Monday, December 31, 2007

Last-minute reminder:
Super-easy way to make charitable donations,
and maybe get a free vacation.

As the year ends, you have only a few more hours to make tax deductable donations to charity. It's not a big deal to write a couple of checks, and lots of charities accept credit card donations and have convenient websites. However, if you want to spread money around, AmEx makes it extremely easy -- and personally profitable.

The Giving Express program connects you to over a million charitable organizations! You can search for them by name, keywords, location, or use an extensive list of categories such as performing arts, education, health care, housing, human rights, disaster relief, religion and much more. The AmEx website has financial reports, mission statements, contacts, and other information regarding the organizations.

Donating online helps nonprofit organizations reduce administrative costs so that they can do more with the money. Your dollar donations are tax-deductible and you’ll receive an e-mail receipt for your records. Plus, through December 31, 2007, you can earn double Membership Rewards points for every dollar you donate with an eligible, enrolled American Express Card.

• Give to one or more charities and nonprofit organizations
• Donate dollars with your American Express Card
• Donate Membership Rewards points
• Set up recurring donations

When you make a donation, you'll get an immediate e-mail confirmation for each transaction. AmEx will post a detailed record of all your donations on your password-protected Giving History web page, if you need a record for an IRS audit in the future. CLICK

Friday, December 28, 2007

New Poland Spring bottle is great for the planet,
but it sucks for people

My wife, my dog, and I drink many gallons of delicious Poland Spring water each week -- usually bought at Costco in 35-packs of 1/2-liter bottles.

Recently, Poland Spring has gone "green," by introducing their new Eco-Shape bottle. It feels floppy like a foil birthday balloon that's lost half its helium.

It's said to be the lightest half-liter bottle ever produced and is 100% recyclable. It has a "waist" like a traditional Coke bottle so it's easy to carry and hold. It requires less energy to make, resulting in a reduction of CO2 emissions. Even the paper label is 30% smaller so fewer trees are chopped down and chewed up.

The new bottle is flexible so it's allegedly easier to crush for recycling.

I was not aware that traditional plastic bottles were too tough for the mega-ton crushers at recycling plants; but the new bottle is so flexible, that it crunches NOISILY when held by a mere human being.


Fortunately, at least for a while, you can still find Poland Spring in the old un-friendly bottle, if you'd rather be good to yourself than to your planet.

Of course, if you drink from the sink, you can be good to the Earth and save money, too.

Our dog is perfectly happy with sink water, or refrigerator filter water, or swimming pool water, or eating snow, or slurping puddles; but my wife gives him only Poland Spring. I've warned him not to die, because heaven won't be nearly as good as our house.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Fox flick rentals from iTunes (maybe)

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Twentieth Century Fox and Apple will announce a deal in which Fox movies would be available for rental downloads through Apple's iTunes Store.

Apple has been trying to persuade studios to agree to a rental plan, in which consumers could download movies that could be played for a limited time. Until now, no studio has agreed to such a deal.

In a related move, Fox also plans to release DVDs that use Apple's digital rights management system, a move that would allow consumers to make legal copies of the disc that could be played on an iPod or other device, such as a computer.

Apple already sells movies from some studios via iTunes, which consumers can keep permanently. Walt Disney sells both new releases and catalog titles. Some others, such as Paramount, sell only older movie titles through iTunes.

Rentals could help Apple boost its online video efforts by giving consumers more options for accessing movies. Sales of video through Apple's iTunes Store have failed to grow at the same pace as the site's music downloads.

It is unclear whether rentals will help the company sign up many more movie studios to sell through iTunes. Apple's video offerings lack a comprehensive movie selection, and some studios have resisted making deals to sell through iTunes because of Apple's pricing, which is lower than the price for a DVD.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

AKG female-friendly microphone

This may be marketing bullshit, and might even incite sex-discrimination lawsuits, but microphone-maker AKG says their new Elle C model "is perfectly tailored to the female voice." Since female voices range from boomy bass to chalk-on-blackboard squeaks, with power ranging from whispers to shouts, I frankly don't understand the concept.

Anyway, AKG says the mic "delivers an extremely accurate, detailed, and natural sound, and also matches the highest aesthetic expectations of performing female vocalists" and "its slender, elegant silhouette and special finish in either high-gloss metallic or white pearlescent paint adds an exciting visual dimension to every performance." Price is $339. I'm not sure if it vibrates. CLICK for more.
This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Tivoli radios: full-size sound
from itty-bitty boxes

Because of the success of the Walkman and the iPod, and their imitators, it's hard to find a compact-size portable radio with a speaker, particularly one that sounds good.

Fortunately, for those who don't want to wear headphones or earbuds, or who do want to share the music, Tivoli Audio makes some some excellent, innovative and stylish portables that actually have speakers.

Don't be put-off by the small size of the Tivoli radios. They can easily fill a room with glorious music, and you can have fun fooling people into thinking they're hearing your big-buck audio system, when the sound is really coming from something the size of a Kleenex box.

You can choose from several models. I have an analog-tuning "PAL" (Personal Audio Laboratory, $150) in my kitchen, that sometimes goes out on my rear deck. I also have a digital-tuning SongBook ($160) in my bathroom, and I keep another one in my office, and sometimes take it on vacations.

Both models have weather-resistant, rubberized cabinets (for most colors), auxiliary inputs, and can use rechargeable batteries (standard on PAL, optional on SongBook), or a 12VDC power source, or an AC adapter. Although both radios merge left and right channels through their single speakers, you can plug in stereo headphones for full channel separation.

The more expensive SongBook does not come equipped with rechargeable batteries, but it does have features that PAL doesn't have: five preset tuning buttons, a wakeup alarm, cool-blue illuminated display, and even a hang-up slot. It does not have the convenient finger-grip slot that PAL has; but it should, because unless you hold it tightly, it can slide out of your hand.

The SongBook's volume conrol knob is a particularly stupid design. It has a slippery texture and a tapered shape, and if you try to grip it tightly to adjust the sound, your fingers slip and you lose your grip! PAL's knobs are much easier to use; and instead of a digital display and electronic tuning, it has a retro vernier tuning dial with LED signal strength indicator. A $300 variation of the SongBook includes a flip-down iPod dock, and second speaker.

The whole family of products offers sensitive and selective tuning, and super-sweet sound; and I recommend them highly, despite my minor criticisms. Tivoli portable and non-portable radios are available at Target, Best Buy, Tweeter and other audio specialists. CLICK for the manufacturer's website.

GEEK TRIVIA: The PAL ("Personal Audio Laboratory") was designed by audio pioneer Henry Kloss (rhymes with gross). Henry's long history with audio began in the early 1950's when he built speaker cabinets for fellow MIT students. Henry dropped out, and co-founded Acoustic Research, where he helped develop the first acoustic suspension speaker. Next came KLH (the "K" stands for Kloss), and the Model Eight, the first highly sensitive FM table radio. Later at Advent (where I met him when I worked for Rolling Stone), Henry developed one of the first projection televisions (an Emmy winner), and one of the first consumer cassette decks with Dolby noise reduction. Next came Kloss Video in 1977, and Cambridge SoundWorks in 1988, with long-time associate Tom DeVesto. In 2000, at the age of 70, Henry emerged from retirement to once again work with DeVesto at Tivoli. Henry died in 2002.

After I had my PAL for a couple of years, it developed an intermittent audio problem. The sound would suddenly crackle for a few seconds, and then music would be replaced by silence. I'd thump it on the table, and the music would come back. When the thump-to-thump interval increased to the point where I was really annoyed, I called Tivoli to find out the procedure for getting it fixed. The Tivolian wanted my serial number. I questioned that, because the radio was clearly out of warranty, and I did not expect a free fix. Mr. Tiv said he would not give me a return authorization without the serial number. My radio was two flights down, so I said I'd call back. By the time I walked down two flights of stairs and back up, I was pissed-off enough to open the PAL and re-solder the speaker wires myself. The repair took less than a minute, and I saved about $50!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Read "Silent Night"--
a Christmas story with sex,
drugs, rock-n-roll, and murder.

Read "Silent Night" -- a Christmas story with sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, and murder.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Save half on a rocket belt!

The rocket belt (or jet pack) is a small personal propulsion device that enables a man or woman to rapidly fly short distances, taking off and landing upright.

During the early 1960s the US military studied these devices as potential aids for combat soldiers who needed to cross minefields or avoid other obstructions.

The idea of a workable rocket belt is credited to Wendell Moore, an engineer at Bell Aerosystems. The Army negotiated with Bell for the fabrication of an SRLD (small rocket lifting device) and a contract was awarded to the Army's Transportation, Research and Engineering Command for feasibility studies and trials.

