Monday, March 31, 2008

2-way GPS collects & sends traffic data.
Price cut by one third

Last December, I wrote about the Dash Express, said to be the first personal navigation device (PND) with two-way traffic.

The device, which had its price reduced to $399, went on last week exclusively through and Dash Navigation’s Website. In late April the unit will be available from other dealers.

The Dash Express was originally expected to sell for $599, and was supposed to come out in February.

The Dash Express 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.

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.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Outdoor weatherproof TVs from Pantel

It's now springtime in the northern hemisphere, and in the northern US, thoughts are turning to backyard patios and pools. Advances in technology have made what was once a dream, now a reality -- outdoor weatherproof high definition television, that you can even watch in bright sunlight.

Pantel, which calls itself "the worldwide leader in outdoor weatherproof TV solutions," has a new line of products that are great for sports stadiums, bus stations, restaurants, golf courses, and of course, backyards.

What could be better than floating in your pool or grilling steaks while watching your favorite movie in high-def?

In the past, outdoor televisions had to be installed under a canopy, or behind plastic or glass.

Pantel flat LCD TVs have their own protection from the weather. Even the remote control is weatherproof. There are 32" and 42" models priced at $3950 and $4450. 52" and 60" models are being worked on. The sets come with a wireless RF link, so you can send high-def video and audio up to 150 feet from your cable box, satellite receiver or DVD player inside, to your Panatel outside. CLICK for more.
This is a preview, not a review.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Buy a PC and plant a tree

Dell customers looking for an environmentally-responsible PC at can help offset the carbon impact of the electricity required to power their laptop or desktop, in an extension of Dell’s “Plant a Tree for Me” program.

Customer contributions of $2 for a laptop and $6 for a desktop will go toward the planting of trees that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Dell partners with The Conservation Fund and the, non-profit organizations that plant trees in sustainably managed reforestation projects.

Dell launched “Plant a Tree for Me” for customers in January 2007. The company recently joined The Conservation Fund, US Fish & Wildlife Service and other commercial partners in dedicating 158 acres of forestland in East Texas, one of five tree-planting projects funded through the program.

Dell said it is committed to becoming the “greenest” technology company on the planet. Last year, the company announced that it would be the first major computer manufacturer to neutralize the carbon impact of its worldwide operations. The company’s carbon intensity (CO2 emissions/revenue) is said to be among the lowest of the Fortune 50.

In September 2007, Dell announced “Plant a Forest for Me,” a program that enables organizations worldwide to share best practices and, as partners, facilitate the planting of trees in sustainably managed reforestation projects. Partners include AMD, ABN AMRO,, CGI, Staples,, Targus and WellPoint.

Dell also offers what is says is the industry’s only free recycling program for consumers. In 2006, Dell recycled more than 78 million pounds of computer equipment worldwide, a 93 percent increase over 2005.

For more information on “Plant a Tree for Me,” “Plant a Forest for Me,” and Dell’s commitment to become the “greenest” technology company on the planet, visit To join with the company and thousands of others in lending a voice and protecting the environment, visit

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Noise-reduction earbuds

Hearing Components, a supplier of noise-reduction technology and products to the hearing aid, military, aviation and manufacturing markets, is now offering noise-reducing earbuds for everyone.

Comply NR-10 earbuds use the same patented passive noise-blocking technology the company supplies to military helicopter crews. They reduce noise an average of 48dB, and are said to block more noise than the leading active noise cancellation earphones.

Frequency response is said to be 20Hz to 20,000Hz (no stated plus or minus decibel figure). It has a 43-inch cord with a 3.5mm gold-plated stereo plug and integrated volume control and foam tips made of “ultra-soft memory foam which conforms to the user's ear canal," according to the company.

The Comply NR-10 has a suggested retail price of $79.95. The buds come with a pair of slim-size Comply foam tips, a pair of standard-size Comply foam tips and a travel pouch. Replacement foam tips are also available.

The company also offers Whoomp!™ Earbud Enhancers to stop the escape of bass frequencies from conventional earbuds.

CLICK for more info and online ordering. (info from TWICE)

This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Justice Dep't approves XMirius merger

The Justice Department approved the merger of satellite-radio companies Sirius and XM leaving one more major regulatory hurdle -- the FCC -- before a deal that was given little chance of success a year ago can be completed.

It's considered unlikely that FCC would oppose a deal backed by Justice, but hard work is ahead for the two companies as they work to meet high expectations among both subscribers and investors. The combined company will face stiff competition from traditional broadcasters, iPods, cellphones and other emerging ways for consumers to access music and other programming.

Still, the Justice Department's approval marks a big step forward in a long-running saga. The companies proposed their merger in February 2007 as a way to bolster satellite radio's chances of long-term success. Sirius and XM charge subscribers a fee for supplying dozens of channels of programming delivered via satellite to special radios. While the diverse offerings that span music, talk, news and sports have won praise, both companies have posted huge losses as they have tried to persuade consumers to pay for a medium that has always been delivered free.

