Thursday, May 31, 2007

New Curve is smallest Blackberry with QWERTY

The BlackBerry Curve, the smallest and lightest full QWERTY BlackBerry handset, is available starting today, exclusively from Cingular/AT&T in North America.

The Curve measures just 4.2" x 2.4" x 0.6", weighs about 3.9 oz., and builds on the popular BlackBerry handset technology to offer additional features and multimedia capabilities while maintaining exceptional battery life, according to the manufacturer. The Curve is the first BlackBerry handset to offer a 2 megapixel camera and spell checker for e-mail.

The Blackberry Curve is styled in a liquid silver finish with chrome highlights, smooth edges and soft curves. It combines the e-mail and messaging capabilities, premium phone features, comprehensive organizer and fast Internet browser with a new 2 megapixel camera with zoom, enhanced media player and new desktop media manager, microSD expandable memory slot and trackball navigation system. Other features include AT&T Music subscription services, TeleNav Maps to provide users with maps and driving directions, and integrated Push to Talk.

The BlackBerry Curve uses AT&T's EDGE high-speed national wireless data network. It's quadband, to work in more than 130 countries.

The BlackBerry Curve will be available for as low as $199.99 with a two-year contract and mail-in rebate beginning May 31 in AT&T (formerly Cingular Wireless) retail stores, online, through select national retailers and various AT&T business channels.

Customers who want personal e-mail access and Web browsing with BlackBerry Internet Service can choose the BlackBerry Personal Unlimited plan for as low as $29.99 a month with a qualified voice contract. Unlimited corporate e-mail access via BlackBerry Enterprise Server is as low as $44.99 a month when a qualified voice plan is also chosen or when customers who travel overseas can have unlimited e-mail access internationally for as low as $64.99 a month with a qualified voice plan. Unlimited Cingular Push to Talk service is available for an additional monthly charge of $9.99 per device and $19.99 for Push to Talk Family. AT&T Push to Talk also features a pay-per-use option of $.15 a minute. TeleNav GPS Navigator monthly service is available for $5.99 for 10 trips or $9.99 for unlimited trips. As features within AT&T Music, XM Satellite Radio and MusicID require monthly subscription fees of $8.99 and $3.99, respectively. CLICK for more. (This is a preview, not a review)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Electric guitar folds like a flip phone

The Centerfold guitar solves a transport problem that every guitarist has experienced. It folds up to save space, but it can be played immediately after it’s been unfolded and it’s just as tuned as when it was folded away, according to Leif Rehnström, Managing Director of the newly started DeVillain Guitar Company in Skellefteå, Sweden.

Behind the development of the folding guitar, is SAS airline pilot Fredrik Johansson. He is a devoted guitarist but couldn’t take his instrument with him on flights around the world. Whenever visiting music stores he would ask about folding guitars, but they usually laughed and said "That’s impossible!" Nothing is impossible, Fredrik thought. A few years later he held the first prototype of a folding guitar that could easily be taken on a plane. When folded, it's less than 24 inches long.

”The resulting product not only solves the problem he was experiencing but also that of all the other guitarists who are fed up carrying their cumbersome guitar cases on buses, subways, bikes…", says Rehnström, who has sworn over these transport difficulties many times after several years as a professional musician.

You don’t even have to take the strings off when you fold the neck of the Centerfold, as they are rolled up by the guitar. ”Other guitarists can’t believe it when I tell them. I didn’t believe it either before Fredrik showed me his prototype.”

Price is $3370 (plus taxes and duties), with hand-made Honduran mahogany body. Left-hand models and basses are being considered for the future. CLICK for more.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

OK, maybe $150,000 is a bit much for a pair of speakers, but the price does include installation and you don't need to buy a subwoofer

French speaker maker Cabasse has introduced La Sphere, apparently the world’s only 4-way coaxial speaker system. All four drivers, are arranged in a line inside a spherical 27.6-inch enclosure intended to enhance rigidity, eliminate internal standing waves and eliminate diffraction effects.

Frequency response with the 22” honeycomb dome subwoofer driver is said to extend to below 20 HZ, so you won't need to pay extra for a subwoofer. However, if you want to do five channels for an all-sphere home theater system, figure on spending $375,000, plus sales tax, of course.

