Thursday, December 17, 2009

Flashing red Batphone can be delivered before Christmas

Now everyone can have a red phone with a flashing light like Batman.

When there’s trouble in Gotham City, Police Commissioner Gordon calls caped crusader Batman, the secret alter ego of millionaire Bruce Wayne.

At Wayne Manor, the flashing red Batphone is answered by Alfred the butler, who tells Wayne about the trouble. Then Wayne and his young ward Dick Grayson put on their superhero costumes. As Batman and Robin, they race from the Batcave in the Batmobile to battle evil-doers, or rescue citizens in distress.

Now everyone can have a bright red flashing Batphone just like a superhero. When an emergency call -- or even an ordinary call -- comes in, a bright red light centered in a shiny chrome ring starts flashing to attract attention.

The Batphone has classic sixties styling, with heavy-duty construction, a two-year warranty, and is made in the USA. It gets all of its power from the phone line, and doesn’t require a power cord or batteries. It can work on an ordinary home phone line, or on an "analog extension port" in a business phone system.

The phone rings when the light flashes, unless a purchaser prefers the bell to be disconnected for silent signaling, or an optional high-pitched "BatSignal" or buzzer to be installed instead of the bell. Price with the bell is $122, including Priority Mail shipping to all 50 states.

Order online at, or call toll-free 1-888-225-3999.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

After 40 years of faithfulness, I've cheated on Nikon. Blame Tiger Woods, or Panasonic

I'm a sucker for red. I have a 31-year-old tomato-red Fiat sports car. I have a  website that specializes in red phones. My favorite uncle and an important girlfriend had red hair. I even had red walls in my apartment until I married a different girlfriend who didn't like red walls. I refuse to eat "white pizza." If it doesn't have red sauce, it's not pizza.

As soon as I saw the new Panasonic Lumix G1 digital camera last year, I started salivating and panting. The G1 probably won every camera award there is.

I've been a Nikon fan and owner since 1969, starting with my first "grown-up" camera, the Nikon Photomic FTn. I bought it to use on my first post-college job as assistant editor of a hi-fi magazine, paying a friendly camera dealer 10 bucks a week from my meager $115 weekly salary. It was an expensive, huge, heavy machine, but it took amazing pictures and was ultra-reliable. The earlier manual version, the Nikon F, was the first Japanese camera to win the loyalty of pro photographers who were previously addicted to German Leicas. One FTn was taken on the Apollo 15 mission to the Moon. Mine traveled as far as England, and pictures taken with it ended up in Rolling Stone, Womens Wear Daily, my first book back in 1976, and were projected 10-feet-wide on the screen in my basement.

By today's standards, the FTn was primitive, and expensive. The only zoom lens had a range of just 43-86 millimeters, and I think it cost over $500. There was no built-in flash. A motor drive (which became part of $35 cameras in the 1990s)  was beyond the budget for an amateur like me.

Over the years I gradually upgraded to newer Nikons, with more built-in features, less heft and smaller price tags. I had an FE, then a miniaturized EM, then my first digital SLR -- the D70, a smaller digital rangefinder CoolPix P5000, and a pocketable CoolPix L6. They have all been superb picture-takers that have never let me down. They all still work.

In general, I use my big Nikon D70 DSLR for "serious" photography, and the compact Nikon Coolpix L6 is always in my briefcase or car for unplanned photos. In my office, there's the older Coolpix P5000 on a tripod for taking product pictures. I occasionally fondle the film cameras, but I haven't shot film in years.

People tend to stay with the beer brands, tool brands, car brands and camera brands they've been happy with. Dave, my best buddy from college, has long been a "Canon guy." Until last weekend, I was a "Nikon guy."

I've been well aware of the inroads that Panasonic has made into the digital camera business, especially since they started using Leica lenses on some products. Panasonic has long been an important innovator in video cameras and camcorders, and now they're kicking ass in still photography, too.

I'm not ready to empty my shelf full of Nikons, but I was definitely ready to add a Panasonic to the collection, and it will not just stay on the shelf.

The Lumix G1 is the world’s first Micro Four Thirds system camera. Panasonic says it's the world’s smallest and lightest digital interchangeable lens camera system, with the body and standard "kit" lens weighing about 20 ounces. It fills an important middle ground between my big and small Nikons, offering the quality and versatility of an SLR in a much smaller package (about one-third smaller than the D70), and has a bigger display than my other cameras.

Based on the new Micro Four Thirds System standard, the Lumix G1 eliminates the internal moving mirror and prism that are used in other single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras, so it reduces the size and weight significantly.

With the mirror-less system, the G1’s distance between the lens mount and the image sensor, has been reduced from 40 mm to approximately 20 mm.

The G1's Full-time Live View lets you see in the LCD screen while making adjustments to see how the exposure, white balance, aperture and even the shutter speed will affect the photo. This kind of super-easy live-view shooting has never before been possible with a conventional digital SLR camera.

Intelligent Auto mode activates six detection and compensation functions that work automatically, leaving you free to just aim and shoot.

But wait. There's more.

  • Shake detection - Mega O.I.S. Helps prevent blurring when the camera shakes.
  • Motion detection - Intelligent ISO Control Helps prevent blur caused by subject motion.
  • Light detection - Intelligent Exposure Adjusts the brightness of dark areas in the image.
  • Advanced Face Detection Face Detection AF/AE Helps deliver clear portraits.
  • Scene detection - Intelligent Scene Selector Selects the optimal scene mode for the situation.
  • Subject detection - AF Tracking follows moving subjects and adjusts accordingly.

  • The 3.0-inch free-angle LCD with high 460,000-dot resolution 180° horizontally and 270° vertically, makes it easy to capture shots from extreme angles without getting into an awkward position. And when the lighting around you changes, the LCD backlighting level automatically changes too, so you get easy-on-the-eyes viewing at all times. You can flip the screen around to face front for self-portraits, or to allow subjects to see themselves.

    In My Color mode you can freely adjust the color, brightness and saturation of an image, while checking it with Full-time Live View. This gives you the power to control how your image will look. You can even make dramatic color changes.

    Film mode lets you capture photos with a special mood or expressiveness. Much like changing the film type in a film camera, you can get a wide range of expression based on six color modes and three monochromatic modes. When the multi-film mode is selected, you can record pictures having up to three different effects with each press of the shutter button.

    1920 x 1080-pixel HD (high-definition) photo recording. The G1 shoots wide-screen, 16:9, full-HD images. These images can be displayed on an HDTV, which handles about four times the data of a standard-definition TV.

    The camera has a high-definition output so it's easy to connect to an HDTV for high definition viewing. If your TV is HDMI compatible, a single HDMI mini cable is all you need. If you have a Panasonic Viera HDTV, you can also operate the G1 with the Viera remote control for even easier viewing.

    The image sensor has 13.1 total Megapixels -- over twice the resolution of my newest Nikon. It can provide both RAW and JPG versions of the same shots. There's a Supersonic wave filter dust reduction system. Lens focal length is 14mm to 45mm -- the 35mm film camera equivalent 28mm to 90mm, which I've always considered the ideal zoom range for most shooting. Back in my pre-zoom Nikon days, my favorite lenses were 28mm and 85mm.

    More joy: ISO Sensitivity can be selected for Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600 / 3200 / Intelligent ISO. White Balance choices are: Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Shade / Halogen / Flash / White Set 1,2 / Color temperature setting.

    A G1 kit with the Lumix G Vario 14-45mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH/MEGA O.I.S lens has a list price of $800, but you should be able to get it for under $700. Also available is the 45-200mm/F4.0-5.6/Mega O.I.S.lens.

    The Lumix G1 is apparently the world’s first interchangeable lens camera with color choices, just like some Panasonic phone models. You can choose basic black, electric blue or bloody red models. I like bloody/tomato/Fiat red.

    For current Four Thirds users with a collection of lenses, an optional mount adapter will allow Four Thirds lenses to be compatible with the Lumix G1.

    Panasonic is offering accessories including External Flash DMW-FL220(GN22); PL Filter: DMW-LPL52; Mount Adapter: DMW-MA1; Battery Pack: DMW-BLB13; DC Cable: DMW-DCC3; Soft Case: DMW-CG1; Soft Bag: DMW-BAG1; Shoulder Strap (Stylish) DMW-SSTG1-A/C/R; Shoulder Strap (Woven) DMW-SSTG2-W; Shoulder Strap (Leather) DMW-SSTG3-T.

    Last weekend included the beginning of Chanukah and my 38th anniversary - - two reasons for gifting.

    My practical wife wanted a set of new Michelin tires for her Town & Country van. I got them at Costco. Seeking a bit more excitement in my life, and perhaps inspired by Tiger Woods, I cheated on Nikon and I got a sexy red Lumix.

