The Hippo


Apr 24, 2014








Cabin fever
Gadgets to get you through ’til summer

By John Andrews

Has it hit you yet? That unshakeable feeling that winter will never end, that you are destined to spend the rest of your days either digging out or totally socked in? That you’ll never see the sun again?

Summer does eventually come, but there are a few things that can help right now.

• Full-spectrum lighting: It’s well-known that the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to can greatly affect your mood. It’s not just that people like happy fun picnic sun time; the light actually stimulates production of chemicals in your brain associated with happiness and contentment.
Daytime hours are shorter in winter, not to mention the frequent cloud cover and our own tendency to stay inside when it’s flipping cold. If we’re to get cheerful light, it has to come from bulbs.
Full-spectrum lighting emulates all the frequencies of light we normally see from the sun, so it feels more “natural” to us. There are $5 light bulbs for your existing lamps and fixtures and there are also “light therapy” appliances in the hundreds of dollars. I ain’t no doctor, so that’s as far as I’ll recommend this solution.

• Touchscreen gloves: A lot of modern devices depend on the fact that our fingertips are very good conductors of electricity. GPS navigators, tablets and phones all use capacitive touch screens, which measure the location of a tap based on the change in the screen surface’s electric field. If your meaty, watery finger is all enrobed in a glove to keep it warm, there’s no electrical interaction between you and the screen. So no sweet technology outside, on your frigid morning commute or in your chilly living room once you’ve decided to drastically reduce your heating bills.

A number of products address this need, with varying degrees of success. Some just feature removable or hinged fingertips, so you can expose just enough skin to accept a call or type in a number. Some, like The North Face’s E-Tip glove or 180s Tech Touch gloves, have conductive patches on two or three fingers. Agloves use silver-coated nylon to knit their hand coverings, so every finger and all other parts of the hand can theoretically be used.

If you really love your current gloves, GloveTips can be sewn right on. They’re fabric discs with conductive thread in the middle, and they come with a pull needle, fabric strips and a needle threader, as well as instructions for the sewing-challenged.

• Roboplow: What would really make my winter is a robot that gets the snow out of my driveway. Seriously, we have robots to vacuum our floors, clean our pools and mow our lawns. Folks have made remote control and semi-autonomous plows on their own — look up “robot plow” on YouTube. The first annual Autonomous Snowplow Competition for colleges just finished up in St. Paul, Minn. Japan even has a Pikachu-looking machine that sucks up snow and compresses it into small blocks for refrigeration.

At least one company, I-Shovel, is trying to make this dream a reality. Their adorable little robot senses snow and goes into action before it has a chance to accumulate too much, repeating its work throughout a storm. It pushes a path clear of snow and can lift its three-foot plow to dump it. You can see the prototype at, but unfortunately it’s not ready for mass production yet.

Looks like I’ll be staying in a while longer.

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