Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New & improved Hi-Def camcorders
coming from Panasonic

Panasonic has announced its second generation models of its AVCHD-based high-definition camcorders, boosting the resolution to 1920 by 1080. The HDC-SD5 and SX5 are both 3CCD models with 30 percent more pixels than the prior 1440 by 1080 AVCHD models they replace (the SD1 and DX1).

The camcorders, due in September, feature Leica lenses and 10x optical zooms with a new optical image stabilization system that the company says offers eight times the stabilization compensation of the previous system. Both models are EZ Sync compatible and feature a new wide-angle 2.7-inch LCD screen with a two-level power function to boost brightness for outdoor viewing.

The HDC-SD5, for a suggested $999 retail price, records video to SDHC memory cards. It features a new USB Host function that lets the camcorder connect to the company’s new DVD burner (the VW-BN1 for a suggested $199) to burn HD video to traditional DVDs for playback on select Blu-ray Disc players. Panasonic says it is the world's smallest palm-style 3CCD full-HD camcorder, measuring just 2.6 x 2.6 x 5.3 inches.

The $899-suggested HDC-SX5 is a hybrid model that records to both SDHC and standard DVD discs. According to Panasonic, an 8GB SDHC card can store up to 180 minutes of video while a 3-inch DVD-R dual layer can hold an hour of HD video in HE mode (6MBps) for a total of 240 minutes of HD footage. It can transfer video from an SDHC card to a DVD internally or record standard-definition video to DVD disc in MPEG2 format.

To complement both models, Panasonic also launched an 8GB SDHC card with a Class 6 speed rating, to sell for about $159.

Both camcorders have a several new features, including a new processing engine to reduce power consumption, and prerecording, which captures three seconds worth of video to buffer memory prior to the start of recording. A new intelligent contrast control adjusts contrast by measuring ambient light in a scene.

The camcorders will be packaged with software for editing HD video and saving it in either AVCHD format or DVD-video format. (info from Panasonic and TWICE)

Monday, July 30, 2007

D'oh..n't miss Simpson's movie

90 minutes of giant-screen Simpsons is more than three times as good as 30 minutes of TV-size Simpsons. The movie is 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.

Don't leave until the very end, and -- if you're a fan -- figure to see it at least twice. CLICK for more. (some info from Wikipedia)

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I'm taking a few days off. I'll be back next week.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Outdoor phone housing

If your al fresco communications needs are met by a cordless or cellular phone, read no further.

But if you have a need for a permanently installed outdoor phone at a tennis court, swimming pool, guard shack, security gate, parking lot, outdoor stage, camp ground, airport, amusement park, mobile home park, etc., you're in the right place.

This enclosure is ideally suited for outdoor use, or any environment where a protective housing is required.

It's constructed of durable glass-reinforced polyester, resistant to weather and corrosive chemicals. The hinged door provides a positive seal when the door is closed and securely latched. Color is basic neutral gray. It has sturdy mounting flanges for easy attachment to a flat or curved surface, and has a standard modular wall jack to accommodate most wall phones.

It's also available with an optional locking door, if you're concerned that your phone may take a walk. CLICK to order from RedHotPhones.com.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Much-less-expensive Hi-Def TiVo coming

When TiVo introduced a high-definition digital video recorder last fall, they touted the long-awaited set-top box as a best-in-class product with a price tag to match.

But in a market already filled with lower-priced offerings from cable companies and other rivals, TiVo’s $800 Series3 HD Digital Media Recorder had a hard time winning customers, even as consumers opened their wallets for high-definition televisions.

Some dealers sell it for about $600, and TiVo offered a $200 rebate last month. (That's when I bought two to replace crappy Cablevision HD DVRs.)

This year, TiVo hopes to widen its hi-def appeal with a more affordable model: the TiVo HD DVR for $299.99. The company will begin taking pre-orders for it on its Website today, and units are expected to hit retail outlets by early August.

