Oh, how I love to tinker.
I really enjoy making all the gear in my life work together well, and when there's a new gadget lying around that I can hook into my setup, you can bet I'll plug it right in, hoping that the time I spend will pay back in a slicker, better tech work space. It's how I justify my obsession.
The downside: Often, the new gadget is a colossal letdown. And since I seem to have a genetic flaw that makes it impossible for me to dispose of anything with an integrated circuit, my closet is a museum of outmoded computing accessories. Here's a sample: six gadgets I recommend you not waste your time on.
This is the coolest thing. At least that's what I thought when I put it on my birthday wish list. It's really just a dial. Turn it one way, it turns something up. Turn it the other, it turns it down. Press it to switch something on or off. It's made from solid aluminum and it feels good. It has a swank blue light that glows, and it plugs into your computer's USB port. It's programmable.
But after frittering with this thing for a while, it still doesn't work quite right for me, and I found that you have to program it for all your applications separately. Better bet: get a keyboard with a scrollwheel.
What absurd accessories have you used?
In the PowerMate's defense, the company that makes it is known for Apple accessories, and I think the gizmo was originally designed as a shuttle control for video editing. That makes sense. As a volume control or a scrollwheel, though, it's silly.
Science-fair USB gadgets
Just because the USB port on a laptop supplies a modicum of direct current power, people have seen fit to treat it as a power strip for all manner of weirdo devices. Some make sense; for example, using the USB port to recharge your cell phone is good use of the juice. But a Lava lamp? A fake fish tank? Here's the one that really freaks me out: a USB cup warmer. The port barely supplies enough power to keep a mini hard disk spinning. Asking it to supply power for a hot plate is just too much; the heater will either be too weak or will trip the protection circuit in your USB port, shutting it off.
Most Wi-Fi finders
Here's one that pains me to include in this list: Wi-Fi finders. I love the idea of a little keychain scanner that lets me know if there's a Wi-Fi signal in the area, before I bother retrieving my laptop from its bag. Sadly, even the ones that work (in other words, they are not fooled by microwave ovens or cordless phones) don't tell you if the network they see is encrypted and, thus, useful to you. There is one new device that reports enough information to be useful, but it costs $50.
I own two pairs of Dockers Mobile Pants. These are khakis that have special, extra thigh pockets for stowing your gear, such as your cell phone, MP3 player, PDA, tissues, candy bars, and so on. I like these pants, but I never, ever use the extra pockets. Why not? First, because I'm a big enough dork as is, and I don't want to be seen hassling with a zipper on my thigh every time my cell phone rings. Second, if you're not careful, you can end up crushing the gear you put in the extra pockets when you sit down. Ouch.
By now, we all know that using a laptop computer on your lap is bad for male reproductive bits. So use a table. I can't understand why people buy these things, especially our editor in chief, who actually carries one in his backpack. Many laptop desks are nothing more than slabs of plastic that aren't as well made as the boxes they come in.
I mean, the whole point of carrying a laptop is that it's supposed to make traveling with technology easier, right? Since when is schlepping furniture part of the equation?
Mobile Wi-Fi routers
The pitch for a portable Wi-Fi router is generally this: When you go to a hotel, you can use one of these gizmos to convert the wired connection in your hotel room into a Wi-Fi hot spot so that you can use your laptop from all the way across the room. Yippee! Here's my solution: bring a long Ethernet cable. It'll weigh less, and you don't have to bring a power adapter for it.
I just don't see the point of throwing a portable Wi-Fi router into your travel kit. If you're going to set up shop in a temporary location and you need to get multiple people online, a small mobile router makes sense. Otherwise, why bother?
That is my list of the silliest ways you can accessorize your computing setup. Anybody care to top it?