Supersonic SC-77 DVD

The next time you’re stuck in traffic with a screaming toddler in the back seat, you’ll wish you had one of these strapped to the back of your headrest: A compact portable DVD player with Finding Nemo queued up and ready to go. It’s a virtual guarantee that the kids will stay pacified throughout your trips around town. Whether their nonstop exposure to Pixar films will eventually turn them into psychotically maladjusted adults is another matter entirely.

The Supersonic SC-77 DVD is a tablet-style DVD player that does its best to keep the kids entertained throughout grueling car trips. While its three-hour-and-40-minute battery won’t survive a road trip from Chicago to Wally World, it’s more than enough to watch most feature films. And an included auto power adapter will give you all the juice you need for the longest trips, as long as you don’t mind snaking the power cord over your shoulder to meet up with the DVD player behind you on the headrest.

Unlike clamshell-style DVD players, the Supersonic doesn’t have a protective lid. That makes it somewhat vulnerable to drops and impacts but gives it a much sleeker (and more portable) form. An included carrying case shields the Supersonic from harm when it’s not in use.

The Supersonic includes an unusual removable battery, which screws onto the bottom. If you know you’ll be using the DVD player only while plugged into the wall or your car charger, you can save 10 ounces of travel weight by leaving the battery behind. Front-mounted buttons give you everything you need to load a DVD and start playing a movie. Unfortunately, most DVDs include on-screen menus of varying complexity that you’ll need to navigate if you want to view outtakes, commentary from the director, closed captions, or the like. The Supersonic’s built-in controls won’t let you access these menus at all — instead, you’ll need to use the included remote control. It would be easier if you could use the plus and minus buttons on the tablet to move between menu items and another button to select items — especially if you misplace the remote.

Video quality on the Supersonic’s 7.9-inch screen is excellent: It’s clear and bright, colors are well saturated, and there’s little ghosting or other artifacts that can plague LCD screens. You’ll have difficulty viewing it in very bright light, but otherwise the screen looks great. Its 16:9 aspect ratio is perfect for showing widescreen films, and you can switch it to a 4:3 aspect ratio for showing made-for-TV movies (or for when it’s plugged into an external display through the video-out port).

In addition to playing DVDs, the Supersonic plays standard audio CDs. Disappointingly, its display includes no playback information when playing CDs (such as the current track number or time). Instead, it simply shows the Supersonic’s default screen.

The Supersonic includes a holder for mounting the player onto the back of a car headrest, and it might just help you keep your own head on straight when the noise from the back seat is driving you nuts. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Quality video playback in a small package
Worst Feature: Remote control required to access DVD menus

Supersonic SC-77 DVD
Weight: 2.1 pounds
Size: 8 x 8 x 1 inches
Specs: 7.9-inch TFT; DVD playback; audio CD playback; video-in/out port; optical audio-in/out port; headphone port; removable lithium-ion battery; remote control; headrest attachment kit

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Link: Supersonic SC-77 DVD

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Supersonic SC-77 DVD

Panasonic DMC-FZ10

What strikes you first about the Panasonic DMC-FZ10 (aka “Lumix”) digital camera is its huge, beautiful Leica lens. With a 42mm diameter, the lens is more closely related to something you’d find on a traditional 35mm single-lens reflex camera than to its tiny cousins in the digital world. This lens gives the DMC-FZ10 a generous 12x optical zoom, optical image stabilization, and a respectable F2.8 aperture. The lens has tremendous potential to capture gorgeous images — a potential that, for the most part, the camera doesn’t live up to.

Although lighter than many comparable lenses, the Leica is large enough to make the camera bulky — at over 1 pound, it virtually requires you to use two hands to snap photos. If the Lumix were a reliable and fast shooter we’d forgive it these shortcomings. However, the Lumix’s autofocus is slow and inaccurate, and its shutter lag is unacceptably long. After pressing the shutter button, the camera frequently spends several seconds pulling in and out of focus, eventually settling on a focal distance — sometimes seemingly at random — and then snapping the shot. Under ideal conditions, shutter lag is 1.2 seconds. Unless you’re shooting rocks and flowers on a calm, clear day, this behavior is maddening.

You can cut down shutter speed to 0.3 seconds by switching to manual focus, which lets you spin the manual-focusing ring around the lens body. This ring, which is really an electronic control, doesn’t directly move the lens body, but it’s a traditionalist touch that dyed-in-the-wool SLR users will appreciate.

When focusing manually, the Lumix throws in a “Manual Focus Assist” feature: The camera overlays the center of the LCD display with an extreme close-up, which can make it easier to ensure that you’re getting a crisp image. Unfortunately, this close-up tends to block out faces, which makes portraits a challenge. Fortunately, you can turn the feature off.

