I'd rather expire alone in the White Mountains than make a humiliating call for help because I got lost. Yet I still bring a mobile phone along on my hikes and backpacking trips. But the last time I got lost (after following a snowmobile trail to nowhere), my phone, with no signal, proved useful only for illuminating my trail map.
There may soon be a better way to get help:
The Spot Satellite Messenger (findmespot.com), is a hand-held gadget that relays messages via satellite to family and friends, or to emergency responders, depending on your level of distress.
The Spot messenger, which will be available in November for about $150, resembles a closed clamshell phone (it does not open), with buttons arrayed along the bottom. You can press a button to signal your friends and family that you are OK.
The folks at home can also check your progress by viewing your waypoints, displayed in Google Maps.
And if you're desperate, you can send a distress signal to a call center, which relays your GPS coordinates to emergency responders in the area. (Let's hope that button does not accidentally get pressed as the device is knocking around in your backpack.)
The Spot messenger appears sufficiently "ruggedized" for outdoor use. Spot Inc. says its battery-operated device, at less than 8 ounces, is water- temperature- and shock-proof. The thing even floats.
Stationary bike offers an 'outdoor' ride, thanks to Web
I don't know what it will take to get me onto an exercise machine. Even a museum-worthy masterpiece is apparently not enough.
For example, in my dining room you'll find a beautiful, $1,000 WaterRower rowing machine, made of ash, and with paddles that push water around a large, circular tank.
No one in my family has sat on the thing since 2004.
Perhaps a Web-connected workout machine, with a display that simulates the great outdoors, would do the trick. But I'm not sure.
Expresso Fitness (which can be found at expressofitness.com) calls its exercise bike a virtual reality device. The bikes (about $5,000 each) have steering wheels that control the movement of your on-screen avatar.
But VR to me suggests something more than the Expresso bike's 17-inch monitor, which displays a simulated road and landscape.
Online brain games can help you sharpen up for your return to the classroom
It's hard to believe I will be back to teaching in a few weeks. After a summer full of barbecues and rainy days spent watching Japanese monster movies, my brain has turned to mush. But a bunch of online brain games crafted by neuroscientists are getting my faculties up to speed.
The games, part of a program called Lumosity (lumosity.com), are designed to improve your attention, processing speed, memory, cognitive control, and reaction time. Like Nintendo's Brain Age games, Lumosity's titles, such as Bird Watching, Memory Match, and Monster Garden, push you to recognize patterns or answer math questions as quickly as you can. You can then check the charts at Lumosity to see whether you are improving.
Lumos Labs, the publisher, insists your brain will get better. It says Lumosity players in its clinical studies scored better than those in a control group.
From a strictly gaming perspective, Lumosity is just so-so. Playing Bird Watching, I captured a gull over a snow-covered mountain, and a teal in a forest. (You must click on the bird, and remember a letter that appears elsewhere on the screen simultaneously.) But the animation is a bit weak. The icons, for example, look as if they were stripped from a clip-art file. And I'd like to see the game move faster -- it requires you to click a button to move forward, for example.
Innovative last week
Robocar simulates human decision-making
You'd think driving like a human (at least a Bostonian) would be the worst strategy for winning an urban road race. But that's how Virginia Tech students plan to win the $2 million DARPA Urban Challenge this fall. The school's VictorTango (victortango.org) team has converted two Ford Escape hybrids for the DARPA finals. The robotic vehicles will make lane changes and pass other vehicles using an autonomous system based on human decision-making. The car can see better than any carbon-based life form, however. Laser scanners mounted on the Escapes' bumpers provide a 360-degree view of obstacles more than 12 times per second.