Coolest tech of 2012: Twitter feed dress

Monday, December 24, 2012

Coolest tech of 2012: Twitter feed dress

By David Einstein

Q: What do you think is the coolest new technology of 2012?

A: I've got to say, it wasn't a product - not a phone, a tablet, an app or a new social media network. It was the Twitter dress worn by British "X-Factor" judge Nicole Scherzinger at the launch of EE's 4G network in London in November. The outfit, designed by "future fashion" company CuteCircuit, featured a mini dress with 2,000 LEDs draped by a sheer gown. Beneath the gown, tweets and hash tags flashed, turning Scherzinger into a walking Twitter feed.

Nicole Scherzinger wears a Twitter dress
Nicole Scherzinger wears a Twitter dress equipped with flashing LEDs. Photo: Courtesy Of Cute Circuit, Cute Circuit / SF
Lighting-enhanced clothing has been around for a few years, but the Twitter dress represents the first use of communications in fashion. (Adidas unveiled a concept running shoe during the London Olympics that had a built-in Twitter panel, but it hasn't yet come to market.)

The importance of the Twitter dress transcends fashion. It paves the way for all kinds of wearable information. Imagine, for instance, a restaurant waiter clad in a vest that announces today's specials, or a Walmart greeter with in-store ads on her back (shudder!).

Another noteworthy use of technology was the super-slow-motion camera system Fox brought to the 2012 baseball playoffs and World Series. Standard slow-mo for instant replays captures action at 300 to 400 frames per second. The new X-Mo system from Inertia Unlimited and Vision Research upped that to 5,000 fps - letting us see in gorgeous detail the play at the plate where Giants catcher Buster Posey tagged out the sliding Prince Fielder, and Hunter Pence's broken-bat double on which the bat struck the ball three times.

Buster Posey catcher
Giants' catcher Buster Posey makes the play at home against Tigers' first baseman Prince Fielder in the 2nd inning during game 2 of the World Series at AT&T Park on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle / SF

Super-slow-mo isn't new to sports; it's been used for a couple of years to analyze golf swings on TV during PGA events. But its introduction on baseball telecasts has added a whole new dimension for TV viewers.

Q: I'm in the market for a new wireless router that will reach the far ends of my home - something beyond the capability of my current router. A salesman at a local electronics store recommended a Wireless-AC router. The problem is that it was twice the price of the Wireless-N model I was considering. Which one should I get?

A: Wireless-AC, the newest "standard" for Wi-Fi, does indeed provide more coverage than Wireless-N, but unless you live in Hearst Castle, an $80 Wireless-N router should have enough range to cover your place, including the back yard.

Wireless-AC is reputed to be three times faster than Wireless-N, which is nice, but Wireless-N already is much faster than the speediest Internet connection you can get via cable or DSL, so the new technology offers little practical advantage. What's more, most computers, smartphones and tablets now on the market can't utilize Wireless-AC. They can connect to a dual-band Wireless-AC router, but they'll default to Wireless-N speeds.

Q: I dust our TV regularly, but over time it's accumulated a buildup of gunk. I don't think it interferes with the quality of the picture, but I'd like to clean it all the same. What's the best way to do that without damaging the screen?

A: There are products designed specifically for cleaning LCD and plasma TVs, but a bottle of 70 percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol from the drugstore works just as well, at a fraction of the price. Grab an old T-shirt or other soft cotton cloth and clean away.

Another option is vodka in a 50-50 mixture with distilled water. That might make cleaning a more attractive task. You might even find yourself whistling while you work.

Q: I have an old computer that I want to donate, but it won't start up anymore, and I'm loath to give it away with my personal information still on it. Is there a way to erase the hard drive on an inoperable PC?

A: I suppose a computer repair shop might be able to extract the data from the hard drive (if there's anything you want to save), or erase it completely. But the computer still might not work, and a nonfunctioning PC isn't a great donation. What's more, if the computer is more than 5 years old, you'll have a hard time finding a charity willing to accept it.

Here's a better idea: Take the computer to a Best Buy or Staples store that accepts computing equipment for recycling. That way, the valuable materials in it can be reused, and the rest - including toxic substances - can be disposed of in an environmentally safe way. Your hard drive will die, and its contents will go to data heaven.

David Einstein is a freelance writer. Got a question about computing? E-mail: