Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Digger's Choice fried clam kit:
for yourself, for a party, or to get lucky

Your humble editor has been cooking and eating clams for many years, but except for a couple of very unsatisfying experiences heating frozen clam strips (think of warm gummy worms), I'd never had fried clams at home before.

A while ago, I received a nice email from Mike Annable of Diggers Choice in Wareham Massachusetts, near Cape Cod. Mike buttered me up with compliments about my WeLoveClams website, and asked if I'd provide a link to the Diggers Choice site.

We get lots of requests for links, and, since the clam website is not my fulltime gig (neither are the blogs), I seldom have time to investigate the requests, and I don't link just anyone. But since Mike said that the folks in his office thought the site was funny; and only a few very enlightened people (not including my wife) appreciate my sense of humor, his request deserved special attention.

Anyway, I went to the Diggers Choice website, and immediately started salivating. I placed an order for a do-it-yourself fried clam kit, and the next morning the UPS driver left a box at my front door, and sped away without ringing the bell. This could have been a tragedy, but my dog barked and I opened the door.

Since I've encountered a lot of lousy fried clams, made by professional cooks in real restaurants, I was not at all optimistic about cooking my own. I'm an OK amateur, but really had no idea what was involved, and doubted that I'd produce anything edible on my first attempt.

The meal was amazing -- way beyond what I expected. I can't say that they're the best fried clams I've ever had, but they're definitely much better than most of the fried clams I've had.

Although our frying oil was of dubious quality, and our kitchen crew had never fried clams before, the amazing freshness of the clams came through. Many restaurants serve frozen clams, or "fresh" clams that have been hanging around for three or four days, after traveling for three or four days. These clams were on the beach on Tuesday, and in our bellies on Wednesday. We could definitely taste the difference.

Another advantage over the pros: In restaurants, your cooked clams can sit around for ten minutes, drying out under the heat lamp until the server brings them to you. If you order a large portion, the second half will be cold before you finish the first half (and cold fried clams suck). When you make your own clams, you cook a small portion (maybe a dozen per person) and eat them while they're hot and juicy. After you finish, it takes just a minute or two to make a second batch, and a third batch, and a fourth batch, and...

Frying clams at home is a great party idea. It's easy, and will provide your guests with a unique experience -- much hipper than fondue or tacos or s'mores. It's fun, too; and you can probably convince guests to cook and clean while you concentrate on eating and drinking.

Also, consider making fried clams with your sweetie for an intimate Valentine's Day dinner. Clams are great aphrodisiacs; and clams and beer are two of the vital food groups necessary for nurturing human brain cells.

Most people have never had really good fried clams, and with next-day delivery of a Diggers Choice Fried Clam Kit, there is no reason to settle for second-rate clams. CLICK for the Diggers Choice website. They're also a great source for delicious lobsters, steaks, oysters, shrimp, scallops and more. If you can't get lucky after serving one of their meals, try a new deodorant!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hasten La Vista, Baby

I like to make history -- even little bits of probably insignificant history that won't get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

I was the first customer when CompUSA opened in White Plains, New York. I got the first credit card when CompUSA opened in Norwalk, Connecticut. I bought the first copy of Windows 95 sold at Egghead Software (once a 200-store chain) in Yonkers, New York.

This morning, I bought the first copy of Microsoft Vista at Staples in Milford, Connecticut. Actually, I sort of bought it.

I was the first customer when they opened at 8AM. I was the first customer who wanted to buy Vista. I was the first customer who wanted to buy an upgrade version of the Ultimate Edition, and I was the first customer who wanted to buy the Small Business Edition of Microsoft Office 2007.

Unfortunately, the Milford Staples didn't have them in stock, and neither did the Staples stores in neighboring towns. The software is being sent to me from a Staples warehouse, and I should have Vista and Office in my office tomorrow.

Oh well, at least my receipt says I made history today.
UPDATE: Vista arrived Wednesday morning. It took nearly three hours to install, but no smoke came out of the PC and everything seems to work OK. Grusome details later.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Magnetic Multi-Mount holds lots of things

If you ever lost a light, or wanted to hang WD-40 on your tool cart, or put a salami on the tailfin of your 1960 Cadillac, the magnetic Multi-Mount® is the solution. It provides storage, security, availability, organization and portability for the things you need to keep handy.

It has hundreds of uses. It can hold flashlights, trouble lights, spray cans, small power tools, brooms, tape guns and more. It firmly grips metal beams, walls, storage racks, file cabinets or tool cabinets for easy access.

Powerful magnets and adjustable straps allow it to attach objects weighing up to 3 pounds to smooth, ferrous metal surfaces that are at least .06” thick. CLICK to order from

Friday, January 26, 2007

Philips wireless HDMI has 25-foot range

(This is a preview, not a review.)
At the recent 2007 International Consumer Electronics Show, Philips announced what they called the world’s first wireless HDMI system, a two-piece transmitter and receiver capable of transmitting 1,080p Hi-Def video plus multi-channel signals losslessly.