Despite the companies' problems, the XM-Sirius deal was initially considered a long shot, in part because it was seen as creating a satellite-radio monopoly. Since then, the companies have argued to regulators that the satellite-radio services compete not just with each other but with all kinds of audio entertainment, starting with regular radio stations. At the end of last year, Sirius had 8.3 million subscribers, and XM had nine million.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin was initially seen as being inclined against the deal. But his reservations appear to have dissipated somewhat over the past year, particularly after the companies agreed to offer a la carte pricing that allows customers to subscribe to individual channels rather than the full lineup of programming -- a service he has long called for in cable TV.

The FCC has the power to impose conditions that might make the controversial merger slightly more palatable to the groups opposed to it. Last week, Martin told reporters he had asked the agency's staff to draft documents on the merger so the FCC could move quickly after the Justice Department acted. He gave no indication how he might vote. A ruling from the FCC is expected in weeks.

At the Justice Department, Thomas O. Barnett, the assistant attorney general for antitrust, told reporters that "after a very thorough and comprehensive investigation" his department concluded that "in several important areas, the [satellite radio companies] simply do not compete today," undercutting opponents' arguments that allowing the merger would undermine competition.

Car manufacturers, which have become a major source of customers, don't provide true competition, because each manufacturer is locked into a long-term contract with either Sirius or XM, Mr. Barnett said. At retail outlets like Best Buy and Circuit City, where consumers can choose one service or the other, he said investigators couldn't determine that customers were limiting their decision to just the two companies and not also choosing among other audio-entertainment options.

The department also considered emerging entertainment alternatives such as Internet radio and, in particular, the effect that mobile wireless broadband would have. "You could stream all the content you get over satellite radio today over an Internet broadband connection," Barnett said.

The ruling could provide ammunition to other companies that believed that merging their businesses would be ruled anticompetitive. In 2002, regulators rejected a proposed merger between DirecTV and EchoStar. But recently, the environment has been more friendly for companies wishing to combine. With the possibility of Democrats retaking the White House later this year, the window for antitrust approval of borderline deals could close soon.

At the FCC, Martin initially said the companies faced a high hurdle to win approval. When the FCC originally issued satellite-radio licenses in 1997, it specifically prohibited the merger of the two companies, but XM and Sirius argued that the environment had changed so much in the ensuing decade that the prohibition no longer makes sense. They also said that because the prohibition was never filed in the Code of Federal Regulations, it was a policy rather than a rule, making it easier to overturn.

The deal has drawn criticism from the FCC's two Democratic commissioners, who complain the US needs less media consolidation, not more. But talks at the agency in recent weeks have been more about what conditions should be attached to the deal than whether to approve it.

FCC officials are considering requiring the combined company to lease some channels to outside groups and to set aside free space for noncommercial channels, such as educational broadcasters. Public interest groups are also asking the combined company to freeze prices for up to three years.

For several months, public-interest groups and radio companies have lobbied the FCC for conditions on the deal, acting on the belief that the Justice Department would approve it without objections. "We wanted to make sure that if the deal got approved, there'd be conditions on the table to consider," said Art Brodsky, spokesman for Public Knowledge, a public-interest nonprofit group.

But some organizations didn't favor the merger under any circumstances, including the National Association of Broadcasters, which lobbied hard against the deal and said it was "astonished" at the approval.

If the FCC signs off, Sirius and XM will have to prove that their merger will lead to all the benefits they outlined. Some will be fairly easy to implement. For example, the companies promised tiered pricing, allowing consumers who listen to just a few channels to pay discounted rates. Currently, each service costs $12.99 a month.

Other promised changes might prove trickier. For example, Sirius and XM said their subscribers would be able to receive programming from either service without having to purchase a new radio receiver. Currently, each service is incompatible with the other company's receiver.

Although a few channels from the other service could be added fairly quickly onto each company's satellites, more than a handful would require some creative engineering solutions. The companies say they have been working on the appropriate technology and expect a full a la carte selection within a year.

Shareholders in both companies also expect a combined satellite-radio service to deliver savings that would improve each company's financial picture. Both companies have posted losses of hundreds of millions of dollars each year as they struggled to build subscriber growth while meeting extraordinarily high fixed costs, such as launching satellites.

As one company, the satellite-radio business could eliminate duplicate channels, such as the similar music channels each offers. It would also be rid of the bidding wars that have led to extraordinary price tags for talent like Howard Stern and Major League Baseball. And back-office staffs could be combined and cut, along with marketing budgets, research budgets and the like.

The Justice Department said those cost cuts played a role in its decision and estimated that the savings likely to be passed on to consumers would be "substantial." However, it also cautioned that the companies appeared to have exaggerated some of the savings.

The proposed merger gives the holder of each XM share 4.6 shares of Sirius, valuing XM at $4.59 billion based on Monday's prices. XM rose 15% to $13.79, and Sirius gained 8.6% to $3.15. (photo & info from The Wall Street Journal)

Monday, March 24, 2008

New DirecTV satellite will add high def channels

A new 13,058-pound DirecTV satellite, launched March 20 from the Pacific Ocean-based Sea Launch platform, will further boost DirecTV's HD capacity, enabling it to deliver up to 150 national HD channels when the satellite goes into service this fall. With the additional capacity, DirecTV will also expand its delivery of local HD channels to more than 100 markets, representing 84 percent of US TV households.