Moore was named Technical Director for the project. A 280-lb thrust rocket motor was made and tested. Hydrogen Peroxide was chosen as a safe fuel, as no combustion took place. There was only expulsion of highly pressurized oxygen and water vapor. The operator wore a form-fitting fiberglass corset for safety.

Many tethered flights were conducted, with Moore flying. Harold Graham was the first pilot to perform a rocket belt free flight, on April 20, 1961. After 36 tethered flights, he flew freely successfully at 7 to 10-mph, for 13 seconds, over a distance of 112 feet.

The 20+ second maximum duration of the rocket fuel required for the belt was found to be too short-lived to be practical for combat, and the idea was abandoned. However the machine proved to be spectacular crowd pleaser for promotions and advertising. It was used in the James Bond Thunderball movie, and at the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

Until now, there has been only one company providing rocket belt performances, and they charge at least $20,000 per flight; but in 2005 Tecnologia Aeroespacial Mexicana (TAM) ended the monopoly.

That first rocket belt cost Bell Aerosystems $250,000 in 1960. Adjusted for inflation, this would be many millions of dollars today.

The price of a TAM rocket belt had been $250,000, but just in time for Christmas, the price has been reduced to just $125,000. So, if you or a loved one has an urge to leap up on the roof to surprise Santa, or jump over the border fence between Mexico and the US, this could be a perfect solution. You can even get one in pink. CLICK for more

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Website shows grotesque Christmas displays

If you live in an area where the law, or neighbor pressure, has suppressed people's urge to string miles of bright lights on their homes and trees this time of year, there's a website to fulfill your tacky yearning. shows a growing collection of tacky, tasteless, bizarre, excessive, grotesque and expensive electric decor. If you yearn to see Jesus with elves, Mary with robot reindeer, multiple Santas, giant candy canes in a creche, and inflated flying wisemen, this is for you. You can even submit pictures of your own nauseating favorites.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Simpsons flick now out on Blu-ray
& old-fashioned DVDs

90 minutes of Simpsons is more than three times as good as 30 minutes of Simpsons. The movie, which was in theaters last summer, is now available in Blu-ray and standard DVD in both wide-screen and narrow-screen formats. You can evn download it from Amazon Unbox if you're in a big hurry.

It's creative, hilarious, relevent, irreverent, surprising, even exciting... everything you'd expect.

Sure, it would have been nice to have more of Burns & Smithers, Apu, Mrs. Krabappel, Grampa Abe, Principal Skinner, Patty and Selma et al...but the list of potential players was HUGE, and they only had four years to put this together. OTOH, we do get to see Bart's weenie, and hear Maggie speak, and there's a great Itchy & Scratchy mini-movie.

After previous attempts to create a film version of The Simpsons had failed due to script length and lack of staff, production began in 2001. Numerous plot ideas were conceived by the writers, with series originator Matt Groening's being developed into the film.

The script was said to have been re-written 100 times, continuing even after animation had begun. Many hours of finished material was cut, including cameos from Minnie Driver, Erin Brockovich and Kelsey Grammer. Tie-in promotions were made with 7-Eleven, which transformed select stores into Kwik-E-Marts, and other companies such as Burger King. The film premiered in Springfield, Vermont, which won the right to hold it through a competition.

The movie starts with Green Day performing at Lake Springfield, where they fail to get the audience interested in saving the environment. They are killed when the pollution in the lake eats away at their vessel, causing it to sink. At the funeral, Grampa Abe has a vision of a great catastrophe to come, but only Marge listens. Lisa and an Irish boy named Colin hold a seminar entitled "An Irritating Truth", which convinces the town to clean up the lake. Meanwhile, Homer dares Bart to skateboard nude to Krusty Burger, but Bart is caught by Chief Wiggum. Ned Flanders comforts Bart after being humiliated, but Homer ignores him and adopts a pig, who is allowed to leave foot prints on the ceiling in a "Spider-Pig" game.

Homer keeps the pig's "crap" in an overflowing silo, which horrifies Marge, who tells Homer to dispose of it safely. While waiting in a line at the dump, Homer decides on a quicker means of disposal and dumps the silo into the lake, causing it to become heavily polluted. Nearby, Flanders and Bart bond during a hike and discover a many-eyed mutated squirrel, which is captured by the EPA. Russ Cargill, head of the EPA, tells President Schwarzenegger that Springfield is extremely polluted and the government must take drastic action. As a result, the EPA places Springfield under a giant clear dome.

The police discover Homer's silo in the lake, and an angry mob approaches the Simpsons' home and torches it, in a scene from Frankenstein. The family escapes through a sinkhole that goes under the edge of the dome, and flees to Alaska (without the pig) in a truck won in a motorcycle-riding contest, to live in a chalet, with no visible means of support.

Seeing the dome begin to crack and realizing the inevitable escape of the people of Springfield, Russ Cargill manipulates the President into deciding to destroy the town and create a huge hole.

While enjoying life in Alaska, the Simpsons see an advertisement presented by Tom Hanks, promoting a new Grand Canyon, to be located where Springfield is. Marge and the kids decide that they must save Springfield, but Homer refuses to help the town that tried to kill him.

Marge and the kids abandon him and leave for Springfield, via train. After a visit with a mysterious Inuit shaman with huge breasts, Homer has a vision and reaches an epiphany: he must save Springfield and his family.

Meanwhile, Marge, Lisa, Maggie, and Bart are captured by Cargill and returned to Springfield. Cargill tells Springfield's people that the town will be destroyed. A helicopter arrives and opens a hole at the top of the dome, lowering a bomb. Homer climbs the dome and descends, knocking the escaping town people and bomb off the rope. Homer notices a motorcycle, grabs Bart, and cycles up the side of the dome. Bart throws the bomb through the hole, detonating it and shattering the dome. The town praises Homer, who rides off with Marge on the motorbike into the sunset. The film ends with everyone restoring Springfield, including the Simpsons' house, back to the way things were.

There are some extremely funny scenes. One in particular, when doom is apparent, shows people streaming from the church into Moe's tavern, at the same time that people are running from the tavern into the church. Another, when the family is on the lam, has Bart deface a wanted poster showing the Simpsons; and then people who look like the distorted images on the poster are arrested.

The disc is a great gift for any Simpsons fan, and an important part of a growing Blu-ray collection.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

2-way GPS collects & sends traffic data

Dash Navigation is taking preorders on its first-of-a-kind “always on,” two-way personal navigation device (PND). The $599 Dash Express that not only provides real-time traffic reports, but also tracks the travel speed of its users to aggregate traffic reports that are broadcast to other Dash users. It also performs wireless Yahoo! Local searches on the go. The PND has a cellular data connection as well as Wi-Fi.

The device is also one of the first to provide a traffic overview for an entire metro area (not just one route path), and it delivers gas price and movie time listings, as well as street-name guidance.

After several delays, the device should be available in February 2008 from the manufacturer, with retail distribution starting in the Spring.

Dash Navigation has tested the Dash Express with approximately 2,000 users over the past several months. The company said it is taking preorders because shipments will be limited initially and it wanted to give the early testers and other early adopters a chance to buy the first units in February.

Service fees for the device start at $9.99/month with an upfront, two year payment, moving to $10.99 for a year’s payment and $12.99 on a monthly payment plan. CLICK for more, or to order. (info from TWICE.)
This is a preview, not a review.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Super-easy way to make charitable donations,
and maybe get a free vacation.

As the year ends, lots of people realize that they have only a few more days to make tax deductable donations to charity. It's not a big deal to write a couple of checks, and lots of charities accept credit card donations and have convenient websites. However, if you want to spread money around, AmEx makes it extremely easy -- and personally profitable.

The Giving Express program connects you to over a million charitable organizations! You can search for them by name, keywords, location, or use an extensive list of categories such as performing arts, education, health care, housing, human rights, disaster relief, religion and much more. The AmEx website has financial reports, mission statements, contacts, and other information regarding the organizations.

Donating online helps nonprofit organizations reduce administrative costs so that they can do more with the money. Your dollar donations are tax-deductible and you’ll receive an e-mail receipt for your records. Plus, through December 31, 2007, you can earn double Membership Rewards points for every dollar you donate with an eligible, enrolled American Express Card.

• Give to one or more charities and nonprofit organizations
• Donate dollars with your American Express Card
• Donate Membership Rewards points
• Set up recurring donations

When you make a donation, you'll get an immediate e-mail confirmation for each transaction. AmEx will post a detailed record of all your donations on your password-protected Giving History web page, if you need a record for an IRS audit in the future. CLICK

Friday, December 14, 2007

Good deal on Sirius

Free satellite radio deals usually require paying for a year of service, but when you purchase three months of Sirius satellite radio service for only $49.99, you can get a FREE Stratus 4 radio, with complete car kit and Dock & Play capabilities. Shipping is free, but you do have to pay a $15 activation fee. CLICK for info and ordering.