The system, model SWW1800, operates in the ultrawideband range, eliminating interference from other wireless technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cordless phones, microwaves and cellphones. The wireless HDMI transmitter can be placed anywhere within a 25 foot range of the receiver — in an entertainment center, in a closet, or on the other side of the room — without signal loss or degradation, Philips said.

It should be available in May. Price is about $300 -- which, unfortunately, is not much more than some HDMI cables.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

DirecTV portable satellite receiver

This is a preview, not a review.
At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, satellite television service DirecTV introduced Sat-Go, the world's first fully-integrated, portable satellite TV.

Scheduled to be available in a few months, Sat-Go is an easy-to-carry, briefcase-like design that includes a 17-inch LCD monitor with integrated DirecTV receiver, flat antenna and replaceable rechargeable laptop-style battery. It weighs about 25 pounds.

Once the Sat-Go unit is opened, its quick and simple setup makes it easy for users to aim it at DirecTV satellites and receive programs (provided the user is within range of the signal).

Sat-Go was designed to be compact and highly portable for a variety of outdoor and indoor settings, including camping and hiking trips, RVing, tailgating, dormitories, hospital rooms, hotels/motels, emergency response, and in-home as a second TV set.

When not being used as a portable/travel unit, Sat-Go can be a stand-alone, in-home DirecTV system. The LCD TV has a built-in receiver, which can be separated from the Sat-Go antenna casing and connected to a customer's existing DirecTV satellite dish. Price was not announced, but will probably be about $1000 - $1300.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Less work for your fingertips:
Dolby circuit maintains constant volume

At the recent International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Dolby Laboratories demonstrated Dolby Volume, a new audio-processing technology designed to help television makers address the annoyances of inconsistent loudness in broadcast TV, that causes TV-watchers to keep adjusting the volume settings on their remote controls.

According to the company (noted for advancements in noise reduction and multi-channel sound): "Dolby Volume brings a fundamentally new approach to TV entertainment by delivering consistent volume levels. It models how humans perceive audio to eliminate variable loudness when changing channels or programs, without disruptive audio artifacts. It also delivers a robust and vibrant audio experience at low volume by dynamically compensating for the human ear's lower sensitivity to bass and treble sounds as the volume level decreases. These adjustments are automatic and do not require user intervention as the volume changes."

Dolby expects to begin delivery of Dolby Volume code to integrated circuit manufacturers early this year.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Radio in a chip

You probably won't buy one of these, but you might buy something that has one inside.

Silicon Laboratories Inc. just announced an AM/FM receiver in an integrated circuit chip that enables broadcast reception to be easily added to consumer devices such as clock and portable radios, MP3 players, docking stations, cellphones, sex toys and bread warmers.

The Si473x is said to be the first fully integrated AM/FM radio receiver from antenna input to audio output in a single monolithic IC. According to Silicon Labs, conventional AM/FM radio circuits are large, expensive and difficult to make, limiting inclusion of radio functionality in many small, portable, high-volume applications.

The single-chip Si473x requires only two external components in 0.15 cm2 of board space compared to more than 50 components and 10 cm2 of board space for conventional solutions. Silicon said that the Si473x significantly simplifies design and manufacturing. The Si473x is the only AM/FM receiver that does not need manual alignment, which can take up to several minutes per device. While traditional AM/FM solutions may require four stages of hand tuning, the Si473x supports a wide variety of antennas with an on-chip varactor and auto calibration to streamline manufacturing. More at

Friday, January 19, 2007

Swiss Army knives are for girly-men.
This is for tool guys.

Paladin is a designer and manufacturer of a wide range of high quality electronics tools.

SOG is a designer and manufacturer of a wide range of high quality knives favored by the military and law enforcement. Navy SEALs use SOG knives.

A few years ago, the two companies got together to develop PowerPlay, a multi-function tool for electronic geeks.
It’s like having a complete tool kit that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s light weight, compact and easily carried on your belt, in your pocket, or in your car's glove compartment. With a single tool you can work with Romex® - cut it, strip it, twist it, loop it – even install a wall outlet or switch. Cat3 or Cat5e are no problem either. Cut it, strip it, punch it down, for phone or data.
Beyond that, PowerPlay is everything you would expect in a premium multi-tool and more. Work with it during the week, and play with it on the weekend.
PowerPlay is not your average multi-tool. We’ve all used multi-tools for camping, fishing, or around the house. Maybe you even use one everyday on the job. But until PowerPlay, multi-tools lacked the dedicated components required to be truly useful in electronics and electrical work.
How many times on the job, or while visiting friends or family, have you heard, “While you’re here could you take a look at this?” Or maybe you’re in a crawl space or in the ceiling and you ran into something unexpected. Were you ready?
PowerPlay is designed specifically for datacomm, telecom and electrical work, but also handles a wide range of general tinkering. You'll save time because you always have the right tool. SOG's patented Compound Leverage™ System gives it double the cutting and gripping power of ordinary multi-tools. It's very well made, and easy to use -- you can flip it open with one hand.
Paladin PowerPlay is 24 tools in one, a tool box in your pocket. Here's some of what it can do: ►Cut and strip Cat3, Cat5e, Cat6, coax, Romex and BX. ►Punch down wires. ►Cut holes in drywall. ►Replace hard drive. ►File your nails. ►Clean your teeth. ►Scare away muggers. ►Cut pizza. ►Open beer bottles. ►Screw. ►Unscrew. ►Impress your friends. ►Intimidate your rivals. CLICK to order from

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hitachi introduces the last hard drive you'll ever need. Maybe.