For nearly 400 grand, they better cook supper, wash the dishes and sing you to sleep. CLICK for more. (This is a preview, not a review.)

Friday, May 25, 2007

H-P A616 Photosmart Compact Photo Printer

Hewlett-Packard's A616 Photosmart Compact Photo Printer is several generations newer, and about half the price of the HP compact printer I've been using.

It's small enough for a suitcase, or a table at a wedding or bar mitzvah. Anyone who takes digital pictures -- even if you normally use a big printer or a store or online service for prints -- will find it useful, convenient, and fun.

This mini-darkroom weighs less than 3.5 lbs, has a convenient carrying handle, and its front folds down for printing and memory card access.

Instead of just the 4 x 6 prints that my older HP makes, the A616 gives you the option of printing instant-dry, water-resistant photos in a variety of sizes, including passport, wallet size, 4 x 6 inch, 5 x 7 inch, and panorama.

Print speed is about 40 seconds for a 4 x 6-inch photo, which costs about 29 cents. The unit has a flip-up 2.4-inch color LCD display that lets you preview images before printing. The Photo Fix button can automatically remove red-eye, sharpen images, and improve overall brightness, color, and contrast of photos. You can also crop, zoom, and layout your photos, and add borders and frames.

Amazingly, you can do all this without a PC. The A616 lets you print directly from most memory cards, iPods, flash drives (including thumb drives) and PictBridge enabled cameras. Prints are sharp and clear due to the advanced inks in the HP 110 Tri-color Inkjet Print Cartridge. If you want to give your prints a special look, you can print in antique, sepia, or black-and-white modes.

The A616 gives you the option to print photos on the HP CD Tattoo media, which makes it easy to share photos with friends and family. To enhance and customize your photos, the system comes included with HP Photosmart Essential Software and HP Photosmart Premier Software. For added flexibility, the optional HP Bluetooth Wireless Printer Adapter allows you to print from camera phones or other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Price ranges from about $90 to $150. It's $89.99 at Amazon, and you can get free shipping. (This is a preview, not a review.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

L.L.Bean LED headlight for your head

If you need your hands for something other than holding a flashlight, you'll like the Trailblazer™ II Headlamp from legendary Maine woods outfitter L.L.Bean. You can light up your trail, campsite, cookout, fish hook, flat tire, attic or dog walk with bright, power-efficient LED light. It's a great Fathers Day gift -- even for your sister or yourself.

Four long-lasting LED bulbs provide illumination to almost 90 feet, and burn for up to 150 hours on the low setting. You can select high, medium or low to balance brightness and battery life for your specific situation; and there's also a safety flash mode for warning others or attracting attention when there's trouble.

A handy red indicator light lets you know when the batteries are running low. It uses three AAA batteries, and Bean supplies the first set. Price is $29.50, and you can choose from five colors. CLICK to order. Bean is one of my favorite companies. I shop online, by catalog, and in their "real" stores in Maine. They have lots of cool, high-quality stuff, even for people who never go hunting or fishing. Get on their mailing list for catalogs, and get their credit card, so you'll be able to get orders shipped free.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Website can help get airflight price reductions

Few fliers realize it, but many airlines will give refunds if they cut the price after you buy a ticket. Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, United and US Airways offer vouchers for the full price. Others offer vouchers, or cash, after deducting change fees (which can run up to $100).

In industry jargon, it is called a "rollover," and in most cases it only works if you bought the ticket directly from the airline. The rollover policies have been in place for decades, but, until recently, it has been tough for consumers to figure out when their flight's price has changed. The catch is you have to call while the lower price is in effect to get your rollover. That is where a new Web site,, has come up with a clever way to take some of the anxiety out of buying airline tickets.

Yapta (which stands for Your Amazing Personal Travel Assistant) tracks fares on specific flights you select before or after you buy a ticket. You can use Yapta before you buy to alert you by email to pricing changes on a particular trip, or let you know if the price drops after you've bought a ticket and you're eligible for a refund. In order to obtain the voucher, you need to phone the airline directly.

