When the USB format was introduced just over 11 years ago, the creators envisioned it as a way to liberate computer users by making it easy for them to attach devices to PCs without opening the case, fiddling with arcane settings, or dealing with a multitude of specialized ports. By simplifying things for product developers and users, the format gave creative designers the means to come up with any kind of device they pleased.
So they did.
An increasing number of oddball peripherals have appeared in recent years, and nearly all tend to be designed for the widely used USB standard. Many hail from Japan; the Japanese gadget company Thanko.com , in particular, could be considered the king of offbeat USB products.
Here we present to you a sampling of 15 of the most absurd USB devices we could find. Let's start with a collection of fully functional flash drives that look a little kooky -- and, in one case, downright scary.
Just plain goofy
Hey, are you gonna eat that? A rule must exist that if you traditionally eat something with chopsticks, you should be able to store data on it, because no other explanation springs to mind for these USB drives masquerading as sushi, takoyaki, dim sum, and tempura shrimp.
Bring a little bit of the outdoors into the office with these wooden flash drives designed by artist Karin van Lieshout. The use of natural wood pretty much guarantees that your drive won't look like anyone else's, but be prepared to do a little whittling if you usually carry your portable memory in your pocket.
If a prize were awarded for the grisliest flash drive design ever, the winner would be this one , which looks just like half of a human thumb. I'm sure there's a hitchhiking joke in this somewhere, but most people would likely be too busy gagging to think of it.
The USB Kitty stands (okay, crouches) about 4 inches high, bobbing its head as it demands attention, much like a real feline prima donna. Using a handful of sensors, the device also meows ingratiatingly when you make kitty-stroking motions near its chin. The Kitty is just like a real pet, only with a timer, an alarm, and a repertoire of cat-language birthday songs. At least you don't have to clean a litter box.
Computing in a winter wonderland
Is your home office stuck in the coldest room in the house? Thanko's USB Warmer Slippers will keep your tootsies toasty during the winter months. Each slipper comes with its own USB cable, on/off switch, and temperature control. Just be careful when you get up for your coffee break: If you keep the slippers on, either you or the computer will end up on the floor.
Meanwhile, your hands are shivering...unless you consider a pair of open-fingered USB Heating Gloves (for men; check out the USB G-Gloves for women). As with the Warmer Slippers, each glove has its own cable, power switch, and temperature control. You can pull the mitten tops over for all-around comfort, though your typing may resemble 'qo#$@ovga;klf'.
No carrot noses or coal eyes here: The menacing USB Snowbot 's most distinctive feature is a scanning light that reminds me of Battlestar Galactica's Cylons -- and not the slinky, well-dressed ones. Switch the scanning light to blue or red depending on whose side you're on.