Another one of my passions – anything with batteries in it!


I have a Garmin GPSMAP 60CS GPS . It combines car, hiking, marine and aviation functionality into one unit. My car GPS (specialized just for car navigation) is a Garmin Nuvi 3790T GPS (bought in April 2011, but currently I use Google Maps and Waze largely because of up to date maps and social reporting) with live traffic routing, voice commands, 3D buildings and terrain, etc and it learns from the history of your driving. See some screenshots of what this GPS can do.  If you thought GPS’s were just for finding direction think about these uses:

  • Send someone a saved track and they can go over exactly the same route, eg. You could retrace an overseas tour including where the person walked around, or find your way back on a hiking trail to your base camp. Also useful to play back your exact speed, location and time if you need to prove you were not speeding.
  • GPS games – you stand in an open park and it has a vitual maze so you have to walk around as if you were walking between hedges, can’t cheat as it traces your path on the screen as you move.
  • Golf – determine distance and direction to hole even if you cannot see it (just need to save coordinates beforehand)
  • Coach Tours – maximise time on walk abouts by saving location of coach and tracking “estimated time to arrival” which will take your walking speed and the distance into account to ensure you arrve back on time. Also useful fo quickly finding places of interest in an unknown city. 
  • Check whether delivery drivers stray from their routes or drive too fast.
  • Sunrise & sunset times for wherever you are with phase of moon.<
  • Alerts to anchor drag if you are anchored in a boat. Use Trac-Back feature to trace exact path back to harbour if fog bound. Man-over-board feature will instantly plot position and navigate you back to that point. Also useful to find same fishing spot in the future, or exchange fishing spots with friends, or remember a spot to stop at on a return trip to take photographs.
  • Proximity warning for rocks in water, speed traps, shallow water, etc.
  • Flight – rate of ascent or descent, find an airport, navigate to airport, altitude.
  • Altitude, weather forecast using its barometer (those GPS’s that have it at least)
  • Geocaching – sport in which you use your GPS to find hidden caches
  • Parachute function that monitors all sorts of variables and advises when to deploy chute (if you are really the trusting type and have loaded fresh batteries!!).
  • ETA function (Estimated Time of Arrival) – I regularly use this to time my speed to arrive at destination for business meetings or to catch a flight.
  • OpenStreetMap – use your GPS to contribute to building up free maps.

Other Gadgets:

    • Chumby (upstream service now discontinued) – compact device that can act like a clock radio, but is way more flexible and fun. It uses the wireless internet connection you already have, to fetch cool stuff from the web: music, the latest news, box scores, animations, celebrity gossip…whatever you choose. And a chumby can exchange photos and messages with your friends. Since it’s always on, you’ll never miss anything. It has different channels you can set up for different purposes and examples that I currently use (sadly the original Chumby service has been discontinued but it has been resuscitated as a paid service) are:
      • Wakeup – I have custom alarms set for weekdays and Saturdays which start a channel with a widget that has a sun rising with birds tweating (brightness and volume increase over 10 minutes). After this my news RSS feeds kick in as well as weather so I can quickly catch up.
      • Sleep – with this channel I have nature sounds (or New Age music from my USB stick) playing for 40 minutes on a timer. The display is darkened for night and shows the time along with a scolling news RSS feed (in case I wake up and am bored in the middle of the night).
      • Default – this I have set up to show news, weather, latest Flickr photos, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia article of the day, etc.
    • Google Nexus 6P Android phone – I bought this phone in February 2016 after having quite a few Samsung Galaxy S phones. What I like about the Nexus is the lack of bloatware, and the instant OS updates from Google, stereo front speakers, the screen size allows some serious usage with it, and great battery life. No need to manually flash Samsung ROMs from the SamMobile website. So this phone was able to install an over-the-air developer preview version of Android N. See my experiences with my Android phone and Tablet. I bought a Galaxy Note 10.1 Review tablet in December 2012.
    • Macbook Air 11″ computer which as now completely replaced my Android tablet for daily use as it fits nicely in my Scottevest for carrying around.
    • iGala Digital Photoframe – a WiFi enabled 800×600 8″ touch screen LCD photo frame that will display RSS feeds, download photos directly from Flickr, Picasa, etc. It is powered by Linux. The iGala service though has come to an end so you need to now rely on the photoframe downloading from Flickr and other supported services.
    • Kobo eReader – an eInk screen reader like the Kindle but a bit cheaper and uses the more open format ePub format.
    • Kindle Paperwhite WiFi model in October 2014 mainly for the built in front light and better contrast – an e-Book reader that connects to Amazon. I spend the first few months on 2010 looking at e-book reader alternatives and decided to go with the Kindle 2 (and then bought the Kindle 3 a few months later) for now. The Kindle DX is larger, has auto rotate, and has more storage but I don’t need all that at double the price. Some of my key reasons were:

