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Up on the Rooftop...

And over the backyard fence: gadgets for the snoop on your list

By Jeff Kearns

Secret Camera

Peter Murphy's old song, "I've Got A Miniature Secret Camera," seems more relevant these days, when a casual visit to just about any website, including Yahoo!, exposes web users to a little pop-up ad for perv cams. These tiny wireless video cameras are advertised as home security for the successful voyeur. The golf ball-sized XCam, for example, bills itself as "Security and fun, all in one!" and features a photo of a bikini-clad babe lounging unawares poolside. But just because they're marketed naughtily doesn't make them bad gifts. Everyone who has a closet Peeping Tom on their list knows that they're the hardest ones to shop for, but with all kinds of these little video voyeurism devices on the market, from the $80 XCam (it hooks up to your VCR or TV) on up to Sharper Image's $400 multicamera home security camera setup (for peeping on up to four hot chicks at once, obviously), this year is different. Ever the classy gadget shop, Sharper Image also sells a $200 video baby monitor that can be used in a pinch to, well, monitor the baby sitter.

You May Be Recorded

Digital voice recorders are often sold as great little gadgets for attentive college students or busy professionals, which is all good and fine--but the real fun begins with bugging friends. These little gadgets can be especially handy for boozy, late-night conversations and arguments. For the attentive college student who would love to prove that her plowed roommates were actually, in the pre-dawn hours, hatching a plan to kidnap all nine Supreme Court justices, all she needs is to slip the Sony Voice File in her pocket and hit the record button and save the moment for posterity. Most of these items can store more than an hour of doctor's orders or idle threats and are priced under $99, so there's one to fit every secret spy shopper's budget.

From on High

For the superstalker, there's nothing like an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. These gadgets have been used for reconnaissance on the battlefield, so it's a cinch for them to follow an unfaithful boyfriend around town. The two most popular models are the entry-level $25 million Predator by General Atomics or the $50 million Global Hawk by Northrop Grumman, which was developed as a pilotless replacement for the U2. Powered by a single jet engine mounted on its back and soaring on carbon fiber wings that span 116 feet, the Global Hawk can fly 13,500 miles and remain aloft for 36 hours. Using its satellite navigational system, it can survey 40,000 square miles (say, Illinois) in 24 hours from up to 65,000 feet. Optical and infrared imaging systems and radar housed in its ominous, bulbous looking noggin can transmit real time info back to, well, wherever. The smaller, slower propeller-driven Predator was a more modest machine until February, when it became the first remote-control plane to successfully fire off anti-tank missiles. Packed with high-tech devices like those in the Global Hawk, it should have no problem tracking a wayward Bobby to that skank Sally's house and then taking out both their cars in the driveway while they're inside doing the nasty.

Backyard Browsing

Todd Hido is not a gadget. He's a San Francisco photographer who trolls places like the lonely, fog-enshrouded streets of Pacifica and Daly City at night looking for lonely images like "#2690," a plain-looking home in Hayward softly lit by the hazy glow of not-quite-darkness. But Hido's photographs of homes and apartments (never people), are undeniably voyeuristic. They subtly trouble the viewer, who can't help but wonder what happened behind the glowing curtains. It's like looking into another life, but letting your imagination supply all the details. Twenty-six Hido prints are collected in his first book, House Hunting, ($75, Nazraeli Press). The book measures 14 inches by 17 inches, and includes a poem-essay called "Just Looking" by A.M. Homes. It begins: "This is a place where something happened. Things went wrong." Hido works like this: He drives around for hours, and when sees something he likes, he stops his Passat, sets his medium-format Pentax on a tripod and records an exposure that lasts for several minutes. It's a technique that lets his subjects be slowly saturated by the ambient lights of the night--streetlights, moonlight, interior lights. The large prints are rich in detail, offering filigrees like peeling paint, cracks in the sidewalk, leaves in the gutter. Easily the most dramatic is "#2479A," a white house in a field of snow where everything--house, snow, sky--has gone orange in the dim, sourceless glow of night. The photos are so real it's even possible to hear the buzz of the sodium vapor lights.

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From the November 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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