A lot less than a million years ago, I debated whether to spend an extra $200 to get a 40meg (not gig) hard drive instead of a 20meg. The RadioShack salesman pointed out that if I got the 40, it would last me the rest of my life, because I'd never fill it up.

He was wrong.

A few years later, when I gave electronics advice on Compuserve (a pre-web online community that was once bigger than AOL), people laughed when I told them to "think gigs, not megs."

I was right.

It wasn't that long ago, that one-gigabyte drives first came down to $1000; yet at last week's Consumer Electronics Show, Hitachi introduced a $399 hard drive that holds 1 terabyte of data. That's the equivalent of ONE THOUSAND GIGABYTES (one trillion bytes).

The drive, called the Deskstar 7K1000, can hold 250,000 MP3 songs, 500 standard-definition movies, or 125 high-definition movies.

A PC-oriented version of the drive will be available within a few months, and later this year, Hitachi will introduce a version for manufacturers of DVRs, digital jukeboxes and set-top boxes.

The first hard drive, made by IBM, shipped in 1956. Hitachi notes it took the industry 35 years to reach 1GB (in 1991), 14 years more to reach 500GB (in 2005), and just two more years to reach 1TB.

Some salesman will probably tell you that a 1TB drive will last the rest of your life, because you'll never fill it up. Don't believe him.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Soon everybody can have a talking car

Talking transportation is not new.

In animals, we've had Francis the talking mule, and Mr. Ed, the talking horse, of course.

NBC's My Mother, the Car," featured a woman who was reincarnated as a 1928 Porter. KITT, the modified Pontiac Trans Am on NBC's Knight Rider, had a lot to say.

Some real cars had annoying vocal reminders. (The most annoying was probably Chrysler's Electronic Voice Alert in 1982, which could say "A door is ajar".) Navigation systems tell us when to turn. Talking alarms try to scare away bad guys and attract the cops.

Soon Ford, the company that bought motoring to the masses, will make smarter talking and listening cars available to everyone, with help from Microsoft.

Ford's new Sync system was unveilled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, and uses both voice recognition and voice sythesis for a variety of functions.

The system allows drivers to have have cellphone text messages read aloud, and use Bluetooth to make handsfree phone calls and to control entertainment systems. The system's voice recognition system has settings for English, Spanish, and Canadian French. Although drivers can't dictate a text response, Sync allows drivers to reply to text messages with canned responses selected by voice command, and sent as text.

Ford said Sync allows people to bring into their vehicle nearly any mobile phone or digital media player and operate it using voice commands or the vehicle's steering wheel or radio controls. Sync integrates the vehicle with the popular portable electronic devices of today and is upgradeable to support future devices and services.

Sync will debut on the 2008 Ford Focus, Fusion, Five Hundred, Edge, Freestyle, Explorer and Sport Trac; Mercury Milan, Montego and Mountaineer; and Lincoln MKX and MKZ; and will be on all Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles in the future.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Black & Decker compact 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.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Harmony 880 universal remote control
controls just about everything

If you're a typical reader of this blog, you probably have five or six remote controls for your home entertainment components. Two are probably missing and one has weak batteries.

For a decade or more, manufacturers have attempted to simplify our lives with so-called "universal" remotes that could replace a pile of others.

Some models are like small PC touch screens. Some look like regular remotes, with a gazillion tiny buttons and unreadable labels. Some are programmed by aiming the Infrared output of a regular remote, into an Infrared receiver in the universal remote. Some are programmed by inputting endless digits for each component you want to control -- and provide endless frustration because the digit sequences for some brands just don't work. And even if you do get the unit programmed properly, it can be a real PITA to use, because of conflicting label functions and non-intuitive design.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in 2002, I discovered a new company in the universal remote business, Intrigue Technologies from Canada. The company was founded by Justin Henry and Glen Harris, two biomedical engineers. They, like many, were frustrated by the complexity of operating a home theater system with all the required remote controls. They spent two years developing what would become the Harmony Remote Control, with two important new ideas:

  • Harmony's remotes get their control codes from an ever-growing online database with information for 175,000 devices from 5,000 manufacturers. (If a new product isn't online, the remote can learn the signals.)
  • You control your system be selecting a task, not a device. You make a choice such as "watch a DVD," instead of having to remember which six key strokes are necessary to get a picture on the TV screen.
  • I ordered a first-generation Harmony, but was disappointed with it. I tried setting it up a few times, but kept getting frustrated, and it has stayed in a drawer for nearly five years.

    In 2004, Logitech -- a Swiss-based maker of PC accessories -- bought Intrigue Technologies, and pumped in some money and brains to develop more products, better products, and less expensive products; and added Mac programming for Applegeeks.

