Archive for the ‘gadgets’ Category


The iPad has been unveiled, and I with my unquenchable thirst for what everyone’s saying about it just performed a twitter search, which allowed me to view people’s comments in real time. As it happens, this tweet was one of the first I read:

Vielleicht gibt es irgendwann ein iPad mini mit dem man auch telefonieren kann… oh, halt..


Perhaps someday there’ll be an iPad Mini with which one can also make phone calls….oh, wait.

I’ve evinced in the past that Germans do actually understand sarcasm; nonetheless the fact that this comment was auf Deutsch rather than English made it about 34 percent funnier to me.

UPDATE–After posting, I kept refreshing the page. Another tweet:

If someone gave me an #ipad I’ll gladly accept it but not sure if I’ll go out & buy one at the current price. #underwhelmed

Fig is begging me to bite my tongue, BUT….I ...CAN’T……

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Realism or Luddism?

In a letter to the editor, a former Peace Corps volunteer voices vehement vituperation at skeeter shooters:

SIR – You seem to support research into “devising laser-defence systems to shoot down mosquitoes and prevent the spread of malaria” (“Zap!”, June 6th). Lasers are not the solution to malaria. Indeed, I think many high-tech development solutions, like one laptop per child and Star Trek-style insect-blasting phasers, are a waste of time and money.

I worked for the volunteer Peace Corps in rural Zambia. The place where I lived had a well to provide clean water, but it sat idle because a simple five-cent plastic washer inside the pump was damaged and neither a replacement nor the tools to open the pump’s housing were available.

My own hut had a sizeable gap between the mud-brick wall and the thatched-grass roof, numerous holes in the thatching and between the wooden door and the wall. I can’t imagine what kind of laser system would have secured my hut against mosquitoes, much less who would have come to fix it when it failed. Were I still in Zambia I might have heard this story on the international news, except that the crank arm for charging my short-wave radio broke off and it never worked again. If there is an answer to malaria it is bednets and only bednets.

Zachary Wells
Monterey, California

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To my dismay, I left my alarm clock in the hotel on a brief trip to Hilton Head this weekend. It was a good travel clock, and had been pretty much everywhere I had in the past half dozen years, imbuing me with some sentimentality for it.

My heavyhearted search for a replacement began online, but with little luck there I decided to lope around the mall. At RadioShack I found pretty much exactly what I was looking for:

At $10, the offering from RadioShack was hard to beat, but my old trusty one had come from Brookstone, so I set off to the other side of the mall where I found an equally great clock:

In fact, the Brookstone and RadioShack clock were identical save in three ways:

  1. The store logo on the front was different,
  2. The two colors were reversed,
  3. The Brookstone clock was $15 more expensive, with a price tag of $25

Amazingly, even with my involved knowledge of price discrimination I dithered for a few seconds, trying to convince myself the Brookstone clock was sturdier and therefore deserved my purchase (such is the power of branding). Nonetheless I soon came to my senses and hurried back to RadioShack, laughing at the Brookstone greeter as I went.


In a few days, I will receive a package of Gillette Mach3 razor blades. These will be identical to those I would buy in the store save in three ways:

  1. The packaging will be in Chinese (as I bought them on eBay from a gentleman in Hong Kong),
  2. They will be delivered to my front door,
  3. They will cost nearly 70 percent less, including shipping costs.

The reason I can do this is because others are not so sensitive to the price of these goods as me, just as I am not sensitive to the price of other goods and miss out on deals. When I am not sensitive, I subsidize those who are, and when I am sensitive, I am subsidized.

I have no idea whether I’m a winner on net, but today I feel pretty good.

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Nelson Mandela is an icon of statesmanship, a principled activist who spent decades in jail for his efforts to bring an end to apartheid and the start of multi-racial democracy in South Africa.  In addition, he can also help me with the ladies!

