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Personal Tech

Cheap thrills from a little music-maker

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mark Baard
March 17, 2008

RETRO
Firebox.com has the perfect cheap-o gift for New Music nuts: an updated version of a tiny electronic organ, which has been appearing in Bowie and Kraftwerk songs since the late 1960s.

I would also be surprised if the moaning, whining, warbling organ, called the Stylophone, has not been put to use by Arcade Fire, the eclectic ensemble that looks like a pack of kids who just stocked up at the annual RISD Sale.

The Stylophone is great fun for kids, too.

My 2-year-old, Oona (who can make music on just about anything), quickly learned how to string together notes using the Stylophone's metallic keypad and metal-tipped stylus.

Firebox.com is selling the battery-operated retro gadget from Dübreq (dubreq.co.uk) for about $30.

The new Stylophone, with its metallic grille and classic logo, looks just like the original. But Dübreq has added some new features, such as MP3 input (for playing along with your digital tracks). It also has a built-in speaker, headphone socket, and volume control dial.

The new Stylophone has a vibrato switch, and another switch to select additional sounds. On the back is an analogue tuning dial, so you can add that ethereal twang to your notes.

Geek shopping note: ThinkGeek.com remains my favorite site for USB-powered beer chillers, Star Trek communicators, and the like. But Firebox.com also has a broad, eclectic mix of cheesy toys (including Borat mankinis) for boys of a certain maturity level.

Digital Photos

Mega, megapixels at a low price

Put down that feature-bloated cellphone with the substandard camera. GE has got a 12-megapixel camera for less than 200 bucks.

The E1235 is the latest in a line of high-feature/low-cost cameras made by General Imaging for GE.

HSN shoppers got the first shot at the E1235, at the $199.95 price, last week.

Like the 10-megapixel E1050, which I told you about in January, the E1235 features blink and smile detection for better snapshots. The latter function works by opening the shutter only when your subject is smiling, according to the manufacturer. While this strikes me as being an imperfect science, it should make for improved Facebook party images.

The E1235 has a 2.7-inch LCD screen and 3X zoom. It has an in-camera "panorama stitching" feature you can use to join three images together.

The E1235 comes in red or silver, with a black case and software for creating greeting cards and slideshows.

Audiophile speakers

A warm-hearted Orb to rule your living room

Had enough with cheap speakers? (Sorry, but "designed in USA, made in China," does not always cut it for serious audiophiles.)

New York-based Orb Audio says its speakers are handmade in the States by California artisans. The speakers have cool, round metal cabinets, shaped just like Number Two's chair in "The Prisoner."

Prices for the Orb systems hover around $1,000. That's a bargain for high-end home entertainment setups.

But shopping at the Orb site (orbaudio.com) is maddening, with its mix-and-match selections and upgrades. You will think you are shopping at the Apple Store before Steve Jobs returned to streamline the company's overwhelming model lineup.

Will it be Orb Mod1, Mod1 Plus, Mod2, or People's Choice?

Select the Orb Mod1 Home Theater Speaker System and you will face these options, and a dozen more: "Need a 6.1 or 7.1 System? Add One Mod1 (Black) for 6.1 . . . Select Front Channel Upgrades. Mod2 Center Channel Upgrade . . ."

Huh? I suppose this is what happens when manufacturers get carried away with their own inventories.

But I am not an audio expert. You might revel in all of these choices, which also include a slew of input-output cables and mounting brackets.

The Orbs are less than 5 inches across, and are fashioned in small batches, according to the company, like microbrews. You can choose from a number of color coatings, as well as steel, copper, and bronze finishes.

Other options include subwoofers and speaker stands made to match your modular Orb system.

Innovative last week

Interactive advertising: A good thing?

Welcome to the spooky new world of gesture recognition. The field pioneered by scientists for tracking the elderly and potential terrorists is also churning out interactive displays for trade shows and hotel lobbies. Soon, a large advertising display will detect your round-shouldered frame several yards away, and offer you a coupon for a caffeinated pick-me-up. (That, or the display will see that you are about to take a swing at it, and call the cops.)

Samsung displays, which you can interact with up to 15 feet away, will turn up in hotels in major US cities later this year.

The immersive advertising setups, created by Samsung and Reactrix, become more intensely interactive as consumers draw closer. I'll be running the other way.

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