Technology to Beat the Heat

Tech contributor Mario Armstrong talks with Farai Chideya about how to beat the heat this summer with the latest tech toys. Armstrong covers technology for Baltimore-area NPR member stations WYPR and WEAA.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Gone are the days when a Slip n' Slide, oscillating fan, and a kiddie pool were as high-tech as summer gadgets got. Now they are endless devices you can use to enjoy the fun in the sun.

Here to help is NEWS AND NOTES tech guru Mario Armstrong. He told NPR's Farai Chideya what he uses to relax for the summer.

MARIO ARMSTRONG reporting:

For me, relaxation is my Xbox 360. Actually, many people may see that as work, but that is a playtime event for me. And it is a hot summer item, especially when you're talking kids being off from school and having a lot of free time. Xbox 360, one of the premier videogame consoles that's out there. So that's my favorite, but there are so many others out there.

CHIDEYA: Something you can share with your relatives. Let's put it that way. I guess you can share with one relative on Xbox. But like, you know, something for the grill or the pool, something like that.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. The good stuff like that. Okay. So on the grill, which I do like to do. I'm not the best at cooking but I am really good, for some reason, on the grill. And I don't know what that's about, but I know how to do it.

CHIDEYA: It's because of the chromosomes. No, I'm just kidding. No one send me any letters.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: Yes, please...

CHIDEYA: That's a joke. That's a joke.

ARMSTRONG: Summer gadgets are everywhere though, Farai. I mean, there's one that I'm testing out now called the Grill Alert. It's basically a talking remote thermometer. It comes from Brookstone; it's about $75. And you can basically step away from the grill. You set the thermometer to what you want your wellness of your meat to be cooked to or whatever it is you're cooking and you can walk up to about 300 feet away and it will alarm you when it reaches that temperature.

CHIDEYA: How alarmed do you get? Like a super loud shrieking or an electric shock? I mean, what are we talking about here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: Actually it's a voice prompt, which is kind of eerie at times cause it just kind of pops up, like, your entrée is almost ready, your entrée is ready. It's kind of weird hearing this voice, but you can set it just to a beep if that's, you know, more for you - if you don't want to hear voices.

CHIDEYA: That sounds very, you know, Space Odyssey to me, so...

ARMSTRONG: It is, but it's useful. You can actually go do something else as opposed to standing over top of the grill watching the food cook.

CHIDEYA: And getting smoke smell all on your clothes.

ARMSTRONG: And the smoke smell all over...

CHIDEYA: So what about the pool? What about pool gadgets?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. And there are a lot of fun pool gadgets. But security around pools has become more and more of a major concern. I mean, it used to be enough to just put up an iron gate around your pool and have that to scope and to specs. But nowadays you're finding technology that can tell when the water has now changed in movement or feels like something of about five pounds has fallen into it.

But on the fun side, there's one of the things that I thought was really neat is by wildplanet.com who does a host of fun, summer water types of technology gadgets for kids, although I could see adults having fun with these. And one is called Water Talkies. You basically - is designed as a mouthpiece that projects your voice underwater up to about 15 feet. So that's a lot of fun.

The other one that's fun is being able to listen to your tunes while swimming. I've actually tested the world's first waterproof MP3 player, and it's made by Oregon Scientific. It's only about $100, and it's pretty impressive. It comes with memory, it has an FM radio tuner built in, so I can listen to my favorite NPR station while swimming. Or take it...

CHIDEYA: That's not what you're listening to. Come on, admit it. It's the smooth jazz.

ARMSTRONG: Okay. Well, it was - okay - so it was a little bit of R&B and then it was a little bit of country and some hip-hop. So, yes, you caught me. I'm busted. But the fact is I can listen to fun music while swimming in the pool.

CHIDEYA: I would definitely be down with that. So let me ask you, a lot of things you've described sound great, but, you know, there's also the counter-movement that says no mechanical toys, kids should get everything made out of wood and, you know, pull it with a string; we don't need all these gadgets, we're just going to get gadget fatigue. Do you think that's going to happen with this, you know, kind of recreational summer toys?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. I see it already in my household and it's kind of scary. My 3-year-old now looks at objects and he's looking for the button to push or the light to blink or the alarm to go off. And it's like, no, you actually have to move this car with your hand and guide it to where you want it to go.

And so, yes, I do agree that there can be this gadget fatigue, if you will, where we start to rely on too much of the technology to do its own thing and not allow us to be really creative about toys.

But, you know, I think it all comes in moderation. You don't overdo one without the other. So I think you can live in both worlds and have a lot of fun on both sides of the fence. But we've covered feature fatigue on this show and clearly it's - a lot of research is supporting that we are becoming more numb to what technology can already do for us, making us not have to think as much.

So I am a little weary about that. In fact...

CHIDEYA: And just don't forget about those underwater projection devices where you can yell in your bathtub to your child at the other end of the bathtub.

ARMSTRONG: Never would've thought of it that way, Farai.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: See, I'm trying to help you multitask here, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: You are.

CHIDEYA: Thanks a lot, Mario.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ARMSTRONG: I appreciate it. Thank you.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya speaking with NEWS & NOTES tech contributor Mario Armstrong. Mario also covers technology for Baltimore area NPR member stations WYPR and WEAA.

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