Somehow I have a reputation for loving gadgets.  I contest this, as I very rarely buy things that turn out not to be useful to me.

Perhaps what people notice is that I do have lots of tools.  I use them to solve problems, and once people find out I can solve those problems they come to me for help.  But does that make me a gadget man?  If something does not save me time or does not make my life easier, I throw it out.

I'll present here a few items that are considered gadgets by others but tools by me.  Make up your own mind.


The emoskop is a set of lenses in fittings that can be rearranged to suit several optical purposes.

The available magnifictions are 5x 10x 15x 25x and 30x and there is also a telescope combination giving 3x.

I compare it here to classical loupes.  I do agree that the classical version can be faster to use but the 30x emoskop combination is the default and is superior in handling.

The advert is from an issue of Scientific American of 1968.  In those days the device was made of metal, now it is mostly plastic and the price went up slightly (even accounting for inflation).

The version imaged is with a small stand.  I also bought the optional measuring grid to 0.1mm that fits on the bottom of the stand (you can just make out the line with the marks).  Unfortunately (2009-01) the company seems to have gone out of business.

Treo 650

OK, it's not an iPhone, but I won't switch until I have the same functions.  I use mainly the Palm applications for agenda, data bases and several freeware/sharewares.  I have read quite a number of classic books on it with the Palmreader software, books I downloaded or converted from text (e.g. the Kitzmiller transcripts).

Victorinox tool

Inspired probably by the Leatherman tools, which in turn must have been inspired by Victorinox's Swiss Army knives.  Its main advantage over the Leatherman was that the latch to hold the tools in place can be operated so you do not have to pull another tool out first before being able to fold one in.  I once cut myself badly doing that.  Leatherman has since adopted the same approach (good).

Sony universal remote

We've had this for so long in the house and we use it so much that I would certainly not consider this a gadget.  It sends sequences of commands as well:  when you choose an audio/video source device, it will tell the main amplifier to switch input to that device.  And it is one of the very few that is compatible with B&O.

Italian corkscrew

Not seen a better one anywhere.  It combines the cutter for the sleeve with the corkscrew and the lever has a second movement for pulling long corks out.  I can think of a small improvement, but any other corkscrew I have used or seen used has been less comfortable, more unwieldy or sometimes ridiculously large.

GPS navigation system

Maybe satellite navigation was considered a gadget when I bought my first system, but would anyone still dare to say that today?  I just wished TomTom would make the software for OS X better.

ProScope microscope

OK, that's perhaps a gadget.  It's a USB device that functions as a microscope, easy to use and kids love it.  There is a high-resolution version now, maybe it's more useful.  Nevertheless, a number of illustrations in this site have been made with it, e.g. the ones on core memory.

EMCO lathe

I agree that I do not use it as often as I probably should, but I have been able to make special parts fo repairs that I would not have been able to do otherwise.  I've had it since 1983.

Magnetic cat flap

Unfortunately both our cats died and the flaps are now idle.  Cat owners living in the countryside know that you must provide a way for your cat to come and go as he or she pleases, or you are asking for trouble.  The first flaps I installed were simple items.  The mess was immediate:  foreign cats could get in too and cat fights on the landing upstairs in the middle of the night are not what you want.

The magnetic flap has a reed-switch that opens the flap only if the cat wears a magnet on its collar that trips the switch.  Of course this will not keep out any foreign cats that also have a magnet collar.  Our neighbours considered the device a gadget, their cats do not have magnets and the flap has worked reliably for many years.

Carry-around TV

I myself do consider this a real gadget, but not Susan who loves it since she can now watch her favourite programs from anywhere in the house.  She carries it around like a baby.

I made it from three components mounted on a frame of wood:  a 2.4GHz video link receiver (bottom) to recieve the signal relayed from the base TV, a small LCD TV used as a monitor, and two FireWire speakers from an old iMac (transparent plastic balls in the back).

Programmable Phone switch

Programmable Phone switch

Programmable Phone switch

I made this from a programmable 230V switch.  It looks dangerous, but don't worry:  I redid the entire wiring inside, using only the clock and the relay.  It switches the phone off during certain times of the day so that we are not disturbed by stupid calls.


Some items are considered a necessity by the majority of people but I find myself unable to use them.

One of them is a stapler remover:

Another one is the OS X search engine called Spotlight:

I don't know whose idea of a search engine this is, and I also know that many people love it.  Some claim it has changed their relationship with their computer.  I just think its interface is fundamentally flawed.

The most surprising on my list of anti-gadgets is perhaps the GSM phone.  Although I own a Treo smartphone I never use it as a phone.  It's exclusively there so my ageing parents can reach me if needed.  It serves no telecommunications purpose whatever for me.  The palmtop computer side of it I do use a lot, and the only reason to switch from a Tungsten to a Treo was to combine the palmtop with the emergency GSM phone, avoiding yet another little black box.  I hate mobile phones but I'm still considered a gadget person.

iPods.  I have a number, but I have only used them as backup of my music and files and to backup photos when on a long trip (before gigabyte flash cards).  I do not run around with earphones plugged into my ears and probably never will.  People can't understand why not.

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