Friday, November 30, 2007

T-shirt detects Wi-Fi

Here's a great gift for people who are too lazy to pop open their laptops or use a test instrument to find a Wi-Fi hotspot.

This "radioactive" black T-shirt uses three AAA batteries in a pocket to power a glowing decal display resembling a radio tower. Animated bars fluctuate with 802.11b or 802.11g signal strength. The animated display panel is removable (with Velcro-type fasteners) for washing. Cost is $29, from ThinkGeek.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Charge batteries while you drive

Duracell recently introduced its Mobile Charger, which enables users to charge AA or AAA rechargeable Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries by plugging the charger into either an AC outlet or mobile 12-volt socket.

The Mobile Charger also features a USB port, to charge USB-enabled devices with built-in rechargeable batteries such as iPods, MP3 players and BlackBerrys.

For added convenience, the Mobile Charger is packaged with Duracell Pre-Charged Rechargeable batteries which come charged and ready to use. Pre-Charged batteries can be recharged hundreds of times, delivering hours of music and up to 5,000 digital photos over the life of two batteries. These batteries can also be used to "transfer" power to USB devices, when no other AC or DC power source is available.

Pre-Charged Rechargeable batteries feature a new technology that eliminates the need to charge the batteries before using them for the first time. The batteries also retain power for up to one year while not in use, and stay charged longer and have to be recharged less often than other batteries, according to Duracell.

The Mobile Charger features an LED indicator that displays the charge status for each battery, enabling users to easily tell when each charge will be complete. It's available at mass, drug, grocery and specialty stores, with a suggested retail price of $24.99.

CLICK for a Duracell contest with grand prize of $5,000.
This is a preview, not a review.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

TV tuner in a USB dongle

Pinnacle Systems offers three USB tuners for digital terrestrial TV, that can convert any PC into a TV. Once connected, the PC can also record TV shows.

According to the manufacturer, “Pinnacle PCTV is a great choice for TV viewers who lead busy lifestyles. It enables them to watch and record TV on their PC instead of being a slave to the living room TV or the TV schedule. Pinnacle PCTV is like getting a new TV and personal video recorder and enjoying these anywhere, anytime, for the price of a digital TV tuner box.”

Pinnacle designed the PCTV family of products to be as easy to set-up and use as a regular TV without the requirement for any special technical knowledge. You simply connects the tuner to the PC’s USB port and an existing TV antenna (or the included rod antenna).

At the high end, the $129 Pinnacle PCTV™ DVB-T Stick Ultimate brings a complete TV viewing and recording experience to PC owners. You get digital terrestrial TV and radio reception using the DVB-T standard, and can also stream live TV to as many as three other PCs on a home network with the included DistanTV software. It also includes a mini remote control for across-the-room viewing convenience. Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T Stick Ultimate draws its power from the computer and is about the same size as a USB memory stick, making it ideal for notebook owners. It is fully certified for Windows Vista™ and compatible with Windows Media Center.

After running the software installer and channel scanner, you can start watching TV. They can also timeshift live TV and record programs. Timeshifting lets the you pause and rewind live TV at the press of a button. TV programs can be recorded to the computer’s hard drive in MPEG-1/-2 and DivX formats quality or directly to DVDs that can be played on a regular DVD player. You can control the PCTV DVB-T Stick Ultimate using the computer’s keyboard or the included mini remote control. This product also ships with Pinnacle Studio QuickStart Edition, for editing recordings and burning DVDs.

DistanTV software brings PCTV viewing to the home network. It lets you tune into and timeshift the TV signal received by the PCTV DVB-T Stick Ultimate tuner from any other PC on your home network. It’s an affordable way to extend TV to all the computers in your home.

Two other models complete the Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T offering. For users who don’t need the TV streaming or video editing features, Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T Stick is a good choice. People who want the simplest possible solution without remote control can choose the Pinnacle PCTV DVB-T Stick Solo.

CLICK for more.

This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

$25,000 sundae includes edible gold

A New York City restaurant is offering a $25,000 chocolate sundae, setting a Guinness world record for the most expensive dessert.

Serendipity 3 (225 East 60th St., between 2nd and 3rd Aves) partnered with luxury jeweler Euphoria New York to create the "Frrozen Haute Chocolate," a blend of 28 cocoas, including 14 of the most expensive and exotic from around the globe.

The dessert, spelled with two Rs, is infused with 5 grams (0.2 ounces) of edible 23-karat gold and served in a goblet lined with edible gold. At the base of the goblet is an 18-karat gold bracelet with 1 carat of white diamonds. The sundae is topped with whipped cream covered with more gold and a side of La Madeline au Truffle from Knipschildt Chocolatier, which sells for $2,600 a pound.

It is eaten with a gold spoon decorated with white and chocolate-colored diamonds, which can also be taken home.

If you want fries with it, you'll have to pay $3.50 extra.

