Sunday, March 30, 2008


OK, I finally bit the bullet and replaced our perfectly good but outrageously large Sony Wega flat tube TV in our bedroom with an LCD HDTV. Don't worry, the Sony has found a new home in one of the spare bedrooms that previously had a 13 inch "whack the side when the brightness drops" TV. I'd never put my beloved Wega out on the street.

I'd been holding off on the TV shuffle for a variety of reasons. First, the deteriorating TV was in a spare room, so it wasn't a priority. Second, I was still relatively happy with my "big baby" Sony flat tube, even though it ate up quite a bit of free space in our bedroom. And lastly, I haven't seen anything in the "can't pass that up" category for LCD HDTV's.

I love the Samsung LCD that I have in my man cave. It's part of the 53H line, which are their top 720p models. I love the picture quality, features and the space saving bottom mounted speakers on these TVs, but I don't love their price. A 19" 53H goes for about $400, a 23" is over $600, a 26" is over $700 and a 32" is over $800. I wanted at least a 26" in the bedroom but I just couldn't see shelling out $700+ for a bedroom TV. Although I would never skimp on our main TV, I'm thrifty (OK, a cheapskate) when it comes to the rest.

All the cheaper makes and models I looked at either lacked the picture quality or the features I desired. I'm constantly checking out the TV "lineups" in the electronics stores, looking for something that has the clarity and color of the big names, but with a smaller price, and lately one manufacturer has caught my eye. Vizio. The picture looks as good if not better side by side with the top of the line Samsungs and Sharps, and while not feature rich, they have a very nice assortment, including bottom mounted speakers so that the TVs don't look as big as most of the others in their size range.

It has a variety of inputs, most notably 2 HDMI's, and the NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners allow you to receive HD signals via antenna as well as digital SD and HD broadcasts via cable, both with and without a box. A little known HD factoid is that you can receive SD digital and some HD digital signals via Comcast cable without a box if you have a QAM tuner. You won't get the high end channels in high def, but you will get PBS, CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox in both standard and high definition, so you don't need to go adding cable boxes all over your house. The high def channels register as 7-1, 7-2, etc., just as they would if you were using an HD antenna.

Another feature I like on the Vizios is that when you set the screen width (aspect ratio) on one SD channel, the setting is applied to all of the SD channels. The choices are 16:9, Panoramic and 4:3 for SD channels. 16:9 stretches the picture to fill the screen, giving everything a slightly fatter look. Panoramic stretches just the edges of the picture to fill the screen, giving you a more natural look while still taking advantage of the wide screen. 4:3 gives you that square "regular TV" look that we're all so used to, but is an incredible waste of screen space. On a lot of wide screen HDTV's, SD broadcasts don't look as sharp as they do on a 4:3 set, but the Vizio does a nice job of 2:3 pull-down and the picture is sharp enough to expand to wide screen and still look pretty great.

I settled on the Vizio VW26LHDTV, which Walmart has for $474. It's a lot of TV for under $500. The only short comings with this set are the lack of RCA or optical audio outputs, it has mini stereo only (the larger Vizio sets have multiple audio outs), and the lackluster remote (no back light). These didn't influence my purchase though as my bedroom sound system has a mini stereo input and we've also got a back lit touchscreen universal remote. Gotta have two remotes in the bedroom, his and hers.

So I'm a happy camper. I didn't spend a ton of money, I can watch HD in bed, we gained all kinds of space, and overnight guests will no longer have to whack the TV in the spare room to watch it. Plus, I get to visit with my trusty old Sony whenever I've been bad...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Must have albums for your collection - Indianola Mississippi Seeds

Indianola Mississippi Seeds - B.B. King

Joe Walsh (rhythm guitar), Carole King (piano/electric piano), Leon Russell (piano/electric piano), Bryan Garofalo (bass) and Russ Kunkel (drums)

Angelic Chorus - Merry Clayton, Clydie King, Sherlie Matthews and Venetta Fields.