      Kindle Paperwhite

      • Amazon already has just over 4 million in Kindle format (as at end Nov 2015). Prices average around US$6-11 per book. Books can literally be bought with a single click of the button (purchase and download). Books download within 60 seconds to your device (if I need a book while sitting on the beach, I can search for it and buy and be reading it within minutes). Amazon also allows you to download a sample of the first few chapters for free.
      • Audio books from can also be downloaded and listened to on the Kindle, as can audio podcasts (copy the MP3 file to the Audible folder on the Kindle – but note the Paperwhite has no audio like the Keyboard model had).
      • I can access and read these books from my Kindle device, my Android (or other) phone, and my PC using the free Kindle readers.  Kindle for PC will also run under Wine on Linux. I am using the Calibre app on my computer to push ebooks via e-mail to my Kindle.
      • Kindle syncs between my devices so if I read up to page 87 on my Kindle, I can log into the Kindle for PC app and continue reading there. It will also sync personal MOBI files uploaded through the cloud service, between Android/iOS apps and the Kindle devices.
      • All highlighted text, notes and bookmarks sync via Amazon’s website and I can access my notes etc there. I can also share my notes with others and it will post to Twitter and Facebook as well.
      • The Kindle is a dedicated instant-on reading device so I get a good reader and not a do-it-all device that does nothing well.
      • Screen is E Ink and works like paper so there is no eye strain or backlighting. Works fine in bright sunlight. Font size can be quickly adjusted. This also accounts for the long battery life. I have had quite a few people comment in surprise about how sharp the text appears.
      • Device runs for up to a month on a single battery charge (10 days with wireless on). The Paperwhite runs for about 8 weeks with WiFi turned off.
      • It has built-in free 3G international wireless coverage (even works in South Africa) with no need for contracts, payments, etc to connect to the bookstore to search, purchase and sync the books and notes. I can operate the Kindle completely independently of a computer with no lock-in to iTunes. It will also access basic websites such as Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook Mobile, Google search, etc. The latest model also includes WiFi.
      • Capacity is about 3,500 books and more can be archived on the online Kindle site. Size is about that of a typical paperback and it is much lighter.
      • My online newspaper subscription supports an export / download to Kindle format.
      • It has a 3.5mm jack for listening to audio (not on the Paperwhite model). It will also download audio books of which Amazon has over 50,000. With Read-to-me the Kindle will also read out a text book aloud to me (useful for while driving and no need to buy a specific audio book). The voice guide read-to-me menus will allow the visually impaired to also be able to use the Kindle. By transferring MP3’s from my computer via the USB link, I can also listen to podcasts on the Kindle (right now I cannot listen to podcasts on my iPhone while in flight as mobile phones have to be switched off during flights in South Africa – and now in 2014 this is again possible as long as phones are in flight mode)).
      • Book formats supported: Kindle (AZW), TXT, PDF, Audible (Audible Enhanced (AA, AAX)), MP3, unprotected MOBI, PRC natively; HTML, DOC, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP through conversion. You can use a PC based e-Book organiser such as Calibre that will recognise the Kindle and synch books to it.
      • Built-in dictionary with instant lookup so need to carry around a dictionary with you.
      • Basic word games have been added such as Every Word (free), Shuffled Row (free), Minsweeper, Blackjack, and Scrabble (US$4.99).
      • So in summary it is a dedicated e-book reader that does what it does very well, it has a massive selection of books available via Amazon, I can operate it completely free form any computer, the price has just dropped from US$260 down to $US189, it will easily resell again in a year……. and it runs Linux as it’s OS so I can hack it to even run Ubuntu Linux….
      • To switch wireless providers on the Kindle 3 go to the Settings screen and while holding the ALT button press E then Q and Q again (on Kindle two just press 311). For South Africa select Vodacom-SA.  For detailed info on your Kindle 3 hold ALT and press R then Q and Q again (Kindle 2 is 411). For detailed WAN information on Kindle 3 try holding ALT and pressing Y and then Q and Q again). LAN information on Kindle 3 can be obtained by holding ALT and pressing U and then Q and again Q).
      • See an excellent list of shortcut keys and tips.
      • Google Chrome has an extension that will send a webpage wirelessly to your Kindle for later reading.

