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Technology Today March 2008
From the CES Mailbag

One of the things that looked pretty interesting was from Becker, a German company that has come out with another line of GPS systems to fill an already crowded market. Theirs though, is a new generation system that looks sleeker but also includes some very interesting features like a lifetime subscription to traffic reports using the Traffic Message Channel broadcasted over FM Signals. Right, just buy the unit and the traffic info comes free. They use the Navteq maps which are very reliable, have multiple internal speakers for better clarity, carry a line with up to a 4.8 inch screen that appears to be very readable. The mapping graphics is also quite unique and very readable so definitely something to look at.  Available now, http://www.mybecker.com an .  From about $249 for the smaller 3.5 inch screen model.

From Netgear, www.netgear.com, comes the mobile WiFi phone with Skype. If you can connect to a WiFi Network, then you can make Skype calls all over the world and if you have a Skype account, you can make calls to any phone in the world. It supports WEP, WPA, and WPA2 security so even if the network is secured, you can connect to it and make your calls. A sleek looking phone with speaker capabilities and a ton of other features.  About $145.

Weather Direct, www.weatherdirect.com is a new and unique way of catching up with the weather not only at home but from locations around the world. The box I looked at was the WA-1240U which is an internet based four day audio weather forecaster that gives you internet based news, weather, sports, and eventually, a quick look at your email. It includes a wireless outdoor sensor, has a very readable screen even from across the room, and a choice of voices, alarms, and it doesn’t have to be connected to a computer to work or setup.  You do it all through the internet once you sign up with the system.  You use a gateway device that connects to your broadband system, usually the router. It then talks wirelessly to each of the display units you have in your home and it will find them at a range of 300 feet so you could have a display unit in each room.  Think of it as a future replacement for the clock radio beside your bed. Think of waking up to a weather forecast  without regard for whatever time you set the alarm to. Pretty clever system but I don’t think it is available yet but they will be from $60 to $150.

As I have been taking  more and more very long plane rides, (12-14 hours), headphones to both help with normal listening to movies on board or my own mp3 player gets more and more important to help cut down the tedium of such long trips. My current noise cancelling headphones of choice are the Sennheiser, www.sennheiser.com, PCX 300 as they are much smaller than the larger bulkier models of a few years ago.  In fact, I can store it and the Sandisk MP3 player I have in the carrying case for the headphones and all I need are a couple of AAA batteries. They are getting smaller all the time and the latest from them is the CX-6 Travel model.  It uses the passive noise cancelling rather than the active which I think is much more preferable for long trips but for shorter jaunts, the small size make this unit very attractive.  With customized fit ear pads, you can make it fit any ear size and if you are working on downsizing your packing, this looks just right. About $269.

Another alternative comes from Audio-Technica, www.audio-technica.com , and their ATH-ANC3 QuietPoint™ active noise-cancelling in-ear headphones which look similar to the above but uses tiny microphones and the active technology to block 85% of the outside noise. This unit also comes with three sizes of ear tips for just the right fit and everything else you need for personal or in flight entertainment.  Just add your own mp3 player. It is going to be a bit more cumbersome because of the AAA powered unit that comes with it but still, for compact and easy traveling, this also looks to be a great product. About $169 when it comes out.

As a photographer, there are two lines of tripods that are really worth looking at.  My favorite is the Manfrotto from Bogen Imaging.  They were again at CES with a new lineup of great, lightweight, sleek, and very nice tripods.

The second is from Joby called the Gorillapod. If you take pictures in places where a traditional type tripod won’t work, and you know, if you ask the pros, they will tell you to use one every time you take a picture, this is it. Over a rock, around a tree limb, or even upside down, they have a wide variety to handle everything from your little point and shoot to cameras and lenses weighing over six pounds but these are cool tripods you have to see to appreciate. They feature over two dozen flexible leg joints that allow you to bend, rotate, and secure your camera to nearly any surface you can imagine.  Go to their website at http://www.joby.com/ to see some really unique applications and how they really work. From $22, the prices can’t be beat.

If you travel with as much stuff as we do, you discover that keeping all that technology charged up is getting to be a real pill.  It gets much worse when it seems like every device has its own unique battery to be charged so I have begun to look for both devices and batteries that can be used in more places. No such luck with the batteries that each of these phones, iPods, mp3 players, and pdas all use, but the charger is getting easier. For my phone, I found the TurboCharge TC2 that uses AA batteries to charge the battery on my Razr phone using the USB port on the phone. It includes a blue charging indicator, a small LED flashlight, and an off switch that unfortunately needs to be a bit stiffer to keep from turning on inside the bag. From http://www.turbocellcharge.com, About $30. This one travels with me.

MSI Computers, www.msimobile.com, has come out with a new line of notebooks for those who want a good solid but stylish machine in their new Crystal lineup. Want your notebook to make a fashion statement then this is the one for you. Coated in a pearl white sheen with 120 crystals embedded in a ring, this one will definitely give you good karma. And it can be as loaded in performance as you want.  Pretty cool one.

