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The Dust Brothers Homework Mp3 Rocket

Pre-ordering is open now in our online shop for Frank Stefanko's Further Up the Road, a spectacular collection of Springsteen photography being published by Italy's Wall of Sound. Pre-order by Thursday night, June 29, to have your name included in the book's acknowledgements. The book won't be out until November, but sections are going to print shortly, and that includes the Acknowledgements list of early supporters. Everyone who orders by Thursday night will be listed inside by name and country.

Choose an edition below to reserve your signed/numbered copy of this very limited photography book. The Collector edition is $380 plus shipping, and the Deluxe edition (including a signed and numbered exclusive print) is $630 plus shipping.

- June 28, 2017

Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul
June 25 / Koninklijk Theater Carre / Amsterdam

Amsterdam seemed like just another exit on the Jersey turnpike over the weekend, with a Southside Johnny concert one night and Little Steven the next. Southside told us from the stage on Saturday that he was attending Stevie's show the following night — and not only did he attend, he closed it, the two joining forces at the end of Sunday's spectacular Disciples of Soul gig. While Southside has toured Europe constantly over the years, Little Steven famously took a few decades off. But with a show this good, one really has to wonder, what took him so long? 

We know Steven Van Zandt as the keeper of rock 'n' roll's flame. Through his syndicated radio show and satellite channel productions of Underground Garage and Outlaw Country, he has singlehandedly elevated rock 'n' roll's earliest pioneers to the statesmen's status they so richly deserve while ensuring their place in the American songbook. More than just introducing a new generation to the earliest rock 'n' rollers, he has erased years and boundaries, shapeshifting time to connect them to today's performers in ways that are, in hindsight, so obvious how did we not notice before? 

Through his TeachRock curriculum, Steven inspires teachers to explain world and national events through the songs that shaped and were shaped by the times.  The Rock and Roll Forever Foundation puts music back into the schools and into the hands of kids who may be the next great thing or may just have been given a gift that will bring them joy for the rest of their life. 

So yes, Steven VanZandt carries a lot of titles — actor, Springsteen sideman, producer — but it all started with musician. And it was clear watching him on stage in the Carre Theater Sunday night that this was one happy man. He was a bandleader controlling his stage, a performer who had created a show for the ages, all of that, but clearly this was a musician who loved where he was right at that moment. Doing what he loved for people who loved him for it. Playing for that soulfire. 

Early in the show, during "Until the Good is Gone," Steven touched on world events, saying the world was crazy and would wear you down. You need something in your soul that would keep you strong. Sometimes you just have to shut out the world, find a sanctuary — you have to get to that place deep down, to "that soul place." He said, "We all have it, it's there, where we can feel the good.... We are going to get there tonight. Get you to that soul connection." 

Who better to lead you to that soul place than the Disciples of Soul? At stage left was a visual and musical delight to the senses, the trio of backup singers. Clad in silver leggings with rainbow-fringe-lined halter tops, the three paid homage to all those girl groups of the '60s. But, make no mistake about it, they weren't just eye candy, they were a force to be reckoned with: the hardest working musicians on stage, standing right at the front, the first disciples calling out to us to come join the movement. 

Stage right on percussion is the Reverend Everett Bradley A familiar face to many in the crowd, his beaming smile was a joy to behold. You want to get to that soul place? The way to "Salvation" (my new favorite song) is through his drums, but you can't take your baggage with you, no sir. He will beat those cares away, and you will emerge on the other side happy for it.   

The Reverend's percussion started off "Standing in the Line of Fire," in part a tribute to western movie composer Ennio Morricone. The sound built up layer upon layer, joined first by Eddie Manion leading his red-shirt-clad horn section, and then the guitar, organ and other players including Lowell "Banana" Levinger of Youngbloods fame, with guitarist Marc Ribler handling music direction. The result was a wall of sound so big and so strong that not even Clint Eastwood could break through it. After this song, it was clear, there was no going back. There was only one way to go on this journey now — forward to our soulfire. 

Steven stepped in here to remind us to gather in the love we would need to sustain us on our quest. He dedicated the next two songs to his wife Maureen and played a dedication from Twitter, "I've Been Waiting." Then Mr. VanZandt, the coolest history teacher in the world, schooled us in the times with "Princess of Little Italy," a timeless tale of love and family anchoring a set of dreamy psychedelic songs from the '70s on one side and Steven's own protest songs on the other. Reminding us that while we are rejuvenating in our soul place there is still much work to be done, and music will always be our weapon and our shield. 

If I give you my heart will you love me forever? Oh yes. A sublime "Forever" closed out the show, but it wasn't over yet. There were encores. And that's when Southside Johnny joined the soul connection — making some playful banter about seeing his horn section in the back — along with the Jukes' keyboardist Jeff Kazee, who took over the organ for the last two numbers.

Stevie and Southside were singing "I Don't Want to Go Home" when something magical happened. The music, our shared sense of history and place intertwined, erasing the line between audience and performers, leaving only us and our two friends from New Jersey. Together we sang out "It's Been a Long Time." Singing from that soul place of friendship and the bonds that can't be broken. Chanting whoa, oh whoa oh oh... Arm in arm, Little Steven and Johnny waltzed off the stage together, confident that they had taken us to that place where our soulfire lives. 

- June 27, 2017 - Brenda VanHorn reporting - photographs by Rene van Diemen

Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau both appear in the new HBO documentary The Defiant Ones, premiering July 9 at 9pm. The four-part doc series tells the story of the partnership between Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. Of course, before Beats, before Interscope, Iovine was at the Record Plant in New York; part of his story is his work with Springsteen in the '70s, engineering on Born to Run and Darknesson the Edge of Town. "Bruce taught me a work ethic," Iovine says in the trailer. "I had to work harder than the next guy just to do as well as the bext guy. And to do better than the next guy, I had to kill." Another prominent Iovine quote from the doc is also a Springsteen lyric: "Fear is a powerful thing." Watch the trailer on YouTube, and see hbo.com for more.
- June 26, 2017


Happy birthday to the great Nils Lofgren, born this day in 1951. Keep up with his latest at nilslofgren.com, including his new musical project, Blind Date Jam.
- June 21, 2017 - photograph by Joe Wall (Christchurch, NZ, 2/21/17)

For Father's Day. By John Micheal Santulli

"We honor our parents by carrying their best forward."
– Bruce Springsteen

In one of his songs, Bruce Springsteen writes, "I remember how rough your hand felt on mine, on my wedding day." There are many lyrics that fans of Springsteen identify with, but for me, this was always one of the strongest. My dad was the working-class father that Bruce often writes about in his songs, and my father's hands are one of the strongest images in my life, from childhood to adulthood.

My dad owned his own gas station along with his partner, my Uncle Richie. As a kid, my father's hands were that of any auto shop mechanic. They were rough and callused. The ridges of his fingerprints and the lines in his palms were stained black from the oil, and gasoline, and general dirt that accompanies spending 12 hours a day running a gas station/auto shop/car wash/truck rental business. His hands looked like a treasure map of sorts.

My memory is able to recall so many distinct moments where I can picture my father's hands, and in each memory, his hands are rough and strong.

I remember holding his hand as we waded into the ocean waves of Cape Cod, his seven-year-old son, afraid to swim in the waves all by himself. I remember those same waves crashing along a jetty and my father leading me out to the edge of that jetty to go fishing. He was holding my right hand with his left as we skipped from rock to slippery rock. His right hand held our fishing gear.

I remember my dad gripping a baseball as we played catch in our back yard, and I remember him forcing his meaty fingers into an old baseball glove that his left hand had long since outgrown. The heel of his palm would stick out of the bottom of his old catcher's mitt, and he would tap the red-laced Wilson hardball into the leather once before he would toss it back to me.

I remember my father's hand, gruff and reeking of gasoline, as he would pet my hair as I was pretending to sleep, when he would sneak into the bedroom that my brother and I shared to say goodnight. He would "tousle my hair" and give me a kiss on the head.

And I remember my dad's hand slipping from my grip as we walked down a street in Cooperstown, New York. It was induction weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame. I was bopping down the sidewalk wearing my newly purchased Pittsburgh Pirate hat (Roberto Clemente was one of my favorite players at the time). My dad stopped dead in his tracks. Almost instantaneously, I noticed a tear running down his cheek. I just looked at him. "It's Campy," he said, as he gazed at his childhood hero, Brooklyn Dodger Roy Campanella.

My mom, my brother and sister and I, we were all a little afraid. We had never seen my dad react to anything with such awe and sadness. Campy was being wheeled up a ramp into a handicapped accessible van. My dad walked over and asked if he could shake his hero's hand. I saw my father's strong hands — those of a semi-pro baseball catcher himself — reach out to this hall-of-famer. Campy's arms and hands were huge. Look at some of his old photographs from baseball's glory days. He was known for strong hands, consistently playing through battered and broken fingers, occupational hazards that come with playing the position garbed in the tools of ignorance. But now, these hands, the hands of a Brooklyn saint, were shrouded in what looked like leather men's gloves with the fingers cut off. There was a pad in the palm of the glove, to protect these once powerful, fierce hands from blistering caused by propelling his own wheel chair. My dad shook Roy Campanella's hand — two Brooklyn boys, two catchers, two strong men.

But most distinctly, I remember always shaking my father's hand at church. The priest would say, "Now let us offer each other a sign of peace." My dad would say, "Peace, Muckle," a nickname I picked up from my sister's inability to say the name Michael when just a little child. I would say, "Peace, dad," and we would shake hands.

Unlike the priests in church, my dad didn't preach. He never sermonized lessons, he taught them. His actions, the way he treated people, gave voice to his lessons. I learned a firm handshake from shaking his hand on Sunday mornings in church. He didn't squeeze too hard, and we have never spoken about the importance of a strong handshake, but in a pew in Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Ridgewood, New Jersey is where I learned a proper hand shake — from my father.

During this Sunday ritual is when I would really take notice of my father's hands. I would look at the road maps formed by the oil and gasoline in the groves of his skin. I would take in the roughness and the tenderness at the same time. And I would notice that dad's hands were almost always banged up in some way. There was always a bruise, or a cut of some kind, and sometimes there might be a bad enough wound to warrant a band-aid.             

A few minutes after the Sign of Peace we would receive Holy Communion, and I would kneel like my father, put my head in my hands like my father, and pray for his safety, and for the safety of my mom and brother and sister. I was always filled with a dread hiding somewhere just beneath the surface. I was always sure, despite my faith in God, that something terrible was going to happen to my mom or my dad. Mom and Dad are both in their 80s today, I am happy to say.

And I remember my dad's hands on my wedding day, probably very distinctly because of the Springteen lyric. I remember shaking his hand that June day and getting a little hug from him. I always thought my dad was just the right amount of affectionate. He was never overly affectionate to the point of embarrassment for a young boy, but I do remember the comfort I felt from a little kiss on my hair or his holding my hand at just the right moment. I don't remember when the little kisses and the hugs stopped, or when he stopped leading me into the waves. But to this day, he still lets me know he loves me and he provides direction on a daily basis, both usually without saying a word.

I hadn't been to church with my father for a long time until just the other day, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. At the Sign of Peace, we shook hands. My dad's hands, the hands of Micheal Ray's and Jack's pop pop, were different. The fingers weren't as meaty as they had once been.

There was still strength in those hands, but the grip had weakened just a little. And the skin was not quite soft and smooth, but it was no longer rough either. His skin has softened, the way the skin of the elderly quite naturally does.

The years have softened the skin on my father's hands, but they haven't weakened the man. My dad complains often that "Old age is a bitch." Then he reminds me, "But it's better than the alternative." He sometimes struggles with not being able to do all the things he used to, how long it takes him to get moving in the morning, his loss of hearing and memory. But, despite some of his personal frustration, I think he is kicking that bitch's ass.

