Pass the Smalt, Please

smalt smart salt shakerThese days, everyone has an idea for a “smart” device, and there seems to be no limit to what people can come up with.  Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of places where making a device smarter can be helpful.

The problem is that not every device needs to be Web-enabled, controlled from a smartphone, or capable of playing back music, though it’s nice to have access to devices that do when you need them.

Still, in the rush to cash in on the “smart” craze, people are coming up with Web-enabled devices that are stranger and stranger as time goes on.

Which brings me to SMALT.  SMALT is a smart salt dispenser.

That’s right – it’s a device that sits on your dining room table and dispenses salt.  Like the one you likely already have sitting there, only much, much smarter.

What does SMALT do that your regular salt shaker won’t do?  SMALT will, of course, dispense salt, and yes, you can pick it up and use it to put some salt on your food.  That doesn’t seem to be what the inventors, who are crowdfunding the device at Indiegogo, have in mind.

Besides being able to simply function as a salt shaker, SMALT can also alter your evening’s mood, as the light at the top of the device is capable of changing colors.  Don’t feel like a red glow tonight?  You can make it green instead.

The SMALT has a built-in Bluetooth speaker, so you can play back music from the device of your choice.  It only has one speaker, however, so until someone comes up with SPEPPER, you’ll have to listen to your music in mono.

smalt salt shakerYou can control SMALT via a built-in LCD screen.   You can also use an app on your smartphone or tablet to control the device, and the app is both Android and iOS compatible.  You can also use the app to monitor your salt consumption in the event that you’d like to cut back a bit.

SMALT is compatible with Amazon’s Echo, so you can ask it to dispense salt for you. The salt will be dispensed into a tray at the bottom of the device.

The built-in batteries allow SMALT to run for up to 4 hours without recharging.

After a little more than a week of being listed in Indiegogo, SMALT has reached about 1/3 of the requested funding with three weeks remaining.  That’s a bit of money, but not an overwhelming amount.  I’ve seen projects that people really wanted funded in just 24 hours.  That’s not to say that SMALT is a failure or that it won’t get funded, but it does suggest that there aren’t masses of people who are clamoring to have their salt dispensed via an app that then requires them to get it out of a tray.

Of course, SMALT does have mood lighting, and it does play music and I will have to admit that I don’t yet own a salt shaker that has those capabilities, so perhaps I’m misreading the device and its appeal.

Here’s the video. I’ll let you decide if you need it.

All Day Wireless Earbuds

jabra elite sportEarbuds are convenient, and an acceptable way of listening to music privately, but they do have their downsides.  One of them is the cables, which have always been a nuisance.

That’s why the relatively recent invention of wireless earbuds has been a big help.  Until recently, they’ve suffered from various problems, including short battery life and being easily damaged, along with so-so sound quality.

The Jabra Elite Sport wireless earbuds address some of these problems pretty well, giving you the opportunity to workout or work while wearing them.  They have four microphones, which will allow you to be understood if you happen to be making a phone call while wearing them.

As earbuds that are designed for sport, the Jabra Elite Sport are more or less waterproof.  They’re also “sweat proof,” in that the company will warrant them against damage from perspiration for 3 years from the date of purchase.

They also have extended battery life.  The Jabra Elite Sport Website says up to 13.5 hours, though that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  They actually have a continuous battery life of 4.5 hours.  The case has a built-in recharging station, and that recharging station gives them two additional charges of 4.5 hours each.  That means that there’s a combined battery life of 13.5 hours, but you’ll have to recharge them twice to get that battery life.

The Jabra Elite Sport promise sound reproduction from 20hz to 20Khz, and they feature passive noise cancellation so that you can keep unwanted sounds out.

They work with Bluetooth and they’re compatible with both Android and iOS.  You can also use it with Siri and Google Now.

