JVC GR-D295u

Judging by its name, you’d think the JVC GR-D295u was a futuristic cambot with a remorseless drive to destroy all living beings. In fact, the GR-D295u is more like the guy who hangs out on the last bar stool next to the door, nursing a Schlitz: friendly, easy to like, and a bit clumsy. That’s why we’re calling it Norm.

There’s a lot to like about Norm. He’s a compact MiniDV camcorder with impressive specs, including a 680,000-pixel CCD and a 25x zoom.

Norm’s straightforward shooting controls are easy to manage. But we don’t like Norm’s Power/Function switch, as it’s too easy to overshoot the setting you want and put the camera in manual recording mode instead of automatic, or playback instead of off.

Norm’s video quality is not bad, especially considering his rock-bottom price. You’ll see a few crunchy edges, and colors are a slightly oversaturated, but the quality is good enough for home movies.

Our biggest problems with Norm have to do with the clumsy way he’s put together. The plastic covers over the SD card slot, and the AV and power jacks are flimsy, floppy, and they get in the way even when opened. And the menus in general are too difficult to figure out, thanks in part to the lack of a four-way joystick controller.

Still, that clumsiness is easy to overlook in a camcorder that is otherwise so capable. And at $373, you’ll probably still be able to laugh when Norm takes a drunken tumble into the pool. You can’t say that about your fancy, high-class video cameras. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Solid performance + thoughtful features = sweet machine
Worst Feature: Battery – life = not so sweet

JVC GR-D295u
Price: $373
Weight: 1.1 pounds
Size: 4.9 x 3.6 x 2 inches
Specs: MiniDV; 25x optical zoom; SD card slot; 1,024 x 768-pixel still images
www.jvc.com

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Link: JVC GR-D295u

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

JVC GR-D295u

RIM BlackBerry 7100g

Blackberry 7100Disconnecting for the weekend? Forget about it — your neurotic urge to stay online won’t let you. And besides, your inbox is a cruel mistress. But the Treo 650 costs too much, and, frankly, you spend more time reading e-mail and web pages than writing.

Meet your new phone: The BlackBerry 7100g, which combines the slim profile of a candy-bar phone with all the e-mail and internet savvy of other, less stylish, BlackBerrys. Granted, the 7100g is a bit wider than most phones, but it fits comfortably in a pants pocket, and you won’t feel like an idiot holding it to your ear in a bar — or the office.

The 7100g’s compressed QWERTY keyboard sports two letters per button. The phone’s SureType software does a good job of figuring out which letter you intend for each button press, so you can type fairly quickly. However, we found the keypad disorienting at first, and URLs are tricky to enter. The screen is bright and crisp, making reading web and e-mail a pleasure.

As a phone, the 7100g is solid, with decent if somewhat crunchy sound and a respectably loud and clear speakerphone. The keypad is extremely easy to use for dialing numbers; and combined with the excellent BlackBerry contact manager (which syncs with your PC), the 7100g is a top-notch communicator. Add a calendar, USB for syncing, Bluetooth for wireless headsets, and 36MB total of memory for holding data and running Java applications, and you’ve got a sleek, powerful, portable organizer, too. -Dylan Tweney

Best Feature: Bright, readable screen
Worst Feature: No built-in camera

RIM BlackBerry 7100g
Price: $250
Weight: 4.4 ounces
Size: 4.5 x 2.3 x 0.8 inches
Specs: 850/900/1800/1900MHz GSM/GPRS; 36MB of memory (32MB flash, 4MB SRAM); 260 x 240-pixel, 2.3-inch color TFT; Bluetooth
www.blackberry.com
www.cingular.com

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Link: RIM BlackBerry 7100g

Link broken? Try the Wayback Machine.

RIM BlackBerry 7100g

How to skin a house.

I’m sure Karen will soon have more pictures of the chaos going on here, but here’s a sample. The big project for the past few days has been stucco removal–like flaying the house alive, actually, since it leaves everything still standing and more or less intact, but … skinless. It’s creepy. And a bit scary, too, since we’re actually destroying a significant part of our home. There’s no going back now.

skinned house

I helped with the skinning for one day. Stucco removal is a bitch. Fortunately for me it doesn’t take much intelligence. You just kind of bang and scrape and smash at the stuff with a two-foot crowbar until it comes off, in big chunks and in little pieces. And try not to hit yourself in the thigh or drop big pieces of masonry on your foot.

How to skin a house.

Very alarming!

I recently started up Palm Desktop after 6 or more months of not using it at all, and was treated to this massive cascade of alarm dialogs. (Click the image to see the whole cascade in all its glory.)

palm desktop alarm cascade

Thank god for that “close all” button!

Very alarming!

Aliens among us.

Roughly half of Americans believe that extraterrestrial life exists–and that aliens are visiting the Earth, zooming around in saucers and secretly probing hapless human bodies. The Guardian has the entertaining details. The punchline comes in the author’s bio: Turns out he’s an astronomer at SETI. I don’t know why I find that so funny.

Aliens among us.

Going up!

After months of work, Karen’s plans for our remodel finally got the green light from the planning department yesterday. We celebrated by sabering a bottle of champagne last night, and this morning Karen — together with a neighbor she hired — started stripping stucco off the outside walls of our house. Next: Lots of digging, then concrete pouring (to reinforce the foundation), nailing plywood onto the outside of the stucco-stripped walls (to provide “shear” reinforcement in case of earthquake), installing concrete footings underneath the house … and, eventually, framing a second story and new roof.

When it’s all done we will have added almost 900 square feet to our house (which is only 1,100 s.f. to begin with), including two bedrooms, two baths, and a laundry room. Clara’s especially interested in the new bathrooms. “When does Mommy start working on the new potties?”

Karen has a new moblog, called Chaos & Construction, which will chronicle the progress. Wish us luck.

Going up!

Notebook stampede.

Virginians riot over $50, 4-year-old iBooks:

Va. Laptop Sale Turns Into a Stampede
“I took my chair here and I threw it over my shoulder and I went, ‘Bam,'” the 20-year-old said nonchalantly, his eyes glued to the screen of his new iBook, as he tapped away on the keyboard at a testing station. “They were getting in front of me and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just,” he said.

Notebook stampede.

Brain Moves Mouse.

From Technology Review, a summary of an interesting study on how the brain works to identify words:

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in late June, 42 undergraduates followed instructions to click a mouse on one of two pictures on a computer monitor. Sometimes the images were different-sounding objects, such as “candle? and “jacket.? At other times, they were similar, such as “candle? and “candy.?

Researchers found that when the objects’ names were quite different, the mouse movements of the students followed a straight-line trajectory to the correct picture. When the words were similar, however, the trajectories were slower and arced. In the latter cases, Spivey hypothesized, subjects would begin processing a word at the first sound, then continued in an ambiguous state as they moved the mouse.

Musings from a Mouse

Brain Moves Mouse.