Slim global positioning system fits in a hand, provides...

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January 31, 2000

Slim global positioning system fits in a hand, provides great detail

Looking to get "off-the-grid," but loath to leave high-tech gizmology behind? The Garmin GPS III+ ($350) is a small but mighty hand-held Global Positioning System unit that can help you find your way wherever you may ramble.

Measuring 5 inches by 2 inches by 1.6 inches, the Garmin GPS III+ weighs 9 ounces. The shape is perfect for resting on a dashboard, but don't expect it to slip easily into your pants pocket. It has a relatively large (2.2-inch by 1.5-inch), crisp monochrome liquid crystal display. The back-lighted screen displays your position on beautifully downloaded maps and provides additional information, such as your altitude, speed, course and heading.

Garmin's offerings include a variety of road maps (showing everything from major highways to the tiniest back roads), and topographic renderings of the great outdoors. The unit comes loaded with major road maps of North and South America, with additional maps that can be transferred from your PC through a bundled serial cable. You can buy topo maps for $151, or the complete U.S. road map CD for $116. Detailed city maps with business addresses are $174.

If you think you need a GPS unit for driving, this is one of the better portables, with great battery life (36 hours), excellent reception, a readable display and controls that are easy to access. If you plan on backpacking, the GPS III+ leaves the competition wandering aimlessly in the woods. Nothing that I've seen with a decent map display can beat the Garmin for size, weight, accuracy, function and price.

Information: www.garmin.com or 800-800-1020.

-- Nate Heasley

Books take serious looks at operating Lego robots

You know a toy is no longer a toy when O'Reilly & Associates (the computer-oriented publisher beloved by deep geeks everywhere) writes a book about it. Such is the case with "The Unofficial Guide to LEGO MINDSTORMS Robots" (Jonathan B. Knudsen, $24.95).

The MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System (RIS) is a line of computerized Lego building block sets that has taken the techie world by storm. Enthusiasts, from children to adult hobbyists to computer scientists and robotics researchers, have elevated the educational toy to a level far beyond anything The Lego Group ever had in mind.

"The Unofficial Guide to LEGO MINDSTORMS Robots" provides an excellent introduction to robots in general, Lego robots in particular and many hands-on robot projects.

This is definitely not a book for young children, but teens, science and tech classes, and many hobbyists will get a lot out of it. It covers both official Lego products and the many software and hardware innovations that enthusiasts trade via the Internet.

A more popular book among the RIS faithful is "Dave Baum's Definitive Guide to LEGO MINDSTORMS" (Apress, $24.95). Baum is the creator of NQC (Not Quite C), the MINDSTORMS programming language preferred by serious robot builders. In addition to 14 robot projects, it offers a CD-ROM containing NQC and an excellent guide to the programming language.

Information: O'Reilly & Associates, www.oreilly.com or 800-998-9938; Apress, www.apress.com or 510-595-3110.

-- Gareth Branwyn

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