Friday, June 29, 2007

Buy a Blu-ray player, get five free flix

Seven Hollywood studios and six electronics companies have launched a summer Blu-ray Disc promotion offering five free movies from a list of 20 with the purchase of qualifying Blu-ray players between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2007.

If you spend $500, you could get freebies worth $150.

Studios in the program include Buena Vista, Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Bros. Hardware makers are Panasonic, Phillips, Pioneer, Samsung, Sony, and Sony Computer Entertainment.

Titles offered in the mail-in promotion include: Babel, Black Rain, Blazing Saddles, Chicken Little, The Corpse Bride, The Devil's Rejects, The Guardian, Hart's War, Invincible, The Italian Job, Kiss of the Dragon, The Last Waltz, The Omen [2006], Pearl Harbor, The Phantom of the Opera, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Species, Stealth, Stir of Echoes, Transporter 2, and Underworld: Evolution. (info from TWICE)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

iPhone: tomorrow? later? never?

If you want a really cool toy, and expect to use it with WiFi, or don't care about the Web, buy it tomorrow.

If you want a really cool toy, and expect to use if with AT&T's wireless internet service, wait six months, or a year, or more, for AT&T to provide fast service nationwide. With their current crippled EDGE network, it can take a minute or even two minutes to load a web page -- but it will look gorgeous.

Two weeks ago, I went to my local AT&T store (formerly a Cingular store) to cancel the data service for my Samsung Sync cellphone, because it took so long to load a web page. I told the AT&T guy that I might get the service again when I bought an iPhone. He told me that if I didn't like the web service with my Samsung, I'd absolutely hate it with the iPhone. What a salesman!

Today, I arranged for a sneak preview and was able to play with an iPhone for a few minutes. It's an amazing phone/camera/iPod/tech showpiece that's easy to love for many reasons; but the slow web speed will keep me from spending the big bucks.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

iPhone is super, despite slow web service

(This review was written by Walt Mossberg and Katherine Boehret and published in the Wall Street Journal; Copyright 2007 Dow Jones & Company)

One of the most important trends in personal technology over the past few years has been the evolution of the humble cellphone into a true handheld computer, a device able to replicate many of the key functions of a laptop. But most of these "smart phones" have had lousy software, confusing user interfaces and clumsy music, video and photo playback. And their designers have struggled to balance screen size, keyboard usability and battery life.

Now, Apple Inc., whose digital products are hailed for their design and innovation, is jumping into this smart-phone market with the iPhone, which goes on sale in a few days after months of the most frenzied hype and speculation we have ever seen for a single technology product. Even though the phone's minimum price is a hefty $499, people are already lining up outside Apple stores to be among the first to snag one when they go on sale Friday evening.

We have been testing the iPhone for two weeks, in multiple usage scenarios, in cities across the country. Our verdict is that, despite some flaws and feature omissions, the iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well, though it sometimes adds steps to common functions.

The Apple phone combines intelligent voice calling, and a full-blown iPod, with a beautiful new interface for music and video playback. It offers the best Web browser we have seen on a smart phone, and robust email software. And it synchronizes easily and well with both Windows and Macintosh computers using Apple's iTunes software.

It has the largest and highest-resolution screen of any smart phone we've seen, and the most internal memory by far. Yet it is one of the thinnest smart phones available and offers impressive battery life, better than its key competitors claim.

The phone is thinner than many smart phones. It feels solid and comfortable in the hand and the way it displays photos, videos and Web pages on its gorgeous screen makes other smart phones look primitive.

The iPhone's most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism. After five days of use, Walt -- who did most of the testing for this review -- was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years. This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing errors on the fly.

But the iPhone has a major drawback: the cellphone network it uses. It only works with AT&T (formerly Cingular), won't come in models that use Verizon or Sprint and can't use the digital cards (called SIM cards) that would allow it to run on T-Mobile's network. So, the phone can be a poor choice unless you are in areas where AT&T's coverage is good. It does work overseas, but only via an AT&T roaming plan.

In addition, even when you have great AT&T coverage, the iPhone can't run on AT&T's fastest cellular data network. Instead, it uses a pokey network called EDGE, which is far slower than the fastest networks from Verizon or Sprint that power many other smart phones. And the initial iPhone model cannot be upgraded to use the faster networks.

The iPhone compensates by being one of the few smart phones that can also use Wi-Fi wireless networks. When you have access to Wi-Fi, the iPhone flies on the Web. Not only that, but the iPhone automatically switches from EDGE to known Wi-Fi networks when it finds them, and pops up a list of new Wi-Fi networks it encounters as you move. Walt was able to log onto paid Wi-Fi networks at Starbucks and airports, and even used a free Wi-Fi network at Fenway Park in Boston to email pictures taken during a Red Sox game.

AT&T is offering special monthly calling plans for the iPhone, all of which include unlimited Internet and email usage. They range from $60 to $220, depending on the number of voice minutes included. In an unusual twist, iPhone buyers won't choose their plans and activate their phones in the store. Instead, they will do so when they first connect the iPhone to the iTunes software.

