Tools & Toys : IPOD a Go-Go

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    August 2004 | IEEE Spectrum | NA 49

    teresting developments can be a rich sourceof ideas. For example, I was excited whenI first encountered the helpful digital dis-plays in Hong Kongs subway; these arenow finding their way into Western transitsystems. Even if a development isnt di-rectly applicable to your problem, you mayglean some novel and feasible concepts.And when you encounter a new technology,ask yourself: How will this change myability to solve this problem, do this better,or seize an opportunity?

    In addition to boosting your own creativ-ity, you can also encourage others to welcomenew ideasor at least not stifle them. We allknow the engineer who, when pitched a newidea, instinctively rattles off all the reasonsit wont workWe tried that before and itfailed. Maybe you do a little of that yourself;I know I sometimes do. The reasons may re-flect legitimate issues, a desire to stick withthe status quo, or the prideful not inventedhere mentality. Unfortunately, these reasonsserve as an excuse for not seriously consid-ering the suggestion.

    So the next time youre presented with anidea that at first blush sounds outlandish orimpractical, try one of these responses:What made you think of that? or Whatare you trying to accomplish by doing that?Youll get the person to explain how he or shearrived at the idea, and determine if thethinking process was sound. The person, inturn, will feel encouraged, and the discussionthat ensues may even lead to other ideas.

    With some simple steps like these, we en-gineers can become more creative and workto develop fresh ideas for improving theproducts we design and build.

    This is the 10th installment in Carl Selin-gers professional development series foryounger engineers, Stuff You Dont Learn inEngineering School. The series is available on-line at http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/careers.

    TO PROBE FURTHER:Michael J. Gelbs How to Think LikeLeonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps toGenius Every Day (Delacorte Press, NewYork, 1998) draws on Leonardos note-books, inventions, and works of art to offerseven principles for thinking more cre-atively.

    Robert J. Kriegel and Louis Patlers If It Aint BrokeBreak It!: And OtherUnconventional Wisdom for aChanging Business World (WarnerBooks, New York, 1991) shows how busi-ness people today have to turn the old

    iPOD A GO-GODont leave home without the right accessoryBY STEPHEN CASS

    MORE THAN A PLAYER:The iPod music player[top center, with screen]can be enhanced withthese gizmos: [clockwisefrom top right] naviPodremote, naviPod adapter,Voice Recorder,Universal MicrophoneAdapter, iTrip,Media Reader,and iTalk.

    I joined the ranks of iPod ownerslast year, motivated by the desireto have enough musical variety tolast a five-hour plane trip withouthaving to fiddle with a carryingcase full of CDs. About the size ofa deck of cards, the white-and-silver iPod can store and playenough music to last severaldays, thanks to its built-in hard

    diskas large as 40 gigabytes,depending on the model.

    But I soon discovered that the iPod,made by Apple Computer Inc., Cupertino,Calif., has other uses. In particular, it candouble as a removable hard disk. Apartfrom transferring large files, sometechnically savvy users boot their homeand office computers from their iPods,ensuring that all their files and settingsare with them wherever they go. (Thistrick requires putting a copy of your

    operating system of choice on the iPodand using a computer that will supportbooting from a FireWire drive.)

    Now, a crop of gadgets aim to makethe iPod even handier, so I went lookingfor some must-have iPod add-ons.

    First, I tried out three recorders thatlet you record sound directly onto theiPods disk: the Voice Recorder and theUniversal Microphone Adapter, bothfrom Belkin Corp. in Compton, Calif.,and the iTalk from Griffin Technologiesin Nashville, Tenn.

    Like many of the gadgets I tested, therecorders are designed for the latestgeneration of full-scale iPods and do notwork with either the new line of iPodMinis or older generations of iPods.

    Belkins Voice Recorder (US $60)comes equipped with a condensermicrophone and a tiny loudspeaker. Youplug the recorder into the top of the iPod,

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  • and Apples uncluttered and intuitivestandard sound-recording interface popsup on the iPods 41-by-33-millimeterscreen. Recordings are automaticallylabeled with date and time and can beplayed back through the Voice Recordersspeaker or the iPods earphones ortransferred to a desktop computer.

