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Mobile Thermal Printing on the Cheap

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If you’ve ever wished that you could print a hard copy map from your IrDA-equipped PDA or cell phone while you’re on the road and you’re willing to do a little nuts-and-bolts work, BG Micro has a printer for you. BG Micro is currently selling the Citizen PD-22 thermal printer for around thirty bucks. This portable battery-powered serial printer can give you a quick print through either a serial or IrDA port. Unfortunately, the serial port requires a special cable which isn’t available from BG Micro. Luckily, you still have IrDA. Oops, your PC/PDA doesn’t have an IrDA port? No problem, BG Micro also sells the ACTiSYS  ACT-IR4000US IrDA USB dongle for $4.95. You can download Windows drivers for this dongle direct from ACTiSYS. Once your IrDA connection is up and running, look to Citizen Systems Europe for all of your driver, manual, datasheet, and support needs. Oh, and as you (re)discover the joys of printing maps, messages and photographs on thermal paper, BG Micro can also supply you with five rolls of PD-02 replacement paper for ten bucks. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: Citizen Systems Europe)

Asus Eee PC vs. Nokia N810

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Boy, was I wrong. Just last week I was gushing over the ASUS Eee PC and now this week I’ve seen the error in my ways. Forget that $400 UMPC, there’s a new and better kid on the block. Meet Nokia N810 Internet Tablet. For just a scant forty bucks more, you get a whole lot more. Check it out:

  • 4.3-inch WVGA LCD (with the same resolution as the Eee PC)
  • 128Mb DDR RAM
  • 256Mb Flash RAM
  • 2Gb storage; up to 8Gb SDHC removable storage
  • GPS
  • Bluetooth
  • Wi-Fi
  • USB
  • VGA web cam
  • QWERTY Keyboard
  • Maemo Linux-based application development platform; featuring Web, media, communications, mapping, e-mail, imaging, games, and more apps

But wait, there’s more. Here’s the reason that the N810 moved to the head of the class. Its pocket-sized form factor may have you wishing you could run all of your Palm OS apps on the N810. Thank a company called Access for giving you a wonderful Thanksgiving Day present: The Garnet OS virtual machine (VM) enables Nokia N770, N800, and N810 platforms to run lots and lots of Garnet OS (aka Palm OS apps). Running a virtual machine of an entirely different operating system may seem like a tough job for a low-power hand-held tablet , but the svelte Garnet OS VM takes only 3.5Mb of RAM and 1-32Mb of user configurable storage space.

—Dave Prochnow

(Image: NokiaUSA)

One ASUS Per Child Initiative

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OK, by now you’re probably well aware of Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation and it’s $100 (sic) XO laptop. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Yes, that one hundred dollar laptop has swelled to a manufacturing cost of approximately $175 per unit. Likewise, the XO laptop that was once chided by Bill Gates for its modest screen, crank-up power supply, and lack of Windows support has now been fully embraced by Gates, with a special version of Windows XP for the XO apparently in the works.

What’s all of this got to do with the rest of us? Well, the recent release of ASUS's similarly-sleek and low-cost Eee PC has many analysts predicting big things for the low-cost, low-power laptop product range. Aside from the Village of the Damned marketing photos and its somewhat politically incorrect PR copy (“designed for…young students, children, housewives, the elderly…”), the Eee PC shares many of the same specs as the XO laptop: a solid-state design with 7-inch LCD, Linux OS, 512 Mb RAM, 4 Gb MMC/SD storage, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, USB ports, and audio/video support. Furthermore, there are reports that the Eee PC contains the open-source Open Office suite.

These specs are all very well and fine, but the question on every DIYer’s mind is what else can I do with it? Well, for one, would you believe Windows XP? ASUS claims its little notebook will support the full-fledged version, but better performance will probably gleamed from the diminutive bugger known as Tiny XP—a stripped-down, barebones version of Microsoft's OS that has been circulating on peer-to-peer networks for a while (download at your own risk!). In addition to this, ahem, ill-gotten OS, you will also need FSUM for building the Tiny XP ISO.

Now how about Skype Video for Linux on the Eee PC?

Once we get our hands on a $400 Eee PC, we’ll test this and other hacks and publish a complete project report on this blog. Hopefully in time for purchasing a stocking stuffer for your fave DIYer who has everything.

Speaking of Christmas, don’t forget the charitable Give 1, Get 1 program by OLPC. Starting November 12, you can contribute $399 to OLPC and one of the XO laptops will be sent to a child in a developing nation, while another XO laptop will be sent to you for use with your own child. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: ASUSTek Computer, Inc.)

Do You Have $20K Burning a Hole in Your Pocket?

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Do you have a hankering to launch a new techie-type business? Well, then consider buying a laser cutter and opening an etch shop. For a scant $18,000 to $24,000 you can purchase a laser cutter and bring the wonders of modern fabrication to your hometown. Even better, the good folks at Adafruit Industries will hold your hand throughout the entire setup/startup process by leveraging resources from other laser fab shops into your venture. This open source business model is unique to Adafruit Industries and has helped several young entrepreneurs open laser “tattoo” parlors across the country. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: Adafruit Industries)

Nitpicker

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You can pick your friends and you can pick your components, but you can’t pick your friend’s components. Unless you have the new digital tweezers from Spark Fun Electronics.