DirecTV will launch another satellite in 2009 that will enable it to offer consumers up to 200 national HD channels.

DirecTV 11, a Boeing 702 model satellite, lifted off from the Odyssey Launch Platform aboard a Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket from the equatorial Pacific launch site at 154 degrees West longitude. The Oddyssey was originally built to be an oil-drilling platform, but was converted for rocket launching.

The Sea Launch Company is based in Long Beach, California, and is a joint venture of Boeing and companies based in Norway, Russia, and Ukraine. It provides heavy lift launch services to the commercial market. With the advantage of a launch site on the Equator, the Zenit-3SL rocket can lift a heavier spacecraft and provide longer life in orbit than other launch locations.

After one hour and 55 seconds in flight, the rocket left the spacecraft in a geosynchronous transfer orbit with a high point of 1,323 miles above the Indian Ocean. The satellite's ultimate geostationary orbit position will be at 22,236 miles above the earth. Controllers at the ground station in South Africa have made contact with the satellite and confirmed it is functioning properly.

DirecTV 11, the tenth owned and operated satellite in the DirecTV fleet, will be maneuvered into a circular orbit at 99.2 degrees West longitude and when tests are completed, it is expected to begin operations in early September, providing capacity for up to 50 additional national HD channels.

The new satellite's transponders will also begin delivery of local HD channels to new markets across the US, expanding the number of markets where DirecTV offers local HD broadcast networks to more than 100 by the end of 2008. DirecTV now offers 92 national HD channels and provides local HD broadcast channels in 77 cities, representing approximately 76 percent of US TV households.

Friday, March 21, 2008

PS3 updates include BD-LIVE

Sony yesterday announced that the next system software update for Playstation (PS3) computer entertainment system, due in late March, will add Blu-ray Disc (BD) Profile 2.0 or BD-LIVE, enabling PS3 owners to experience interactive features, such as downloadable video content, ringtones, games, and more.

In addition to BD-LIVE, the system software update (v.2.20) will enable photo and music playlists on PS3 to be copied to PSP (PlayStation Portable) handheld entertainment systems, among other new features. These updates demonstrate how PS3 continues to evolve as a home entertainment hub with the flexibility to deliver the newest technology innovations that benefit PS3 owners.

BD Profile 2.0 requires an Internet connection and at least 1GB of local storage.

The following features have all been demonstrated as possibilities with BD-Live and will vary by movie title.

A variety of downloadable content can be offered, including bonus scenes, shorts, trailers, subtitles, ringtones that can be sent to mobile phones, images, and more.
Interactive movie-based games can pit players who are sitting in the same room, or are across the world and online, against each other.

In conjunction with the PS3 firmware update, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment announced two BD-LIVE enabled titles to be released on April 8: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and The 6th Day. Both titles will include exclusive downloadable content that goes beyond what is available on the actual Blu-ray discs. These initial releases preview some of the new developments that will soon be available from BD-LIVE on Blu-ray disc.

Beyond BD-LIVE, the new system software update enhances PS3 system’s interoperability with PSP system, enabling users to take their music and photo playlists with them on-the-go with their PSP. To copy a playlist, PSP and PS3 must first be connected with a USB cable, and the PSP must be in USB mode. Then, on PS3, select “Copy” in the option menu of each music or photo playlist, and choose PSP as the destination. Now the playlist order, and the songs or photos themselves, will be accessible on the PSP’s Memory Stick PRO Duo anytime, anywhere. This new functionality makes it easer to share media content between the two systems.

The following new features will also be included in the system software update.

“Resume play” will enable PS3 system to start playing a Blu-ray disc and DVD at the point it was stopped, even if the disc had been removed.

“Audio Output Device” will be a new Remote Play setting, enabling PSP to serve as a remote control for music played through PS3.

PS3 system’s Internet browser will be enhanced: Video files directly linked from a Web page will be able to be streamed, and the browser’s view speed will be improved.

DivX and WMV format videos that are larger than 2GB will be playable.

“Mosquito Noise Reduction” will be added as an AV setting in the control panel of the DVD/BD player for improved movie playback.

PS3 and PSP systems were designed to continually evolve with regular system software updates that deliver new features. There’s no additional investment required from consumers, who simply update their systems and can immediately enjoy the benefits of the added functionality.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wells Fargo to offer online "safe"

Yesterday Wells Fargo announced their vSafe service, the first online storage solution from a financial institution that lets banking customers store and organize copies of important materials, such as financial statements, loan and tax documents, wills, passports, and birth, marriage and death certificates.

By protecting information in an electronically secure and centralized location, customers can easily access and recover copies of critical documents in the event of a natural disaster, theft or hard drive crash, or while traveling. Wells Fargo will start the service later this year.

