Contest #2: The Hardware Hall Of Fame

Here's your second of four chances to win an iPod or 36 other prizes in the Great Tech Call-'Em-Like-You-See-'Em Contest. Give us your two cents and win!

June 13, 2005

32 Min Read
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When it comes to technology awards, we are usually treated to long-winded treatises by self-appointed experts who don't really know a bit from a byte, and who worship anything shiny and new. What we don't get is a rundown of the best tech from all the grunts out there who use computers day-to-day.

We're about to fix that.

Welcome to The Great Tech Call-'Em-Like-You-See-'Em Contest, the contest where you can win one of two iPods, plus 36 other cool prizes.

Each week for four weeks we'll expound on a different theme in a series of short essays by various TechWeb Pipeline editors and then let our readers take over by submitting their own contributions. The topics are:

  • The Software Hall Of Fame: What is your favorite software app of the last 10 years? (There's still time to enter!)

  • The Hardware Hall Of Fame: What's the best hardware you've come across in the past decade? (Enter from the last page of this story.)

  • The Next Big Thing: There's a lot of great stuff coming up. What tech do you see in your future? (Enter now!)

  • Helpless User Stories: Tell us your best, funniest, and/or most horrifying story of user lo-jinks. (Now open!)Why are we doing this? Because we want to know what you think is the most useful, most elegant, coolest, or strangest tech that you've come across in the past 10 years. Something that changed your life — or made you stay up until 3 a.m. because it was just too great to stop playing with. Something that is either really popular because it deserves it — or that nobody else knows about, but would be on everyone's system if all the rest of us idiots knew what you knew.

    This week, we're looking for entries to our Hardware Hall Of Fame. No device is too big, too little, too cool, or too geeky to get a fair hearing. All we ask is that you pick something that's been available in the past 10 years. As you'll see, our editors wandered pretty far afield searching for their Hall Of Fame picks. So, whether it's hardware you love to use, used to love, or simply lay awake at night discussing with the voices in your head, we want to hear all about it.

    Why would you want to write about your favorite hardware? Really? To win prizes, of course.

    About The Contest
    How do you win? It's easy.1.  Read our editors' essays. This week, ten TechWeb editors have written their hearts out to convince you that their hardware picks are the best there are. Read them — because they're clever; because you'll learn about some really fantastic tech; because they'll clue you in on the type of essays we're looking for; and because, well, we've worked hard on these!

    2.  Write 200 to 500 words about some hardware you're nuts about. Impress us with your erudition, make us laugh, dazzle us with your well-reasoned arguments, do something to make us sit up and take notice. Remember, in our contest — as in life — style counts. Write as often as you like — but each entry has to be about a different product, technology, or true story.

    3.  Send us your deathless prose using the contest form on the last page of this article.

    4.  Keep your fingers crossed!

    All entries must be received by July 5. On or around July 15, our team of judges (drawn from the TechWeb Pipeline editors) will award the writers of the very best essays with one of our fantastic prizes:

  • Grand Prize: An Apple iPod Photo 30GB

  • First Prize: An Apple iPod Mini 6GB

  • 10 Second Prizes: X1 Technologies' X1 Desktop Search, Outlook + Lotus Notes Edition

  • 26 Runner-Up Prizes: Six Logitech QuickCams (three QuickCam for Notebooks Deluxe and three QuickCam Communicate STX versions), 10 copies of Thornsoft Development's ClipMate Clipboard Extender for Windows, and 10 copies of Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy.

Please read the contest rules for important information. Many thanks to X1, Logitech, Thornsoft, and Sunbelt Software for contributing their goods to our cause.This Week's Assignment: The Hardware Hall Of Fame
Read on to find out which products our editors chose for the Hardware Hall Of Fame. After you've read our picks, tell us what you think!

Canon EOS Digital Rebel
By Matt McKenzie

I'm not much of a photographer. When I point and click, the results could pass for one of those blurry UFO snapshots that make you wonder if aliens get a secret kick out of buzzing obscure, moonshine-addled country hamlets.

What I lack in hand-eye coordination and artistic potential, however, I've always managed to conceal behind my superb taste in technology. And when you're talking about digital photography, Canon's EOS Digital Rebel sits squarely astride the sweet spot for any consumer electronics product: the point where professional-quality tools finally become affordable to people who have no business using them.