    It's an amazing camera. Images are bright and sharp. I can compose a shot with the viewfinder or the large flip-screen. There is no lag between pressing the shutter button and capturing an image. The zoom lens covers the ideal range for me. The built-in strobe is so powerful that I probably won't buy an external strobe. The menu system is logical and easy-to-use -- much better than on my digital Nikons. Unlike my film Nikons, the lens cap never pops off when it shouldn't.

    I have only one criticism. The strobe light doesn't pop up automatically in low-light situations. However, it's possible that it really can auto-pop, but I just have not figured out how to activate the feature. I guess I'll have to do a very un-manly thing: RTFM. I hope I'll be forgiven.


    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    I need a break.

    I began blogging on 5/7/06. I started writing one blog, and gradually built up to five blogs a day. I got out of bed at 3:30AM to start my daily writing.

    I did it for fun, but lately it has seemed too much like work. I'm not sure that I am officially "burned-out," but I have definitely lost enthusiasm for the daily grind of blogging.

    Since the blog obligation was only to myself, and I have no contract, it's an obligation I am free to suspend, cancel or modify at will. No one has a paid-up subscription for words they won't receive.

    Therefore, after 2,715 posts, I have decided to take some time off. I need to finish writing a few books, and some essays, and maybe I'll even try poetry and songwriting. My to-do list includes many unread books and un-watched DVDs. I want to spend more time swimming, and walk my dog more often.

    The break will last at least a few weeks, but might even be several months. J. D. Salinger has not published an original work since 1965, but I won't be away that long. Even if I don't come back full-time until the Fall, I might pop back in occasionally if I think there's something worth saying.

    I am continuing to write BookMakingBlog, my blog about writing, editing and publishing.


    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Circuit City reincarnated as a Web-only biz

    Circuit City's Website was revived over the Memorial Day weekend, as Systemax relaunched the brand as an online-only consumer electronics retailer.

    After the original Circuit City's bankruptcy earlier this year, its assets were auctioned, and acquired by Systemax, which also owns the TigerDirect and CompUSA brands.

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    Palm Pre is almost here, and you'll be able to buy it at Wal-Mart

    Sprint Nextel plans to start selling Palm's much anticipated new smart phone, the Pre, on June 6 for $200. The device could give Palm a needed boost in sales and help Sprint stop the defection of subscribers to other wireless carriers. The price requires a new two-year service plan and a $100 mail-in rebate.

    The Pre, which looks like an iPhone but sports a slide-out keyboard in addition to a touch screen, is seen as Palm's chance of reversing a long slide and taking on newer smart phones like the iPhone and BlackBerry.

    The phone, which was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, has a capacitive touch screen, slide-out keyboard, Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS, and Bluetooth. One of the most appealing features of the Pre is its new operating system, which is called webOS. The OS was built from the ground up with Internet connectivity in mind, and it has a finger-friendly user interface that can run multiple applications at once. Palm is planning to use webOS on a variety of devices, but it needs the Pre to be a hit in order to gain market share.

    Sprint lost 1.25 million of its valuable contracted subscribers in the first three months of the year, even worse than the drop of 1.1 million in the fourth quarter.

    Given their challenges, Collins Stewart analyst Ashok Kumar said the device is a "make or break product" for both companies. Kumar is skeptical that the Pre will be a runaway success because the smart phone market is already so crowded, and said the Pre should be priced lower than the $199 iPhone.

    Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said Palm has "a legitimate shot of resurrecting themselves," but argues that for the Pre to be successful it would have to become the dominant smart phone at Sprint, which he thinks is unlikely.

    Palm also said Tuesday that it will also start selling a wireless charging dock for the Pre called the Touchstone, along with a special back cover that makes the phone compatible with the dock, for $70.

    In addition to the usual Sprint sales channels, the Pre will be available at Wal-Mart, which is making a strong upgrade of its electronics departments to lure customers from rivals such as Best Buy and Amazon. They are all fighting for a share of business from recently closed Circuit City, which had over 700 stores and more than $11 billion in annual sales. Part of Wal-Mart's strategy is to offer high-end smartphones, such as the Pre. (info from The Associated Press and Information Week)

    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Napster cutting prices for music has cut the price of its online music streaming service to $5 a month from $12.95, and threw in five song downloads for customers in a move to better compete with rival iTunes.

    The company gained notoriety in the early years of music downloading with its free music swapping service, but following copyright lawsuits emerged as a subscription-based service. It has struggled to grow its user base from over 700,000 last August, and compete with music retailers like Apple's iTunes store.

    Napster said the new offering stands up well against iTunes because 5 songs a month will cost just $5 even if they are new releases. By comparison, iTunes recently began charging up to $1.29 for newer, more popular tracks. Napster also allows unlimited full-length song previews versus iTunes' 30-second samples. Subscribers can also buy additional MP3-format songs priced between 69 cents and $1.29.

    Sites such as MySpace, Pandora and imeem pay for song streams with advertising revenue so don;t charge for the music, but Napster does not have any ads.

    The plan will be marketed through Best Buy stores starting today including with pre-paid cards that will cost from $5 for one month to up to $60 for a 12-month subscription. Online buyers of lengthier subscriptions will get a few extra song download credits thrown in.

    Users of Napster's existing $12.95-per-month computer-based music streaming service will be switched over automatically on their next billing cycle.

    Others who pay $14.95 a month to be able to download unlimited numbers of songs and play them from portable devices, will be given a choice to stick with their plan or switch to the new plan. Subscribers who pay $7.49 to have five over-the-air song downloads to mobile phones will not be affected. (info from The Associated Press)

    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Free samples of Howard Stern on XM satellite radio

    The Howard Stern Show is a basic part of Sirius satellite radio programming, and available at extra cost on XM.

    From may 18 through May 25, Howard is available for free listening on XM.
    CLICK for info

    Friday, May 15, 2009

    Sprint & Verizon will sell itty-bitty Wi-Fi router

    Sprint will join Verizon Wireless in marketing Novatel’s pocket-size battery-powered Wi-Fi router with embedded cellular data modem.

    Verizon announced earlier this week that it would be first to market on May 17. Thursday, Sprint announced availability during the first week of June. Both carriers are pricing the Novatel-made MiFi 2200 at $99 after $50 mail-in rebate with two-year wireless-data service contract.

    The 2200 incorporates CDMA 1x EV-DO Rev. A cellular-data modem and Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g, enabling up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices to access the Internet from places where fixed hot spots or Wi-Fi networks are unavailable. The MiFi’s rechargeable battery provides up to four hours of active use and 40 hours of standby time on a single charge. It measures 3.5 inches by 2.3 inches by 0.4 inches and weighs 2.05 ounces.

    The device is the first of its kind to operate on batteries, enabling consumers to take it easily from car to car. Recently, Autonet launched a transportable in-vehicle cellular hot spot, which consumers can move from car to car, but the device must be docked with an installed mounting kit. Kyocera continues to offer a KR2 Wi-Fi router that operates off AC, comes with car cigarette-lighter adapter, and accepts a cellular EV-DO data card to connect to up to 20 Wi-Fi-equipped laptops to the Internet.

    The Novatel device will be available through all Verizon Wireless channels. Sprint will offer it online, in its stores and through select other retailers. Soon after, it will offer a version to wireless wholesalers.

    Eligible Verizon price plans include $39.99 monthly access for 250MB monthly allowance and 10 cents per megabyte overage. A $59.99 monthly plan comes with 5GB monthly allowance and 5 cents per megabyte overage. Consumers can pay a higher price if they don’t commit to a monthly plan. In that case, the user must get a $15 Mobile Broadband DayPass to access the service for a single 24-hour period.

    Sprint’s eligible plans are the $59.99/month broadband-only plan and the $149/month Simply Everything Plan + Mobile Broadband plan, which covers a phone plus the device. Both plans include up to 5GB of data per month, plus 5 cents for every MB more. (info from TWICE)

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Even if you did't care about Star Trek on TV, you'll probably still like the movie

    Before the release of the new Star Trek "prequel" movie, there was some loud grumbling from diehard fans who feared that it would be untrue to the original.

    I can't imagine any real ST fan not liking the movie, and there's a lot that will appeal to "kids" who were born too late to miss out on the original fun. My wife, who never watched any of the TV shows, and grumbled through the movies she went to with me, actually had a very good time. I was never a Trekkie or Trekker. I never went to a Star Trek convention. I never wore Kirk pajamas or Spock ears, but I did see every movie and every episode of every TV series. I could not imagine not going on opening day, and I loved the movie.

    I thought that the cast was mostly unknowns, but Generation-Xer Cousin Dave pointed out that if I was 15 to 25 years old, I would recognize them as current stars. The producers were smart to pick a theme that would appeal to my generation, and have a cast that would appeal to kids.