The TiVo HD DVR has many of the same technical features as its higher-priced Series3 cousin. It has two tuners, so you can record two different shows in HD at the same time while watching a third, prerecorded show. It also has two built-in slots for CableCARD, allowing access digital programming without a cable box.

The new model will have a smaller hard drive — 160 gigabytes instead of 250 GB, storing about 20 hours of high-definition programming or up to 180 hours of standard programming. It has a simpler remote control, less deluxe cosmetics, and unlike the $800 box, is not THX certified. (some info from The Associated Press)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Save big bucks on terrorists' tools

I love the Leatherman Micra miniature multi-tool (CLICK for review from March '07). I keep one on my keychain, and seldom go anywhere without it.

Unfortunately, on a recent flight to Texas, I forgot to remove it from my keychain, and forfeited it a Transportation Security Agency enforcer at the airport.

I wanted to replace it as soon as I got home, but was disappointed to find that my nearby Costco no longer sold the Micra. On a whim, I checked eBay, and found that I could get one for $30 brand new, or get five of them for $25, not new. Even larger quantities were available for as little as two bucks each.

Apparently, lots of Micras, box cutters, Leathermen, Swiss Army Knives, chain saws and assorted other potential instruments of destruction are confiscated from passengers and sold by the government, and then re-sold to the public at a small fraction of their original prices.

The five I bought were all in excellent conditions, but I gave them an alcohol wipe-down in an effort to neutralize the previous owners' biological samples before using the tweezer or finger nail cleaner on my own body.

If you get one, scratch your initials on it. If the Feds grab it, you may get lucky and find it in a batch you buy through eBay.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Want world's fasted web access?
Go to the land of Smörgåsbord and SAAB

She is a latecomer to the information superhighway, but 75-year-old Sigbritt Lothberg is now cruising the Internet with a dizzying speed. Lothberg's 40 gigabits-per-second fiber-optic connection in Karlstad, Sweden is believed to be the fastest residential uplink in the world.

In less than 2 seconds, Lothberg can download a full-length movie on her home computer - many thousand times faster than most residential connections. The speed is reached using a new modulation technique that allows the sending of data between two routers placed up to 1,240 miles apart, without any transponders in between.

Peter Lothberg, who is a networking expert, said he wanted to demonstrate the new technology while providing a computer link for his mother. "She's a brand-new Internet user," Lothberg said. "She didn't even have a computer before."

His mother isn't exactly making the most of her high-speed connection. She only uses it to read online newspapers. (info from The Associated Press)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

$200 Sony camcorder is aimed at web use

Courting the growing number of YouTubers and other video Website fans, Sony will soon debut its GC1 "Net-Sharing Cam," a flash-based video recorder with built-in software for uploading to video sites and blogs. The pocket-size camcorder measures 1.2 by 4.1 by 2.3 inches and weighs about 5 ounces. It should be available in September at about $200.

The GC1 won’t carry Sony’s traditional Handycam brand to differentiate it from the traditional camcorder category. The Memory Stick-based device records MPEG-4 video at VGA resolution at 30 fps and also takes 5-megapixel still images. A dedicated “sharemark” button lets users tag video for uploading after they’ve been transferred to a computer.

The camcorder is loaded with PMP Portable software, which runs when the GC1 is connected to a computer. Tagged videos are then automatically uploaded to the Web and users can program the software to upload videos to multiple video sites or personal blogs.

The camera will also ship with Picture Motion Browser desktop software for video editing and additional software for turning the Net-sharing Cam into a Web camera. It has a 2.4-inch color LCD, built-in flash, fixed focal length lens with a 4x digital zoom and a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery for about 90 minutes of recording. (info from TWICE) (This is a preview, not a review)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

New Blackberry works on Wi-Fi, has GPS

Research In Motion yesterday announced the BlackBerry 8820 smartphone, which provides both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity and built-in GPS, plus RIM's thinnest smartphone design with a full QWERTY keyboard.