By "affordable," I'm referring to the fact that the Rebel was the first interchangeable-lens SLR digital camera to retail for less than $1,000. I realize that may seem like a lot of money -- for that amount you can buy a decent PC setup and still walk away with a well-padded wallet -- but for the digital camera market, circa 2003, the Digital Rebel's street price was tantamount to Communist Insanity. At the time, none of Canon's competitors were willing to follow the Digital Rebel down this road with anything resembling similar quality for the price; Nikon's D70 came the closest, although to this day you'd be hard-pressed to find one for much less than $1,100.

Perhaps I should explain a few things at this point, for those of you too lazy to type the letters S-L-R into Google. Without getting into technical details I'm too tired to invent anyway, Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras allow a photographer to view an image directly through the lens, rather than through a viewfinder set off to one side. This offers some major advantages, including the ability (albeit one which eludes me) to focus on an image more accurately; to select from a huge number of easily interchangeable lenses; and, when shooting objects at a distance, to avoid problems caused by seeing them at a slightly different angle than the lens itself.

The Digital Rebel sits astride the sweet spot where professional-quality tools become affordable to people who have no business using them.

For these reasons and many others, professional photographers (and thus thousands of other deluded souls with more money than talent) have favored SLR cameras at least since the 1970s. Marrying SLR technology, including the lenses, to digital camera backs was possible before the Digital Rebel, of course, but only at a price even the most profligate wannabe thought twice about paying. Less than three years before it launched the Rebel, for instance, Canon "shocked" the digital camera market with the EOS D-30, which carried an oh-so-modest $2,999 street price.

Nor was the Rebel some sort of cheap stunt designed to rip off poor boobs who didn't notice the asterisk signifying that the "L" in "SLR" actually stood for "Latvia." Canon built the Rebel using an electronics package similar to its already highly-regarded EOS 10-D, which had just hit the market six months earlier at a street price of $1,500. The Rebel also inherited from the 10-D a superb 6 megapixel image sensor which, barely a year earlier, would have cost consumers well over $2,000.

I could go on, but it's naptime. In any case, the Rebel's rave reviews, dozens of which are available online, tell the tale. Reading them is like watching Gene Shalit review the latest Feel-Good Smash Hit Of The Year after inhaling two martinis and falling down a flight of stairs -- except, of course, the Rebel deserves every last bit of the praise heaped upon it.

Matt McKenzie is Editor of Linux Pipeline.Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
Toyota Prius
By Mike Elgan

Most people think the 2005 Toyota Prius, with its Hybrid Synergy Drive engine, is a green, feel-good car for aging hippies and annoying Hollywood starlets.

Sure, the gas mileage is so good you find yourself actually pointing and laughing at SUV owners at gas stations. Emissions are so low it would take you two weeks to kill yourself with a Prius in a garage.

But what's really great is that the Prius is so friggin' high-tech it would make George Jetson blush. It feels and drives like something out of a science fiction movie, with its power-on button, electronically controlled transmission stick, rounded, low-slung dash, far-off instrument lighting, and its intelligence.

Emissions are so low it would take you two weeks to kill yourself with a Prius in a garage.

Intelligence? Oh, yeah. The keyless entry system uses a small RFID-enabled remote you never take out of your pocket. At night, when you approach the car, the interior light gradually illuminates before you get there. Touch the door handle, and it unlocks before you pull it. Leave the key in the car, and it makes a ruckus. Start to get out with the car in "drive" (easy to do because the engine is often silent), and it lets you know. The computerized idiot-proofing built into this car is nothing short of breathtaking.

Is the Toyota Prius a very high-tech car, or is it a computer on wheels? What do you call a car with four powerful computers that control engine operation; a built-in, touch-sensitive LCD panel in the dash that monitors engine performance; a power-on button (just like your PC has, but bigger); and an Apple-like cult of believers who build Web sites to share tips and tricks, modding ideas, and reverse-engineering techniques? Toyota even issued a software patch when a bug was discovered in one of the Prius' computers.