    Zachary Quinto (above, right) looks so Spock-like that he could be the original Nimoy's son, or the current Nimoy's grandson. We even get to see the present Quinto-Spock talking to the future Nimoy-Spock. At the end of the conversation they both give the Vulcan/Jewish spread finger salute. My wife said that she read that Quinto's fingers had to be temporaily glued together to do the stunt, but the glue didn't show. As Nimoy-Spock was about to leave Quinto-Spock he said something like, "It would be self-serving to use the traditional farewell, so I'll just say good luck;" meaning it would be wrong to say "live long and prosper" to himself.

    I went to a 6:30 screening, that had a mix of old farts like me and young families with kids. A few seats away from me was a bearded guy of approximately my age (63). At several points in the movie where there were homages to the original STs, it seemed that he and I were the only ones in the theater who were laughing or applauding.

    This happened the first time Quinto-Spock raised his eybrow, and when Bones said, "Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor, not a..." and when Scotty said, "I'm givin' 'er all she's got, Cap'n." I did not hear "I canna change the laws of physics" or "He's dead, Jim, dead," but I'll likely see it again and will listen closely.

    Chris Pine was perfect as Kirk, confident, smart, horny, willing to break rules and piss-off people when necessary. I can identify with that.

    Early in the movie we see Kirk at around age 12 speeding in an ancient Corvette. While driving he raises the top so it can be blown off the car and heads for a cliff while being chased by a cop in a flying motorcycle. Kirk leaps out just in time and as he crawls back up from the abyss, the cop asks his name. Is a squeeky kid voice, he replies, "James Tiberias Kirk." It was as assertive as "Bond, James Bond." A few years later Kirk shows up at Starfleet Academy and gives away his futuristic motorcycle before heading off into space.

    Kirk soon tries and fails to pick up Space Cadet Uhura in a bar. Later she is hot for Spock, and Spock and Uhura have a passionate goodbye while standing in the transporter bay, as Kirk watches them.

    Kirk has a sex scene with a green woman, and when her roommate arrives he hides under her bed, but the second woman tells the green woman that she hears him breathing, and Kirk runs out of the bedroom in his undies.

    There's an early scene where Kirk meets Dr. McCoy. McCoy warns Kirk about the dangers of space and explains that he just lost everything in a divorce. All he has left are his "bones."

    Because of his "cheating" manipulation of the Kobayashi Maru test, Kirk is suspended from Starfleet and not allowed to go into space on an emergency mission. Bones comes up with a faked excuse to take him on board the Enterprise, allegedly because Kirk needs his medical attention.

    When Spock is acting-captain of the Enterprise, Kirk pisses him off, and Spock maroons him on a frigid planet. Kirk is chased by a monster and seeks refuge in a cave and is saved by Nimoy-Spock, who gives him an update on Vulcan/Romulan history. Nimoy-Spock takes Kirk to a Federation research station where he meets super-geek Scotty. Nimoy-Spock gives Scotty advice on modifying the transport equipment so Scotty and Kirk can be transported to the Enterprise whle the ship is moving at Warp speed. The arrival on Enterprise is very funny, with Scotty trapped. (I won't spoil it for you by explaining it.) Quinto-Spock is pissed off to see Kirk again. They get into a fight. Spock realizes that his emotional ourburst shows that he is unfit for duty, and Kirk takes over as Captain to fight the Romulans.

    Anton Yelchin stole the show as 17-year-old Chekov ("wictory," "werry," "Wulcan").

    McCoy had a great line to Spock: "Are you Vulcan crazy?"

    At the end we see Captain Pike in a wheelchair, a precurser of the Pike head mounted on a mobile box in the original series.

    The conclusion has Nimoy reciting, over the original theme music, "These are the voyages of the Star Ship Enterprise..."

    I can be emotional and loud in movie theaters, and my wife often cringes. Sometimes during a really preposterous scene I'll yell BULLSHIT, as in the original Batman movie when an airplane was brought down with a shot from a handgun.

    Long before Gene Roddenberry, British writer Samuel Talyor Coleridge (1772-1834) wrote that a "willing suspension of disbelief" is necessary to enjoy art and literature. I was unable to suspend disbelief to accept shooting down the plane, but I had no problem with the new ST movie plot line happening before the TV series, and also happening in an alternate/parallel zone of existence so two Spocks could have a meeting.

    Friday night, I had not even one negative outburst, and there was much to laugh and clap about.

    I was pissed off that the melted butter didn't seep through to the lower third of my popcorn, but I can't complain at all about the actual movie. Based on the reviews, I expected it to be really good, but it was still better than expected. Purists may dislike the writers changing the Kobayashi Maru story line, but the new version worked out fine.

    Acting, casting, writing, special effects, photography, music, everything was outstanding.

    For me, most movies are a $10/90-minute nap. This time I stayed awake for all 2 hours and 6 minutes, and I'm now old enough for the Old Fart Discount.

    Monday, May 4, 2009


    I'm taking a few days off to finish writing a book and start a new one. I should be back during the week of 5/11.

    Friday, May 1, 2009

    New itty-bitty camcorders

    Yesterday Pure Digital Technologies introduced the second generation of its Flip Ultra camcorder line, both both standard- and high-def models.

    The Flip Ultra ($149 suggested retail) and Flip UltraHD ($199) feature two hours of recording time, a two-inch high-resolution anti-glare screen and a AA battery recharging system using a built-in USB arm.

    The Flip UltraHD is available in black or white (with chrome trim), and has 1,280 by 720p HD resolution. It will capture up to two hours of recordings on its 8GB of built in memory and includes an HDMI output and 2x digital zoom.

    The new Flip Ultra model is available in black, white, yellow and pink, and offers 640 by 480 standard-definition resolution. It records up to two hours on its 4GB of built-in memory, and includes a composite-video output and 2x digital zoom.

    The new models are preloaded with FlipShare onboard video editing, filing and sharing software. The system enables fast file sharing after plugging the camcorder’s USB arm into a Mac or PC.

    Pure Digital said it sold more than 2 million units since the introduction of the first Flip Family camcorders about two years ago. The company also claims that its Flip Ultra is No. 1-selling camcorder in the US, and its Flip MinoHD, launched last November, is currently the top-selling HD camcorder in the country. (info from TWICE)

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Cablevision new high-speed champ, beating FiOS

    Cablevision plans to announce today the fastest Internet speeds available from any cable or phone company.

    Starting May 11, the cableco will offer speeds of up to 101 megabits per second downstream throughout its service area, and 15 Mbps upstream. Cablevision has three million subscribers in the New York metro area.

    Cablevision also plans to double the downstream speed of its Wi-Fi Internet service up to 3 Mbps for free. Cablevision offers wireless Internet at several Wi-Fi hotspots in New York's Long Island, Connecticut and Westchester service areas, and in parts of New Jersey.

    Cablevision is in a race against Verizon Communications, which is rolling out its fiber-optic FiOs service in New York City. At present, Verizon's top Internet speed is 50 Mbps per second with a starting cost of $140 a month plus a free wireless router. Cablevision is offering its service at $99.95 a month.

    The second fastest Internet speed offered by a cable operator is up to 60 Mbps from Charter Communications, but currently it's only available in the St. Louis area. (info from The Associated Press)

    Thursday, April 23, 2009

    UPDATE: K GRILLED C is delicious.

    I tasted it and I approve. Delicious, juicy, healthy, and fewer napkins are needed.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2009

    KFC now has GRILLED chicken,
    and you can try it for FREE

    A while ago Kentucky Fried Chicken morphed into mere KFC, to avoid the heart-stopping F-word, and maybe to save money by using smaller signs.

    KFC has had various kinds of non-fried fare over the years, including pretty good roasted chicken, and ultra-greasy beef ribs. As other fast feeders like Subway, Wendy's and Mickey Dee's have been promoting "healthier" menus, the heirs to Colonel Harland Sanders are now cooking up grilled chicken.

    KFC’s Kentucky Grilled Chicken is marinated and seasoned with a blend of six herbs and spices and "slow-grilled in special ovens." I'm not sure how you can grill in an oven, special or otherwise. So, technically the KGC pieces maybe not be really grilled, but actually baked or roasted, but WTF. The pieces do have grill stripes on them. I hope they're not from Magic Markers. Maybe the pieces are grilled in the chicken factory, and hen reheated in the local restaurants. I'm going to try to get a clarification, and I'll update this posting when I learn more.

    KGC is KFC’s second "secret recipe", and the first not developed by Col. Sanders. It has between 70 to 180 calories and four to nine grams of fat depending on the piece. KFC is a bit late to the grilled game, and will compete with El Pollo Loco, Chick-fil-A, and even gilled chicken sandwiches, salads and wraps at "The Inn of the Golden Arches."

    KFC is inviting America to sample the new menu item on “UNFry Day,” Monday, April 27. People are encouraged to stop by KFC and receive a FREE piece of Kentucky Grilled Chicken. A full page ad will run in USA Today on April 24 to remind Americans to get their freebies. See for more details. The website has some funny chicken dancing (you can upload yours), a game, commercials with un-funny outtakes, and an iPhone app.