In another one of Bruce's songs he writes about a boy working all day in his daddy's garage. As a kid, that was me. That gas-pumping kid is now begrudgingly approaching the big "Five-O." My father's hopes for me led me out of the garage, so my hands are not as tough as his were. But I hope that I can "take one moment into my hands," as soft as those hands might be, and that I can become, even just for one moment, something close to the man — the friend, the brother, the son, the uncle, the grandfather, the coach, the husband, the father — my father is.  
- June 18, 2017 - John Micheal Santulli is the Head Boys Basketball Coach at Westwood High School in New Jersey


Anybody still searching for the perfect Father's Day gift for that Springsteen fan you know and love? Well, how about "Father's Day" itself? You actually won't be able to give this particular version of "Father's Day" to him this weekend, but you can promise to "deliver" it at some point in the near future, especially with summer vacation season rapidly approaching.

"Father's Day" is another of the unreleased Springsteen tracks available for public "inspection" (i.e. listening) at the Library of Congress' U.S. Copyright Office. Click here for the details from last winter's report on how to arrange your own listening session. And here's our full lowdown on "Father's Day," which we returned to Washington DC this spring specifically to hear:

"Father's Day"
(Registration Number/Date Pau001840754/1995-04-07)
This track was submitted to the Copyright Office on the same date in 1995 as "Between Heaven & Earth" and "Blindspot," two unreleased recordings that sound like they were part of Bruce's "lost" hip-hop-influenced album of the mid-1990s. (See our previous report for more details on that album and those two tracks.)

"Father's Day," however, is something quite different, even if it may have been intended for the same aborted project. It's a powerful rocker, built around scorching guitars and pounding drums that bring the noise before Bruce sings a note and continue to do so well after his singing stops.

As usual, there are no backing-musician credits or other session details provided in this Copyright Office submission, so it's impossible to know with certainty whether "Father's Day" was recorded with members of Springsteen's '92-'93 touring band or with the E Street Band (with whom Springsteen briefly recorded earlier in 1995 for the Greatest Hits project) or perhaps even with another group of musicians altogether.

Nevertheless, Bruce and whoever else accompanied him clearly brought their best game. On the basis of the music alone, this track ranks with other great long-unreleased Springsteen rockers of the past like "Roulette" and "Murder Incorporated." (Here's hoping it eventually receives an official release, as those tracks eventually did.)

Perhaps it's the age and limited dynamic range of the Copyright Office's cassette copy, however, that make many of the song's lyrics difficult to make out. (On the other hand, without a lyric sheet, some Springsteen songs are simply that way.) At least one character's name, Bobby, can be heard clearly. There seem to be some other characters involved, too, but it certainly doesn't sound like anyone's having a very happy Father's Day. The song seems to be exploring the impact of fathers who are absent, either physically or emotionally or both.

Even on the face of it, without hearing every word clearly, it's a moving listen, given the well-known history between Bruce and Douglas Springsteen, and also given that this song presumably was written and recorded shortly after Bruce began his own journey as a father. And as usual, the music itself tells much of the story. Arranging your own visit to Washington, DC to hear "Father's Day" and the other unreleased Springsteen music that remains available there will be well worth your time and effort.

- June 16, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting - special thanks to Desmond Mathis at the U.S. Copyright Office - photograph of Douglas, Bruce, and Virginia Springsteen from Live/1975-85 - Copyright Office photograph of Chris Phillips (left) and Shawn Poole (right) by Nick Mead

The New York Post's Michael Riedel reports today that Bruce Springsteen is setting up a Broadway residency for later this year: "at the Walter Kerr Theatre for an eight-week run in the fall, The Post has learned exclusively." Other outlets including Playbill and Rolling Stone have picked up the report, but the Post is currently the only source. We've got all ears to the ground and will follow up with any confirmed news.

- June 16, 2017

Little Steven's Soulfire, which came out on CD in May, is coming to vinyl at the end of this month. For this two-record set, the album's 12 tracks are spread across three sides of vinyl, with artwork etched on side four. Save 10% when you pre-order now from Backstreet Records.

Here's Stevie talking with Nikki Sixx on Sixx Sense, about Soulfire, acting, rock 'n' roll, and going on with the show:

- June 15, 2017

E Street Radio salutes Chuck Berry and celebrates CHUCK
There's no better time than Father's Day Weekend to honor one of rock's founding fathers — the late, great Chuck Berry — especially as a decades-in-the-making album of new Berry music, simply titled CHUCK, has just been released.

Starting today with repeats throughout the weekend, E Street Radio will air a special one-hour edition of its Springsteen-fans-as-Guest-DJs show Be the Boss. The program will be co-hosted by Ryan Hilligoss, author of the unionavenue706 blog, and Backstreets.com's own Shawn Poole. It will feature a baker's dozen of tracks and talk, celebrating the release of CHUCK while exploring the major, enduring impact of Chuck Berry on E Street and all of rock music.

Catch the premiere airing on SiriusXM channel 20 today at 5pm ET, with repeats airing tomorrow at 9am, Saturday at 6pm and on Father's Day itself at 4pm (all times ET.) You also can check out Ryan's blog for an expanded version of the show's script and playlist.
- June 15, 2017

Yesterday, we reported four upcoming tour stops for Max Weinberg's Jukebox — today we've got a lot more, with additional dates to come. Meet-and-greets will be available at most of the shows.

  • July 16 - City Winery - New York, NY
  • July 17 - City Winery - New York, NY [sold out]
  • August 15 - City Winery - Chicago, IL
  • August 17 - Dakota Jazz Club - Minneapolis, MN
  • August 27 - The Stone Pony - Asbury Park, NJ
  • October 12 - Daryl's House - Pawling, NY
  • October 13 - Greenwich Odeon - East Greenwich, RI
  • October 16 - City Winery - Boston, MA
  • October 18 - White Eagle Hall - Jersey City, NJ
  • October 24 - City Winery - Atlanta, GA
  • October 25 - City Winery - Nashville, TN

- June 14, 2017


On the back of the CD booklet for Little Steven's Soulfire, and on the CD itself, can be found two symbols. Each is fraught with meaning — historic meaning, and likely a more personal meaning in relation to Soulfire's music and its creator.

As pictured above, the symbol on the left appears to be a version of the Sacred Heart, a Christian symbol dating back to the 16th century. The symbol on the right is much older. It is a representation of "Om" or "Aum" in Devanagari, an alphabet of India and Nepal which has been in regular use since the seventh century. "Om" is a mantra (sacred sound) that has long been uttered in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.

This isn't the first time the Sacred Heart symbol has appeared in the packaging for a Little Steven album. Van Zandt's 1989 album Revolution used a Sacred Heart symbol in its printed lyrics and the back cover's track listing for the song "Liberation Theology."

Both symbols have been used by other famous musicians, as well. A variation of the Sacred Heart symbol appeared in theatrical productions of Green Day's American Idiot: The Musical (both before and after "St. Jimmy" removes his shirt.) The Devanagari "Om" symbol appeared in place of the denominator in the title on the cover of George Harrison's 1976 album Thirty-Three & 1/3. It also appeared in place of the ampersand in the title on the cover of Shankar Family & Friends, released in 1974 on Harrison's Dark Horse label.

"Om" has multiple meanings but one of its most prominent has to do with one's inner self or "soul." And in many depictions of the Sacred Heart symbol, the area where the cross is placed also appears to be aflame. Therefore, the combination of these two symbols could be taken to mean "soul" + "fire"... Soulfire.

Interestingly, the Sacred Heart symbol also appeared on some of the earliest greeting cards to celebrate Saint Valentine's Day, the holiday that inspired the advance single from Soulfire.

To date, there's been no public comment by Steve Van Zandt on the use of these symbols in his album's artwork. Now that Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul have launched the European leg of their 2017 tour, however, here's hoping that a European interviewer might get him to discuss it in depth.
- June 14, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting - special thanks to Dawn Leinberger


Another E Streeter gigging this summer is Mighty Max, with a new show, Max Weinberg's Jukebox. Of his time off E Street, Max told Rolling Stone in March, "I've got a variety of groups that I play with. One is strictly Stax and Motown oriented, 12-piece band. I have a 23-piece 1950s-style dance orchestra. Occasionally, I play with my 15-piece Count Basie/Buddy Rich–style band, playing the kind of music I loved as a kid."

The Jukebox is something else — a stripped-down rock 'n' roll band, making like Elvis Costello's Spectacular Spinning Songbook but with the audience in control:

A truly interactive experience, Weinberg invites the audience to create in real time the set list he and his crack four-piece group will play that night. Performing songs from the glory days of rock and roll... guests get to choose from a video menu of over 200 songs — everything from the Beatles to the Stones to Bruce and the E Street Band's biggest hits.... That's right — the crowd gets to yell out their choices and Max plays them!

Dates lined up so far:

  • July 17 - City Winery - New York, NY
  • August 15 - City Winery - Chicago, IL
  • August 17 - Dakota Jazz Club - Minneapolis, MN
  • October 13 - Greenwich Odeon - Greenwich, RI

- June 13, 2017


There are a number of unique Bruce Springsteen items on the auction block to benefit the Kristen Ann Carr Fund, all on charitybuzz.com and all closing this Wednesday. Four of them are items signed by Springsteen; we're especially drawn to this Pete Souza photograph of Bruce and President Barack Obama, signed by all three.

Souza, Chief Official White House Photographer for Presidents Reagan and Obama, says: "This photograph was taken before the annual Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony. Usually the awardees, accompanied by their family members, greet the President and First Lady in the Blue Room before the formal ceremony begins. My goal was to always be ready for any genuine candid moments that occur during these greets. Of course, being a big Springsteen fan, I was on the lookout for when Bruce and Patti were about to walk into the room. Fortunately, I positioned myself in just the right spot to capture this moment just before their handshake. I think Bruce was laughing mostly because the President was kidding him about his wearing a suit."

Another one-of-a-kind item is this Clarence Clemons-autographed saxophone, which he last played at The Spectrum in Philadelphia on October 20, 2009, just days before the venue's demolition. Clarence signed his horn as a gift for legendary Philly promoter Larry Magid (and recent KACF honoree), who donated it for the benefit auction.

Also on the block: a signed High Hopes promo poster, a Hatch Show Print poster for SXSW 2012 signed by Springsteen and the E Street Band, a day with Outlaw Pete artist Frank Caruso, a guest host slot with Dave Marsh on SiriusXM's Live From E Street Nation, and more. See all KACF lots here... less than 48 hours left to bid!
- June 12, 2017

D'urso brings Jake Clemons, Grushecky & more to his annual festival

Joe D'Urso's fourth annual Rockland-Bergen Music Festival is just two weeks away, and the line-up is one that'll grab the attention of any Jersey Shore music fan: Saturday, June 24 has Jake Clemons, John Cafferty & Beaver Brown, Joe Grushecky, D'Urso & Stone Caravan, and more on the bill at Tappan, NY's German Masonic Park. See the full schedule for the festival, which runs June 23-25, at rocklandmusicfestival.com.

"As we enter our fourth year, fans can expect a lot of the same things that we have been doing the past few years," Joe says. "Festival fans have said that this is their favorite small music festival, as it feels like a family BBQ with famous and talented people walking around and performing.... that is exactly what I was going for when I started four years ago. The RBMF is a true labor of love... I wanted to bring fantastic music to the border area of Rockland and Bergen counties, as we have never had anything like this in our area. Now, we have had various Grammy winners and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members. Not bad for a family BBQ!"

D'Urso has dedicated a great deal of his time and energy over the years to non-profits including Light of Day and WhyHunger; both will be on site at the festival, along with Mike Peters' Love Hope Strength Foundation and at least ten other charities, many of them local. "My goal is to have every person who attends to discover an organization and maybe get involved with those folks," says Joe.