Ellen Siminoff, who signed up with Yapta to test the site before its launch, paid $800 each for four tickets from San Francisco to Kona, Hawaii. A few days later, she got notification from Yapta that the price had dropped to about $400 per ticket. She called United and got tickets reissued at the lower price plus four $400 vouchers. "There's no way I would have been checking sites to see if the price went down," she said.

Fares yo-yo based on ticket sales and airline expectations of demand, and the uncertainty and disparity frustrates fliers. Prices sometimes change several times during the day.

Several Web sites offer alerts on price changes for specific markets. Expedia Inc.'s "Fare Alert" is a tool you can download and it sits in the toolbar of your PC and pops up when a lower fare comes along on a route you're interested in. Travelocity has a "Fare Watcher" that lets you pick city pairs and get alerts when the price changes by $25 or more. Orbitz's "Deal Detector" let's you select only nonstop flights or preferred airlines.

Yapta raises the bar by allowing you to pinpoint prices on specific flights. Alerts from other sites may be triggered by 6 a.m. departures or redeye trips, for example, that you don’t want.

When you search, Yapta places a button on the screen for you to click if you want to "tag" one of the flights offered. Tagging doesn't take you away from the website you're on -- it just sends the information to Yapta.

Once you tag a flight, Yapta will email you when the price changes. If you buy the ticket and record the information with Yapta, it will alert you to refund possibilities, taking into account the policies of that airline. You must act quickly. Prices can bounce back up within minutes.

Most airlines and travel vendors have more-liberal 24-hour or same-day price guarantees, offering to rebook you at a lower price and refund the difference if the price drops in the first 24 hours, without change fees. Expedia and Travelocity go a step further offering their own 24-hour guarantee. If prices drop more than $5 within 24 hours, they will reissue tickets at the lower price, refund the difference and give you their own $50 voucher toward future purchases.

Several airlines said they are pondering whether they think Yapta is a good thing for them or not. If it spurs sales at higher price levels and vouchers build customer loyalty, carriers will support it. On the other hand, a flood of refund requests could force changes in rollover policies. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Stupid pool float costs more to run
than a real boat

Hammacher-Schlemmer, Home Shopping Network, Amazon and others are offering the Excalibur Motorized Pool Lounge, for $60 to $150 or so. It looks like your basic big ugly pool float; but in addition to the usual cup holder, it has two joysticks that control underwater propellers.

It may seem cool to be able to silently swoop and spiral around your backyard pool, but you better own an oil well -- or at least a battery factory -- if you're going to get one.

You can spend more money running it for an hour, than you spend to buy it.

The float uses 12 D cells (with no built-in charger); and a set of batteries will provide just a 15 minute cruise.

Alkaline D cells cost about a buck-fifty each. A full boatload will cost $18. That works out to $72 for an hour, plus sales tax.

If you want to emulate Gilligan's planned "three hour cruise," figure on spending close to $230 -- and you'll have to put Excalibur in dry dock every 15 minutes to change batteries.

Also, when you're onboard Excalibur, you're dry. You never touch the water, so why be in the pool? You may as well buy a boat, or stay in bed and save the money.

For comparison, a 80 horsepower outboard motor -- big enough for a 16-foot boat carrying six people -- will use about eight gallons of fuel per hour, costing about 28 bucks, less than half of the cost of propelling the inflated motorized pillow with one aboard.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Buck -- the talking, singing robot deer head

If you no longer get excited about animated singing lobsters, hamsters and fish, and you have a big empty space on your wall, Buck should make you smile, and scare others.

Buck is wall-mounted deer trophy, hand-detailed to look remarkably realistic, complete with whiskers, eyelashes and tufts of ear hair. He has lifelike movements, makes wise-ass remarks, and sings six songs (Sweet Home Alabama, La Grange, Friends in Low Places, Rawhide, On the Road Again, Suspicious Minds) with perfectly synced mouth movements.

Buck also comes with a wireless microphone, so you can speak or sing through his mouth, and he moves his head and ears along with the voice. An auxiliary input lets you feed in a recorded soundtrack. I put Buck on my front door for Halloween, and had him singing Monster Mash and Purple People Eater.

A wireless remote control operates his movement, voice, and songs... great for scaring the crap out of unsuspecting passers-by. Buck can also be motion-activated. Price ranges from about $100 to $200. CLICK for one source. Buck may have been discontinued by the manufacturer, but you should still be able to find one.

