A Hub with Tentacles
Personally, I believe functionality is more important than design when it comes to technology. That's not to say that I don't enjoy a good looking gadget, I just want the beauty to be more than skin deep.
Unfortunately, as much as I'm mesmerized by the exterior of the LaCie Hub, I conclude the intriguing design does not support a fully functional product.
Unlike many technology companies today, LaCie is unique in bringing elegantly designed products to market. For example, they sell one external hard drive designed by F.A. Porsche and one clearly inspired by Legos. No one can accuse LaCie of being blasé.
The LaCie Hub was designed exclusively for LaCie by French designer Ora-Ito. Think of it as a glossy-white polycarbonate softball with USB and FireWire cables sticking out of the top. The Hub is simply beautiful in pictures and is the most unique USB hub I've ever seen sitting on a desk.
My biggest complaint about the LaCie Hub is that it will tip over at the touch of a finger. Once everything is plugged into the hub and you leave it alone, it's great. But the next time you try to plug something in, you'll have to re-balance it.
Usually missing from the pictures of the LaCie Hub is the clunky external power supply. Even though you may not need it if you only have one or two items plugged into the Hub, I would recommend using it so that you don't have to connect it later.
The power port on the hub is hidden with a small flap of rubber. The plug that goes into the port is awkward, and sticks out too far. On one hand that's good because I used the plug to better balance the Hub, but I don't think that's its primary intention.
To connect the hub to your computer, you'll need to screw off the top half of the bulb to reveal a series of ports. One USB port and one FireWire port are dedicated for connecting to your computer. If you only need USB connections, then don't bother plugging in the FireWire cable.
Next you decide what collection of connectable wires you want sticking out of your hub. LaCie is extremely generous is providing several kinds of USB and FireWire cables that will fit just about every gadget you own. They even throw in a nifty USB-powered fan and light.
Once you have all the wires plugged into the appropriate ports, it will take you some time to thread everything through the hole in the top of the bulb. The good news is that each cable is stiff but flexible, meaning that you can bend them as necessary to fit through the hole, but they will keep their shape once you're done.
There is a ring of tiny, colored LEDs around the base of the LaCie Hub that are lined up with the ports inside. When a device is connected to the corresponding port, the colored LED lights up to tell you it's active.
When I first placed the LaCie Hub on my desk, the light and fan were intriguing add-ons. Unfortunately, they don't come with an on-off switch so the only way I could shut off the fan was by ripping it out of the base.
I'm not the biggest fan of the LaCie Hub, but I will admit that it's still on my desk and hosting several of my USB gadgets. As long as I don't have to touch the unit, it really does look sensational. It does everything a high-speed USB/FireWire hub should do, and it looks good doing it. I just wish they would have put as much thought into functionality as they did into the design.
The LaCie Hub carries a list price of $79.99 and it will work just fine on either a Windows or Mac computer.
Learn Me a New Language
Many people today are finding that they need to be conversant in an additional language from their native tongue, whether for business or pleasure. Most of us took a foreign language class in high school or college. And while we might be able to remember a few words of vocabulary, I'm willing to bet that hardly any of us could converse with a native speaker today.
One of the main reasons for this is that most foreign language classes and courses relate the language through translation. They give you a word or phrase, and tell you what it means in your native language. That method is good if you have a good memory, but that's not how any of us learned our native tongue - we were immersed in our natural language and we learned to speak it by being surrounded by it.
That's the idea behind the software at Rosetta Stone. You've probably seen their bright yellow boxes at your local mall or airport.
Rosetta Stone bases their course on what they call "dynamic immersion." On a simplistic level, this means they use real-life pictures and images to immerse your mind in the learning process. For example, the lesson may start off by showing you a boy or a girl or a dog and have you hear the word for that picture spoken by a native speaker of the language you've chosen. As you progress through the other lessons, you continually build upon the vocabulary and phrases that you've now associated with the vivid images.
From the outset, the Rosetta Stone software felt more like fun than work. I found it hard to pull myself away from the lessons since it was a fun challenge to match up phrases with the proper pictures. I also enjoyed immediate feedback and gratification from each lesson when I selected the pictures correctly.
Each language is broken down into several modules, which can take from 5-20 minutes apiece. You learn at your own pace, and can always repeat an exercise to makes sure you nail it.
Rosetta Stone offers about 30 languages right now. The company just announced version 3 of their software, but only a few select languages are offered in the newer Flash-based version - all other languages still work through the older Shockwave-based version. This mainly applies to the online service, although you can still purchase regular software if you so choose. The online subscription service can be purchased for 3 or 6 months, and I would highly recommend the online option over the regular software. It's just more convenient.
Rosetta Stone offers a breadth of methods for learning your selected language. You can listen to a word and match it up with the appropriate picture, or you speak a phrase to hear your progress. Rosetta Stone even offers grammar lessons that actually make conjugating a verb a fun thing to do.
Within my first few lessons of Mandarin Chinese (a language I've never spoken before), I was comfortably able to recognize several objects and sort of understood how the simple pronouns worked.
Next I tried Spanish, a language I took both in high school and college and sadly today can hardly remember a word. However, after just a few lessons on Rosetta Stone, I was amazed at how much of the language was familiar to me and honestly I finally understood how to converse in Spanish as opposed to simply trying to remember if the object was male or female.
Rosetta Stone is not cheap. The standalone software starts off at $209 and a 3-month online subscription starts at $109. The company graciously offers a free online demo that does an excellent job of introducing you to the product. If you're at all curious about what Rosetta Stone can do for you, try the online demo immediately.
|Lacie Huby USB & Fw Hub|
List price: $91.71 USD
|Rosetta Stone V3: Spanish (Latin America), Level 1|
List price: $219.00 USD
|Rosetta Stone V2: Chinese, Level 1 [OLD VERSION]|
List price: $209.00 USD