Prius owners obsessively use and brag about driving techniques like "feathering" (a trick with the gas pedal that kicks it into electric-only operation) and the mother of all Prius tricks: "stealth" mode (driving only under electric power at low to medium speeds). And even these come in variants, including "warp stealth" (driving fast downhill under electric power) and, for the truly hardcore, "turbo stealth" (driving uphill on electric power).

There is a lot of misinformation out there about the Prius. Expensive? It starts at $21k and the resale value goes up after you buy it. Slow? A barely modified Toyota Prius holds the land speed record for hybrids: 130 mph. Small? Get in one and you'll be shocked at how roomy they are.

In fact, here's a warning: If you test-drive one, you will buy one. It's that cool.Oh, and it gets really, really good gas mileage!

Mike Elgan is Editor of Personal Tech Pipeline.

Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
Apple Newton
By David Haskin

Editor's Note: Three of our editors, whose entries follow, were infatuated enough with their PDAs to write about them here. Clearly, two of them are sadly deluded individuals with an unhealthy attachment to obsolete hardware. Which two? Read on, and decide for yourself.

From Computer Desktop EncyclopediaReproduced with permission.© 1993 Apple Computer, Inc.Click to enlarge.

It was big and clunky by today's mobile device standards — somewhere in size between a modern smartphone and an ultra-portable laptop. Its handwriting recognition was, at first, so wretchedly inaccurate that it became a running joke in the "Doonesbury" comic strip.But Apple's Newton, introduced in 1993, was the first significant personal digital assistant (PDA): a forerunner of the PalmPilot, which, in turn, was the forerunner for pretty much every connected mobile device that followed. The Newton was the device that proved information really was portable, and even though it was a commercial flop, it had a way of making the light bulbs flash on when people first saw it.

That's certainly what happened to me. Aha!, I thought, I can take my information with me, change it on the fly, and then synchronize it with my desktop! At the time, this was an incredible concept for those of us who sank hours and hours each week into maintaining our dead-tree DayTimers. And then there was the ability to write letters, dash out memos, and edit spreadsheets — amazing! Sure, we take all of this — and so much more — for granted now, but way back in 1993, it truly amounted to A Big Idea.

Even though it was a commercial flop,the Newton had a way of making the light bulbsflash on when people saw it.

I just pulled mine out of its box — it's a later-model Newton MessagePad 2000 — and, other than its size, it holds up well compared to its distant cousins, now selling by the millions all over the world. The Newton's interface was similar to, and in many ways easier to navigate than the PalmPilot, which came after the Newton and soon overshadowed it in terms of popularity. The Netwon also sported more software, including a scaled-down word processor and a spreadsheet app.

In addition, like Palm, Apple successfully launched a developers' community that spawned a variety of applications. Once in a restaurant in the mid-'90s, I was amazed to see the wait staff taking orders on their Newtons and transmitting them wirelessly to the kitchen. Given that neither Wi-Fi nor anything like it was available yet, how far ahead of its time was this?Ultimately, though, Newton never got past its shaky, highly-ridiculed debut. And the comparatively tiny and highly successful PalmPilot, while not as powerful, sealed Newton's fate. But by proving that information could be easily portable — and not just luggable — Apple's Newton was the bridge that carried us away from the mainframe-and-desktop era and towards the promised land of ubiquitous information.

David Haskin is Editor of Personal Tech Pipeline.

Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Mitch Wagner

The Pilot 1000 was a monumentally stupid idea.

It was 1996, and everybody knew that handheld computing was dead. There'd been an explosion of handhelds in the early '90s, they were all failures. The last — and biggest — boondoggle was the Apple Newton, introduced in 1993.Well, Palm's stupid idea, the Pilot 1000, sold 350,000 units by the end of 1996.

So much for what everybody knew.

Palm inventor Jeff Hawkins may not have invented the expression "Keep It Simple, Stupid" (KISS), but he sure lived by it. The Pilot had only a few simple applications, including calendar, address book, to-do list, and short memos, but it was great at the few things it did. And it soon learned to do more. Palm opened up the API for its operating system, and soon there were thousands of third-party applications. Palm licensed the operating system out to other hardware vendors, which gave users more choices.

And one of the smartest things of all: Palm made it easy to synchronize information between the handheld device and desktop PC. You can now synchronize your information to Outlook, or to the Yahoo online service, or to Palm's own simple, elegant Palm Desktop.