Wells Fargo’s online security technology protects and preserves documents stored in the Wells Fargo vSafe service, providing peace of mind while helping customers stay organized. The Wells Fargo vSafe service is integrated with the Wells Fargo Online® banking service and allows customers to automatically upload account statements each month.

Customers can access their Wells Fargo vSafe account from any Internet connection – unlike hard drives, flash drives and archiving solutions. The service includes:

  • The power to store virtually any popular file format (e.g., Word documents, PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, photos, audio and video files).
  • An easy-to-use interface and standard folders such as “Medical,” “Legal” and “Family” to organize materials. Customers can add, modify and delete these folders.
  • The ability to have Wells Fargo account statements automatically uploaded.

    Wells Fargo takes a layered approach to security for all of its online products, and has done the same with the Wells Fargo vSafe service. From the moment account information leaves computers to the time it enters Wells Fargo’s system, all data is encrypted to securely transmit and store it. Optional security devices are available for customers who wish to have an additional layer of security.

    Wells Fargo is supporting Wells Fargo vSafe customers with dedicated online help, and customers may call a dedicated toll-free customer service number if they prefer help from a customer service agent.
    This is a preview, not a review.
  • Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Use your cellphone as a boarding pass

    First came the kiosk, a strange addition to airport terminals when Continental Airlines began offering it as a check-in option in 1995. It was followed by Web check-in, introduced by Alaska Airlines in 1999.

    Now Continental is testing electronic passes, allowing travelers to pass through security and to board planes without handling paper. Their boarding pass is an image of an encrypted bar code displayed on their phone’s screen, which can be scanned by gate agents and security personnel.

    When using the other airlines’ mobile check-in services, customers still have to print a boarding pass at an airport kiosk, though most carriers are eager to eliminate this step once the Transportation Security Administration gives its approval.

    The agency has been working with Continental since December to test electronic boarding passes, which for now can be used only for nonstop domestic flights out of the Houston hub of Continental.

    The technology being tested by Continental uses a two-dimensional encrypted bar code, which is much tougher to copy than the one-dimensional bar code used by many airlines for boarding passes printed online. And that is a major reason the T.S.A. is expected to embrace the technology.

    With the electronic boarding passes, passengers still need to show photo identification when they pass through security, and that ID must match the information in the bar code on the phone.

    The one-dimensional bar code is the symbol most familiar to consumers — a series of vertical lines. The two-dimensional version looks more like the snow on a television screen that has lost its signal. It can hold more information and is more adaptable than the magnetic stripes that used to be the industry standard.

    Not only are those magnetic stripes more expensive to print; they also do not work with the Web and the mobile check-in options that carriers hope more passengers will embrace.

    The International Air Transport Association, which establishes global guidelines for the airline industry, announced a standard for two-dimensional bar codes last October, and expects that its 240 members will be using these bar codes exclusively by the end of 2010. That will save the industry about $500 million annually, and will also pave the way for wider adoption of electronic boarding passes, which several foreign carriers have already introduced.

    Air Canada, for instance, has been using electronic boarding passes with its mobile check-in service since last September, for flights to domestic and international destinations except those in the United States. Other foreign carriers that use some type of digital boarding pass system include Japan Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines and Spanair.

    As mobile devices become more sophisticated and applications for smaller screens evolve, airlines expect passengers will be able to use their phones, BlackBerrys and other mobile devices for a growing number of services, like rebooking a ticket after a missed connection, switching seats, checking standby status or seeking an upgrade. (info & photo from The New York Times)

    Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Milk Chocolate Pecan BillyBobs:
    deliciously addictive

    First an admission of stupidity: I love walnuts and pistachios and cashews and pignolias; but for some unknown reason, I thought I hated pecans. Last Spring, I was ravaging a can of mixed nuts with a fellow nut nut, and he informed me that what I thought were walnut pieces were really pecans; and I liked them.

    Naked pecans from the can are fine, but the best way to eat them is coated with gooey caramel and melt-in-mouth milk chocolate, as sold by Malley's Chocolates in Ohio. They've been selling delicious chocolates and ice cream since 1935. The company has 17 stores, and they have obviously perfected the BillyBob recipe.

    Malley's BillyBobs are deliciously addicting. Two enthusiastic eaters can easily wipe out a 14-ounce box in a few minutes. If you really don't like pecans, you can get cashew BillyBobs, too.

    Prices are the same online or in-store, and shipping charges are reasonable, especially if you order two or more boxes of joy; and it would be stupid to order just one. If you spend $600, shipping is free! Ice packs are available at an additional charge for warm weather or warm climates. CLICK

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Wi-fi portable media players from Haier

    Haier (pronounced "higher") is a giant Chinese manufacturer known mostly in the US for compact refrigerators and wine coolers. The company is just over 20 years old, but is now considered to be the third largest appliance maker in the world. They recently expanded into televisions and other consumer electronics products, including portable media players.

    Three Wi-Fi-equipped "Ibiza" series models can provide wireless access to the Rhapsody streaming and download site. The players also deliver Wi-Fi 802.11b/g access to 20 free Rhapsody streaming channels in encrypted and unencrypted home networks and hot spots. The top model adds stereo Bluetooth for use with Bluetooth headphones and to stream music to Bluetooth-equipped audio systems and speakers.

