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See Inside May 2008

Antigravity: Catalogue Gizmos of Questionable Efficacy

Catalogues provide the weary traveler with hi-tech gizmos galore



Matt Collins

I was on the train going north from New York City recently, heading to Boston for the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). But there was already science and technology galore right in front of me: a copy of one of those catalogues that hawks fancy, state-of-the-art goodies. I picked it up and lost myself in today’s fabulous world of tomorrow.

For example, there was a product that could “instantly eliminate the appearance of baldness and thinning hair” with “keratin protein fibers.” You just shake the fibers onto your head, like salt. Or pepper, if your thinning hair’s not gray yet. The little fibers allegedly stick to your remaining shafts for some undisclosed period, making your hair seem thicker, fuller and more metastatic. Price: a hair-raising $23 for a third of an ounce.

Then there was the full-page ad, with lots of small type, for shock-absorbing shoes that combine inflatable tire technology with actual “lightweight energy reciprocating” springs in the heels. You see, the springs act as “the main engine of the sole using your body’s weight as fuel for lift.” As the ad explained, “It’s almost as if Aeolus, the Greek god of wind, himself has taken his powerful wind out of his bottles and put it into each pair.” Almost. Prices: ranging from a breezy $120 to a lofty $220.

A few pages down, sound waves met water waves in the ultimate beachfront and poolside iPod accessory, the waterproof stereo system. Your iPod fits inside a “shatterproof polycarbonate case [that] tightly seals against water and sand.” The entire unit floats on the water’s surface, finally enabling your musical taste to uplift all within earshot in an aqueous environment. What really sold me, though, was: “Includes shoulder straps.” When the resulting backpack carries a video iPod, the wearer-watcher turns, literally, into a perpetual-motion machine. Price: cresting at $149.

The following page featured an automatic coin sorter that can  “drop 312 coins a minute into the appropriate wrappers.” Price: 17,900 pennies, with a set of assorted coin wrappers going for an additional 1,900 cents.

Next I found an ingenious piece of equipment for getting rid of love handles. This low-to-the-ground device includes handlebars up front and kneepads in back. You mount the thing and twist side to side parallel to the ground. With its low profile, however, this unit takes a backseat to the typical exercise bike as a practical place to drip-dry clothes. Price: a contorted $199.95.

Want to gauge your ability to drive before leaving the local watering hole? Try the personal alcohol breath analyzer with an “advanced semiconductor sensor.” This digital alcohol monitor has an “upgraded foolproof design.” But no design can protect against technology’s greatest challenge: a sufficiently inebriated operator. Price: close enough to try driving it at $139.95.

Then there was the “six-way power station” that can melt all your personal electronic devices simultaneously using only one wall outlet. Price: a shocking $99.95.

Past the pages of automatic watch winders, alarm clocks that actually launch rotors into the air and a gun that shoots marshmallows, I arrived at the solar-powered mole repeller. As opposed to the solar-powered mole creator, a.k.a. skin. This stake comes with a photovoltaic panel that powers a penetrating pulse guaranteed to drive the pesky critters over to your neighbor’s garden. Price: gopher it at $39.99.

How to get amplified sound and a more youthful appearance? A hearing aid disguised as a cell-phone Bluetooth receiver. Because all the most happening youthful playas strive to look like Borg drones. Price: a resistibly futile $39.99.

Your laptop can finally be good for something at Starbucks other than storing your unpublished novel, when you attach the USB-powered “tech-savvy travel mug” that keeps coffee hot. Price: a tall $19.99.

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