"It took us a long time to experiment with all the ingredients and flavors, and more than three months were needed just to design the golden spoon," owner Stephen Bruce told Reuters. Four years ago, Bruce unveiled a $1,000 ice cream sundae called Golden Opulence, a staple on his menu and a favorite with rock stars, socialites and other celebrities.

Both desserts are sold only with advance orders. Bruce said he has received inquiries about his latest creation, mostly from Europeans planning to visit New York. "I wouldn't be surprised if soon we get a call from a Middle Eastern prince or Shah willing to give something sweet to his many wives on his next trip to the city," Bruce said. (info & photo from Reuters)
This is a preview, not a review.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Spray-on scumbags

Here's good news for men whose penises are either so large or so small that they can't find a condom to fit: A German inventor has developed a sprayer system that should ensure a proper fit for even the most unusual sizes.

"If you go into a drug store to buy condoms, the ones they sell are mainly suited to men with the average penis length of 5.5 inches, but a lot of people have penises that are smaller or larger than that," said Jan Vinzenz Krause, director of the Institute for Condom Consultancy.

"We thought why not come up with a condom that fits the man rather than vice versa? This would represent a revolution in the condom market," said Krause, whose institute gives sex education as well as providing advice on AIDS prevention and contraception.

He has filed for a patent for the latex spraying system he invented. "As far as I know our idea is unique," said Krause. A pump squirts out liquid latex through multiple nozzles that cover the erect member with a latex sheath in a matter of seconds.

Krause admits he will have to overcome some legal and technical hurdles before he can bring the product to market, but he already has a working prototype and says the system can handle most sizes. "We could spray a condom on an erect elephant," he declared.

The system works a bit like a car wash. The man put his penis in a chamber and presses a button to start the jets of liquid latex, sucked from a detachable cartridge. The rubber dries in seconds and is later rolled off and discarded like a conventional condom. The aim is for the process to take just 10 seconds but at present the latex drying time is around 20 to 25 seconds. "We're working to shorten that time," said Krause.

"In a survey we conducted, men had a two-fold reaction to the idea. Some said it's a great idea and would help them because they can't find conventional condoms that fit them. Others say they can't imagine it working in practice. There's the romance factor: applying the condom does interfere with the sex act." The machine applies the latex with a hissing sound, which may or may not be more annoying than the sound of opening a conventional condom package.

The spray-oncondoms will be available in red, green, yellow and transparent, and will be more expensive than conventional ones. The chamber will cost around $30 and the liquid latex refills, which produce between 10 and 20 condoms depending on size, will be priced at about $12. That amounts to around $1.50 per condom, compared with around 50 cents per conventional sheath.

Krause said the market launch will take time because condoms are classified as medical products that require lengthy approval procedures. (info from Spiegel onoine, photo from InventorSpot)
This is a preview, not a review.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Long Holiday Weekend

I'll be back Monday. Have a great Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Easy audio upgrade for laptop or desktop

For the last six-plus years, I've been using a monster-size rack-mounted PC as an audio server, holding ancient web downloads, copies of my own CDs and ancient media, plus recent iTunes tracks.

The big black box (home-built in an Antec housing) was visually impressive, but took up a lot of rack space, weighed a ton, and its noisy cooling fan had become increasingly intrusive.

I considered several alternatives.

A new cooling fan might have lessened the noise, but I couldn't identify a quiet fan that would fit in the old Antec box; and even if I could, it would not solve the space issue.

A new single RMU (Rack Mount Unit) PC would save space, but might have an even noisier fan.

Putting the PC in the basement would require lots of new cabling, and make it a PITA to load CDs when needed.

I found a good, inexpensive solution: a gently used Dell Latitude laptop with 30 gig hard drive, Pentium 4 chip, and a gig of RAM, which cost me about $400 from CSR Technologies.

It easily fit inside the top of my rack, befind my LCD monitor. It saved me four rack spaces (seven precious inches), and is absolutely quiet.

My only compromise was its limited audio ability -- not a good compromise for an audio server.

The Dell was designed to help corporate travelers do their business, not to provide entertainment; and the sound quality flowing from its headset jack left much to be desired. A better internal audio circuit would probably add to the cost of the Dell with little benefit for most users, and make a bigger demand on its processing power.

I found a good, inexpensive solution from Creative, the SoundBlaster sound card people. It does all that I need, very well; and also provides other features that I might use in the future.

Creative's USB SoundBlaster Live! 24-bit external sound "card" is not much bigger than a Band-Aid box, and is a stand-alone audio interface that easily connects to a PC with USB cable (supplied).

The card has analog inputs for a microphone and a line-level audio source if you want to record onto your PC; and outputs including optical and coaxial digital-audio jacks, and three analog minijacks that you can use with a 5.1-channel surround-sound speaker system. I used the optical digital output to feed int my new Sony STR-DA4300ES receiver, which I'll probably tell you about next week.

The Blaster's 24-bit Advanced HD and EAX Advanced HD technologies record and play audio at up to 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution (but you have to disable realtime audio monitoring at the highest settings due to limitations in the USB 1.1 data-throughput ability). With 256 times the resolution of basic built-in sound, your music, movies, and games can sound a lot better.