    The Ibiza models are: $329 30GB model with Bluetooth, $249 8GB, and $229 4GB. Each one is available in several colors.

    The players also deliver wireless access to more than 1,000 preset audio podcasts and some video podcasts. They also feature a wireless Web browser, though Web browsing is not a primary function because of the small 2.5-inch screens. Feature and service updates can also be downloaded wirelessly.

    The units play video in the MPEG-4, protected and unprotected WMV, AVI, and H.264 formats. Music can be stored in MP3. WAV, AAC and protected and unprotected WMA formats. The units also have FM tuners.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Friday, March 14, 2008

    New Elph cameras coming from Canon

    Canon will debut three new 10-megapixel digital Elph cameras in the next few months.

    The SD890 IS, SD790 IS and SD770 IS all include optical image stabilization, face detection and Canon’s DIGIC III engine. The Elphs will also incorporate Canon’s new motion detection technology. When the cameras detect motion, they will automatically boost the ISO, or lower the ISO when no motion is detected.

    Also new for the Elph line is AF Point Zoom, which is used in face detection mode to digitally enlarge the face of a subject in the frame. The cameras also feature automatic red-eye correction, in-camera editing and will bundle a 32MB SD card.

    The PowerShot SD890 IS has a 5x optical zoom lens, a 2.5-inch LCD display, ISO 3,200, 14 scene modes and an optical viewfinder. It's due in April for $399.

    The SD790, for $349, has a 3-inch LCD, a 3x optical zoom lens, ISO 3,200 and 14 scene modes. It should be avalable this month.

    Canon will ship the SD770 IS in April for $299. It features a 3x optical zoom, 2.5-inch LCD, 300 shots-per-charge battery life, 13 scene modes and ISO 1,600. (info from Twice)
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Black & Decker rechargeable Handisaw

    I've had lots of saws. Manual and power. AC and battery. Jigsaws, circular saws, coping saws, hack saws, mitre saws, keyhole saws, buck saws, scroll saws, table saws, chain saws, chop saws and Sawzalls.

    Some of them get used less than once a year. My new favorite -- the Black & Decker HandiSaw -- gets used at least once a week. It's so versatile and so much fun to use that If I don't need to use it, sometimes I invent a project for it.

    It has a unique design, combining a reciprocating saw and jig saw -- but with the size, shape and weight of a lightweight electric drill. It's light enough to cut with just one hand, and compact for easy access to tight spots. It's great for cutting drywall for electrical boxes. Just poke a starter hole, and then push in the HandiSaw blade and cut the shape you want. I also like it for PVC pipe.

    HandiSaw is cordless for quick and convenient cutting. B&D says that when its 6-volt battery is charged, it can make up to 200 cuts of 1/2" oak dowels. It comes with blades for wood and metal.

    It cuts almost anything, anytime, anywhere, including thin metal, drywall and up to 1" wood or plastic. You can use it to trim shelves, molding, dowels and furring strips; or take it outside to trim branches to slice through roots. You can use standard T-shank and U-shank jig saw blades; and to change a blade, you just press a lever -- there's no need to hunt for a hex key. A safety swich locks the blade. The wall mountable charger provides continous charging for grab-and-go convenience. The motor provides 1,850 strokes per minute with a 1/2-inch stroke length.

    Price is about $40, at Amazon, Sears and Lowes.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Electronic grocery list has voice recognition

    SmartShopper is an easy-to-use electronic device that helps you make your grocery list. Simply press its Record button and say the name of the items you want to buy, press Print, and SmartShopper prints your list categorized by grocery departments such as "frozen foods" or "produce.".

    SmartShopper comes pre-loaded with over 2,500 food, beverage, household, beauty, and office items, and recognizes words as specific as swordfish, emory boards, and lawn bags, allowing you to store and print shopping lists simply by speaking.

    It's designed to magnetically attach to your refrigerator, and also can be wall-mounted or kept on a countertop. The unit uses a speaker-independent voice recognition system to match a spoken item with one in its database. It has an LCD screen that puts your list in alphabetical order, and it recognizes errands, such as going to the bank, library, or veterinarian. You can also add items to the database, up to a maximum of 5,000 items.

    The built-in thermal printer never requires ink replacement. It uses four AA batteries. Suggested retail price is $150 but I've seen it selling for less than $120.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2008

    Unlocked cellphones use your own SIM card

    If you're stuck with a cellphone contract for an un-cool phone from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or other carriers, you can pluck out your SIM card, and slide it into a sexier new phone from Sharper Image. You keep your phone number, and your carrier, and your monthly costs don't increase. Four models are available, with sexy 21-st Century styling and technolgy. Prices start at $169.95. CLICK

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Oh goody. Here comes another hi-def DVD format

    Just weeks after the battle for the next-generation high definition DVD format ended, with Blu-ray triumphing over HD DVD; a new contender has emerged.

