS, Universal Power Supply, whereby your system basically runs off a
battery. Alternately are surge
protectors – not as effective, but the best still offering good protection and
All of these devices are either blocks or power strips with multiple
fixed outlets for plugging in equipment.
The biggest problem, however, is that electronics are not limited to
having simple plugs. Rather, many have
bulky "power adapters," and because of their size, they compete for space with
other outlets, often blocking access.
That's where the PowerSquid comes in.
In fairness, the PowerSquid is not really an extension cord
at all but a surge protector (though certainly it can work that way if
absolutely needed in a pinch). It
solves the problem by having half-a-dozen flexible "tentacles," looking much
like…well, a squid. There is never a risk
of any two sockets bumping up against one another. You simply swing a cord out of the way.
Flexity has licensed the technology to Newpoint/Power Sentry
sells more entry-level units. Flexity's
PowerSquid is on the premium end. Certainly, not everyone has high-powered needs for the most
protection. But when it comes to your
full computer system, it's always good to look at more protection than try to
get away with the minimum. One mistake,
and you can be severely out of luck.
Design aside, the highest-end Calamari edition provides a
great deal of protection, with a particularly high level of heat dissipation
and power filtering; it's rated at 3240 Joules and can absorb a surge of 6,000
volts. A tripwire cuts electricity in
the event of a massive power surge, and there's an audible alarm as well. In addition, there are outlets for phone
lines and coaxial cable, with cords provided.
The "tentacles" themselves are 14-gauge heavy duty cords of
varying length, the longest of which is 17 inches. (The connecting "extension" cord is eight feet – and even it is well-designed, with a rotating
plug for hard-to-reach spots.) It
retails for $85 (though currently Amazon sells it for thirty dollars less) and
comes with a $500,000 connected equipment warranty.
But when you have a surge protector that actually wins
design awards, design can't be put aside with the PowerSquid. It's what separates the product from all
others. There certainly are other
top-line surge protectors on the market.
And UPS devices offer ideal protection.
But if your needs require a surge protector and access to sockets not
blocked by large power adapters, there isn't anything else that's like the
What a company is is generally secondary to the products it
sells. In the case of Freeplay, that
isn't necessarily the case. The two, in
many way, are intertwined.
As the company states, its purpose is "To make energy
available to everybody all of the time" and makes self-sufficient energy
products. Radios, flashlights and more that
run on solar power, hand-cranked energy or batteries – or in some cases, all
three. (They have products that also use
four energy sources, including AC.) Freeplay
even makes an emergency mobile phone charger that runs on hand-cranked energy.
While interesting, most of these don't have the strongest place
in a writer's workbench, though as consumer products they certainly are worth
note. One Freeplay item, however, does
offer more benefits, particularly in areas where power loss is not uncommon due
to earthquakes or snowstorms.
The Indigo lantern is beautifully designed, and one of those
products that, when you hold it, just feels rock solid to the core. In the event of a power failure, it provides
a bright lantern torch that's adjustable with a dimmer switch down to a
nightlight. In addition, there's a
separate flashlight beam.
The lantern shines off of a cluster of seven LED bulbs. It won't brighten a room, but at full power,
provides a solid illumination. The
flashlight (or what Freeplay calls a "task light") is a thin beam that's angled
downward, making it more convenient to use for reading. It won't replace a good flashlight, but can
be used in a pinch.
While the Indigo can run on AC/DC should you want to use it
when there is power, that's mainly to
help charge the unit easily (again, when there's power). Bit it's the hand-crank that give the
lantern its uniqueness. And it doesn't
take much cranking to get a benefit:
You can wind in either direction. And turning for a mere 60 seconds will provide a full three hours
of lantern light at the lowest setting, or six minutes at the highest. You'll also get one hour of the task
light. Of course, you can crank longer
to get more light – or crank again at any point later to add time.
If you use the AC/DC to fully charge the unit (or crank a
lot…), the Indigo gives 70 hours of night light, 40 hours of the task light,
and almost 3 hours of full power lantern.
A green light indicator lets you know when a full charge has
been reached. The battery can't be
overwound and will still retain 25% of its power after six months. The LED bulbs are rated to last 100,000
hours – so, you should be pretty safe on that account.
All in all, it's just a very nice item to have around the
office just in case you ever have a power failure. Yes, you can have a flashlight or candles – but he benefit of the
Indigo is that it won't ever run out of batteries, even if you need it all
night (or for days), nor will it eventually burn out or be a fire hazard. It retails for $40.
The thing about Freeplay is that, while they make solid,
impressive products, it's one of those rare companies that may be more intriguing
than what it makes. (This isn't
hyperbole. The company's Freeplay
Foundation won the World Bank's 2006 Global Development Marketplace
Award.) While Freeplay sells consumer
products internationally, the focus of the Foundation is on Third World
countries where the convenience of electrical power doesn't exist.
In 2002, for example, a partnership with the UN, Freeplay
Foundation and the nation of Niger – which was beset by rebellions throughout
the 1990s – exchanged thousands of illegal guns for Freeplay's Lifeline radios
(AM-FM-SW sets that run on both wind-up power and solar energy for up to 24
The Freeplay Foundation
is a non-profit humanitarian organization with partnerships that have
helped donate thousands of the self-powered radios throughout Africa, and has projects
in agriculture, healthcare/AIDS, education, disaster relief, conflict
resolution and more.
