Bob and Joy Schwabach

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dogFebruary 2008, Week 1  


The big annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is over and now just about everybody in the high-tech world figures we have to see their stuff. Since we live in an apartment building, we passed on the robot lawn mower. Here are some of the odder offerings.


The Consumer Electronics Show is mostly full of computer stuff, but among the stranger items that appealed to us is the CoolIT Beverage Chiller, a small platform for keeping your drink chilled. We've seen lots of gadgets andCoolITcontainers for keeping a drink hot, but this was the first we'd seen for keeping it cool.

A circular platform big enough to hold a soft-drink can or an ordinary drinking glass contains a printed circuit that chills the drink. You plug it into a USB port on any computer, as well as some game machines, and set your drink on top.

We tried it out with a can of root beer, and the can was still ice cold after sitting out in a warm room for several hours. A small fan draws off heat from the drink container, and some people are bothered by the fan noise; we weren't. We found the CoolIT Beverage Chiller for $25 at


MotionBox can turn a video into a flip book. Flip books were the earliest form of moving pictures. A series of pictures, usually drawings, were linked together in a sequence that appeared to show a scene in motion when the pages were flipped rapidly.

You can re-create this early moving picture technology by sending a video to The site provides 300 megabytes of storage for your video clips, which can be shared with others. For $30 a year, you can upload an Flipbookunlimited amount of video. Any part of a video can be selected to be made into a flip book, which cost $8 each. (NOTE: If your only purpose is sharing videos, you can upload an unlimited number to, and there is no fee. But there is a 10-minutes-per-video limit at YouTube; the $30-a-year account at MotionBox lets you upload videos of any length.)


There are a score of portable power packs available today for reviving your dead or dying cell phone, iPod,  music player, game machine, Blackberry, etc. We've written about a couple in previous columns, but we particularly like a sleek new black one from Kensington.

It's called simply Portable Power Pack (how straight-forward) and can be charged up either by connecting it to a USB port on any computer or using its small power adapter plugged into a wall socket. It takes about an hour to fully Portable Power Pack charge it off a USB port connection, and it will restore your mobile device to full power in a few seconds. That's enough for about 55 hours of music play or five hours of cell phone talk.

The Portable Power Pack is smaller than a deck of playing cards and half as thick. A sequence of LED lights on one surface lets you judge how much power is left. The device comes with a USB cable and adapter plug for attachment to an iPod or smartphone. It's $60 from


We got a washable mouse from Belkin. This is an issue we never considered, but some people are quite fussy about accumulated dirt and germs, to say nothing of kids' sticky finger marks. We're a tiny bit fussy ourselves.

It's called Washable Mouse, and it costs $30 from  or Amazon and others. You can wash it with soap and water, but Belkin suggests you don't Washable Mousesubmerge it. And please unplug it from the computer when you wash it. You can use it in the kitchen, if you have a kitchen computer, since it's mostly waterproof, and its optical sensor can track over almost any surface.

The mouse is supposed to work with Windows XP, Vista and Mac, but we couldn't get it to work with Vista. Too bad, because if you can get it to work with Vista, it's supposed to be able to scroll sideways as well as up and down.

Note: Disconnect the old mouse when you're plugging in a new one. If the computer doesn't recognize the new mouse, restart the system.


Thirsty Light is a small metal stick that looks like an oven thermometer. You stick it in the soil of a potted plant, and a green LED light blinks rapidly if the plant is thirsty. Our little bonsai forest was very thirsty. After we watered it, weThirsty Light stuck the Thirsty Light in again and, sure enough, the light did not blink. Happy bonsai forest.

This little made-in-China gizmo costs $10 from, or probably any hardware or plant store you walk into. We are about to lose our black thumb.


If you go to  and enter your ZIP code, you get all kinds of demographics on that area: income averages and range, education levels, housing density, size, etc. Big-city ZIP codes are often misleading, however, because conditions can vary considerably just a few blocks apart.


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