Despite its many limitations, the Lumix occasionally takes successful photos. And when it does, the images are big, clear, and beautiful, with lots of detail, rich color, and plenty of depth of field. If you’ve got the time to shoot again and again in search of the perfect shot, if your subjects are slow-moving or completely still, and you possess Buddha-like levels of patience, the Lumix is the camera for you. But for anyone who’s not living in a monastery, the Lumix will prove an exercise in frustration. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Big Leica lens can take gorgeous photographs
Worst Feature: Slow, inaccurate autofocus means it usually doesn’t

Panasonic DMC-FZ10
Weight: 1.2 pounds
Size: 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.5 in.
Specs: 4 megapixels; 12x optical zoom; optical image stabilization; built-in flash; 2-inch LCD; USB; SD slot (8MB card included); lithium-ion battery

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Panasonic DMC-FZ10

Download for Democracy.

Law student Thad Anderson has collected a bunch of government documents and made them available via P2P networks such as KaZaA and SoulSeek, through his Download for Democracy project. These documents are publicly available elsewhere, but they’re not always so easy to find.

As Kim Zetter’s Wired News story says, “his use of the networks to deliver the data counters the usual government and entertainment industry arguments that P2P networks have no value, apart from stealing copyright works.” Bingo. In fact, this is a powerful journalistic tool–especially in a time when mainstream journalists are so tame.

Download for Democracy.

Digital cameras’ missing link.

For everyone but a few die-hard photography buffs, digital cameras are the way to go. A digital camera actually makes you a better photographer, because of the instant feedback it provides via the LCD–and because you get much more practice taking digital shots, which are free, than you do with a film camera, where you know youre paying twenty cents a picture for developing.

But once youve been bitten by the photography bug, you’ll realize that theres a gap in the digital camera market. There are a lot of relatively inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras, and some of these even give you a fair amount of manual control over camera settings like aperture, exposure time, and so forth. The problem is that the lenses on these cameras are fairly limitedtheyre small, slow (f2.8 is often the largest aperture you getcompared with f1.4 on a decent 35mm lens), and you cant replace them if you want a wider angle, a more powerful telephoto, or a wider range of aperture settings.

When youre ready to graduate to a camera with full manual control and replaceable lenses, though, youll find that youve got to spend $1,000 or more just to get started. Whats more, these cameras are large and bulky.

Whats missing here is a small, fairly portable rangefinder-style digital camera that doesnt cost a fortune, offers fully manual control, and has an interchangable lens mount system.

Because digital camera use CCDs (image sensors) that are smaller than 35mm film, you could make a system like this using much smaller lenses than those used for 35mm SLRs. That small size would mean greater portabilityand probably less expense, too.

Whats more, camera manufacturers dedication to SLR construction for high-end cameras is misguided. In film cameras, single-lens reflex technology is the only way you have of seeing exactly what your picture is going to look like. But with digital cameras, this complicated mirror-and-prism system is completely redundant, since you can use the LCD on the back to show exactly what is landing on the image sensor. Why add the bulk and the expense of an SLR system when its not needed? Id much rather have a high-quality rangefinder-style camera with good, replaceable optics and a nice, large LCD on the back.

Why doesnt this camera exist? Or if it does, tell me where to find it!

Digital cameras’ missing link.

Mobloggers on the front lines.

A bunch of U.S. soldiers have been posting photos of their experiences in Iraq. This stuff is far more vivid than anything you’ll see on the news. If you want to know what war looks like, these moblogs are the place to look. It’s far more raw, immediate, and real than anything I’ve seen in the mainstream media — including stuff from “embedded” reporters.

Here’s a good list of mobloggers on the front lines. One of the moblogs mentioned there, Tiredandirtysoldier, is especially good.

CAUTION: These sites often publish extremely graphic photos. Don’t go there if you are squeamish.

Mobloggers on the front lines.

Homo interneticus.

There’s been a bit of news about the recent NEA study, “Reading At Risk,” which found that only about half of Americans read books.

Compare that to this interesting First Monday piece about the shift from print culture to Internet culture: The mentality Of Homo interneticus: Some Ongian postulates by Michael H. Goldhaber

Conclusion: People are starting to think–and exist–in new ways. The new culture emphasizes novelty, originality and brevity of presentation, and the formation of communities of like-minded individuals. In-depth analysis, careful thought, and reflection all get short shrift.

Homo interneticus.

Jenny Turpish personality profile.

Null keeps linking to these personality tests, and fool that I am, I keep taking them.

Wackiness: 40/100
Rationality: 46/100
Constructiveness: 82/100
Leadership: 72/100

You are an SECL–Sober Emotional Constructive Leader. This makes you a politician. You cut deals, you change minds, you make things happen. You would prefer to be liked than respected, but generally people react to you with both. You are very sensitive to criticism, since your entire business is making people happy.

At times your commitment to the happiness of other people can cut into the happiness of you and your loved ones. This is very demanding on those close to you, who may feel neglected. Slowly, you will learn to set your own agenda–including time to yourself.

You are gregarious, friendly, charming and charismatic. You like animals, sports, and beautiful cars. You wear understated gold jewelry and have secret bad habits, like chewing your fingers and fidgeting.

You are very difficult to dislike.

Jenny Turpish Slapped Me – Personality Quiz

Jenny Turpish personality profile.