Friday, March 28, 2003

Beats the heck out of an X10
Paul Boutin in Slate reveals It's Easy Seein' Green - Night-vision scopes make your closet the color of Baghdad:
Of all the military gadgets on parade on television, there's one you can bring home without spooking the neighbors into thinking you've gone postal. Night-vision scopes, once available only at defense contractor prices, can be found nowadays at Wal-Mart for less than $100. The new consumer models are less powerful than the military versions, but they're more portable, too. They're also more stylish, so you won't look like that creep from Silence of the Lambs.

Technology has made huge leaps since the first Gulf War, but the grunts in the field still wear the same AN/PVS-7 headsets manufactured for Desert Storm by Northrop Grumman. U.S. civilians can buy the PVS-7 for themselves, but prices start at around $2,500 and can run to more than four grand for the model used in the gulf. A much more attractive option - literally - is the Night Owl Aero, a sleek, lightweight, sub-$200 unit designed to be held in one hand rather than strapped to your head cyborg-style.
(We won't tell Paul why strapping 'em to your head is damned convenient if you have to use 'em.)
First-time users inevitably gasp when they take the Aero into a darkened closet and press its illuminator button, which causes a small red bulb on the front of the unit to glow dimmer than a lighted cigarette. Looking into the eyepiece the first time is an oh-my-God moment. The illuminator emits infrared light (invisible to humans), and the Aero's circuits crank it up to a brilliant green, making the room bright enough to read the New York Times without squinting. Look away from the lens, and the room is pitch black. Brain to eyeballs: Does not compute.
But standing around in a closet isn't where it's at.
In urban tests, the Aero let me read the license plates of cars parked overnight on my block and watch local winos fumble with the contents of their brown paper bags at 4 a.m. Its super-sensitive vision could sometimes see through a slinky dress to reveal the outlines of underwear. But the more shocking discovery was that I wasn't alone in the dark. Through the Aero's eyepiece, normally invisible light sources shone as brightly as regular bulb. Motion detectors gleamed from doorways. Some downtown buildings sported infrared security cameras (why they don't just use a 1,000-watt floodlight, I don't know). Most surprising of all, other night-vision users were out and about. The insides of their scopes shone back at me like glowing green eyes whenever our gazes crossed paths. At an all-night outdoor rave, I spotted the local cops looking through second-generation police goggles from the darkened cab of their truck. Crime-spotting, or just girl watching?
Ruh Oh! I thought the boys were just buying 'em for deer hunting!