Tickets are on sale now through ticketfly.com.
- June 9, 2017


Simon & Schuster is giving away 50 signed copies of Born to Run for Father's Day — US residents can enter the sweepstakes now through 11:59pm ET on Sunday, June 11.
- June 8, 2017

Mike Saunders talks to Marc Ribler, guitarist and musical director of the Disciples of Soul and co-producer of the new Little Steven album Soulfire

Given Little Steven's numerous commitments, his decision to reactivate his long-dormant solo career last year was a surprise, albeit a very welcome one. He's since played concerts in London, Silver Spring, Asbury Park, and Red Bank with new versions of his fondly remembered '80s touring band, the Disciples of Soul, and released the internationally acclaimed new album Soulfire.

The Disciples are Little Steven's band, his vision and his personal creative outlet. But considerable responsibility for the Disciples — recruiting and rehearsing musicians, and ensuring that band activities run as efficiently as possible on a daily basis — falls to his musical director, Marc Ribler. Stevie's guitarist, co-producer, second-in-command, and all-round right-hand man, Ribler would surely have earned the title of "the hardest working man in show business" if it weren't already permanently associated with James Brown.

Born in Brooklyn, Marc relocated to Jackson, New Jersey with his family at the age of nine and started playing at the Jersey shore as a teenager. Since then, as a singer/songwriter/producer and performer with two albumsunder his belt — 2003's Life Is But a Dream and 2008's This Life (2008) — he has enjoyed a successful and varied musical career, in which his recent recruitments as musical director for Darlene Love and Little Steven are the latest exciting developments.

I spoke to Marc as he prepared for the first Disciples of Soul European tour in almost 30 years, which begins tonight in Copenhagen. Although there were few windows of opportunity in his impossibly busy schedule, Marc was nevertheless a willing participant, providing some fascinating insights into his career, the evolution of the new band, the Soulfire recording sessions, the recent live performances, and the experience of working with Little Steven.

Read the Backstreets Interview with Marc Ribler

- June 7, 2017 - Mike Saunders reporting - photograph by Richard Elliott Hoynes

Backstreets founder Charles R. Cross on Chris Cornell

Chris Cornell died a couple of weeks ago. Some Backstreets readers may have seen the piece I wrote for NPR on him. It wasn't the easiest article I ever wrote, since I crafted it moments after learning that someone I knew for three decades had killed themselves. I knew Chris better than most of the Seattle '90s rock stars, in part because I met him in the '80s and saw some of those early Soundgarden shows, and in part because Chris lived far longer than most of his lead singer cohorts. He died at 52, unlike Kurt Cobain (27), Andrew Wood (24), Mia Zapata (24), or Layne Staley (34, though really lost to the world and to addiction by 27).

Chris Phillips, Backstreets' editor, asked me to write something about Cornell that same day, but I was just too destroyed to say more. But now a couple of weeks later, it's worth noting for history his connections with Bruce Springsteen. At the same time I was publishing Backstreets in those days, I was also publishing and editing The Rocket, Seattle's music magazine. I did a number of pieces on Soundgarden, and because everyone in town knew I edited Backstreets, too, in some of those interactions we talked about Springsteen. In the '80s, neither Chris Cornell nor anyone else in Seattle music (other than me, it seemed) was much of a fan of Springsteen. Chris is dead now, so it's worth being completely honest and to say that he (and others) actually ribbed me for publishing Backstreets. "Led Zeppelin, I get," Cornell told me once in the mid-'80s. "Bruce, not really."

Nebraska changed that. "I wasn't a fan until I heard Nebraska," Cornell later told me in the '90s. "Yes," I responded, "because I've been telling you to listen to Nebraska for years." It was about the only thing I could use to convince anyone else in Seattle's hipster rock community to check out Bruce. I think that record allowed indie rockers to overlook the hype of Born in the U.S.A., and to see the craft in the songs as separate from the mass sales success. This kind of discussion I had often with Soundgarden's guitarist Kim Thayil, who was far more cerebral than most rockers (in that way Kim is a lot like Tom Morello), but also with Cornell. 

Sub Pop even eventually issued Badlands: A Tribute to Nebraska as an album in 2000. That was the ultimate turnaround in the Seattle scene's perception of Springsteen. If, at the start of Grunge in the mid-'80s, you had told me this would one day happen, I would have been shocked. When I put Springsteen on the cover of The Rocket in 1988 (Bruce was touring through town), some Seattle musicians thought it represented way too much commercialism (The Rocket, to be fair, never was only a local music magazine, but that response indicated how Springsteen's populism struck some in our erudite scene as too compromised). It should be noted, though, that after Soundgarden made it big (the last of the Seattle bands to do so, not really hitting the top of the charts until 1994, after Kurt Cobain died), some of our local, not-yet-famous musicians also thought we were too commercial by putting Soundgarden on our cover.

Cornell did not contribute anything to that Sub Pop Badlands compilation, though when he launched a solo career during Soundgarden's first break-up, he began to play "State Trooper" and "Atlantic City" in concert. I felt some kind of vindication about that, but it also showed that songwriting always wins out over commercial tides that come and go, and perceptions of authenticity. Cornell knew that I'd written a book, with Backstreets' Erik Flannigan, on Led Zeppelin, a copy of which sat in Soundgarden's rehearsal space. We spent far more time ever talking about Zep than Springsteen. Zeppelin had as well faced issues of whether their mass commercialism corrupted them. I argued Led Zeppelin III as the antidote to that.

Soundgarden also faced these concepts — which were really everywhere in rock criticism as indie and punk rock broke big. Early criticisms of Soundgarden were that they were too much like Led Zeppelin, but then when they found success with something that was more accurately categorized as "hard rock," some in Seattle thought they weren't "grunge enough." Soundgarden was one of the first Seattle bands to sign to a major label, and that always made some suspicious, since the idea that you were actually trying to make money with music and have a career — which is what everyone was indeed trying to do — could also get you labeled as a "careerist" (the exact term leveled at Pearl Jam by Kurt Cobain, who himself was most certainly a careerist).

Cornell eventually formed Audioslave with Tom Morello, and that union produced memorable albums. Morello and Cornell made perfect sense, in part because both were well aware of the musical continuum they followed. Both were from hard rock bands with roots in punk rock, aware of cries for authenticity, but also aware of a great chorus. Cornell hired me to write one of that band's press bios, because he argued I was a writer who understood both genres and his history.

I knew about Cornell's addiction issues during that time, and times before that, and times after that, but that part of his story is not unique or special. Addiction and suicide are also issues, as I wrote in that NPR piece, that are not unique to Seattle, or to music for that matter. If past statistics are any indication, 37,000 Americans will die from suicide this year. Nearly a hundred Americans die every single day from opiate overdose.

Audioslave eventually fell apart, in part because of Chris's personal struggles, but the deep musical respect between Morello and Cornell remained. Cornell went solo again. He then released a cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and a record with production by hip-hop guy Timbaland. With that, it was my turn to raise questions of authenticity and commercialism about Cornell in a review of that record. Chris did not like that negative review at all, particularly from a writer who had covered his early career and he'd known forever, but we worked that through.

Soundgarden reunited in 2010, and I wrote a short piece for Rolling Stone, and the band was back to business soon thereafter. Last year, his people asked me to write the Temple of the Dog website and bio, because Chris felt I knew the history of that early album, and his early career, as well as anyone. Those two Temple of the Dog reunion shows in Seattle last fall were the single hardest and most expensive tickets ever to come by in Seattle history. That's an indication of two things: how beloved Cornell was in Seattle, but also how fucked up the ticket bot scalping crisis is, something that every Springsteen fans knows much about. It was an issue that Cornell felt strongly needed to be changed, and legislated against, and one, of course, that Springsteen has also made a priority. If you want to honor Chris's memory, write a letter, or an email, and let your voice be heard on this. It was estimated that nearly 90 percent of the Temple of the Dog tickets on their national tour went to ticket bot scalpers.

Chris continued to do solo tours, and in that same era he went back to the songbook for another Springsteen cover, "Thunder Road." He'd end shows with this, an indication of how his appreciation for Springsteen had grown over the years. His version at a Hurricane Sandy benefit at New York City's Bowery Ballroom in 2012 [above] was particularly poignant and surprisingly true to the original. If you watch that video and hear Chris yell at a loud audience member ("shut the fuck up, you cow"), it's a reflection of how much Cornell wanted to emotionally commit to the song without interruption. But it also shows a bit of the Cornell that I knew — passionate about music, but also snarky at times. A full human being with flaws, and strengths, and demons. The last of these, he could not outrun.

If you look at his take of "Thunder Road," you'll see Chris Cornell inhabiting that song for a moment, grabbing it, or maybe it grabbing him. The music of Springsteen meant something to Cornell. Cornell told me that a few times after he finally found his way in with Nebraska. And the music of Chris Cornell, and the man himself, meant something to me.

The Rocket went out of business in 2000 (Backstreets, however, lives on!). But in that footnote of Seattle music history, Soundgarden remains, and will forever remain, the local band The Rocket featured on the cover the most. And amid even in the sadness of this past month, that seems just a bit sweet.
- June 6, 2017 - Charles R. Cross reporting

Springsteen fans Annette Dam and Candy Dawson are seeking recipes from fellow fans worldwide for a unique project: an E Street-themed recipe book with all sales proceeds to be donated to the anti-hunger organization WhyHunger, long supported by Bruce Springsteen. Fans around the globe are invited to submit a single recipe per fan that highlights what they would be really proud of serving at their tables, should Bruce or any E Street Band member stop by for a visit.

In addition to recipes, both younger and adult fans are invited to submit their artwork for possible inclusion in embellishing the pages or even the cover of the book, which tentatively will be entitled Hungry Heart - Recipes to the Rescue. The deadline for all submissions is August 31. Click here for more information.
- June 6, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting


Can you find the two Bruce Springsteen references incorporated into Celeste Dupuy-Spencer’s painting Fall With Me for a Million Days (My Sweet Waterfall)? (Hint: One of them makes this a perfect post for today’s 33rd anniversary of the release of Springsteen'’s biggest-selling album.) If you’re in the New York City area, you can see the painting on display through next weekend at the Whitney Museum of American Art's 2017 Biennial. The above image of the painting also can be found at Dupuy-Spencer’s Tumblr page.
- June 4, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting - special thanks to Susan Plass

A couple of vinyl treats were issued for Jersey Shore music fans this Record Store Day, and we now have both on our shelves if you missed out locally. First up, the 4LP vinyl pressing of Hammersmith Odeon, London '75.

It's been on CD for a decade, but this is the Springsteen's first live vinyl LP release since Live in New York City, the E Street Band's complete "Finally London is ready" show from November 18, 1975, spread across eight sides of wax. A general release of this set is coming later this summer, but we have the limited, numbered Record Store Day edition in stock now.

"Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes sing Bruce Springsteen," Asbury Park, NJ, February 28, 2015

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes' Live From E Street was recorded at the Stone Pony, on a special night in 2015 when Southside and the Jukes covered Springsteen songs all night. Four of those live performances are collected on this vinyl EP: "Jack of All Trades," "Cover Me," Murder Incorporated," and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out." (The last of these is also represented on Hammersmith — but of course here with a Southside spin, and 40 years apart!) Hard to find — and also in stock now.

See all Latest Additions at Backstreet Records

- June 2, 2017

Blinded By the Light was an essential bible for Bruce Springsteen fans like us. Co-authored by Patrick Humphries and Chris Hunt, the 1985 Springsteen book paired biography — handled by Humphries — with Hunt's "The Bruce Files," the sort of stuff that might have been touched on in an appendix anywhere else but here comprised more than half the book. Clearly from the obsessive brain and collection of a hardcore fan, Hunt's portion of Blinded gave us a concert chronology, discography, bootleg guide, listings of Springsteen compositions (released and unreleased) and covers, with images reproduced from a hoard of posters, memorabilia, ticket stubs, records and clippings.

Our fellow traveler Dan French — who was inspired by Chris and his "Bruce Files" to publish his own Springsteen fanzine in the U.K., Point Blank — points out that Blinded was the first Bruce book by British authors and "the first real Springsteen reference book." We have three copies on the shelf here at Backstreets HQ, mainly to make sure we've got at least one complete copy between them; we've flipped through the pages so often over the years, many have fallen out.