Despite its simple interface, with just four rows of colorful icons on a black background, the iPhone has too many features and functions to detail completely in this space. But here's a rundown of the key features, with pros and cons based on our testing.

Hardware: The iPhone is simply beautiful. It is thinner than the skinny Samsung BlackJack, yet almost its entire surface is covered by a huge, vivid 3.5-inch display. There's no physical keyboard, just a single button that takes you to the home screen. The phone is about as long as the Treo 700, the BlackBerry 8800 or the BlackJack, but it's slightly wider than the BlackJack or Treo, and heavier than the BlackBerry and BlackJack.

The display is made of a sturdy glass, not plastic, and while it did pick up smudges, it didn't acquire a single scratch, even though it was tossed into Walt's pocket or briefcase, or Katie's purse, without any protective case or holster. No scratches appeared on the rest of the body either.

There are only three buttons along the edges. On the top, there's one that puts the phone to sleep and wakes it up. And, on the left edge, there's a volume control and a mute switch.

One downside: Some accessories for iPods may not work properly on the iPhone. The headphone jack, which supports both stereo music and phone calls, is deeply recessed, so you may need an adapter for existing headphones. And, while the iPhone uses the standard iPod port on the bottom edge, it doesn't recognize all car adapters for playing music, only for charging. Apple is considering a software update to fix this.

Touch-screen interface: To go through long lists of emails, contacts, or songs, you just "flick" with your finger. To select items, you tap. To enlarge photos, you "pinch" them by placing two fingers on their corners and dragging them in or out. To zoom in on portions of Web pages, you double-tap with your fingers. You cannot use a stylus for any of this. In the Web browser and photo program, if you turn the phone from a vertical to a horizontal position, the image on the screen turns as well and resizes itself to fit.

In general, we found this interface, called "multi-touch," to be effective, practical and fun. But there's no overall search on the iPhone (except Web searching), and no quick way to move to the top or bottom of pages (except in the Web browser). The only aid is an alphabetical scale on the right in tiny type.

There's also no way to cut, copy, or paste text.

And the lack of dedicated hardware buttons for functions like phone, email and contacts means extra taps are needed to start using features. Also, if you are playing music while doing something else, the lack of hardware playback buttons forces you to return to the iPod program to stop the music or change a song.

Keyboard: The virtual keys are large and get larger as you touch them. Software tries to guess what you're typing, and fix errors. Overall, it works. But the error-correction system didn't seem as clever as the one on the BlackBerry, and you have to switch to a different keyboard view to insert a period or comma, which is annoying.

Web browsing: The iPhone is the first smart phone we've tested with a real, computer-grade Web browser, a version of Apple's Safari. It displays entire Web pages, in their real layouts, and allows you to zoom in quickly by either tapping or pinching with your finger. Multiple pages can be open at the same time, and you can conduct Google or Yahoo searches from a built-in search box.

Email: The iPhone can connect with most popular consumer email services, including Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, EarthLink and others. It can also handle corporate email using Microsoft's Exchange system, if your IT department cooperates by enabling a setting on the server.

BlackBerry email services can't be used on an iPhone, but Yahoo Mail supplies free BlackBerry-style "push" email to iPhone users. In our test, this worked fine.

Unlike most phone email software, the iPhone's shows a preview of each message, so you don't have to open it. And, if there is a photo attached, it shows the photo automatically, without requiring you to click on a link to see it. It can also receive and open Microsoft Word and Excel documents and Adobe PDF files. But it doesn't allow you to edit or save these files.

Memory: The $499 base model comes with four gigabytes of memory, and the $599 model has eight gigabytes. That's far more than on any other smart phone, but much less than on full-size iPods. Also, there's no slot for memory-expansion cards. Our test $599 model held 1,325 songs; a dozen videos (including a full-length movie); over 100 photos; and over 100 emails, including some attachments, and still had room left over.

Battery life: Like the iPod, but unlike most cellphones, the iPhone lacks a removable battery. So you can't carry a spare. But its battery life is excellent. In our tests, it got seven hours and 18 minutes of continuous talk time, while the Wi-Fi was on and email was constantly being fetched in the background. That's close to Apple's claim of a maximum of eight hours, and far exceeds the talk time claims of other smart phones, which usually top out at five and a half hours.

For continuous music playback, again with Wi-Fi on and email being fetched, we got over 22 hours, shy of Apple's claim of up to 24 hours, but still huge. For video playback, under the same conditions, we got just under Apple's claim of seven hours, enough to watch four average-length movies. And, for Web browsing and other Internet functions, including sending and receiving emails, viewing Google maps and YouTube videos, we got over nine hours, well above Apple's claim of up to six hours.

In real life, of course, you will do a mix of these things, so the best gauge might be that, in our two-week test, the iPhone generally lasted all day with a typical mix of tasks.

Phone calls: The phone interface is clean and simple, but takes more taps to reach than on many other smart phones, because there are no dedicated hardware phone buttons. You also cannot just start typing a name or number, but must scroll through a list of favorites, through your recent call list, or your entire contact list. You can also use a virtual keypad.