Strings and Horns arranged by Jimmie Haskell

Original Release Date: 1970

Indianola Mississippi Seeds is one of the most highly regarded blues pop/rock crossover albums of all time. BB himself has said that he thinks it's the best album that he's done artistically.

Although I love BB's "Live at Cook County Jail" for straight up house rockin' blues, Indianola Mississippi Seeds is an album by a master at the top of his game. With an all star lineup, the music is rich and multilayered with horns, strings and backing vocals, and BB and Lucille glide through it all in a smooth and powerful way.

My favorite cuts on the album are "You're Still My Woman", "Kings Special" and "Hummingbird". I love the stark contrast in the transition from the solo piece "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother (And She Could Be Jiving Too)" into the complexity of "You're Still My Woman", and King's guitar work on this track reaches in and tickles the pleasure centers of my brain.

The cover art on this album, complete with a copy of Riley King's birth certificate on the inside, won the Grammy for Best Album Package - Album Cover, Graphic Arts and Photography in '71.

Indianola Mississippi Seeds is a true "must have" for your music collection.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sox Solidarity

Red Sox players threatened to boycott today's game against the Blue Jays in Fort Myers and also their trip to Japan in a dispute with MLB over compensation for the coaches and staff who will be travelling with them. has full coverage of the story, but in a nutshell, the players refused to take the field today in Fort Myers after learning that MLB was reneging on it's promise to pay the coaches and staff an appearance fee. The fee was part of the original agreement the team had with Major League Baseball, and the players had voted to go to Japan based on those terms.

Finding out this morning that the terms had changed, the players voted to boycott today's game and possibly the whole trip to Japan in order to send a message to MLB. About 30 minutes into the game delay, MLB relented and offered to pay the coaches, trainers and staff as promised.

Normally I hate it when money matters interfere with the game. The players make so darned much that it always makes me a little sick to hear about it, but this is different and I think it bodes well for the team and the season.

The people who were getting the shaft were the people who could afford it least, and it did my heart good to see the players take a stand. It shows heart, determination and brotherhood on their part, and that, combined with the talent of this team, smells like victory to me.

Nice job men.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

iRobot ConnectR

Check out the latest addition to the iRobot family, the ConnectR, a Virtual Visiting Robot. It's a Wi-Fi enabled audio visual robot that can be controlled remotely from any computer with access to the Internet or locally via remote.

Check in on the pets while your away, interact with your kids when your working late, or just scare the bejesus out of your wife, this baby has soooo much potential.

All kidding aside, I can see this as being an invaluable tool for someone with an elderly family member who lives far away, or just for piece of mind when you're traveling. Imagine being able to link up and take a video spin around your house. An itty-bitty house sitter who won't raid your fridge. Too cool!

I can't wait to get my hands on one of these. There's no release date as of yet, but I signed up for the pilot program as soon as I saw it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Do The Bunny Hop,

hop, hop, hop!

It was a miserable Saturday in the northeast. Rain came down in buckets off and on all day, washing away the last of the snow and coming dangerously close to entering our basement. I was keeping a close eye on the backyard throughout the day and on my last trip out I noticed my old pal Mr. Bunny come hopping through the yard.

Mr. Bunny and I have come to an understanding. When he was just a little baby bunny I had scared him out of a bush while mowing. He hopped right out in front of me and then just froze. Being the nice guy I am, I quickly shut down the mower. He continued to squat there, quivering with fear and staring at me with those enormous eyes.

My wife was gardening nearby and I called her over to see the baby. The two of us sat down on the grass and talked soothingly too him as if he were one of our cats, and after about 15 minutes he ambled lazily away and disappeared into the bushes along the property line. That was the start of a beautiful relationship. Throughout the spring and summer, Mr. Bunny would come out around dusk and nibble away while we gardened and watered, sometimes coming as close as 10 feet from us.

In the winter months we don't see him as much, and I always feel reassured when I see his little tracks in the snow that he hasn't fallen prey to a hawk or a car. I was particularly glad to see him last night. The rain had finally stopped and I looked at it as a good omen that we were crossing paths. He went on by and I soon lost track of him as I continued on with my water inspection tour.