  • Customizable amber display: easy viewing and use
  • Universal docking capability: add accessories to enjoy in your home, office or additional vehicles
  • FM transmitter or stereo audio output to connect to your vehicle's radio
  • FM preset function: allows you to store the best FM frequencies in your area for optimum integration with your vehicle's radio
  • 10 presets: enjoy fast access to your favorite channels
  • Push-button navigation: surf channels on the fly
  • One-Touch Jump™ button: direct access to local traffic and weather, or your favorite channel
  • Parental controls: easily lock and unlock channels
  • Complete vehicle kit includes radio, dock w/dash and vent mounts, power adapter, magnetic mount satellite antenna and FM extender antenna
  • Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Roaring 20's style phones

    These stylish table and wall phones combine the glamour of the roaring 20s with 21st century technology. Available in pewter, ash and black colors, they're a high-fashion accent for a home, office, restaurant or hotel.

    8-step receiver volume control. High/low/off ringer control. Touch-tone dialing only. FIVE-YEAR WARRANTY. Comes with 15-foot coiled handset cord and 10-foot straight line cord to fit standard modular jacks. Price is $97, with free shipping in the US.

    Available from

    Wednesday, December 12, 2007

    Wireless subwoofer coming from Infinity

    If you want to boost low frequency power in your audio/video system by adding a subwoofer, but face a difficult challenge getting the wire from your amp or receiver to the spot where you want to put the subwoofer, Infinity has a solution for you.

    Their new PS212W powered subwoofer (due in January 2008) eliminates the need to route wires to the subwoofer through walls or under the floor or above the ceiling, for greater installation flexibility. It received a 2008 Consumer Electronics Show Design and Engineering Award.

    The PS212W uses a compact radio transmitter that operates in the 2.4GHz frequency range and offers four selectable channels, a feature that should eliminate interference. (Other wirelesss devices, including LANs and cordless phones, use 2.4GHz.)

    The transmitter module connects to an audio source and sends signals to a receiver built into the subwoofer cabinet. The cabinet has a built-in 400-watt amplifier, and a 12-inch woofer featuring proprietary Infinity® Metal Matrix Diaphragm™ (MMD®) driver material, which is manufactured by anodizing both sides of an aluminum core to a controlled thickness. This process is said to "produce a low-mass, highly rigid driver diaphragm that operates with greatly reduced distortion and delivers exceptional articulation and resolution."

    (The speaker is not completely wireless -- it needs AC power for its internal amp and radio receiver -- so you will need a nearby outlet.)

    The PS212W features variable crossover frequency and level controls, and a phase switch to optimize bass performance. It also includes line-level and LFE inputs, enabling its use as a wired subwoofer if you want. The PS212W can add extended low-frequency capability to any home entertainment system, but has a black-ash finish and black curved grille that matches Infinity Primus® Series speakers. Suggested retail price is $679. CLICK for the Infinity website.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    INFINITY FOOTNOTE: Back around 1971, Infinity was known for making excellent and expensive speakers, usually costing $1,000 or more. Someone decreed that the company should broaden its market with a new line of speakers priced as low as a hundred bucks, following a similar move by competitor JBL. Infinity engineers viewed this move as heresy, and expressed their displeasure by naming the first low-priced Infinity model, the "POS-1." POS stood for "piece of shit."

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Hi-def downloads start today

    In a major shift in movie distribution, a high-definition version of the hit The Bourne Ultimatum will be released through Vudu's online service today - the same day the DVD comes out.

    It is the first of many HD movies Vudu plans to deliver online at the same time DVDs become available. Owners of Vudu's set-top box, which costs $399, use a high-speed Internet connection to watch the movies they rent and to download the ones they buy.

    Movies usually are released in staggered "windows" in different formats - DVD, online through Xbox Live and other companies, or on demand on cable. Hollywood studios are experimenting more with digital distribution, and a few have agreed to work with Vudu to sell HD movies, though the selection remains limited.

    Some in the industry worry that competition between the two high-definition formats -- Blu-ray and HD DVD -- is holding back production in high definition as consumers debate which format to use. That choice is not an issue for people who download movies with Vudu.

    Universal Pictures, the studio behind the "Bourne" movies, is the first to offer a downloadable HD version of a movie the same day as the DVD is released. In addition to working with Universal, Vudu has signed deals to distribute HD content from Paramount Pictures and Lionsgate.

    The Vudu box, which first went on sale in October, offers a catalog of about 5,000 standard-definition films, which can be rented for 99 cents to $4.99. Some films, including the HD editions of the "Bourne" films, can only be purchased, meaning they can be stored permanently on the set-top.

    The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum will sell for $24.99 each, though Vudu customers can get the two older movies for free during the holiday season. (info from The Associated Press)

    Monday, December 10, 2007

    Amazon Unbox works great with TiVo
    (except for one thing)

    As I wrote on November 6, I hate football because of its endless stop-go-stop-go sequences, and -- even if I am not forced to sit through a dumb game -- Sunday night NFL games always take longer than planned and ruin the Sunday night CBS schedule.

    I like to watch 60 Minutes, The Amazing Race, Cold Case, and Shark. If I set a TiVo to record normally on a football night, 60 Minutes runs far into Amazing Race, Cold Case starts in the middle of where Shark should be, and often some or all of Shark is missing.

    I've tried fighting this by recording the alleged 11PM news in the hope of catching the end of Shark, but sometimes the added half hour is not enough.

    I've tried setting a TiVo to record everything from 7pm until 12:30am, but it's a major PITA to find the beginning of a show.

    My major difficulty has been in recording Shark, the last show of the evening. CBS lets me view it for free on a PC screen with minor commercial interruptions, but a 21" monitor can''t compete with a 52" HDTV.

    Last week I tried something different. I used a TiVo to download six Sharks from Amazon's Unbox service. I paid a reasonable $1.99 each, download time was very fast, quality was excellent, and there were no commercials to fast-forward through. I also downloaded Ocean's Thirteen, for $3.99.

    Some movie downloads cost $2.99. I don't think any cost more than $3.99. Some are available for "purchase" as well as for rent, which means they're yours for viewing on your TiVo forever, not just for 30 days; and you can make a backup copy on a DVD or external hard drive. There are also some freebie downloads.

    Using Amazon Unbox on TiVo is easy. After a simple registration process, you'll be able to shop for Unbox videos to your TiVo DVR from the Amazon Unbox website and directly from your TiVo.

    If you're shopping on the Unbox Website, just look for the TiVo logo to find TiVo-enabled videos. You'll be able to select your TiVo DVR as a RemoteLoad download destination each time you purchase or rent a video at

    To shop for Unbox videos from your TiVo DVR, select "Find Programs" > "Download TV & Movies" > "Amazon Unbox". In both cases your videos will appear in your TiVo Now Playing List.

    Unlike other digital video-to-TV services, Amazon Unbox on TiVo is not an extender service so you don't have to connect your PC to your TV or extender device. Instead, your TiVo DVR communicates directly with the Unbox service through your home network and the Internet, so your videos get downloaded directly to your TiVo DVR, where you already watch movies and TV shows.

    Any broadband-connected TiVo Series2™ or Series3™ DVR can download and play Unbox videos. The service is not available for DIRECTV TiVo subscribers, TiVo Series1™ owners, or TiVo subscribers who use a telephone phone line to access the service.

    Unbox videos watched on a TiVo DVR are of equal or better quality than videos recorded at the Best Quality setting on a TiVo Series2 DVR. They are NOT hi-def.

    Download times vary depending on your actual Internet connection speed, the speed of your home network, and the length of the video. With a fast broadband connection (5 Mbps), a movie can download in about an hour, while a 1-hour TV episode can download in about 30 minutes. However, on a slower broadband connection (less than 1 Mbps), a movie can take up to 5 hours. All Unbox videos can be watched while they are still downloading. If you have a high speed broadband connection, you will be notified that your video is ready to be watched after just a few minutes.

    The Unbox RemoteLoad feature allows you to order from and download anywhere. So, you can order a video while at work and it will be ready to watch by the time you get home. You can also discover new and interesting videos by watching previews. You will find a player at the top of the Unbox store webpage which shows previews of popular videos. If you'd like to watch a preview of a specific movie or TV show, you'll also find a preview player located at the top of the detail page for that video.

    THE BAD NEWS: You can't record on one Tivo box and watch at another, as you can with regular Tivo recordings. However, videos from Amazon Unbox can be downloaded on up to two PCs or TiVo DVRs and two portable devices at any one time.

    Friday, December 7, 2007

    Toyota robot plays violin, walks but can't drive

    A new robot from Toyota can't chauffeur your Camry, Tundra or Prius; but it can serenade you with a violin.