One great phone feature is called "visual voice mail." It shows you the names or at least the phone numbers of people who have left you voicemail, so you can quickly listen to those you want. It's also very easy to turn the speakerphone on and off, or to establish conference calls.

Voice call quality was good, but not great. In some places, especially in weak coverage areas, there was some muffling or garbling. But most calls were perfectly audible. The iPhone can use Bluetooth wireless headsets and it comes with wired iPod-style earbuds that include a microphone.

A downside -- there's no easy way to transfer phone numbers, via AT&T, directly from an existing phone. The iPhone is meant to sync with an address book (and calendar) on a PC.

Contacts and calendars: These are pretty straightforward and work well. The calendar lacks a week view, though a list view helps fill that gap. Contacts can be gathered into groups, but the groups can't be used as email distribution lists.

Syncing: The iPhone syncs with both Macs and Windows PCs using iTunes, which handles not only the transfer of music and video, but also photos, contacts, calendar items and browser bookmarks. In our tests, this worked well, even on a Windows Vista machine using the latest version of Outlook as the source for contacts and appointments.

iPod: The built-in iPod handles music and video perfectly, and has all the features of a regular iPod. But the interface is entirely new. The famed scroll wheel is gone, and instead finger taps and flicking move you through your collection and virtual controls appear on the screen. There's also a version of the "cover flow" interface which allows you to select music by flipping through album covers.

Other features: There are widgets, or small programs, for accessing weather, stock prices and Google Maps, which includes route directions, but no real-time navigation. Another widget allows you to stream videos from YouTube, and yet another serves as a notepad. There's a photo program that displays individual pictures or slideshows.

The only add-on software Apple is allowing will be Web-based programs that must be accessed through the on-board Web browser. The company says these can be made to look just like built-in programs, but the few we tried weren't impressive.

Missing features: The iPhone is missing some features common on some competitors. There's no instant messaging, only standard text messaging. While its two-megapixel camera took excellent pictures in our tests, it can't record video. Its otherwise excellent Web browser can't fully utilize some Web sites, because it doesn't yet support Adobe's Flash technology. Although the phone contains a complete iPod, you can't use your songs as ringtones. There aren't any games, nor is there any way to directly access Apple's iTunes Music Store.

Apple says it plans to add features to the phone over time, via free downloads, and hints that some of these holes may be filled.

Expectations for the iPhone have been so high that it can't possibly meet them all. It isn't for the average person who just wants a cheap, small phone for calling and texting. But, despite its network limitations, the iPhone is a whole new experience and a pleasure to use.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Keep your kids quiet. Backseat TV coming from Sirius

Sirius will offer mobile television service with a receiver supplied by Directed Electronics in the fall of this year, to sell for about $299 in stores, or built-into some Chrysler Corp. vehicles for $470.

According Sirius, the retail product will work with any existing car video system or radio. The unit includes a display module, a hideaway black-box receiver and two remote controls, including one with large buttons for kids in the rear seat and one for playing Sirius radio in the front seat. The service will cost $19.95 per month and will be sold as a package for standard Sirius radio plus Sirius video service.

If consumers already have a Sirius radio subscription, they will pay an additional $7.00 per month, but you have to have an audio subscription to have the video subscription. Sirius will offer three channels of programming for its TV service, which is aimed at kids, from Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network.

On an OEM level, the service called Sirius Backseat TV will be offered starting in the 2008 model year through Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge vehicles at $470. It may be available through other car makers in the future. (info from TWICE)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Heading to L.L. Bean? Stop at Cindy's for the best fried clams on Earth

Freeport, Maine is best known as the home of L. L. Bean, and a growing number of outlet stores.

On a shopping trip in the summer of 2003, we decided to take a slightly slower drive back to our hotel in Portland, and instead of getting right on Interstate 295, we went south on Route 1, and made a wonderful discovery - Cindy's seafood stand.

The sign said CLOSED and we drove past, but one of the kids said she saw a light on, so I made a quick U-turn and pulled into the driveway.

I didn't know if business had been slow that day, or if owner Bob Pottle and his crew were just taking pity on famished clam fanatics; but they were extremely gracious, staying late to make us some magnificent munchies. The food was so good, we drove back for lunch the following day.

Cooking whole-belly clams is a delicate process. If they are undercooked, they can be really disgusting, with soggy dough falling off. If they are cooked too long, they become rocks or ashes.

Bob has perfected the art. His clams are crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, with the best batter I've ever tasted (also used on mushrooms and onion rings).

Clam chowder is heavenly. Lobsters, either whole or in chunks on a roll, are fresh and flavorful. Depending or market conditions, you might find a big bargain.

I got some neat stuff at L.L. Bean; but the next time I went to Freeport, it was for clams, mushrooms and onion rings, not fishing rods, moccasins and back packs; and I go back twice each summer.

Hours are 11 AM to 7 PM Sunday through Friday (closed on Saturday). The address is 174 Yarmouth Road (Route 1), just north of Exit 17 from Interstate 295. You can call 207-865-1635. When summer ends, the food stops flowing, and host Bob Pottle and family switch gears to sell Halloween and Christmas items.