It has a large and bright 320 by 240 display, trackball navigation, media player enhancements, and a microSD / microSDHC (microSD High Capacity) expandable memory slot that can support current and future generations of microSD memory cards up to 32GB.

The BlackBerry 8820 is the first dual-mode BlackBerry handset, combining EDGE/GPRS/GSM cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity for data access and voice support through UMA (unlicensed mobile access) for fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) service offerings from various wireless carriers around the world with the added ability to stay connected via Wi-Fi at home, through hotspots and corporate campuses.

To meet various security requirements, the BlackBerry 8820 is compliant with Wi-Fi security protocols including WEP (Wireless Equivalency Protocol), WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) and WPA2, as well as Cisco Compatible Extensions for simple, secure connectivity with Cisco wireless solutions. For enterprises that require Wi-Fi users to access the corporate network through a VPN (Virtual Private Network), the BlackBerry 8820 includes IPSec-based software that supports the most commonly deployed VPN gateways from vendors including Cisco, Check Point and others.

The BlackBerry 8820 also supports UMA, enabling wireless carriers to offer a fixed-mobile convergence service for both business and home use. With a UMA solution in place, the BlackBerry 8820 can also seamlessly switch voice calls between a wireless carrier's cellular network and a Wi-Fi network.

The BlackBerry 8820 is a quad-band GSM/GPRS and EDGE-enabled smartphone that provides global wireless voice and data capabilities with best-in-class performance. The BlackBerry 8820 features include:

• World Class Phone – The BlackBerry 8820 is a world-class mobile phone with advanced noise cancellation for enhanced audio performance and easy-to-use phone features including Speaker Independent Voice Recognition for Voice Activated Dialing (VAD), smart dialing, conference calling, speed dialing and call forwarding, as well as dedicated "send", "end" and "mute" keys. It features a high quality, low-distortion speakerphone and Bluetooth® 2.0 for use with hands-free headsets, car kits and other Bluetooth peripherals. Support for polyphonic, mp3 and MIDI ringtones is also included.

• Built-in GPS – Through its built-in GPS, the BlackBerry 8820 can pinpoint its location and provide "out-of-the-box" support for a wide variety of location-based applications and services, including BlackBerry® Maps.

• microSD / microSDHC Expansion Memory – The BlackBerry 8820 includes a microSD expansion memory slot that can support both microSD (up to 2GB) and microSDHC (4GB to 32GB) memory cards. 4GB memory cards are available today, and 8GB cards are expected to be available later this year.

• BlackBerry Services – The BlackBerry 8820 can operate with BlackBerry Internet Service, giving users the ability to manage up to 10 supported personal and corporate email accounts, as well as BlackBerry Enterprise Server, enabling advanced security and IT administration features within IBM® Lotus® Domino®, Microsoft® Exchange and Novell® GroupWise® environments.

• Application Support – The BlackBerry wireless platform gives customers the capability to deploy a variety of applications. Thousands of applications and business solutions from third party software providers can further extend the BlackBerry platform to support business needs such as CRM, sales force automation, field services, business intelligence, supply chain management and continuity of operations, as well as a broad range of industry-specific applications for sectors including health care, law enforcement, government, financial services, insurance, pharmaceutical, professional services, real estate, manufacturing, wholesale and retail.

• Multimedia – The BlackBerry 8820 supports the Bluetooth stereo audio profile (A2DP/AVRCP) and comes with the most recent BlackBerry media player refinements, allowing users to play music and search by simply typing the title, genre, artist or album name. Videos can also be played in full screen mode. The BlackBerry 8820 comes with a new and powerful desktop media manager – the Roxio® Media Manager for BlackBerry® – which was developed with Sonic® and based on the award-winning Roxio Easy Media Creator® 9. The desktop media manager software introduces a new level of simplicity by allowing users to easily search for media files on their computer, view and organize them, create MP3 music files from CDs, add audio tags, create playlists and automatically copy or convert pictures, music and videos for optimal playback on the smartphone.