A similar survey carried out in December for the National Year of Reading Campaign found half of men and one third of woman have lied about what they have read to try and impress friends. The men polled said they would be most impressed by women who read news websites, Shakespeare or song lyrics. Women said men should have read Nelson Mandela’s biography or Shakespeare.

I also learn from reading the article that my own reading habits are feminine and rare:

A study of reading habits showed almost half of women are ‘page turners’ who finish a book soon after starting it compared to only 26 per cent of men.

I’m a page turner. Check.

The survey 2,000 adults [sic] also found those who take a long time to read books and only managed one or two a year were twice as likely to be male than female.

I manage much more. Check.

Men are also more likely to have shelves full of books that have never been opened.

Dog-eared pages and cracked spines greet any browser of my bookshelf. Check, although I tend not to collect books anymore.

The only similarities between the sexes came among those who have two books on the bedside table at once and who start one book on the middle of reading another, switching easily. Twelve per cent of women were in this category – exactly the same number as men.

As I’ve written before, having a reading pool with multiple titles is an old–and evidently unique–habit of mine. Check.

On a related note, blogger Steven Berlin Johnson makes one novel point about the Kindle that makes it even more appealing:

When he was on John Stewart, Jeff Bezos mentioned that the Kindle was great for one-handed reading, which got a salacious chuckle from the audience (and Stewart), but I think it’s best for no-handed reading: i.e., when you’re reading while eating a meal, one of life’s great pleasures. It’s almost impossible to read a paperback while eating, and you really have to snap the spine of a hardcover to get it to lie flat, but the Kindle just sits there on the table helpfully while you cut up your teriyaki.

As a kid, my family ate out often. My parents tended to talk about work the whole time, so to stave off silent boredom I began bringing books to the booths and got pretty good at eating while reading (One wonders whether my love of chicken fingers had as much to do with their ability to be eaten blindly with one hand as it did with taste.).  I wholeheartedly agree that the practice is one of life’s great pleasures, but I almost never do it anymore because of the difficulties outlined above. Johnson’s observation, however, gives me hope that one day I will again experience the sublimity of restaurant reading. I can see it now, some time hence: sitting at a fancy restaurant and shushing my date as I read Mandela’s biography.


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I found another pair. It’s over.

We had a good run, you and I–nearly 11 months together, but now the course is finished.

I think we both knew this was coming. Ever since you first came into my life my friends had been telling me that there were better buds out there, but I put my faith in you and discounted my friends as being too susceptible to marketing and hype. And maybe I was right to a point–it did work alright for a while, after all. I still remember fondly that time at the airport in Budapest when my connection was late and you were there to keep me company late into the night.

But lately you haven’t been delivering the performance I expect: you’ve let yourself go, and your physical decline has gotten so bad that you can barely last five minutes before falling right out my ears in a pitiful tangle.

And let’s be honest: you were never quite as strong as I needed you to be. I had always thought the reason I could hardly hear the spectral strings humming in the background of The Unanswered Question even on highest volume was simply because you weren’t designed to block out background noise. I even thought the problem might be with me–but after hundreds of dollars spent on Q-tips and visits to the otolaryngologist, I know the truth: the problem is with you.

You see, I’ve found a new pair named Philips, and I’ve now been shown all that was missing with you. In just 24 hours , I have been born anew in the rich auditory pleasure Philips continuously and superiorly delivers. There simply is no comparison–where I used to look at you with a casual familiarity there is now only the disdain of broken trust. How dare you ensnare me with your greyish-white bonds from reaching blissful aural heights!

Oh, and did I mention that Philips provides me with three different sized-rubber caps in order to ensure my listening pleasure? What a novel idea, and how stark in contrast to your cavalier “one size fits all” approach.

I suppose I can’t be too harsh, however, despite the fact that you’re a phonic phony. Perhaps I should have known better. Perhaps I was deaf to the warnings of friends.

Nonetheless I’m leaving, and I never want to hear from you again.



P.S. We’ll always have Budapest.

P.P.S. The iPod likes Philips better, too.

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