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Preface

Preface

Despite the rapid rise and fall of the Internet economy, one thing is certain: Today we are seeing more and more tech gadgets being made available to inform us, entertain us, help us communicate with one another, and generally assist us in our daily living.

We are experiencing the rise of ubiquitous computing. Computers are becoming embedded in everyday objects, and the personal computer is moving from the office into almost every other room in the house. Computers are helping us achieve more with our televisions, with our entertainment systems, with our cameras and videos, and with our personal digital assistants (PDAs). They are becoming embedded in our cars as well as our homes, helping us stay informed, be entertained, or be more productive with work.

A decade or so ago, the only challenge for consumers in the world of technical gadgets and gizmos was to figure out how to program the VCR, set the date and time on digital watches, or install Microsoft’s Windows on a personal computer. Today, there are gadgets for keeping track of the kids, for communicating wirelessly, for navigating in the car, for shopping without cash or credit cards, for securing Internet payments with smartcards, for typing without a physical keyboard, for digitally rewinding TV shows, and much more.

Many of these gadgets are so new that most of us don’t even know they’re available. We may be masters at some of these tools via our hobbies, but we’re often unaware of the others, or have become slaves to them because of their novelty. Keen photographers know about digital cameras and digital video recorders, but do they know about voice-enabled PDAs, multimedia messaging or virtual keyboards? Keen music fans know all about MP3 players, but do they know about radio frequency identification key tags for making wireless purchases at convenience stores? Heavy computer users know about collaboration over the Internet and about wireless local area networks (LANs) but do they know about handheld global positioning system (GPS) receivers?

This book was written as a way to help address this problem, to explore the benefits behind some of the new consumer gadgets on the market and to provide a glimpse of some of the ones to come. Rather than a product review or technical discussion, however, the goal of the book is simply to explore the merits of some recent innovations of which we may not be aware, but that can help us in our daily lives and activities. The book takes an activity-centered approach to show how you can have fun and simplify your life by using some of these new consumer gadgets.

The basic philosophy of the book, therefore, is to explain what the activity is, what the relevant gadget is, and how you can benefit from it. I also touch on how the gadget works, but more at an operational or process level with step-by-step instructions rather than at a technical level. For example, if you want to know how you can keep track of the kids, there’s a section in the book on how to do this, why it may be beneficial to you, what gadgets are available, and where to seek further information.

The book is divided into two major parts. The first part, “Today’s Technology,” describes consumer gadgets that are commercially available now. These are 35 activities that can help you have fun and simplify your life by using new gadgets or by using well-known gadgets in new ways. The second part, “Tomorrow’s Technology,” describes some consumer gadgets that will appear soon in a store near you. These are some of the technologies coming out of research labs, or are in prototype stages or in early adoption, that may soon become embedded in everyday devices and objects.

Each profile within the book is self-contained, so if you see a topic that catches your eye, you can jump right to it instead of having to read through the prior topics. If you want to read from cover to cover, however, you’ll find that the book starts out with the essential communications capabilities, such as broadband Internet and wireless local area networks, and then works progressively through various themes related to digital content, collaboration, and commerce.

There’s a lot of ground covered in the book, and choosing the top fifty activities and their related gadgets and services was a hard task. I hope that you find value in many of the activities discussed and are able to benefit personally from the glimpse into the advantages and capabilities that these new solutions can provide. If any one of these solutions helps you save time or money, or simply helps you have more fun, then this book has served its purpose.

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