    The Harmony 880 is a midrange remote. Suggested retail price is $250, but it's available for $165- $200 online. Less expensive models start at $100 at Sam's Club, or about $150 elsewhere.

    It's easy (but not necessarily quick) to set up. You load some software into your PC or Mac, and then connect the remote with a USB cable. A wizard walks you step-by-step through the set up. You enter the model numbers of your components, then answer a few questions about how you "Watch TV" or "Watch a DVD."

    It's easy to use. Just press an activity button, such as "Watch TV" or "Listen to Music," and your Harmony remote automatically sets up each of the devices required for that activity, in the proper sequence.

    It's easy to get help. No sound? No picture? No problem. A handy "HELP" button can guide you through simple troubleshooting.

    The Harmony 880's color LCD is both functional and stylish, with user-customizable backgrounds, button icons and text. There's space for up to eight custom activities or controls.

    An on-screen battery level indicator plus a charger/docking station will help you keep the remote fully charged. Its Lithium-ion battery provides up to one-week use The horizontal docking station allows the remote to be used while charging. CLICK for more.

    Friday, January 12, 2007

    Scientific Atlanta UR2-CBL-CV04:
    world's most annoying remote control

    I've recently replaced some TiVo Digital Video Recorders ("DVRs") with Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVRs from my cable TV company, Cablevision.

    I had no complaint avout TiVo, but the new boxes can record two programs at one time, and record in HiDef, and the monthly cost of one cable company DVR is less than two TiVos.

    The performance and features of the Sci-At boxes are fine. They have 160-gig hard drives, which can record up to 90 hours of regular programming or 20 hours of HiDef; a connector for an external hard drive for additional storage; Dolby Digital 5.1 sound; fast forward and rewind at three different speeds (4x, 10x and 32x); and an 8-second instant replay.

    I do, however, have some major beefs with the design of the remote controls.

  • If you want to find out about the plot in a particular recorded TV show, and then delete it, it takes SEVEN FRIGGIN' KEY STROKES, compared to just two with TiVo.
  • The buttons on the remote are NOT ILLUMINATED, and if you accidentally hit the wrong button in the dark, you have to go back to the beginning of a recording, and then fast-forward and "rewind" umpteen times to get back where you were before.

  • Scientific Atlanta employs some very smart people. They should devote some time to fixing this inexcusably dumb remote.

    Soccer mom's ride gets pimped:
    new Chrysler minivans can play TWO movies.

    If your kids can't agree on which DVD to watch on the way to the grandparents or Grand Canyon, you may be able to restore family harmony with a 2008 Chrysler Town & Country or Dodge Grand Caravan.

    Twenty-four years after helping to invent the soccer mom, Chrysler introduced its fifth generation minivans at the Detroit auto show. The new vans can be equipped with two independent DVD entertainment systems, allowing occupants of the middle and third rows to watch different movies or videos. When the entertainment ends, the middle seats can swivel around to face the rear seats, so the kids can fight over which DVD was better.

    Thursday, January 11, 2007

    Is that an iPod in your projector or are you happy to see me?
    (This is a preview, not a review.)

    Viewsonic, which recently started selling PC monitors with built-in iPod docks, extended its "ViewDock technology to video projectors at the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show.

    The company said its PJ258D is the world's first High Definition, fully-featured, multifunction, "Made for iPod," DLP front projector.

    Built on Texas Instruments' DLP platform, the PJ258D provides 1024x768 XGA resolution (which is not exactly Hi-Def, but should be good enough for iPods), 2,000 lumens of brightness and a 2000:1 contrast ratio.

    The PJ258D brings new entertainment options to iPod owners by giving them the portable display technology to take viewing experiences from pocket size to life-size, without a PC. Weighing less than four pounds, the PJ258D is said to be a portable powerhouse ideal for teens, young adults, home theater enthusiasts, and business professionals looking to take their digital media content to any environment from living room and basement walls, to hotel rooms and conference rooms.

    A video iPod fits directly into the projector, eliminating the need for a computer to project video. It also charges the iPod's battery while playing. The projector supports other popular digital media including S-Video and VGA, which enable users to quickly connect to PCs, DVD players and video game consoles. We assume it has audio outputs, but don't know about internal speakers. The PJ258D is expected to be available in a few months at about $1000.

    Wednesday, January 10, 2007

    Rumors were right: iPhone is real.
    (This is a preview, not a review.)

    This is a big week for the hardware geek, with slews of new Big Boys' Toys being revealed at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and the Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco.

    At Macworld, BigMac Steve Jobs turned long-swirling rumors into reality. Steve revealed the iPhone -- the Swiss Army Knife of cellphones that does just about everything but wipe your behind. (Apple's use of the iPhone name is being challenged by Cisco Systems. CLICK for more.)

    Apple built a bunch of functions into one lightweight handheld device: an innovative cell phone (for Cingular only); a widescreen video iPod with touch controls; an Internet communications device with email, web browsing, maps, and searching; random access voicemail; a new user interface based on a large multi-touch display and new software to let you control everything by tapping or sliding a finger, like on a laptop touchpad; a 2 megapixel camera; WiFi; Bluetooth; and maybe a nail file and bottle opener.