    The five-foot-tall robot, shown Thursday, used the fingers on its left hand to press the strings, and moved the bow with its right hand. Toyota previously showed robots that roll around to work as guides, and have fingers dexterous enough to play the trumpet.

    Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said robotics will be a core business for the company in coming years. Toyota will test robots at hospitals, Toyota-related facilities and other places starting next year; and the company hopes to put what it calls "partner robots" to real use by 2010, he said.

    Watanabe and other company officials said robotics was a natural extension of the automaker's use of robots in manufacturing, as well the development of technology for autos related to artificial intelligence, such as sensors and pre-crash safety systems.

    Watanabe presented a vision of the future in which wheelchair-like "mobility robots" — also displayed Thursday — would offer "bed-to-bed" services to people, including the elderly and the sick, just like cars take people "door-to-door."

    In a demonstration, a man got on the mobility robot, a motorized two-wheeled chair, then scooted around. Toyota showed how the moving machine could go up and down slopes and go over bumps without upsetting the person sitting on the chair because the wheels could adjust to such changes.

    Toyota has been a relative latecomer in robots compared to its domestic rival Honda Motor Co., as well as other companies, including Hitachi, Fujitsu and NEC. Honda has been working on robots since 1986, recognizing the technology as critical for its future in delivering mobility for the future. It is showing the latest technology in its own robot — the Asimo humanoid — next week.

    Trying to one-up its rival, Toyota has been aggressively beefing up its robotics team. In August, it announced that it was teaming up with Sony, which discontinued its Aibo robot dog last year, to develop an innovative, intelligent, single-seat vehicle.

    Also Thursday, the automaker showed its Robina robot, a legless robot-on-wheels, which has already been working as a guide at Toyota's showroom at its headquarters. In the demo, Robina interacted smoothly with a person, including carrying on a simple dialogue. It also showed how it could sign its name in script holding a fat felt-tip pen with its three fingers.

    "I am 120 centimeters tall and how much I weigh is a secret," the robot said clearly in a feminine voice. "I know a lot about the Prius." (info & photo from The Associated Press)

    Thursday, December 6, 2007

    EnGenius long-range cordless phone

    Most cordless phones can work a few hundred feet from their base. That's fine for most homes and offices, but not nearly enough for a ranch, farm, car lot, campus, warehouse or a big office building or store.

    EnGenius Technologies has been marketing long-range cordless phones in the US for about a decade. EnGenius is part of Senao, a Taiwanese manufacturer of phones and wireless data equipment. Some Senao phones can go dozens of miles, but they're not legal in the US. The EnGenius phones are legal here, and can usually reach a mile or more. They have more "horsepower" than other cordlesses, and can even punch through metal walls.

    The first generation EnGenius was independently tested to have a five-mile range. Unless you live in death valley, you probably won't reach that far, but coverage of 12 floors in building, 250,000 sq. ft. in a warehouse, and 3,000 acres on a farm, ranch, car lot or campus is not unusual. That's more than 130 million square feet!

    EnGenius was one of the first companies to offer a cordless phone with a separate base that can be positioned for maximum range, while the handset needs just a charging cradle, but no phone jack. They were also one of the first companies to offer multi-handset cordless phone systems with handset-to-handset intercom.

    EnGenius "DuraFons" are extremely rugged. They are industrial strength phones, built to be dropped and splashed. In addition to providing phone service, they also act as walkie-talkies, and provide paging from one handset to multiple handsets.

    Several DuraFon systems are available, for 1, 4 or 32 lines; and up to 9, 32, or 90 handsets. A DuraFon can be connected directly to phone company dialtone, or used with another phone system. Many accessories are available, including an external range-boosting antenna. More info is at

    Wednesday, December 5, 2007

    Great gift idea (especially for yourself):
    Batman phone

    On the "Batman" TV show, first aired in 1966-68, when trouble arose in Gotham City, Police Commissioner Gordon and Police Chief O'Hara used a special red phone to call Batman, a.k.a. "Bruce Wayne."

    At stately Wayne Manor, the flashing Batphone was answered by butler Alfred, who related the commissioner's plight to Batman/Bruce.

    Bruce and his young ward Dick Grayson would swiftly don their superhero costumes and tool belts, and speed from the Bat Cave in the Batmobile, to battle evil-doers or rescue citizens in distress.

    Now anyone -- even those without cape, tights and utility belt -- can have a Batphone. It has the distinctive 1960s shape, and a light that flashes when a call comes in. It plugs into a standard phone jack, and requires no battery or other power source.

    You can order it with ringing and flashing, or flash-only if you prefer. These BatPhones have no dials and are normally used for answering calls, but can make calls if connected to a phone system with memory dialing, or to a ring-down circuit. You can get a wall or table model, in bright Batman red.

    Price is just $112, with FREE shipping to all 50 states, and two-year warranty. CLICK for

    Photos from TV Acres & Archive Photos; info from, TV Acres, Wikipedia.)

    Tuesday, December 4, 2007

    No space for three legs?
    Try a monopod.

    Pro and amateur photographers use tripods to support heavy cameras and lenses, to make smooth pans, zooms and panoramas, and to keep cameras still during long exposures.

    Sometimes when you need extra support, there is just not enough space to set up a tripod, like when you're standing on a crowded sidewalk, taking pictures of a parade.

    That's where the tripod's one-legged offspring -- called a monopod or unipod -- can come in very handy.

    It can't support a camera by itself, but its added support does allow you to take sharp pictures at slower shutter speeds, and/or with longer lenses, than if you had to hold the camera all by yourself. If you're shooting video, a one-legger reduces camera shake and the resulting on-screen bumps.

    And unlike a tripod, a monopod can be kept set-up, attached to your camera, while you walk around an amusement park, historic site, museum, crowded party, etc. Just touch its tip to the ground when you want to take a picture.

    Monopods are usually made to "telescope," when not in use, allowing them to be transported and stored easily. They can usually be attached to a camera case for carrying around. Prices range from about $20 to $200 or more. Some have small legs that radiate from the tip to provide added stability. Some are made of carbon fiber to save weight.

    Monday, December 3, 2007

    Waterproof headphones

    Waterproof housings have been available for CD players and MP3 players for awhile, and you can get waterproof headphones, too.

    H2O Audio, a maker of waterproof and ruggedized sports accessories (including models designed for iPods), has begun shipping its third generation H3 waterproof headphones.

    The company introduced the world’s first waterproof and underwater headphones in 2005. The new H3 has been upgraded to provide improved sound quality in and out of water, and has a redesigned sportband for action sport use. The H3’s can also be worn as earbuds for travel, hiking, biking or lounging at the pool.

    H3 features include: 10dB greater sound output (than the original H2O underwater headphones); improved bass response; improved sound out of water; adjustable neck band to handle action sports; Aquatic Silencer Earplugs for improved comfort, noise reduction, and waterproof seal; Reactive Coiled Cable to eliminate cord tangles by moving with you during active use.

    Suggested retail price is $49.99. Available at Apple stores, REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, CompUSA and surf/skate/snow stores. To shop online or to find other dealers, see

    This is a preview, not a review.

    Friday, November 30, 2007

    T-shirt detects Wi-Fi

    Here's a great gift for people who are too lazy to pop open their laptops or use a test instrument to find a Wi-Fi hotspot.

    This "radioactive" black T-shirt uses three AAA batteries in a pocket to power a glowing decal display resembling a radio tower. Animated bars fluctuate with 802.11b or 802.11g signal strength. The animated display panel is removable (with Velcro-type fasteners) for washing. Cost is $29, from ThinkGeek.

    Thursday, November 29, 2007

    Charge batteries while you drive

    Duracell recently introduced its Mobile Charger, which enables users to charge AA or AAA rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries by plugging the charger into either an AC outlet or mobile 12-volt socket.

    The Mobile Charger also features a USB port, to charge USB-enabled devices with built-in rechargeable batteries such as iPods, MP3 players and BlackBerrys.

    For added convenience, the Mobile Charger is packaged with Duracell Pre-Charged Rechargeable batteries which come charged and ready to use. Pre-Charged batteries can be recharged hundreds of times, delivering hours of music and up to 5,000 digital photos over the life of two batteries. These batteries can also be used to "transfer" power to USB devices, when no other AC or DC power source is available.

    Pre-Charged Rechargeable batteries feature a new technology that eliminates the need to charge the batteries before using them for the first time. The batteries also retain power for up to one year while not in use, and stay charged longer and have to be recharged less often than other batteries, according to Duracell.

    The Mobile Charger features an LED indicator that displays the charge status for each battery, enabling users to easily tell when each charge will be complete. It's available at mass, drug, grocery and specialty stores, with a suggested retail price of $24.99.