Creative Multi Speaker Surround technology lets you "upmix" stereo sources to 5.1-channel surround sound. The software includes panning and mixing, front and rear balance controls, and muting.

Realistic EAX reverb, panning, and elevation can add "oomph" to your music and games. The software also includes time-scaling (which allows variable playback duration without altering pitch, an audio clean-up feature (which removes noise and clicks from vinyl disk or cassette recordings), bass boost, smart volume management, and a multi-band graphic equalizer.

The Creative MediaSource™ digital player allows you to make high quality MP3s, manage your music library, and burn personalized CDs. It has a built-in infrared receiver for an optional Creative remote control, which will let you operate your computer from up to 13 feet away (but not if its buried in the back of your rack.

Setup is super-simple, basically plug and play. The Blaster's power comes from your PC's USB; no AC power is required. I have just one complaint -- it took about AN HOUR to load the software and install upgrades from Creative's website.

This gadget is a great way to enhance the audio quality and capability of any laptop or desktop, and you won't even need a screwdriver to install it. I paid $47.95 at Amazon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Amazon's "Kindle" electronic book reader

Yesterday introduced Amazon Kindle, a portable reader that wirelessly downloads books, blogs, magazines and newspapers to a crisp, high-resolution electronic display that is said to look and read like real paper, even in bright sunlight. More than 90,000 books are now available in the Kindle Store, including 101 of 112 current New York Times Best Sellers and new releases, which are $9.99, unless marked otherwise. Kindle is available for $399 at

The Kindle wireless delivery system, Amazon Whispernet, uses the same nationwide high-speed data network (EVDO) as advanced cellphones. Kindle customers can wirelessly shop the Kindle Store, download or receive new content -- all without a PC, Wi-Fi hot spot, or syncing.

Books can be downloaded in less than a minute; and magazines, newspapers, and blogs are delivered to subscribers automatically. Amazon pays for the wireless connectivity for Kindle so there are no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or service commitments for customers.

Kindle uses a high-resolution display technology called electronic paper that provides a sharp black and white screen that is as easy to read as printed paper. The screen works using ink, just like books and newspapers, but displays the ink particles electronically. It reflects light like ordinary paper and uses no backlight, eliminating the eyestrain and glare associated with other electronic displays such as computer monitors or PDA screens.

The Kindle Store currently offers more than 90,000 books, as well as hundreds of newspapers, magazines and blogs. Customers can search, browse, buy, and download from this wide selection wirelessly from their Kindle. The same Amazon shopping experience customers are accustomed to is offered in the Kindle Store, including customer reviews, personalized recommendations, 1-Click purchasing, and everyday low prices. Additionally, Kindle customers can download and read the first chapter of most Kindle books for free.

Kindle customers can select from the most recognized US newspapers, as well as popular magazines and journals, such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, TIME and Fortune. The Kindle Store also includes top international newspapers from France, Germany, and Ireland, including Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine and The Irish Times. Subscriptions are auto-delivered wirelessly to Kindle overnight so that the latest edition is waiting for customers when they wake up. Monthly Kindle newspaper subscriptions are $5.99 to $14.99 per month, and Kindle magazines are $1.25 to $3.49 per month. All magazines and newspapers include a free two-week trial.

The Kindle Store has over 300 blogs on topics ranging from Internet and technology to culture, lifestyle, and humor, to politics and opinion. Examples include Slashdot, TechCrunch, BoingBoing, The Onion, The Huffington Post, and ESPN blogs. Blogs are updated and downloaded wirelessly throughout the day so Kindle customers can read blogs whenever and wherever they want. Wireless delivery of blogs costs as little as $0.99 each per month and also includes a free two-week trial.

At 10.3 ounces, Kindle is lighter and thinner than a typical paperback and fits easily in one hand, yet its built-in memory stores more than 200 titles, and hundreds more with an optional SD memory card. Additionally, a copy of every book purchased is backed up online on so that customers have the option to make room for new titles on their Kindle knowing that is storing their personal library of purchased content.

Kindle has built-in access to The New Oxford American Dictionary, which contains over 250,000 entries and definitions, so readers can easily look up the definitions of words within their reading. Kindle customers also have seamless access to the world's most exhaustive and up-to-date encyclopedia,, and its collection of over 2,000,000 articles.

Customers can leave the Kindle wireless connectivity on and recharge approximately every other day, or turn wireless off and read for a week or more before recharging. Kindle fully recharges in two hours.

Kindle has a standard-layout keyboard that makes it possible for users to search the Kindle Store, their entire library of purchased content, and Customers simply type in a word or phrase and Kindle will find every instance.

The Kindle keyboard lets customers add annotations to text, just as they would write in the margins of a book. Customers can edit, delete and export these notes, highlight and clip key passages, and bookmark pages for future use. Additionally, Kindle automatically bookmarks the last page a customer reads of any content on their Kindle.

