Outside The Box

The 3DConnexion Space Traveler. Courtesy: 3DConnexion
Having spent the last twenty-five years putting stuff into my computer, sometimes I wonder why the box isn't giving me something back. I'm not asking for love or even a box of chocolates (though that would be nice), just something to make me feel this is not just a one-way relationship: giving and giving to the box and not getting anything in return. Tired of selfish computers, we set out to find devices that work outside the box: a new camera that follows us around; a mouse and rumble-pad combination that gives us hands on feedback … and more.

Logitech Quick Cam Orbit

Descriptions of this little camera range from "cool" to "creepy." What it is, is a video conferencing/web cam that actually follows your movements. So, as you invariably wobble back and forth in your chair during your video conference call or online chat, the camera's lens rotates and tilts inside its spherical house to capture your every move. We liked how it managed to follow our jerky little movements without fail... that is, so long as the lights weren't too bright. We caught a glitch that Logitech says it is fixing. Granted, we had this puppy working under studio lights, so it's no big surprise that it found the lights more interesting than my face. Come to think of it, my producer says that too. $125.

Saitek Touch Force Optical Mouse

A must for casual gamers. Rather than spend a lot of money on a gaming joystick, you can get this $40 optical mouse that provides "force feedback" on most games... giving you the feel of being in combat, being tackled, whatever. The little rumble actually goes a long way toward putting you in the game, even if you're stuck using a mouse instead of the usual gaming gear. The technology behind this and other like devices is by Immersion, a leader in force feedback technology. We can only wonder if Immersion's office chairs shake and move according to the phone calls or e-mails its employees receive. Very cool.

3Dconnexion Space Traveler

I've always pitied my left hand. When I'm creating something wonderful on my computer, it's always my right-handed mouse that gets all the work done. My left hand sits there like a dead fish until I need it to type all the letters left of G. But no more! This stubby little joystick offers the chance for my left hand to get off the bench and get into the game. The included test software lets me practice my lefty skills moving a chicken around, flying a jet plane or bouncing a little cube around. I'm still not 100 percent sure how this will be applied in regular offices, but if there's a way to get employees to use twice as many hands on an input device, someone will figure out a killer app. This costs $600 right now, but look for similar technology soon that will be a little more in line with normal people's budgets.

Wacom Graphire 3 Tablet, Pen and Mouse

My producer is left-handed... makes him more creative, he says. Whatever. The point is, ever since he was a little geek first learning to use a computer, the mouse he used was on the right hand side. So, he adapted. That's just what producers do. But when he has to do graphics work or computer drawing, he's left to use his not-so-skilled right hand to do it, because that's how he was programmed.

But now, thanks to the wonderfully ambidextrous Wacom Tablet, he can touch up pictures, draw and sketch like the lefty champ he is, using a pen.. not a square little mouse. Best of all, the 4x5" version costs only $100, the 6x8" tablet costs $200. And each comes with all the software you need to get started fixing up family pictures. We absolutely love this thing. And that's no left-handed compliment.

Zboard by Ideazon

Here's an ingenious little device. Series of devices, actually. Basically, it's a keyboard base over which you can lay custom keyboards, depending upon your favorite applications. Use Photoshop? Forget learning keyboard shortcuts... just snap in the Photoshop keyboard and they're all there for you. The same with Word, and lot of other programs and games. $25 for the keyboard, $17 each custom layout. Not bad.

All in all, we like the fact that there are some peripherals that will give us what we want: a reassuring touch, a quick glance and maybe, just maybe, a little understanding. Is that too much to ask?

By Daniel Dubno and Bob Bicknell