    CLICK for a Duracell contest with grand prize of $5,000.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Wednesday, November 28, 2007

    TV tuner in a USB dongle

    Pinnacle Systems offers three USB tuners for digital terrestrial TV, that can convert any PC into a TV. Once connected, the PC can also record TV shows.

    According to the manufacturer, “Pinnacle PCTV is a great choice for TV viewers who lead busy lifestyles. It enables them to watch and record TV on their PC instead of being a slave to the living room TV or the TV schedule. Pinnacle PCTV is like getting a new TV and personal video recorder and enjoying these anywhere, anytime, for the price of a digital TV tuner box.”

    Pinnacle designed the PCTV family of products to be as easy to set-up and use as a regular TV without the requirement for any special technical knowledge. You simply connects the tuner to the PC’s USB port and an existing TV antenna (or the included rod antenna).

    At the high end, the $129 Pinnacle PCTV™ DVB-T Stick Ultimate brings a complete TV viewing and recording experience to PC owners. You get digital terrestrial TV and radio reception using the DVB-T standard, and can also stream live TV to as many as three other PCs on a home network with the included DistanTV software. It also includes a mini remote control for across-the-room viewing convenience. Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T Stick Ultimate draws its power from the computer and is about the same size as a USB memory stick, making it ideal for notebook owners. It is fully certified for Windows Vista™ and compatible with Windows Media Center.

    After running the software installer and channel scanner, you can start watching TV. They can also timeshift live TV and record programs. Timeshifting lets the you pause and rewind live TV at the press of a button. TV programs can be recorded to the computer’s hard drive in MPEG-1/-2 and DivX formats quality or directly to DVDs that can be played on a regular DVD player. You can control the PCTV DVB-T Stick Ultimate using the computer’s keyboard or the included mini remote control. This product also ships with Pinnacle Studio QuickStart Edition, for editing recordings and burning DVDs.

    DistanTV software brings PCTV viewing to the home network. It lets you tune into and timeshift the TV signal received by the PCTV DVB-T Stick Ultimate tuner from any other PC on your home network. It’s an affordable way to extend TV to all the computers in your home.

    Two other models complete the Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T offering. For users who don’t need the TV streaming or video editing features, Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T Stick is a good choice. People who want the simplest possible solution without remote control can choose the Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T Stick Solo.

    CLICK for more.

    This is a preview, not a review.

    Tuesday, November 27, 2007

    $25,000 sundae includes edible gold

    A New York City restaurant is offering a $25,000 chocolate sundae, setting a Guinness world record for the most expensive dessert.

    Serendipity 3 (225 East 60th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves) partnered with luxury jeweler Euphoria New York to create the "Frrozen Haute Chocolate," a blend of 28 cocoas, including 14 of the most expensive and exotic from around the globe.

    The dessert, spelled with two Rs, is infused with 5 grams (0.2 ounces) of edible 23-karat gold and served in a goblet lined with edible gold. At the base of the goblet is an 18-karat gold bracelet with 1 carat of white diamonds. The sundae is topped with whipped cream covered with more gold and a side of La Madeline au Truffle from Knipschildt Chocolatier, which sells for $2,600 a pound.

    It is eaten with a gold spoon decorated with white and chocolate-colored diamonds, which can also be taken home.

    If you want fries with it, you'll have to pay $3.50 extra.

    "It took us a long time to experiment with all the ingredients and flavors, and more than three months were needed just to design the golden spoon," owner Stephen Bruce told Reuters. Four years ago, Bruce unveiled a $1,000 ice cream sundae called Golden Opulence, a staple on his menu and a favorite with rock stars, socialites and other celebrities.

    Both desserts are sold only with advance orders. Bruce said he has received inquiries about his latest creation, mostly from Europeans planning to visit New York. "I wouldn't be surprised if soon we get a call from a Middle Eastern prince or Shah willing to give something sweet to his many wives on his next trip to the city," Bruce said. (info & photo from Reuters)
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Monday, November 26, 2007

    Spray-on scumbags

    Here's good news for men whose penises are either so large or so small that they can't find a condom to fit: A German inventor has developed a sprayer system that should ensure a proper fit for even the most unusual sizes.

    "If you go into a drug store to buy condoms, the ones they sell are mainly suited to men with the average penis length of 5.5 inches, but a lot of people have penises that are smaller or larger than that," said Jan Vinzenz Krause, director of the Institute for Condom Consultancy.

    "We thought why not come up with a condom that fits the man rather than vice versa? This would represent a revolution in the condom market," said Krause, whose institute gives sex education as well as providing advice on AIDS prevention and contraception.

    He has filed for a patent for the latex spraying system he invented. "As far as I know our idea is unique," said Krause. A pump squirts out liquid latex through multiple nozzles that cover the erect member with a latex sheath in a matter of seconds.

    Krause admits he will have to overcome some legal and technical hurdles before he can bring the product to market, but he already has a working prototype and says the system can handle most sizes. "We could spray a condom on an erect elephant," he declared.

    The system works a bit like a car wash. The man put his penis in a chamber and presses a button to start the jets of liquid latex, sucked from a detachable cartridge. The rubber dries in seconds and is later rolled off and discarded like a conventional condom. The aim is for the process to take just 10 seconds but at present the latex drying time is around 20 to 25 seconds. "We're working to shorten that time," said Krause.

    "In a survey we conducted, men had a two-fold reaction to the idea. Some said it's a great idea and would help them because they can't find conventional condoms that fit them. Others say they can't imagine it working in practice. There's the romance factor: applying the condom does interfere with the sex act." The machine applies the latex with a hissing sound, which may or may not be more annoying than the sound of opening a conventional condom package.

    The spray-oncondoms will be available in red, green, yellow and transparent, and will be more expensive than conventional ones. The chamber will cost around $30 and the liquid latex refills, which produce between 10 and 20 condoms depending on size, will be priced at about $12. That amounts to around $1.50 per condom, compared with around 50 cents per conventional sheath.

    Krause said the market launch will take time because condoms are classified as medical products that require lengthy approval procedures. (info from Spiegel onoine, photo from InventorSpot)
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Thursday, November 22, 2007

    Long Holiday Weekend

    I'll be back Monday. Have a great Thanksgiving.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2007

    Easy audio upgrade for laptop or desktop

    For the last six-plus years, I've been using a monster-size rack-mounted PC as an audio server, holding ancient web downloads, copies of my own CDs and ancient media, plus recent iTunes tracks.

    The big black box (home-built in an Antec housing) was visually impressive, but took up a lot of rack space, weighed a ton, and its noisy cooling fan had become increasingly intrusive.

    I considered several alternatives.

    A new cooling fan might have lessened the noise, but I couldn't identify a quiet fan that would fit in the old Antec box; and even if I could, it would not solve the space issue.

    A new single RMU (Rack Mount Unit) PC would save space, but might have an even noisier fan.

    Putting the PC in the basement would require lots of new cabling, and make it a PITA to load CDs when needed.

    I found a good, inexpensive solution: a gently used Dell Latitude laptop with 30 gig hard drive, Pentium 4 chip, and a gig of RAM, which cost me about $400 from CSR Technologies.

    It easily fit inside the top of my rack, befind my LCD monitor. It saved me four rack spaces (seven precious inches), and is absolutely quiet.

    My only compromise was its limited audio ability -- not a good compromise for an audio server.

    The Dell was designed to help corporate travelers do their business, not to provide entertainment; and the sound quality flowing from its headset jack left much to be desired. A better internal audio circuit would probably add to the cost of the Dell with little benefit for most users, and make a bigger demand on its processing power.

    I found a good, inexpensive solution from Creative, the SoundBlaster sound card people. It does all that I need, very well; and also provides other features that I might use in the future.

    Creative's USB SoundBlaster Live! 24-bit external sound "card" is not much bigger than a Band-Aid box, and is a stand-alone audio interface that easily connects to a PC with USB cable (supplied).

    The card has analog inputs for a microphone and a line-level audio source if you want to record onto your PC; and outputs including optical and coaxial digital-audio jacks, and three analog minijacks that you can use with a 5.1-channel surround-sound speaker system. I used the optical digital output to feed int my new Sony STR-DA4300ES receiver, which I'll probably tell you about next week.

    The Blaster's 24-bit Advanced HD and EAX Advanced HD technologies record and play audio at up to 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution (but you have to disable realtime audio monitoring at the highest settings due to limitations in the USB 1.1 data-throughput ability). With 256 times the resolution of basic built-in sound, your music, movies, and games can sound a lot better.

    Creative Multi Speaker Surround technology lets you "upmix" stereo sources to 5.1-channel surround sound. The software includes panning and mixing, front and rear balance controls, and muting.

