Pizza stone, magic trick, game timer, hotel outlet adapter [Gadgets 004]

In each episode of Gadgets the editors and friends of Boing Boing recommend technology they love and use. This time Jason and Mark talk about the best chess timer for Scrabble players, a fantastic pizza stone, a compact 3-outlet adapter for hotel use, and a great magic trick for under $5. Plus, a website that converts PDFs to Kindle format.

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Two cheap mini-amps tested: Pyle vs Topping


To hook up some old KLH speakers to my computer, I needed a small amp. First up was the ultra-cheap Pyle PFA100, an allegedly 30-watt amp that's just $25. Though it had controls for treble, bass and tone, and jacks for headphones and a mic, it was so bad that none of it mattered. The Pyle was was noisy, distorted at louder volumes, and picked up radio interference. Even accepting the possibility that I got a lemon, it's clearly junk when you see it in the flesh. Replacing the power brick (as some suggest) did not make a difference.

I next considered trying the Lepai 2020, a similarly-tiny product at an even-tinier price. Though it's got a reputation as surprisingly good for the $20 you'll pay for it, I was dissuaded by the fact that it really does seem identical to the Pyle: the same controls and jacks, all in the same places, as if the only difference was the casing. While it only claims 20W output, suggesting at least some different innards, I decided not to be a sucker twice and opted for the Topping TP10.

Though three times the price, at $65, it's a simpler gadget with no mic or headphone jacks, and no bass or treble to fiddle with: signal in, signal out. It also claims only 15W of output, half that of the Pyle. It's nicer on the eyes, though, with a brushed-metal faceplate and superior knobfeel. Most importantly, it sounded much better than the Pyle, with no audible interference and clean audio at higher volumes. 15W seemed enough to drive the KLH Model 19s on my desk.

I don't doubt the happiness of those who report success with modern "fleamarket" amps, but with good alternatives only a little more expensive, why bother risking it? Both models were tested using the same cables and equipment.

Surveillance camera bird-feeder

Thinkgeek's Security Camera Birdfeeder ($15.99) is a bit of gallows humor for the post-Snowden age. Feed animals in your yard while they perch unwittingly into an icon of the corporate-government surveillance apparatus, and try not to think about the CCTVs -- metaphorical and literal -- watching you as you watch them. Then ask yourself: "Who's the birdbrain around here?"

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David Pogue -- guest on new Cool Tools podcast

Kevin Kelly and I launched a new podcast at Cool Tools. In our inaugural episode, we pick the brain of guest David Pogue, founder of Yahoo Tech, for some lesser-known tips, tools, and life hacks. We move from discussing productivity apps, to office products, to kitchen appliances.

Best matcha, OCD luggage, supreme WiFi router, wireless AC outlet [Gadgets 003]

Gadgets is Boing Boing’s newest podcast! In each episode the editors and friends of Boing Boing recommend technology they love and use. This time, Xeni, Jason, and Mark talk about Ippodo Matcha (both high grade and super duper high grade ), eBags rolling mini suitcase and packing cubes, the NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 Dual Band WiFi Gigabit Router, the Light and Motion Sola 2000 SF Dive Photo Light, the Wi-Fi Smart Plug and a SIM card cutter + adapters.

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What’s in My Bag? Christopher Michel

Over at Cool Tools, photographer Christopher Michel opened his travel case and described the contents -- noise canceling headphones, sleep mask, emergency meds, charging device, etc. I want everything in it!

$79 gadget will "show the true, confident you"

Lumo Lift is a wearable gadget that chides you when you slouch. It "brings out the best in you, to be the more attractive, more confident you." It's a miracle contained in a tiny chip of plastic!

Pornoscanners head to prisons

Normally technology migrates from prisons to schools to airports -- think CCTVs and Pre-Check -- but for the late and unlamented radioactive pornoscanners that the TSA had to give up on, the technology path went the other way -- if you're lucky enough to be incarcerated in the USA (which incarcerates more people than any other nation on Earth), you may be treated to one or more TSA-surplus pornoscans.

Interviews with & portraits of sex-machine makers

In Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews, (previously) veteran photographer Timothy Archibald explores the people who make, use, recommend and perform with homebrew sex-machines (NSFW, unless you W somewhere that's cool with sex machines). Design You Trust has a long and fascinating excerpt from the book, and it really gives a flavor of the work, especially Archibald's photos, which are a brilliant mix of commercial photography (he's previously shot ads for Apple and Ikea) and newsy, stylish portraits that make it clear why his work shows up in Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone.

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Last day of the Novena open source hardware laptop crowdfunding campaign

Just a reminder about the Novena crowdfunding project which closes tonight: this is Bunnie Huang's fully open and transparent laptop, the only computer whose internals can be modified and verified by its users. It's big and weird and fuggly, and it's gorgeous. It's important. I've ordered mine -- this is your last chance to get yours. Bunnie is a virtuoso hardware hacker and a brilliant reverse engineer; he broke the Xbox and wrote an essential book about it.

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Ikea's Death Star lamp

As redditor Tomcruiseama points out, the $70 Ikea PS 2014 lamp is basically a Death Star: it's a Hoberman-sphere-like lampshade that can be mechanically expanded or contracted to control the amount of light it emits.

Build your own Alexander Calder-esque modernist mobile

Thinkgeek's $50 DIY Modern Mobile Kit has all the pieces you need to make your own reconfigurable mid-century modern mobile in the style of Alexander Calder. This would also be an excellent project for your local hackerspace's laser-cutter.

DIY Modern Mobile Kit

Desk lamps, GoPro Hero3, Red Ryder BB Gun (Gadgets 002)

Gadgets is Boing Boing’s newest podcast! In each episode the editors and friends of Boing Boing recommend technology they love and use. This time, we discuss the Satechi LED Desk Lamp, the Alvin Magnifier Lamp, the GoPro HERO3+ video camera, and the Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun.

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Nokia 100 phones: £5

The workhorse Nokia 100 phone is now a mere £5 without contract from Carphone Warehouse. Now, that's a cheap burner -- either manufacturing robots have come way down in price or there's some very unhappy people chained to machines in a factory somewhere. Either way, it's a pretty sad end for a giant whack of conflict minerals like coltan mud. (via Red Ferret)

Book-spine switch-plate

Bas Bleu's book-spine lightswitch plate seems just the thing for your library or other bookish venue. $17, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, and Sherwood Anderson. Caveat: one reviewer complains about a "high sheen plastic" that covers it.

Book Spine Lightswitch Cover