Gadgets... Spy Gadgets

Pittsburgh Steelers' linebacker Keyaron Fox, left, pressures Buffalo Bill quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as he releases the ball in the second half of the NFL preseason football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009. The play was ruled an incomplete pass. The Steelers won 17-0.(AP Photo/Don Wright)
AP Photo/Don Wright
Spying used to be glamorous. But lately, Americans have been somewhat disappointed with our spies. Sure, we spend well in excess of $40 billion a year to keep tabs on terrorists and scoundrels, and that’s what we know about. (The budget for the intelligence community, naturally, is secret.) So, when the intelligence community misses a few major developments, like, say, the entire collapse of the Soviet Union or that several countries keep building nuclear weapons, it’s fair to wonder a bit about how successful these folks are at keeping America safe for democracy.

Yet, “spying” seems to be a more thrilling pursuit than ever. Our yardstick for measuring such facts is, as always, derived from the gadgets and toys companies show us. In recent days, we’ve been inundated by clever spy “toys” for kids and some pretty neat spy “tools” for adults. (To me, a “tool” is just a “toy” that costs more….)

For the future generation of James Bonds and Mata Haris, an extraordinary toy company, Wild Planet, has come up with two powerful lines of fun new spy products: “Spy Gear” and “Undercover Girl.”

Spy Gear Spy Code Launcher
This is sort-of the be-all, end-all of note passing devices. No longer do you have to pass your note to Susie, to pass it to Jack, to pass it to Gertrude… Now, thanks to the $10 Spy Gear Spy Code launcher, you can write your note on this little piece of paper… stick it in this little disc thingy… and send it flying 20 feet away to your intended recipient. What’s more, your friend can then read the note… AND EAT IT. Its edible ink on edible paper… but our tests show that while the paper dissolves like those Listerine breath strips, the taste is comparable to wallpaper paste. We’re guessing.

Undercover Girl: Secret Note Kit
For that Enron-executive-wannabe, I loved the “Undercover Girl: Secret Note Kit,” which contains a special code writing pan and paper and even a mini-paper shredder. Very handy, for $10.

Snoop-Proof Safe
Another neat and inexpensive toy ($12.99) for that “Undercover Girl” in your life is the “Snoop-proof Safe” with a motion detector she can hang on her doorknob to keep pesky younger brothers at bay.

Undercover Girl Secret Listener
Here’s a little something that paranoid teenage girls can use to confirm that her friends are indeed talking about her. It looks like a CD player, but it’s actually a listening device. Simply plug in the included headphones, turn over the hidden microphone, and listen to conversations 30 feet away. Not bad for $16.

Other fun “Spy Gear” includes a lie-detecting watch that has a fingertip sensor to measures whether someone is telling the truth. Does it work? Well, for $12.99, I swear it does. (You’ll have to get one to test if I’m telling the truth or not.) Naturally, the Spy Gear and Undercover Girl toy lines also feature inexpensive walkie-talkie sets (“Spy Link” and “Hip Talkies”.) For the child who wants to be a secret agent, these toys are terrific fun and a wonderful value.

X-10 Camera Suite
The product that was, undoubtedly, the subject of the most annoying internet pop-up ad campaign ever launched is back… and believe it or not, it’s better than ever. The X-10 web camera is a wireless camera you can put anywhere in your house, and keep track of the goings on on from your computer. Now, for $140, you can get the camera, and this remote-controlled pan and tilt camera stand, so you can scan the room and position the camera any way you want. It’s cool, it’s affordable, and it’s really easy to set up.

Nitemax Digital Nightvision NM1000 Viewer
My friends at Spysite couldn’t contain their glee when they sent me the Nitemax Digital Nightvision NM1000 Viewer. This “nightvision device” is hardly a toy: high-output LEDs send out infrared “light” more than 300 feet. The digital chip magnifies the light and you can see remarkably clearly in low-light situations. I’ve used nightscopes that cost $5,000 that couldn’t produce such clear imagery as this one does for $599.

Casio’s EX-S2 Camera
Well, this is the digital camera I always carry with me. This 2 megapixel camera, no larger than a credit card, actually records stunning stills and even 30-second videos. Casio’s Exilim camera is truly a breakthrough in design and portability. I show this camera in our “spy segment” because anyone who ever took a picture with a tiny Minox should run out and “palm” this fabulous tiny camera complete with 4X digital zoom, viewing screen, and flash. Many digital cameras suffer from batteries that quickly run-out or slow “shutter speed” (so the picture you capture isn’t the one you think you’ve captured.) This camera has a rechargeable battery that doesn’t quit and it is always ready to capture the shot you want when you want it. $299 for the regular camera and $399 for the camera with built in MP3 player. Hot!

NightFire Video Game
The folks at EA Entertainment are just about ready to release “NightFire,” the latest videogame based on the James Bond films. Actually, it’s available on PC now, soon to be on Xbox, Game Cube and Playstation 2. It features all the gadgets you’d expect in a Bond flick, not to mention some of the most photorealistic characters (including Pierce Brosnan) and action we’ve ever seen. Price: $50.

Keys Lost and Found
Our friends at Brookstone sent over a few gadgets that I very much enjoy. If you ever found yourself locked out of your house, you’ll wish you had your own convenient key hiding spot. So, they made the Keystone, which is a hollowed-out storage space that is easily disguised along your garden walk.. all for just $7.50. But, if you are like me, you’ll probably misplace your key somewhere, so the Smart Find Remote Control Key Locator, is a beeper that will find your key where ever you lost it. $50.
by Dan Dubno