The food stand has been open since 1980 and is named in honor of Bob's daughter. The signs don't mention the SUPERB fried clams and steamers, but it's not a secret anymore. Bob has very high standards. If he can't get perfect clams, he doesn't buy any. Bob is justifiably proud of his cooking and baking, and if he senses that you're a serious eater, he'll probably offer you samples of some of the items you haven't ordered.

Cindy's is more than a restaurant. It's also kind of a museum and amusement park. There's lots to keep you busy while your food is being prepared. You can get souvenir T-shirts, mugs and more, and pose for phunny you can leave with more than a smile and a full belly.

CLICK for more.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Crystal-encrusted electronics

Those of you who are bored with traditional silver, black or white electronic gadgets, will be able to buy headphones and USB drives encrusted with Swarovski crystals later this summer.

The Active Crystals line from Philips includes ear buds, ear-hook style headphones and a pendant–style set of ear buds designed to be worn around the neck, all with Swarovski crystals. There are also four 1GB USB drives concealed in wearable lock- and heart-shaped crystal-encrusted cases.

The accessories are aimed at the gift market, with suggested retail prices expected to range from $79 to $179. They'll be carried in department stores, electronics chains and Swarovski stores beginning in August. Or, you can wait until November and get them at dollar stores, flea markets or

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Scoops are perfect for scooping salsa:
more dip with less drip

I love tortilla chips and salsa. Most chips are too big to dip into a salsa jar, and it can be a pain to have to use a spoon to scoop out the salsa and spread it on a chip, which will probably break apart in your hand and drip the salsa all over.

Back in 2001, Frito-Lay, maker of lots of terrific crunch foods, extended their Tostitos Tortilla Chips product line with Tostitos Scoops, which can hold a heaping teaspoon of salsa or other glop or goo with its unique bowl-shaped design.

Tostitos have been around since 1981, and the Frito folks say the Scoop is "the most significant innovation" in the history of the Tostitos brand. "Tostitos Scoops! is the ultimate dip lover's chip," according to Andrea Thomas, Frito-Lay Marketing Director. "The unique shape empowers chip-and-dip lovers to scoop up more dip with less drip."

Company research shows that nearly 70 percent of consumers eat tortilla chips with a dip or salsa.

Frito-Lay designed a proprietary "form and fry" technique to create Tostitos Scoops. The technique first shapes the masa (corn meal dough) into a bowl-shaped design and then quickly fries the Scoops.

Scoops can be scarfed down with salsa or dip, or can be filled with a topping and served as hors d'oeuvres. I've eaten them just about anything I can find in the fridge, including cold spaghetti sauce, hot baked beans, cocktail sauce, melted cheese, baked beans with melted cheese, onion dip, chopped clams, and chopped liver (not together). I've only found one thing that doesn't go well with Scoops: sauerkraut. My dog loves Scoops, too.

Frito-Lay goes back to 1932, and has been part of Pepsico since 1965. It sells $11 billion worth of snack foods each year, including Lay's and Ruffles potato chips, Doritos and Tostitos tortilla chips, and Cheetos. YUM!

Editor's Note: Frito-Lay spells the Scoops name with an exclamation mark (Scoops!). It's OK for a package, but I think it looks silly in the blog.

Editor's Tip: All kinds of tortilla chips will break in the bag, and by the time you get to the bottom, you're bound to find pieces that are too small to dip or spread -- but they're too good to waste. Put the small pieces in a bowl, smash them with a spoon, pour in some salsa, mix it up, and eat with a spoon -- or a SCOOP.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Slacker PC radio will work with no PC

Internet radio, which can draw on vast collections of music from around the world and customize playlists to personal tastes, has 29 million listeners a week, up from 20 million three years ago; while ratings for traditional radio broadcasters have been stagnant.

Even so, the nascent industry has yet to capture the biggest prize -- portability.

Some halfway solutions exist, such as music devices that allow people to stream Internet radio on speakers, or software that allows access to Internet radio from cellphones. Results can be unreliable, expensive and violate cellphone contracts.

Several companies are jockeying for position in mobile Internet radio, in a race that could rearrange the music broadcasting business.

Slacker, Inc. announced the creation of "Personal Radio," which enables consumers to customize their own radio stations and listen to them wherever they happen to be. The Slacker Personal Radio experience is available now in beta for PC streaming at and later this year on Slacker Portable Radio Players via Wi-Fi and Slacker Satellite Car Kits.

Slacker has acquired rights from content owners, including Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and hundreds of independent labels, that allow truly portable personalized radio for the first time. The service offers Wi-Fi and satellite music distribution, as well as DJ intelligence embedded in portable players. Slacker customers can play highly personalized, continuously refreshed radio stations everywhere they go.

"Personalized radio is a great way to listen to the music you love without having to work at it," said Dennis Mudd, CEO of Slacker. "The only problem is that until now, personalized radio has been stuck on the PC. Slacker solves that problem. Now you can just kick back and listen."