We lost Chris Hunt a few days ago. A heart condition led to further medical complications earlier this year, and he passed away on May 29. Our hearts go out to all of his loved ones. Dan French was one of them — he knew Chris for nearly 40 years, going back to the River days, as a friend, fan, collector and artist, and he shares with us here a wonderful remembrance of his friend and "The Bruce Files": Chris Hunt, 1/29/51 - 5/29/17

- June 1, 2017

Check out the latest episode of Rolling Stone's Music Now podcast, in which Brian Hiatt and Andy Greene have Steven Van Zandt in the studio — it's a great listen. Of course they talk Soulfire, but the conversation is peppered with Bruce bits too, and early history (including a confirmation of Stevie's lone sonic contribution to the Greetings album).

Discussing the arrangement skills he brought to Springsteen's music (shaping more than 100 songs with Bruce between Darkness and The River), Steven points out the differences between his own style compared to Springsteen's "less conventional" approach. "Why didn't we write more together?" he wonders. "I have no answer for that. I wish we did. I wish we had done more together — we were living together for chrissake!" He adds that he went straight from rooming with Southside Johnny to rooming with Bruce: "Can you imagine? And I survived!" (While Springsteen has painted him as the Walter Matthau of their Odd Couple over the years, Van Zandt maintains it was Bruce who was the "complete slob.") Lots more packed into this half-hour, from LSD experimentation to Stevie's relationship with Jon Landau. Listen or subscribe via iTunes.
- June 1, 2017

The Indiegogo campaign for Clarence Clemons: Who Do I Think I Am? has come to a close this week, with $23,000 pledged toward the completion of director Nick Mead's documentary. Producer Joe Amodei writes:

Nick Mead and I would like to thank everyone involved at Backstreets and their loyal readers who helped us with our campaign. While we did not reach our goal, we appreciate the outpouring of good wishes we received from so many of you who want to see Clarence's film finished. This is why I got involved in the first place. My goal has always been to finish what Clarence and Nick started a long time ago. Nick has continued to film new interviews and begin the editing process and I will continue the quest to raise the finishing funds needed. I have no doubt we’ll get there.

And while the Indiegogo campaign is now closed, you can still take part in the fundraising by emailing me at joe@virgilfilmsent.com. Just go to the Indiegogo page and then let me know what perk you are interested in, and I'll see what we can do. And again, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your help throughout. 

We've got one more thing to share from the ongoing project — a short clip director Nick Mead put together for us, showing a particular tree that held some powerful memories in Clarence's world.

Nick writes:

This campaign has been the culmination of what will be about 15 years working on this film. Most of them with Clarence, his input was massive and he wouldn't let it go away....  even when the both of us were sidetracked with other ventures and projects, we always came back to it. The screening which we both attended in Asbury Park was a triumph, and my thrill of it all was seeing the standing ovation that he received at the end of it. It was epic!

Then came the tough part. It was so easy when he was around and could talk about what this journey meant to him, as he did at the Q&A after the Asbury Park screening. But once he had gone there came a whole new wave of responsibilities and challenges. The story of his spiritual journey became his legacy, and the challenge that Joe and I had was to correctly and respectfully represent that legacy.

It's been a long journey and a worthwhile one. Amazing people stepped up, from the aunts who raised him, and his childhood friends, to the impressive list of bandmates as well as a United States President. I never thought for a second that at the end of all this I'd be sitting with President Bill Clinton talking saxophones.

One of the most touching moments was when a childhood friend spoke of the race divide where they were growing up. And how they'd go to separate schools and separate churches, but when they got home they meet at the tree they both used to climb. The tree isn't so big no more, but the foundations are still there. And we got the tree in our film.  

- May 31, 2017

When Gregg Allman passed away over Memorial Day weekend, we were reminded of this great Asbury Park story as related on Brucebase. It was March 27, 1971, when Bruce Springsteen and Friendly Enemies, his one-off band for the night, opened for the Allman Brothers Band at the Sunshine In. The Allmans-influenced Steel Mill had recently split, but Stevie Van Zandt insisted that they take this gig regardless. Duane Allman saying you've got "one cookin' band"? Not bad for a bunch of young misfits and freaks from New Jersey.

Bruce and Steve Van Zandt were major Allman Brothers fans and during February Bruce lobbied hard to be part of the show, despite the fact that Steel Mill had broken up and Bruce had not yet settled on a new band. Ultimately Bruce decided to utilize the extended clan of musicians he’d been jamming with at The Upstage during preceding weeks and this event is perhaps the ultimate example of Asbury Park performing legend.

The billing name Friendly Enemies was chosen during February. It was actually a week or two prior to this March 27 gig that the famous moniker Dr. Zoom & The Sonic Boom was conjured up, but it was too late to change the name on the promotional material and posters for the show. Indeed, much of the long-standing discrepancy about how many Dr. Zoom gigs were performed stems from the fact that some people count this night’s two shows as Dr. Zoom gigs, others don’t count them. The two shows on this night weren't billed under the name "Dr. Zoom," but they included all the elements of the two later Dr. Zoom shows in May, in fact they included more musicians and props than the either of the two later "official" Zoom shows.

Apparently, The Allman Brothers got a kick out of Bruce's combination of zany props and inspired music. Backstage between shows, Duane Allman gave some slide guitar tips to Steve Van Zandt and also played some impromptu slide on top of a soundboard tape listening session of Bruce’s early show that Tinker West was conducting. Allman was quoted as saying, "That's one cookin' band, man." Sadly this would turn out to be the only Sunshine In appearance for The Allman Brothers Band. Although tentatively booked for a November 1971 return engagement, the death of Duane Allman in a motorcycle crash on October 31 caused the group to cancel.

The Friendly Enemies (there's a future trivia answer for you) also included the freshly christened "Southside" Johnny Lyon, Garry Tallent, David Sancious, Vini Lopez, Albee Tellone, John 'Hotkeys' Waasdorp, Bobby Feigenbaum, Bobby Williams, and, on congas, Tinker West.

Tenor saxophonist Feigenbaum told Peter Ames Carlin in Bruce, "The Allmans were so cool. We were just local boys, but they were so welcoming. And Duane Allman was really into Steve's slide playing. I remember him saying that Steve was the best slide player in the country, except for him."

- May 31, 2017


Bruce settles his lawsuit with Mike Appel, sees Elvis'final Philly show and declines an invite to meet The King
Forty years ago today, Bruce Springsteen settled his now-famous lawsuit with former manager Mike Appel. A verbal agreement was reached at 3am on Saturday, May 28, 1977, followed by the formal signing of documents later that same day.

The lawsuit settlement formally severed all business ties between Appel and Springsteen. Appel retained a share of royalties from Bruce's first three albums (which he later sold back to Bruce), but Springsteen no longer was restrained from working with his producer of choice, Jon Landau. Work on Springsteen's fourth album finally could begin, and Bruce also acquired legal control over the production and publishing of all of his music. From then on, no decisions regarding Bruce Springsteen's career could ever be made without his ultimate approval.

After signing the settlement paperwork, Springsteen traveled to Philadelphia to meet his friends, legendary Philly DJ Ed Sciaky — an early/longtime fan and supporter — and Sciaky's wife Judy. That evening the trio attended Elvis Presley's final Philadelphia concert at the now-gone Spectrum arena. The local concert promoters even offered Springsteen, who by then was extremely popular in Philly, a chance to meet Presley backstage before the concert. Springsteen declined the invitation, much to Ed Sciaky's surprise. In his final Backstreets interview before his untimely death in 2004, Sciaky recalled thinking to himself, "I don't believe this... Elvis was his idol."

During a 1978 radio interview with Sciaky, Springsteen offered some insight on his turning down what probably was his only chance to meet The King: "I never liked, you know, going backstage and stuff. I just feel uncomfortable when that happens — I don't know why." Perhaps Bruce also knew instinctively that meeting Elvis Presley in 1977, only months away from his tragic death, would be quite a different experience than meeting Elvis in his prime. Springsteen also gave Sciaky a quick assessment of Elvis' Philly '77 performance: "That wasn't a good night. I saw him at Madison Square Garden [in 1972] and he was really great... on the '68 ["comeback" television] special, he was just the greatest." Yet last year Bruce told Rolling Stone, "I saw Elvis shortly before he died and I remember enjoying the show tremendously." (A low-fi audience recording of the performance is the best available audio from the evening. Click here to hear it.)

Over the years, a bit of an urban legend also has grown around this concert. The legend has it that in a late-1970s interview, Springsteen claimed that Steve Van Zandt joined him and the Sciakys in seeing Elvis' final Philadelphia show. Supposedly Bruce also stated the show was so depressing that afterwards he and Steve drove back to New Jersey without saying a word to each other. A thorough search of archived interviews in The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection, however, revealed no evidence of any such story related by Bruce or Stevie. We recently checked in with Judy Sciaky, too, who told us, "I was there with Ed and Bruce. Steve Van Zandt wasn't."

In a powerful coincidence, seeing Elvis Presley in concert was an experience that bookended Bruce Springsteen's professional relationship with Mike Appel. As Springsteen mentioned to Ed Sciaky during that '78 radio interview, he saw Elvis' Madison Square Garden debut back on June 9, 1972 with Appel, NJ-based musician Pat Karwan, and some other friends. It was the perfect way to celebrate Bruce's official signing to Columbia Records as a recording artist, which had occurred just a few hours earlier. Amazingly, the next time that Bruce Springsteen would see Elvis Presley in concert would be on the very same day that the Appel/Springsteen business relationship officially ended. Speaking to a group of journalists shortly after the lawsuit drama was over, Springsteen said, "In a way, Mike was as naïve as me. His idea was 'You be Elvis and I'll be the Colonel.' Except he wasn't the Colonel and I wasn't Elvis."
- May 27, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting - ticket stub courtesy of Liz Dobbins, as originally featured in Backstreets Magazine #80 - special thanks to Melanie Paggioli and The Bruce Springsteen Special Collection

"I'd like to bring out a friend of mine who's out of work...." Last night in Red Bank, Bruce Springsteen joined Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul on stage at the sold-out Count Basie Theatre for four songs: "It's Been a Long Time," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-out," "I Don't Want to Go Home," and a final encore of "Can I Get a Witness." It's not exactly virtual reality, but thanks to the videography efforts of Mitch Slater, jrovalino, and TheMagikRat, we can take you there without the headset:

- May 28, 2017


Don't have a ticket to tonight's sold-out Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul show at Red Bank, NJ's Count Basie Theatre? If you've got a compatible smartphone and the necessary VR gear, you can catch tonight's concert in virtual reality, truly the next best thing to being there. The VR broadcast will be available everywhere except China, free of charge. Click here for details.

And if you have Sirius/XM satellite radio, don’t forget that Stevie's own Underground Garage channel (channel 21) also will broadcast the show live, with sound mixed by Bob Clearmountain. The fun starts at 6pm ET, with a two-hour preshow hosted by Underground Garage DJs Rich Russo (the Jersey Guy), Handsome Dick Manitoba, and Palmyra Delran. The preshow will feature live interviews with special guests in the house, including Steve Van Zandt himself, as well as stories, folklore and a special music selection.
- May 27, 2017 - Shawn Poole reporting

Listen here to DJ Tom Cunningham's Soulfire interview with Little Steven

Between releasing Soulfire last week and headlining the Count Basie Theatre tomorrow night, Little Steven has had a number of interviews out there on the world wide web. Check out Brian Hiatt's conversation with him for Rolling Stone, and Steven Hyden's Q&A for Uproxx.