Friday, May 18, 2007

No room for a dog?
Put a tiger oscar in your tank.

The tiger oscar is a puppy disguised as a fresh water tropical fish.

Oscars are smart, playful, willful, and love to eat. Years ago I called my fish tank "Marineland of the Bronx." I could hold food a few inches above the water surface, and my finned pups would leap out of the water to take the food from my fingers -- just like porpoises in the real Marineland.

When I entered the room, they wiggled their tails just like a cocker spaniel or golden retriever greeting a favorite visitor.

Oscars are opinionated, with strong views on tank decor. If you put in a plant that an Oscar doesn't like, it will be shredded or thrown out. I once put a heavy 12-inch-tall rock in the middle of my tank. A few days over, it was lying down flat. My oscars had become excavators -- digging out the gravel under the rock until it fell.

I restored the gravel and repositioned the rock. And a few days later it was knocked down again. The fish and I continued the silly competition for a few weeks before I surrendered. I liked the looks of the vertical rock, but I didn't live in the tank; so I let the oscars dominate the decorating.

Oscars can grow big (six inches is not unusual) so plan on a big tank (50 gallons or more), and a big food budget. Live food is good, but my guys also loved squished snails, and cubes of freeze-dried tubifex worms.

Oscars get along fine with similarly-sized fish, but anything mouth-sized can be considered lunch.

One of my oscars tried to swallow a catfish, but it got stuck in his mouth. I took the Oscar out of the tank, held him in a damp towel, and used an alligator clip to remove the rotting catfish carcass from his mouth. After the surgery, I rubbed his belly and put him back in the tank, and he picked his future food more carefully.

Because Oscars eat a lot, they crap a lot, so its VERY IMPORTANT to have powerful filtration to keep the tank clean. Oscars are susceptible to fungus infections, with disgusting fuzz growing from their eyes, and then they die. Treat your pets well.

(photo from

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Battery jumper with tire pumper

My toy car is a 1978 Fiat Spider. Years ago, I was masochistic enough to own three Fiats at one time. If you have the mixed joy of owning an Italian or British vehicle of a certain age, with accursed Marelli or Lucas electrical parts, you know that there is no guarantee that turning the ignition key will result in a vehicle in motion.

In the old days, I parked on the top level of the railroad station garage, and hoped that by the time I coasted down to ground level I would be going fast enough to get a jump start. I also kept a set of jumper cables in the trunk, and frequently had to beg for a flow of electrons when I silently rolled out of the garage.

Now I have a more elegant solution. The AutoSport 660i has a powerful maintenance-free lead acid battery that should be able to start several Fiats and MGs, or a Hummer or Escalade. Amperage is rated at 660 continuous/1700 peak. It can even jumpstart a car with a completely dead battery (some other jumpers require that the car battery still have a few volts). Cables are extra-thick, 4-gauge copper and 40 inches long to make connecting easy.

A Voltmeter gives internal battery status when you press the test button. You can recharge the unit from any normal AC outlet with the included 48-inch AC power cord, or recharge from your car’s power outlet with the included 60-inch 12-volt cord. An LED charging light confirms recharging status.

Other features include a built-in work/emergency light, 12 volt DC "cigarette lighter" socket, impact-resistant case, and a powerful 300psi air compressor/inflator for tires, balls, etc. The inflator hose is 24 inches long, with a clip-on chuck. It comes with adapters for bicycles and sports balls.

Price for the top-of-the-line 660i is $129.95. Less expensive, less powerful models are also available. If you don't need it in your trunk, keep it in your garage. You won't regret it. CLICK for The company's website and print catalog are full of other great stuff, too. Get on their mailing list.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Second-Gen Panasonic Blu-ray player is better and much less expensive

Panasonic just announced the availability of their second generation Blu-ray Disc player, at a suggested retail price of $599.95 (less than half the price of the first-gen DMP-BD10 that I bought last fall).

The new DMP-BD10A features improved audio with 7.1 channel surround, Dolby True HD and dts-HD High Resolution Audio decoding technology; and incorporates Panasonic's EZ-Sync system for integrated one-touch operation of Panasonic home theater components.

