Reviews

FIRST YOU BUY IT High-end remotes are costly to purchase, but then there's the programming

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I still remember my first remote control; at least, the first one to come under my control. It belonged to my Mama Ruth and Papa Solly. It had two buttons, one for channel and one for volume. Both worked only in one direction, from bottom to top; the channels ran in an endless loop; the volume shut the TV off before it went back to soft.

They soon grew more sophisticated and numerous; now everything above a transistor radio comes with one, and coffee tables are littered with them.


THE KEY TO THIS FUTURE IS SURVIVAL 'World' weaves a scenario after the energy economy collapses

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Cory Doctorow, the uber-blogger and award-winning science-fiction writer, says that all science fiction is about the present. That truism shows itself repeatedly in "World Made by Hand," a novel by James Howard Kunstler set in a post-oil, post-climate-change, post-pandemic, and post-holy-war future that's not too far off.


TOSSING THE TURNTABLE, ONE STEP AT A TIME

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I still remember the mid-1980s day when my friend Chris strode into the office with his box of vinyl records, plunked it down onto a desk, and told us to take what we wanted. He was going CD.

It was a radical act that forever repositioned Chris in my estimation. How could anyone just throw away his musical past, even if CDs were more convenient? I'd never just jettison mine, I thought.

But the next time I moved, the turntable stayed in its box, and the records stayed next to it in the closet - for more than 15 years.


A CLOCK RADIO BUILT FOR TWO

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It's fair to say that Tom DeVesto, president and cofounder of Tivoli Audio, still has issues with Creative Technology, the Asian electronics company that invested in, and then took over, DeVesto's previous cocreation, Cambridge Soundworks. Six months after the sale in 1998, DeVesto was gone, having resigned under heated circumstances.


HEAD TRIP

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Imagine a set of compact headphones that produce Dolby 5.1 surround sound with great fidelity, portability, and ability to be used anywhere.

That was no doubt the vision of the folks at Sunnytech, who've produced the Mentor 5.1 headphones.

Though they've made strides on the central problem - how do you recreate the sonic sensations produced by a six-speaker array with two cups, each the size of a fist? - they haven't yet made a product that I'm willing to spend $139 on.


THEY KNOW THEIR STATIONS

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Have you ever scratched an itch you didn't know you had? I don't think I ever have, but I've felt that sensation since I hooked up XM Satellite Radio in my car a few weeks ago.

The itch was comedy. Three of XM's 100 channels are devoted to it, and I've returned to them repeatedly, almost as defaults, as I've shuttled to work and back. It's quite surprising, considering that I own one comedy album, more than 40 years old, and I hardly ever listen to it.

To me, it demonstrates XM's foremost attribute: You can spin the dial and be surprised, again and again.


CONTROL THE REMOTES

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I'm a lucky guy. Not only is my new wife a sweetheart, she's almost as avid a gadgeteer as I am. But that doesn't mean she wouldn't prefer to have fewer remote controls on the coffee table. We had eight at last count, though that includes the two or three for decommissioned devices.

Such clutter is why manufacturers continue to roll out universal remote controls. A decent one is Universal's Automator ($150). It boasts that it can replace up to 10 remotes, and my experience nearly approached that.


HOW BIG THIS LITTLE RADIO/CD PLAYER SOUNDS

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The big question about Cambridge Soundworks' combination radio and CD player, the Radio CD 740, might be: Where do you put it?

The company might say it's suited for the living room, for "people who want spacious FM stereo sound . . . without the size or bother of a component stereo system." And yes, it does boom out a rich sound.

But when you combine its small package with its capabilities, you could easily conclude that its proper place is in the bedroom as one very sophisticated alarm clock, albeit an expensive one.


BOOM HEADSET IS TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED, BUT STILL A BUST

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The Boom, a pricey, hands-free headset for cellphones and some home telephones, is an example of how hard it is to be great.

Its foundation is the fabulous noise-canceling voice-recognition technology developed for use in brokerage houses and proven on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, one of the noisiest places you'll ever want to call home from.

The technology was adapted for consumers with help from Frog Design, which has designed everything from cruise ships and motorcycles to faucets and the first Apple computer.


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