    In addition to the UNFry Day national sampling, KFC also has a new ad campaign challenging America to “UNTHINK What You Thought About KFC.” The TV spot, produced by Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris, contains Kentucky Grilled Chicken endorsements from celebrated chefs Sandra Lee, editor-in-chief of Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade Magazine, and TV One’s G. Garvin.

    “The new Kentucky Grilled Chicken is delicious,” said Sandra Lee. “In addition to being a better-for-you option, I love that moms can swing by the drive-thru of their local KFC and pick up an entire meal for the family that is high in quality and taste.” (Blogger's note: I've heard of Sandra Dee, but I have no idea who the hell Sandra Lee is.)

    KFC’s KGC recipe is a combination of six herbs and spices that KFC has developed over several years working with one of the world's most well-known spice companies. (K FRIED C has 11.) Only a few KFC executives know the second secret recipe and they have all signed confidentiality agreements to keep the recipe as secret as the Colonel’s Original Recipe. One of them told me the recipe, but if I tell you, I'll have to shoot you -- so don't ask. The original copy of the second secret recipe, kept on an encrypted computer flash drive, will join Colonel Harland Sanders’ handwritten Original Recipe in KFC’s recently beefed-up (chickened-up?) high-security vault.

    The high-tech, customized oven used to grill (or roast, or maybe just re-heat) the chicken is proprietary to KFC and is patented, so don't expect to see it at Arby's.

    On April 4, KFC conducted a mandatory three-hour session where KFC cooks successfully mastered the KGC cooking process, becoming KFC-certified “Grill Sergeants.” You’ll find a “Grill Sergeant” in restaurants nationwide. It's like the program that Red Lobster did when they introduced their wood-fired grilled menu last year.

    KFC has spent major moolah developing and launching the new KGC. If the taste is as good as the marketing, it should be delicious. I just wish I could convince them to bring back KFC chicken noodle soup. It was probably the best I ever had in a restaurant.

    Kentucky Grilled Chicken is now available in participating KFC® restaurants nationwide – at the same price as Original Recipe Chicken. A two-piece Grilled meal (breast & wing or drumstick & thigh, along with two side items and a biscuit) is priced at only $3.99 plus tax. You can even mix KFC and KGC in the same bucket.
    This is a preview, not a review.

    Friday, April 17, 2009

    A new way to save gas: drive more smoothly

    "Eco-driving" is a technique that combines a racecar driver's skill with the proverbial grandmother's pace. By learning to drive all over again a woman in Phoenix estimates she has boosted her pickup's fuel economy to 21 miles per gallon from 15, a jump of 40% that surpasses the mileage advertised by its manufacturer, Toyota. With that shift in behavior, she has done more to curb oil consumption than most people zooming around in the latest hybrid cars.

    Even without futuristic technologies, drivers can achieve amazing fuel economy in their current cars with nothing fancier than their brains and some lighter feet. The idea is to maintain momentum much as on a leisurely bicycle ride: accelerating only gradually, coasting whenever possible and constantly adjusting speed to minimize the need to stop.

    The challenge will be to get Americans to ease up instead of variously slamming on the gas and the brakes. In the meantime, as early eco-drivers lower their own emissions, they are certain to raise tempers of the impatient drivers around them.

    Trials in Europe, Japan and the US are finding that drivers commonly improve their fuel economy upwards of 20% after deploying a handful of eco-driving techniques, such as driving more slowly on highways, shifting gears earlier in cities and shutting off the engine rather than idling at long stops.

    Technology still matters. A car that is lighter and loaded with the latest environmental hardware will use less gasoline than a car that is heavier and conventional under the hood.

    Attempts to promote eco-driving have puttered along for at least a decade, mostly in northern Europe. In 1999, Germany began requiring that elements of eco-driving be taught in driver-education classes, in the land of the autobahn and the Porsche. About 800,000 new drivers get their licenses annually in Germany, and they are supposed to learn three basic eco-driving tips.

    First, watch the tachometer, not just the speedometer, and shift gears before the car's engine speed reaches 2,000 revolutions per minute to minimize how hard the engine has to work. Second, don't tailgate, because tailgating requires a lot of unnecessary braking and accelerating. Third, coast if an upcoming light is red, letting it turn green so there is no need to stop.

    In the US, where 5% of the world's population consumes 23% of its oil, eco-driving has existed so far mostly as a tiny subculture. In "hypermiling," a quirky new competitive pastime, the winning drivers have surpassed 150 miles per gallon in mass-produced hybrids.

    The basic hypermiling technique is the "pulse-and-glide." The driver slowly accelerates to about 60% of full throttle -- the point where a car's engine tends to operate most efficiently -- and then steps off the gas, coasting until the car's speed drops. At the right moment, before losing too much speed, the driver gently presses the gas pedal again.

    One tip: Drive as if there is a hot cup of coffee in the cup holder at risk of splashing.

    Auto makers are enthusiastic eco-driving promoters. Pressured to improve the fuel economy of their vehicles, they see eco-driving as a way to shift some of the responsibility away from themselves and onto their customers.

    Ford has been promoting eco-driving for several years in Germany. Last July, Ford flew German Road Safety Council instructors to Detroit to give an eco-driving lesson to drivers from Pro Formance, the Phoenix professional-driving company. A month later, Ford and Pro Formance staged an eco-driving test with 48 drivers, who improved their fuel economy an average of 24%.

    To help drivers make the change, car makers have begun providing technological aids, including dashboard gauges that display fuel economy in real time. If drivers see how their behavior affects their energy consumption, they will be more likely to change.

    Within the next two years, Nissan plans to start offering in the US and Japan a feature that it calls the "eco-pedal" -- a sensor that, when the driver is accelerating too piggishly, pushes back against the driver's foot.

    But Nissan realizes that slow and steady also is the rule when it comes to changing drivers' behavior behind the wheel. "Not every driver likes to be an eco-driver," notes Nissan's Kazuhiro Doi. So Nissan will include a switch that allows drivers to turn the eco-pedal off. (info fro mThe Wall Street Journal)

    Thursday, April 16, 2009

    Crappy Birthday to me, R.I.P. Dunk'n Donuts pizza, and dog vig

    Yesterday was my birthday. It has long been a family tradition that the birthday kid gets to choose the restaurant.

    I told my wife that I wanted to celebrate with a delicious (red) clam pizza from Papa's, my favorite local pizzeria. She has been trying to cut back on body-stuffing bread and cheese, and argued in favor of going somewhere where I could get pizza and she could get something else. After much whining, I agreed to go to Vazzi's. It's a pretty good -- not great -- local Italian restaurant that had replaced a truly great Italian restaurant operated by a nice family from Cape Verde.

    She ordered veal marsala, and didn't like it. Our niece Allison ordered chicken parm with linguine, and didn't like it. I ordered my red clam pizza and it sucked. The pasta fagioli was cold and loaded with carrots. Yeccch.

    My pizza was made perfectly (heavy on the sauce, but light on the cheese, crisp but not burned). Unfortunately the sauce had no flavor and the clams were obviously from the can.

    Since none of us finished the unsatisfying meal, the food was packed to take home. I knew I would see the same rejects a few hours later, for supper.

    After work, in an effort to avoid the misery, I stopped at the Dunk'n Donuts next to my office to get one of their little car-convenient CD-sized pizzas to eat on the way home. It's not "real" pizza, but it's better than the shit that was waiting for me in the fridge at home.

    Alas, my plan failed. The disembodied voice from the speaker squeaked something like "no more pizza."

    Dejected, I drove home. Wife tried to push her rejected veal marsala on me, emphasizing how good the mushrooms are. I like mushrooms. I don't like marsala sauce.

    The thought of eating the non-Papas clam pizza was too depressing, so I opted for Allison's leftover chicken parm and linguine. Wife wanted to heat it in the microwave. I told her not to bother. I can enjoy cold linguine, and I planned to scrape off the clotted cheese anyway. She insisted that it would taste better hot. I countered that re-heated shit is still shit, and not to bother.

    I forced myself to eat a few strands of pasta and a few pieces of chicken and then bailed out. Throughout the meal, my eager-to-eat dog Hunter was in his normal position with his chin firmly perched on my upper right leg, awaiting his "vig."

    Vig, from "vigorish," was originally a Yiddish word, derived from a Russian word, now more often associated with Italian mobsters. It's used in several ways. It can be the fee charged by a bookie for his services, or the interest charged by a loanshark, or the 10% "protection" fee paid by a business to the mob to avoid murder and mayhem.

    In our family, the vig is the approximately 10-25% of my food (which could be Rice Krispies, scrambled eggs, potato chips, cooled wonton soup, a burger, an apple, or even lobster or steak) that is paid to appease Hunter, the Golden Retriever with the endless appetite.