    • iPhone is a widescreen iPod with touch controls that lets you enjoy all your content — including music, audiobooks, videos, TV shows, and movies — on a beautiful 3.5-inch widescreen display. It also lets you sync your content from the iTunes library on your PC or Mac. And then you can access it all with just the touch of a finger.

    • iPhone is a cellphone that allows you to make a call by simply pointing your finger at a name or number in your address book, a favorites list, or a call log. It also automatically syncs all your contacts from a PC, Mac, or Internet service. And it lets you select and listen to voicemail messages in whatever order you want — just like email.

    • iPhone features a rich HTML email client and Safari — said to be the most advanced web browser ever on a portable device — which automatically syncs bookmarks from your PC or Mac. Safari also includes built-in Google and Yahoo search. iPhone is fully multi-tasking, so you can read a web page while downloading your email in the background over Wi-Fi or EDGE.

    • iPhone features the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse. It’s an entirely new interface based on a large multi-touch display and innovative new software that lets you control everything using only your fingers. You can glide through albums with Cover Flow, flip through photos and email them with a touch, or zoom in and out on a section of a web page — all by simply using iPhone’s multi-touch display.

    • iPhone’s full QWERTY soft keyboard lets you easily send and receive SMS messages in multiple sessions. The keyboard is predictive, so it prevents and corrects mistakes, making it easier and more efficient to use than the small plastic keyboards on many smartphones.

    • iPhone’s accelerometer detects when you rotate the phone from portrait to landscape orientations, then automatically changes the display so you immediately see the entire width of a web page or a photo in its proper aspect ratio.

    • The proximity sensor detects when you lift iPhone to your ear and immediately turns off the display to save power and prevent inadvertent touches until iPhone is moved away.

    • An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the display’s brightness for the current ambient light, enhancing the image and saving power.

    Two versions of the iPhone should be available in June. The 4gig will sell for $499 and 8gig for $599. I like my new Samsung Sync cellphone very much, but I might make a change in June. However, iPhone won't replace my 80gig iPod, except for short trips.

    Tuesday, January 9, 2007

    Sandisk mini video player uses flash memory.
    (This is a preview, not a review.)

    At the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show, flash memory maker SanDisk introduced Sansa View, its first widescreen portable media player. The flash-based Sansa View is a sleek, yet simple, video player that supports a wide array of content formats and comes equipped with a memory expansion slot.

    Other compact video players have used hard drives, but flash memory uses much less power, providing longer playing time between battery charges.

    While the Sansa View is pocket-able, it features a large 4” widescreen display. It can show movies, display photos (up to 16 megapixels), play music, or even combine the two in a slideshow. The player has a speaker, and can also be used with a headset. Audio and video (up to 1080i) can be fed to other equipment through a 30-pin connector.

    The Sansa View has 8GB of internal flash memory to store up to 33 video hours or 2,000 songs or thousands of photos. Its flash memory expansion slot can also be used for additional memory capacity, and playback of content found on SD and SDHC cards, such as Disney® Max Clips™.

    Works with most download and music subscription services, including Rhapsody, MTV Urge™ and Yahoo! Music™. Works with Windows Media Player™ 10 or 11 for syncing of content, and with Windows Vista™. Removable Li-Polymer battery provides up to four hours of continuous video playback and 10 hours of continuous audio playback. An extended-life battery—will be sold separately. The Sansa View should be available in a few months, for under $300.

    Monday, January 8, 2007

    HOLY SH!T. Sharp shows 108" TV.
    (This is a preview, not a review.)

    At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2004, Samsung and LG showed plasma TVs in the 80-inch range. In 2005, Samsung was the champ with a 102-inch model. In 2006, Panasonic outdid them with a 103-incher.

    This year Sharp is up to 108 inches with a flat set that could double as a garage door or a jet plane blast shield.

    Since developing the world’s first 14-inch color TFT LCD TV in 1988, Sharp has made bigger and bigger screen sizes, introducing the first 45-inch and the first 65-inch models.

    This humongous LCD TV measures nearly 8 feet wide and has 2.07 million pixels (1,920 x 1,080). You can expect the guys at Pimp My Ride to put it in the back of some poor kid's ratted-out pickup truck in a few months.

    Panasonic phone provides free calls.
    (This is a preview, not a review.)

    At the Consumer Electronics Show on Sunday, Panasonic debuted its Globarange series of hybrid 2-Line cordless phones that can provide free VoIP calls between Globarange phones around the world.

    Panasonic will market the phones in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Hong Kong, UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Austria and Russia (but strangely not in Japan, Panasonic's homeland).

    The company hopes Globarange phones will establish a "global community" of callers. The phones won't be very important for calling within the US, where long-distance is just about free; but if Tia Teresa in Mexico City or Grossvater Max in Berlin can be convinced to get the phones, and broadband service, it might work.

    Panasonic says the phones are easy to set up, work without a computer, and you can talk as long as you want to any other Globarange phone user.