Kindle is designed for long-form reading, so it is as easy to hold and use as a book. Full-length, vertical page-turning buttons are located on both sides of Kindle, allowing customers to read and turn pages comfortably from any position. The page-turning buttons are located on both the right and left sides of Kindle, which allows both left and right-handed customers to hold, turn pages, and position Kindle with one hand.

Kindle has six adjustable font sizes to suit customers' varying reading preferences.

Customers can take their personal documents with them on their Kindle. Customers and their contacts can e-mail Word documents and pictures directly to their unique and customizable Kindle e-mail address for $0.10 each. Kindle supports wireless delivery of unprotected Microsoft(R) Word, HTML, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, and BMP files.

When customers order a Kindle, it arrives from ready to use. There is no software to load or set up. Customers are immediately ready to shop, purchase, download and read from Kindle.

Amazon is adding new book, periodical, and blog titles to the Kindle Store every day. Publishers and authors can submit their content and make it available to Kindle customers by using Amazon's new Digital Text Platform (DTP), a fast and easy self-publishing tool that lets anyone upload and sell their books in the Kindle Store.
This is a preview, not a review.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hate touching-up your walls?
Get a ballpoint paint pen.

A recent study by Rubbermaid found that 63% of Americans have at least two cans of paint stored in their basement or garage. The leftover paint is kept to handle small touch-up jobs, until people move away; but 70 percent of those surveyed say they touch up scuff marks and nicks on painted surfaces just once per year, or less.

People said they avoided the dreaded task because it's messy, and difficult to match the color. Additional frustrations are the amount of time it takes, and the difficulty of making new patches and brush marks blend with existing paint.

Mitch Clark, a Rubbermaid marketing director, said “people would rather live with the scuff marks and nicks than tackle a messy, time-intensive touch-up project. The study showed touching up paint ranks only behind a cluttered garage, blocked gutters and dirty windows as the task people most often avoid.”

Rubbermaid's solution is the Paint Buddy Touch-up Tool. It allows you to store paint for a fast and easy touch-up without the hassle of having to search for the right paint, pry off the rusty lid, stir the glop, and deal with the drips and mess. It's like a giant, refillable, ballpoint pen for paint.

Paint Buddy stores your paint for easy touch-ups anytime. Just fill it with paint and it’s always available to cover scuffs, nicks and marks. When you squeeze, a valve opens to let paint flow onto the blending roller. The roller’s flocking blends the paint so there are no brush marks to reveal the touch-up. Paint Buddy allows you store leftover paint inside the tool where it stays fresh; and it’s ready to go with a couple of shakes, to easily restore a clean, just-painted look.

When finished, simply close the valve, wash the roller or throw it away, and give Paint Buddy a quick rinse under warm water. Put back the old roller (or put in a new one) and the cap, and Paint Buddy stores the paint until you need it again.

NOTE: Paint that's been protected inside a paint can or Paint Buddy may not be a perfect match for paint on your walls that faded or yellowed or absorbed smoke. But unless you've had a really severe color shift, or used really crappy paint, you should get a good-enough match. In my own tests, on a wall painted with Sherwin-Williams Dover White latex paint over four years ago, I could not spot the repair work from a foot away.

TIP: If you get several Buddies, label them to show the rooms where each paint color is used, and also indicate whether the paint is flat or glossy, if you have multiple versions of the same color.

Paint Buddy is also good for stencils, poster making and other craft projects.

Paint Buddy has a suggested retail price of $10.99 (but is usually available for a few bucks less), and is sold at home centers, mass merchants, paint and hardware stores. You can also buy replacement rollers. For more information and touch-up tips, visit or call 1-877-748-7546.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Presidential Hot Line Phone

Imagine people's reactions when your bright red phone rings, with the presidential seal on the face plate, and you pick up the handset and say, "Yes, Mr. President."

At that moment, you are probably the second most important person in the world.

Suitable for Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Whigs, Tories, anyone. Used in movies made by Paramount Pictures and Disney Studios.

SADISTIC or SARCASTIC?: Send them to Al Gore, John Kerry, Ralph Nader, Ross Perot, Bob Dole, Mike Dukakis, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie.

This is not an empty shell or a fake phone. It's a real high-quality made-in-America phone, warranteed for SEVEN YEARS (nearly two presidential terms), and ready to plug in and ring. Price is $90, with FREE shipping to any destination in the 50 states. CLICK

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Save $ with Entertainment Book

If you eat, shop, travel or go to movies, you can probably save a lot of money with the 2008 Entertainment Book.

There are more that 160 local editions published annually, and each is loaded with thousands of dollars worth of 50% and other valuable discounts for local and national restaurants (fine, casual and fast food dining), movie theaters, car washes, grocery stores, video rental stores, dry cleaners, sporting events, attractions and more.

Books also include a travel section, with "guaranteed best rates" at over 10,000 hotels and resorts, plus savings on car rentals and flights.

The Entertainment book comes with a membership package which includes a membership card for use at fine dining restaurants, up to 70% savings at hotels, and more. You can register your book online for thousands of additional hotel offers, printable coupons, special online discounts and other member benefits.