Slacker Personal Radio has millions of songs with the breadth and depth increasing continuously. The extensive Slacker music library is organized into numerous professionally programmed genre and sub-genre stations and over 10,000 stations that are built around specific artists. Personalization options include adjusting your stations to play more popular vs. more eclectic music, newer vs. older, or even to play more tracks you tagged as favorites.

Other features include: log in from any PC or Mac to hear personalized stations in CD quality; playback through web player, jukebox software and portable devices; create stations by combining favorite artists; select favorite tracks/artists to play more often and ban other tracks/artists; click through album cover art, band profiles, reviews and artist photos; easily share stations with friends

For the first time, Slacker Personal Radio Players will enable music lovers to play personalized radio everywhere they go. The new devices include integrated Wi-Fi and an on-board Slacker DJ. The Slacker DJ combined with the new Slacker caching system guarantees personalized CD quality radio stations to be played everywhere, even when not in Wi-Fi range. Slacker customers get deep, personalized radio stations with optimized radio programming sequences, continuously refreshed and updated to include personalized new music.

Additional Slacker device features include: 4" full screen display featuring album art, reviews, artist photos, bios and visualizations; support for MP3, WMA and video as well as "saved" radio tracks; automatically save and refresh personalized stations via Wi-Fi, satellite or USB.

Slacker is currently in discussions to provide Slacker Personal Radio through a broader range of devices in the future.

In the second half of 2007, Slacker device owners in the US will have the option to purchase Slacker satellite car kits that update the Personal Radio Player with new content through a breakthrough satellite broadcast system. Slacker car-top antennas receive high-speed music feeds from satellites throughout the continental United States, while the integrated Slacker DJ ensures favorite stations stay current.

Slacker Basic Radio is advertising-funded and will remain free to use on Slacker software and portable Slacker Personal Radio Players, while Slacker Premium Radio will cost $7.50 per month. Slacker premium service offers: no advertising; unlimited skipping; ability to save radio tracks to library

Slacker Premium Radio was expected to be available by the end of June, and portables in early summer. The satellite car kit will be offered in the second half of 2007. (This is a preview, not a review.) (info from Slacker and The Wall Street Journal)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Stupid mistakes mar enjoyable book about Orange County Choppers family

Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls is vital equipment for fans of the popular cable TV show, and the family and business that inspired it.

more later.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tester for phone, video, data wiring

If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance that you have a house with a growing collection of wiring for music, video, phone, computer and maybe security and remote control.

The more wiring you have, the more chance there is that something will stop working. Wires inside walls should be safe for decades, but cords and jacks that people touch, are bound to crap out.

If you're faced with a dead phone or a PC that can't connect to the Web, you can call for help, wait a few days, and maybe spend $150.

Or, you can spend $99 for your own tester and fix it in five minutes.

Within the last few days, I had to troubleshoot a dead bedroom phone, and a rack-mounted PC that couldn't reach the iTunes website.

The phone is on my wife's night table. She beats the crap out of phones. Every phone in the house that she uses, is missing parts.

I wanted to teach her a lesson, and was reluctant to fix the phone, On the other hand, if she can't use that phone, she uses MY den as HER phone booth, or grabs an expensive cordless phone that usually crashes onto the floor and spends a few days under the bed with our remote controls and lost socks.

So, I replaced the phone; and the new one still didn't work. I then removed the jack from the wall, assuming that wife tripped over the cord and the force damaged the pins inside the jack -- but the jack looked pristine.

I then connected one part of my handy Paladin ProNavigator tester to the bedroom jack, and the other part to the patch panel in my basement phone room, and quickly determined that my wiring was fine. What wasn't fine, however, was the patch cord from the patch panel to my phone system control unit. I replaced that cord, and restored communication, and had one less reason to yell at my wife.

I have a monster rack-mounted PC in my "movie room" that has a big collection of music files, some going back to the original Napster days. I wanted to install the latest version of iTunes, so I could load the music and TV shows from my iPod, but I could not get the PC to connect to the web.

I have two LAN jacks behind the rack that used to be live. I used the Paladin to confirm that the in-wall wiring was good, and my patch cords were good.

The only thing left that I could think of, was that the network card in the PC was no good. I thought some more, and remembered going through the same testing a few years ago and coming up with the same conclusion. It's a major PITA to pull the heavy Antec PC chassis out of the rack to replace the network card, so I had previously installed a USB-to-LAN adapter, but it had fallen out of the USB port and was lying in the abyss at the bottom of my rack.

I fished it out, plugged it in, and got reconnected with Steve Jobs so my tunes could start flowing.

This set includes a main unit and remote, plus two Cat5 RJ45 patch cords. You can test cables or in-wall wiring, and get test results at both ends.

One-button, simple testing (PASS/FAIL or fault find)
  • Traces wires with tone & remote lights)
  • Quick fault analysis on coax & data cables)
  • CAT-5, CAT-5e or CAT-6 (UTP/STP) cable testing
  • Detects Opens, Shorts, Crossed Wires & Split Pairs
  • Compact & lightweight, comfortable to hold)
  • Designed & manufactured in the USA
  • Test status lights at both ends (main unit & remote)
  • Uses standard 9-volt battery (included) with auto-off function to preserve battery life.
  • One-year warranty.