For sports use, the Jabra Elite Sport also offer performance tracking, and it can keep track of time, speed, distance, pace, steps, cadence, calories, heart rate and more by using the included app.

jabra elite sportThey’re waterproof to the extent that they can allegedly withstand immersion in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.  I’m not sure that there’s any reason to test that, but that’s the claim on the Jabra Elite Sport Website.

As for colors, the Jabra Elite Sport earbuds are available in a total of two – black, and a combination of bright green and gray.

They’re said to be quite comfortable for extended wear, and 4.5 hours of continuous battery life is likely to be more than enough for most users.  There was no mention on the Website about recharging time, so I’m not sure how much downtime you’ll have once you run out of battery power, even if you happen to have the charging case with you.  You’ll have to experiment with that.

The Jabra Elite Sport also comes with three sizes of EarWings, three sizes of silicone EarGels and three sizes of FoamTips.  This ensures that pretty much anyone will be able to adjust them to fit their ears.  This will make them more comfortable, but it will also help with noise cancellation and give you better overall performance.

If you’re looking for a nice set of sports earbuds that are tough enough to last and which work pretty well, you should consider that Jabra Elite Sport.  They sell for $249 list.

 

 

An Improvement on the Selfie Stick

selfie droneThese days, everyone seems to be obsessed with taking pictures of themselves, or taking a “selfie,” to use the parlance of our times.  One can debate whether or not people should be doing such things so obsessively, but they are, and for purposes of this post, that is that.

Traditionally, people who take selfies have done so by one of two methods:

  • Awkwardly holding their camera in front of their face
  • Using an extension known as a “selfie stick” to awkwardly hold their camera in front of their face

Neither method is ideal, and both have their problems.  A particular problem is if you want to capture a larger area in your photo than your selfie stick can accommodate.  After all, a selfie stick is only so long, so it can only get so far away from whatever it is you’re trying to shoot.

That’s where the appropriately named “Selfie Drone,” from Hammacher Schlemmer, can come in handy.  Admittedly, it’s a drone with a pretty specific purpose, and at $300, not everyone is going to regard it as a worthwhile investment.  Still, it can help you take better selfies and it offers some pretty amazing advantages over existing methods.

The selfie drone is a battery operated flying device that you can control from your smartphone.  It has a built in 12 megapixel camera that offers both electronic and mechanical stabilization as well as a flash to let you take high quality photos from wherever you need to take them.

The camera is compatible with both iOS and Android, so you can use pretty much any smartphone to fly it.  The camera uses a micro SD card of up to 64 GB capacity and is also capable of taking video at 1080P and 60 frames per second.

selfie droneThe battery provides up to 8 minutes of flight time and takes 90 minutes to fully recharge.

The selfie drone measures 8″x8″x1″ and can take off from your hand.  It has built-in obstacle avoidance, which will help you minimize crashes.  It has a range of 98 feet, which, frankly, isn’t all that far as drones go.  Then again, this one isn’t built to go flying around the neighborhood, performing surveillance on your neighbors.  This one is for taking selfies, and chances are good that you won’t need it to be more than 98 feet away from you.

The selfie drone comes with two batteries, a 16 GB micro SD card, a USB charging cradle and cable, training bumpers and a carrying case.  The price is $299.95, and it’s available from the Hammacher Schlemmer Website.

I don’t know if this is something that a lot of people are going to need, but it does seem as though it will have some good possibilities as a camera.  Many inexpensive drones have cameras built in, but most of them aren’t very good as they’re intended to just be cheap drones and they’re not optimized around providing good quality photos.  This one may have some benefits, and the built-in flash will certainly help provide better photos.  What you do with it is up to you.

 

Add Diesel to the Smartwatch Bandwagon

diesel on smartwatchSometimes, new technology affects old technology in unpredictable ways.  Everyone thinks the Internet is a good thing, as it gives us easy access to all kinds of information.  So who would have thought, 20 years ago, that the Internet would be hurting the wristwatch business?

