Gadget Q & A:
What Am I Trying To Do Here? I like gadgets--not just any gadgets, but gadgets that help me solve a problem that would be difficult to solve without them. Too many telemarketing calls? I look for a gadget that takes care of them. Teenage daughter leaving the basement and attic lights on? I look for a gadget that turns the lights off. Teenage daughter running up long distance bills? I look for a gadget that limits phone time. Flashlight dead or missing when the power goes off? I look for a flashlight that I can count on.
In this page I share information that I've accumulated, and occasionally ask for information to use and pass along. I don't sell any of the gadgets I talk about here, and have no financial stake in the companies involved.
I've arranged most of the information in a question and answer format. A few longer articles are in a more standard format. If you need a gadget that does something I haven't talked about, feel free to e-mail me. If I know of anything I'll tell you. I may also post the information on this page. If I don't, I may ask for information here.
How Can I Limit Long Distance Calls From My Home Phone?
|How Can I Make Sure Unused Lights are turned off?||
Smart Light Bulbs
Five or six years ago, Phillips came out with a line of light bulbs with microchips built in. I've seen three kinds. One shuts the light bulb off automatically after 30 minutes. Another one shuts the light bulb off after 6 hours, but remembers your pattern of turning it on or off. Another one contains an internal dimmer that lets you treat the bulb as if it were a 100+ watt bulb, or a 20-odd watt bulb, with several steps in between. I found the bulbs at the local Menards for fifty or sixty cents apiece. I put a couple of the 30 minute ones down in our basement laundry room and up in the attic where lights had been being left on a lot. It solved that problem cheaply and easily.
Unfortunately, these smart light bulbs are getting hard to find these days. They've apparently been out of production for at least four years, but a few stores still have left-over inventory. I found a batch of the 30 minute off Phillips bulbs at the local Menards in November 2001.
As near as I can figure, a company called Beacon
Technology designed the
controller chips for these bulbs and licensed the technology to
Phillips. I'm guessing that Phillips made a bunch of the
bulbs, but couldn't find a big enough market for them. The
ones I've been running
into lately are probably just the remnants of their inventory.
true then it's too bad. This is a nice technology.
Motion detector switch that plugs into light sockets or outlets
Motion detector switches that replace an existing light switch are pretty common, but that wouldn't have done it for us. We'd have to rewire too much of the house. We needed something that screwed into a light socket and turned the bulb on when it detected motion. I looked in five or six large hardware/home improvement stores. None of them had anything like that. Finally, I found them at the local LOEWS for about $25. I used one on the back porch to automatically turn on the porch light when someone comes onto the porch at night. That's very handy. I'm also installed one in the laundry room. I've actually found two versions of this gadget. The more versatile one appears to be the "Hands Free Switch" from First Alert.
|How Can I Actually Use Solar Cells In My Typical Suburban Home?||Solar Cells
Solar or photovoltaic cells are kind of the ultimate gadget. You put a solar cell or a panel of solar cells in sunlight and it generates electricity--keeps doing it until the sun goes down. When the sun comes back up the cell starts generating electricity again. Most solar cells last at least twenty years, probably a lot longer than that. They just keep generating power without causing any pollution. Solar cells have been "the energy source of the future" for probably thirty years now, though to be fair the solar cell industry has been growing rapidly as cost of production has gone down.
I've always been fascinated by the potential of solar cells. To be honest I haven't found many practical uses for them, but I'm still fascinated.
What have the obstacles to widespread use of solar power been? Historically there have been three factors that make using solar power difficult for the average person.
So what can the
average suburban American do with
solar cells? Potentially the most practical use I
have found for solar
cells is in battery chargers. You can charge most
batteries--Nickel Cadmium and Nickel Metal Hydride batteries--in a
relatively inexpensive solar battery chargers. Charging them
takes considerably longer than using a charger that you plug into the
the solar charger allows you to recharge batteries anywhere where there
so a solar charger might be useful if you're tent-camping in an area
electricity. Unfortunately, there are a lot of solar battery
there that simply don't work very well, so you might want to do some
before you buy.
On-line Gadget Sources-Camping/Hunting