  • CLICK to order.

    Wednesday, June 13, 2007

    Deliverance will be delivered in Hi-Def

    Warner Home Video made some high-definition disc lovers squeal with anticipation this week when it announced the release of the 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the classic film “Deliverance” on standard DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD.

    All three films will be available on September 18. The SD disc will have a suggested retail price of $19.97, while the HD DVD and Blu-ray discs will be priced at $28.99.

    Warner said the deluxe edition contains several special features, such as commentary by director John Boorman and an examination of one of the most controversial scenes in film history. The special features are included in all three formats.

    Widely acclaimed as a landmark film, Deliverance is noted for the memorable music scene near the beginning that sets the tone for what lies ahead: a trip into unknown and potentially dangerous territory.

    In the scene, set at a rural gas station, character Drew Ballinger (Ronny Cox) plays the instrumental Dueling Banjos on his guitar with a mentally retarded hillbilly named Lonnie (implied as being an inbred albino in the novel, portrayed by Billy Redden in the film). The boy eventually outplays Drew with his banjo. The song won the 1974 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

    The film was selected by the New York Times as one of "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made," and viewers of Channel 4 in the United Kingdom voted it 45 in a list of The 100 Greatest Films.

    In the film based on a 1970 novel of the same name by James Dickey, four Atlanta men (played by Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox) decide to canoe down the fictional Cahulawassee River in the remote Georgia wilderness, before it is flooded over by the upcoming construction of a dam and lake. The trip turns into a fight for survival when local hillbillies attack two of the men.

    In a famous scene, Ed (Voight) is tied to a tree with his own belt and cut by one of the hillbillies' knives. Bobby (Beatty) is then forced to strip before being humiliated and then brutally raped by one hillbilly. Attention is then turned to Ed, and the other hillbilly said that Ed has "got a real purty mouth." Forced to defend themselves, the men kill two hillbillies while losing one of their own. (info from TWICE and Wikipedia)

    Tuesday, June 12, 2007

    Polk Audio "home" XM satellite radio receiver

    I got into satellite radio the wrong way.

    Unlike almost everyone else, I didn't care about better reception in the car. And I wasn't particularly interested in getting music without commercials.

    I wanted good reception in the bedroom, for late-night talk radio.

    I've been a night talk addict since age 13. Later on, when I was evaluating potential wives, a critical requirement was willingness to sleep with me with the radio on.

    Until 2001, I lived in Westchester County, New York. I spent decades listening to Long John Nebel, Barry Gray, Barry Farber, Jean Shepard, pre-TV Larry King and other talkers. Although the topics and talent varied over the years, signal strength was always fine.

    When I moved to Connecticut, I could get good reception in my cars, but not in my bedroom. I experimented with expensive radios and outdoor antennas, but I usually got more static than voices. Internet radio usually crashed after an hour or so.

    I was excited by the prospect of satellite radio, but the first receivers were for car use. I think Sony made an indoor adapter for their car unit, but it was huge and clunky. I held off making my purchase, waiting for something more easily domesticated.

    When XM brought out the Delphi SkyFi, I made my move. It sits in a little cradle on my night table, connected to a power amp on the wall behind the night table, feeding Niles speakers in the ceiling.

    I wanted to have satellite radio music in my whole-house system, but there was no neat way to rack-mount the SkyFi. I ultimately bought a tiny Terk Commander, and mounted it on a blank rack panel, with its guts and a 12-volt power supply inside the rack. Sound quality was fine, but the buttons and display were so small, it was hard to use; and it frequently lost sync with the satellites and had to call XM for a "refresh" signal.

    Last week, I mad a major upgrade. The Polk Audio "XRt12 Reference Tuner" is one of the first XM receivers designed for indoor use. It's 17 inches wide like most A/V components, and I got a nice custom rack-mount for it from Middle Atlantic Products.

    Because the XRt12 has a video output, I can see all of the standard XM information right on my 65-inch Mitsubishi TV screen: channel number, name, artist name and song title. No more squinting and running up to the itsy bitsy teeny weenie mini micro display to see who is doing what. The Polk does have a built-in dislay -- smaller than the Mitsu, but bigger than the displaced Terk.

    Connection is simple and flexible, with optical and coaxial digital outputs as well as analog RCA jacks for easy installation with any receiver or amp. I only had a little bit of trouble. The Polk's audio output bled into other audio inputs in my Sony receiver. A quick adjustment of the Polk's output level restored perfection.

    I have two nits to pick: (1) You can't program the tuning presets from the front panel; you have to use the remote control. If you misplace the remote, or have no live triple-A cells, your're out of luck. (2) There are no preset tuning buttons on the box, as you get on even teeny-weeny XM radios.

    OTOH, here's a cool feature: when you hear something you like and you want to note the artist and song, just tap the Memory button on the front panel and the XRt12 will record info (channel, artist and song) for later retrieval. It can store data on 10 performances.

    The Polk XRt12 comes with an XM antenna with 20-foot cable (an optional 50 extension is available), a digital optical cable and a RCA-type analog audio/video cable, and a full function remote control.

