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Don't fret: Teaching guitar lights your way

I have finally found a guitar I can play. (It's never been my lack of musical talent, you see. It's always been the instruments.)

The Fretlight (, a solid teaching guitar with lights on its neck, comes with PC software that guides you through some introductory lessons and songs. The guitar has lights on its neck that show you exactly where to place your fingers to play particular chords, scales, and riffs.

Optek Music Systems recently released a Vintage Electric Telecaster-style model (about $550) -- that's the one I've been playing with. You can find other electric and acoustic Fretlight guitars at the Fretlight site and at Daddy's Junky Music Stores.

Optek offers a left-handed version of one of its teaching guitars, the Standard Electric.

The Fretlight has two ports: one for the cable you plug into your amplifier, another for the USB connection to your PC.

But how does the Fretlight rate as a guitar? I needed an expert to make that call. So I had my neighbor, David, plug the Fretlight into his amp and play with it for a few days.

The guitar, made in China, appears to be well built, David said, and it has "good action," meaning the strings are not too far from or too close to the frets.

Mobile Phones

A 'starter' from Blackberry for anyone seeking a poor-man's iPhone

Realtors have this awful, insulting habit of describing small houses as starter homes. I've been living in my starter home for nearly 10 years, thank you, and hope to stay for another 100. Similarly, AT&T appears to be positioning the small, light, and cheap BlackBerry Curve as a "poor man's iPhone," a multimedia device for those who can't swing the Apple phone's expected $500 to $600 price range. Doesn't anyone get points for saving money anymore?

The Curve supports BlackBerry e-mail and other types of e-mail accounts and has an Internet browser, a full keyboard, and an illuminated trackball.

But that's just the business stuff. The Curve (about $200 with a two-year contract, after a rebate from AT&T), is more consumer-oriented than its predecessors. What makes the Curve fun are its advanced multimedia functions: its 2-megapixel camera, and support for the AT&T Music subscription service. The Curve's 320-by-240 color display uses a sensor to automatically adjust backlighting for different environments.

The Curve also works with AT&T's Push to Talk network, and is upgradeable to the TeleNav GPS Navigator system for audible turn-by-turn driving directions.

The smart phone is little more than half-an-inch thick and weighs about 4 ounces, roughly the same overall dimensions as the iPhone.

The Curve's feather weight may come at a price, however. The device's thin plastic cover requires another, protective layer of rubber or leather to prevent cracks or more severe damage.

Boomer Tech

Better listening from tiny boxes

If you've ever seen someone with hearing aids struggling to keep up with a family dinner conversation, you know how heartbreaking that can feel. It's even sadder when he gives up altogether, and withdraws from the fun.

A new system from Etymotic Research ( promises to bring the hard-of-hearing back into the circle. Its Companion Mic multi-talker system wirelessly connects talkers to listeners via "listener" and "talker" devices, which look like MP3 players that hang from a lanyard around your neck. The system helps isolate the speakers' voices from the din of a crowded restaurant or cruise ship deck.

The listener also wears special earphones that come with the system, which sells for about $560 to $1,000, depending on the configuration you choose.

The Companion Mic system, like the wireless telephone you might have at your home, works at distances up to 150 feet. That also makes it useful for attending lectures, if you can persuade the speaker to put one of the talker devices on.

Innovative last week

Sunshine on your repeater makes you happy

If you're itching to be your neighborhood's IT guy, a start-up backed by Google sells inexpensive hardware for setting up wireless mesh networks. But there's a downside to the outdoor WiFi repeaters made by the company, Meraki Networks ( They require a hardwire connection to power up. In August, you will be able to get a solar charger kit for Meraki's outdoor repeater, which has also been redesigned to support dual Ethernet ports and two SSIDs, and to have a cooler, egglike shape.