Good gadgets get us through a bad year
Ever have a year where so many things go wrong, you wish you could get a do-over?
If ever there were 365 days that needed to be held back a year, it was the ones uncomfortably bunched together in 2007.
The word of the year was "friction." The new Vista operating system was so bad people were downgrading back to Windows XP. If you tried to have too much unauthorized fun with your iPhone, Apple sent out a software "upgrade" that turned it into a paperweight.
Even "The View" couldn't field a team of hosts that could agree on the shape of Earth.
But as we lumber into 2008 all black and blue, here are some of the best 2007 gadgets that might help us make it across the next finish line 12 months from now:
Keyring Kite (iwantoneofthose.com, $10): If there's a 5-year-old in your life who thinks you're the coolest thing since the Cat in the Hat, then keep up appearances by picking just the right moment to pull this kite out of your key chain. That's right, it's a kite in a key chain.
This key ring attachment holds a 5-inch-long pouch that unfolds to reveal a 30-inch-long strutless, parafoil flying apparatus, complete with 100 feet of string. If you both need help folding it back into the pouch, hopefully there will be a 6-year-old nearby who can help you.
USB Doomsday Device Hub (thinkgeek.com, $50): Moonlighting as a four-port USB hub, this metallic device looks like it came from the North American Aerospace Defense Command Gift Shoppe.
First, you flip Switch One. Then, you flip Switch Two. Then, if you have the nerve and the key (oh, please don't lose the key), unlock Switch Three. Then, all heck breaks lose.
Well, one can only assume. A red light starts to blink, anyway.
If you need a panic button, why not get one that looks like it's been stress-tested by Lockheed Martin?
Iogear Wireless Hot-Spot Finder (tigerdirect.com, $24): If, like most Net addicts, your whole life is now devoted to serving as mule for a notebook computer as it travels from one WiFi hot spot to another, then the folks at Iogear have just made life a lot easier.
This tiny remote control-like device detects both 802.11b and 802.11 b/g signals (that's tech-speak for Wireless Internet Go-Go Juice and Wireless Internet Go-Go Juice Supreme). Simply click the "detect" button, and the gadget's LED display will let you know when you're in the presence of the Force without having to actually open your notebook or (gasp!) ask somebody -- because we all know how disruptive direct eye contact can be while we search online for kindred spirits.
Archos 604 WiFi video player (amazon.com, $190): Sometimes I know I'm going to be stuck in the middle of nowhere. The dentist's office. An occasional plane ride. My entire mid- to late 30s.
For these times and more, I always take my Archos with me. It's got a 4.3-inch touch-screen interface for playing movies, mp3s or photo slide shows. It even has WiFi for messing around on the Web.
It's like the iPhone, minus the phone and the 3 1/2 pounds of contractual obligations.