    A new system that is incompatible with Blu-ray, called HD VMD, for versatile multilayer disc, is trying to find a niche. New Medium Enterprises, the company behind HD VMD, says its quality is equal to Blu-ray but costs less. By undercutting Blu-ray in production, replication and hardware costs, it thinks it can find a market among consumers with less income, particularly outside the US.

    An HD VMD player costs less than a Blu-ray because it uses the red-laser technologies found in today’s standard-def DVD players. The Blu-ray and HD DVD machines use a more-expensive blue laser system. “We do not intend to take on Blu-ray,” said Shirly Levich, New Medium’s VP and product development manager. “We see VMD as a natural extension of mass market DVD product enhanced to HD capabilities. We shall not rekindle the format war.”

    The industry and consumers may not see it that way, given that the company is promoting its price advantages. While Blu-ray players typically cost more than $300, an HD VMD unit is priced at $199. Sales through Amazon are scheduled to begin in five weeks. No talks have been held with the big-box retailers, like Wal-Mart Stores.

    New Medium thinks its secret weapon is Michael Jay Solomon, one of Hollywood’s best-known film distributors, who has been named its chairman.

    Although he has yet to approach the studios, Solomon, a former president of Warner Brothers International Television, said his long tenure in the industry would help him succeed in licensing movies for HD VMD. “It’s a combination of my good experiences and continual relationships,” Solomon said.

    No matter how cheap a player is, it is useless unless major movies are released using its format. To date, New Medium has come up short. Just 17 movies are available to customers in the US at the company’s online store, including little-known ones like “The Enigma With a Stigma” and “Kandukondain Kandukondain,” a Bollywood production. Its major suppliers to the American market are Anthem Pictures, Eros Entertainment and SFM Entertainment, all independent distributors. Some bigger movies, like “Apocalypto,” are available in other territories.

    But even without major studio movies, Solomon thinks the company will be successful. The low cost of producing HD VMD master discs, from which the consumer products are made, and the inexpensive consumer players have attracted owners of movie rights in China, India and Spain. Solomon said Australia, China, India, Central Europe, Russia and Scandinavia would be major markets. “We can sell players for $90 and make a profit,” he said.

    In the United States, Solomon believes that producers of lesser-known movies, like religious organizations and independent filmmakers, will see HD VMD as a cost-effective way to create high-definition versions of their programming.

    The Blu-ray camp is unimpressed. New Medium’s price strategy will fail, said Andy Parsons, chairman of the Blu-ray Disc Association, a trade group, because it relies on a false assumption: Blu-ray technology will always be more expensive.

    “When you mass produce blue lasers in large quantities, hardware costs will absolutely come down,” Parsons said. “I’m sure we’ll eventually be able to charge $90 for a Blu-ray player.”

    The HD VMD camp “is pitching a solution at a market niche that does not exist,” said Carmi Levy, senior vice president for strategic consulting at AR Communications, a Toronto research firm. “And even if it is a niche, you will never sell enough to make it a business.”

    Solomon dissents. “Our idea is to create a player that people can afford. There is room for the two of us.” Unfortunately, consumers who bought HD DVD players that are now orphaned may not agree. (info from The New York Times)

    Friday, March 7, 2008

    iPhone improvements aimed at business users

    Apple unveiled plans to make the iPhone more appealing to corporate users, in an effort to compete with the BlackBerry and greatly broaden the array of programs available for the iPhone. The idea is to construct a foundation on which software developers can create future programs, much in the same way that Microsoft's Windows operating system has become the standard for PC applications.

    Apple announced the release of the Software Developers' Kit for the iPhone on Thursday, opening the door for third-party applications and games on the device. Apple addressed some of the major shortcomings of the iPhone that have limited its appeal among business users. The device has been criticized for lacking strong compatibility with corporate email systems, and many businesses have prohibited their employees from using iPhones, in large part out of security concerns. Business-friendly capabilities have helped make the BlackBerry a popular mobile email device among companies.

    To compete more seriously for that audience and its huge spending power, Apple said it licensed Microsoft technology called ActiveSync, that will deliver email more immediately to iPhone users whose companies run Microsoft's Exchange corporate email software. Currently, iPhone users experience a delay in getting such email. The iPhone also will tie in with corporate contact lists and calendars so that, for example, a new appointment entered into a calendar at the office will show up on a user's iPhone.

    Apple also said the iPhone will have features that make it more secure to use over wireless networks and give corporate information-technology departments better control over the devices, allowing them, for example, to remotely wipe all data from stolen or lost iPhones to protect sensitive information. The new features will be part of a free software update for the iPhone, which will be distributed over the Internet beginning in June.

    Even without these capabilities, the iPhone has made inroads into the US smartphone market, nabbing the No. 2 position, with a 28% share, after the BlackBerry. But the device may need greater appeal among business users if it is to meet Apple's goal of selling 10 million iPhones this year. From the iPhone's launch in late June through early January, Apple sold more than four million iPhones.

    But Apple remains a small player in the broader market for cellphones, in which more than a billion handsets are sold per year. In that field, carriers have long controlled technical standards in ways that make life difficult for software companies; programmers must make slight adjustments for individual carriers and the phones they choose.