• Removable Battery: The BlackBerry 8820 comes with an ultra-thin, high-capacity, removable battery.

• Accessories: The BlackBerry 8820 comes with a headset, travel charger, USB cable and holster

The BlackBerry 8820 will be available from select wireless carriers around the world in the coming weeks. AT&T is scheduled to launch the BlackBerry 8820 in the US. CLICK for more. (This is a preview, not a review.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Super Blu-ray deal at Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart is selling Sony's new BDP-S300 Blu-ray High-Def DVD player for $488, a slight discount from its suggested retail price of $499; but the store is including two free Blu-ray movies in the box, worth nearly 80 bucks at list prices.

You get Gridiron Gang, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (teenagers at a juvenile detention center gain self-esteem by playing football) and the animated Open Season (animals defend themselves against hunters).

Coupled with a Blu-ray industry promotional offer of five free Blu-ray movies, which can be redeemed via the mail, you can get seven free Blu-ray movies by purchasing the Sony player at Wal-Mart.

The $488 price -- and seven free Blu-ray movies -- can be obtained at either the website or at Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart says that the offer is limited and good while supplies last. (info from TV Predictions and IMDb)

Monday, July 16, 2007

White Castle microwaveable burgers

The White Castle chain has never achieved the mass of McDonald's, Burger King or Wendy's. But it’s older than the others, was the first burger chain to sell a million burgers, and a billion burgers, and has very loyal fans; so it must be doing something right. Maybe several things.

The company was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas, when entrepreneur Billy Ingram partnered with cook Walter Anderson, and was an early example of successful fast food marketing. While the White Castle company is based on four earlier hamburger stands owned by Anderson, the name was chosen by Ingram to distinguish it from other, less healthy fast food outlets that many consumers were reluctant to visit. "White" was chosen for its connotations of purity, while "Castle" was selected to suggest stability and permanence. At the time, Americans were hesitant to eat ground beef after Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle publicized poor sanitation practices in the meat packing industry.

Ingram and Anderson set out to change the public's perception of the cleanliness of the industry. They constructed small buildings with hygienically white exteriors and stainless steel interiors, and outfitted their employees with spotless uniforms. Their first restaurants in Wichita were a success, and the company branched out into other midwestern markets, starting in 1923 with Omaha. White Castle Building No. 8, built in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1936, was an example of the chain's prefabricated porcelain buildings. It measured 28 feet by 28 feet and was modeled after the Chicago Water Tower, with octagonal buttresses, crenellated towers, and a parapet wall.

Anderson had developed an efficient method for cooking hamburgers, using freshly ground beef and fresh onions. The ground beef was formed into balls by machine, eighteen to a pound. The balls were placed upon a hot grill and topped with a handful of fresh thinly shredded onion. Then they were flipped so that the onion was under the ball. The ball was then squashed down, turning the ball into a very thin patty. The bottom of the bun was then placed atop the cooking patty with the other half of the bun on top of that so that the juices and steam from the beef and the onion would permeate the bun.

After grilling, a slice of dill pickle was inserted before serving. Management decreed that any additives, such as ketchup or mustard, were to be added by the customer. Anderson's method is not in use by the chain today, having changed when the company switched from using fresh beef and fresh onion to small, frozen square patties which are cooked atop a bed of dehydrated onions laid out on a grill. The heat and steam rises up from the grill, through the onions. In 1949, five holes in the patty were added to facilitate quick and thorough cooking. The very thin patties are not flipped throughout this process. This "steam grilled" method is unique among major fast food restaurants.

Since fast food was unknown in the United States in that era, there was no infrastructure to support the business, as is common with today's chain restaurants. The company established centralized bakeries and warehouses, and subsidiaries to make paper products, and the movable, prefabricated structures that could be assembled at any White Castle restaurant site.