    Hunter is usually quite patient because he knows he'll collect at the end of the meal. Sometimes, however, if he feels that I'm eating too slowly, the pressure of chin-on-upper-leg will increase. Sometimes he'll switch from right leg to left leg. If he gets really impatient, I'll see a damp dark nose emerge from under my armpit. Sometimes he may provide some verbal encouragement to hurry up and pay the vig. If he's extremely pissed off, he'll stand up and put his face in the plate.

    If I'm eating something that's inappropriate for canine consumption, I say, "not for doggies." Hunter knows this means that although I don't think he should eat it, if he is willing to wait, he will eventually wear me down. If it's something he really should not eat, like chocolate cake, he'll settle for around 3% vig instead of his usual 10-25%.

    However, last night's food sucked so bad, I wouldn't give it to a dog, and certainly not to my dog. He settled for some rice cakes and ice cream. So did I. Not exactly a birthday banquet, but 63 is one of those "dumb" ages that does not merit much commemoration.

    Today I will celebrate 63 years plus one day, with a proper clam pizza, at Papa's, alone. I'll save some of the crusts for Hunter.

    CLICK for the original blog about Dunk's pizza.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    Finally a Japanese dressing you can buy in the supermarket

    I love the ginger dressings served in many Japanese restaurants. When I lived in Westchester County, NY, my favorite Japanese restaurant was Noda's.

    I was a regular customer and earned two special privileges. Because I drank a lot of water, I got an extra large "sumo size" water glass. I also was able to take home some of Noda-san's special ginger dressing in a cleaned out Kirin beer bottle.

    It has always surprised and troubled me that despite the overwhelming effect of Japanese culture on the US (sushi, Kirin, Benihana, Honda, Sony, Godzilla, hentai, anime, karaoki, Nintendo, kanban, judo, transforming toys, pokemon and much more) I could not simply go to the supermarket and buy a bottle of Japanese dressing to take home and slosh on a salad.

    Many other nations were represented. There were endless choices of French, Russian, Greek and Italian dressing, but nothing from one of America's most important trading partners. I could even buy dressings with dumb names like Ranch. What the hell does a ranch taste like? Dirt? Cow shit? Cowboy sweat? None of the alternatives have been appealing enough for me to taste it.

    Fortunately I don't seem to be the only one seeking the taste of a Japanese salad at home.

    Makoto is a Japanese steakhouse in Melbourne, Florida, in business since 1985.

    Makotos' customers, like me up north at Noda's, begged to buy their ginger dressing after a meal. Local grocers wanted to buy it for resale, too.

    In 1990 they began packaging and selling Makoto dressings and sauces for local retailers in Melbourne, and since then their distribution has expanded across the US, and made me a very happy gaijin. It is absolutely delicious, and I recommend it highly.

    Makoto dressings are made with fresh, natural ingredients. In addition to being great on salads, Makoto dressings and sauces are excellent as vegetable dips, sauces or marinades for beef, poultry and fish.

    In addition to the traditional ginger dressing, you can also get Makoto Honey Ginger Dressing, Dill Dressing, Seafood Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Ginger Slaw Dressing and Vegetable Sauce. Until I typed this list, I didn't realize that they made teriyaki, too, and I'll definitely try it as an alternative to my usual Kikkoman.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2009

    Dog-friendly Element coming from Honda

    At the New York International Auto Show, Honda displayed new dog-friendly transportation concepts designed for the Honda Element.

    The Dog Friendly™ components demonstrate the potential for a dedicated pet restraint system designed to meet the needs of dog owners. A finalized version of the Dog Friendly Element is scheduled to debut this fall.

    Major components will likely include:

    a cushioned pet bed in the cargo area with an elevated platform;
    second row and cargo area pet restraint systems;
    an extendable cargo area load-in ramp;
    a 12V DC rear ventilation fan;
    second-row seat covers with a dog pattern design (matches the bed fabric);
    all-season rubber floor mats with a toy bone pattern;
    a spill-resistant water bowl; and
    Dog Friendly exterior emblems.

    "In an interesting turn of events, cars are now chasing dogs," said John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda. "Factory integration of a cushioned pet bed, restraint systems and other components is intended to transform the Element into the ultimate dog car."

    The Dog Friendly equipment, engineered specifically for the Element, is designed to accommodate the transportation of dogs in the second-row passenger seats or in the cargo area. The restraint system concepts were designed and fabricated by Takata Corporation, one of the world's leading automotive safety systems suppliers, exclusively for display on the Dog Friendly Honda Element concept vehicle.

    The restraint concepts are intended to complement the potential of the vehicle's existing restraint systems by helping to protect the dog and helping to prevent injuries to other vehicle occupants due to an unrestrained dog impacting them in a collision. For convenience, a ramp is included to help dogs access the rear cargo area. The ramp stores underneath the bed platform and can be conveniently accessed when the rear tailgate is down.

    The Element has long been recognized for its dog-friendly interior with an easy-to-clean urethane floor and expansive, flat cargo area (up to 74.6 cu-ft. with rear seats removed), wide-opening side cargo doors, low lift-in height, and accommodating dimensions for tall items. The consumer pet travel advice Web site,, honored the 2007 Honda Element with its first-ever "Dog Car of the Year" award.

    Substantially restyled for the 2009 model year and available with new features, the Honda Element builds on its spacious and versatile SUV character with a more chiseled exterior appearance and a refreshed interior design. Three unique Element styles are available that range from the rugged and simple Element LX, to the more refined Element EX, to the sporty Element SC.

    Powered by a 2.4-liter i-VTEC® 4-cylinder engine, the Element is available with either a 5-speed manual transmission (standard) or an available 5-speed automatic transmission. Available Real Time 4WD™ can enhance all-weather traction. The interior provides seating for up to four people along with a cargo area that adapts to large items with its flip-up rear seats that fold flat, fold up and to the side, or can be removed altogether (64-plus seating arrangements). The Element EX has a water resistant urethane-coated utility floor that wipes down for ease-of-cleaning and seat fabric that resists moisture.

    For 2009, all Elements incorporate significant exterior styling changes that include new front grille and bumper designs, restyled front fenders (now metal, previously composite material), a new hood design, squared wheel arches, and new headlight and taillight configurations. Interior enhancements include revised dashboard color combinations with titanium-look side linings, new fabric patterns, and enhanced switchgear designs and instrument panel meter graphics. The Element EX exclusively adds a new convertible center console with a removable cooler/storage box. (Photo from The Wall Street Journal)
    This is a preview, not a review.)

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    Time out

    I'm taking a few days off.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2009

    Segway with roof and a seat

    General Motors is working with Segway, maker of upright, self-balancing scooters, to build a new type of two-wheeled vehicle designed to move easily through congested urban streets.

    The machine (Project PUMA, Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility), which GM says it aims to develop by 2012, would run on batteries and use wireless technology to avoid traffic backups and navigate cities.

    GM and Segway say the vehicle could allow people to travel around cities more quickly, safely, quietly and cleanly, and at a lower total cost.

    The struggling auto maker, surviving on a government lifeline, is looking to generate enthusiasm for its appearance at the New York auto show this week.

    GM has slashed product-development programs, advertising and spending on auto show events, but it will have PUMA on the streets of Manhattan today to show off.

    The Segway Personal Transporter was launched with considerable hype eight years ago but practical issues prevented the scooter from becoming a mass-market product, including its relatively high cost and restrictions on its use in many jurisdictions.

    GM is betting PUMA's more car-like traits -- an enclosed compartment and top speed of 35 miles per hour -- will lead to better results. GM didn't say how much the machines would cost, but research chief Larry Burns said owners would spend one-third to one-fourth of the cost of a traditional vehicle.

    PUMA would have a range of about 35 miles. GM said it aims to use so-called vehicle-to-vehicle technology to avoid traffic problems and potentially have it navigate itself through city streets. Info and photo from The Wall Street Journal)

    If you don't mind pink, you can save big on a camera

    The Kodak EasyShare C813 sells for $89.95 direct from Kodak, and usually goes for $75 to $200 elsewhere.

    If you don't mind being seen with a pink camera, or actually like pink or know someone who likes pink, you can get the camera for just $65 in a special limited-time deal at OfficeMax.

    8.2 MP for prints up to 30 × 40 in.
    3X optical zoom lens
    2.4 in. indoor/outdoor color display
    Digital image stabilization
    High ISO, up to 1250
    HD still capture
    Video with sound and print options

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    Sunshine, Ocean, Fiat and Dire Straits
    Make My Day

    Yesterday was the first perfect top-down day of the year.

    The morning temperature was in the mid-40s. It was too cold for driving, so I puttered around in the garage, shined up the ancient Fiat 124 Spider and replaced a fuse that restored operation of fuel gage, directional signals and fuel pump. I could live without the fuel gage, but it's tough to drive without a functioning fuel pump. The dual Weber carbs need liquid gasoline -- not just fumes and memories.