  • Built-in signal strength meter helps you position your antenna for best reception.
  • 20 presets for quick and easy switching to your favorite channels.
  • Category function allows you to scan through major types of channels (Rock, Talk, Sports, etc.)
  • Preview function allows you to see what channels are available and what is playing before switching from the channel you are listening to
  • Display control lets you enlarge the text on the display for easy viewing from a distance when the unit is not hooked up to a TV.
  • Output Level Control matches the analog output volume of the XRt12 to match that of other sources in your system for consistent volume as you switch from XM to other sources.
  • If you have a whole house distributed audio system like those made by AMX, Crestron, NetStreams or Elan, the XRt12's RS-232 I/O connector allows you to plug it right into the system for XM radio throughout the house. You'll be able to control the XRt12 from any station on the system and display channel, artist and song data on any control screen.
  • You can set the XRt12 to automatically shut off if a button is not pressed in 30, 60 or 90 minutes.
  • If your audio receiver or amp has a 12Volt trigger output, you can connect your XRt12 to it and have the receiver turn the XRt12 on and off.

  • Suggested retail price is $300. I paid about $220. I'm very impressed with the sound quality, ease of operation, and wealth of features. I wish I bought it sooner. I also wish XM and Sirius would merge, so I wouldn't have to keep paying money to both of them. CLICK for more.

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    "Deal of a lifetime" from Sirius

    Last week we told you about an almost-free satellite radio from XM. Now we'll tell you about a deal from Sirius. (I'm a customer of both companies, and hope they convince the Feds to let them merge.)

    The normal fee for Sirius service is $12.95 per month. If you pay for two years at once, you get three months' service free.

    If you have faith in the future, you can pay $499.99 for LIFETIME service (lifetime of a radio, not your body). The payback period over the standard rate is just over three years.

    If you act soon, you can transfer your lifetime subscription to a different Sirius receiver when you upgrade or replace your radio — up to three times — for only $75 per radio. Offer ends June 30, 2007. CLICK for more.

    Friday, June 8, 2007

    Almost-free XM radio

    If you are a current subscriber to XM satellite radio, you can get a Delphi Roady XT receiver for just $5.99. List price is $80, and it usually costs about $40 - 50 after a rebate.

    Delphi is the former car electronics devision of General Motors. They were one of the first supporters of XM, and have made a number of XM radios, including the original SkyFi (which is on my night table) and the MyFi XM2go portable (which is on my desk).

    Here's the Roady XT description from Amazon:

    The smallest and lightest XM satellite radio on the market, the Delphi XM Roady XT comes with everything you need to enjoy more than 150 commercial-free satellite channels in your car while you're driving across town or across the country. The plug-and-play Roady XT is easy to install, with no wires or cables required. Simply dock it on your dash, where it uses its built-in FM transmitter to wirelessly transmit the signal to an empty frequency on your FM dial. The device supports more than 100 frequencies, so even users in the busiest radio markets should be able to find several static-free channels.

    Once installed, listeners will have access to the full XM menu of music, sports, talk, news, children's, and entertainment programming, all without having to listen to a single commercial. The Roady XT also offers 21 advanced traffic and weather channels--yet another reason XM was named best radio service at the 2004 Billboard Digital Entertainment Awards.

    To make the listening experience more informative, the Roady XT displays the channel name, artist name, and song title for each XM channel on the bright, high-contrast screen, which boasts seven vivid backlighting colors. Complementing the track info is the TuneSelect feature, which alerts listeners when their favorite songs and artists are playing on a specific channel. Meanwhile, sports and finance fans will delight in the customizable sports and stock tickers; the former runs through the latest scores and schedules for both college and the pros, while the latter keeps track of up to 20 stocks at once.

    All the features come bundled in a sleek, innovative housing that's designed to ensure high sound quality while taking up a minimum of space. The diminutive size (it measures a mere 3.7 by 2.2 by 0.61 inches) fits easily in most jacket pockets or purses. This not only helps protect against theft, but also makes it convenient to bring the Roady XT inside for home use (requires the Roady XT home kit).

    Monthly charge is $6.99 (or less with a long-term contract). CLICK for XM's website.

    Thursday, June 7, 2007

    Laptop for ladies who hate PCs

    It's too late for Valentine's Day or Mothers Day, but you may still have time before Graduation Day.

    If you need to get a laptop for a female who disdains the usual black, white or silver slabs, NEC suggests that you think pink.

    Hello Kitty, Japan's cutest cat, decorates NEC's new pink laptop in an effort to woo working women.

    The La Vie G Hello Kitty model, available for $1,650 by web order in Japan, went on sale yesterday, and has gotten off to a good start, company spokesman Shinya Hashizume said. "PC users now tend to be men, but we're hoping to attract women with this product."

    The laptop, developed in collaboration with Sanrio Co., the Tokyo-based company behind Hello Kitty, uses 299 Swarovski crystals to depict four hearts and the bubbly feline head wearing a pink bow and crown.