Ingram's business savvy, argues David Gerard Hogan in Selling 'Em By the Sack: White Castle and the Creation of American Food, not only was responsible for White Castle's success, but for the popularization of the hamburger. For example, to counter charges that burgers were not healthy, Ingram paid several young men to dress as doctors and eat White Castle hamburgers, the idea being that if doctors ate it, it had to be healthy. This same logic led Ingram to fund a study in which a University of Minnesota medical student went on a ten-week diet of nothing but White Castles and water. The experiment, though dubious, yielded results and increased legitimacy for the hamburger in general and White Castle in particular.

In 1933, Ingram bought out Anderson, and the following year the company moved corporate headquarters to Columbus, Ohio. The company remains privately held and its US restaurants are company-owned. Co-founder Billy Ingram was followed as head of the firm by his son E. W. Ingram, Jr. and grandson E. W. Ingram, III.

In concurrence with its 80th anniversary in 2001, White Castle started its Cravers' Hall of Fame. "Cravers" are inducted annually based on stories that are submitted about them. Between five and ten stories have been chosen each year with a grand total of 56 stories being selected through the 2006 induction class. That is less than 1% of the total stories submitted since the inception of the Cravers' Hall of Fame.

"The Crave" is depicted in radio and television spots as a sort of addiction to White Castle burgers. An individual afflicted by "The Crave" can only be satisfied by slyders. While "The Crave" marketing strategy is presented in a light hearted, tongue-in-cheek fashion, many loyal patrons of the restaurant contend they do become afflicted by "The Crave" from time to time.

White Castle's innovative approach to preparing and presenting its hamburgers created a loyal following that, over time, developed slang used today by patrons and restaurant staff to communicate an order or otherwise discuss White Castle products. For example, a customer ordering a "sack of six with both", will receive six burgers with both ketchup and mustard (this is also a reference to White Castle's habit of keeping three bottles of condiments at hand for the burgers: ketchup, mustard, and a combination of the two—or "both"). (This does not apply everywhere because restaurants in many regions only serve the burgers plain, allowing customers to add condiments.) In 1994 White Castle was granted a U.S. trademark on the term "slyders" which was a common nickname for its product. An individual who consumes six or more "slyders" in one sitting earns the distinction "slyder pilot."

It is argued that the size, construction and cooking method of White Castle burgers is unique among fast food products. Therefore, it is conceivable that "The Crave", in fact, is a specific yearning for the attributes possessed only by slyders. Another possible explanation is that affordability and convenience of White Castle burgers makes it an easy choice.

White Castle has fewer than 400 restaurants in the US, compared to umpteen gazillion Mickey Dee’s; but you can buy frozen boxes of slyders in supermarkets, for heating in your microwave oven. You can go from freezer to nuker to mouth in less than a minute. That’s FAST food.

some info from Wikipedia

Friday, July 13, 2007

Aquada amphib goes 110 on dry land, and pulls water-skiers

In World War 2, Volkswagen produced 15,000 Schwimmwagens that could "drive" across rivers when their propellers were lowered.

In the 1960s, Schwimmwagen designer Hanns Trippel developed a civilian version. The Amphicar was a boat-car hybrid that could seat four and make a quck transition from highway to beach to lake. It had mediocre performance on land and water, but did provide a high degree of fun. An Amphicar is featured in the James Coburn movie The President's Analyst. John Lennon may have had one on his estate, Lyndon Johnson had an Amphicar at his ranch, Jimmy Carter drove one, and Madonna drove one in a 1985 video.

Technology has advanced considerably since 1961, and a new company, Gibbs Technology, is about to launch an amphib for the 21st century. It appears to be a much better car, and much better boat, than the Amphicar was.

Unlike the Schwimmwagen and Amphicar, which used the front wheels for in-water steering and a propeller for propulsion, the new Gibbs Aquada has retractable wheels, which greatly improves boat-ability. Off-the-road propulsion and steering are done via a water jet with 2,600 pounds of thrust, not a propeller. Aquada uses a 250-horsepower V6 engine. Top speed is 35 mph in the water (fast enough for water skiers) and 110 mph on the road (fast enough for speeding tickets.

