Turn Your TV Into a PC

asus cs10 A lot of us like to keep our gadgets separate.  A PC is a PC.  A TV is a TV.  A smartphone is a smartphone.  If you have the luxury of space, you can do that, and allow every device to perform its single function.

Not everyone has that luxury, however, and sometimes necessity requires that you bundle devices into other devices just to save space…or money.

If you’re having that problem wit your PC and/or your TV, here’s the solution – you an turn your TV into a PC with the ASUS Chromebit CS10 stick computer.

The CS 10 looks like an oversized flash drive, but it plugs into your TV’s HDMI port, rather than a USB port.  You’ll also need to plug it into the wall, as HDMI, unlike USB, doesn’t provide power.  The CS 10 has Bluetooth capability, so you can use it with a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard and mouse and that, combined with your TV, gives you a fully-functional desktop PC on your television.

The operating system is Chrome, which is a Linux derivative.  The CS10 uses a ROckchip RK 3288 processor and has 2 GB of integrated system RAM and another 16 GB of storage memory.  You can also add a flash drive for additional storage capability.

Wireless networking is built in, with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, so you’ll be able to connect to your router and on to the Web.  You’ll also have access to a 100 GB Google drive in the cloud, so you’ll have plenty of additional storage space.  On the downside, you will have to sign into a Google account to use it, which could be a problem if you’re one of those people who isn’t a Google fan.

The CS 10 is surprisingly affordable, as it’s priced at under $100.  That’s pretty impressive for anything that can call itself a computer, though you’ll have to pay extra for the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, unless, of course, you just happen to have those lying around.

asus cs 10 kitHooking up a device like the ASUS CS 10 to your TV can be a bit awkward, as I found out when I tried to hook up my FireTV stick a while back.  Fortunately, like the FireTV stick, the CS 10 includes an HDMI extender cord so you don’t have to plug it directly into the TV.  You’ll also receive 4 hook and loop fasteners which will help you organize your cables.

While the CS 10 is a fully functional PC, it obviously has some limitations.  It doesn’t have an optical drive, for instance, and some TVs are going to provide a better experience for doing work than others.  I’m not sure, for instance, that I want to do work on a 55 inch monitor.  Still, in a pinch, it’s a nice solution for someone who occasionally needs a PC or for someone who is just short on space.  If you’re in a small apartment and you’re having to make a choice between having room for a computer or room for a TV, and you don’t need to spend all your time on the computer, then a CS 10 might make sense.

It’s certainly about the most affordable functional computer out there.  Even if you have to buy a keyboard and a mouse, you’re still in for a bit over $100.  That’s pretty cheap.

You can find the CS 10 at Amazon, and probably at a zillion other places, too.

 

Your Smart Pillow Has Arrived

These days, it seems like everything is becoming “smart,” including a bunch of things that don’t need to be.  Since the notion first occurred to someone that a device could become either Web-enabled or microprocessor controlled, it seems that just about everything is now being built that way by somebody.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of room for improvement in the world of, well, just about everything.  Some ideas, however, seem a bit silly, like the smart padlock that I recently saw at Home Depot.  You can open it with your smartphone, but you can’t use it outdoors.  It was expensive, and frankly, didn’t look all that sturdy, which is usually the first thing you want in a padlock.

That aside, the Zeeq Smart Pillow might actually be an OK idea.  I don’t know that the world actually needs a smart pillow, but since the device manages to combine the functions of several things that you may already have in your bedroom – an alarm clock, a radio/music player, and a pillow, this one might not be a bad idea.

The Zeeq originated as a Kickstarter project and apparently did well at the funding stage.  In fact, it’s now available for retail sale, though at the moment, it’s only available in the UK.

What does the Zeeq Smart Pillow do?  For starters, it is said to be a very comfortable pillow, which is always a plus if you’re trying to sleep.  It’s also impressive if you’re talking about something upon which you’re going to rest your head, given that it has all kinds of gadgets inside of it.  If they can load it with hardware and still keep it comfortable, then we’re all the better off for it.

What kind of gadgets are inside?

