Saturday, September 15, 2007

On vacation

We'll be away for a bit of relaxation and recharging. New posts will resume in the first week of October (unless I discover something really important before then).

If you miss me, you can read all of the old posts on all of my blogs

Friday, September 14, 2007

Artificial boy

David Hanson has two little Zenos to care for these days. One is his 18-month-old son Zeno, and the other is the robotic Zeno. It can't speak or walk yet, but has blinking eyes that can track people, and a face with a range of expressions.

At 17 inches tall and 6 pounds, the artificial Zeno is the culmination of five years of work by Hanson and a small group of engineers, designers and programmers at his company, Hanson Robotics. They believe there's an emerging business in the design and sale of lifelike robotic companions, or social robots.

Unlike clearly artificial robotic toys, Hanson says he envisions Zeno as an interactive learning companion, a synthetic pal who can engage in conversation and convey human emotion through a face made of a skin-like, patented material Hanson calls frubber.

"It's a representation of robotics as a character animation medium, one that is intelligent," Hanson beams. "It sees you and recognizes your face. It learns your name and can build a relationship with you."

Hanson said he was inspired by, and is aiming for, the same sort of realism found in the book "Supertoys Last All Summer Long," by Brian Aldiss. Aldiss' story of troubled robot boy David and his quest for the love of his flesh-and-blood parents was the source material for Steven Spielberg's film "Artificial Intelligence: AI."

He plans to make little Zenos available to consumers within the next three years for $200 to $300. Until then Hanson makes a living selling and renting pricey, lifelike robotic heads. His company offers models that look like Albert Einstein, a pirate, and a rocker, complete with spiky hair and sunglasses. They cost tens of thousands of dollars and can be customized to look like anyone. (info from Zeno and The Associated Press.)
This is a preview, not a review.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kid phone works as game controller, and more

Firefly Mobile is debuting a cellphone for the age 8 through 12 market.

The new FlyPhone has an electro-luminescent keypad that automatically morphs into a game controller. The phone includes a portable media player, camera, mobile games and texting ability. It has a software filter for downloading age-appropriate media. It also comes with software to let kids create their own ringtones, wallpaper and slide shows to load onto the phone.

The FlyPhone allows pay-as-you-go payments and does not require a contract. The unit will be available in October at retailers including Toys "R" Us, Kmart, Barnes & Noble's Web site, Ritz/Wolf Camera, Target and cellular carriers at a suggested retail price of $125. (info from TWICE)
This is a preview, not a review.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wine chiller keeps water cold all night, too.

Vacu Vin is a Netherlands-based manufacturer and distributor of food and wine gadgets for home and professional use.

Their Prestige Wine Cooler is designed to allow you to chill your wine is five minutes, with no mess from melting ice and no wet label sliding off.

The key is a flexible cylindrical "Rapid Ice" pouch/pod that you freeze in your freezer, and then insert in a stainless-steel container. Put in the wine, wait a few minutes, and sip or slurp.

I am not much of a wino. However, I do like to keep Poland Spring water on my night table to relieve overnight dry spells. Warm water is no joy. I tried a tiny electrical bottle/can cooler, but the noise was annoying. Wrap-around and drop in "can cozies" are not tall enough to protect a water bottle, and only work for a few hours.

The Prestige Wine Cooler, OTOH, is a perfect solution. At bed time, I put the cooling pouch in the bottom, a bottle of Poland Spring in the top, turn on the XM and turn off the light. In the morning, the pouch goes back in the freezer, and any left-over water goes back in the fridge. It's simple, it's neat, and it works.

Price is $30 at My wife got one at Xpect Discounts for $3.99. Amazon also sells the naked chilling pods, in sizes for cans or bottles, for as little as two for $8.99.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Second-Gen LG dual-format hi-def player

Fence-sitters who want hi-def video discs but can't decide between Blu-ray and HD DVS, will soon have another option in dual-format players. LG Electronics, the first company to introduce a dual-format high-definition disc player, last week announced its second-generation player. The LG Super Blu™ Player (model BH200) carries both formats’ logos, and provides BD-Java and HDi interactivity, enabling consumers to choose from the widest variety of high-def content regardless of disc format. It should be available in mid-October at a suggested retail price of $999. The price is $200 less than the gen-one model, and has more features.