Changes in Technology

From my own experience in using digital memory cards, you should always stick with good name brands like Lexar, Verbatim, and SanDisk. Cheap no name cards are much slower and more prone to crash on you. The other thing I learned about these cards is that speed really matters, so, when SanDisk held an event to tell us the new things in technology, I wanted to listen. They tell us to look for faster and more reliable cards in even smaller forms.  I still have a hard time keeping track of my digital camera’s SD memory cards but the new stuff for iPhones, cell phones, and mp3 players gets even smaller all the time. Can you believe that a 12gig micro SD card is around the corner?  But it is, and that the mobile phone market will balloon to over 545 million units in 2008.  Most of them will use memory cards of one sort or another.  Go to their website, http://www.sandisk.com/ to learn more.  Besides getting more memory in a card, you are also going to see the micro hard drives disappear because flash memory is getting so affordable. Just think of what a couple of 32 gig flash drives will do to the weight and heat of a notebook computer.

Casio, http://casio.com/ is one of those companies that is always around and if you are old enough, you think of calculators, a bit younger, you think of watches, and today, they do cameras.  To be honest, I spend more of my time thinking of digital cameras from companies like Nikon, Canon, and Leica and I suspect it is because of my photography roots in film. Casio tells us that since 1995, there have been over 100 million digital cameras sold worldwide and like most computer junkies, I have gone through my share of them with my current one being a Panasonic of all things. But Casio has come out with a couple of new units with features to blow your socks off.  Think very high speed and auto shutter. The Exilim EX-F1 just to start is yet another fully featured digital camera sporting a 6 megapixel camera, a 12x optical zoom lens, image stabilization, four kinds of focus modes, even an external hot shoe.

Now think of the really cool fast stuff starting with a shutter speed that will go out to 1/40,000 of a second. That is right, count all the zeros. That will translate into a 60 frame per second burst mode for still images. Want to capture that perfect high speed sports moment, as you begin to press the shutter to think about that perfect moment, the camera is already capturing 60 frames. You can’t miss and no other camera can do that.  Want more ? Go video with an astounding 1080i capability to capture up to 1200 frames per second. The eye can’t follow that fast and the demos they showed us were nearly unbelievable. This camera will go for around $999 when released.

I also mentioned the Auto shutter technology. Imagine a camera waiting until there is no subject movement or vibration from camera shake before it will take the picture. Now that means really sharp pictures. And like the digital image side, the pre-record will actually capture video prior to your starting the capture mode.  This is some new technology.

Their other new launch is the EX-S10 line of digital cameras that have some ultra-thin models with new features like YouTube capture modes, iTunes video capture formats, 10 megapixel images, 3x optical lenses, and 2.7 inch very bright screens. Neat colors as well. Around $249.


Wow, 2009 is around the corner and an all digital world awaits us. I suppose I should get me one of those coupons in case I want to watch television on that old 5 inch black and white set that is buried in the attic somewhere.  Though now that I think about it, what do I do with my old color Sony Watchman as I recall, it doesn’t even have a plug for an antenna.  It was like watching a tiny YouTube movie. But for the rest of us, if you have any kind of cable connection for your television, not to worry, the cable company already took care of us.  But CES was full of really cool looking high definition sets from tons of companies that you never heard from.  They are all trying to do something different to make the stand out. 

Sharp for instance, will have Aquos Net http://www.sharpusa.com, an internet connected television that provides web based content for everything from interactive shows to troubleshooting your television. The newest series will be SE94 with slimmer and brighter units that are also faster with higher contrast ratios. They also produced a 107 inch LCD screen but the buzz is the thin ones at just over an inch. They still weigh a ton but thin is in.

Besides showing off their new line of thin and sleek televisions, Panasonic, http://www.panasonic.com/,  spent a lot of time telling us how green a company they were with their Electronic Manufacturing Recycling Program with Sharp and Toshiba.  Their LCD screens also go from a 43 inch to a whopping 103 inches. The new series include SD Memory slots and a new universal remote control unit.

And of course, everyone has gone Blue Ray by now. If you missed the news, the high definition wars are over for now with Blue Ray winning.  Look for a lot more models, more features, and better pricing.

Vinyl to Digital

Several years ago, a friend had a collection of vinyl records that they really wanted on CD. Very old records, a lot of noise, and not available anywhere at all digitally. So, I went shopping, found a stereo pre-amp unit , got some converter cables to go from the RCA type jacks to a mini stereo plug that would plug into my sound card, which by the way, had a line in feature, used my own turn table, and that gave me the hardware I needed. From there, unplug the turn table from my stereo system, move it to the computer room, and reconnect it through the pre-amp to my computer. For software, Adaptec had a product called “Spin Doctor” that did a marvelous job of cleaning up the noise on the recordings. I then needed to find another software package to allow me to then convert the music captured and create my Music CDs. Then on to another package to design and print the CD Labels and jewel case covers. It took forever.

Today, there are several packages available to do all of that for you and one I saw was from Audio-Technica , www.audio-technica.com/AT-LP2D-USB  This includes the entire package of what you will need for $229 including turntable, connection to your pc via USB cable, and the software. From my first impression, it looks like a very good setup with a well built turn table and cartridge thrown into the mix. Only snag I see is no 78s. Once you are done though, you can then hook it up to your stereo system to continue to listen to those records.

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com



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