    By one in the afternoon it was 52 degrees, the sun was shining, I was in a pair of shorts and a Fiat-red shirt with Fiat-red Seiko on my wrist, and eager to greet the Spring. Per my standard ritual I cued up my hit-the-road theme song "Money For Nothing" (I want my MTV, chicks for free, etc.) and hit the road.

    I started my trip with a five mile drive west on the Boston Post Road so I could try to get some spare fuses at Pep Boys.

    As usual, the road was filled with shoppers, but I hardly noticed them. I was absorbed in the sound of Dire Straits and my engine. I might have been as loud as the assholes who blast hiphop from their Hondas, but if anyone complained I felt I could easily defend my action and not merely flip the bird in response. No one complained and I received a few smiles and thumbs-up. I know that Dire Straits deserves and demands max SPL (maximum sound pressure level, i.e. HIGH volume). I didn't need approval, but the positive reaction felt good.

    I was thrilled and surprised that Pep Boys did have weird fuses for an old Italian car. I bought some extras, because future availability is certainly uncertain. When I got out of the store there was a small crowd around the car. I'm used to that. The most common question is always "what year is it?" I point to my license plate (ITSA-78) to answer the question. Thirty-one years old used to be old. It's not anymore. Neither is nearly-63.

    I got back on the road and headed south toward Long Island Sound, still grooving to Dire Straits coming from the huge Pioneer TS-TRX40 speakers behind me powered by a big-watt Opti-Lanzar 2X150D power amp in the trunk, connected directly to the car's battery. Although the new Kenwood KDC-MP338 receiver in the 31-year-old dashboard can play AM, FM, XM and iPod, I tend to just play the Brothers In Arms CD over and over.

    When I got to Jimmies in Savin Rock, I headed west to follow the shoreline. The water and the world were on my left. The right seat and my mind were filled with the spirit of an old girlfriend whom I know would have enjoyed the trip.

    I've always felt empowered by the ocean, and by the sun. They're the source of life, and joy. When I feel sick, I soak up some rays. I can feel the sun penetrate my body and drive out the "evil spirits." Water is my favorite toy. I've often said that if God never got around to creating dry land, I would not complain. I could be a very happy sea creature, eating other sea creatures.

    Floating is just plain magic. Swimming underwater is close to flying. (Astronauts train in big tanks with diving gear.) When I'm under water I can move left, right, forward, reverse, up or down. Gravity becomes irrelevant. The feeling of freedom while driving a sports car is pretty close to flying, too.

    Even up on the surface, ocean equals freedom. If I had the strength and supplies, I could walk from the beach into the ocean in Connecticut, and walk from the ocean onto the beach in Spain or Japan. No highways or airports are necessary to see the world. If I chose to hollow out a tree and carve oars or weave a sail, my trans-ocean voyage would be more likely to succeed. Ocean equals freedom, and life.

    For about 30 minutes I followed four guys on motorcycles. It seemed like we had the same emotional objective and physical itinerary so the four-wheeler bonded with the two-wheelers. It was the vehicular equivalent of the "zipless fuck" that Erica Jong wrote about in Fear of Flying.

    At one time another old guy in a bright red Ferrari approached from the other direction. In a pleasant and completely unexpected violation of sports car etiquette, the Ferrari driver waved first. Traditionally, drivers of equal cars try to wave simultaneously, but in an economic mismatch the driver of the lesser car pays homage to the superior vehicle and waves first, hoping for a fleeting recognition. Ferrari Guy recognized a kindred spirit, and so did I.

    The bikers and I passed lots of ordinary cars, other bikers, kids and adults on un-engined bikes, one horse rider, and lots of dogs with their dog-walkers. I was disturbed by seeing many cool cars being driven by people who didn't appreciate them, and therefore didn't deserve them. What kind of an asshole would own a Porsche 911 and keep the top up on a perfect top-down day? With a car like that, on a day like this, I'd put the top down even for a two-minute trip to 7-11 for a quart of milk.

    The call of the ocean was irresistible, like the Sirens' songs in Greek mythology, so I parked at a nice beach in Milford. I had no beach blanket, but I just stretched out on some warm grass, closed my eyes and absorbed the sunlight and sea-smell breeze and dreamed for awhile.

    I got up from the beach and got back in the car and kept following the shoreline west. I kept the engine speed at about 4500 RPM. It was a bit higher than normal, but the exhaust sounded great, and the "throttle response" was amazing. I was either in second or third gear and the slightest change in gas pedal pressure caused an immediate reaction from the engine and the Yokohama A378 tires on the pavement.

    The speed limit signs meant nothing to me. I wasn't racing, but was breaking the law, maybe doing 40MPH in a 25 zones. Part of the magic of being in a small car with a high-revving engine is that 40 can feel like 80. When I'm on the highway, with the wind blowing, there is sufficient ecstasy at 55 and seldom any need to enter the fast lane. Other cars may pass me, but it's unlikely that the drivers' fun surpasses mine.

    Driving a car with a 5-speed transmission (even a somewhat loose 31-year-old 5-speed) is a special experience. I would never want a car with a manual transmission if I had to drive in Manhattan every day, but in a sports car on the right roads it's ecstasy, car-gasm, wander-lust.

    A car with an automatic transmission ("slush box") can drive itself, at least until it hits a wall.

    A car with a manual transmission and no driver would probably stall before it hits the wall.

    A car with an automatic transmission is needed by the driver to get somewhere.

    A car with a manual transmisison needs the driver to go anywhere.

    The car and driver have to combine in the human-mechanical equivalent of Mr. Spock's "Vulcan Mind Meld." They become one. The tires, tranny, brakes and engine had direct links to my cerebral cortex. Continuing the Star Trek analogy, it's Borg-like, but I'm not sure who or what does the assimilating. I suppose I was the humanoid drone that was assimilated by the Fiat/Borg Collective. The Fiat was my bright red cybernetic implant -- but I volunteered for the implant.

    In an ideal world, Fiat drivers would have evolved with three feet to handle the three pedals sprouting from the firewall. It's not just gas pedal and brake pedal, but there's a clutch pedal. The three pedals both invite and require a delicate interplay between the right and left feet to maintain the car in the proper position while "hovering" on an upward slope at a red light.

    When the light goes green, the foot movement has to be just right to avoid stalling and seeming like an asshole (especially in a loud, bright red car) or sliding back and crashing into the car behind you. "Heel and toe" and "double clutching" add to the control. They're not necessary with modern cars and pretty much a lost art. I'm not sure if I can still do them.

    As planned, I headed north through Milford and Orange into Derby. I had two five-mile laps on the Wilbur Cross Parkway to give the car its annual "Italian tuneup" (drive with the tach at the red line to blow the crap out of the carbs), and then a great ride on the Derby-Milford Road and Wheelers Farm Road, and went home.

    This next part seems like bullshit and I'd yell BULLSHIT if I saw it in a movie; but I swear it's true.

    Exactly as I entered my driveway, I heard Dire Straits start to sing: "Now look at them yo-yo's, that's the way you do it. You play the gee-tar on the MTV. That ain't workin', that's the way you do it. Money for nothin' and chicks for free."

    My odyssey was ending on the same note it had begun with. The overture and the finale of my loud-but-personal symphony were identical. I shut off the engine but kept the CD running. I shut my eyes and leaned back to absorb the sounds and the sun.

    When the song ended I opened my eyes and saw a neighbor standing next to the car looking down on me. He said, "At first I thought you were dead, but then I saw your knee moving along with the bass beat, and the smile on your face, so I knew you were OK."

    I was much more than OK. I just had the perfect day.

    Friday, April 3, 2009

    Vanity, laziness and Michael's
    baby/old-man sneaks

    I'm not lazy. It's just that I think some things are not worth the effort they require. Even though many other people think it's not much effort and the end results are worth it.

    I'm selective about the things I will work at and work for. I have limited time, and have to establish priorities.

    I guess that means I'm selectively lazy.

    I'm also selectively vain.

    I long ago decided that I'd risk "blepharoplasty" surgery if I developed old-people hanging bags under my eyes. I could not stand seeing them in the mirror and I check for them periodically.

    My neck has suddenly developed some loose skin. It's usually hidden by my beard, but I hate my mirror during the first few days after a beard trim. I'm not sure if I'll go for plastic surgery or a long ZZ Top beard or a big supply of turtleneck shirts, or keep my chin tilted down.

    On the other hand, I'm too lazy to get involved with a hairpiece, so the whole world knows I've lost most of my top-of-head hair.

    I'm too lazy to get involved with contact lenses, so the whole world knows I need glasses.

    Except for a few brief interludes, I gave up on shoes with laces many decades ago.

    I got along fine with loafers, boots, sandals, sneakers with Velcro straps, and even rubber beach booties.

    Two years ago I discovered Crocs. They were comfortable, durable, grotesquely fashionable, inexpensive, suitable for work, weddings, beach, backyard and bedroom.

    Two weeks ago my podiatrist proclaimed I had a heel spur and Achilles tendonitis. He prescribed cold packs, twice-weekly physical therapy and new shoes. Real shoes, not Crocs. And with laces. Something with support.