    Realistic EAX reverb, panning, and elevation can add "oomph" to your music and games. The software also includes time-scaling (which allows variable playback duration without altering pitch, an audio clean-up feature (which removes noise and clicks from vinyl disk or cassette recordings), bass boost, smart volume management, and a multi-band graphic equalizer.

    The Creative MediaSource™ digital player allows you to make high quality MP3s, manage your music library, and burn personalized CDs. It has a built-in infrared receiver for an optional Creative remote control, which will let you operate your computer from up to 13 feet away (but not if its buried in the back of your rack.

    Setup is super-simple, basically plug and play. The Blaster's power comes from your PC's USB; no AC power is required. I have just one complaint -- it took about AN HOUR to load the software and install upgrades from Creative's website.

    This gadget is a great way to enhance the audio quality and capability of any laptop or desktop, and you won't even need a screwdriver to install it. I paid $47.95 at Amazon.

    Tuesday, November 20, 2007

    Amazon's "Kindle" electronic book reader

    Yesterday introduced Amazon Kindle, a portable reader that wirelessly downloads books, blogs, magazines and newspapers to a crisp, high-resolution electronic display that is said to look and read like real paper, even in bright sunlight. More than 90,000 books are now available in the Kindle Store, including 101 of 112 current New York Times Best Sellers and new releases, which are $9.99, unless marked otherwise. Kindle is available for $399 at

    The Kindle wireless delivery system, Amazon Whispernet, uses the same nationwide high-speed data network (EVDO) as advanced cellphones. Kindle customers can wirelessly shop the Kindle Store, download or receive new content -- all without a PC, Wi-Fi hot spot, or syncing.

    Books can be downloaded in less than a minute; and magazines, newspapers, and blogs are delivered to subscribers automatically. Amazon pays for the wireless connectivity for Kindle so there are no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or service commitments for customers.

    Kindle uses a high-resolution display technology called electronic paper that provides a sharp black and white screen that is as easy to read as printed paper. The screen works using ink, just like books and newspapers, but displays the ink particles electronically. It reflects light like ordinary paper and uses no backlight, eliminating the eyestrain and glare associated with other electronic displays such as computer monitors or PDA screens.

    The Kindle Store currently offers more than 90,000 books, as well as hundreds of newspapers, magazines and blogs. Customers can search, browse, buy, and download from this wide selection wirelessly from their Kindle. The same Amazon shopping experience customers are accustomed to is offered in the Kindle Store, including customer reviews, personalized recommendations, 1-Click purchasing, and everyday low prices. Additionally, Kindle customers can download and read the first chapter of most Kindle books for free.

    Kindle customers can select from the most recognized US newspapers, as well as popular magazines and journals, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, TIME and Fortune. The Kindle Store also includes top international newspapers from France, Germany, and Ireland, including Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine and The Irish Times. Subscriptions are auto-delivered wirelessly to Kindle overnight so that the latest edition is waiting for customers when they wake up. Monthly Kindle newspaper subscriptions are $5.99 to $14.99 per month, and Kindle magazines are $1.25 to $3.49 per month. All magazines and newspapers include a free two-week trial.

    The Kindle Store has over 300 blogs on topics ranging from Internet and technology to culture, lifestyle, and humor, to politics and opinion. Examples include Slashdot, TechCrunch, BoingBoing, The Onion, The Huffington Post, and ESPN blogs. Blogs are updated and downloaded wirelessly throughout the day so Kindle customers can read blogs whenever and wherever they want. Wireless delivery of blogs costs as little as $0.99 each per month and also includes a free two-week trial.

    At 10.3 ounces, Kindle is lighter and thinner than a typical paperback and fits easily in one hand, yet its built-in memory stores more than 200 titles, and hundreds more with an optional SD memory card. Additionally, a copy of every book purchased is backed up online on so that customers have the option to make room for new titles on their Kindle knowing that is storing their personal library of purchased content.

    Kindle has built-in access to The New Oxford American Dictionary, which contains over 250,000 entries and definitions, so readers can easily look up the definitions of words within their reading. Kindle customers also have seamless access to the world's most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia,, and its collection of over 2,000,000 articles.

    Customers can leave the Kindle wireless connectivity on and recharge approximately every other day, or turn wireless off and read for a week or more before recharging. Kindle fully recharges in two hours.

    Kindle has a standard-layout keyboard that makes it possible for users to search the Kindle Store, their entire library of purchased content, and Customers simply type in a word or phrase and Kindle will find every instance.

    The Kindle keyboard lets customers add annotations to text, just as they would write in the margins of a book. Customers can edit, delete and export these notes, highlight and clip key passages, and bookmark pages for future use. Additionally, Kindle automatically bookmarks the last page a customer reads of any content on their Kindle.

    Kindle is designed for long-form reading, so it is as easy to hold and use as a book. Full-length, vertical page-turning buttons are located on both sides of Kindle, allowing customers to read and turn pages comfortably from any position. The page-turning buttons are located on both the right and left sides of Kindle, which allows both left and right-handed customers to hold, turn pages, and position Kindle with one hand.

    Kindle has six adjustable font sizes to suit customers' varying reading preferences.

    Customers can take their personal documents with them on their Kindle. Customers and their contacts can e-mail Word documents and pictures directly to their unique and customizable Kindle e-mail address for $0.10 each. Kindle supports wireless delivery of unprotected Microsoft(R) Word, HTML, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files.

    When customers order a Kindle, it arrives from ready to use. There is no software to load or set up. Customers are immediately ready to shop, purchase, download and read from Kindle.

    Amazon is adding new book, periodical, and blog titles to the Kindle Store every day. Publishers and authors can submit their content and make it available to Kindle customers by using Amazon's new Digital Text Platform (DTP), a fast and easy self-publishing tool that lets anyone upload and sell their books in the Kindle Store.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Monday, November 19, 2007

    Hate touching-up your walls?
    Get a ballpoint paint pen.

    A recent study by Rubbermaid found that 63% of Americans have at least two cans of paint stored in their basement or garage. The leftover paint is kept to handle small touch-up jobs, until people move away; but 70 percent of those surveyed say they touch up scuff marks and nicks on painted surfaces just once per year, or less.

    People said they avoided the dreaded task because it's messy, and difficult to match the color. Additional frustrations are the amount of time it takes, and the difficulty of making new patches and brush marks blend with existing paint.

    Mitch Clark, a Rubbermaid marketing director, said “people would rather live with the scuff marks and nicks than tackle a messy, time-intensive touch-up project. The study showed touching up paint ranks only behind a cluttered garage, blocked gutters and dirty windows as the task people most often avoid.”

    Rubbermaid's solution is the Paint Buddy Touch-up Tool. It allows you to store paint for a fast and easy touch-up without the hassle of having to search for the right paint, pry off the rusty lid, stir the glop, and deal with the drips and mess. It's like a giant, refillable, ballpoint pen for paint.

    Paint Buddy stores your paint for easy touch-ups anytime. Just fill it with paint and it’s always available to cover scuffs, nicks and marks. When you squeeze, a valve opens to let paint flow onto the blending roller. The roller’s flocking blends the paint so there are no brush marks to reveal the touch-up. Paint Buddy allows you store leftover paint inside the tool where it stays fresh; and it’s ready to go with a couple of shakes, to easily restore a clean, just-painted look.

    When finished, simply close the valve, wash the roller or throw it away, and give Paint Buddy a quick rinse under warm water. Put back the old roller (or put in a new one) and the cap, and Paint Buddy stores the paint until you need it again.

    NOTE: Paint that's been protected inside a paint can or Paint Buddy may not be a perfect match for paint on your walls that faded or yellowed or absorbed smoke. But unless you've had a really severe color shift, or used really crappy paint, you should get a good-enough match. In my own tests, on a wall painted with Sherwin-Williams Dover White latex paint over four years ago, I could not spot the repair work from a foot away.

    TIP: If you get several Buddies, label them to show the rooms where each paint color is used, and also indicate whether the paint is flat or glossy, if you have multiple versions of the same color.

    Paint Buddy is also good for stencils, poster making and other craft projects.

    Paint Buddy has a suggested retail price of $10.99 (but is usually available for a few bucks less), and is sold at home centers, mass merchants, paint and hardware stores. You can also buy replacement rollers. For more information and touch-up tips, visit or call 1-877-748-7546.

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    Presidential Hot Line Phone

    Imagine people's reactions when your bright red phone rings, with the presidential seal on the face plate, and you pick up the handset and say, "Yes, Mr. President."

    At that moment, you are probably the second most important person in the world.

    Suitable for Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Whigs, Tories, anyone. Used in movies made by Paramount Pictures and Disney Studios.

    SADISTIC or SARCASTIC?: Send them to Al Gore, John Kerry, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, Bob Dole, Mike Dukakis, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie.