That’s what’s happening, apparently, as more people are buying smartwatches that connect to the Web and interface with their cell phones and that means that fewer people are buying regular wristwatches.

A few watch companies are panicking, a few are deciding to continue with business as usual to see what happens in the meantime, and a few are making small bets on smartwatches as a sideline product.

The latest company to try the last tactic is Diesel.  They’ve been making watches for a number of years now, but until recently, they’ve all been …you know…regular wristwatches.   Their recent announcement that they’re introducing a smartwatch is kind of interesting, because Diesel isn’t really a maker of “geeky” watches, though I suspect a few geeks, like me, own one.

I don’t think they’re ready to move their whole product line to high tech computer-powered watches, but the company’s announcement shows that they’re ready to play with the big boys when it comes to intelligent wristwear:

  • Compatible with iOS and Android
  • As many as seven different choices of watch face.
  • Hundreds of different configurations for each watch face.
  • 8 different choices of straps
  • Measure calories burned, distance run, and more with Google Fit
  • The ability to stream music
  • Google Play will let you install apps
  • Set a reminder, check the weather, or more by using the power button to connect with Google Assistant
ugly smartwatch
No, this isn’t a Diesel. It’s an ugly smartwatch.

Diesel isn’t ready to make a bunch of smartwatches, but they’ve made one smartwatch that can be set up to look like a bunch of different ones.   One clever feature is to make your screen appear as though it has a crack in it when you receive an email message.

The watch, called the “Diesel On,” uses Android Wear 2.0 software and has a Snapdragon 2100 processor from Qualcomm.  The pricing isn’t going to be cheap, but it will likely be competing with Apple’s smartwatches at the starting price of $325 or so.  Like I said, that isn’t cheap, but that’s apparently not too far out of line as far as pricing on Diesel watches goes.

The appearance is a big deal.  A lot of people I know have been shying away from smartwatches, because they look just a bit too geeky.  You don’t want people to look at you and think, “Oh, he’s one of those people who just wants to show off gadgets.”

Not everybody is like that; some people really do want to show off the latest geeky gadget.  If that’s you, then the Diesel On probably shouldn’t be your first choice if you’re looking to buy a smartwatch.  It looks a lot like a watch, at least in most configurations.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a rugged-looking watch that looks like a watch but still acts like a smartwatch, you might want to keep your eyes out for the Diesel On.

Turn Your Bike Helmet Into a Smart One

ahead bike helmetRiding a bicycle is fun and good for you, but it’s not a good thing to be doing while you’re using your phone.  You need both hands to ride a bike, and riding while handling a phone can be dangerous.

It can also be dangerous to ride your bike with ear buds, as they can get tangled up or even hurt you if you should happen to crash.

That’s why a clever new gadget called Ahead was developed – so you can use the phone and listen to music, hands free, while riding your bike and wearing the helmet of your choice.

Ahead was funded through Kickstarter, and it’s a small device (weighs about 2 ounces) that can mount to any bicycle helmet in several different ways.  The device connects to any iOS or Android smartphone as a Bluetooth device, and you can use it to talk on the phone or listen to music while riding.

The device uses a custom oscillator to pass sound directly to your helmet so that you can hear music and conversations directly.  This works with virtually any kind of helmet on the market.  The device also has two built-in microphones so that it will clearly pick up your voice when you’re on the phone.

Ahead is good for 8 hours of use or three days of standby time.  It can recharge in an hour and a half via USB.

If you’re done with your bike ride, you can take Ahead off of your helmet and take it to your desk.  The box in which the device was packaged acts as a resonator, so you can use Ahead to listen to music at your desk.

The device is also water resistant and dust proof, so that it will withstand the rigors of riding outdoors.  In addition, there is built-in noise cancellation circuitry that works at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour to ensure that your music and conversations remain crystal clear while you’re riding.

A lot of Kickstarter projects never get off the ground, but Ahead has been fully funded, and the device should begin shipping shortly.