The driver sits front-and-enter, with two passenger seats in the second row. There are no doors -- you climb over the side to get inside. Transition between wet and dry takes less than 10 seconds. The Aquads senses when it's on dry land, and won't allow the wheels to retract unless it's in the water.

Gibbs envisions the Aquada selling in much stronger volumes than any amphibious car to have preceded it. After spending more than $100 million and one million hours of development work over the last decade, the company has determined sales could reach over 100,000 Aquadas annually in five years' time. Gibbs also hopes to license its technology to other manufacturers. The engineering achievements are impressive; and even dealing with both maritime and highway laws was a major job. For example, boats need white lights facing the rear but cars can' have them.

In 2004, an Aquada prototype set the record for the fastest crossing of the English Channel, accomplishing the feat in less than two hours. Production of the Aquada is slated for late 2008 with the earliest examples arriving in early 2009. It will sell for about $85,000. Gibbs is also developing a military version, the Humndinga; and Quadski, a high-speed amphibian Quadbike/All Terrain Vehicle. CLICK for more. (info from Gibbs, Wikipedia, Motor Trend)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Panasonic offers lots of color choices in new phones, but it's not a new idea.

Panasonic has just introduced new cordless phone models that are available in a dozen colors.

“It’s taken 30 years to introduce any color you want in phones,” said Bill Taylor, Panasonic Communications Solutions Group vice president.” Panasonic used to claim to be "just slightly ahead of our time," but GTE had the same idea 60 years ago.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

TiVo users can get movies from Amazon

Users of TiVo digital video recorders will be able to order movies from Amazon.com directly from their TiVo boxes starting today.

The two companies partnered in March to deliver Amazon's Unbox download service to TiVo DVRs, but the feature required customers to place their orders on a computer through Amazon's Website. The new "Buy on TV" feature allows TiVo users to search Amazon's catalog and rent or purchase videos using their TiVo's remote control. The feature works for owners of TiVo Series2 and Series3 broadband-connected DVRs. (info from The Associated Press)

Monday, July 9, 2007

Phones for fat heads, or weight lifters

Telematrix makes a variety of modern phones for offices and hotel rooms, and even a Sopranos episode. The company also makes a couple of retro-looking phones for hotel lobbies, and other ostentatious locations. I see no point in debating esthetics, and the phones work perfectly fine and have long five-year warranties -- but there is one questionable design quirk.

The handset is larger and heavier than most handsets, and you may find these phones are more for looking at, than talking on. (See comparison with standard handset at right.)

On the other hand, if your head is as big as Rush Limbaugh's, if you value form over function, or want to build your muscles when you talk, or want a bedside communications device that can also be used for defense against nocturnal invaders, you can CLICK to order.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Something new in wrench design at Sears

The new Craftsman Cross-Force combination wrenches are made with one end rotated 90 degrees. This means you can comfortabley push against a wider, flat surface to generate more rotational force for tightening or loosening. Lots of sizes are available, individually or in sets, in both chrome and blue titanium finish. At Sears stores or Sears.com.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Finally, something good from a corporate merger: Dymo Rhino cable labeler

Corporate mergers and acquisitions seem to accomplish a lot less than expected. The often-touted synergy seldom occurs, and the most common results of a combination are waste, disappointment and unemployment.

We're pleased to note one corporate combo that accomplished something useful:

Dymo -- a company long-known for hand-operated label makers, and CoStar -- a company that has made great desk-top electronic label printers, and Sanford -- a company that makes terrific Sharpie permanent marking pens, are all parts of Newell Rubbermaid.