  • A programmable music player.  There are 8 speakers inside the pillow, and you can set the timer so the music plays for a predetermined amount of time.  It connects to your smartphone via an app, so you can feed it music from the source of your choice.
  • A snore alarm.  A built in microphone triggers the pillow to gently vibrate when you’re snoring, which may encourage you to roll over to a different position without being awakened.
  • Sleep analysis.  The Zeeq connects to your smartphone and keeps track of your sleep data as well as your Snore Score.
  • A smart alarm.  The Zeeq keeps track of your sleep and awakens you at the proper time in your sleep cycle.  At least, that’s what they say…
  • Comfort.  This pillow has a foam outer shell and removable memory foam clusters
  • Two week battery life.  That’s impressive in a world where most smart devices have to be recharged on a daily basis.
  • Tencel fabric.  This material is washable and is said to be naturally bacteria resistant.

Honestly, I don’t know if anyone needs a smart pillow, but you likely already have an alarm clock and a music player and a pillow in your room.  If you travel, you could take the Zeeq with you and have all of your bases covered with just one gadget.

There is a downside, of course, and that’s the price.  New technology never comes cheaply, and that’s certainly the case here.  While the original stated price for the Zeeq was £249, it’s now available for £199, which is a bit over $200 for those of use who pay in dollars.

Expensive?  Yes, it is.  Necessary?  Not really.  Useful?  Perhaps.  The snore monitor may be useful, and if the smart alarm works as it’s supposed to, waking you at the proper time in your sleep cycle, then you may be a lot less groggy in the morning.

I don’t know if the Zeeq Smart Pillow is really necessary, or if anyone really needs a smart pillow at all.  But the music feature is nice, and the whole thing makes a lot more sense than the smart padlock does.

The Zeeq is available here.

Aerix Aerius – A Really Small Drone

aerix aerius world's smallest drone
The world’s smallest drone

Drones are pretty popular these days, and they’ve come a long way from the days when they were large bulky flying machines that were owned and operated by the government.  Today, there are hundreds, or even thousands of drones that are available for consumer use, and thanks to Chinese manufacturing, they’re largely quite affordable.

If you don’t own a drone already, chances are that you know someone who does.  Some of them are just fun playthings, but many of them can carry cameras so you can engage in surveillance or a bit of unauthorized snooping on your neighbors.   Most drones that can carry cameras have some significant size to them, and that can be a drawback, particularly if you have limited space available for flight or storage.

That’s where the Aerix Aerius comes in.  Aerix is a New York state-based manufacturer of drones, and the Aerius is one of their latest products and currently claims to be the world’s smallest quadcopter.

How small?  The Aerius measures 3cm x 3cm x 2 cm.  That’s about 1 3/16″ square, and about 3/4″ tall.  It’s small enough that the remote controller for it has a built-in storage compartment for the drone itself.

What about features?  It’s got plenty.  The Aerius features 6 axis gyro stabilization, which makes it really easy to fly.

If you’re new to flying drones, don’t worry, as the Aerius includes several pre-programmed maneuvers that allows it to make flips and rolls at the push of a button.  No more crashing into furniture while you’re learning to do tricks.

You’ll find that the Aerius also has brightly colored LED lamps that make it easy to see and which make it easy to see the drone’s orientation.   If you’re new to flying, the “headless mode” locks the orientation to make the Aerius easier to fly.

aerix aerius controllerThe Aerius can fly for 5-7 minutes on a charge, and it takes 15-20 minutes to recharge the device using a USB cable.

If you care about such things, you can choose from four different colors.  Actually, at a price of just $22, you could buy one in more than one color, if you like.

Crashes are inevitable with any drone, and Aerix sells a set of four extra blade just in case you crash into something and break one.

Aerix isn’t new to the micro-drone field, their Turbo X model was previously the smallest drone, but it’s about 1/3 larger than the Aerius.

Admittedly, a drone this small isn’t particularly useful.  At that size, you can’t really do anything with it aside from flying it around.  It’s not going to carry any cargo or a camera.  It certainly isn’t big enough for a bumper sticker.   It’s just a novelty.  On the other hand, it’s a pretty cool novelty, and one that’s a lot of fun to fly.

Reviews on the site are overwhelmingly positive, as well.  Buyers say the thing works well right out of the box.

I haven’t yet jumped into the drone market, and I’m not sure that I really have a use for one.  On the other hand, it looks like a pretty fun toy, and it looks like something that might just make a pleasant diversion while taking a coffee break from work.

If you’re looking for a fun, eye-catching (barely!) toy at a great price that’s sure to please a crowd, you might want to take a look at the Aerix Aerius.

Here’s a demo video:

The Talelight Electronic Bumper Sticker

talelight electronic bumper stickerEver put a bumper sticker on your car?  I’m sure you have; people just love to express their opinions. Of course, opinions change, and bumper stickers get worn out and sometimes, it’s no longer trendy to have a “Bush/Cheney ’04” sticker on the back of your car.