The Pilot 5000 was my first PalmPilot. It was pretty much the same as the 1000, except it had 512 KB of RAM to the 1000's 128 KB. Both units had a monochrome display, and no backlighting. One of the best and biggest breakthroughs for Palm was actually a third-party device: a fold-up keyboard from Think Outside. This little honey was about the size of the PalmPilot itself, it expanded to the size of a full-size desktop keyboard, and it allowed you to key in data to the PalmPilot anywhere you could find a flat surface to work. I use the combination to take notes when I'm doing face-to-face interviews. I've even written a couple of stories on the PalmPilot with the detachable keyboard; it's not exactly ideal, but it's good enough to bat out a few hundred words.

Palm inventor Jeff Hawkins may not have invented the expression "Keep It Simple, Stupid" (KISS), but he sure lived by it.

My current Palm is a Tungsten C. It's light-years from that first Pilot 1000, with 128 megabytes of memory (literally a thousand times greater than the Pilot 1000), a 256MB expansion chip, and a display that rivals my notebook computer in quality (though obviously not in size). It's got a great thumb keyboard. It even does Wi-Fi, so I can sit in my living room or at any hotspot and browse the Web.

Alas, the Tungsten C may well be my last PalmPilot. Handheld computers are getting replaced by smart cell phones. Pocket computer users almost always have cell phones too; why carry around two devices when you can just carry one? And Palm is slowly, but inexorably, getting squeezed out of the market by devices running Microsoft's Windows CE.

Palm computers will soon become the kind of wonderful, obsolete devices that gray-haired geeks like to sit around and reminisce about. But it's been a great run.Mitch Wagner is Senior Editor for the TechWeb Pipelines.

Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
Psion Revo
By Barbara Krasnoff

What is the opposite of bleeding edge? Whatever it is, I've got it. I have a tendency to hold on to my favorite devices until the only way to support them is through one of those obscure user forums that maybe 20-odd fanatics still read. This is why I'm currently using a Handspring Visor. And it's why I still occasionally pull out my Psion Revo.

In the days when Microsoft and Palm were still jousting for the title of Head PDA Honcho, the Psion line of handhelds was quietly thrilling those of us who wanted something different — and better. Psions, for one thing, had keyboards that actually worked; readable monochrome touch screens; and infrared ports (so you could exchange info with your Palm-toting friends). They used Psion's snazzy EPOC operating system, and they came with a variety of highly useful apps, including a word processor, spreadsheet, contact manager, calendar, browser, and email client. (Plus, if you wanted games or additional apps, there were bunches of freeware and shareware available online.)

As soon as I pulled out my Revo, all the techies would want to get their greedy little hands on it, play with the keyboard, and rifle through the apps.

The Revo was the last of the great Psions: Smaller and sleeker than its brethren, the clamshell case would open up into perfect typing position. The grey keyboard was just a trifle too scaled-down for touch typing, but it was perfect for either two-finger hunt-and-peck or, if I happened to be waiting for a bus, thumb typing. It was the next best thing to a laptop without the bulk, and it was way better than those floppy fold-out keyboards that Palm users struggled with. (Psionistas who needed to concentrate on document creation went for the slightly larger Psion 5mx, which boasted a slide-out keyboard that was big enough for touch typing, but was still small enough to fit into a shirt pocket.)

I knew I had a good thing going whenever I went to a trade show or convention where I could find two or more techies. As soon as I pulled out my Revo, they would all want to get their greedy little hands on it, play with the keyboard, and rifle through the apps. I just had to make sure somebody didn't "accidentally" drop it into their suit pocket.

Unfortunately, the Psion handhelds never really made it in the U.S. They were much more popular in Europe, where they outsold many of the other brands. Psion even tried OEMing the PDA to a U.S. company called SonicBlue, which briefly sold the Revo under the name Diamond Mako. All for naught — Psion eventually dropped all of its PDAs.

These days, a few stalwarts are still out there, trading software and advice, and pleading for donations of broken Psions to cannibalize for their own aging devices. Unfortunately, I'm not among the faithful. I held onto my Revo for a while, but eventually surrendered to inevitability and gave it up in favor of a Palm OS handheld.

