SMOKE: Gadgets And Gizmos

Originally published: 20 November 2003

Time Magazine has released their list of top inventions for 2003 and it's a seriously impressive array of stuff you wish you had, but which you never will.

One of the inventions in particular caught my eye - a pair of sunglasses co-designed by Motorola and Frog Design. These are no ordinary sunglasses, however - they are the latest in a long line of increasingly fashionable wearable computers, which many pundits (and no doubt the companies inventing them) claim are going to be the chic of the future.

Aside from their ever-so-funky, 60s-style "cats-eye" shape, a tiny digital camera peeks out from a pinhole opening above the right lens, while on the left lens is an equally small heads-up display for reading email and surfing the web.

An earpiece extends from the side of the glasses for your cellphone and the whole contraption is connected to a wireless system which also features a two-way radio watch, and a PDA.

All that may make you feel as though you might as well hang a couple of bricks from your eyebrows, but it really isn't bulky or heavy at all.

The feature I read didn't explain what happens when you get pop-up advertisements blocking your view or a blue screen of death, but I suppose everything cool comes with a price.

Pretty neat, huh? It's more of a concept than a reality at the moment, although the inventors assure one and all that the shades will be available for commercial use by 2006, but unless it's somehow extremely cost-effective, I doubt it.

Still - it's nice to know that gadget-makers are still making gadgets and that creativity is still finding an outlet in the world of electronics.

The specs reminded me of all those extremely funky products that used to be featured on the back pages of Archie and Jughead comics back in the eighties. I know - it's not cool admitting that you used to read Archie as opposed to the more heavyweight action comics like Judge Dredd, but I really did prefer them.

Even at a tender age I could appreciate the finer nuances of a possible relationship between Betty and Veronica, and my dream still lives on to this day.

The back page of those comics would be the first I would turn to, as they had a whole mail order system for some of the best ideas I have ever seen.

The featured gadgets and gizmos had to be 90 percent fake because most of them are still not in evidence today, but at that age trifling issues like that did not even enter my mind.

The most obvious one I wanted was the x-ray specs, which the makers claimed could see through clothes and skin (I never worked out how they could do both at the same time and I fervently hoped that it was just clothes - who, after all, is interested in watching a bunch of skeletons walking around, as opposed to checking out thong-clad asses and straining brassieres?).

There's no way on Earth that those specs could have possibly worked and I wonder how many kids sent off their two dollars and spent years waiting in vain for their specs which never arrived, growing ever more disillusioned as time went by.

Then there was the personal hovercraft - it was a miniature rubber duck-type craft for one, which claimed to be able to levitate you off the ground at a height of 12 inches (30 centimetres) and propel you along at a top speed of something in the 10-12 mph range.

Couldn't possibly have worked, but it was a great fantasy to picture yourself zooting along over land and sea while the Great Unwashed tottered along on their pins behind you.

Back to sunglasses - there were the shades which came with a tiny mirror which was fitted in the top corner of each lens, which allowed you to see anyone coming up behind you.

I spent my entire childhood with people coming up behind me with the sole intention of doing me as much harm as humanly possible and this trend has persisted into my adult life.

Only now the consequences are far more dire than a simple knee in the back or a pointed boot to the arse-bone and generally tends to involve people with badges and handcuffs or South Americans in white suits with suspicious bulges under their left arm.

A pair of those specs would have done me nicely.

Then there was the jetpack which you strapped onto your back, allowing you to lift off and fly from one destination to the next.

They are still selling these today on various gadget websites, but I have yet to be astonished to see my neighbour roar up over the garden wall and fly off into the great blue yonder, so I can only assume they are just as much a hoax now as they used to be.

Although I know they have been tested and there are even some models that work, they are simply not a viable option since nobody is prepared to guarantee their safety.

They run on fuel and if - like me - you run your car down to the quick in trying to extract every last drop of petrol, it's probably not a wise idea to get a jet pack.

There's no taking a Coke bottle out of the boot and walking two kilometres to the nearest petrol station for a refill - you simply plummet to Earth. Your only hope is to land on a fat kid who breaks your fall, but unfortunately there are no guarantees - only wishful thinking.

There were super-catties (you know - the spring-loaded type that could fire a projectile 50 metres at great speed - unlike the forked twigs I had to make do with which either broke when you pulled the elastic back, or which fired a projectile the grand distance of 50 centimetres), BB guns (useful for taking out the neighbour's cat), invisible ink, holograms which came out of a watch, rocket-propelled skateboards, itching powder and some of the grandest stinkbombs ever devised.

While very few of these things could have been legitimate products, they certainly fuelled my already over-active imagination.

These days of course you could never flog these products as you would be sued before you'd even advertised them, although that hasn't exactly stopped Internet crooks who offer Rasputin-like penis enlargements and tits the size of Barrydale, not to mention the used panties of Christina Aguilera and DNA samples of John Dillinger.

But it's nice to know that legitimate companies like Motorola are plotting ways to make our lives that little bit more exciting. I for one can never see enough of all those superb inventions I can never have. The more they make the closer the future gets and as we all know - the future is always better than the past or present.

In my world, anyway.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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