Price is $25, available at, and in some local stores, and from organizations using it for fund-raising.

While it makes sense to buy the book for your local area, you should also get books for vacation or business travel destinations. Years ago, wife and I went to Chicago, and ordered the Chicago book in advance. In just one shopping center, we saved enough money on lunch, a movie, and after-movie ice cream to more than pay for the cost of the book.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Wireless weatherproof remote control for iPod

If you walk or run in the rain, or like to listen to music or talking books or podcasts while putting out fires, biking, rafting or snowboarding, the Monster iEZClick should impress you.

It commands your iPod without wires. You keep your iPod tucked safely away when its cold, wet or messy, and still have full control.

The Monster iEZClick features a rugged weather-resistant body that you can wear on your belt or bag with the included clip; or wrap it on your wrist or handlebars with the elastic Velcro strap. The oversized buttons give you no-look control and are easy to use even with gloves on. It's compatible with iPhones and iPods. Suggested retail price is $69.95.
This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Great sugar-free sodas

People who need to shun sugar for medical reasons, or just want to cut down on calories, have lots of choices.

Years ago, Tab and Diet Rite Cola and most other "diet" sodas tasted like crap, but now there are many that taste quite good. Some people who aren't concerned about sugar say they prefer them to the "normal" versions.

Best of the diet colas is Caffeine-Free Diet Coke. I like it better than regular diet Coke, and its distribution has been growing to include the self-service soda fountains at various restaurants, including Five Guys.

If you're a ginger-ale drinker, Diet Canada Dry is a superb substitute for the sugary version.

Other winners are Diet Cherry 7up, Dr. Brown's Diet Cream , Dr. Brown's Diet Black Cherry, Faygo Diet Raspberry Creme, Polar Diet Black Cherry, Foxon Park Diet White Birch Beer.

Unfortunately, I have not yet discovered an acceptable diet root beer.
I can't guarantee that all of the mentioned sodas are 100% sugar-free, and they may contain high amounts of sodium or other ingredients that are bad for you. Read the labels, and check with your doctor.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Buy an $800 GPS, get a free XM radio

You can get a freebie XM Satellite Radio Mini-Tuner and antenna with the purchase of a new Jensen or Advent GPS receiver.

The promotion, running through Dec. 29, applies to the Jensen NVXM1000 Rock ‘N’ Road and Advent ADV800XM. Each uses the removable Mini-Tuner receiver to provide XM service.

The Jensen model is available at, Bestbuy and Circuit City with a free XM Mini-Tuner and antenna, typically priced at $30 each. The Advent unit is sold by some GM, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai dealers, also with the free XM hardware.

The Jensen Rock ‘N’ Road has a built-in 8GB hard drive, MP3/PMP player, 4-inch screen, maps of the US and Canada, and more than 11 million points of interest. It also has built-in rechargeable batteries and an FM modulator, and accepts an optional rear observation camera. (info from TWICE & Jensen)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Second chance to see"Planet Earth"

If you missed your chance to see Discovery Channel's Planet Earth series last Spring, take advantage of the reruns starting Sunday night.

The photography is absolutely breathtaking -- and lets you see our planet and its human and non-human inhabitants as never before. It's also one helluva demo for a hi-def TV.

The series was co-produced by Discovery Channel and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation in association with the CBC, and was described by its makers as "the definitive look at the diversity of our planet". It was also the first of its kind to be filmed almost entirely in high-definition format. The series was nominated for the Pioneer Audience Award for Best Programme at the 2007 BAFTA TV awards.

The programs were made over five years by producer Alastair Fothergill and his team, who were responsible for the successful The Blue Planet(2001). The British narrator, David Attenborough, worked on them while also embarking on the last in his Life series, Life in Cold Blood, which is due for completion in 2008. (The American version is narrated by Sigourney Weaver.)

The music was composed by George Fenton. Filming involved visiting 62 countries and 204 different locations. Planet Earth had a production budget of around $25 million.

There are 11 episodes. The first gives a general overview of the series, by describing each of the environments that are looked at in more detail in later programmes. However, the method used to communicate this — a "journey" from one end of the Earth to the other — serves to demonstrate the rich variation that exists on the planet as a whole.

Each of the remaining 10 episodes focuses on one of the Earth's natural habitats and examines its indigenous features, together with the breadth of fauna found there. Several animals and locations are shown that have hitherto never been filmed, using innovative camera technology. Previously unseen animal behavior includes: wolves chasing caribou observed from above; snow leopards pursuing markhor in the Himalayas; grizzly bear cubs leaving their den for the first time; crab-eating macaques that swim underwater; and over a hundred sailfish hunting en masse.

Some sequences, particularly in episodes 6–11, have potentially disturbing content, and may not be suitable for young children. Examples include a lone elephant being brought down by lions, and a polar bear unsuccessfully attacking a walrus colony and subsequently being overcome by hunger, exhaustion and injury. (info from Wikipedia)

GPS warning

The Global Positioning System (GPS) uses a network of orbiting satellites that transmit microwave radio signals, enabling a military or civilian GPS receiver to determine location, speed and direction.