    Panasonic's two Globarange phones are both Hybrid 2-line models, which allow calls to be made and received via both the VoIP line and regular landline connection from any of up to eight cordless handsets. The Globarange phones provide a solution for consumers who want to add VoIP service but do not want to lose the advantages of their current landline service such as 911 access or fax compatibility.

    The base units of the Globarange phones provide both a standard telephone jack for regular phone service, as well as an Ethernet jack to connect to Broadband service. Simply connect the Globarange base to Broadband, and Globarange calls can be made in minutes. Globarange phones do not require a PC, and they operate like any other phone.

    Other features of both models include Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology for maximum security and minimum interference, Call Waiting Caller ID, handset speakerphones, eight-handset expandability, large three-line backlit LCD, and a tri-color incoming call-status indicator light.

    The Globarange BB-GT1500B with one handset will have a list price of $99.95. The Globarange BB-GT1540 with digital answering system and dual keypads will list for $129.95. Both are due in the Spring.

    Saturday, January 6, 2007

    The best thing about January is February candy

    January is named for Janus, the Roman god of doors. I'm not sure why the Romans needed a door god; but they had loads of gods, so they could certainly spare one to watch the door. Maybe Janus was the first bouncer.

    Anyway, January is the door to the year, and I like January a lot.

    Annoying election advertising is a distant memory. Annoying Christmas music is fading fast. Each day we get a few more minutes of daylight. Five PM now comes during the day, not at night. The earth is warming. Spring is coming (even though it's 72 degrees here in Connecticut, and we haven't had any winter yet).

    But the best thing about January can be found in chain drugstores like CVS. That's where you can get JuJu Hearts, the magical chewy-gooey red cherry candies I've been addicted to since babyhood. If I close my eyes when I open the package, the sweet aroma transports me to Cherry Blossom Time in Washington DC, or at least to my grandmother's apartment in the Bronx.

    When I was a kid, my Grandma Del would buy pounds and pounds from Krum's -- the pre-eminent candy store in the Bronx, or maybe in the world. Some years she even arranged to buy the huge pile of hearts on display in the window, at a special price after Valentine's Day. We grandchildren would get a few pounds in February, and Grandma would stash the rest in her freezer, to be gradually defrosted and doled out throughout the year. (In later years, when Grandma Del moved to Florida, I provided JuJu Hearts for her.)

    Krum's was famous for its candies and ice cream sodas, and used to be on the Grand Concourse between 188th Street and Fordham Road. In the front of the store was a huge display case of chocolates and other candies, and farther back you could sit and slurp. The landmark Lowe's Paradise Theater was across the street, and before McDonalds and Taco Bell came to town, teenagers went to Krum's for a post-picture snack.

    The Lowe's Paradise has been reincarnated as a mostly-Latino concert venue, Grandma Del and Krum's are long gone, but JuJu Hearts are as good as ever. The price has gone from 15 cents a pound to 99 cents for a 12 ounce bag, but addicts don't care about the cost of their fix. (If you're willing to spend $50, you can get JuJu Hearts for as little as $1.09 per pound from Metro Candy & Nut.)

    JuJu Hearts' taste and texture are unique: sweeter and softer than red hot dollars, but not as sweet or slimy as Gummi bears or worms. Strangely, the JuJu Heart formula doesn't seem to be used for anything else, at any other time of year -- not even for JuJubes or Jujyfruits. But that's OK. JuJu Heart season is only a little longer than the bloom of the Cherry Blossom. The rarity makes them more special, and less destructive to teeth and glucose levels... and freezers make it possible to prolong the pleasure.

    JuJu history
    • The JuJu name apparently comes from the jujube, a red fruit first cultivated in China over 4,000 years ago, that can be used for tea, wine, and throat medication, or eaten as a snack.
    • A jujube tree in Israel is estimated to be over 300 years old.
    • The jujube's sweet smell is said to make teenagers fall in love, and in the Himalaya mountains, young men put jujube flowers on their hats to attract hot Sherpa babes.
    • In West Africa, a Juju refers to the supernatural power ascribed to objects or fetishes. Juju can be synonymous with witchcraft, and may be the origin of the American voodoo.
    Some of the first JuJu Hearts were made by the Henry Heide Candy Company, founded in 1869 by Henry Heide, who immigrated to New York from Germany. Heide Candy became known for Jujubes, Jujyfruits, jelly beans, Red Hot Dollars, Gummi Bears and Mexican Hats, which have been perennial favorites in movie theaters and five-and-dime stores.
    The business stayed in the Heide family through four generations, and was sold to Hershey Foods in 1995. In 2002, Farley's & Sathers Candy Co. acquired the Heide brand products from Hershey.
    While Farley's & Sathers makes lots of candy, they apparently do not make JuJu Hearts. The hearts come from Canada and are distributed by Mayfair Candy, in Buffalo, NY. Beware of imitators. Over the years, I've encountered some really crappy copies. Mayfair has the real thing. My dog loves them, too -- and he's very picky. UPDATE: strangely, there are two (maybe more) kinds of JuJu Hearts distributed by Mayfair. The "original" version is sold by Rite-Aid (and possibly others. I discovered another inferior version for the first time in 2007, at CVS. The individual candy pieces are smaller than the originals, and they have a second heart shape molded onto the front of each piece. They don't taste nearly as good as the originals: they're too sweet and not as chewy. Strangely, the same packaging, with same ingredients and same stock number, is used for both. I'll try to get an explanation.