But we’re often lazy, and those stickers have a tendency to hang around for a long time, because it’s a nuisance to remove them.  So they sit, and people see you at stoplights and make fun of your no-longer-relevant message.

That’s where the Talelight comes in handy.  The Talelight bills itself as the world’s first electronic bumper sticker.   It attaches to the back of your car with provided 3M adhesive tape and it’s powered by any 5 volt USB source.  There’s a 15 foot power cord and an adapter that will allow you to plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter or 12 volt power source.

The display measures 1280×320 and can store up to 25 static images.  For legal reasons, the Talelight will not display any images with motion, so you can’t use an animated gif or movie file.

You can create images using Photoshop or any graphics program, and you can upload them to the Talelight Website.  The company provides an app that you can use on a smartphone or tablet to manage your device.  You can create your own images or text, or you can download premade bumper stickers from the company Website.  These are available for purchase, though they’re typically just $2-$3.  You can also create your own virtual “bumper stickers” and put them up for sale on the site to make a few extra bucks here and there.

While many people might want to use this electronic bumper sticker to display a static message, you can program the Talelight to do far more than that.  You can have it rotate up to 25 images or you can schedule certain images to appear at certain times.  You could, for instance, have a different bumper sticker displayed for each day of the week.  Or you could set a calendar to display a special message on your birthday, for instance.

While the Talelight is a pretty clever device, there are a couple of minor drawbacks:

The device may not be legal everywhere.  Some jurisdictions (particularly California) have some pretty specific laws regarding what sorts of electronic or electrical “lighting” devices may appear on a vehicle.  The company freely admits that laws on this matter are somewhat vague, as there aren’t any other similar devices on the market…yet.

The Talelight isn’t particularly cheap.  It’s an electronic device and it’s one without any competition.  At this point, that means that it doesn’t have to be cheap; the company can sell it for whatever price the market will bear.  At the moment, that price is $129, plus shipping.

Not creative?  You’ll have to buy other people’s designs.  The Talelight Website has several hundred different bumper sticker designs for sale in their store.  Like I said, they’re cheap; the average price is about $2.50.  Still, some people bristle at the idea of paying for designs.

I’ve never really been the sort to put a bumper sticker on my car, but I know lots of people who do.  I also see lots of bumper stickers that are seriously outdated and the owners never got around to removing them.

If that’s you, or if you simply have so many opinions that putting a sticker on your car for every one of them would completely cover your car in bumper stickers, then you might find the Talelight to be a pretty good idea.

Here’s a video from the company Website:

Fast, Portable Transportation – The Mercane Wheels Trans Board

mercane wheels trans boardI was really excited when the Segway first hit the market, and then I saw the price tag.  As cool as they are, I just couldn’t justify spending $5000 on an electric scooter.   They’ve gotten a bit cheaper, and you can always buy second hand, but the price is still too steep.

Then the so-called “hoverboards” came along.  They were sort of like a Segway, minus the upright control, resulting in sort of a self-powered skateboard.  They were certainly cheaper, but when companies in China started cutting corners during manufacturing, we ended up with hoverboards that were prone to catching fire.

That quickly put an end to the hoverboard craze.  They’re still around, and still affordable, but people are understandably a lot less excited about them these days.

So, is there anything in between the $200 or so combustible hoverboard and the $5000 Segway?  There is, or at least, there will be soon.  That would be the Trans Board, from Mercane Wheels.  At the moment, they’re raising money on Indigogo to get final funding, and if you pledge money there, you can get the Trans Board for 57% off of the suggested $1249 retail price – just $549.

So, what is the Trans Board all about?

It’s a three-wheeled scooter, with two wheels in the front and one wheel in the back.  It has an upright control and steering bar like the Segway does.

It has a powerful 48 Volt battery that will allow you to go 25 miles on a charge.  Really.  I’m not sure you’d want to, as it’s not super fast, but it’s faster than a Segway – the Trans Board has a top speed of 22 miles per hour.

That means that you could, in theory, use it for a 12 mile commute each way.  Of course, it would take you more than a half an hour to get to work, but the Trans Board is quiet and appears to be fairly comfortable – at least as far as standing on a scooter is concerned.

trans board folded
The Trans Board folds with the push of a button.

When you get to work, then what?  You can fold the Trans Board up in just a couple of seconds.  Then you can use the handle to pull it on its two front wheels as though you were pulling a suitcase at an airport.