A hand-held or automotive GPS receiver is often pre-programmed with maps and addresses, and can provide step-by-step travel directions. They are easier to use than bulky paper maps, and often more reliable than directions from a gas pump attendant.


(1) A GPS does not know what kind of vehicle you are driving, and may send a tall truck or travel trailer under a low bridge, with disasterous results. Read the road signs.

(2) A GPS probably doesn't know about delays due to construction, weather, or accidents, and may send you in a direction that will waste time, not save time. Check traffic and travel reports on your radio, and watch the flashing signs on the highway.

(3) A GPS map may not provide all the details you need. In September, your humble editor wasted hours retracing many miles along the coast of North Carolina, after discovering that what seemed like a bridge on the screen, was really a ferry route -- and the last boat had left before he got to the dock. Check paper maps and travel books.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

HP Home Server

Earlier this week Hewlett-Packard announced that its two MediaSmart home servers, the first devices based on Microsoft’s Home Server operating system, are available for pre-order from HP dealers and the HP website. The first units will be available exclusively through e-tailers. Servers ordered now are expected to be delivered later this month. CompUSA will be the first chain to sell the servers in store, with the units coming in later in November.

Two models will be available, one with 500GB of storage for $599 and one with 1TB for $749. Each ships with four hard drive bays allowing you to add storage as needed, along with software applications that help you set up a personal website and to organize and display photos and music. About 35 other software applications are now available for use on the servers, and Microsoft is actively recruiting developers to create more.

The servers were originally scheduled to ship in September, but there were delays in finalizing the operating system.

HP will not remain the exclusive Home Server supplier for long. About a dozen other manufacturers, including Gateway, Medio and Velocity Micro are expected to market devices based on Home Server in the coming months. (info from TWICE)
This is a preview, not a review.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Make your TV disappear

Modern LCD and plasma TVs don't take up much floor space, but if your interior designer (or significant other) has decreed that TVs should not be seen when not in use, or if you want a TV at the foot of your bed, consider a TV lift mechanism from Lift-Tech.

The company has a variety of models that can be built into cabinets and will handle screens up to 61 inches diagonal and weighing up to 300 pounds. They also have lifts for thicker TVs, and even flip-down and slide-down ceiling mounts.
This is a preview, not a review.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sony Bravia HDTV is so good, I was willing to watch football without being paid

The guys from Tweeter, and my Woofer.

I'm not much of a sports fan, and I particularly can't stand watching football.

The endless stop-go-stop-go sequences drive me NUTS. I have NEVER watched a Stupid Bowl game. I missed the famous Apple Macintosh commercial in 1984, and didn't see Janet Jackson's famous nipple in 2004.

Years ago, if forced to answer a Trivial Pursuit game question about football players, I'd always say "Joe Namath," because he was the only football player I could name. (However, one time, I actually won a game by answering "Joe Namath.")

Each summer, I get a call from the folks at DirecTV, attempting to bribe me with a freebie "NFL Season Pass" if I'll re-activate my lapsed satellite TV service subscription. I tell them that free is not good enough, and they'll have to pay me at least $500 per game to get me to watch.

Anyway, I recently decided to replace the 65-inch Mitsubishi monster-size rear-projection HDTV that has been the centerpiece of our "movie room" for six years. It still works fine, but (a) I wanted 1080p resolution for watching Blu-ray DVDs, (b) I wanted to reclaim some floor space, and (c) -- most importantly -- I wanted to have a TV that I could watch during the daytime, and with lights on, without glare on the screen that wiped out the video image.

Plasma TVs are wonderful, but their shiny reflective glass screens make them inappropriate for my application. I heard that current Panasonic plasmas have solved the glare problem. They haven't.

I could have saved big bucks by getting one of the newer rear-projection HDTVs from Mitsu or Sony or Samsung. They're much thinner than my six-year-old Mitsu, but still not hang-on-the-wall thin, and I've heard bad things about reliability.

That leaves LCD.

I have a Sharp LCD HDTV in my den that I like a lot, and a Philips LCD HDTV in my home office that I love.

So the obvious solution was to replace the 65" Mitsu RPTV with a 65" LCDTV, right?


Apparently, there is only one 65" LCD available -- from Sharp. The Sharp in my den at home, and the one at work, are excellent sets. Unfortunately, Sharp has miserable distribution for their 65" LCD.

There's no dealer here in Connecticut; and Sharp's moronic website recommended that I visit some "nearby" dealers about 30 miles away, on Long Island. Unfortunately, about 20 of those 30 miles are water.

To visit the recommended stores, I'd have to sprout wings or fins to cross Long Island Sound, or drive about six hours round-trip, or pay $122 to take the ferry. No thanks.

The not-very-Sharp website even expects potential customers in Massachusetts to shop on Long Island. IDIOTS!

