A Night at the Museum: Timeless Cool Tech at MoMA

Never underestimate the geek value of a night at the museum, specifically New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

On a recent Friday afternoon (admission is free 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays) I found myself on the third floor where MoMA houses a surprisingly eclectic and entertaining collection of old and new technology in its Architecture and Design areas.

While the Bell-47D1 helicopter in the lobby and the collection of vintage vacuum tubes were expected, the displays also include products you may have used or may be in your home right now.

The FPR2 Human Powered Radio and Freeplay Human Powered Torch from Freeplay Energy Ltd. would have come in handy during any of New York’s three major blackouts. Both units can be charged with elbow grease or via built-in solar panels. The London-based company still makes hand-crank-powered devices but they’re smaller and sleeker than these translucent 1998-vintage consumer products.

The IBM ThinkPad 701 notebook, which debuted in 1995, is a classic example of cool technology which went white hot and ice cold almost overnight. How do you fit a full-size keyboard into a compact laptop? Create a split keyboard which expands when you open the unit’s lid and collapses when you close it.

The butterfly keyboard, officially called the TrackWrite, allowed the unit’s 9.7-inch-wide case to accommodate a keyboard that could fold out to 11.5 inches wide. As laptops grew larger and more affordable, the need for such keyboard magic disappeared and the ThinkPad 701 ended up as the only ThinkPad made with the nifty folding keyboard.

Long before frills such as wireless mice, studio-quality audio or (gasp!) electronic displays came to personal computing, Olivetti’s Logos 80 Programmable Calculator provided a reasonable calculating option for those graduating from slide rules or four-function pocket calculators.

It’s not surprising when art makes its way from a museum for temporary display in the New York’s subway system, but it’s rare when things go the other way. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the folks who run New York’s subways, is experimenting with the Help Point Intercom, a highly visible customer assistance and emergency communicator.

Many stations have customer communication boxes, but they’re yellow and much smaller and sometimes hard to find. The Help Points are much larger, always illuminated and are uniquely coded so subway personnel can tell which unit was used to call in an emergency and where to send assistance.

In a pilot program, some units have been installed at the 23rd St. and Brooklyn Bridge stations on the Lexington Ave. line. Apparently the sleek, but functional design earned the Help Point a spot in MoMA even before it merited widespread adoption in the subway system.

The moral of this story: Cool design is timeless. Only time will tell if the electric toothbrush you used this morning will make it to MoMA’s third floor next year.

Text and video Copyright 2012 Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features

Plantronics Launches GameCom 780 Surround Sound Stereo USB Gaming Headset at CES 2012

Headset offers Dolby 7.1 surround sound, 40mm drivers, a noise-canceling microphone and a volume control right on the headset.

The Plantronics GameCom 780 Surround Sound Stereo USB Gaming Headset which launched at the 2012 CES aims to please gamers who want to hear as much of the thunder, rock and roll of their gaming experience without the weight of a hefty headset.

The $80 GameCom 780 has Dolby 7.1 surround sound support as well as 40mm drivers which enhance bass and provide for an immersive experience hardcore gaming experience, according to Plantronics. The swing-away noise-canceling microphone minimizes extraneous sounds while maximizing the ability to trash talk clearly with online foes.

Plantronics GameCom 780 Surround Sound Stereo USB Gaming Headset

When tested, the GameCom 780 felt very light for its size yet delivered ample bass and clear sound. Gunshots reverberated and whistled clearly while the crackle of a fire rose and fell as the virtual player approached and moved away. The ear pads did an admirable job of muting the noise from the cacophonous 2012 CES show floor.

The speakers swivel, allowing the unit to store flat so that it can slip into a briefcase. The volume, Dolby and mute controls are on the left speaker and the unit has a 6.5-foot, heavy-duty USB cord. The headset has a 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response range while the microphone has a 100Hz to 8kHz frequency response range.

While users with PCs or laptops with top-shelf audio cards might opt for a headset with standard audio plugs such as the $50 Plantronics GameCom 380, the GameCom 780 is aimed at those who want a simple connection which still provides superior audio, said a Plantronics representative. He also noted that the headset is also aimed for use with Internet telephony and videoconferencing services such as Skype.

The unit is on sale now at Best Buy and will be on sale at Amazon and the Plantronics website.

Text and video Copyright 2012, Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features
Photo courtesy of Plantronics

Lost in Manhattan: One Library and One Post Office

NYPL Battery Park City Branch
Text and photos Copyright © 2011 Stadium Circle Features

How do you lose an entire library? What happens when the postal service can’t find its own post office? Just call them lost in cyberspace.

Blocks from each other in lower Manhattan is a New York Public Library (NYPL) branch that the library system’s new smartphone app didn’t know about and a U.S. Postal Service location that the USPS website can’t find.

The NYPL recently released iPhone and Android smartphone apps that allow library users to manage their accounts, reserve books, check on fines and otherwise make good use of the library’s many online resources. To use the new apps NYPL users need to register with the library’s new online catalog.
The apps also provide listings of the NYPL’s branches, which are spread out over Manhattan, The Bronx and Staten Island. However if you were one of the first to download the new Android NYPL app and wanted to locate the Battery Park City Library, guess what? It wasn’t listed.

The listing jumped from “Allerton” to “Baychester” with nary a mention of the airy Battery Park City branch, which opened last year. 

The temporary oversight was ironic since the Battery Park City branch is one of the most cyber-friendly public libraries in the city. The branch, located at 175 North End Ave. at Murray St., offers free Wi-Fi across its two floors, 36 public computers and plenty of desks with top-mounted AC outlets for laptops.

Fortunately an update which appeared in the Android Market Wednesday addressed a number of bugs, including the branch listing, which now includes every branch, including Battery Park City.

While the updated NYPL app was able to locate its library, the recently freshened-up U.S. Postal Service website doesn’t seem to know about a small, but useful Automated Postal Center (APC) site located just south of the World Trade Center site.

Nestled in a small storefront at 88 Greenwich St. is an APC location with lots of tabletop space for preparing packages and a single APC kiosk providing self-service postal services. There are many post-office-based and standalone APCs, which look like bank ATMS, scattered around the city. However, while the APC locator on the USPS.com website can locate most of them, this one is invisible.

Even if you enter “88 Greenwich St.” in the box that pops up after using the “Find USPS Locations” link on the USPS website–making sure to change “Post Office Locations” to “Automated Postal Centers”–the USPS website directs you across Manhattan to a post office at One Peck Slip more than half a mile away. Other suggestions listed by the locator included an APC site across the Hudson River in Jersey City, New Jersey and another across the East River in Brooklyn. Rowboat anyone?

Will the USPS website ever deliver the 88 Greenwich St. APC? Stay tuned: I have an e-mail in to the USPS media relations office.

Text and photos Copyright 2011 
Robert S. Anthony, Stadium Circle Features
USPS.com website image Copyright 2011 USPS