The ride is said to be a smooth one, thanks to the double-wishbone suspension.

The battery is detachable, so you can charge it either in the Trans Board or you can charge it separately.  Since the battery is removable, you can also buy a spare, and use that one when the other battery is charging.  You can also get an optional add-on battery that will give you an additional 12 miles of range.  This one mounts in between the footpads.

Charging is easy, but it isn’t necessarily fast.  Charging time is estimated to be about six hours.  If you’re going to use the Trans Board a lot, you definitely want to buy a spare battery for it.

The Trans Board is currently available for order in either black or white.  The unit is currently available for order at $549 + shipping.  Additional batteries are available for $125.  I’d recommend ordering one.

If you’re looking for a faster, cheaper, more attractive alternative to the Segway that isn’t likely to catch fire, the Mercane Wheels Trans Board looks like a good choice.

Here’s a video of the Trans Board in action:

Make Layered Cocktails the Easy Way

layered cocktailIf you’ve ever tried to make a layered cocktail, you’ll know that it can be a mess.  What’s a layered cocktail?  It’s a drink, usually alcoholic, that uses multiple ingredients of different colors, flavors and densities, and the drink is not mixed prior to being served.

Instead, each of the layers is poured individually, so that the individual ingredients each maintain a separate layer.  The resulting beverage usually looks pretty cool, and if you get the colors lined up right, it can look like a rainbow.

It’s a great idea in concept, but the execution can often create a mess.  The idea is to sort out the various liqueurs used in the recipe by specific gravity, and to pour each ingredient in order from heaviest to lightest.

The problem, of course, is that liquids naturally want to mix with one another and you have to really be careful to avoid having them mix together when you’re pouring them.

The usual trick for that is to use a spoon, turn it upside down, and to pour the liquid on top of the back of the bowl of the spoon slowly and to let it drip down on top of the layer below it.  Then you have to repeat this for each additional ingredient.  As some layered cocktails have as many as 7 or 8 ingredients, this can get tedious and each new layer provides an additional opportunity for you to screw it all up.

The result of that is often an ugly mess, as a bunch of interesting colored liqueurs mixed together usually results in something pretty close to black.

Here’s a video that shows you how to make a layered drink in the traditional way:

That works well, unless you’re clumsy, or in a hurry, or both.  That’s where the Rainbow Cocktail Layering Tool comes in handy.  While there clearly was no urgent need for this gadget to exist, it’s nice that it does, as it can speed up the process of making a layered drink tremendously and it can save you both time and wasted liquor.

The Rainbow Cocktail Layering Tool is a gadget that fits on top of your serving glass, and it has a funnel, a shaft,  and a sphere that sits on top of the liquid in your glass.  You pour your liqueur into the funnel, it slowly runs down the shaft, and it flows over the sphere to create a layer with no spills.

rainbow cocktail layering toolThe key to mixing a layered cocktail is to slow the flow, and the spoon method makes it all too easy to pour too quickly, and the flow of liquid from the bottle is often dependent on the mouth of the bottle itself.  The Rainbow Cocktail Layering Tool, on the other hand, gives you the ability to dramatically reduce the flow of liquid, which means that you won’t be pouring too quickly.  That way, you can get it right just about every time, without having to toss out the failed drinks that inevitably result from using the spoon method without a lot of practice.

The best part is that the gadget is affordable, too.  These days, you can spend thousands on barware, but this handy little tool is only about $15 or so.  I found it here.

I don’t make layered cocktails all that often; it’s the sort of thing you do to show off at parties or to prepare for special occasions.  Still, it’s another useful tool to have in your toolbox when you want to impress people and you don’t want to make a mess.

Skybuds – Wireless Sound on the Go

skybuds wireless ear budsMost people like to listen to music, and we don’t usually restrict our listening to when we’re at home.   Of course, we don’t usually want to share our music with the public, and often, the public is grateful for that.

That means that you’ll have to use ear buds or headphones, and frankly, those wires can be a bit of an annoyance.  They get tangled, and sometimes they get caught in things, and are generally a nuisance.  Still, until recently, that’s all we had available, unless you wanted to listen using the not-so-great speakers on your tablet or phone.

Now there’s another option – Skybuds.  Skybuds are wireless ear buds that allow you to listen to music without having to bother with cords.  They work with Bluetooth, so you can use them with any Bluetooth-enabled device, and these days, that covers a lot of ground.