Sony makes a 70" LCD, but its THIRTY-THREE THOUSAND DOLLAR price was a bit too much. (Actually, it was much too much.)

So, we were faced with a dilemma.

After watching a 65" screen for six years, could we settle for a puny 52-incher?

I would have preferred to find out by visiting my nearby Tweeter -- where I had bought the Mitsu and lots of wonderful other Big Boys' Toys; but my local store had closed recently after the chain's near-fatal over-expansion. Tweeter's prices are not the lowest, but they have the good stuff, their people are knowledgeable and honest, their customer service is spectacular, and their 5% "AVID" membership discount and frequent no-interest payment plans make their prices palatable. (They have a 30-day price protection plan, but it doesn't include online competitors.)

But, with the former local Tweeter now serving as a Halloween costume store, I made a few fruitless and frustrating visits to Circus City and Worst Buy, where I was ignored and lied to and treated like an idiot.

Wife and I decided to hit the road, and we drove 45 minutes to the Tweeter store in Danbury CT, where I was welcomed by store manager Bill Bender, and by Jim Brower -- a fellow refugee from the Milford Tweeter.

We looked at a lot of TVs, confirmed that LCD was the way to go, and figured that we could live with the pint-size, puny, wussy, teeny-tiny, itty-bitty 52-inch screen -- if we moved our movie room furniture closer to the screen.

There were lots of excellent TVs at Tweeter, but wife and I -- who seldom agree on anything -- both preferred the new Sony 52" Bravia XBR "5" model over everything else.

The video image was absolutely spectacular, almost three-dimensional. I was as awe-struck, as when I first saw a Panasonic plasma screen years earlier. Styling, as expected from Sony, was way cool, with a thin silver frame that seemed to float around the TV. The remote control was sensible, and complete -- without being over-buttoned. I really liked the logical and versatile Xross Media Bar setup screen. The Sony logo at the bottom of the set glows in a cool blue (unless you program it to stay off).

We started to do the deal, and found that the price had just dropped $500 to $4300, AND we could have 18 months to pay with no interest! Within a few days, Jim Brower was at my house to make some pre-installation measurements, and we scheduled delivery and installation. Years ago, I attempted self-installation of a 32" Sony plasma on my bedroom wall -- and had to cry for help -- so I was willing to pay a few hundred bucks for a professional Tweeterized installation.

The Bravia arrived Saturday morning, and installation was scheduled for yesterday. I stared at the monster size box on my floor for about five minutes, then sliced the packing straps, un-boxed the treasure, and quickly had it connected and working, on my floor.

With some help from able-bodied nephew Joe, I raised it onto a strong wooden chair I grabbed from the kitchen, and started a marathon TV session. It was really strange to be watching movies in our "movie room" at noontime with window blinds open and no reflections or glare on the screen; and to watch the 11PM news without yelling to my wife to turn off the damn kitchen light.

Joe asked if he could watch an "important" football game at 4PM on Sunday. I ABSOLUTELY HATE Sunday football games (even though I don't watch them), because they screw up the TV schedule, delaying 60 Minutes and everything that follows it on CBS. The only solution is to program a TiVo box to record from 7PM to midnight. I hate football, but I like Joe, so I gave in.

I planned to stay far away from my new toy until the game ended, but Joe pursuaded me to watch for a while. He watched the game. I watched the television.

We were both blown away by the bright and vivid Kodachrome-like colors, and the razor-sharpness. There was none of the blur that the plasma-sellers accuse the LCD-makers of. Joe pointed out details he had never been able to see on the 65" Mitsu. At one point, we both thought, "Wow, I can actually see the pig hairs on the football," but Joe said the words a second before I could sputter them out.

Apparently it was a really good game. However, if DirecTV paid me $500 -- or if anyone paid me $50,000 -- I couldn't tell you which teams were playing. I also could not tell you who was playing basketball in Madison Square Garden, when Joe switched channels during commercials.

Joe explained some of the nuances of both games, that I found interesting, but not interesting enough to get me to watch voluntarily. I was, however, interested in the broadcast technology. Years ago, instant replay was a big deal, but now the CBS wizards can put a graphic image on the fake grass in the stadium UNDER THE FEET OF THE PLAYERS.

Joe was amazed at the sound quality coming from my home theater system -- until I pointed out that he was just hearing the Sony's built-in speakers, not not my hundreds of watts of surround sound.

I turned on my heavy-weight receiver (Sony, too) and the sound was soon all around, flowing from my Boston Acoustics black boxes. After a few minutes, I realized that my subwoofer was disconnected from when I was moving furniture. I plugged it in, and we were soon subjected to an endless series of "WOOOOMPFs" when CBS put a statistical graphic in the center of the screen. It was annoying, but undeniably impressive.

Yesterday, right on schedule, Tweeter guys Steve and Dominick showed up to hang the new Bravia on the wall, and connect the mass of cables that I had snaked upward from the floor. They took off their shoes, knew what they were doing, had all the right tools, spread a padded blanket on my floor, and were very nice to my dog, Hunter. Everything was perfect.