    A program developed for PCs, by contrast, typically can run on many computer makers' machines because of technical standards set by Microsoft in operating systems and Intelin microprocessor chips. Consequently, Microsoft, Intel and Google, as well as Apple have been trying to build a PC-style environment for software development in cellphones and other pocket-size communications devices. Google, for example, is trying to spur software development along with the adoption of an operating system for mobile phones called Android.

    Aside from the competition, the relatively high price of the iPhone -- which starts at $399 -- makes it hard to reach a mass audience.

    For Apple, a company that has focused on the consumer market for years, trying to attract business users is a special challenge. Apple's announcements included a long-awaited set of tools, called a software development kit, that will allow independent programmers to create a broad array of software, including programs to look up hospital records, and games. Several companies showed off software that they had developed in less than two weeks for the iPhone, including games publisher Electronic Arts, which showed an iPhone version of a game called Spore, in which a small amoeba-like creature devours other organisms. Players control the amoeba by using a motion-sensing controller inside the iPhone, tiling it in different directions.

    Apple's Steve Jobs said Apple would act as a distributor for iPhone software, allowing it to be downloaded directly to the device or purchased on PCs though its iTunes Store and later transferred to the iPhone. Jobs said Apple will give developers 70% of whatever they charge for their iPhone applications, keeping the remaining 30% to pay for the costs of distributing the applications. He said Apple won't distribute certain types of applications for the iPhone, including pornography and anything that invades the privacy of users.

    Apple also plans to place restrictions on VoIP, software for the iPhone that could let users make inexpensive calls over the Internet. Apple will allow such software to work over short-range Wi-Fi wireless connections, but not over carriers' cellular network. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

    Thursday, March 6, 2008

    Money-making opportunity: get $4,000 from Bill & Melinda Gates for catching malaria

    Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) announced plans for a program where volunteers will be exposed to the deadliest form of malaria, which kills at least a million people a year. Most victims are African children. But scientists were quick to point out that participating in the clinical trials won't be a life-threatening experience.

    While many volunteers will contract malaria, the cloned strain used in the experiments can be quickly cured, and does not cause a recurring form of the disease.

    Lt. Col. James F. Cummings, participated in malaria trials at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. "I felt like I had the flu — chills and shakes for the first few hours," Cummings said. He was improving within eight hours of treatment. Symptoms vary. One study found the average volunteer felt bad for about three days.

    "It's really important for people to understand how well-controlled this process is," said Dr. Patrick Duffy, head of SBRI's malaria research programs. "The disease follows a predictable course, and it's treated very early — as soon as parasites show up in the blood."

    It's highly unusual for medical researchers to intentionally expose people to a disease — particularly one as serious as malaria. The standard approach is to recruit a large group, give half a drug, half a placebo — then wait to see who gets sick.

    The trials are time-consuming and will require several nights under medical supervision in a hotel. Volunteers will be compensated, probably in line with the $2,000 to $4,000 paid at Walter Reed. The initial trials will begin within 18 months, Duffy said.

    A private lab in Seattle's South Lake Union district, SBRI has become a top malaria research center, largely because of funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The world's richest philanthropy has devoted more than $1 billion to malaria, including $350 million for development of a vaccine.

    With several promising vaccines and drugs in the pipeline — and Walter Reed's facility maxed out — it was important to establish another center for human trials.

    SBRI was picked because the lab already has a high-security insectary, where researchers raise malaria-infected mosquitoes for research. Contained within three nested rooms, the mosquito lab is equipped with double doors and an air-pressure system designed to suck any escapees back inside.

    SBRI scientists are working on a vaccine that uses genetic engineering to render malaria parasites harmless. They also will analyze blood from the human volunteers to learn more about the body's immune response to the disease.

    Eliminated long ago in wealthy nations, malaria remains one of the top killers in the developing world. The parasite that causes the disease has evolved resistance to many drugs, contributing to a resurgence.

    The volunteers will be closely monitored, checking into a hotel around five or six days after their mosquito bites. Medical staff from the University of Washington will take blood samples every morning and night. At the first sign of parasites in the blood, volunteers will begin taking the anti-malaria drug chloroquine, which completely eliminates the disease. (info from the Seattle Times)

    Wednesday, March 5, 2008

    Wireless PC telecom/music headset coming from Logitech

    Yesterday at the CeBIT electronics show in Germany, Logitech unveiled the company’s first wireless stereo headset designed for Internet calling with a PC. The Logitech ClearChat PC Wireless headset combines stereo audio with 2.4 GHz wireless technology, allowing people the freedom to move around when they make VoIP phone calls or listen to music from PCs.

    The Logitech ClearChat PC Wireless enables people to move freely up to 33 feet from their computer. With the included USB transmitter, the headset connects to a PC or Mac computer right out of the box – no software or pairing required. And to help ensure no call gets interrupted, the headset’s 2.4 GHz wireless technology features uncompressed stereo audio and an advanced algorithm that minimizes interference – even in noisy wireless environments, such as airport or hotel, according to Logitech.

