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Gadgetry for Up North


By Brendan I. Koerner

Thanks to the booming prison-industrial complex, odds are you're no more than one or two degrees removed from someone who has spent, is spending, or will spend time behind bars. Lord knows that your humble narrator certainly fits into the one-degree category, due to one close relation's fondness for driving while intoxicated, and another's inability to refrain from laundering money.

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There are various ways one can assist an incarcerated pal or family member, from paying morale-boosting visits to (to tastefully paraphrase the criminally underappreciated MC Royal Flush) smuggling in balloons stuffed with contraband. But if your fallen-on-hard-times associate is a gearhead, odds are he or she will be pining for a bit of electronic comfort in lieu of Marlboro Reds. Fortunately for such folks, the Bust the Move catalogue provides a galaxy of gadgets—all of 'em delightfully low-end—that are allowed inside the Beast. After the jump, the rundown on what you can send your imprisoned associate without fear of ending up in state (or federal) custody yourself.

The first thing I noticed about Bust the Move's assortment of products was the absence of anything that can play CDs (to say nothing of DVDs). Makes sense when you think about it, though, as a digital disc might somehow be fashioned into a weapon—those edges can be mighty sharp, as I'm sure some of you have discovered the hard way while trying to drunkenly swap albums. So the catalogue is heavy on alternative media, particularly radios and cassette players.

The most powerful AM/FM unit on offer is an understated Panasonic (pictured above), which features a lone three-inch "dynamic speaker." To its great credit, Bust the Move doesn t try to sugarcoat the specs, noting only that the radio can be tuned with a "slide-rule" dial, and that there's an earphone jack to boot. As with all of the catalogue's non-portable radios, the buyer can request that the external antenna be removed—some prisons have apparently gotten hip to the fact that a long, metal, pointy thing can be made into a workable shiv.

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I was particularly intrigued by the listings for two products sold under the Pakcell brand name, one with which I must confess I'm totally unfamiliar. Pakcell seems to specialize in clear-plastic casings, which are tailor-made for environments in which a controlling authority wants to make sure there's no lump of black-tar heroin in your battery case. The top-of-the-line Pakcell in the catalogue is the CB3337C, a $38.95 boombox that features both an AM/FM tuner and a cassette deck. I tried Googling around for further info on the Pakcell boombox, but came up with close to naught. Anyone know from whence this brand came, and what other gadgetry treats they may be serving up? Let me know.

Of course, our good friends at Coby are well-represented in Bust the Move's pages. The company's relatively high-end CX-49 is on sale for $10.50—a little more expensive than what you'll find at your local discount shop, but then again, Valuemart doesn't deliver to the Otisville Correctional Facility. A little price premium is understandable, and definitely worth it to provide your loved one with such features as auto stop and a built-in three-volt DC jack. Just remember to also put some money in said loved one's prison account, as the required AA batteries are definitely not included.

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.

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Lastly, the minds behind Bust the Move have found yet another market for the humble typewrite, a hunk of still-standing machinery which I covered in this space last week. In that column, I noted that typewriters will still be manufactured as long as certain niche markets existed, especially in the Third World and at form-intensive businesses (such as banks, for example). Well, until you're allowed to have a PC in your cell, typewriters will also be made to service the inmate population. The lowest of the low-end typewriters carried by Bust the Move is the Smith Corona Wordsmith 100, a relative steal at $106. The recipient will have to make do without an LCD display, but that's a small price to pay for the ability to pound out letters, diaries, and jailhouse appeals.

Bust the Move also includes a full page of low-end headphones, including some real beauts in the $3 to $8 range. But I'll refrain from turning loquacious on the topic right now, as my next column will be all about cheapo headphones and those of us who love them. If you have a nomination for a sub-$8 headphone worth highlighting in this space, drop a line ASAP and I'll consider including in my somewhat definitive paean to these sonic middlemen.

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Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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