gadgets/gadgetman.jpgFast moving technology is always producing new products and gadgets. These new devices and ideas are always fun to hear about, yet many are simply high-tech toys. Today we will skip the toys and tell you about some new innovations that are truly useful.

The new Epson Perfection 2580 photo scanner has all the functions of an ordinary scanner, but one innovation makes it a stand out. It has an automatic film loader for scanning 35mm film strips. In order to use film in most scanners, you need a bulky and expensive attachment. Now we have a $149 scanner that will digitize all your old film quickly and easily.

Microsoft has also come up with a winning idea. Their software program called Streets & Trips 2005 is a full-fledged mapping software program that you can use to plan a trip around town or across the nation. Streets & Trips has always been a great program, but this year you can purchase Streets & Trips with a GPS receiver. Plug the 2 inch square receiver into your laptop or Pocket PC and the software combined with satellite positioning will pinpoint your location and show your car as it moves along your chosen route. (See my full review in my TechMates column in the December issue of Smart Computing magazine.)

Cellboost is a battery with a special plug that fits into your cell phone for immediate power when your battery is low. At 2 ½” by 1 ¼”, and only ¼” thick, it is a small, portable device that can be a lifesaver. Buy a Cellboost for $5.99 at and at local convenience stores and you’ll never be without power for your cell phone again.

The DocuPen is a portable scanner. It’s only 8 inches long and not much larger than a pen and it let’s you scan at any time. It saves the scans for download to your computer.

The Autoxray EZ-Scan 6000 is an automotive scanner that can diagnose any problems you may have with your vehicle. The Autoxray comes in a small briefcase-like, portable kit. It collects values from your vehicle’s on-board computer telling you exactly the condition of your auto at any given time. Even if you have no mechanical expertise, you can print reports and learn more about your car than you ever thought possible. At $699, it’s not cheap, but it is quite amazing.

If you are frustrated by trying to remember all the different passwords you have created, a solution may be on the horizon. The new Microsoft Print Reader is a fingerprint-recognition device for Windows XP computers. It will be available in mid-November for about $55, and Microsoft will also incorporate the device into a keyboard and a wireless mouse, as well.

Another frustration about high-tech gadgets is the swarm of cables that seem to accompany them. Now a company called Zip Linq has come out with retractable cables. Although they won’t take care of all the wires, these tiny devices have a spring-loaded reel that is used to retract the excess cable. Zip Linq cables are available for USB and Firewire connections as well as cell phone charger and other types of cables. They can be purchased at Staples and other retail outlets.

Finally, we have some new gadgets that are both practical and useful. But don’t think this will stop the flood of unusual gadgets that are of questionable value. A Japanese company called Let’s Corp has just released a gadget called the Ca-on that turns plants into audio speakers. The device consists of a donut-shaped magnet and a coil at the base of a vase that hooks up to an audio source like a stereo or TV. The sound vibrations move up the stems of the plant through its water tubes and the sound then emanates from the plant. The company says it works especially well with sunflowers and that it also makes the plants happy. We can only guess what might be next!