The new unit includes five freebie Blu-ray discs: Pirates of the Caribbean -- Curse of the Black Pearl, Pirates of the Caribbean -- Dead Man's Chest, Transporter, Fantastic 4, and Crash.

In addition to playing Blu-ray movie discs, the DMP-BD10A plays conventional standard-definition DVDs (with automatic 1080p up-conversion via HDMI) and conventional CDs. Other features include technology for IP conversion at the pixel level for ultra-fine details, a 297MHz 14bit Video D/A Converter with 4X oversampling, video noise shaping that improves signal-to-noise ratios by shifting noise to an unused band, and theoretical support for nearly 4.4 TRILLION COLORS. The DMP-BD10A also incorporates Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital and dts decoding, and BD-J (Java application) interactive capability. (This is a preview, not a review.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Microwave oven trim kit
makes your nuker look nicer

This is not exactly a Big Boy's Toy, but it's a useful gadget that solves a real problem at a reasonable price; so it's worth talking about.

Lots of microwave ovens end up on open shelves, even in expensive custom kitchens. Sometimes the kitchen contractor makes a custom frame for your nuker, and then a few years later you replace it, and the new oven doesn't fit.

A company called Micro-Trim, Inc. has a great solution. You tell them the make and model of the m'wave, and the dimensions of the space where you're putting it, and they send you a custom kit with top and side strips that fill the space perfectly.

You can choose from five finishes, and the strips have ventilation openings so heat doesn't build up inside the cabinet. You probably won't need any tools more advanced than a screwdriver. I had to raise up my oven on some 1 x 2" furring strips, but the whole job took just minutes, and it looks great.

Micro-Trim also has trim kits for thermal ovens, and cooktops. Toll-free number is 800-338-8746. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cummins tool bargains and other bargains

Cummins Industrial Tools has stores in the Midwest (six in the Kansas City area, two in the St. Louis area and one in Omaha) plus a website, and trucks wandering around the country.

I recently went to one of their truck sales, held at a nearby Shriners' lodge.

They had an amazing assortment of tools and gadgets at impressive prices: hand tools, power tools, garden tools, drill bits, games, flag poles, compressors, paint ball guns, winches, chain saws, scaffolds, duct tape, camping gear, work gloves, batteries, tents, tarps, pressure washers, tool boxes, work lights, garden lights, cots, poker sets, knives, leaf blowers, dandelion removers, vises, tricycles, weed trimmers, you name it. Everything is guaranteed, for 90 days or more. You can pay with cash or plastic.

CLICK for online ordering and for store addresses. If you want to know when and where there will be a truck sale near you, call 1-308-832-2070 or email Please include your city, state, county and how many miles you are willing to travel to get to a truck sale.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Maximum fun, minimum mess
with mobile GameKeeper

This mobile gaming center is a an attractive and sensible design, with vertical and horizontal shelves to hold pretty much any gaming console, plus software and accessories. The top shelf can hold up to a 20-inch TV.

It has lockable casters, so it can be moved from the corner of a room to the central play position, or from room to room...and stay put.

The open design ensures that your Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo doesn't overheat, and wire management features keep your cables un-snarled. Removeable hooks will keep your controllers off the floor.

Price is $89.99. CLICK to order. (This is a preview, not a review.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Retro-ize your iPod with AR tube amp

If you are not ready to be fully immersed in the 21st Century, this could be perfect for you.

BUT FIRST, a little history:

Acoustic Research made hi-fi equipment in Cambridge, MA, and was famous for acoustic suspension speakers, which could produce deep bass from a small box; and a no-frills/high performance turntable.

One of the founders of the company was Henry Kloss, who later became the "K" in KLH, then founded Advent, and then Cambridge Soundworks, and then co-founded Tivoli Audio. He earned an Emmy Award for his development of a projection television system, and died in 2002.

AR's success and ownership varied over the years. In 1967 it was sold to defense contractor Teledyne. Around 1992 it was sold to speaker-maker Jensen, which absorbed other audio companies including Advent. The Jensen group did poorly and was broken up and liquidated in 1996. AR and other consumer audio brands went to accessory maker Recoton, and then went to French electronics maker Thomson, which made products under the GE and RCA names; and now belongs to Audiovox, best known for car stereo.