I occasionally come across my Revo, buried in a drawer full of outdated hardware. I pull it out, power it up, and start to play with the keyboard. And I wonder why the heck I ever gave it up.Barbara Krasnoff is Reviews Editor for the TechWeb Pipelines.

Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
Apple AirPort Wireless Base Station
By Richard Hoffman

Image courtesy of Apple

Wi-Fi is so hot it's become boring. Every coffee shop, airport, and pretzel stand seems to have sprouted a wireless access point, and almost every laptop and PDA, along with plenty of other gadgets, are now able to use these wireless networks. In fact, Wi-Fi has become so cheap and easy to deploy that some cities are launching pilot projects to offer free, ubiquitous wireless access (that is, if the lobbyists working for the telecom giants don't squash the whole concept in the state legislatures).

But how did we get here? How did Wi-Fi go from a niche technology to something that people expect the same way they expect air to breathe? Two words: Apple AirPort. The little gray UFO-styled base station, which used a combination of repackaged Lucent hardware and Apple's home-built configuration software to support the then-new IEEE 802.11b standard, entered the market almost six years ago, in July 1999.

Apple wasn't the first vendor to offer Wi-Fi base stations or wireless-ready laptop hardware. In fact, Apple wasn't even selling its own hardware inside Airport. But the absolute rock-bottom price at which the company offered a ready-to-work set of hardware ($300 for the base station and $100 for the 802.11b NIC), along with a line of truly wireless-ready laptops, with built-in internal NIC sockets and wireless antennas, made Apple the first to offer easy, affordable wireless networking. And the company's simple, well-designed wireless network configuration utilities also did their share of the work for users, helping them master concepts such as WEP and NAT.All of this meant that Wi-Fi was, for the first time, accessible to the mass market. It also opened up the technology to K-12 schools and universities — groups that were among the early adopters, as they realized how wireless networks could do things like create mobile labs and help reduce wiring costs for new classrooms. At the same time, Apple put its creative muscle into a massive wireless marketing push, recognizing it as a competitive differentiator back when the technology was still largely confined to technophiles and early adopters.

The little gray UFO from Cupertino signaled the beginning of an era: the age of cheap, easy, ubiquitous wireless networking.

The rest, as they say, is history. Other vendors noticed Apple's success and ramped up their own Wi-Fi efforts. Wireless technology became more and more common, prices continued to drop, and eventually the AirPort went from being an absolute price-buster to getting a reputation as fairly high-end hardware.

One can argue how much longer Wi-Fi would have taken to hit the mainstream if Apple hadn't blazed a trail into the heart of the mass market. No matter what you think about this, it's a fact that the little gray UFO from Cupertino signaled the beginning of an era: the age of cheap, easy, ubiquitous wireless networking.

Richard Hoffman is Editor of Developer Pipeline.Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
Samsung 213T 21.3-Inch LCD Display
By Scot Finnie

I'm going to let the proverbial cat out of the bag.

I own a lot of computers. I mean, a lot of computers. Let me put it this way, the numbers are way, way into double digits. (Geek!)

Since I bought my first Samsung 213T LCD monitor almost two years ago, I've found I have a new problem. I'm heading toward double digits now on the number of Samsung 213T displays I own. (Nut case!)

My wife is cringing right now, imagining all our friends and relatives finding out. My son gave up on me long ago. But I can't help it.You see, words don't do this display justice. Even a picture isn't going to cut it. You have to plant yourself in front of Samsung's gorgeous 1600-by-1200-pixel 4:3 aspect ratio SyncMaster 213T to get it. And when you do, get it you will.

Because the other amazing thing about Samsung's 21.3-inch LCD monitor is that it's a terrific value. With street prices around $675 from online retailers, this is a large-screen LCD display that doesn't set you back $1,000 or more, as some do.

The 213T's 1600-by-1200-pixel by 21.3-inch display is desktop nirvana, with wide open spaces to spread out multiple windows.

Until you've seen what a display like this can do for you, you'll be skeptical that $700 is something you need to spend to improve your PC. Sure, 19-inch displays are nice, but 1280-by-1024 pixels isn't enough screen real estate to truly maximize multiple-window productivity. A 1600-by-1200-pixel by 21.3-inch display is desktop nirvana, with wide open spaces to spread out multiple windows, and still get to them. It's the perfect power-user size, whether you connect it to a Windows PC, a Linux box, or a Mac. The Samsung shines, especially if you use the DVI connector and connect to a top-notch video card.