The Super Blu Player offers increased HDTV entertainment choices, because it can play 50 to 60 percent more high-def movie titles than either single-format player. With full networked interactivity available from selected HD DVDs, and the capability to handle networked “BD-Live” interactivity in forthcoming Blu-ray discs, it is the latest available technology that plays both disc formats.

Viewers can enjoy advanced options such as “Picture-in-Picture” available from many Blu-ray discs as well as HDi web-connected interactivity available from many HD DVDs. Access to these features enables viewing of storyboards, production videos and director’s commentary as the movie is playing, as well as accessing up-to-date information. The Super Blu Player also accepts additional entertainment content via a network connection, making for an unmatched entertainment experience.

In addition to supporting the latest high-def disc technologies, the Super Blu Player is the ideal match for movie enthusiasts and even music enthusiasts as it supports audio CDs and the ability to up-scale standard DVDs to 1080p resolution.

The LG Super Blu Player, which can output up to 1080p video resolution at 24-, 30- and 60-frames-per-second, supports various A/V formats, including MPEG-2, VC-1, H.264 video, MPEG1/2 audio, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital+, DTS and DTS-HD audio. The unit also includes multiple inputs/outputs such as HDMI 1.3 out, component/composite video outputs, digital optical and analog audio outputs as well as a LAN Ethernet port for network interactivity.

LG Super Blu Player users can enjoy superior quality video output with HDMI 1.3 Deep Color output to improve color tones and achieve finer color gradations to deliver the smoothest and most brilliant video output available. The player also features QDEO™ advanced video processing for superior up-scaling accuracy up to 1080p, improved noise reduction and consistent color precision.

The new Super Blu Player incorporates LG’s SimpLink™ connectivity solution, enabling easier control of other LG SimpLink compatible equipment. The units are connected with an HDMI cable and use the HDMI-CEC communication standard. This allows the user to control other components on-screen or directly from each component. The BH200 also is equipped with a USB Media Host for easy access to digital music and photo libraries.
This is a preview, not a review.

Monday, September 10, 2007

iPod-dock radio has “Push To Buy” button

Last week at CEDIA Expo, Polk Audio introduced their I-Sonic Entertainment System 2, the first radio that allows listeners to buy songs heard on HD Radio broadcasts using Apple's new iTunes Tagging technology.

The iTunes Tag button on the I-Sonic ES2's front panel and remote control lets you tag songs broadcast by HD Radio stations, and stores information about the tagged songs to its memory, and transfers the tags to an iPod when docked. When you connect the iPod to your PC, iTunes automatically presents the songs in a new Tagged playlist to preview, buy, and download.

The I-Sonic ES2 features four-speaker I-Sonic technology "that delivers room-filling stereo sound 360-degrees around the entertainment system." Polk designed the new system to serve people who prefer to use an iPod for video delivery, while the original I-Sonic ES has a built-in DVD player.

The I-Sonic ES2 includes a second generation HD Radio tuner with full multicasting. It accepts all iPod models with dock connectors in its top-mounted dock hidden beneath a sliding door. S-Video and composite video outputs allow the user to connect a TV for viewing video content stored on an iPod.

An auxiliary stereo input allows connection a portable CD player, cassette deck, etc. The I-Sonic ES2 is also a full function dual-alarm clock that can use the radio or iPod as the alarm. It also has a headphone jack, 24 radio presets, and a wireless remote control. On-radio controls allow it to operate when you lose the remote.

The I-Sonic ES2 measures only 14.5" x 9" x 4.75", making it suitable for use on a kitchen counter, night table, or shelf. It should be available from select specialty retail stores, Apple stores and in October 2007 for $499.

HD Radio is digital radio technology developed by iBiquity Digital that offers high quality reception from FM stations, and also allows broadcasters to multicast program streams over a single FM frequency to serve multiple audiences. A variety of data services that range from text-based information -- artist name, weather alerts, school closings, traffic alerts, etc. -- can be scrolled across the receiver display.
This is a preview, not a review.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

New iPhone-like iPod, and other iPod news

Yesterday Apple introduced a new iPod, called the Touch, that is essentially the iPhone without the phone. Like the newly-reduced-priced iPhone, the 16 gb iPod Touch will sell for $399, and it will include Wi-Fi, a Web browser and the "cover flow" software to virtually flip through your music collection with a finger.