    The manufacturer says that the ClearChat PC Wireless delivers rich, high-quality stereo audio through proprietary laser-tuned audio drivers. The headset features a noise-canceling microphone on a flexible boom that adjusts to the desired distance from the mouth. Additionally, volume and microphone mute controls are located on the right earpiece and the microphone automatically mutes when rotated to an upright position. As an added convenience, the microphone emits a soft, red glow when muted.

    The headset features a padded headband and plush ear pads. The headset works with popular Internet calling applications, including Skype, Windows Live, Yahoo!, Google Talk and AIM.

    In addition to Internet calling, the ClearChat PC Wireless headset provides high-performance audio and a comfortable design for listening to music, watching movies or playing games on the PC. The Logitech ClearChat is expected to be available in the in May for a suggested retail price of $99.99.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Tuesday, March 4, 2008

    New Blu-ray players coming from Sony

    Sony updated its Blu-ray hi-def DVD player line, announcing two new models that will be capable of accessing advanced interactive features such as BonusView and BD-Live.

    The BDP-S350 and BDP-S550 models both support BonusView (Picture-in-Picture) featured on some of the new Blu-ray Disc theatrical releases. The BDP-S350 is BD-Live ready featuring an Ethernet port for an easy firmware update and access to Internet-based interactive content features. The BSP-S550 is BonusView and BD-Live capable when it ships.

    Both models also feature an external port for local storage, so users can add optional flash-based memory. The BDP-S550 ships with a 1GB storage device.

    The players feature 1080/60p and 24p True Cinema output. They are compatible with most standard DVDs and feature 1080p upscaling through an HDMI connection to capable HDTV sets, improving the picture performance of existing DVD libraries.

    The models offer 7.1 channel Dolby® TrueHD and Dolby® Digital Plus decoding and bit-stream output, as well as dts®-HD High Resolution Audio and Master Audio bit-stream output. The BDP-S550 adds dts-HD High Resolution Audio and dts-HD Master Audio decoding as well as 7.1 channel analog audio output.

    The players support AVCHD discs encoded with x.v.Color™ (xvYCC) technology, an international standard for wide color space reproduction. The standard expands the current data range of video by about 1.8 times, allowing the players to output more natural and vivid colors similar to what the human eye can actually see. The players also feature compatibility with an array of video formats, including BD-R/RE (BDMV and BDAV modes), DVD+R/+RW, DVD-R/-RW (Video Mode), CD, CD-R/RW (CD-DA format), and JPEG on DVD//CD recordable media.

    The new models feature a slim design with reduced depth and height compared to previous models. The BDP-S350 is due this summer priced at about $400 and the BDP-S550 will be available in the fall for about $500.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Monday, March 3, 2008

    Devcon bathtub patch kit is crappy,
    but it's cheaper than a new bathroom

    Somehow my wife or one of the cleaning ladies dropped something heavy and sharp onto the edge of her bathtub and it made a hole in the fiberglass, about one inch long, a quarter inch wide, and an eighth of an inch deep.

    Beloved wife has been using this as an excuse to campaign for a bazillion-dollar remake of her john, but there are three main reasons not to do it:

    (1) There are more important things to spend a bazillion dollars on.

    (2) She'd never be able to pick out the tile, cabinets, counter, faucet, etc.

    (3) Even if we did get the new new john, she or the cleaning ladies would quickly damage something expensive.

    So, being the resident handyman, I perused the shelves of our local Lowes and Home Depot and found a package that seemed to answer our prayers: the Devcon Seal-N-Place Bath/Tub Epoxy Repair Kit.

    Devcon, part of tool giant ITW, is a major maker or adhesives and lots of other chemicals, and I felt confident in paying 20 bucks for their package, to stop leaks, repair holes, fill cracks, "complete in minutes." It promises to patch white or almond plastic, fiberglass and ceramic tubs, with holes or cracks up to five inches long.

    I bought the thing a while ago, and it periodically got lost and rediscovered; and frankly I was in no hurry to fix the tub.

    Yesterday I was in wife's john to fix the phone jack and replace a toilet valve. So as long as I was crawling on the floor anyway, it seemed like the right time to tackle the tub job.

    I cleaned out the wound, as instructed, and sanded around it. The supplied sandpaper was extremely good -- probably the best thing I got for my $20.

    I then cut a piece of the woven fiberglass patching cloth and it immediately started to unravel. I cut off the loose threads, and it unraveled some more. I cut a fresh piece, and found it was impossible to stop the unravelling. Ultimately I gave up on this step.

    Next I squeezed the plastic bag to merge the two parts of the epoxy mix, kneaded it together for a while, cut the bag, and squeezed the goop into the package which acted as a tray.

    The next step was to use the supplied brush to apply the goop to the wound. Unfortunately, with each brush stroke, brush hairs came out of the brush, and stuck onto the bathtub. When I tried to remove the hairs, they got glued to my fingers.

    It took awhile, but ultimately I got a fairly neat patch job, and when the glop dries, I'll try to sand it smooth. It will probably look a little better than the hole.