There's another, surprising aspect to this display. Most LCDs have trouble displaying anything other than their native resolutions, or at least they have trouble displaying them well. Samsung was one of the first LCD makers to significantly improve the ability of its LCDs to do a decent job when you switch them to non-native resolutions. You might notice a softening of any curved edges, or perhaps a slight blurriness. But you won't suffer through the jaggies you see on so many notebook displays or lesser desktop LCDs, all of which will still set you back more money than any second-rate product should ever cost.Take it from someone who has reviewed the best and worst LCDs over the years. I know a good thing when I see it. You will too.

Scot Finnie is Editor of TechWeb and the Pipelines.

Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
AMD Opteron/Athlon
By Bill O'Brien

If P.T. Barnum were alive today, he'd be handing out awards to AMD with both hands.

You could have knocked me over with a 2pf ceramic capacitor when AMD announced its 32/64-bit Opteron. "The AMD Opteron processor is designed to run existing 32-bit applications with outstanding performance," the release gushed, "and offers customers a simplified migration path to 64-bit computing."It's not that the Opteron couldn't deliver as promised, but the concept AMD was pushing — "buy this now and when that becomes available, you'll be ready for it" — is one of the oldest sales ruses in the world. In fact, it's possible that Og used that very same pitch to hawk his new invention, the wheel, even though there weren't any roads yet.

The real humor of the situation is that, despite AMD's nebulous concept of what 64-bit computing might be at some abstract point in the future, the company managed to sell it. Hapless thousands bellied up to get theirs, even though the Intel's Itanium had already defined the current state of 64-bit computing, just as it had since 2001 — and hardly anyone was buying into it. The cost of dumping all the 32-bit code and paying new double-bit rates just wasn't that attractive.

The concept AMD was pushing — "buy this now and when that becomes available, you'll be ready for it" — is one of the oldest sales ruses in the world.

In fact, one could almost suggest that AMD succeeded by convincing its customers to purchase what they really needed — the Opteron's 32-bit functionality — while also tacking on the ability to brag "We're ready for 64-bit" to their associates and sound like they meant it.

And then there are AMD's dual-core Athlon 64 chips. Pundits praise AMD for its elegant solution to doubling up cores, focusing on something called a Processor Crossbar that helps interface the inside and outside computing environments. This crossbar, already evident in single-core Athlon 64 CPUs, has, apparently, always included a stub capable of supporting a second core. As a result, AMD could simply slide the second core into place whenever it was ready; and as a result, the company could plug its dual-core 64-bit processors into existing motherboards, needing at most a simple BIOS upgrade to finish the job.Bullpuckey! We've already heard tales of multiple BIOS upgrades being needed before the fine-tuning in these things even came close to meeeting AMD's expectations. And performance? Current estimates place the dual-core Athlon 64s only about 10 percent faster than their single-core counterparts. AMD itself warns that "dualies" are not a gamer's preferred platform. More importantly, you get to pay a relatively exorbitant price for this dubious privilege. Still, the applause has been relentless.

For those of you who don't remember the stories about P.T. Barnum, he wasn't a crook, a con-man, a cheat, or a liar. Although he's often quoted as having said, "There's a sucker born every minute," he never said any such thing.

Barnum was a savvy businessman who went to great lengths to make sure his customers got exactly what they wanted — even if they didn't know, at first, what that was. Rumor has it that he's resting peacefully, knowing his baton has been passed to capable hands.

Bill O'Brien is a frequent contributor to the TechWeb Pipelines.

Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
By Fredric PaulWhen I became Editor in Chief of TechWeb almost four years ago, I never expected my job to be all about TiVo. But for the first year or so, every meeting I had with my new boss (Mike Azzara, now CMP's Vice President, Group Director of Internet Business) began with a 20-minute conversation about how cool he thought TiVo was and how I absolutely had to get it.

I always said, "Sure, you bet, I'm checking into it," but mostly I thought, "It's too much money for the box AND the monthly fee!"