Anyway, the new new AR4131 blackVault does carry the AR label, even if its connection with the original AR is long, complex and convoluted. Its main claim to fame is an unusual physical end electronic design, highlighting a glowing (GASP) vacuum tube.

The company wants prospective buyers to know that the tube circuit is "designed to create richer sound." Their trade advertising says it will make "richer dealers."

Frankly, even if the tube does provide some audible advantage, the tube is put in the worse possible place, on top of the vibrating subwoofer cabinet.

The system does have sex appeal, and is probably no worse than other iPod systems in its $200 price range, unless you crank it up enough to make the tube shake.

The center subwoofer cabinet holds and charges your iPod, and has an AUX input. A remote control is included. (This is a preview, not a review)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

New cable modem is 25 times as fast,
but you can't get one yet

Comcast boss Brian Roberts dazzled a cable industry audience Tuesday, with the first public demo of a new technology that enabled a data download speed of 150 megabits per second, roughly 25 times as fast as today's standard cable modems.

The cost of modems that would support new "channel bonding" technology is similar to current modems. They could be available in less than two years.

The new cable technology is crucial because the industry is competing with FiOS, a TV and fast Internet service that Verizon offers over a new fiber-optic network. The current top speed with FiOS is 50 megabits per second, but the network is capable of providing 100 Mbps and fiber offers nearly unlimited potential.

The new cable technology, called DOCSIS 3.0, was developed by the cable industry's research arm, Cable Television Laboratories. It bonds together four cable lines but is capable of allowing much more capacity. The laboratory expects manufacturers to begin submitting modems for certification by the end of 2007.

In the presentation, a 30-second, 300-megabyte television commercial was downloaded in a few seconds, and viewed long before a standard modem completed an estimated download time of 16 minutes.

The 32-volume Encyclopaedia Britannica 2007 and Merriam-Webster's visual dictionary were downloaded in under four minutes, when it would have taken a standard modem over three hours.

"If you look at what just happened, 55 million words, 100,000 articles, more than 22,000 pictures, maps and more than 400 video clips," Roberts said. "The same download on dial-up would have taken two weeks. It's an exponential step forward and we're very excited. What consumers actually do with all this speed is up to the imagination of the entrepreneurs of tomorrow." (info from The Associated Press)

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Kingston 1G microSD card with dual adapters

If you've ever been in a situation where all of your full-size SD memory cards are full, but you have a microSD with room for a bunch of shots on it, an adapter would be very useful. It would also be useful if your PC card reader can't handle the micro SDs that your newest camera uses, or if you want to standardize on one size card but have cameras or other gadgets with different size slots.

A number of companies make adapters that allow small cards to be used in big slots, but memory maker Kingston Technology is apparently the first company to market a microSD card bundled with two adapters to maximize compatibility and interoperability of the increasingly popular microSD Flash memory cards among multiple device platforms.

You can use the miniSD or standard SD card adapter with a microSD card to enjoy music, pictures and videos or easily transport files from the mobile phone to an MP3 player, digital camera, PC or printer.

Consisting of a 1 GB microSD card; a microSD to miniSD card adapter; and a microSD to full-size SD card adapter, the new microSD dual adapter pack has a $39.99 suggested retail price, but you might find it for less than half that price. $15 - $18 is a good price for a 1-gig chip alone, so it's like getting the adapters for free. There's a lifetime warranty for the 1 GB microSD card, and 24/7 technical support.
This is a preview, not a review.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Homo Sapiens 1.0:
better than Neanderthal, but not good enough

The Jewish calendar is based on the creation of the world in 3761 BCE, with Adam and Eve created on the sixth day.

Christian fundamentalist followers of Anglican Archbishop James Ussher believe that the world was created during the night before October 23, 4004 BCE, and that Adam and Eve appeared on 10/29.

Most people believe in a much older Earth, and that the first folks did not look like what Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel.

Human beings are bipedal primates belonging to the mammalian species Homo Sapiens (Latin for "wise man" or "knowing man") in the family Hominidae (great apes).

Humans have a highly developed brain capable of language, abstract reasoning, and introspection. This mental capability, combined with an erect body carriage that frees upper limbs for manipulating objects, has allowed humans to make far greater use of tools than any other species.