Actually, these tweezers are a full-function multimeter that has been specially packaged for measuring those hard-to-see surface mount components. Got a micro SMD resistor that you can’t ID; no problem, just pinch it with these digital tweezers and you’ll know it’s value from .1 to 5M ohms. Likewise, you can measure capacitors, inductors, voltage, frequency, and continuity with just a teensy pinch. Dubbed “Smart Tweezers” this versatile multimeter is manufactured by Siborg. The Smart Tweezers are priced at $299.95. —Dave Prochnow

(Image: Siborg)

Thrifting Without Leaving Your Chair

Stylistic_1000Are you looking for a unique, odd, outdated, or antique component for a special DIY project? Then make a quick trip to Surplus Sales of Nebraska. Claiming to stock over 20,000 “individual items,” Surplus Sales of Nebraska has lots of interesting bargains including:

NEW, in the box, Fujitsu Stylistic 1000 computers for $39 - $65.
Like new, Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera with flash and two bulbs for $75.

Furthermore, there is a monthly sales flier (PDF) that contains an occasional gem like Nixie displays B6036 and NL50318, for $55 and $75, respectively.

Finally, as you spend all night looking through the seemingly endless list of surplus goodies, you can quench your case of the munchies with a NEW, in-the-box, Art Deco Manning Bowman “The Debutante” waffle maker complete with fabric power cord for $350.

Bon appetit! —Dave Prochnow

NY Times on 3-D Printers

The New York Times has a nice writeup on the ongoing growth of 3-D printers—fabricators that can take a three-dimensional model from a computer and literally create the object out of melted plastic or an assortment of other maleable substances:

“A milestone for us would be to print a robot that would get up and walk out of the printer,” Professor Lipson said. “Batteries included.”

While that milestone may be more than a few miles away, 3-D printers are already doing some amazing things. See this video below, for instance, of the sub-$3,000 open-source Fab@Home project's printer cranking out one of those rubber squeeze bulb things we all know and love out of liquid silicone. Teleportation can't be too far off... —John Mahoney


FYI: Check out our hot-off-the-presses Q&A with Fab@Home mastermind Hod Lipson here.

Antique French Gadgets

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Today, I hit Paris's Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. It's an amazing museum full of scientific instruments and machines, mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries. Coming off of PopSci's Repurposed Tech contest, it struck me how single purpose these early machines were, and yet how stunning the level of craftsmanship and engineering that went into everything from early printing presses to astronomical clocks. See for yourself: Here's a quick gallery of some of the highlights. And let me apologize in advance: Most of the signage was in French, so my details on some of these things are sketchy; also, they didn't allow flash photography and I only had my little Elph pocket cam, so forgive the slight fuzziness.

Some Skype with Your Fromage?

452629244_acdb1df80b_mNow that I'm a week into my little working abroad experiment, I thought I'd provide a quick update on which of my gadgets is making me smile as much as this gouda is, and which are making me sad like this crappy grocery-store-bought anonymous white cheese is. Did I mention I'm eating a lot of cheese?

Nokia N73: "You sound just like you're next door," said my Luddite father from Minnesota as I gabbed away and wandered accidentally into Paris's Chinatown (talk about disorienting). Pop may be talking in clichés again, but it is amazing that we can have instantaneous conversation from that far away. The N73 and the WorldClass service from T-Mobile has been nearly flawless: great coverage, clear calls. Only once did it get wonky, dropping calls and losing its signal last night in my apartment. My only other gripe: Call forwarding from my Verizon cellphone back home seems to be working; however, those callers cannot leave voicemails. Those who dial directly to the T-Mobile number can. Odd. The somewhat poky data connection is fine for emergency surfing but super-handy for my favorite feature—the built-in Flickr uploading tool that lets me post shots directly from the phone's three-megapixel camera. It's the first time I've actually bothered using a cameraphone.

Belkin Wi-Fi Skype Phone: "I can hear everything I'm saying echoed back," said just about every caller I've spoken to on this thing. I had high hopes for doing a lot of Skypeing here, but the call quality just hasn't been consistent, so I've been turning to the cell instead. I suspect that's more of a Skype issue than a Belkin one, and other than failing to recognize my WPA Wi-Fi security, setup and everyday usage is a breeze.

Belkin Wi-Fi Travel Router: It's so cute, I want to love it, but the little brat seems to drop my network, necessitating a reset, about every other day. So every time I have to go back and re-set up the SSID, I'm adding a number to keep track of the restarts. Right now, we're surfing on haney6 (and probably pissing off any leechers in the building, since whether or not I re-set up security each time depends on my mood).

As for all my other toys, I haven't gotten too dirty with the Garmin or the N800 yet, and my entertainment hard drive already bricked, crashing my laptop whenever I plugged it in and failing to recognize the hard drive inside when I plugged it into the TV here.

I'll post more later, but if anyone has any great tips for tech while abroad, please share 'em in the comments. And again, if you're in the area, drop me a line. I have lots of cheese to share. —Mike Haney

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