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.