Like most primates, humans are social creatures; but humans are particularly adept at using communication for self-expression, the exchange of ideas, and organization. Social interactions between humans have also established an extremely wide variety of traditions, rituals, ethics, values, social norms and laws, which form the basis of human society. Humans also have a marked appreciation for beauty and aesthetics which, combined with the human desire for self-expression, has led to art, literature and music.

Humans are also noted for their desire to understand and influence the world around them. This natural curiosity has led to the development of advanced tools and skills; humans are the only known species to build fires, cook their food and clothe themselve.

"Modern humans" are defined as the Homo Sapiens species, which appears in fossils in Africa from about 130,000 years ago. While the current Homo Sapiens is notably better than previous terrestrial hominids, evolution is not complete.

• Homo Sapienses are equipped with apparently useless organs like tonsils and appendices.
• Males have useless nipples.
• Homo Sapienses may not need five toes on each foot, but extra fingers would help us to type faster.
• We're subject to lots of diseases
• We lose hair too soon.
• Baby humans take much longer than other species before they can walk or feed themselves.
• We can't fly or swim deep without specialized hardware.
• Some Homo Sapienses consider it necessary to modify penises, breasts and noses.
• Eyebrows and armpit hairs know when to stop growing; but cranial hair, facial hair, finger nails and toe nails need constant trimming.
• We can't see as well as a fly, smell as well as a dog, or swim as well as a dolphin.
• We can't go without water as long as a camel can.
• We lack natural protection from environmental extremes.
• We can't digest corn.
• Many Homo Sapienses need eyeglasses and hearing aids.
• Many Homo Sapienses are lactose or peanut intolerant.
• Many Homo Sapienses are intolerant of other Homo Sapienses, and of other species.

I look forward to further improvements in revision 2.0, now in beta testing. Delivery date for the final version has not been announced.

(Some info from Wikipedia)

Friday, May 4, 2007

USB-powered desk lamp

I am amazed and amused by the wide variety of gadgets that can be powered from the USB port on a desktop or laptop. I've seen everything from lava lamps to heated slippers and cigarette smoke absorbers; and sometimes it can be hard to tell the real stuff from the April Fools fakery.

Many companies make gooseneck lamps that can be plugged into the back of a laptop and used to illuminate the keyboard. This is a great idea for light night or early morning computing in a hotel room or one-room apartment or dorm, if you need to work but don't want to disturb someone else by turning on a big light. Unfortunately, most of USB lamps use just a single LED as a light source, and can't light up all of the keys at one time.

I have a terrific five-LED USB-powered lamp, bearing the Totes label, usually found on folding umbrellas; and have used it on several vacations and business trips. Unfortunately, it seems to have been discontinued; so while I would like to recommend it, I can't tell you where to get one.

Therefore, in a departure from the way this blog usually operates, I'm going to suggest a class of products, rather than recommend a specific item: if you need a light for your keyboard, get one with four or more LEDs, not just one. There's a big selection at, and one of their lamps is pictured above. If you need to travel with the lamp, make sure it will fit into your PC case or other luggage.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

VXI RoadWarrior Bluetooth headset
is not just for truckers

In recent years, head-mounted microphones have become very popular for singers who want to move around on stage. And if you look at anyone from Madonna to Garth Brooks, or at sportscasters or astronauts or pilots, you'll see that their microphones are on booms that get the mic right in front of their mouths -- not near their ears or on their cheeks.

Wireless Bluetooth headsets are very popular for cellphones, but lots of them are bought as cool fashion accessories, not to enhance communications. Many of the sexier models are tiny -- not much bigger than an earring. Their microphones go closer to your ear than to your mouth, and they can transmit more noise than words if you're not in a quiet location.

It's a basic fact of life that when the microphone is close to your mouth, it transmits more voice and less background noise; and that's important whether you're singing before 150,000 fans in a stadium, or chatting on your cellphone.

It's also a basic fact of life that most trucks are noisy. That's why the wizards at headset maker VXI, who make BlueParrott (spelled with two T's) brand headsets, devised their B150 "RoadWarrior" headset.

It won't win first prize in any beauty contests, but it's definitely the champ in the cab of an 18-wheeler (and in many other spots).