When Freeplay states that its purpose is "To make energy
available to everybody all of the time"…it turns out they actually mean it. They make a darn fine lantern, too.
The pleasure of using portable electronic devices wherever
you wander lends itself to one of the downsides – the drain of battery
power. The iPod, for its wide
popularity, has caused the most angst, which is driven higher with the new Video
iPods that taken an even greater drain.
For most of the time, it's not an issue, as you can easily recharge at
home or with a car charger. But when
out and about, commuting on a train or on long airplane flights, most-especially
when using video, power can disappear fast.
The NuPower Video+ is a rechargeable battery pack made
exclusively for the iPod Video. It has
numerous strengths, a low $50 retail price, and a few, odd deficiencies.
On the plus side, the pack is solid, simple to use and holds
up to a rated, massive 80 additional hours of music, or 16 hours of video. You'll likely get less, but it's still an
abundance for anyone. Just snap your
iPod in, press a button, and it automatically starts charging. Easy.
It also comes with a belt clip and silicone protective sleeve for
carrying around. More on that in a moment.
The battery pack can itself be charged using your standard iPod
connector cable. Once ready, it will deliver
up to three full charges of your iPod.
An on-off switch at the back of the unit controls the devices, and LED
lights on the front give the charge status.
Just slide the your iPod into the dock, and everything is ready. You can use it to charge your iPod
independently and then undock the device, or keep the two connected as you use
your iPod. It weighs a touch under four
pounds, so you wouldn't want to carry it around all the time, but it's hardly
problematic when you do. Because
everything fits so tightly together, the NuPower Video+ doesn't add all that
much size to your iPod – though it clearly is thicker, heavier and without the
sleek lines people tend to love.
The belt clip or sleeve are important components of the
device. Unless you leave the battery
pack and iPod in one spot alone, they would be wobbly together for carrying
around. Using either the plastic belt
clip or the protective sleeve (which has belt slits) will resolve this. And to a degree, they do. But therein lie a few quirky issues.
Inexplicably, the silicone protective sleeve protects
everything except the video screen – which is the one thing you most want to protect from
scratching. The iPod case is protected,
the Click Wheel is protected, but the screen is wide open to the elements. Happily, there's a workaround that I could
find: if you have a separate protective
case for your iPod Video (highly recommended), you'll be able to squeeze it into
the flexible silicone sleeve. That's
not the intended use, but it would at least resolve the problem, albeit
As for the plastic clip, the way it works is you just snap
your iPod and battery pack in, and it holds everything impeccably tight. A rotating clip on the back lets you attach
everything to your belt. Unfortunately,
this too leaves your iPod unprotected – again, most notably the screen. If you have your iPod in a protective case, however,
it won't fit in the inflexible plastic clip very well. However, if you maneuver it very carefully
from the top, pull a bit (being careful not to break the fairly-sturdy plastic)
and slide, you'll be able to get it snuggly in.
(One other quibble.
Documentation is skimpy. It's
not terribly necessary, but more information on discharging, recharging time
and the LED lights would be helpful.)
The positives of the NuPower outweigh the negatives, since
ultimately you can get things to work with some jerry-rigging and an extra
purchase of a protective case (which you should probably have anyway,
regardless.) Everything from the
battery pack to clip and sleeve are all solidly made, impressively so. And the battery pack delivers tremendous
power. That's what makes the design
flaws all so incomprehensible – leaving your iPod video screen unprotected, a
critical flaw. Happily, you can at
least get by with the aforementioned workarounds. And if what it's extra battery power that you most want, the
NuPower Video+ delivers an abundance.
- If you
haven't checked it out yet, it's seriously worth taking a look at Google
Docs and Spreadsheets. This is a cumbersome name for what's
basically a free, online version of Microsoft Word. It's not a replacement for Word, for
many reasons: for starters, it's
not anywhere near as robust or full-featured a program. Also, the concept of working only
online and saving your valuable documents there is a risk and
limiting. But Google Docs has
important attributes, and near the top of the list is that it allows you
to work on your Word documents wherever you go in the world, even if you
don't have your computer with you.
You can easily load copies of any Word documents into Google Docs
and have them there for easy access.
If you write with partners or on a project, Google Docs also allows
for easy file sharing. In fact,
you can even set up passwords to let anyone see whatever you write without
giving them access for changing anything.
There's much more of value, and since it's all free, there's no
reason not to at least take a look.
Note: The Writers Guild of
America, East neither implicitly nor explicitly endorses opinions or
attitudes expressed in this article.
Copyright 2007, Robert J. Elisberg. All rights reserved.
has written about computers for such publications as C/NET, PC Games,
CD-ROM Today, Yahoo! Internet Life, E! Online and Hollywood
Screenwriter. He also wrote a regular technology column for WGA.org
Online and the Television Academy Online. A screenwriter, he served for
five years as a member of the WGA, west website editorial board and
Editorial Advisory Committee.