We'll add another one to the online mix thanks to Tom Cunningham, whose interview with Stevie aired Sunday on his Bruce Brunch radio program — listen above via Soundcloud. Taped in New York City in the midst of band rehearsal for tomorrow night's sold-out show, the interview has the pair talking about Stevie's Rutgers commencement address, being the "connective tissue" of the Jersey Shore sound, and, of course, the songs and stories behind Soulfire.

Thanks to Tom for the audio, which was recorded by Jason Greenberg, produced by Rich Russo, and edited by Gary Titus. The long-running Bruce Brunch airs Sunday mornings, from 9-11, on 105.7 The Hawk.
- May 26, 2017 - photograph by Tom Cunningham [NYC 5/17/17]


Earlier this week, an official live recording of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's 7/31/12 Helsinki show was sprung from the vaults. Photographer Rene van Diemen was at Olympiastadion that night, shooting for Backstreets; here are some more sights to go with the sounds of what is, to date, their longest show ever.

It's been a good year for gadgets. Perennial favorites like phones,TVs, and digicams rolled out with jaw-dropping new features. Advanced tech seeped into apparel and sporting goods — and even car dashboards got an upgrade. Just in time for the holidays, Wired's crack squad of geeks rounded up 129 of the latest, greatest gizmos on the planet. Your wish list is about to get a whole lot longer.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Contact wiredlabs@wired.com to report an issue.

Editors: Chris Baker, Robert Capps, Adam Rogers Art Director: Mark Wasyl Photographer: Craig Maxwell Photo Editor: Zana Woods Illustrator: UPSO Stylist: Micah Bishop/Artist Untied Photo Coordinators: Lee Decker, Amy Crilly Japan Correspondent: Brian Ashcraft Interns: John Feeney, James Lee, Ryan Sommer, Moriah Zagaglia

It's Time You Got the Big Picture

By Bob Parks

PHILIPS LCD TV Want the perfect aura for your home entertainment center? Get an Ambilight TV. Philips' latest flat screens come with a lighting array on the rear panel, which projects subtle radiance around your viewing area. The 42-inch, 1,366 x 768-resolution LCD is the most versatile for film buffs and gamers. Bonus: When the TV is off, you can set the Ambilight to Continuous Glow for a superlative bachelor-pad vibe. [ 42-inch Philips LCD FlatTV with Ambilight technology (42PF9996): $9,000, www.flattv.philips.com ]

ELECTRIC EYE Make sure you're catching the subtleties of Guiding Light. An electric eye on the front bezel of the TV measures the brightness of your room; an internal circuit recalibrates the intensity and color saturation of the image onscreen, accordingly. A bright room gets more light output and color to prevent a washed-out picture.

BACKLIGHT Your irises can't close or open fast enough when big shifts in brightness occur. That's why experts recommend a consistent dim background light, less than 10 percent of the TV's peak white output. This set provides that illumination level with six cold cathode fluorescent lamps that shine from the back of the TV onto your wall.

AMBIENT COLOR You see better contrast, colors, and detail when ambient light matches the dominant hues on the TV (for example, bright green for a soccer game, sunset yellow for a Western). You can adjust the color of the rear lights with Philips' remote, or tell it to select the ideal hue for you from thousands of shades.

HP DIGITAL PROJECTOR What's the cheapest way to get a bright, crisp 5-foot-wide high-definition picture? Pick up a digital projector. The compact ep7120 is a 12.5-pound, hi-def video pod with a DLP (digital light processing) chip for good contrast and crisp action. With 1,024 x 768 native resolution and a DVI plug interface, it's ready for all of your hi-def set-top boxes and disc players. And its squat, futuristic design – George Lucas meets Mayor McCheese – makes it easy to stow in a drawer when you're not showing it off. [ ep7120: $2,499, www.hp.com ]

CASIO WIRELESS TELEVISION The next frontier in TV soaps: a screen you can take with you in the jacuzzi. Casio's splash-proof XFER-1000 floats on water, runs for some two and a half hours on one lithium-ion battery charge, and receives signals from its tuner up to 100 feet away. The 10-inch screen has only enough resolution (640 x 480) for standard TV feeds, but the tuner can connect to DVD players and set-top boxes. [ XFER-1000: $1,399, www.dynamism.com ]

LG PLASMA TV South-of-the-border couch potatoes call it televisi�n grande, but in the States, spuds simply call it bling. LG's 71-inch gas plasma screen is one of the the largest flat-panel TVs in production and one of the few sharp enough to display ultrahi-res pictures without choppy interlacing. Although the 1,920 x 1,080 set doesn't have an internal TV tuner (you'll have to use your satellite or cable box), it boasts both kinds of digital ports – DVI and HDMI – for plugging in to copyright-protected sources. This 3-inch-thick titan is also a multitasker: It can handle nine picture-in-picture windows from video sources or your PC. [ MW-71PY10: $TBD, www.lgusa.com ]

ALIENWARE MEDIA PC/TV Alienware's 30-inch widescreen assumes the form of an everyday TV, but it's really a 3.4-GHz Pentium 4-driven monster trying to take over your living room. Sure, it boasts similar weight and depth – 42 pounds and 5.3 inches – as other flat tellies and even contains a broadcast tuner. But inside, this Alienware set is a Windows XP Media Center PC, so it can record shows on a 400-Gbyte hard drive, serve MP3 files, and network with your home computer. The ATI Radeon X800 graphics card and Dolby Digital sound system promote stellar PC gaming, too: Tony Hawk tourneys on the Alien's 1,280 x 768 screen are totally exhilarating. [ DHD-305: $7,955, www.alienware.com ]

EPSON TV WITH BUILT-IN PRINTER As silly as a TV with a built-in printer sounds, in practice it does more than document great moments in live television (hello, Janet Jackson!). The full-color, 300-dpi dye-sublimation system inside Epson's Livingstation makes this idiot box a super digital picture hub. The 57-inch rear-projection set has slots for all major memory cards, and simple menus to organize, print, and save snapshots with the TV's CD-R/RW drive. As a boobtube, Livingstation is no slouch: The high-definition (1,280 x 720) image is fed by a DVI connection and three liquid-crystal microdisplays for bright pics that are free of rainbow artifacts inherent in one-chip sets. [ Livingstation LS57P1: $3,699, www.epson.com ]

PANASONIC TV WITH ONBOARD DVD BURNER Believe it or not, you will fill your 140-hour TiVo hard drive. Permanently archive the shows you record with Panasonic's 27-inch CRT. Its built-in DVD recorder works like a typical DVR. The unit has a memory buffer and laser capable of hopscotching across the disc, letting you rewind scenes, pause live TV, or jump to the beginning of a show while recording, as long as you're using a DVD-RAM disc. You won't get this TiVo-like flexibility with plain ol' DVD-Rs, but the TV can record to those as well. It's the no-fuss way to grab those goofy Matt LeBlanc moments – and keep them for years after the cancellation of Joey. [ PV-27DR84: $800, www.panasonic.com ]

Let's Get This Show on the Road

By Brian Lam and Lucas Graves

CREATIVE PORTABLE MEDIA PLAYER Despite the new iPod Photo, Apple insists "portable" and "video" don't go together. But Microsoft says they do, and many big gadget makers like Samsung have signed on to build portable Media Centers that work with Microsoft's Media Center PCs. This PMC is cute and almost pocketable at 5.6 x 3.1 x 1 inches with a 320 x 240 resolution, 3.8-inch screen. And it offers twice the battery life of a laptop: Yep, expect seven hours of video viewing time. Syncing software makes it easy to grab movies and TV shows from your PC without having to mess with buggy DVD-pirating software and virus-laden peer-to-peer services. [ Zen Portable Media Center: $500, www.creativelabs.com ]

RECORD Want to watch tonight's episode of Battlestar Galactica tomorrow morning on the train? Record the show on your PC using a tuner card and DVR software like Microsoft's Media Center OS or SnapStream's Beyond TV. Video (plus music and picture files) can be easily transferred to the Zen's 20-Gbyte hard drive through a USB 2.0 connection; moving an hour of video takes about a minute and a half.

DOWNLOAD Getting copy-protected DVDs onto a portable video player is still a chore. You can rip them with an app like EasyDiVX, but you'll continually need to find new apps as disc security changes. Portable Media Centers can play films from movies-on-demand services like CinemaNow or downloaded video using P2P software like Kazaa or BitTorrent. Windows Media Player translates a variety of formats, including MPEG, ASF, AVI, DiVX, and AVI.

NAVIGATE The Zen PMC can hold 85 hours of video or 9,000 MP3s. How do you keep it all straight? The Zen's menu system is brilliantly simple. Four buttons along the top can be programmed to link to your favorite song, photo album, or film. And if you do get lost, hitting the green Windows button will bring you back home every time.

AMA TECHNOLOGIES PORTABLE MEDIA PLAYER Lest you think the striking similarity to Apple's iPod is an accident, AMA Technologies even calls this baby the DVX-POD. The gorgeous portable media player smacks down all the other PMPs on the market with its 7-inch LTPS (low-temperature polysilicon) screen, which lets you view your favorite movie files at DVD-quality 720 x 480 resolution. But this portable media player is more than just a pretty display. The 20-gig drive can play video, music, and images and even suck shows straight from TV or DVD with on-the-fly MPEG-4 encoding, and all without benefit of Microsoft's media-optimized operating system. [ DVX-POD 7010: $599, www.amatechnologies.com ]

V INC. UPSCALING DVD PLAYER Sure, you can buy a 27-inch HDTV for less than a grand. But until all your DVDs come in HD, you need an upscanner to transform lo-res flicks into brilliant 720-progressive or 1,080-interlaced hi-def video, eking every last bit of detail possible from aging signals. This DVD player upscans your DVDs and DiVX files, resulting in a pixel-perfect match between your video source and the native resolution of your flat screen. [ Bravo D2: $249, www.vinc.com ]

ACESONIC DVD RIPPER It's totally illegal (shhhhh, don't tell the MPAA!), but totally cool. The K-Box lets you run a geek film festival – every Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Matrix movie ever – without swapping a disc. Just load each DVD and hit the Rip button. Within minutes, all scenes, subtitles, special features, and menus are decrypted and copied to a 120-Gbyte hard drive that holds at least 12 feature-length movies at full resolution. It's also an all-region player, so you can play DVDs from around the globe. [ K-Box: $800, www.acekaraoke.com ]

MATTEL MEDIA PLAYER FOR KIDS The pocket-size Juice Box dishes up hours of brat-distracting video for less than the cost of a fancy set of Legos. Why so cheap? It displays only shows and movies prerecorded in Mattel's proprietary video format, on Juiceware media cards that sell for $10 to $25. In addition to cartoons like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, kids can watch music vids, extreme sports, and wrestling. It can also handle digital photos or MP3 audio with assistance from an SD/MMC card adapter and USB reader (sold separately). Who knows, maybe your pint-size programmer will hack it to play a bootleg of Lemony Snicket. [ Juice Box: $70, www.juicebox.com ]

SAMSUNG PORTABLE DVD PLAYER You may be stuck sitting in economy, but you can watch your favorite flicks in first-class with this portable DVD player. At only an inch thick, it stows easily in your carry-on bag, and the spacious 12-inch LCD offers the same native 480-pixel resolution as DVD video. The impressive 4.5-hour battery life will get you through your movie, the director's commentary, and all the bonus features. If you're traveling with friends, triple headphone jacks and a 160-degree viewing angle mean enough movie for you, the aisle, and the window. [ DVDL1200 II: $1,200 www.samsung.com ]

PIONEER DVD TURNTABLE Tired: spinning CDs and LPs. Wired: mixing, scratching, and looping DVDs. The DVJ's giant jog dial reacts to your fingertips just like a slab of vinyl. Press on it, and the video pauses; rotate it forward or back, and the audio and video will do the same. A pitch controller next to the dial adjusts your film's speed – up to 100 percent faster or slower – so your transitions between the Bj�rk and White Stripes clips will never be offbeat (at least musically). [ DVJ-X1 DVD Turntable: $3,999, www.pioneerprodj.com ]

Do You Hear That? That's the Sound of Connectivity

By Ryan Sommer and Fred Kaplan

SONOS MUSIC SYSTEM Digital music should be like the Matrix: You can jack in whenever you want. The Sonos Digital Music System delivers, piping tunes around your pad, without special wiring or remodeling. Just place up to 32 ZonePlayers throughout your place and hook a pair of speakers to each – the 10.2 x 7.2 x 4.4-inch boxes will establish a wireless mesh network for distributing, playing, and amplifying digital tracks. Whoa. [ Digital Music System: ZP100 ZonePlayer, $499 each; CR100 Controller, $399; two ZP100s and a CR100 bundled, $1,199; www.sonos.com ]

DIGITAL MUSIC ZonePlayers handle MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, and Internet radio files. You'll need to connect the first ZonePlayer to the computer or hard drive where your music is stored. The system works with Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, or a network-attached storage drive. (It also has inputs for connecting an iPod or CD player.)