Its microphone incorporates a high-rejection noise canceling design, combined with a long microphone boom and wind screen ("blast filter"). This minimizes the transmission of background noise, so your voice is loud and clear. For our test, Cynical Cousin Dave paired the headset to my Samsung Sync cellphone, and went for a walk.

We kept talking as he kept walking, and he stopped in the middle of the street (appropriately in front of a truck stop). His voice was strong and noise-free. I never had to ask him to repeat a word. I never heard the sounds of cars and trucks whizzing past him. I never heard the wind (and it was a windy day). Dave's voice sounded as good as if he was sitting at his desk in a quiet office! Some people may have wondered why he was having a leisurely chat while standing on the white line in the middle of a busy street, but fortunately, no one ran over him. Or arrested him for jaywalking.

On the receiving end, the B150's speaker element has high output to overcome road, wind and engine noise, and its big enough to cover your ear. Normally I recommend binaural headsets for use in noisy environments; but if you're driving, or going for a walk, it's important to have one ear free to hear honks, sirens and people yelling at you.

The B150 RoadWarrior quickly became a favorite among truck drivers who appreciate its talk power and durable construction; and its popularity now extends to people who use it in many indoor and outdoor environments.

It's great for sports cars, ragtops, jeeps, tractors, forklifts, lawn mowers, construction equipment, or any small car with a high-revving engine. It makes sense for use on boats, at oil wells or in mines or steel mills. It's a good solution for use in a factory, or in an office filled with loudmouths. It's even a good choice if you want to talk while walking your dog or working in your garden or basement workshop...or doing the laundry.

The BlueParrot B150 works with any Bluetooth enabled device including cellphones and computers (but not with Cynical Cousin Dave's stupid Palm Treo 700P). Range is about 33 feet. On-ear controls include mute, on/off, and volume adjustment. You get chargers for both 110 volt indoor power and 12 volt vehicle power -- which you normally don't get with other Bluetooth headsets, or even with cellphones. Charge time is about 4 hours, talk time 6 hours, and standby time 100 hours. It has a TWO-YEAR manufacturer's warranty, twice as long as you usually get with a Bluetooth headset.


Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Robot caddy schleps golf clubs by remote control, and can even wash your balls

David Fay, Executive Director of the United States Golf Association states "We strongly believe that walking is the most enjoyable way to play golf and that the use of carts is detrimental to the game. This negative trend needs to be stopped now before it becomes accepted that riding in a cart is the way to play golf."

If you prefer to walk rather than ride on the golf course, but don't want to schlep your own bag of clubs or pay someone else to schlep for you, consider a robot caddy.

The Hillcrest Special Edition from Kangaroo Motorcaddies has a rechargeable battery that should carry your clubs through 18 holes, and has a remote control, automatic braking, a fourth wheel to keep it steady on hills, a scorecard holder, and a cup holder. Options include a seat, bumper guard and ball washer. It takes about a minute to set up or take apart, and fits even in a small car. Base price is $2500. Other models are available. CLICK for Kangaroo.
This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Book teaches kids to call 911 for help

A toddler in North Pole, Alaska knew to call 911 when his mother collapsed and lost consciousness during a gall bladder attack on April 10.

Tony Sharpe had learned about 911 in a book his grandmother had sent him, and made the call and reached the North Star Volunteer Fire Department. He told a dispatcher: "Mommy is sick. Mommy needs an ambulance. Mommy fell over. She is sleeping. Can you call the ambulance?" The boy then described the family's apartment building. Tony's mother Courtenay Sharpe was conscious but barely able to speak when firefighters arrived.

Her son had practiced dialing 911 countless times in one of his favorite books, It's Time to Call 911: What to do in an Emergency. The interactive book rewards its reader with a blast of emergency sirens and a cheery "good job" when 911 is punched into the key pad. The book is available from

"You know kids," Courtenay Sharpe said, "once they latch onto a book, they want the same story read to them over and over again. After awhile, he pretty much knew the book by heart."

The boy will be honored the fire department with a T-shirt, a plaque and a ride on a fire engine. His parents rewarded him with a much-wanted puppy, an 8-month-old mixed Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever from an animal shelter. (info from The Associated Press)