    This is not an empty shell or a fake phone. It's a real high-quality made-in-America phone, warranteed for SEVEN YEARS (nearly two presidential terms), and ready to plug in and ring. Price is $90, with FREE shipping to any destination in the 50 states. CLICK

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Save $ with Entertainment Book

    If you eat, shop, travel or go to movies, you can probably save a lot of money with the 2008 Entertainment Book.

    There are more that 160 local editions published annually, and each is loaded with thousands of dollars worth of 50% and other valuable discounts for local and national restaurants (fine, casual and fast food dining), movie theaters, car washes, grocery stores, video rental stores, dry cleaners, sporting events, attractions and more.

    Books also include a travel section, with "guaranteed best rates" at over 10,000 hotels and resorts, plus savings on car rentals and flights.

    The Entertainment book comes with a membership package which includes a membership card for use at fine dining restaurants, up to 70% savings at hotels, and more. You can register your book online for thousands of additional hotel offers, printable coupons, special online discounts and other member benefits.

    Price is $25, available at, and in some local stores, and from organizations using it for fund-raising.

    While it makes sense to buy the book for your local area, you should also get books for vacation or business travel destinations. Years ago, wife and I went to Chicago, and ordered the Chicago book in advance. In just one shopping center, we saved enough money on lunch, a movie, and after-movie ice cream to more than pay for the cost of the book.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Wireless weatherproof remote control for iPod

    If you walk or run in the rain, or like to listen to music or talking books or podcasts while putting out fires, biking, rafting or snowboarding, the Monster iEZClick should impress you.

    It commands your iPod without wires. You keep your iPod tucked safely away when its cold, wet or messy, and still have full control.

    The Monster iEZClick features a rugged weather-resistant body that you can wear on your belt or bag with the included clip; or wrap it on your wrist or handlebars with the elastic Velcro strap. The oversized buttons give you no-look control and are easy to use even with gloves on. It's compatible with iPhones and iPods. Suggested retail price is $69.95.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    Great sugar-free sodas

    People who need to shun sugar for medical reasons, or just want to cut down on calories, have lots of choices.

    Years ago, Tab and Diet Rite Cola and most other "diet" sodas tasted like crap, but now there are many that taste quite good. Some people who aren't concerned about sugar say they prefer them to the "normal" versions.

    Best of the diet colas is Caffeine-Free Diet Coke. I like it better than regular diet Coke, and its distribution has been growing to include the self-service soda fountains at various restaurants, including Five Guys.

    If you're a ginger-ale drinker, Diet Canada Dry is a superb substitute for the sugary version.

    Other winners are Diet Cherry 7up, Dr. Brown's Diet Cream , Dr. Brown's Diet Black Cherry, Faygo Diet Raspberry Creme, Polar Diet Black Cherry, Foxon Park Diet White Birch Beer.

    Unfortunately, I have not yet discovered an acceptable diet root beer.
    I can't guarantee that all of the mentioned sodas are 100% sugar-free, and they may contain high amounts of sodium or other ingredients that are bad for you. Read the labels, and check with your doctor.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    Buy an $800 GPS, get a free XM radio

    You can get a freebie XM Satellite Radio Mini-Tuner and antenna with the purchase of a new Jensen or Advent GPS receiver.

    The promotion, running through Dec. 29, applies to the Jensen NVXM1000 Rock ‘N’ Road and Advent ADV800XM. Each uses the removable Mini-Tuner receiver to provide XM service.

    The Jensen model is available at, Bestbuy and Circuit City with a free XM Mini-Tuner and antenna, typically priced at $30 each. The Advent unit is sold by some GM, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai dealers, also with the free XM hardware.

    The Jensen Rock ‘N’ Road has a built-in 8GB hard drive, MP3/PMP player, 4-inch screen, maps of the US and Canada, and more than 11 million points of interest. It also has built-in rechargeable batteries and an FM modulator, and accepts an optional rear observation camera. (info from TWICE & Jensen)

    Friday, November 9, 2007

    Second chance to see"Planet Earth"

    If you missed your chance to see Discovery Channel's Planet Earth series last Spring, take advantage of the reruns starting Sunday night.

    The photography is absolutely breathtaking -- and lets you see our planet and its human and non-human inhabitants as never before. It's also one helluva demo for a hi-def TV.

    The series was co-produced by Discovery Channel and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation in association with the CBC, and was described by its makers as "the definitive look at the diversity of our planet". It was also the first of its kind to be filmed almost entirely in high-definition format. The series was nominated for the Pioneer Audience Award for Best Programme at the 2007 BAFTA TV awards.

    The programs were made over five years by producer Alastair Fothergill and his team, who were responsible for the successful The Blue Planet(2001). The British narrator, David Attenborough, worked on them while also embarking on the last in his Life series, Life in Cold Blood, which is due for completion in 2008. (The American version is narrated by Sigourney Weaver.)

    The music was composed by George Fenton. Filming involved visiting 62 countries and 204 different locations. Planet Earth had a production budget of around $25 million.

    There are 11 episodes. The first gives a general overview of the series, by describing each of the environments that are looked at in more detail in later programmes. However, the method used to communicate this — a "journey" from one end of the Earth to the other — serves to demonstrate the rich variation that exists on the planet as a whole.

    Each of the remaining 10 episodes focuses on one of the Earth's natural habitats and examines its indigenous features, together with the breadth of fauna found there. Several animals and locations are shown that have hitherto never been filmed, using innovative camera technology. Previously unseen animal behavior includes: wolves chasing caribou observed from above; snow leopards pursuing markhor in the Himalayas; grizzly bear cubs leaving their den for the first time; crab-eating macaques that swim underwater; and over a hundred sailfish hunting en masse.

    Some sequences, particularly in episodes 6–11, have potentially disturbing content, and may not be suitable for young children. Examples include a lone elephant being brought down by lions, and a polar bear unsuccessfully attacking a walrus colony and subsequently being overcome by hunger, exhaustion and injury. (info from Wikipedia)

    GPS warning

    The Global Positioning System (GPS) uses a network of orbiting satellites that transmit microwave radio signals, enabling a military or civilian GPS receiver to determine location, speed and direction.

    A hand-held or automotive GPS receiver is often pre-programmed with maps and addresses, and can provide step-by-step travel directions. They are easier to use than bulky paper maps, and often more reliable than directions from a gas pump attendant.


    (1) A GPS does not know what kind of vehicle you are driving, and may send a tall truck or travel trailer under a low bridge, with disasterous results. Read the road signs.

    (2) A GPS probably doesn't know about delays due to construction, weather, or accidents, and may send you in a direction that will waste time, not save time. Check traffic and travel reports on your radio, and watch the flashing signs on the highway.

    (3) A GPS map may not provide all the details you need. In September, your humble editor wasted hours retracing many miles along the coast of North Carolina, after discovering that what seemed like a bridge on the screen, was really a ferry route -- and the last boat had left before he got to the dock. Check paper maps and travel books.

    Thursday, November 8, 2007

    HP Home Server

    Earlier this week Hewlett-Packard announced that its two MediaSmart home servers, the first devices based on Microsoft’s Home Server operating system, are available for pre-order from HP dealers and the HP website. The first units will be available exclusively through e-tailers. Servers ordered now are expected to be delivered later this month. CompUSA will be the first chain to sell the servers in store, with the units coming in later in November.

    Two models will be available, one with 500GB of storage for $599 and one with 1TB for $749. Each ships with four hard drive bays allowing you to add storage as needed, along with software applications that help you set up a personal website and to organize and display photos and music. About 35 other software applications are now available for use on the servers, and Microsoft is actively recruiting developers to create more.

    The servers were originally scheduled to ship in September, but there were delays in finalizing the operating system.

    HP will not remain the exclusive Home Server supplier for long. About a dozen other manufacturers, including Gateway, Medio and Velocity Micro are expected to market devices based on Home Server in the coming months. (info from TWICE)
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    Make your TV disappear

    Modern LCD and plasma TVs don't take up much floor space, but if your interior designer (or significant other) has decreed that TVs should not be seen when not in use, or if you want a TV at the foot of your bed, consider a TV lift mechanism from Lift-Tech.

    The company has a variety of models that can be built into cabinets and will handle screens up to 61 inches diagonal and weighing up to 300 pounds. They also have lifts for thicker TVs, and even flip-down and slide-down ceiling mounts.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Tuesday, November 6, 2007

    Sony Bravia HDTV is so good, I was willing to watch football without being paid

    The guys from Tweeter, and my Woofer.

    I'm not much of a sports fan, and I particularly can't stand watching football.

    The endless stop-go-stop-go sequences drive me NUTS. I have NEVER watched a Stupid Bowl game. I missed the famous Apple Macintosh commercial in 1984, and didn't see Janet Jackson's famous nipple in 2004.