Riding a bike is great, and if you’re doing that on a regular basis, you should keep it up.  Riding a bike with a phone in your hand is just looking for trouble.  You could crash, hit a car, fail to hit the brakes, or drop and damage your phone.  With Ahead, you won’t have to worry about any of that.

You can learn more about Ahead at the Kickstarter site.

 

A Does-It-All 3D Printer

zeus 3d printerCool gadgets come along all the time, but 3D printing is one of the more interesting new trends in technology.

It’s nice to be able to print on paper, but a 3D printer will allow you to actually create physical objects.  The problem with many 3D printers is that you first have to scan the image, and then you have to get some clunky software to model whatever it is you scanned and then you have to import that to the device and hope that it all works out.

The Zeus, from AIO Robotics, is designed to be an all-in-one solution to 3D printing needs that basically allows you to do all of the work that you need to do on a single device.  The Zeus can scan and then you can tweak the image using the software that’s built in to the unit.

The software is said to be so easy to use, via the built-in 7″ touchscreen, that you can supposedly start printing within 10 minutes of taking the unit out of the box.

In addition, the filament system is not proprietary, which means that it may work with filament that you have from a previous project.

The turntable and some other parts are easily removed for cleaning and/or troubleshooting, and several of the Zeus parts are themselves 3D printable, making it possible to fabricate replacements should they break.    I’m guessing that none of these parts are essential to printing, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to print them if they were broken.

The Zeus has built-in wi-fi and can automatically report any problems to tech support, which promises 24 hour response time.

The Zeus 3D printer started out as a successful Kickstarter project and now is being sold o the public.  The unit features a 1.7 Ghz quadcore processor, a 7″ color touch screen, a simple quick color change mechanism, a built-in scanner, and a removable turntable with auto bed-leveling.

zeus 3d printingIf you don’t have a wireless network, the Zeus can also connect to the Internet via USB.  The unit is truly plug-and-play, and they say you can use it in minutes.

There are some limits to the capabilities of the Zeus; at the moment, it can print objects of up to 6 inches in length, 8 inches in width, and 5.7 inches in height.  It can print to a resolution of 80 micros.

The built-in touchscreen controls printing, scanning, online file search, on-board editing, and slicing of files, all of which can be done without the use of an external computer.

Of course, all of this technology, while cool, doesn’t come cheap.  The Zeus sells for roughly $2300, and doesn’t include any filament, which you’ll have to buy separately for about $20 per roll.

Still, if you’re not a tech whiz or a design guru, the Zeus offers a good way to get started in 3D printing without the need for an engineering degree.

Quick Power at Your Fingertips

belkin pocket powerIf you use a smartphone, you’ll know that they’re convenient, easy to use, and power hungry.  When older phones might go for days or even a week without charging, a smartphone can often run out of power before you’re done for the day.

That’s why it can be helpful to have some extra power on hand that isn’t going to take up a lot of space or be too much trouble to carry around.

Belkin’s new Pocket Power series of portable battery packs seem to fit the bill.  Their press release says they have three new models (though their Website currently only shows on for sale.)   Apparently, the two larger models will be available at a later date.

Belkin has quite a track record of making computer and mobile phone accessories, so you know that these will likely deliver as promised and be fast and reliable.

The three models of the Pocket Power provide 5000 mAh, 10,000 mAh, and 15,000 mAh, depending on your needs.

These Pocket Power units use new polymer battery technology, which provides more power at a lighter weight.  The chargers themselves are slim and somewhat smartphone shaped, and will be available in several colors.  Each will come with a 6″ micro USB cable and 4 LED indicators that will show you the remaining power level.

The 5000 mAh unit can charge most smartphones at least 1.5 times, giving you an extra 19 hours of talk time or another 11 hours of 3 G time on an iPhone 7.

A built in safety circuit will automatically shut the Pocket Power unit down in the event of any circuit abnormalities or overheating.