  • Sony Aplha 100 DSLR camera with Sigma EF-500 DG ST flash and a Sigma 70-300mm F/4-5.6 APO DG Macro zoom lens. Some functions that I really like on the camera are its 10.2Mpixel CCD, anti-shake in the body (means you can use any lens and have anti-shake), dynamic range optimiser (40 segment exposure checking to eliminate parts of a photo that are too dark or too light – see it in action at DP Review), anti-dust cleaning of imager, RAW images, and auto focussing as you put the eye to the viewfinder.
  • My backup ultra compact point-and-shoot camera is a Sony DSC-HX9V with 16 mega pixel and 16x optical zoom. This camera also has a built-in GPS for time/date as well as location. This is the camera I use when travelling.
  • Zmodo 8 channel infra-red weather proof surveillance camera system with a DVR. It connects to my LAN in the home, and I can login remotely to look at the external cameras.
  • GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition – for taking stills and video while riding my motorcycle. I have also added an extended battery, LCD touch back screen, etc to it.
  • Logitech Harmony 688 Remote controller. It programs itself via the Internet and really can replace all your old remotes (without having to keep switching between modes)
  • LG LW6510 TV – with passive 3D viewing and Internet streaming. It will also play back 3D YouTube videos. It uses standard cinema 3D glasses.
  • Leatherman Charge TTi knife – my Wave I has been in use for 14 years (since 1998) and goes most places with me. My longest surviving daily use gadget! Improvements that the Charge TTi has over the Wave I are all locking tools (much safer), Titanium handles, harder blade, and interchangeable tool bits (adding versatility). Both my Leathermans were autographed by Tim Leatherman when he was visiting Cape Town.
  • Robosapien Version 2 Robot – OK it does not really do anything useful….. Now also a Mio Puppy.
  • Skype Dualphone – a DECT cordless phone that connects to your Telco as well as to Skype on your PC via USB. Makes Skype calling as easy as using a normal telephone as you never need to touch the PC to make or receive calls.
  • Grandstream Budge Tone-100 Internet Phone to make SIP calls over the Internet, by connecting a standard analogue phone to it.
  • My PC is a Gigabyte GA-B75M-D3H motherboard with an Intel Core i7 3.4GHz CPU with 6GB of DDR3-1333 RAM. Storage is dual Western Digital 800GB SATA drives, with a remote D-Link DNS-323 NAS drive with two Samsung 500GB SATA in a RAID-1 mirror configuration for backups. I connect to the Internet via an Asus RT-AC87U dual-band wireless gigabit router – this is the device that connects and manages everything in the house and connects to my upstream Internet via a Huawei LTE modem. The PC is connecting directly to the solar inverter in the house for clean uninterruptible power.  I use a Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 with face recognition login, Carl Zeiss optics, echo free stereo audio, 1080p full HD video, and RightLight2 for low light. My primary operating system is Manjaro Linux LKDE 64-bit OS. The house now also has a solar / battery setup which keeps the TV, Internet and lights running during any power outages.
  • Samsung NC10 Netbook with Ubuntu Netbook Edition Linux OS loaded on it.
  • Calculators – a 40 year old HP-41CV that still works complete with original box, manuals, etc. Also an HP-12C Financial Calculator and a HP-50g Graphing Calculator.
  • 5th Generation iPod 30GB with video (with integration to my Toyota Auris using the Dension Gateway 100) – great for music, photos, video, podcasts, audiobooks, and keeping contact and calendar info in your pocket (since been superseded by using my Android phone which plays via Bluetooth to my car’s audio system). Its Notes function allows you to copy eBook text books or HTML formatted text documents to its Notes folder. It is also a 30GB external USB hard drive in your shirt pocket. Its only after I got my iPod that I realised it does not “just play a list of music” – it has quite a bit of customisation around smart playlists (it updates the playlists on the fly according to rules you can set) etc. Some other utilities / uses:
    • How to convert PC video to the iPod using free Videora iPod Convertor
    • Another guide to getting video onto the iPod
    • Wikipedia information on iPod
    • City subway maps for the iPod
    • With a video out cable you can show business presentation slides through a video projector using photos