    I told him I don't wear real shoes. When I was in college, I often went to class barefoot, like my ape ancestors. Merely enclosing my foot is a major compromise, and maybe going against nature. Except in the winter.

    I have a few real shoes for funerals, but I'll be barefoot or Croc-ed at mine.

    The doc offered a compromise, New Balance sneakers, with almost as much support as shoes.

    I went to a local shoe store. The NBs cost over a hundred bucks. I remember when regular sneakers cost $5.98 and expensive ones went for three bucks more.

    But the NBs were comfortable, and they were even available with Velcro instead of laces. I thought I could live with that.

    When I was trying them on, there was a little kid a few seats away from me, getting new lace-up dress shoes for Easter. His old and tattered Vecro sneakers were on the floor nearby. He was about four years old. He saw my new Velcro-equipped NBs. He laughed. He pointed to me and said, "look Mommy, that old man is wearing baby shoes like I used to wear." His mother told him to be quiet and that it's not nice to point.

    When I got to the office, Cynical Cousin Dave laughed and pointed, too.

    He said, "Nice old-man shoes, Gramps. When are you moving to Florida?"

    Dave is about 36 years younger than I am. He has a huge sneaker collection, including weird pink ones. He sometimes serves as an artistic advisor for my websites and book covers, and keeps me aware of Gen-X fashion trends. I think his hats are stupid, but he has a good graphic sense and I like his T-shirts and we usually agree on wristwatches. I knew he wouldn't sanction Velcro, but I thought he'd agree that the NB bottoms were cool. He said the bottoms were not cool enough to counteract the Velcro.

    I know he's right. There is a fundamental visual flaw in Velcro-ized footwear. The vertical gap in a shoe just doesn't easily coexist with the two horizontal straps. Laces really do look better. Snapjacks, which I wore in sixth grade, were a visually coherent solution and a good compromise among vanity, utility and lazyness. Alas, they disappeared around 1960.

    In 2009 I'm getting abuse for being a baby and for being ancient. All because of Velcro.

    I'm just not sure if laziness will continue to beat vanity. My podiatrist will be pleased if I vote for vanity.

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009

    Panasonic lawyers lose April Fools' fight

    April Fooler Michael N. Marcus Rejects Panasonic Gag Order, Urges People to Attend Free Speech Rally at Patrick Henry Memorial in Virginia

    Michael N. Marcus is an author, businessman and April Fooler. Born in April, Marcus says April Fools' Day and Halloween are his favorite holidays. For nearly ten years, he's "pranked" electronics manufacturer Panasonic in early April, but this year his perennial victim has gotten tough, and has threatened court action to block the pranking. Marcus remains defiant despite the threat.

    Marcus is president of AbleComm, Inc., a Connecticut-based supplier of telecommunications equipment. The company's main phone system brand is Panasonic. Marcus said, "I also own some Panasonic stock, and I review Panasonic electronic products on my GottaGet1 blog. I have a lot of respect for the company, but that doesn't mean I can't have some fun with it."

    Marcus continued, "Since the mid 1990s, I've distributed an April Fools' news report about a mythical press conference that took place at a non-existent hotel, where fake people announced fake corporate policy changes and fake new products. For those who were in on it, It became an eagerly awaited annual tradition. Lots of people love my spoofs, but gullible victims, of course, don't. Some of my fake news has actually become real news in later years."

    The annual custom reached a new height in April, 2008. Marcus realized that the public and the news media were becoming increasingly sophisticated and skeptical of "news" distributed with a 4/1 date. So, to enhance credibility, he skipped the first of the month and distributed a spoof two days later.

    Early on April 3, 2008 he launched a 90%-false press release. The press release contained several revelations, but the most important was that Panasonic would be manufacturing cellphones with plasma video displays. A few months earlier Panasonic demonstrated the world's largest plasma TV, so Marcus decided they should also have the smallest.

    Through very lucky timing, a few days before the "news" went out, AT&T had announced their Mobile TV service for watching shows and sports on cellphones, which added usefulness and legitimacy to the fictitious device.

    Within a few hours, the story was picked up and published by websites around the world. Many news writers added original material to demonstrate their extensive knowledge of the phony subject; but only one of them called Marcus to check on the story, and Marcus told him that it was a spoof. was particularly fanciful in enhancing the fake news. They said "Panasonic took the stage at CTIA 2008 this week with partner AbleComm to announce that it has been working with AT&T to develop plasma displays for mobile phones, for use with the carrier's new Mobile TV service." There was absolutely nothing in the news release about an appearance at the CTIA event or Panasonic "working with AT&T.". had a headline that read, "AT&T wants Panasonic to develop plasma screens for cellphones." The news release never said that, and neither did AT&T.

    Some people at Panasonic laughed as expected, but some, particularly new employees who were unaware of the tradition, were upset. One outraged exec sent an email saying that Marcus caused "people to lose thousands of productive working hours." Panasonic demanded that the news distribution service that Marcus had used issue a retraction -- and this added fuel to the fire.

    The retraction generated more coverage of the fake news, and personal insults, Marcus explained. "Several websites that received the retraction accused me of forgetting what day it was. One critic with dubious credentials said it was a "late, poorly executed April Fools' joke," and another called me an April Idiot. Actually it was not late, and it was extremely well executed, and my mother didn't have any stupid kids."

    "There's certainly no rule that limits hoaxing to one day per year," Marcus continued. "No one who was filmed for TV's Candid Camera on 3/20 or 10/15 objected because it wasn't 4/1. Similarly the celebrities who were victims on the MTV show Punk'd may have grumbled, but not because they were not punked on the first day of the fourth month. And the subjects of "Stuttering John" interviews on The Howard Stern Show didn't check the date before deciding to participate."

    Many of the websites that ran the news of the retraction, but had not run the original fake news, ran it with the retraction, thus increasing the circulation and readership of the spoof.

    Some victims were complimentary. said, "Yesterday AbleComm sent out a press release that was all very believable talking about how Panasonic was going to be using small plasma displays in a mobile phone designed to be used on the new AT&T Mobile TV service launching in May. The release was professional, interesting and all very plausible replete with quotes from Panasonic and all. It didn't take long before the story was all around the internet…"

    Some websites were actually suspicious of the retraction. said it "Looks like someone let the plasma cat out of the proverbial bag too soon, and is now desperately backtracking to try to salvage a business relationship. It's unclear whether this was a deliberate or accidental occurrence, though the release was sizable and contained multiple quotes from all the parties involved which lends weight to the idea that it was an authentic document prematurely distributed."

    In anticipation of another April Fools "attack" this year, Panasonic's law firm Katz, Honigman, Shapiro and Flynn sent a registered letter to Marcus last week warning him against further spoofing. The attorneys told Marcus that "unless you agree to restrain yourself, Panasonic will go to Court to obtain a restraining order against you."

    Years earlier, Panasonic's in-house legal department had warned Marcus not to contact the then-new head of Panasonic's Business Telephone Systems division, and Marcus refused to obey.

    Now in 2009, Marcus is once again making a stand for freedom of speech and freedom of fun.

    He said, "It's ridiculous that the company that I have invested my money in, and that makes products that I sell and recommend, will spend money and time merely because they have no sense of humor. I will not be silenced. I will not obey a "gag order" even if they convince a court to issue one. We are living in dark times, and Panasonic and the rest of the world need to lighten up."

    "Freedom of speech is a fundamental part of American culture," Marcus emphasized. "In 1791 it was guaranteed in the very first Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Even earlier, in 1215, free speech was included in the British Magna Carta, and the caliph Umar incorporated free speech as part of Islamic law in the 7th century."

    Marcus invites all supporters of free speech, both serious and spurious, to gather on April 1 at 2:00 p.m. at the Patrick Henry National Memorial in Virginia, about 35 miles south of Lynchburg.

    Patrick Henry is known for his immortal words supporting the American Revolution in 1775: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" The rally will take place at the Orator's Stage, near Henry's grave and law office. All attendees will be allowed five minutes each to address the audience on any topic. While there will be no censorship, Marcus urges that speakers "keep it clean" because there will probably be children in the audience. The address is 1250 Red Hill Road, Brookneal, VA 24528.

    Marcus noted, "My former spoof victims and passive co-conspirators have been eagerly waiting to see what I would devise for this year. I won't let them down and will not be intimidated by lawyers. I'm reminded of what John Belushi said in his Bluto Blutarski role in Animal House: "Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"

    The merry prankster proclaimed, "I proudly reiterate the defiant words of Bluto Blutarsky. I say to Panasonic and to its uptight attorneys, Hell no!"

    "It's time they realize that pranks, spoofs and put-ons are part of normal American life, and should be responded to with a smile, not an injunction," Marcus concluded. "Besides, most people know not to believe anything they read on the first day of April."

