Top 5 Tech Toys of 2008

By: Daniel Koepke - Posted: 2009-02-10

For my first tech article of 2009, I'm going to work two of the most prolific cliches found on the Internet at the beginning ofthe year. One, being a look backto 2008 and two, a list. If you have spent any time at all on the Internet, especially sites like Digg or Reddit, you're already used to being hammered with several lists a day. Instead of doing a "best of" list or limit the list to items that actually were new in 2008, I'm taking a different approach. This list is simply my top five gadgets, tech toys, software or anything I found really cool, in a geeky sort of way, last year.

 

So, without further ado, here is my Top 5 List of Tech Toys discovered in 2008!

 

5. Samsung Color Laser Printer CLP-300 (http://www.samsung.com/us/consumer/detail/detail.do?group=printersmultifunction&type=printersmultifunction&subtype=colorlaserprinters&model_cd=CLP-300/XAA)

 

2008 was the last straw regarding printers. I bought another one of those budget, all-in-one printers at Wal-Mart for under $30. I'm cheap; I don't print a lot, so this seemed like a great deal. Plus, my wife does most of the printing at home, which is mostly scrap booking. I probably print about six pages a year from home (that's what work printers are for, after all). So, after about three months with this budget printer, we started having problems with print quality. After troubleshooting and screwing around with the ink cartridges for a couple weeks, we bought a new set (which consequently cost twice as much as the printer) but still had problems. That was it. Time to find a decent printer, spend the money and not hassle with this stuff anymore. I decided to go with a laser printer but when I started seeing prices, I was surprised that a color laser printer could be purchased, new, for under $300. After doing some more research online, and with a budget in mind (I'm cheap, remember?), the Samsung CLP-300 was ordered (free shipping to boot!). I must say, I've been extremely happy with the purchase. No more fiddling with ink cartridges. No more first page looking like crap from not printing anything for weeks. It has been a great personal printer that has exceeded every expectation I've had!

 

4. Free Public Access UNIX (http://sdf.lonestar.org/)

 

I'm a geek. I build computers and there's not much that beats restoring a 10 year old computer and giving it useful function again. I also love software and for the ultimate tinkerer, Linux can't be beat. So, when I find something for free, something older than Linux and something I can play with on about any computer...well, I'm very much loving life! So, when I found free public access UNIX shell accounts, I was beyond intrigued. I immediately signed up on the SDF website and within moments I was remotely accessing my free shell account. Now to the untrained eye, there's not much to do with a free shell account. You already need Internet access to get to it. Most people already have access to free email accounts via Yahoo! or Google, so having another email account isn't too exciting. But, if you are a throwback techie like me, there's something about remoting into a computer and seeing your screen in black and white, checking your E-mail via Pine, chatting via Internet Relay Chat (IRC) and navigating from the command line. The other benefit is that I can access SDF from work and with all modern day chat programs being blocked, I can remote into the server, connect to IRC and hook my Yahoo! Messenger, MSN, IRC or AIM accounts right through it. I get a little rush at thinking I'm smarter than our IT folks at work, I get to play in the UNIX environment and I get practical use out of my account by chatting with friends. That's a lot of win!

 

3. DSTT for Nintendo DS (http://www.ndstt.com/index.html)

 

In addition to being cheap and a geek, I'm also a gamer. And there's nothing cooler to me than showing my geek and gamer skills on a portable system. So, when I realized I could add some custom software to my Nintendo DS Lite (and even Linux), I had to do it. So, I did some research, found the cheapest DS Slot-1 Flashcard I could, and ordered it from some geeky Chinese website. Four weeks later, I had a package from Hong Kong with my brand, spanking new DSTT card in the mailbox. Now there's a lot of things you can do with a card like this, some legal (i.e. homebrew games) and some illegal (i.e. ROM copies of about every Nintendo DS/Gameboy game every released). I will just share my experience on the legal end of things. Armed with the DSTT card and a 2GB micro SD card, I started downloading some games to my PC and copying it over to the card. Once I had that done, I just plugged the card into my DS Lite and I had a new menu with a ton of new software and games. I was a bit disappointed that Linux didn't run. Apparently my cheap card wasn't compatible with DSLinux (but many others are), but I've barely had time to notice while playing homebrew games like Lockjaw (a tetris clone), DrugWars and Nethack, listening to MP3s or using a personal planner called DSOrganize. Its truly amazing at all the cool stuff you can find by simply searching for "DS homebrew". And because "installing" a game is as easy as copying a file to a micro SD card, it really couldn't be much easier.

 

2. Google Calendar(http://www.google.com/calendar)

 

Being married and having two kids, my schedule can be brutal. We've tried dry erase board planners in the kitchen, magnetic weekly planners on the refrigerator and even tried some shared Outlook calendars, but nothing worked well for us. So, when we had our second child last October, I was determined to find a solution that would work. It had to be easy for my wife and me to use, had to be accessible over the web and not need a PhD. to install or set up. The solution: Google Calendar. I created a new Gmail account, but you could actually share between multiple Gmail accounts or even share the calendar with any email address. No matter how you set it up, the Calendar is easy to manage, easy to access and can even be setup to update and view through text messaging. If you are familiar with Outlook appointments or comfortable experimenting with the software for a night or so to get the hang of it, you'll be up and running. We use it to communicate and share each of our schedules, kid's play dates, doctor appointments, date nights...just about anything we need to block some time for. You could use it instead of a personal planner (there are some export/syncing options), for business or even figuring out availability for band practices. So, if you are looking to get organized in 2009, give Google Calendar a try!

 

1. LG enV2 (http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/store/controller?item=phoneFirst&action=viewPhoneDetail&selectedPhoneId=3725)


So, we are down to #1 and my favorite little toy/gadget of 2008 is...(drum roll, please) my new "text phone" from Verizon. When my 2-year contract was up in August and because about everyone I knew already had one, my next phone had to have a full keyboard. At first, I thought it was more just a cool factor, but after using it for the last 5 months, its just so practical and makes my life easier. I don't have to carry a pocket computer, iPhone or Blackberry. Its easy to text and I find myself doing so more often. There's plenty of applications to connect to via text messages: Facebook, Twitter, Google Calendar, to name just a few and I even downloaded Tetris Mania for those times I'm in my "2nd office" having to "think" for a while. And I haven't even messed with email connectivity, web access or the huge library of downloaded applications that are available. While the LG enV2 was my first choice, I'd say just about any phone with a full keyboard would have given me just as much geeky tech fun.

 

So, those are my top 5 tech toys in 2008. Some are pretty focused on geeky hobbies or have only niche uses, but others have a general appeal that almost anyone can put to work. I'd be happy to share more, so feel free to find me on FWM.com, start a topic or simply send an email to deek@deeksworld.com. Any and all feedback is welcomed, as are any topics you'd be interested in for a future article.


Next month, I'll explore a few of my favorite Linux LiveCDs, so anyone curious or interested in Linux on your desktop, without having to worry about messing anything up on your PC, will not want to miss out!

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