It’s Good to Accessorize

By Robert J. Elisberg

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.



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

lower costs.

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.

Robert J. Elisberg

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

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.