    Special thanks to Philip Heide,
    and Roger McEldowney of Mayfair.

    Friday, January 5, 2007

    Not a review, but important news

    The Hi-Def DVD scene is complicated and unsettled, with two competing and incompatible formats: Blu-ray and HD DVD. Picture quality can be great with either, but Blu-ray (with more expensive players) offers longer playing time, and has support from more movie studios, and more consumer electronics companies and PC makers.

    Some movie makers and hardware makers support both formats, some just one, and some support neither.

    Despite the huge success of Hi-Def TVs, many consumers have been hesitant to invest in Hi-Def DVD players because they don’t want to get stuck with obsolete equipment if they pick the losing format, in a replay of the Betamax VCR situation.

    At next week’s Consumer Electronics Show, things will get simpler – and more complicated.

    Warner Bros. plans to present a new dual-format disc, “Total HD,” that will hold movies that can be played on both HD DVD players and Blu-ray players
    LG Electronics is expected to announce new DVD players that can play both formats.

    While this new flexibility might entice hesitant consumers to make an investment now, it delays the possible victory of one format, and increases the chance that a third competitor, or downloading, will be the victor.

    Thursday, January 4, 2007

    Stanley MaxLife 369 Tripod flashlight.
    Six LEDs and 13-1/2 volts.
    Made on Mars?

    I readily admit to being a flashlight junkie. My cars and drawers contain enough battery-powered illumination to rival the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. I have a tiny one-LED light on my key ring, Maglites of all sizes, and a gazillion-candle-power searchlight that can spot enemy bombers approaching the coastline.

    My newest light is a wierdo -- a unique light from Stanley that can be held like a conventional flashlight, and also transforms into a tripod-mounted trouble light. It seems to have been inspired by giant three-legged Martian mayhem makers in "the War of the Worlds."

    It's the only light I've ever seen that works on 13-1/2 volts -- from nine 1-1/2 volt AA batteries (included) stowed in its aluminum tripod legs. Stanley says the batteries will provide over 200 hours of light, and a low-power indicator light flashes when your power is waning.

    The head holds a cluster of six blue-white LEDs (that should last forever), but they don't all have to be on at the same time. A 4-position switch lets you choose Low, Medium, High or Off, and directs power from 3, 6, or 9 batteries, depending on your need.
    • When the tripod legs are spread apart (a button press releases a magnetic grip), the MaxLife 369 stands up by itself, and you can pivot the head into any of four positions to direct the light beam to change a tire or replace a hard drive. One preset position is slightly downward -- a nice idea -- for reading during a power failure or searching for a loosened plug in a dark corner.
    • In a black-out at home or a camping tent, you can aim the beam up to reflect off the ceiling and provide general illumination.
    • When the legs are "at rest," the MaxLife can be held like a conventional flashlight, to direct traffic or search for an earring or contact lens. The legs cluster around a cylinder of rubbery fins which position the legs and provide a good grip. When you press the "open" button, the spring-loaded legs pop out to stand up.
    It sells for about $28 at Amazon, $22 at Wal-Mart, and $18 at Costco. A cool tool. Highly recommended!

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007

    Accutone USB400:
    Falling in love again sounds very good

    I love listening to music with headphones, but I fall in love with headphones only once or twice each century.

    Around 1970, I fell in love with the Koss ESP/9 electrostatic. It was perfect for the Stones, the Dead, the Doors, the Who and Hendrix. It was huge and heavy and expensive, and required a brick-like power supply and its cord was too short; but the sound was overwhelming. The ESP/9 was actually too good for its era, because it was very obvious if an FM station deejay had not cleaned an LP before playing it.

    Around 1998, I fell in love with the Plantronics HS1 computer headset. It was perfect for most music, and its brain-thumping bass was great for games like Doom and Castle Wolfenstein. It had 3.5mm plugs, so I was able to use it with my portable CD player as well as my PC. Unfortunately, it was a big chunk of hardware to wear all day, and the high-isolation design made my ears too warm.

    It's 2007, and I've fallen in love again. This time, with the Accutone USB400. It's compact and lightweight. Its sound is pure and perfect. It's a great choice for music, games, movies and VoIP phone calls.

    The voice quality is absolutely amazing. Your taste in music may not be mine; but for evaluating vocal reproduction, I know of nothing better than Joan Baez singing "House of the Rising Sun." Joan's dynamic range goes from near whispers to near shouts, with brilliant clarity; and her high frequency energy can make speaker cabinets crumble and tweeters melt.

    The Accutone USB400 was nowhere near its limit when I quit raising the level; in fact, it could put out many more decibels than my ears could safely endure.

    At first I thought that the bass was too thin, but then I opened up the super-versatile software, and used its equalizer to kick up the low frequencies a bit, and I was in audio heaven. (Hard core gamers who demand kick-me-in-the-belly bass often prefer "circumaural" headsets that completely covers the ears.)