But then my old high-school buddy who now heads the television department at Columbia College in Chicago started in on me. Plus, my birthday was coming 'round, and my lovely wife offered up a new TV system as a can't-miss present.

So, I gave it a shot. To be honest, I didn't even get real TiVo. I got an UltimateTV box combined with a DirecTV satellite receiver (I found it on closeout sale for $50).

I don't care which system you use — this stuffwill change your life.

We still call it a TiVo because it's the name everyone associates with digital video recorders. (Say "DVR" or "UltimateTV" at a cocktail party and you get nothing but blank stares.) And despite minor differences, all DVRs supply the same, life-enhancing benefits: one-touch recording, "season passes" that record every episode automatically, pausing and rewinding live TV, and so on.

Anyway, I don't care which system you use — this stuff will change your life. It changed mine, anyway. I hardly ever watch live TV anymore. I hardly ever turn on the TV and stare at "Whatever's on." There's always something I actually WANT to see stored on the hard drive. I also hardly ever watch commercials, because my machine has a button that instantly skips ahead 30 seconds when watching recorded material. Sometimes I have to press it 12 times to avoid a commercial break on a cable channel — that's six minutes of commercials I don't have to endure!

This time adds up: I can complete a regular hour-long TV show in about 44 minutes. I can watch a basketball game — even a playoff game with all the extra time-outs, in about an hour. And even see the free throws, if not the halftime report. Football games go even faster, as the 30-second jump takes you straight from play to play. It's better than an electronic hurry-up offense.

The only problem? I want to use that instant-replay feature even when it's not available. Like when I'm watching TV at a friend's house or in a hotel room. Or when I'm listening to the radio in the car. Worst of all, it happens in real life, when I catch something out of the corner of my eye, or when I'm talking to someone and missed what they had to say.

TiVo for real life. Now that would be something.Fredric Paul is Editor in Chief of TechWeb.

Got the idea? Submit your Hardware Hall Of Fame entry now!
Apple iPod
By Brad Shimmin

You've read our Hardware Hall Of Fame picks. Now tell us about yours for a chance to win an iPod.Enter Now!

What's so great about Apple's iPod? And what does it have to do with IT? Unless this is the first piece of text you've read in the past four years, the answer to the first question should be obvious. And no, it's not those contortionists-turned-hipsters bathed in silhouetted light you see on TV that make this portable hard drive special. The iPod was the first personal audio device to reinvent itself as something more than, well, a personal audio device.

Like the beloved Ronco Veg-O-Matic, the iPod is flexible. It slices, it dices, it even juliennes! Looking for a portable digital camera image archive, a highly portable, long lasting PDA, or a fast, Firewire-based external hard drive? Look no further than the iPod. For a few hundred bucks, you can own a compact voice recorder, a portable radio station, or a car stereo capable of playing 5,000 songs. Frankly, the iPod has found its way into so many different walks of life that I'd be surprised to discover that it hasn't already been used as a portable human genome storage device.

And that's where our fellow technologists come into play. The iPod is the perfect IT companion. First off, it doesn't care if you're a lowly Macintosh lover or a self-deluded Windows XP advocate. Second, with a FireWire cable and a wee hack or two, you can perform some pretty amazing systems admin feats, such as turning your iPod into a bootable drive to troubleshoot systems on-site, using it as a system scheduler to back up your workstation while you're at lunch, or turning your iPod into a very portable Linux workstation.

I'd be surprised to discover that the iPodhasn't already been used as a portablehuman genome storage device.

This may sound a bit overblown, but it's all entirely possible with a little imagination and software. If you want overblown, witness the phenomenon that is podcasting, first imagined by mavericks like Christopher Lydon and Adam Curry. Basically, if you can make an mp3 file, you can publish your own private radio-type broadcast via an RSS feed. That's podcasting. But what does it have to do with the iPod? Well, not all that much. The iPod was simply one of the first audio devices capable of subscribing to these feeds. The podcasting we know today has very little to do with the iPod itself.

But that's the magic of the iPod. It may not have been the first device to fulfill many functions, and yet it has inspired some of the most innovative solutions this humble author has seen in many, many moons. For that alone, it deserves our praise.

Brad Shimmin is a Business Analyst with CMP Media.

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