    Years ago, if forced to answer a Trivial Pursuit game question about football players, I'd always say "Joe Namath," because he was the only football player I could name. (However, one time, I actually won a game by answering "Joe Namath.")

    Each summer, I get a call from the folks at DirecTV, attempting to bribe me with a freebie "NFL Season Pass" if I'll re-activate my lapsed satellite TV service subscription. I tell them that free is not good enough, and they'll have to pay me at least $500 per game to get me to watch.

    Anyway, I recently decided to replace the 65-inch Mitsubishi monster-size rear-projection HDTV that has been the centerpiece of our "movie room" for six years. It still works fine, but (a) I wanted 1080p resolution for watching Blu-ray DVDs, (b) I wanted to reclaim some floor space, and (c) -- most importantly -- I wanted to have a TV that I could watch during the daytime, and with lights on, without glare on the screen that wiped out the video image.

    Plasma TVs are wonderful, but their shiny reflective glass screens make them inappropriate for my application. I heard that current Panasonic plasmas have solved the glare problem. They haven't.

    I could have saved big bucks by getting one of the newer rear-projection HDTVs from Mitsu or Sony or Samsung. They're much thinner than my six-year-old Mitsu, but still not hang-on-the-wall thin, and I've heard bad things about reliability.

    That leaves LCD.

    I have a Sharp LCD HDTV in my den that I like a lot, and a Philips LCD HDTV in my home office that I love.

    So the obvious solution was to replace the 65" Mitsu RPTV with a 65" LCDTV, right?


    Apparently, there is only one 65" LCD available -- from Sharp. The Sharp in my den at home, and the one at work, are excellent sets. Unfortunately, Sharp has miserable distribution for their 65" LCD.

    There's no dealer here in Connecticut; and Sharp's moronic website recommended that I visit some "nearby" dealers about 30 miles away, on Long Island. Unfortunately, about 20 of those 30 miles are water.

    To visit the recommended stores, I'd have to sprout wings or fins to cross Long Island Sound, or drive about six hours round-trip, or pay $122 to take the ferry. No thanks.

    The not-very-Sharp website even expects potential customers in Massachusetts to shop on Long Island. IDIOTS!

    Sony makes a 70" LCD, but its THIRTY-THREE THOUSAND DOLLAR price was a bit too much. (Actually, it was much too much.)

    So, we were faced with a dilemma.

    After watching a 65" screen for six years, could we settle for a puny 52-incher?

    I would have preferred to find out by visiting my nearby Tweeter -- where I had bought the Mitsu and lots of wonderful other Big Boys' Toys; but my local store had closed recently after the chain's near-fatal over-expansion. Tweeter's prices are not the lowest, but they have the good stuff, their people are knowledgeable and honest, their customer service is spectacular, and their 5% "AVID" membership discount and frequent no-interest payment plans make their prices palatable. (They have a 30-day price protection plan, but it doesn't include online competitors.)

    But, with the former local Tweeter now serving as a Halloween costume store, I made a few fruitless and frustrating visits to Circus City and Worst Buy, where I was ignored and lied to and treated like an idiot.

    Wife and I decided to hit the road, and we drove 45 minutes to the Tweeter store in Danbury CT, where I was welcomed by store manager Bill Bender, and by Jim Brower -- a fellow refugee from the Milford Tweeter.

    We looked at a lot of TVs, confirmed that LCD was the way to go, and figured that we could live with the pint-size, puny, wussy, teeny-tiny, itty-bitty 52-inch screen -- if we moved our movie room furniture closer to the screen.

    There were lots of excellent TVs at Tweeter, but wife and I -- who seldom agree on anything -- both preferred the new Sony 52" Bravia XBR "5" model over everything else.

    The video image was absolutely spectacular, almost three-dimensional. I was as awe-struck, as when I first saw a Panasonic plasma screen years earlier. Styling, as expected from Sony, was way cool, with a thin silver frame that seemed to float around the TV. The remote control was sensible, and complete -- without being over-buttoned. I really liked the logical and versatile Xross Media Bar setup screen. The Sony logo at the bottom of the set glows in a cool blue (unless you program it to stay off).

    We started to do the deal, and found that the price had just dropped $500 to $4300, AND we could have 18 months to pay with no interest! Within a few days, Jim Brower was at my house to make some pre-installation measurements, and we scheduled delivery and installation. Years ago, I attempted self-installation of a 32" Sony plasma on my bedroom wall -- and had to cry for help -- so I was willing to pay a few hundred bucks for a professional Tweeterized installation.

    The Bravia arrived Saturday morning, and installation was scheduled for yesterday. I stared at the monster size box on my floor for about five minutes, then sliced the packing straps, un-boxed the treasure, and quickly had it connected and working, on my floor.

    With some help from able-bodied nephew Joe, I raised it onto a strong wooden chair I grabbed from the kitchen, and started a marathon TV session. It was really strange to be watching movies in our "movie room" at noontime with window blinds open and no reflections or glare on the screen; and to watch the 11PM news without yelling to my wife to turn off the damn kitchen light.

    Joe asked if he could watch an "important" football game at 4PM on Sunday. I ABSOLUTELY HATE Sunday football games (even though I don't watch them), because they screw up the TV schedule, delaying 60 Minutes and everything that follows it on CBS. The only solution is to program a TiVo box to record from 7PM to midnight. I hate football, but I like Joe, so I gave in.

    I planned to stay far away from my new toy until the game ended, but Joe pursuaded me to watch for a while. He watched the game. I watched the television.

    We were both blown away by the bright and vivid Kodachrome-like colors, and the razor-sharpness. There was none of the blur that the plasma-sellers accuse the LCD-makers of. Joe pointed out details he had never been able to see on the 65" Mitsu. At one point, we both thought, "Wow, I can actually see the pig hairs on the football," but Joe said the words a second before I could sputter them out.

    Apparently it was a really good game. However, if DirecTV paid me $500 -- or if anyone paid me $50,000 -- I couldn't tell you which teams were playing. I also could not tell you who was playing basketball in Madison Square Garden, when Joe switched channels during commercials.

    Joe explained some of the nuances of both games, that I found interesting, but not interesting enough to get me to watch voluntarily. I was, however, interested in the broadcast technology. Years ago, instant replay was a big deal, but now the CBS wizards can put a graphic image on the fake grass in the stadium UNDER THE FEET OF THE PLAYERS.

    Joe was amazed at the sound quality coming from my home theater system -- until I pointed out that he was just hearing the Sony's built-in speakers, not not my hundreds of watts of surround sound.

    I turned on my heavy-weight receiver (Sony, too) and the sound was soon all around, flowing from my Boston Acoustics black boxes. After a few minutes, I realized that my subwoofer was disconnected from when I was moving furniture. I plugged it in, and we were soon subjected to an endless series of "WOOOOMPFs" when CBS put a statistical graphic in the center of the screen. It was annoying, but undeniably impressive.

    Yesterday, right on schedule, Tweeter guys Steve and Dominick showed up to hang the new Bravia on the wall, and connect the mass of cables that I had snaked upward from the floor. They took off their shoes, knew what they were doing, had all the right tools, spread a padded blanket on my floor, and were very nice to my dog, Hunter. Everything was perfect.

    Last night, instead of going upstairs after supper, wife, dog and I stayed downstairs for the first time in a long time. Life is good, and a Sony Bravia XBR 5 makes it better.

    We had been planning to get an inexpensive Vizio or Olevia LCD HDTV for our guest room; but now I think we'll pay the extra bucks for another Sony. Our guests deserve the best.

    I tried selling the 65" Mitsu for $1500 on Craig's List, but my only offer was a swap for a pair of plane tickets. We kept the Mitsu, and it got moved to the basement "game room" where it replaced a nine-year-old Panasonic 32-inch CRT TV. Last night, Cynical Cousin Dave and his buddy Anthony took away the Panny to give it a second life.

    I still have a half day of work ahead of me, making holes in the wall, snaking cables, closing up holes in the wall, and painting where the holes had been. I want to upgrade the Sony receiver to the new STR-DA4300ES (due in about a week), and upgrade my speakers from 5.1 channels to 7.1 channels. Perfection is close.

    We now have five hi-def TVs in the house, and four home theater setups; and will soon add HDTV number-six.



    Whoever dies with the most toys, wins!

    CLICK for TV details at CLICK for Tweeter.
    Update, 26 DEC 07:
    The 32-inch Sony plasma HDTV in our bedroom had started to look awfully small. Today, the Tweeter Team replaced it with a glorious new 46-inch Sony XBR5 LCD set, and moved the puny 32-incher down the hall to our guest room. Will we get a seventh HDTV? Hmmm.