    NEC is hoping to sell several hundred of the Hello Kitty laptops in the next few months, targeting the summertime when Japanese workers receive their twice-a-year bonuses.

    The laptop, which comes with Windows Vista, 100 gigabyte hard disk drive and 1 gigabyte memory, is being advertised as a laptop that's "dazzling and gorgeous like a jewelry box."

    Hello Kitty has been popular for years with children and young women, but the cat has begun to appear on electronic gadgets, guitars and expensive jewelry. (info from The Associated Press)

    Wednesday, June 6, 2007

    Google free directory assistence

    If you're near a PC, you can use for free, but a call to Directory Assistance to get a phone number can cost as much as $2.00.

    Google is offering a free phone-based service that should win some friends, and make some enemies. Google Voice Local Search is Google’s experimental service to make local-business search accessible over the phone.

    To try this service, just dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) from any phone.

    Using this service, you can:

    (1) Search for a local business by name or category. You can say "Giovanni's Pizzeria" or just "pizza".

    (2) Get connected to the business, free of charge.

    (3) Get the details by SMS if you’re using a cellphone. Just say "text message".

    Google doesn’t charge you a thing for the call or for connecting you to the business. Regular phone charges may apply, based on your telephone service provider.

    Google Voice Local Search is still in its experimental stage. It may not be available at all times and may not work for all users. The Googlers are fine-tuning the service to get better at recognizing your requests. It’s currently only available in English, in the US, for US business listings.

    I tried to find the listing for my own company, and was offered a choice of several other companies in my city, with names nothing at all like my company's name.

    When I tried to get the number for Sally's -- a famous pizza place in New Haven, I got good results...but the robot doesn't know that in New Haven pizza is spelled apizza and pronounced uh-beetz. The GoogleBot says "ay-piece-uh." Anyway, the number was right and free is a good price.

    Tuesday, June 5, 2007

    It's official: iPhone due on 6/29

    In a series of television commercials that debuted over the weekend, Apple revealed that it would release the iPhone, its highly anticipated combination cellphone and iPod digital-media player, June 29.

    The iPhone will come in two versions: a $499 model with 4 gigabytes of storage and a $599 model with 8 gigabytes of storage. AT&T will be the exclusive wireless carrier for the iPhone for two years. Both Apple and AT&T will sell the iPhone at their stores. It will come with a two-year service contract.

    In addition to being a phone and an iPod, The iPhone will serve as an Internet-access device and a digital camera.

    Apple boss Steve Jobs first showed the iPhone in January at the Macworld show. He said that within a year the company hoped to claim a 1 percent share of the worldwide market of 1 billion cellphones.

    AT&T plans to use the iPhone to enhance advertising for its newly branded wireless business. The company has phased out the name Cingular Wireless and is adopting the AT&T brand.

    Although AT&T is the largest wireless carrier in the US in terms of customers, Verizon Wireless is gaining fast. AT&T executives believe the iPhone could swing momentum back to their company. The iPhone won't be subsidized by Apple or AT&T, allowing AT&T to drop prices on other handset models and put more pressure on its rivals. Sprint Nextel could be the biggest victim of the iPhone's success. (info from ContraCosta Times)

    Monday, June 4, 2007

    Belkin hub has vertical and horizontal ports

    Most computer accessories connect through USB ports, but even though modern PCs have USB ports in front and in back, there are never enough of them. And the built-in ports don't work well with things that need space around them, like thumb drives.

    Accessory maker Belkin has a 4-port USB hub that will add capacity, and subtract mess, with a built-in cable management slot, plus included cable ties. It's great for adding capacity to a laptop, and can easily fit into a laptop case. If you need even more ports, it can be stacked on top of Belkin's 7-port model.

    • Adds up to 4 USB devices to your computer, with individual LED status lights
    • Features 2 top-load USB ports for quick access
    • Includes an internal weight and stay-put pads to keep Hub anchored to the desk
    • Requires no external power supply for most devices
    • Prevents damage to your computer and devices with over-current protection
    • Lifetime Warranty

    Suggested retail price is $49.95. I've seen it with a $53.66 buy-it-now price at eBay, and in the low 20s elsewhere. I paid $18.43 at Sam's Club.

    Friday, June 1, 2007

    Super-sexy Nokia will cost more than iPhone

    A Nokia phone made of smoked glass and black stainless steel will be available in the US for about $800 this summer.

    The quad-band GSM/EDGE Luna 8600 slider features nearly opaque smoked glass, soft-touch stainless steel, and keypad illumination that pulsates from beneath the glass case when the phone is in standby mode. When you slide the Luna open, the phone’s tactile-feedback keypad emerges from a smoked-glass housing.

    “Much like the Nokia 8600 Luna that we named in her honor, Luna, the goddess of moonlight, was often represented by the Romans as a mysteriously captivating beauty encircled in a soft, yet radiant light," said Nokia spokesman Heikki Norta.

    The premium phone will be Nokia’s first phone to use a single micro-USB port that merges charging, audio and data connectivity into a single connection. The phone also features 2.5mm headset jack, Bluetooth, 2-megapixel camera, and playback of music in the MP3 and AAC family of formats.