    The software turns the USB400 into a custom-tailored headset, and lets you do all kinds of acoustic tricks. It has both manual equalization and 16 preset EQ curves for different musical genres.

    You can even emulate different listening environments, venue sizes and mental conditions, such as concert hall, arena, living room, underwater, parking lot, pub, bathroom, padded cell, sewer pipe, drugged, dizzy or psychotic. If you have complex fantasies and want to be drugged in an underwater bathroom, you'll have to wait for a future software revision.

    I couldn't resist sliding some movie DVDs into my Media Center PC for a bit more testing. The velociraptors-hunt-the-humans-in-the-kitchen scene from "Jurassic Park," and the alien-cop-in-big-truck-chases-Arnold-on-motorcycle scene from "Terminator 2" were ear-shattering, eye-opening, and mind-bending.

    Sure, the USB400 is fine for making PC-based phone calls; but you're cheating yourself if your usage is strictly business. I spent hours checking out DVDs, streaming broadband, podcasts and old Napster files. I nearly peed in my pants, and was late for supper.

    If you're the type of person who'll pick music or movies, over fundamental biological needs, this headset is for you! Price is $65. CLICK for specs and to order from

    Tuesday, January 2, 2007

    Terrific trend in home theater receivers:
    XM readiness, with surround sound

    I recently went shopping for a medium-price A-V receiver for my den. The Panasonic unit I was replacing had lost one channel, and was so old it had an input labeled "VCR."

    I settled on a really nice Yamaha, that does everything I need, and had an unexpected feature -- XM satellite radio integration, what XM calls "XM Ready."

    XM Ready doesn't mean the receiver is actually ready to receive XM broadcasts. It's really just almost ready. To make it completely ready, you have to spend another 60 bucks to get two more packages of hardware: an XM "mini tuner," plus a "home dock," which includes an antenna and cable. The pieces snap together quickly, and should be working shortly after you activate your XM service. The receiver treats XM like just another input, and allows remote control, and presets of favorite channels.

    While it's semi-annoying to have to spend extra money for the dock and tuner, there is a potential advantage. If you don't need to use the tuner in one receiver all the time, you can snap it out and then snap it into another receiver in another part of your home, or in your office, or even into a future car stereo or portable -- and save the $7 monthly fee for another XM radio. The mini tuner is tiny and weighs almost nothing, and comes with a keychain holder, like a USB thumb drive.

    There are now about 50 XM Ready receivers, radios and home theater systems to choose from, from Yamaha, Sony, Denon, Onkyo, Harman-Kardon, Pioneer and others. Some even provide XM HD Surround Sound with 5.1 discrete channels. A few XM music channels and programs are now available in surround sound, using Neural Audio technology; and compatible components have a Neural logo on their front panels.

    You can hear XM HD Surround Sound on the free-form music channel Fine Tuning - XM 76 and the classical pops music channel, XM Pops - XM 113. XM will also broadcast a variety of future shows and live performances in surround, which enriches the listening experience with envelopment and detail not available in traditional broadcasts. CLICK for the XM website.

    Monday, January 1, 2007

    From the stealth force in power tools:
    Panasonic EY6225 3.6V cordless drill & driver

    Panasonic is sort of a "stealth force" in the tool business. They make some amazing products, but do little or no advertising; and their products are not widely distributed. I don't know why.

    My first Panasonic cordless screwdrivers were labeled Milwaukee and AEG -- major tool makers that preferred to re-badge Panasonic products rather than design their own. Car companies do this a lot.

    More recently, I bought a few Panasonic-labeled cordless screwdrivers that had better performance or more features than my older ones. My cordless drivers have a tough life. They get dropped and stepped on and dripped on and hammered with, but I've never had one fail.

    I almost never use plug-in tools.
    The Panasonic EY6225 is the "world-beater" of cordless screwdrivers. It actually has enough torque to do a lot of the work that would normally be done with a much heavier and bulkier drill. It's great for drilling small holes, as well as driving screws, for routine household fix-ups, woodworking, automotive repairs, and (not kidding) orthopedic surgery). Charging time is an amazingly low 15 minutes, so you probably won't need a second battery pack, unless you're very busy, or working far from a source of AC power for the charger. It's extremely rugged, and has survived falls from ladders, tumbles downstairs, and dog chewing.

    This awesome tool is longer than most cordless drivers, and a bit "nose heavy." When I first got mine, I didn't really like it. I put it back in the box, and planned to return it. I'm lousy about returning things, and it hung around the office for a couple of months. A while ago, I started building a new PC, and this tool was nearby and my other Panadriver was down two flights of stairs. I didn't feel like going downstairs, so I opened the box and gave it a quick charge.

    Once I started using it, it took me about 30 seconds to fall in love with it. Now I seldom use anything else for screwdriver work; and I use it in lots of cases where I would have used a drill in the past, like putting up shelf brackets. I really like the positive locking quick-connect chuck, that prevents bits from falling out. It's a WONDERFUL tool. Highly recommended. Cost is $162, with free shipping at