CONNECTIONS The proprietary 54-Mbps wireless mesh network lets you either treat each room as an autonomous zone or group them. With the remote, you can route different songs to different rooms or sync up the same song on multiple players and have it play in perfect harmony throughout the house.

REMOTE The CR100 Controller has a 3.5-inch backlit color LCD and a scroll-wheel for navigation. Use it to browse even the largest of libraries quickly and see what's playing in each room. Also, access libraries from up to 16 PCs or Macs. Very easy (think: iPod), very light (12 ounces). Very cool.

SOUND QUALITY Inside each ZonePlayer is a 50-watt-per-channel stereo amplifier. Unlike most computermakers delving into audio, Sonos has paid close attention to the amp's circuitry for cleaner, clearer audio. It also features a subwoofer-out jack for getting a little bass in your place.

PIONEER MULTIMEDIA READER Quit worrying about your media archive's mishmash of file formats. This streamlined machine handles CD, SACD, CD-R/RW, MP3, WMA, JPEG, DVD, DVD-A, and DVD-R/RW. This alphabet soup means it can read nearly any digital audio and video disc you encounter. Plus, it has high-performance features including progressive scan and a 12-bit/108-MHz digital-to-analog converter for video, and a 24-bit/192-kHz converter plus Dolby Digital, Virtual Dolby Digital Surround, and DTS decoding for audio. [ DV-578A: $199, www.pioneerelectronics.com ]

MAPLESHADE ANTI-DISTORTION DEVICES All audio components subtly rattle as electrical current fluctuates inside. The result is that the musical signal is distorted as it passes through the circuitry. Place Mapleshade's heavy brass footers under your components and internal vibrations stop dead. Result: tighter bass, snappier snare, crisper cymbals. Place a HeavyHat Vibe Killer on top and sound tightens further. [ Ultimate Triple Point Footers: three for $110; HeavyHat Vibe Killer: $9; www.mapleshaderecords.com ]

SOLID ACOUSTICS MINI SPEAKERS Eliminate annoying dead spots in your media room with these 6.5-inch-tall aluminum dodecahedrons. Each has – you guessed it – a dozen speakers that together pump out 360 degrees of sound. They're particularly good for oddly shaped rooms because the omnidirectional audio reaches into every nook and cranny. And since the sound isn't concentrated in any one direction, you can place one right next to your easy chair and not worry about getting blown out of your seat. Solid! [ SA-3551: $290 each, www.solidacoustics.com ]

THE GREAT DEBATE: VINYL VS. CD Among great technological squabbles, vinyl versus compact disc has almost the same cachet as PC versus Mac. The superiority of one over the other is a matter of preference, but there are differences. Fundamentally, audio reproduction is about physics, and optical, binary CDs diverge pretty far from analog LPs. For each vinyl purist's argument, there is a digital rebel's rebuttal. Here's the basic science. – David Goldenberg

VINYL: The irregular, analog grooves of an LP produce a smooth, continuous sound wave. To make a record, a microphone's diaphragm transduces sound into back-and-forth motions that are encoded as grooves in a vinyl platter. As a needle plows through the groove, its movements are converted into analog electrical impulses that drive a speaker, producing sound. Those smooth, continuous vibrations yield sleek sound waves. But as the needle traces the groove, dust and other debris can get in the way, degrading the sound. And over time, the needle wears out the record, slathering the music in a layer of noise.

CD: Tiny pores of a CD represent minuscule increments of sound. Going digital means converting a continuous sound wave into a string of 1s and 0s. This is done by measuring, or sampling, the audio signal thousands of times per second; when played back at the same rate, the samples reconstitute the original sound. For CDs, that rate is too slow to capture subtle nuances, critics say. The new DVD-A and SACD formats pack in much more information per second of audio. Nonetheless, vinylheads claim that chopping audio into pieces, no matter how small, corrupts the music.

Don't believe vinyl still rocks? Get this gear and hear what you've been missing.

VPI INDUSTRIES TURNTABLE VPI Industries has been making nothing but turntables for 26 years (well, it also makes tonearms and record-cleaning machines, but you get the drift). Its venerable midpriced Aries Scout is equipped with an acrylic platter, a steel chassis, Teflon-and-brass bearings, and a low-friction tonearm. It's a handsome companion to any vinyl collection. [ Aries Scout: $1,600, www.vpiindustries.com ]

PRO-JECT AUDIO PHONO AMPLIFIER Many amps in this CD age don't accommodate vinyl – to save costs, the manufacturers don't include a phono stage, which is necessary to process the signal from a turntable. Get around this problem with the Pro-Ject Audio Systems Tube Box. Its dual vacuum tubes give your records even fuller acoustics. Just connect it between the turntable and the amp, and your grooves will receive an additional jolt of warmth. [ Tube Box: $549, www.project-audio.com ]

ACOUSTIC SOUNDS REISSUED LPS Once you start playing records again, you'll want to test vinyl's limits. Acoustic Sounds is reissuing classic rock and jazz albums – most recently by Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and Creedence Clearwater Revival – on thick LPs to be played back at 45 rpm (instead of the now-standard 331/3). The grooves are wider, thus easier for the stylus to track. You hear more detail in every note. Think of 45 rpm as superanalog. [ 45-rpm double LPs: $50 each, www.acousticsounds.com ]

NIKE PHILIPS SPORT MP3 PLAYER Lots of portable audio devices are designed for use while exercising. But the MP3 Run actually cares about your workout. Its shoe-mounted pedometer measures time, distance, and pace, then feeds the information via Bluetooth to the arm-mounted 256-Mbyte player. This main unit not only tracks your speed and mileage but also provides progress updates. It can be programmed to lower the music volume periodically so you can hear a gentle voice say things like, "You've run 4 miles at 8 miles per hour." The shoe sensor is smart enough to alter its measurement calculations when you change your stride, and the performance information can be uploaded to a PC to track your progress. [ MP3 Run: $299, www.nike-philips.com ]

D CUBE MP3 PLAYER Rip. Mix. Scramble. The smooth Collo MP3 and FM transmitter stands out in a sea of square players. Holding 256 megs of data, this multitasking egg also has a 1.1-inch color screen that can display digipics in 4,096 colors. Users hook the Collo to a PC or Mac to grab music and image files, then they can admire pics of cute Shibuya girls while listening to J-pop. A built-in lithium ion battery juices the hardboiled gadget for up to 16 hours, plenty for marathon sing-alongs or overseas flights. [ Collo NMP-40E: $145, http://cs.m-infotec.co.jp/nextway/40/ ]

IBOOM BOOM BOX The iBoom gives new meaning to the term convergence. Just drop in six D batteries and plug in your 'Pod (third gen, fourth gen, or mini), and your personal soundtrack becomes a lot less personal. At a bit more than 6 pounds, the unit can be lugged between barbecues and break-dance battles by its pop-up handle. If your crew isn't down with your selections, there's a digital FM tuner too, and, if you happen to be near a power outlet, you can recharge the iPod while the eggheads pontificate over NPR. [ iBoom: $150, www.everythingipod.com ]

30 under $30

By Joel Johnson and James Lee

GLOFISH ZEBRA FISH: $5.00 These genetically modified zebra fish suck up light during the day and release it as fluorescence at night. Note to law abiders: They're contraband in California. [ GloFish: www.glofish.com ]

PEDESTRIAN EAR-MOUNTED TURN SIGNALS: $5.95 Push a handheld button to warn fellow walkers of your right or left leanings. [ Pedestrian Turn Signals: www.wonderfullywacky.com ]

SANRIO DESK VAC: $9.50 Add cuteness to your cubicle with an AA-powered minivac that sucks crud and eraser chaff into a removable tray. [ Hello Kitty Desktop Cleaner: www.jlist.com ]

GRAVIS PADDED CARRYING CASES: $10.00 – 20.00 Protect not-so-rugged gadgets with flexible faux-leather cases lined with egg-crate foam. Three sizes available. [ Gravis Cell Blocks: www.burton.com ]

CELLULAR BLING: $10.00 – 20.00 If the vibration mode on your phone is too distracting, check out the LEDs on this pen and bracelet – they flash whenever they detect the radio waves of an incoming call. [ Pen, Bracelet: www.cellularjewelry.com ]

KINGWIN CATHODE KIT: $12.95 Pimp out your PC (or any device) with a 12-inch fluorescent blue light. No hacking expertise needed; installation is a breeze. [ Thunder Liquid Style Lighting Cold Cathode Tube: www.axiontech.com ]

SHANG HAI 3 XMAS TREE: $12.95 Celebrate the season with a festively lit USB "fir" downsized for PC, Mac, and PS2. Also available: USB Star of David. [ USB-Powered Mini Xmas Tree: www.welovemacs.com ]

ENERGIZER FLASHLIGHT: $12.99 Use whatever you have on hand – two AAs, two Cs, or two Ds. This torch runs at the same brightness level regardless of battery type. [ Quick Switch: www.energizer.com ]

ARTEMIA HATCHERY: $14.95 Kids: Grow your own fish food, er, sea monkeys! No coupons from comic-book ads required. [ Shrimp Hatchery: www.brineshrimpdirect.com ]

DISCOVERY MONEY JAR: $14.95 Cha-ching! The 1-liter plastic jar's electronic lid keeps a running tabulation of the change you've dropped inside. [ Amazing Money Jar: shopping.discovery.com ]

BANDAI VIRTUAL PET: $14.99 The pixel pet that started it all is back. The new Tamagotchis communicate (and mate) with one another via infrared beams. [ Tamagotchi Connection: www.virtualpet.com ]

LEGO PICKER-UPPER: $14.99 Trick kids into cleaning up after themselves: When they pull this toy croc along the floor, it chomps up Duplo and Lego bricks, storing them in its belly. [ Block-O-Dile: www.lego.com ]

BRANDO PDA/CELL PHONE CAMERA LENSES: $18.00 Give gizmo pics new focus with six lenses (telephoto, macro, kaleidoscope, et cetera). [ PDA/Cell Phone Camera Lens Combo Set: shop.brando.com.hk ]

SILICONE ZONE GARLIC PEELER: $18.95 Drop in a few cloves of stinkin' rose, roll on a hard surface, and flip the peeler inside out. Your garlic is good to go. [ Garlic Peeler: www.siliconezoneusa.com ]

ADDLOGIX CAR-READY USB/FIREWIRE RECHARGER: $18.99 Taking a horde of gadgets on your next road trip? Plug the Firepod into the car's cigarette lighter to keep them juiced up. [ Firepod: www.addlogix.com ]

OXO CAN OPENER: $19.99 OXO's opener cuts below the lip edge of cans, eliminating those jagged edges that love to slice open your fingers. [ Smooth Edge Can Opener: www.oxo.com ]

D-SKIN DISC COVERS: $20.00 Practice safe media consumption! These CD and DVD condoms snap onto your discs to protect against scratches. You can even leave them on during playback. [ D-Skin 20-pack: www.d-skin.com ]