    The quality of the recording, however,is poor. I wasnt expecting muchat asample rate of 8 kilohertz, the bestrecording is going to sound only aboutas good as a telephone conversationbut even though I tried varying therecorders distance from me as I spoke,loud crackles pervaded my recordingsunless I spoke very softly.

    Belkins Universal MicrophoneAdapter ($40) fared much better.Although it lacks a speaker forplayback, the adapter comes with athree-level volume control and alight-emitting diode that changescolor from green through yellow tored in response to recording volume.Since it has no internal condensermicrophone, I had to plug in amicrophone (one that I use for Webconferencing). The improvement insound quality over the VoiceRecorder was dramatic, especially

    with the LEDs assistance in settingthe appropriate volume level.

    Griffins iTalk ($40) comes with both abuilt-in condenser microphone and a jackfor an external microphone, as well as asmall speaker. As with the VoiceRecorder, the condenser microphone pro-duced a poor recording, but with my ownmicrophone, the sound improved greatly.

    The iTalk beats Belkins recorders onfeatures, but some users might preferthe recording volume control offered bythe Universal Microphone Adapter.

    Moving beyond sound recorders,Belkin does have a winner on its handswith its Media Reader ($110). This unitcan read several types of storage mediacards used in digital cameras. Eventhough these removable cards canoften store dozens of high-resolutionimages, a snap-happy road-tripper caneasily run out of space in a day or two.

    Using the Media Reader, you can freeup that space by copying photographsto your iPod: pop the cameras card intothe Media Reader and plug the deviceinto the iPods dock connector. Aneasy-to-use interface lets you copyyour pictures to the iPods hard disk.Although you have to transfer theimages to a Mac or PC to view them, the

    RESOURCES

    50 IEEE Spectrum | August 2004 | NA

    Is open-source software developmenteverything its proponents say it is?Researchers in Canada, Italy, and theUnited Arab Emirates discovered thatthe answer is: not quite. They devel-oped a set of metrics and used them togauge whether open-source develop-ment really fosters faster systemgrowth, leads to more creativity, pro-duces less complex code, results infewer bugs, and makes more modularsoftware. They analyzed three well-known open-source projects and threeclosed-source projects (which theyhad to keep confidential).

    The researchers found evidence tosupport only two of the five claims.The open-source projects do seem tofoster more creativity and usually yieldfewer bugs. The evidence suggeststhat the other three beliefs are not

    true. Open-source software may, infact, actually be more complex andless modular.

    An Empirical Study of Open-Sourceand Closed-Source Software Products,by James W. Paulson et al., IEEE Transactions on SoftwareEngineering, April 2004, pp.

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  • Media Reader fills an obvious need andis simple to use. Belkin also wins extrapoints for including the AAA batteriesneeded to power the unit.

    Griffin offers another gadget thatroad-trippers will like, which is alsoavailable in a version suitable for olderiPods: the iTrip ($35). It is a radiotransmitter that plugs into an iPod andbroadcasts its output as an FM signalon one of 100 frequencies selectableby the user. (Readers in the UnitedKingdom should be warned, though:because of spectrum licensing, itsillegal to operate the iTrip there.) Therange is no more than a few meters,and FM quality isnt as good as theiPods direct output, but car driversand passengers should find that theiTrip makes a nice alternative tohunting for an acceptable radio stationwhile on the road.

    Of course, iPod owners dont have apurely mobile existence, and with a decentset of speakers, the iPod can make apretty good home jukebox. Altec LansingTechnologies Inc., in Milford, Pa., offers a

    portable set (in white, of course) speciallydesigned for the iPod, but I havent tried itmyselfmy regular Altec Lansing homedesktop speakers work just fine.

    Ten Technology, in Pacific Palisades,Calif., also makes a nifty accessory, the$50 naviPod (available for older iPods,

    too). Once fitted to the iPod, thenaviPod lets you control the player witha stylish infrared remote control fromthe comfort of your couch. The naviPodalso comes with a stand that props theiPod upright for those without Applesown iPod dock.

    August 2004 | IEEE Spectrum | NA 51

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