The new Touch uses Apple’s multi-touch user interface that enables users to find music, videos and more on its widescreen display with just the touch of a finger. First introduced on iPhone™, the multi-touch interface uses pioneering new software to present the proper user interface for each application.

The iPod Touch also includes Wi-Fi wireless networking, the first on any iPod, and three applications that use it: Safari™ browser; Apple’s YouTube application; and the new iTunes® Wi-Fi Music Store lets users wirelessly browse, preview and buy songs and albums from Apple.

Apple also announced updates to its existing product line.

It renamed the original iPod the iPod Classic, which will be available in two sizes: The biggest has 160 gb of storage, priced at $349, and an 80 gb version will sell for $249.

Both models feature the visual cover-flow software found on the iPhone.

The 160 gb iPod will put "40,000 songs in your pocket," Jobs said. The first iPod, released in 2001, had 5 gb of storage and held 1,000 songs.

"This is like a test about storage," said Tony Marengo of and the former manager of the Apple store on Michigan Avenue. "For $50 less, I can get 10 times the storage than on the iPod Touch" he said of the 160 gb iPod Classic. "But if there's ever been an argument for storage versus sexiness, this is it. I think the Touch will sell far more than the Classic. Even naming it 'classic' takes away from the sexiness."

The Nano is getting a face-lift as well. The new version will play video, a feature added to the iPod two years ago, but hold only 4 gb of content for $149 and 8 gb for $199. It also has the cover- flow feature.

The new iPod Classic and Nano models should be in stores by this weekend. The iPod Touch is expected to be available this month.

Apple slashed the price of the top iPhone by $200. The 8-gigabyte iPhone will now cost $399 - one-third less than when it went on sale June 29. The 4-gigabyte iPhone, which sold for $499, will be discontinued.

Prior to the Apple announcements Wednesday, Microsoft cut the price of its Zune digital music player by $50. The 30 gb Zune now sells for $199. (Info from Chicago Tribune)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fluke TS19 buttset is priced low enough
for amateur phone guys

The buttset (or butt set) is one of the most versatile and important pieces of telephone test equipment -- a handset with touch-tone pad, alligator clips, and various features that allow you to know if a circuit is dead or alive, good or bad. It can also make and receive phone calls.

Professional phone guys couldn't live without them. Narcotics agents use them to spy on drug dealers. FBI agents use them to spy on the mob. Teenage boys use them to spy on their sisters.

No one seems to be sure why it's called a buttset. Maybe because it can be used to "butt-in" to a conversation, maybe because it's usually hung from a tool belt on a phone guy's butt, or maybe because phone guys use them while sitting on their butts.

Some buttsets cost $400 or more, way beyond the budget of most people who just sometimes need to test a phone line. Fortunately, Fluke Instruments makes a reasonably-priced buttset with the quality and features you'd expect from a top brand, plus a few extras. It's just fine for use in your office or home, or helping out a neighbor.

Fluke's top "pro" models can survive a 20-foot drop onto concrete or a flop into a swimming pool. The TS19 is made for lighter duty. Don't expect it to survive jumps from helicopters, or white water rafting. It does not belong in the back of a truck with bad springs; and if you misplace your hammer, don't use the TS19 as a substitute. It has an 18-month warranty, but in normal use, the TS19 could last as long as you do.

The Fluke TS19 has both tone and pulse dialing, last number redial, talk and monitor modes, continuous polarity indication, 18-digit last number redial, an electronic ringer, and angled bed-of-nails clips that can grip wires, screws or terminal block clips, and even bite through insulation without destroying the insulation. It's hearing aid compatible and has a high impedance monitor circuit that's safe for data circuits. We like it a lot. Price is just $111, including shipping, at

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Presidential Hotline Phone :
Make people think you're really important,
or give it to someone who's important to you

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 for