Not only that, but you also get a $2500 Connected Equipment warranty, which will protect you in the event that a defective Pocket Power unit should damage your phone.

The case is made of durable, lightweight plastic, so it will be easy to carry and sturdy enough to withstand day to day use.

The Pocket Power unit is compatible with most smartphones; you should check the compatibility list to make sure that it works with yours.

The World’s First Smart Suitcase

Ordinarily, it’s hard to get excited about a suitcase.  If it holds your clothes and it shuts, that’s usually good enough for me.  But yes, sometimes suitcases get lost.  Sometimes you need to weigh them and don’t have a scale handy.  Sometimes…

…you just wish you had more features.

The Bluesmart suitcase does that.  It’s small enough, at 24″x15″x10″ to fit as a carry on in an airplane.  It’s made of strong, lightweight polycarbonate and aluminum, so it’s going to be sturdy without taking up a lot of weight that you could be using for contents.

Generally, if you’re carrying a piece of luggage onto a plane, you won’t have to worry about the weight, but what if you have to check it?  What if you’ve packed it full of bricks and you aren’t sure that it won’t be overweight?

Not a problem; the Bluesmart has a built-in scale.  That’s right; the suitcase can weigh itself.  I’ve always carried a portable scale with me, but the scale takes up space, and requires batteries, and has weight itself so it contributes to the weight problem.  That’s not the case here; the scale is built-in.

What if you lose it?  You’re not likely to lose it, but an airline employee very well might.  It happens to everyone, sooner or later, and it’s frustrating to be standing there without any idea where your bag might be.  Bluesmart has the answer, as the suitcase has built-in GPS capability.  Not only that, but it can talk to your smartphone via BLE + 3G + GPS.  Your phone will always know where your suitcase happens to be, and that’s true no matter where it might be anywhere in the world.  If you’re outside the United States, you’re covered there, too, with help from Telefonica.

You can also use your phone to lock and unlock your Bluesmart suit case.  No need to remember combinations anymore.

Even if you haven’t lost your bag, you can easily find it in the airport with this feature and your phone.  But what if your phone needs a charge?  You can charge it directly from the Bluesmart, which has a built in 10,000 mAh battery.  That’s enough juice to charge your phone a half a dozen times, or to charge 6 phones one time each, if you happen to be traveling with 6 phones.  It comes with a charging cable.

You’ll find room inside the Bluesmart for clothes, shoes, and more, as well as room for a 15″ laptop.

The Bluesmart isn’t exactly cheap; the start at a bit over $300 and one model costs twice that.  On the other hand, if you travel a lot, and many people do, then you may well find it to be a good investment.

You can buy the Bluesmart at the company’s Website.

Weld and Repair Plastic

Bondic plastic welderWhen plastic parts break, you usually attempt to fix them with super glue, and when that doesn’t work, you throw them away and buy a new one.  Sure, if you’ve got deep pockets, you can buy a 3D printer and make a new part, but that’s overkill for a lot of small repairs, where the investment in time to design the part just isn’t worth it.

A new product called Bondic offers another solution.  Bondic, which their Website says is “not a glue,” is actually a welder for plastic.  The applicator works rather like a pen, and you can “draw” plastic wherever you need it.  You can use this handy tool to fill cracks, attach two pieces together, or even create a new piece.  The liquid is fairly sticky, so it will stay in place until it hardens.

Here’s the fun part – Bondic will not harden until it has been exposed to ultraviolet light.  You can work with it to your heart’s content, and when you’ve finally got it where you want it, then, and only then, can you harden it by exposing it to UV light.  That’s easy to do, as there’s a UV light source attached to the other side of the pen.

How long does it take to harden?  Four seconds.

Even super glue doesn’t set that quickly, and Bondic isn’t glue.  It’s plastic.

Apparently, the product was created by a German dentist who was using similar material in his dental work.  He got to wondering why we couldn’t use the product for everyday repairs.  A short time later, he found a partner in the U.S. and brought the product to market.