Newell's other adopted children make everything from Rubbermaid waste baskets and garage cabinets to Paper Mate pens, BernzOmatic torches, ViseGrip pliers, Calphalon cook's tools, Graco baby strollers and Goody hair styling gadgets. Next year they'll probably be making Hebrew National hotdogs and Sony TVs.

Anyway, one result of this mega-conglomeration is the Rhino 101, a compact label maker/dispenser that lets you write whatever you want on a flexible, durable white nylon label, that's perfect for identifying wires, cables, and almost anything else. The easy to load, drop-in cartridge holds split-back (easy-peel) Rhino labels with high-strength adhesive that resists moisture, heat, chemicals, farts and bad breath. You can run the label along the length of a thick cable, or wrap it around, flag-style, with thinner wires. It also works well in wiring cabinets, on circuit breaker panels, parts drawers, and 1001 other things.

The pen in the package is a black "Sharpie" permanent marker, in a new retractable point style. The writing surface integrated into the Rhino 101 makes it easy to write labels anywhere (even standing on a ladder with your head above ceiling tiles), and the built-in cutter, belt clip and lanyard hook provide additional convenience. Additionally, the Rhino 101 includes a thumb advance for easy tape dispensing (without smearing), a viewing window to align the label prior to cutting, and even a holster to hold the Sharpie.

Rhino makes some great pro-style label printers with keyboards, but if you are not trying to impress anyone with your choice of fonts, this hand-powered Rhino does the basic tasks quite well, at a very reasonable price. CLICK to order from PhoneGeeks.com

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Why is the CHECK ENGINE light on?
Get a diagnosis from CarMD

Every car, light truck, SUV and minivan manufactured for use in the US since 1996 has an onboard computer system designed to turn on the Check Engine light if a problem is detected.

When that light goes on, most people either ignore it, pop the hood and stare at the engine, or beg their car dealer for an emergency appointment.

CarMD gives drivers the tools and information they need to monitor their vehicle’s health. It works on all 1996 and newer vehicles manufactured for use in the US.

The product includes:

•Handheld tester that links to your vehicle’s computer through a port found under the dashboard. Its easy-to-read LEDs give a quick indication of the vehicle’s health (red = service required, yellow = possible problem, green = all systems go)
•Quick Reference User’s Guide and Demo Video
•USB cable and CD software to link tester to a Windows -based PC
•Access via www.CarMD.com to an online database that connects you to information that, until now, only your mechanic had, such as probable cause, fix and estimated repair costs

Some of the many uses for CarMD include:
•Find out why your “Check Engine” light is on
•Diagnose problems and determine estimated repair costs so you can compare notes with your mechanic
•Check a used car before buying or selling
•Identify problems or get peace of mind before taking a road trip
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CarMD costs $89.99 and is currently available by phone at 1 888 MyCarMD (692-2763)or online at www.CarMD.com

(This is a preview, not a review)

Monday, July 2, 2007


Steve Jobs had two big successes last week: the iPhone from his Apple company, and Ratatouille from Pixar, his movie company, that is now part of Disney Studios.

It's an absolutely wonderful movie, with comedy, chase scenes, a love story, good guys, bad guys, haute cuisine and gross-outs, that will appeal to just about everyone.

The tiny hero is Remy, a food-loving rat who risks his life and forsakes his family, to eat well and cook well. He walks upright, like ancestor Mickey Mouse, but for a different reason: to avoid soiling his "hands" that will touch food.

After he and the rest of his rat pack are driven from their rural home by a shotgun-wielding crone, he is swept through sewers and ultimately ends up in a restaurant in Paris, where he helps an akward young floor mopper to become a star cook, with the aid of the ghost of the great chef who previously ran the restaurant.

Even if you don't care about food or rodents, the technology is enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. The details and vivid imagery of the computer animation are breathtaking. Mouse fur and whiskers are cartoony-real, but other scenery elements are photo-realistic, as real as anything that came from a camera.

There were two problems, however: all the rats and humans speak English, not French; and while the rats can speak to eachother, they can't speak to the humans.