Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tech Toys You Will Love to Hate

I want to preview two cutting-edge technology items that could be popular gifts this holiday season. In a strange way, as you'll see, these gizmos go together.

The Withings Wifi Bathroom Scale

The first is a Withings wifi bathroom scale, http://www.withings.com. Why in the world does one need a wifi scale? Ordinary scales give us a single snapshot, but it's the trend that's important. The sooner we can spot whether or not we're gaining weight or our percent of body fat's increasing, the sooner we can scratch the Oreos off our shopping list. Conversely, if the numbers are trending down, then you can visit the pastry store on the way home from work without feeling a single iota of guilt. (Side note: The sad truth of the human condition is it that we might forget how old we are, somebody's birthday, or an important phone number, but we never forget what our bathroom scale last revealed.) The Withings WiFi Body Scale instantly records your weight, body fat percentage, and body mass index, and transmits that to the mother ship. Your data is stored on both Withing's server (where it's password protected) and your home computer.

Up to eight users can be registered for a scale, so your entire family and even some friends can partake in this high tech form of torment.

What I especially like about the Withings WiFi Body Scale is that if there ever was an incentive to have a secure wireless network at home and to use good passwords, having your weight transmitted by wifi and stored on the Internet is it. Who cares if our credit card or social security numbers are stolen? But if somebody hacks into our body fat percentage data -- now that's a crisis.

As seems to be the case for everything, there's an iPhone app for that, too, so you can see how your weight, body fat percentage and BMI trend over time no matter where you happen to be. Wondering if you should order that double cheeseburger with bacon and onion rings on the side? The Withings iPhone app knows the answer. (Good thing that international data rates are so expensive: You might not be able to afford to access your weight and fat history while on vacation in Paris. Pity, isn't it?)

The Withings WiFi Body Scale is elegant looking, beckoning its owners to step on it and reveal all. You can see pictures of this scale and read more about it at http://www.withings.com . The scale retails for $159, the cost of about 50 Starbucks lattes.

The Chumby

The Chumby is one of those gizmos that you dreamed somebody would invent and they actually did, but you just never heard about it. The Chumby, a device about the size of a coffee mug, with a LCD screen, displays widgets with a variety of information. You can choose to have weather, news, sports updates, Facebook status updates, Tweets, movie trailers, best of YouTube (yes, it does videos), your email, world webcams, New York Times headlines --pretty much anything you can dream of-- displayed on your Chumby's screen. You can even get WMATA alerts on your Chumby. From the useful to the silly, the Chumby can display it. The widgets change every minute or so, showing you what you want to see in the order in which you want to see it.

Besides news, the family calendar, and the latest insights from Slate, my Chumby shows the San Diego Zoo's Panda Cam, which is soooooo cute. I also like the Loch Ness cam widget. You never know what might appear on the Loch Ness webcam.

Take a look at what's possible with the Chumby here: http://www.chumby.com. (There's a new Chumby coming out soon, too.) The Chumby costs $200.

Like the Withings scale, the Chumby connects to your wireless network.

The Chumby does a lot more than display customizable widgets on its 3.5 inch screen. The Chumby's screen is a touchscreen, so you can interact with it: You can send emails, play games, clip news stories, and more. The Chumby is also an Internet radio that plays a wide range of stations, from Radio Paradise to the New York Times' radio. The Chumby is an alarm clock that wakes you to sounds, music or Internet radio. The Chumby is white noise machine that blocks out those sounds that are keeping you awake at night. The Chumby will play your own music through a thumb drive inserted into its USB port. That's one amazing coffee cup sized device.

But be warned: If you get the Chumby, you'll never venture away from your bed or desk and then you'll need the Withing wifi scale to tell you that you should.

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