The various videos on the site give numerous examples of how to put Bondic to use.  You can do all kinds of things with it.  The thing that impressed me the most was using it to attach something to the inside of an aquarium that was already full of water.  Put Bondic on the part, immerse it in the water, press it up against the glass, and then shine the UV light on it from the outside.  Four seconds later, it’s stuck to the glass wall.

Not only does Bondic get rock-hard in just four seconds, but once it hardens, you can do whatever you like with it.  You can paint it, you can drill holes in it, you can cut it with a saw, or you can sand it to shape.

There are a lot of good things about this amazing product, but here’s the best one – it’s cheap.  The basic starter kit includes the applicator with the built-in UV light source, a 4 gram tube of plastic, and a carrying case.  The price for all of this cutting edge technology?

Twelve dollars.

People have become pretty attached, if you will, to this product, and if you visit YouTube, you’ll find hundreds of videos showing how people have found interesting uses for this product.

I don’t have an immediate use for it, but it strikes me as the sort of thing that I should just keep in a drawer.  When you need it, you’re going to want to have it right now and not have to wait a couple of days for someone to mail it to you.

 

An Erasable Smart Notebook

rocket wave notebookDifferent people work best in different media.  While some people work best at a computer, using spreadsheets and word processors, others find their muse and get better results taking notes the old fashioned way – on paper.

That’s fine; paper still has its uses.  But paper tends to build up a lot of clutter.  You sometimes can’t find your notes when you need them.  And what if you decided that something you wrote down by hand would serve you better in the Cloud?

That’s where the Rocket Wave notebook can help you.  At first, I thought the concept was a silly one, but as I read more about it, it started to make more sense.

The Rocket Wave looks like a regular paper notebook with a spiral binding, just like the ones you used in school.  You can write in it with a special pen called a FriXion, which is available in different colors.  You can write in the Rocket Wave with this pen just as you would on any other notebook.  You can take notes, do calculations, draw doodles – whatever you like.  It acts just like a paper notebook, and you’ve got 80 pages to work with.

Then what?  Ordinarily, when a notebook gets full, you either file it away or throw it away.  You could do that with the Rocket Wave, but you really don’t have to, as it’s erasable.  To erase, just put the notebook in the microwave.  A logo on the front cover will change color when it’s done.  The special paper heats up and the ink turns clear when it reaches a temperature of 140°.   When it reaches that temperature, your pages are erased, and you can reuse the notebook.

According to Rocket Wave, the notebook can be erased five times.

That’s great, but for $25, it’s sort of an expensive notebook, given that you can buy five paper notebooks for a lot less money.  That’s where the Rocket Wave app comes in.  If you install the app on your smartphone or tablet, you can use it to transfer anything you’ve written in the notebook to the Cloud.  Each page in the notebook has 7 special icons, and you can assign those icons to specific online applications.

Then you can mark an icon on a page, and take a picture of it with your phone or tablet.  The page will be instantly converted into an online document and uploaded to your online application of choice.  You can send it to Google Docs, or Dropbox, or Evernote, and more.  That way, you can collaborate with others, even using handwritten notes.

The app works with both Android devices and the IOS, so you can use it with pretty much any device you like.  The Rocket Wave is also available in two sizes – standard (8.5 x 9.5 inches), executive (6 x 8.9 inches).

rocket wave appThe real magic is in the FriXion pen, which uses the special thermal ink.  You can use that pen on regular paper and heat it to erase it, but that doesn’t work as well as the specially treated paper in the Rocket Wave.  Besides, heating paper often leads to bad results.

Not everyone is going to need the Rocket Wave, as a lot of people have learned to work with other media.  If you’re old-school and like working with good, old fashioned notebooks, but still want to stay connected to the online world, the Rocket Wave offers a good opportunity to do both.

You can find the Rocket Wave for about $25 at Amazon, as well as at other retailers.

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