As I was going back in I caught rapid movement out of the corner of my eye and looked up to see not one, but two bunnies cavorting in the yard. They chased each other around and around and when they would stop, one of them would stand up on it's hind legs and kind of box. He looked like a tiny kangaroo. I slipped quietly inside but left the back floods on, and my wife and I stood in the darkened dining room watching the bunnies dancing in the moonlight through the picture window.

It was one of those quiet and hopeful moments, watching in silence while the bunnies hopped and bopped around, thinking of the coming spring and hoping it will be a happy and prosperous season.

It even inspired us to dance in the moonlight ourselves...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Boys Of Summer Are Back!

It's that time again, and it isn't a moment to soon. The Sox are back in sunny Fort Myers and spring training games are underway.

I was psyched to see and hear our old pals the Remdawg and Announcer Boy this weekend on NESN. There's something about drowsing in front of the tube during a weekend day game. It's like a tonic for my winter weary mind and body.

I'm back and forth to the Fort Myers area a lot so I thought I'd share a few of my favorite stops with you. Like where to find a Dunkins, cheap decent eats, beach side fish places, best barbecue, best frappes, and the complete list of local Hooters franchises. Gotta go to Hooters. My wife was never crazy about the place until we met *sigh* Jason and some of the boys there. Now I'm golden! Man is he a nice guy.

So, don't be fooled by imitations. Get your info from our New Englander's Guide To The Fort Myers Area (or Where Can I Get My Dunkin' Fix). You'll be glad you did.

Go Sox!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

There Is TV Worth Watching.

As I was sipping my coffee this morning I got to thinking that outside of televised sporting events, there are only two shows on TV that I consider "must see", and they couldn't be more different.

The first, and my all time favorite Sunday morning ritual, is CBS Sunday Morning. Think 60 Minutes with a positive attitude. News stories, music and unbelievable nature and wildlife photography. Take a moment to check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Number two, in case you haven't noticed by now, is ABC's Lost.

The show first caught my attention with their ads leading up to the series premier in the fall of 2004. Something intrigued me about it and got me in a seat for the opener, and I've been glued there ever since.

For me, that first episode was spellbinding. The stark transition as the tranquil tropical beach turns into Dante's Inferno was an incredible jolt. The vivid scenes of the crash of Oceanic flight 815 onto the island were on par with the best of the Hollywood action/adventure movies, and that's no easy thing to accomplish on the small screen. Add to that the fact that as the survivors of the crash started to get their feet back underneath them, they began to realize that this is no ordinary island. Huddled around a campfire at night they're startled by a thudding, roaring, tree displacing entity that sounds like it's heading their way. Yikes! I remember thinking wtf was that? I was hooked.

Four seasons later and I'm still wondering wtf that was, and that's part of the reason I like this show so much. Although it has it's moments of predictability, there's a lot more moments of surprise and uncertainty.

It's also taking TV in a new direction. TV is always trying to hook viewers into interacting with shows via the web. In-game sports coverage, reality show voting, polls, but Lost takes fan interaction to a whole new level. Websites and message boards worldwide are bursting at the seams with both fans and media alike sharing information and asking questions about the show. Even the shows producers get into the act, dispensing information and dispelling innuendo in pod casts and interviews. There is a huge collective Lost neural net out here on the interweb and it never ceases to amaze me.

This season the show is back with a vengeance. Lots of answers right from the get go, and more coming every week. Any show that's as complex as this one needs a lot of background fill, and that has caused there to be some episodes in previous seasons that seem to focus on setup and don't appear to move the plot along. This season marks the beginning of the end, as the show now has a firm commitment from the network and begins it's 3 season arc towards conclusion. This allows the writers to have a clear timetable in which to wrap things up, and the viewer reward is... ANSWERS!

Although I don't always understand them...

Lost - Thursdays @ 9pm EST on ABC. Be sure to check out my theories and episode reviews on