    • YamiPod is a freeware application to efficiently manage your iPod under Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. It can be run directly from your memory stick and needs no installation.
    • jPodder – really good free podcast downloader. Supports retry, export to iTunes, etc. Development being discontinued and technology transferred to RSSOwl.
    • myPodder – another good free podcast downloader. However it does not export to iTunes so you must do this manually from within iTunes. It can be used with other types of MP3 players though.
    • I use a Griffin Roadtrip FM transmitter in my car to listen to music and podcasts through my car radio. It has a cradle to hold the iPod and also charges it.
    • GetCals – download Google Calendar appointments to your iPod calendar. Another, not so elegent, way (but does prevent duplicates) is to go to “Manage Calendars” on Google Calendar, and under Private addresses right click on the ICAL graphic and save the link or target as a file on your desktop. Rename that file’s extension to “.ics” and copy it into your iPod’s calendar folder. You can also save any iCal format calendar to the iPod’s Calendar folder (it can read more than one).
    • iNote is a very simple Windows program that is used to convert large text files into small iPod readable files stored as notes. It is very much like the iPod eBook Creator (google it if you don’t know) and converts large text files into small, 4kb notes and links them together.
    • GoogleGet is a small program designed to download the latest news and weather information from (or a local variation) and in the quickest and simplest way possible to your iPod.
    • Rockbox is an open source replacement firmware for mp3 players. It replaces your iPod’s OS and adds new functionality like zooming photos, better sound quality, etc.
    • Multi Boot Your iPod The Easy Way – instructions on how to multiboot into Podzilla (ucLinux for iPod)RockBox, Disc Mode and Apple OS. I have not tried this myself so proceed at your own risk.
    • Cnet’s List of 3rd Party Add-On software for the iPod.
  • Powerball – hand held gyro for exercising arm muscles. Has a rev counter and generates light through LED’s.
  • Weber Audible Meat Thermometer – WiFi remote cooking sensor which alerts you when the meat on the BBQ is done.
  • Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Player with Google TV – got this in September 2012 but Sony has not been issuing any software updates for it so I have discontinued using it.
  • SainSmart SS808 PC-On-A-Stick/ Mini Computer – this memory stick size device plugs straight onto an HDMI port of my TV and runs all sorts of Android apps and games on the TV.
  • Raspberry Pi 2 – I’m using Synergy to share my main computer’s keyboard and mouse to the Pi.
  • Fitbit Charge HR – my fitness band with heart rate monitoring.
  • Pebble Time Steel smartwatch – love the quality build on this watch and its 7+ days battery life.
  • Bosch PLR 50 laser distance measuring tool – up to 50m measurement.
  • Acurite 5-in-1 Professional Weather Station – you can view my station’s weather data at Weather Underground.  Photos of my weather station can be seen here. My weather station’s ID is ITHORNTO11.
  • Solar installation – I have a mix of Ellies and Victron equipment and you can see photos of it at Google Solar Photos and view the live stats at the Victron site.
  • Oregon Scientific UV Monitor – This portable UV monitor measures and records UV levels and displays a UV reading from low to high. It will calculate UV exposure time based on your skin type, sunscreen factor and UV reading.
  • OWL Wireless Electricity Monitor – Wireless display that you can take with you around the house and which shows current electricity consumption in KW, current cost per hour in cents, and greenhouse gas emissions. It shows you the cash impact of changing your habits and behaviours which could amount to savings of hundreds of Rands per year. I replaced this monitor with one from which has the added advantage of downloading usage stats to your PC (see embedded screenshot here).
  • Geyserwise – an intelligent hot water controller with four different time settings for week days and weekends. The photo here shows the remote control device that is situated in easy reach within the bathroom where you can adjust the temperature, see when the water is warm enough to use it, quickly shut the geyser off if you don’t intend to use it again during that warming cycle, etc.

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