PHILIPS PACIFIER AND DIGITAL THERMOMETER: $20.00 Keep your sick baby from squealing while you take his temperature. [ Baby Care Pacifier Thermometer: www.babycare.philips.com ]

PAK-LITE LED FLASHLIGHT: $23.99 It's the ultimate no-frills flashlight: an ultracompact beacon that snaps onto 9-volt batteries and shines for up to 1,200 hours. [ LED Flashlight: www.9voltlight.com ]

PRINCESS CAN COOLER: $24.49 This contraption connects to a car's cig lighter to cool soda cans to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or warm coffee cups to 140. [ Auto Can Cooler/Warmer PI177: www.ekitchengadgets.com ]

GLOBUS GREENHOUSE: $24.95 No sunlight? No water? No problem! Drop some peat and sunflower or melon seeds into a nutritive gel and get sprouts. [ Planetarium Greenhouse: www.x-tremegeek.com ]

ELECTRONIC MAD LIBS: $24.95 _______ (interjection)! _______(verb) pencil and paper, this device lets you type and save your ________(adjective) Mad Libs. [ Electronic Mad Libs: www.excaliburelectronics.net ]

GENESIS JOYPAD: $24.99 This controller plugs directly into your TV to play a half dozen Sega classics, including Sonic 2 and Ecco. [ Arcade Legends Sega Controller: www.radicagames.com ]

MOBILE EDGE KEY CHAIN WI-FI SNIFFER: $24.99 Press the button to hunt down 802.11b/g hot spots within 300 feet. [ Wi-Fi Signal Locator: www.meritline.com ]

ROCKET USA "BENDER": $24.99 An 8.5-inch-tall wind-up of Futurama's bot comes with movable arms, a changeable expression, and a bottle of hooch. [ Bender Windup Robot: www.universalfun.com ]

FELIWAY DOG AROMATHERAPY: $29.95 Plug it in to calm pooches by releasing a scent similar to the pheromone given off by bitches just after birth. [ Pheromone Plug-In: www.feliway.com ]

GRUNDIG SHORTWAVE RADIO: $29.99 Screw XM and Sirius with their exorbitant subscription fees. This radio picks up free signals from around the globe. [ Mini 100PE, www.cambridgeworld.com ]

MOTOROLA WALKIE-TALKIES: $29.99 This pair of entry-level two-way radios keeps users in touch within a 2-mile range. (Warning: FCC license required.) [ Talkabouts T4500: www.hellomoto.com ]

KENSINGTON LAPTOP LOCK: $29.99 No more tangles, no more tears: The 4-foot cable tucks neatly inside. [ Microsaver Retractable Lock, www.kensington.com ]

CRKT POCKET KNIFE: $29.99 As compact as it is handy, this 2.7-inch stainless steel blade weighs less than an ounce. Just remember to take it off your key ring before a plane trip. [ Delilah's P.E.C.K.: www.crkt.com ]

Speed Between the Lines

By Xeni Jardin

COMMUTER CARS ELECTRIC TWO-SEATER The Tango is the ideal personal transporter for the Age of Gridlock – or at least an escape pod for your Escalade. Inspired by a particularly nasty LA driving experience, the designers at Commuter Cars made this mini-mini small enough to park head-in at curbside; four of the little buggers can snuggle up to one another in a single parallel space. Yet even on battery power the Tango is speedy, knocking off a quarter mile in under 12 seconds. Plug it into an outlet at night and in the morning it will be full-up with 80 miles of commute-shredding juice. [ Tango: $18,700-85,000, www.commutercars.com ]

SIZE At just 39 inches wide – narrower than many motorcycles – and 8� feet long, the tandem two-seater allows you to legally lane-split in traffic. A low, heavy center of gravity keeps it from tipping over.

INTERIOR Two seats (one behind the other) leave room for a few bags of groceries. It has enough headroom – 39 inches – for people taller than 6 feet, and the rear seat pops out for cargo hauling.

MOTORS Powered by twin DC FB1-4001 9-inch motors, one for each rear wheel, the Tango delivers more than 1,000 feet per pound of combined torque at low tachs. Top speed: 150 mph. Redline: 8,000 rpm.

FRAME The Tango's racetrack-strength steel rollcage is built to protect its cargo – that's you (and possibly the 99 other clowns stuffed in with you). Rated to handle a 200-mph crash.

VOLVO MIRROR Digicams mounted on the sideview mirrors are the heart of Volvo's Blind Spot Information System, which flashes a light nearby when some tailgater tries to draft off your stern. The camera clicks 25 pics a second, and software calculates the speed of other vehicles. The system doesn't work well in fog or snow, or when you're driving a lot faster than the cars around you. But hey, that shouldn't be a problem – you're in a Volvo. [ Blind Spot Information System: $700, www.volvocars.com ]

ARKON LAPTOP HOLDER If your pet peeve is the growing number of distracted drivers clutching cell phones, you should probably skip this steering wheel-mounted laptop holder. The maker swears it's to be used only while parked. The rack'll hold notebooks that weigh up to 10 pounds (plus a ballpoint pen), and it folds up for storage. Imagine: traffic jams full of zombie motorists, all guilty of DWT – driving while typing. [ Laptop Holder: $50, www.arkon.com ]

BELKIN IPOD HOLDER Belkin makes lots of car accessories for MP3 players, iPod or otherwise. The TuneDok is a smart, cheap alternative to rewiring your trunk. It fits in your car's cup holder and cradles your player in position for easy access. Flexible hinges let you adjust height and angle, and multiple cup sizes fit all needs. [ TuneDok: $30, catalog.belkin.com ]

MIB USB DRIVE Think of the FMP3 as a bridge between your PC and your car stereo. It's a mini FM transmitter like the ones you can plug into some MP3 players, but with a cigarette lighter adapter on one end. The other end is a USB port. So if you dump digital music files into a USB keychain drive, you can dock it into this gadget and beam the tunes to the car stereo. No more complaining about how radio sucks. [ FMP3 Thumbdrive: about $115, www.mib.co.jp ]

MOTOROLA BLUETOOTH KIT Motorola's new voice-operated car set will automatically transfer in-progress phone calls from your mobile phone to your landline when you pull into your driveway, or vice versa when you step inside your vehicle. And the system senses any phone paired with the device, connecting automatically when the phone is in the vehicle. It is, in short, a pretty smooth operator. [ IHF1000: $300, www.motorola.com ]

FOSGATE DASHBOARD Rockford usually builds stereo gear bearing other companies' logos. This year, Fosgate, a Rockford subsidiary, is flying under its own name. It has a massive car amplifier, a subwoofer with configurable parts and materials, and a 20-Gbyte digital media player that connects wirelessly with your computer (when in range) to update its playlist. Get your car ready to go boom. [ T30001bd Car Audio Amplifier: $1,799; Storm Modular Subwoofers: $625-925; DMP1 Digital Media Player: $349, www.rockfordfosgate.com ]

ALPINE TUNER UPGRADE Combined with compatible Alpine head units – the part of the car stereo that's in the dashboard – this bit of trunk-bound hardware does everything that the iPod interface in BMWs does, only better and without your having to buy a BMW. The iPod sits out of the way in, say, your glove box. You get titles and artists on the dash. [ KCA-420i: $100, www.alpine-usa.com ]

DELPHI XM TIVO If you've ever listened to XM Satellite radio in a car, odds are you've done so with Delphi's SKYFi device. The new version packs a slew of fresh features, including pause and replay. The unit also displays stock tickers and sports scores, and allows you to pick tracks by song or artist name. But SKYFi seals the deal with its 30 Minute Replay, which'll save the stream of whatever XM programming you fancy. That rocks. [ SKYFi2: $130, www.XMradio.com ]

SCOSCHE SPINNER GRILLE Car stereo not quite badass enough? Maybe it's your subwoofers. Give them some instant street cred with spinning rims usually confined to customized SUV wheels. The 12-volt system that whirls these babies is powered by the woofer, and the blingification units come in 10- or 12-inch models that attach via a metal mounting ring. Boot up the stereo and the Spinner Grille starts spinning. These will make you cool. No, seriously. [ Spinner Grille: $30, www.scosche.com ]

ROAD SAFETY TEEN BLACK BOX This black box beeps to warn drivers when they're speeding, performing Nascar maneuvers, going seatbeltless, or engaging in other commonly observed teenager behaviors. And if you suspect the little devils of ignoring the claxon, the "bad" driving data gets recorded and saved, waiting for download to a Windows-based computer. Upcoming options include GPS, so when your "teen" claims they were finishing homework at the library (or working late at the office) you can make sure that doesn't mean Inspiration Point. [ RS-1000 Teen On-Board Computer System: $280, www.roadsafety.com ]

TRIMTRAC SECURITY TAG Think of it as LoJack on the down-low. The anti-theft device uses a GPS receiver to pinpoint your car's location every 15 minutes, then sends that data to a Web-based surveillance network through a tri-band GSM modem. It's small enough to track other stuff, too – golf gear, a Segway scooter, a suitcase, or anything else you're concerned about. And it'll run for 90 days on four AA batteries. [ Trimtrac: $160, Internet site subscription fee $6-8 monthly, www.trimble.com/trimtrac.html ]

Do I Have to Spell It Out for You?

By Cathy Lu

BLACKBERRY SMARTPHONE Don't let its sleek new look fool you – the 7100t is a lot like the BlackBerry you've come to know and love, only better. On the inside, the phone-meets-PDA still provides constant access to the email, calendar, to-do lists, and contacts on your desktop PC. On the outside, the device finally resembles the smart, professional handset it is; the streamlined case includes a retooled keyboard and a 2.3-inch high-resolution screen. Good-bye,hockey puck. Hello, gorgeous. [ 7100t: $300, www.blackberry.com ]

HYBRID KEYBOARD The 7100t's condensed QWERTY format assigns just one or two letters to 14 of its keys. It's much easier to use than a cell phone's numeric keypad: Here you tap twice to get an "S," rather than hitting "7" four times to get the same letter.

PREDICTIVE TEXTING RIM's proprietary text-input system further simplifies typing. Start spelling out a word, and the phone intuitively fills in what it thinks you're trying to say. It even learns your favorite words and the names in your address book.

BLUETOOTH, IM & SPEAKERPHONE The 7100t is the first BlackBerry to have Bluetooth support for wireless headset use, the first to include instant messaging, with AOL, ICQ and Yahoo! Messenger clients all onboard, and the first to offer a built-in speakerphone.

SCROLL WHEEL If you're already used to another BlackBerry device, this should be a snap: It features the same intuitive navigation system. The phone interface displays all of your menu icons, and the wheel lets you scroll through menu items and select them.

EMAIL PLUS You get an email address and the ability to set up 10 additional POP3, IMAP, or corporate email accounts. And the 7100t pushes email to your phone as it arrives – no more checking for that important message every five minutes.