    Michael N. Marcus is author of the recently published I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home, and The AbleComm Guide to Phone Systems, all available at and

    (Patrick Henry painting by George Matthews from the U. S. Senate website. Michael N. Marcus photo by Cloe Poisson. © 2008 The Hartford Courant.)

    Best April Fools' Day Hoaxes


    Monday, March 30, 2009

    Battery disposal tips


    •Common Name: Coppertop, Alkaline
    •Examples of Use: Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, smoke alarms, remote controls
    •Disposal classification: These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste.
    •Proper Disposal: Place in the trash with normal municipal waste, except in California, which requires non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules.


    •Common Name: Mercuric Oxide, Silver Oxide, Lithium, Alkaline, Zinc-Air
    •Examples of Use: Watches, hearing aids, toys, greeting cards, remote controls
    •Disposal classification: Hazardous waste
    •Proper Disposal: Contact your municipality for the nearest Household HazardousWaste Collection Site.

    Carbon Zinc

    •Common Name: "Classic", Heavy Duty, General Purpose, All Purpose, Power Cell
    •Examples of Use: Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, smoke alarms, remote controls, transistor radios, garage door openers
    •Disposal classification: These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste.
    •Proper Disposal: Place in the trash with normal municipal waste.
    •Exceptions: California requires non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules. Also, Minnesota (Hennipen County only) requires these batteries be disposed as a hazardous waste.

    Lithium and Lithium Ion

    •Common Name: Usually has "lithium" label on the battery
    •Examples of Use: Cameras, calculators, computer memory back-up, tennis shoes
    •Disposal classification: These batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste
    •Proper Disposal: They can be recycled. To find a center near you go to:

    Nickel-Cadmium (Rechargeable)

    ◦Common Name: Either unlabeled or labeled "Ni-Cd"
    ◦Examples of Use: Flashlights, toys, cellular phones, power tools, computer packs
    ◦Disposal classification: Hazardous waste
    ◦Proper Disposal: They can be recycled. To find a center near you go to:

    Nickel Metal Hydride (Rechargeable)

    ■Common Name: Either unlabeled or labeled "Ni-Li" or "Ni-Hydride"
    ■Examples of Use: Flashlights, toys, cellular phones, power tools, computer packs
    ■Disposal classification: non-hazardous waste, except in California, which requires Non-households to dispose of these batteries in accordance with the California Universal Waste Rules.
    ■Proper Disposal: Safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream. They can also be recycled. To find a center near you go to:

    Reusable Alkaline Manganese (Rechargeable)

    ■Common Name: Renewal
    ■Examples of Use: Flashlights, calculators, toys, clocks, radios, remote controls
    ■Disposal classification: Non-hazardous waste,
    ■Proper Disposal: Safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream.

    Sealed Lead Acid (Rechargeable)

    ■Common Name: "Gel," VRB, AGM, Cyclone, El Power, Dynasty, Gates, Lithonia, Saft, Yuasa
    ■Examples of Use: Video cameras, power tools, wheelchairs, ATV’s, metal detectors, clocks, cameras
    ■Disposal classification: Hazardous waste
    ■Proper Disposal: Contact your municipality for the nearest Household HazardousWaste Collection Site

    Silver Oxide

    ■Common Name: Panasonic Silver Oxide
    ■Examples of Use: Watches, hearing aids, toys, greeting cards, remote controls
    ■Disposal classification: hazardous waste
    ■Proper Disposal: Non-consumers must dispose of these batteries in full compliance with the hazardous waste rules. Consumers are covered by the Household exemption under RCRA which allows for these batteries to be disposed of into the municipal waste stream, but hey can be recycled. To find a center near you go to: (info from TWICE)

    Friday, March 27, 2009

    And now, something for the ladies in the audience

    I get tons of spam email, at least 100 each day. In addition to the Nigerian princes who want to help me to get rich, and the discount Canadian pharmacies, and warnings from religious fanatics, I get a lot of sex stuff.

    The spam senders are getting much more sophisticated. In the past I got an equal amount of promos for penis enlargement and for breast enlargement, but lately the spammers are about 90% correct in their gender assumptions.

    Nevertheless, yesterday I got an email intended for the ladies. The product seems to make sense, so I'll pass it on.

    I've always been a selective neat freak. I have no problem working with a messy desk, but I hate seeing messy, snarled, over-long electrical cords. I also don't like seeing bra straps. Actually, I don't mind seeing the straps on the bra of a well-built lady -- unless she's wearing something over the bra.

    Now, in the era of hybrid cars, flat-screen TVs and VoIP, science has a solution. StrapPerfect, "the ultimate bra strap solution," is supposed to hide the straps, improve posture, give cleavage "a firm and youthful lift," and increase the apparent cup size by at least one letter. Sounds good to me.
    Note: I have not personally tested this product.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009

    On-demand video games will even work with slow PCs and TVs

    A technology company owned by veteran entrepreneur Steve Perlman is starting a new on-demand service that it says will let users play fast-action games without having to buy game consoles or high-end PCs.

    Rearden LLC said it has developed technology that allows advanced games to be run remotely on servers and played over the Internet. The technology can quickly compress and decompress large amounts of data for transmission over standard home broadband networks, helping entry-level personal computers and specially equipped televisions play the sophisticated software.

    The technology is being applied first to a new video game service that is expected to launch in late 2009. The service, operated by a new company called OnLive Inc., says it has signed up nine software publishers -- including Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive Software and THQ -- which have agreed to offer their newest game titles through the service.

    Game software now runs on PCs and game consoles, which have special graphics circuitry to create fast action and realistic settings. But games on OnLive will be run on high-end servers hosted by the company, Perlman said, so they can be played on home systems without much computational power.

    Though video services like YouTube already allow users to access content that is stored elsewhere, OnLive says services that allow graphics-rich fast-action games to be played from a central server remotely are not currently possible -- in large part because current technology can't provide the instantaneous two-way response time they require. Perlman said his company has worked seven years on that problem, and has solved it.

    "For the first time, you can get any game, any time, anywhere," said Perlman in an interview, where he demonstrated the technology with the game Crysis, published by EA. "Getting the latest games won't mean getting the latest PC or console."

    For consumers, the advantage would be that they could play advanced games without having to buy consoles such as PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or a computer with a powerful graphics chip. Televisions are expected be able to access the service by connecting to a small Internet-capable device dubbed the OnLive MicroConsole.

    Publishers could benefit because they would be spared the cost of distributing physical software and it could eliminate software piracy since users would access rather than own the games. It could also cut down on used game sales for the same reason.

    Perlman is best known for the set-top box company WebTV Networks, which was acquired by Microsoft in the 1990s. He started Rearden with a small team of engineers.

    Two years ago, the firm developed technology that can create digital reproductions of the human body that are as accurate as photographs. That technology was used in the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" about a man who ages in reverse.

    Perlman declined to comment on specifics about the service such as pricing. Some of the features of the service include an ability for many people to remotely watch somebody else play a game. Players can also hit a button to record the last 15 seconds of game-play, so they can record memorable moments to share with friends. (info from The Wall Street Journal)

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    Classic movie DVDs available from Warner Bros.

    As part of a plan to squeeze all it can out of its film library, Warner Bros. Entertainment will sell vintage movies previously unreleased on DVD directly to the public for $19.95 each.

    "Once Upon a Honeymoon," the 1942 movie with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, and "Possessed," the 1931 movie with Clark Gable and Joan Crawford, are among the titles consumers can buy directly from the Website of the Warner Archive Collection, starting today.

    Many of the titles were among a group the studio originally planned to release through regular retail channels, but as retail space devoted to DVDs declines, the studio decided to try a new approach. Remastering the movies for DVD release took anywhere between a few weeks to two years, with the older, silent films requiring the most work because they are on highly fragile nitrate film.

    To keep down costs associated with creating and warehousing DVDs, Warner has licensed an independent company to produce each DVD on demand. The customer will get the disc by mail, complete with cover art, within five days. Alternatively, customers can purchase a digital download of the movie for $14.95.

    DVDs have experienced declining sales in recent years. Warner hopes to tap into an unfilled demand for classic titles that haven't been available on DVD. Many titles, such as 1949's "John Loves Mary" with Ronald Reagan and 1951's "Goodbye My Fancy" with Joan Crawford, weren't on VHS tape either. But a few titles are available on pirate Web sites that sell bootleg DVDs, likely made from television screenings of the movies, giving Warner all the more incentive to cut itself in on the action.

    The studio's feature-film library contains about 6,800 films, of which only 1,200 have been released on DVD and 4,100 on VHS tape.

    The service aims squarely at the over-40 set who enjoy building up physical collections of DVDs and will be familiar with the titles. A few titles might appeal to younger groups, such as the 1975 action film "Doc Savage," which has comic-book crossover appeal. The service is launching with 150 titles, and will add 20 or so each month. (info from The Wall Street Journal)