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Inspector Gadget Reports: Ultimate Field Guide
  by R. Mann

Ok, I can be honest: I am an unrehabilitated gadgetmaniac.

As a confirmed gadget man I own a reasonable array of gadgets. Although my collection is still incomplete, it now includes a little light (with dim and bright) that fits on my head and a bow sight with fiber-optic cable and I also have a special little vacuum cleaner thingy that cleans things (which I have never used). I also have at least 12 knives, camouflaged, bug-proof gear in all shapes and sizes, a hip flask for cold days, a fire making device as used by Neanderthals, rangefinder, broadhead sharpener with diamond dust, a special cable to connect my GPS to my cell phone and a custom scuba diving knife to impress sharks with.

Owning gadgets is just something I have been born to do really well - it's a gift really, a thing of the heart.

My gadgets have varying degrees of usefulness. The only pleasure I get from some of them is only from owning them while others are indispensable and I use them often.

Now here is the addiction: gadgetmaniacs crave discovering a new and really useful gadget and buying it. This is the ultimate high that keeps us gadgetmaniacs panting for more.

The Ultimate Field Guide

My most recent gadget high was last week and was caused when I purchased yet another (my 23rd) book about African animals. This was not a book book but an electronic book (an eBook) which seems to be computer lingo for a book that lives on a computer.

Drawn into the purchase only by only my super-developed sense for the new and unusual and my love for Africa (ok, and also by the scent of a gadget I did not own), I forked out my $19.95 on the 'net at and downloaded the Ultimate Field Guide. The full name of the eBook is The Ultimate Field Guide for larger African Mammals. It makes me itch for Africa.

I start it up and this is where the second-largest high of the gadgetmaniac hit me: the actual using of an unusual and surprisingly useful new gadget.

I soon discover why it is called the "Ultimate" Field Guide. For starters, I now understand that eBooks can do what normal books can't: they can search or jump directly to relevant information. Also, they bring together information in a surprising way: The Ultimate Field Guide uses what it calls Identification Keys which helps me find all the info I need on almost a 100 African mammals.

These keys work in a drill-down way: the category is narrowed down as you identify features until you have the animal you want. I decide to try them all.

Silhouette Key

The first key categorizes animals by silhouette. This lets me find any of a 100 African mammals by the size and outline. I decided to try and find a difficult one: the Slender Mongoose. I clicked on the Silhouette Key, the Small Animals icon and had the Slender Mongoose it in only 3 clicks.

I clicked on the Slender Mongoose silhouette and got loads of information: a color photo, the names in African languages, what the track and the dung look like, the red book classification, when it is active, it's description, distribution, habits, diet field sign and what not. Impressive, I thought to myself.

Tracks Identification Key

The second key was my favorite: The Tracks Identification key.

I have always wanted to have the knowledge of the San bushman tracker and to read the tracks in the bush like a good Wilbur Smith book. This lets me do exactly that. I can tell you in 5 seconds flat which animal made the track, show you a photograph of it, tell you what it eats, it's habits and when it bears it's young.

Pretty nifty!


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