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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tips: Finding free wi-fi on the Holiday Road

iStockphoto.com

How many Americans would you guess will be traveling next week, either heading to the airport or taking to America's safe highways for a get-together with friends and family for Thanksgiving?

Well, I don't know. But I bet it's a lot.

And if you're one of them, there's a good chance that at one time or another you'll be looking for a way to get online while you're on the road.

Pretty everyone knows they can find free wi-fi at a Starbucks. They're usually pretty good about providing power outlets near their tables and chairs, too, if you need to top off the battery on your phone or laptop.

But our photographers have learned that most McDonald's restaurants — 11,000 of the 14,000 across the nation — offer free wi-fi these days, too. That's proved pretty useful when we're covering tropical storms, since those hotspots are usually left powered and broadcasting even during evacuations. To send their photos from the field, our photogs can pull up in the parking lot and get online without getting out of their car. (A Miss Manners wi-fi etiquette tip: If you're using a business's free wi-fi, it's good manners to buy something. I'd suggest a cup of coffee or an apple pie — but something.) …

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One card to rule them all

The Coin card has a screen on it that displays only the last four digits of your card number, the expiration date and the CVV (that three-digit code on the back of your plastic card). Pressing the round button on it --€” which they say is hard to do accidentally --€” switches among up to eight cards stored on the device. An unlimited number of cards can be swapped on and off the device from a smartphone app via a gadget that plugs into the phone's headphone jack.

Coin

The Coin card has a screen on it that displays only the last four digits of your card number, the expiration date and the CVV (that three-digit code on the back of your plastic card). Pressing the round button on it --€” which they say is hard to do accidentally --€” switches among up to eight cards stored on the device. An unlimited number of cards can be swapped on and off the device from a smartphone app via a gadget that plugs into the phone's headphone jack.

Let's start by making this assumption clear: Cool ideas are only cool if they work. And when your idea has to do with electronic payments, "working" has a whole lot to do with keeping your personal information safe and secure.

But if these guys at Coin have worked that out, they have an incredibly cool idea.

Coin is a plain, grey gizmo that's exactly the dimensions of a credit card, with the magnetic strip on the back and everything. But Coin can act like any of the swipe-able cards in your wallet.

You can store the details for up to eight of your credit cards, or gas station cards, or ATM cards, or gym membership cards or whatever on the Coin itself, with an unlimited number in an app on your smartphone. And when you need that card, Coin will do a perfect impersonation. You can stick it in an ATM. A cashier can swipe it through their reader. If you try to lose it, the smartphone app warns you that you've left it behind. If your smartphone is out of range for too long, the Coin card deactivates itself. You can read more about Coin's form, function and security in their FAQ. …

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How far have you come in the last 12 years?

Apple's first iPod, which went on sale 12 years ago today.

Apple Inc.

Apple's first iPod, which went on sale 12 years ago today.

Think 12 years seems like a long time? It was Nov. 11, 2001, that Apple released its first iPod.

"Hardly anyone on Wall Street or in the tech press believed the iPod would be a success," Michael Grothaus notes for The Unofficial Apple Weblog. In fact, he dug up this gem of a prediction from The Street:

Don't buy Apple's (AAPL) stock. And if you own it, sell it. I know the company has a core following that is loyal, even cultlike, but the broader base of believers has been steadily eroding for years.

To wager on this company is to bet that the exodus of users can be staunched and then, implausibly, reversed. It's hard to imagine such a scenario, given Apple's shrinking girth. With less than 5% of the market, the company is no longer an afterthought in PCs — it's irrelevant.

(I don't own any Apple stock. But if I'd bought a share on Nov. 9, 2001, the last trading day before the iPod first went on sale, it would have cost me $18.71 — an investment that would be worth about $1,045.70 today. Keep that in mind the next time a financial analyst assures you they know what's going on.) …

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Can't fit all those movies and TV shows on your phone?

The Seagate Satellite holds 500GB of your music and movies, streaming it to up to eight phones and tablets at the same time.

Seagate.com

The Seagate Satellite holds 500GB of your music and movies, streaming it to up to eight phones and tablets at the same time.

My family is taking a long-distance road trip later this month, and these things always take some careful planning and packing. I'm not talking about the useful things, like pet supplies, snacks and, y'know, clothes. My responsibility is usually figuring out what entertainment we want to bring for the car and how we should bring it.

Between the kids' iPod touches and the iPhones my wife and I carry, there's just not enough space to bring what you'd want to ride out 16 hours in the car. (Did I mention this was a long road trip?) You can load up more stuff on a laptop, but then you'd worry about the dog stomping it to smithereens as she barks at cows on the side of the road. (It's a long road trip.)

There's been an answer available for a while now: External hard drives that create their own wi-fi hotspot. You load up the hard drive with all the music, video, etc., that you can't fit on your handheld gadget, plug it into the cigarette lighter in your car, switch it on and suddenly everyone in the car can stream whatever's on it to their own personal screens. …

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Pebble's big announcement: A new phone app, partnerships, developer tools and better notifications

New Pebble software will support any notifications your iPhone can display in its Notification Center.

Pebble Technology Corp.

New Pebble software will support any notifications your iPhone can display in its Notification Center.

You can watch recorded video of the smartwatchmaker's announcement at getpebble.com, or read a detailed rundown on Engadget or MacRumors — but those are the highlights.

The improved notifications are probably the biggest deal, in my eyes. If all works as advertised, you'll be able to get notifications on your wrist for any app that gives you notifications on your phone. The app partnerships sound pretty nifty, too. It's been a while since I cared much about Foursquare (although I used to play with it a lot), but if I can check in somewhere without taking out my phone, I might take another look.

The new Pebble app should be coming to Apple's App Store early next week.

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Pebble plans big announcement for tomorrow

Pebble's invitation, emailed to the backers of the company's original Kickstarter project.

Pebble Technology

Pebble's invitation, emailed to the backers of the company's original Kickstarter project.

The smartwatch designers at Pebble sent an invitation to their Kickstarter backers yesterday apologizing for the radio silence the last couple months and promising "big news is brewing."

"This Wednesday, November 6th, we'll be sharing the details," the email reads. A live video stream of the announcement is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern time. (Visit www.getpebble.com after noon for a link.)

The invitation makes a special mention that the news will be of interest to those developing third-party software for Pebble smartwatches.

The announcement will be posted to getpebble.com after the event, and the company's developer support team will take questions in a Reddit AMA at 3 p.m. Eastern time.

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In PlayStation 4's signature game it's visuals first, then the story

We're used to thinking about video games these days the way we think about movies. We critique plot lines, characters, visuals, special effects — you can still find the line that separates their audiences, but it's getting fuzzier every day.

So the way Sony decided on a game to highlight in the launch of its PlayStation 4 console seems a little different. Instead of starting out with a story idea, then planning the game around that, designers started with a character they thought would feature the new console's graphics capabilities.

"The developers brain-stormed for more than a year on the best character to utilize the graphic prowess of the PlayStation 4," Yuri Kageyama writes for AP. "Other ideas were considered, such as a character composed entirely of dots or one made of sand. The team finally settled on the idea of multiple parts, called "relics" in the game, a reference to archaeological finds."

So on the one hand, that feels like a cheesy sellout, designing a game that'll help sell a Sony console instead of designing a good game that sells well because it's a good game. …

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