The rechargeable Skybuds twist and lock into your ears, and they’re water-resistant, so you can even use them while you’re running or working out.  That’s not all of the features, though – Skybuds do a whole lot more…

  • Passive noise cancellation.  The Awareness feature lets you choose between Active and Adaptive mode, so you can hear as much (or as little) of the outside world as you like.
  • Built-in microphone.  With the simple push of a button on your Skybud, you can take an incoming call.
  • Great sound.  According to the Skybuds Website, they include a balanced armature driver coupled with psychoacoustic features such as bass enhancement for premium sound.
  • Three different tips allow you to adjust them to fit your ears.
  • Lost them?  The Find My Skybuds feature will allow you to locate them.  For this, you’ll need the latest version of the app, but you can find them using either Location or Proximity.  Proximity will help detect them within three distance ranges.  Location will show you the last place the system remembered receiving a Bluetooth signal from them.
  • Four hours of sound between charges.  For gadgets of any kind, including Skybuds, power is often a problem. The Skydock is a portable recharging device that holds five additional charges.  You can charge the Skydock and then take it with you.  When the Skybuds run out of power, you can charge them from the dock.  You can also charge both simultaneously.

find my skybuds appWhile the Skybuds do have a lot of features, work well, and are certainly convenient, they do have a bit of a drawback – they’re not exactly cheap.   That’s often the case with new technology, though it’s likely that the current price of approximately $200 will drop as the product becomes more successful and as competitors enter the market.

When you’re the only one in town offering something new and cool, the price tends to be high.  But others will soon come up with their own variation on the product, and once that happens, the price will likely drop.  I suspect that we’ll see wireless earbuds below $100 within a year or so.  For now, Skybuds are the only game in town, and they’re charging accordingly.

Still, if you travel a lot, they’re going to be awfully convenient, and avoiding the hassle of cords and plugs and tangles may very well be worth a couple of Benjamins to you.

Power When You Need It – The Schumacher Storm700

schumacher storm 700 power supplyThese days, everything runs on electricity.  At least, the fun sorts of gadgets that I write about here run on electricity.  That’s fine; we have a power grid in this country that provides pretty reliable power…most of the time.

Sometimes, when the weather gets bad, you can have a power failure, and that can leave you in a position where your phone, or tablet or whatever other device you can’t live without isn’t going to run if you can’t recharge it.

A lot of people have emergency generators for those occasions, but there are times and places where an emergency generator isn’t practical or isn’t allowed – like most apartments.  If you’re living in those sorts of environments, you’re going to need another source, and that’s where the Schumacher Storm700  can come in handy.

The Schumacher Storm700 is a pretty hefty emergency power source, but it’s self-contained, as it’s basically a large set of batteries with a couple of places where you can plug in.  You’ve likely seen the small devices that you can use to quickly charge up your phone, but the Schumacher Storm700  is a different sort of animal.

How different?  The Schumacher Storm700  is able to provide up to 700 watts of power, giving you power for 3-9 hours.  You’ll be able to charge up and use a number of different devices for a fairly long period of time.

schumacher storm 700 emergency powerThe Schumacher Storm700  includes:

  • An inverter with 1400 peak watts
  • Two 120 Volt outlets
  • A 12 volt DC outlet
  • Two 2.1 amp USB ports

So you can power up USB devices, 12 volt devices or items that use old-fashioned house current.    There are LEDs that show you the status of the system and how much power you have remaining.  Of course, all of this power does have its drawbacks – the Schumacher Storm700  weighs a bit more than 50 pounds, which makes it a bit of a burden to lug around.

Fortunately, the device has a handle and wheels and you can haul it around much like you would a suitcase at the airport.

While the Schumacher Storm700  might be a great thing to have around the house in the event of an emergency, you can certainly be proactive in its use, as well.  It’s great for taking on a camping trip, or to a tailgate party, or to a block party, or to any outdoor event where it might just be handy to have up to 700 watts of power for a few hours.  You could provide some tunes for a party, or use it to provide some lighting for a backyard cookout.

With an optional cable, you can also connect it to an additional battery.

Really, the uses for the thing are unlimited.   What’s the price for having all of this power at your fingertips?  About $300, and you won’t have to order it from some exclusive Website, either.  In fact, you can get the Schumacher Storm700  at a number of home improvement stores.

If you want some more information, I found a great review of this backup system at YouTube:

I don’t have one yet, but this one is definitely on my “must have” list.  We tend to have some pretty heavy winter storms where I live, and power outages happen every now and again.

Great idea.  Lots of power.  Great price.  Sounds like a winner to me.

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