I finally did some reading up on soft starts.
Turns out they're generally a switching power supply-some thing used by your laptop today.
Most of us are familiar with transformers-those wall-warts that turn 110v AC into 9v or 12v DC for small household items. Transformers are useful, but very inefficient- lots of current lost to heat.
Laptop makers changed to switching power supplies in the 90's (guessing the tech came down in cost).
Here's a link to a good description:
1. What is a Soft Start? - Electric motors & generators engineering FAQ - Eng-Tips