Last night, instead of going upstairs after supper, wife, dog and I stayed downstairs for the first time in a long time. Life is good, and a Sony Bravia XBR 5 makes it better.

We had been planning to get an inexpensive Vizio or Olevia LCD HDTV for our guest room; but now I think we'll pay the extra bucks for another Sony. Our guests deserve the best.

I tried selling the 65" Mitsu for $1500 on Craig's List, but my only offer was a swap for a pair of plane tickets. We kept the Mitsu, and it got moved to the basement "game room" where it replaced a nine-year-old Panasonic 32-inch CRT TV. Last night, Cynical Cousin Dave and his buddy Anthony took away the Panny to give it a second life.

I still have a half day of work ahead of me, making holes in the wall, snaking cables, closing up holes in the wall, and painting where the holes had been. I want to upgrade the Sony receiver to the new STR-DA4300ES (due in about a week), and upgrade my speakers from 5.1 channels to 7.1 channels. Perfection is close.

We now have five hi-def TVs in the house, and four home theater setups; and will soon add HDTV number-six.



Whoever dies with the most toys, wins!

CLICK for TV details at CLICK for Tweeter.
Update, 26 DEC 07:
The 32-inch Sony plasma HDTV in our bedroom had started to look awfully small. Today, the Tweeter Team replaced it with a glorious new 46-inch Sony XBR5 LCD set, and moved the puny 32-incher down the hall to our guest room. Will we get a seventh HDTV? Hmmm.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Stallion: Is it a motorcycle with an extra wheel, or a car that's missing a wheel?

If you're an aging biker who has trouble keeping your balance, or a wannabe biker afraid of tipping over, the three-wheel Stallion 1 trike bike from Thoroughbred Motorsports might be the perfect solution.

It can't go around curves nearly horizontal, it has a steering wheel instead of handlebars, and Hell's Angels may give you the middle-finger salute; but it's hard to tip over, even with an overweight passenger behind you, and you still get some wind in whatever hair you have left, and there's no need for a kickstand.

Its fiberglass body makes it looks like a tiny open car, and it has four-wheel features like cupholders, CD player and air conditioning. Engine is a 4-cylinder 155HP 2.3L Ford. Tranny is a 5-speed automatic, with reverse. It has 7 cubic feet of trunk space plus a trailer hitch to haul lots of stuff. Base price is $29,995, but almost endless options can add more. Six color choices. 3-year/30,000 mile warranty. 30 - 50-plus MPG. CLICK for more.
This is a preview, not a review.

Friday, November 2, 2007

New Panasonic Blu-ray player
with "final standard"

Panasonic has announced the introduction of their DMP-BD30 "next generation" hi-def 1080p Blu-ray Disc player. The DMP-BD30 is the first Blu-ray player with Final Standard Profile, which adds several new and enhanced features that other brands do not have, according to Panasonic. Also unique to the DMP-BD30 is an SD Memory Card slot for playback of High Definition content recorded in the AVCHD format, and viewing of digital still images.

Final Standard Profile is an advanced function added to the Blu-ray standard, which enables new functions such as Picture-in-Picture and Audio Mixing (allows you to switch the sound between the main and sub windows).

Other DMP-BD30 features: Deep Color Compatibility, HMI 1.3B (that bumps the step gradation from 8-bit 256 all the way up to 12-bit, 4,096 step gradation), 1080/24p playback (for the same 24 frames per second reproduction as the original movie, for a smoother picture.

The inclusion of a multi-function SD Card slot is another new addition to the player. It for images recorded on a high capacity HD SD card to be outputted directly from the player’s HDMI terminal in their original 1080p form. Also, the DMP-BD30 provides an AVCHD Direct Navigator function that makes it easy to search for particular scenes. The player can also play back JPEG still images on an SD card. The DMP-BD30 converts the images to 1920x1080 resolution, ideal for viewing on a 1080p HD TV, through the HDMI terminal.

Like its predecessor, the DMP-DB30 features the EZ-Sync™ HDAVI Control that allows operation of a Panasonic home theater system with one remote. With one touch of the EZ-Sync button, all the components turn on, the correct TV input is chosen, the TV’s built-in speakers are muted and the home theater starts playback.

Due later this month. SRP is $499.95.
This is a preview, not a review.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Wal-Mart has Black Friday bargains early.
Hi-Def DVD player under $100

The day after Thanksgiving has been known as "Black Friday," in recognition of the theoretical time when retail stores moved from a loss ("in the red") to profit ("in the black") as Christmas shopping begins.

In recent years, the day has been notable for wacky low prices at many stores, with eager shoppers lining up in the cold and dark many hours before the stores open.

This year, retail giant Wal-Mart is jumping ahead of competitors with Black Friday-like bargains this Friday, starting at 8am.

Deals include a Sanyo 50-inch plasma TV for $998, a Toshiba HD DVD player for $98.87, HD DVDs for $14.96 each, and an Acer laptop for $348.

Dress warm, wear comfortable shoes, and try not to get crushed to death.