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

VAIO Up! Sony unveils all-star notebook lineup

With much of New York City’s attention focused on Yankee Stadium and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game festivities, Sony took time out Monday to move a few players in its notebook lineup off of its virtual on-deck circle and into the marketplace.

At a special press event near Times Square, Sony showed off a mix of business, multimedia and lightweight notebooks aimed at capturing the attention of different types of users.

The heavy hitter of the group is the Sony VAIO FW (above), which aims to be both big and svelte at the same time. While its 16.4-inch widescreen display is bigger than that of most notebooks, the missing six-tenths of an inch allows it to fit into a package significantly smaller than that of notebooks with 17-inch screens. At 6.4 to 6.7 pounds, it’s much lighter than Sony’s own VAIO AR series 17-inch-screen notebooks, which can weigh as much as 8.4 pounds.

The premium version of the VAIO FW ($1,750) comes with a Blu-ray disk drive that can output 1080p high-definition video to an external HDTV. A standard version ($1,000) comes with a rewritable DVD drive.

Sony’s new utility infielder is the VAIO BZ business notebook (right), which is built for hard and frequent use. The unit (starting at $1,000) weighs less than six pounds and is housed in a magnesium alloy shell. The hard disk is protected by Sony’s G-Sensor shock-detection technology, which counteracts sudden movements.

In addition to 15.4-inch screens and spill-resistant keyboards, the VAIO BZ series notebooks have fingerprint sensors, memory card ports and built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking.

On the thin, light and colorful side, the VAIO SR series of ultraportables (left, starting at $1,400) weigh just over four pounds, have 13.3 inch screens and are packaged with entertainment and media-sharing software. The units, which can be ordered with a built-in webcam, come in five colors: black, sunset pink, glossy pink, classic silver and glossy silver.

The VAIO Z series of lightweight, performance business notebooks come in carbon-fiber shells and feature 13.3 inch displays. The units come in at just over 3 pounds, have HDMI ports, can be ordered with Blu-ray disk drives and come with data-migration software so you can import data from your old computer via an online service. Like the VAIO FW and VAIO SR, the VAIO Z offers flat, slightly raised keys (see below), which, according to Sony, provides a more user-friendly typing experience.

The VAIO Z can also be ordered with a solid state drive, a feature which greatly speeds up data retrieval shortens boot-up time. A version with a standard hard disk starts at $1,800 while a unit with a solid state drive will cost about $2,300.

All of the units above are now available only or in Sony Style stores, according to Mike Abary (above), senior vice president for IT product marketing at Sony Electronics Inc.

Top and bottom photos Copyright 2008 Stadium Circle Features.
Other photos courtesy of Sony Electronics Inc.
Text Copyright 2008 Stadium Circle Features.