CASIO 3-MEGAPIXEL PHONE The world's first 3-megapixel phonecam has arrived in Japan, compliments of Casio, and all Americans can do is drool. Granted, the 2.3-inch display and 240 x 320 resolution can't do justice to the high-res images, which are comparable to those of a consumer-grade digicam. Luckily, the phone has an onboard USB port for transferring shots to a PC for viewing. So be grateful that for now this gadget is available strictly overseas, because it makes those embarrassing karaoke pics (say chi-zu!) hi-res enough for desktop wallpaper. [ A5406CA, $230, www.casio.co.jp ]

LG ELECTRONICS PHONE You snapped that juicy paparazzi shot in a millisecond. Do you really want to stand around for three minutes while you send it to Gawker.com? LG's VX8000 clamshell phone sports a 1.3-megapixel camera that captures 15-second video clips at 176 x 144 resolution at speeds of up to 2.4 megabits per second. Even more appealing is its compatibility with the high-speed CDMA-based EV-DO network. Other perks: a speakerphone, T9 predictive text input, and a 262,000-color 176 x 220 TFT display. Wait – is that Mary-Kate? [ VX8000: $TBD, www.lge.com ]

NOKIA PHOTO ALBUM Now that you've filled your phonecam with useless party, picnic, and baby shower photos, what do you do next? Torture your friends and family, of course. But instead of making everyone gather around your cell's 2-inch screen, transfer files to the Nokia Image Album and view them on a TV. Simply connect via Bluetooth, infrared, or USB (or plug in your phone's MMC or SD memory card) to start the show. The album holds 20 gigs of picture, video, and message files, which you can organize, edit (with brightness, sharpness, contrast, and red-eye controls), and move to a PC. [ Image Album: $399, www.nokia.com ]

PALMONE TREO 650 SMARTPHONE The Treo 600 beat the snot out of other smartphones last year. Not only did it combine the powerful Palm OS with a one-handed QWERTY keyboard, but it crammed them both into a handset you weren't embarrassed to be seen holding. The new Treo 650 makes a great product even better. It has double the screen resolution of the 600 and a more efficient button layout, including Send and End, that makes it feel even more like a traditional cell. The 650 also features Bluetooth for headset-pairing and wireless syncing, a removable battery, and video capture. Attention, Treo competitors: Try harder. [ Treo 650: about $500, www.palmone.com ]

SIEMENS WINDOWS MOBILE SMARTPHONE Until now, people who prefer Pocket PC to the Palm OS have had to do without well-integrated keyboards. Siemens finally puts an end to typing envy among Windows Mobile junkies. The SX66 features a QWERTY keyboard that slides out when you need it and has more connections than the mayor of Vegas. We're talking four GSM frequencies, Wi-Fi, infrared, Bluetooth, and USB. Plus, it has an MMC slot and 128 Mbytes of RAM – enough to store documents, a dozen MP3s, and scores of cell phone numbers. [ SX66: $600, www.siemens.com ]

MOTOROLA ULTRASLIM HANDSET Look cooler than James Bond wielding a shaken-not-stirred martini by whipping out the Motorola RAZR V3 at a party. The clamshell phone is just a half-inch thick when closed, so it won't bulge in your pocket. Adding to its suave demeanor is a keypad with numbers chemically etched into a single sheet of nickel-plated copper alloy to take the place of protruding buttons. The extras would make Q proud: a gorgeous 176 x 220-pixel screen, a VGA camera, a speakerphone, and Bluetooth. Tuxedo and Beretta not included. [ RAZR V3: about $500, www.motorola.com ]

ALIPH NOISE-REDUCING HEADSET Background noise is the bane of any cell phone conversation. But thanks to military-grade audio technology, the Jawbone headset drastically reduces the sound of traffic, wind, and the loudmouth at the next table. The brushed stainless steel headset – shaped by renowned industrial designer Yves B�har – features a sensor that uses the vibrations of your cheek to detect when you're talking plus microphones in the headset that capture ambient sound. The Jawbone combines the data to subtract background noise from your banter. You'll never again have to utter "Huh?," "What?," or "Lemme go someplace quieter and call you back." [ Jawbone: $150, www.jawbone.com ]

JABRA WIRELESS SPEAKERPHONE It's hard to pick up cuties at a traffic light when you've got a Borg headset stuck to your ear. Not to worry, there's an alternative that keeps both of your hands on the wheel and your cool mien intact. The Jabra SP100 wireless speakerphone connects to your cell phone via Bluetooth and contains a 2-watt speaker, so you can hide it in your pocket or clip it to your sun visor. The SP100 features a pivoting microphone, a Mute button, and volume control. [ Jabra SP100: $150, www.jabra.com ]

SONY ERICSSON HANDS-FREE NETWORK Think of it as your family's very own automotive switchboard. Five people can use the Sony Ericsson HCB 300 simultaneously to take and place hands-free calls in the car. You'll want to get the device installed professionally in your vehicle, but once that's done, it stores up to five phones in its memory, so you can connect any one of them without having to punch in a profile. A spiffy color-coding system lets you know whose handheld is active at any given time. [ HCB 300: $200, www.sonyericsson.com ]

Ready-to-Ware That Rocks

By Stuart Luman

OAKLEY MP3 SUNGLASSES What do you get when you pour a digital music player into a pair of designer shades? Oakley's Thump. Load up to 256 megs of MP3, WMA, or WAV files and slip on the sunglasses. Volume control (0 to 105 decibels) is on the left ear stem, playback on the right. The built-in earbuds can be easily removed if you need to hear the outside world, and the lenses flip up, so you can keep jamming after dark. [ Thump: $495, www.oakley.com ]

SCOTT SOLAR RECHARGING JACKET Now you can take your cell phone and Wi-Fi PDA into the wilderness without losing juice. The SCOTTeVEST features flexible, removable solar panels on the back that rev up an internal 5-volt battery. This cigarette pack-sized power cell then recharges your gadgets through a USB connection (some devices may require an adapter). The jacket is surprisingly light at 3 pounds, though you'll quickly weigh it down with all the toys you can tote in its 30 pockets. SCOTTeVEST's well-placed holes and cables let you discreetly daisy-chain gear through the inner lining, where they'll stay connected while you roam. [ Solar SCOTTeVEST: $425, www.scottevest.com ]

THINK THE EARTH ROTATING WRISTWATCH What's the meaning of life? Here's a watch to help you meditate on our little blue speck. This 1/580 millionth-scale globe spins counterclockwise, making a full revolution every 24 hours. As it rotates, the marks etched on the surrounding titanium bezel indicate the hour at any given location; the minute hand orbits the sphere once every 60 minutes. All you have to do is pinpoint your location. And don't worry if you veer off the green part into the blue – the watch is water-resistant to 100 meters. [ wn-1: $675, www.thinktheearth.net ]

Take Your Best Shot in the Dark

By Marty Katz

SONY 7-MEGAPIXEL DIGICAM Sony engineers are often more focused on form than on function. But this high-performance, highly affordable camera veers off their style-centric path. The V3 is a bit clunky and chunky (12.6 ounces and barely pocketable at 4.7 x 2.5 x 2.8 inches), yet it produces massive uncompressed 20-Mbyte TIF files for big, sharp prints. And despite its 18 buttons and wheels, a fat retro knob, and a profusion of menu options, the controls are highly intuitive. [ Cyber-shot DSC-V3: $700, www.sony.com ]

NIGHT VISION Nightshot mode uses an infrared beam to shoot pics or movies in total darkness, yielding a slightly greenish monochrome image. Even objects in a blacked-out room are visible onscreen if they're close enough to the IR beam.

LENS OPTIONS Unlike many compacts, V3's lens barrel is threaded, letting you screw on wide angle or telephoto conversion lenses, or a flare-blocking lens hood. Add the Lens Adapter ($30), and you can even resurrect some of your old film-cam filters.

AUTOFOCUS ASSISTANT The V3 projects a laser pattern across your field of view, precisely measuring the contrast between your subject and the background, helping you zero in on subjects in low – or no – light.

ZOOM The 4X lens zooms a bit longer than many pocket cams. A variable f2.8-4.0 aperture, it's fast enough to render dimly lit scenes clearly and attractively.

MEMORY CARD Sony cams used to accept only its own proprietary Memory Stick. Its new models include a slot for the more common – and less costly – CompactFlash cards.

PENTAX COMPACT DIGICAM The black, leather-grained face evokes the vintage SLRs that David Hemmings used to shoot fashion models in the 1966 movie Blow-Up. But the Pentax 750z is definitely up-to-date. Most compact cams have a skimpy 3X zoom, but the 750z has a full 5X – enough to catch a point guard from the cheap seats. Live onscreen warnings can alert you to over- and underexposed parts of the picture before you shoot. And it can play back your images at 10X magnification, a great way to check your focus. All this and still a pocketable 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.7 inches. [ Optio 750z: $650, www.pentaxusa.com ]

KILLER CAMERA ACCESSORIES Choosing a camera is only one part of the big picture. Sure, you can carry it around your neck, print pics at the drugstore, and pop copies in a plain old postal envelope. Or you can be in total control of the image-creation process with this cool gear.

PALMONE PDA This PDA doubles as a USB drive. The 256-Mbyte memory is flash based, which means data is safe through crashes and battery rundowns. It takes SD cards, and outputs to phones or printers via Bluetooth or the Web via Wi-Fi SD card ($129). [ Tungsten T5: $399, www.palmone.com ]

NEWSWEAR DIGITAL CHESTVEST This rig distributes weight around your torso with extra-thick nylon pouches on a wide belt. It comes in gender- and task-specific models (including a waterproof version) and can cradle long lenses, spare camera bodies, and lunch. [ ChestVest: $95-150, www.newswear.com ]

HP PORTABLE PRINTER Powered by AC, 12-volt DC, or an optional battery ($80), this baby-size inkjet with a 2.5-inch color screen is small enough for a camera bag (2.6 pounds, 8.7 x 4.5 x 4.6 inches) but pops out 4 x 6s of the same quality as big printers. [ Photosmart 375: $200, www.hp.com ]

PELICAN PENDANT FLASHLIGHT The L1 blasts out 6,000 candlepower LED light. The beam is bluish – perfect for optimal film or digital color balance. It's a great way to add side light for a more flattering portrait, or separate dark hair from a dark background. [ L1: $16, www.pelicanproducts.us ]

NIKON COOLSCAN NEGATIVE AND SLIDE SCANNER To preserve your cherished film before it fades, use a dedicated film scanner, not a flatbed. Transilluminated negatives and slides read much clearer and with greater color depth. [ V ED: $600, www.nikon.com ]

KONICA-MINOLTA SD-CF1 ADAPTER Your DSLR camera has a CompactFlash slot; your phone and PDA use SD cards. Get a go-between. Slip an SD card into this adapter, and it cons your cam into thinking it's a CF card. [ SD-CF1: $59, www.konicaminolta.com ]

HP PDA WITH MEMORY SLOTS This multitasking PDA has both CF and SD card slots and can transmit files via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The 624-MHz processor moves big images around with ease, and a fingerprint reader keeps private pics private. [ iPaq HX2700: $550, www.hp.com ]

EPSON PHOTO PRINTER That CD of family photos would make a more impressive holiday gift if you didn't scrawl a title on it with a Sharpie. This Epson printer puts your favorite pic plus text onto an inkjet-printable CD or DVD. [ Stylus Photo R320: $200, www.epson.com ]

JVC MICRODRIVE-BASED VIDEOCAM Want to send your family beautifully edited holiday highlights this year? You could use a camcorder, but transferring those MiniDV tapes to DVD is a time-consuming chore. This tapeless cam captures footage at 30 fps and 720 x 480, the native frame rate and resolution of DVD. Transferring your video over USB 2.0 to your PC takes only a couple of minutes, and since it's already encoded as hi-res MPEG-2 video, the included DVD-authoring software can master your movies as quickly as your burner can spin. Of course, footage this rich requires serious storage space: The included 4-Gbyte microdrive fits 60 minutes of top-quality footage and can be swapped out when full. The cam also shoots passable 2-megapixel stills. [ Everio GZ-MC100: $1,200; www.jvc.com ]

CANON RUGGED, 16.6-MEGAPIXEL DSLR Outdoorsy types who want to capture poster-quality pics of flora and fauna will love this cam. Gaskets, seals, and a strong magnesium body get it through dust, mud, and pounding. The gargantuan 16.6-megapixel sensor is the size of a full 35-mm film frame, which means it doesn't put the squeeze on your wide-angle lens shots. Images can be written to a CF or an SD card, or cards can be filled sequentially so you don't need to reload in a sandstorm. The Digic II processor lets you shoot at a low-noise ISO 3200. It's pricey, but delivers … and at 3.4 pounds with battery, you could even use this beast to fend off gorillas. [ EOS 1Ds Mark II: $6,999, www.canon.com ]

BACK IT UP, BUDDY: STORAGE GEARThere's no getting around it – hard drives fail, taking your precious pics with them. Pros store their images on at least two separate hard drives, backing up regularly to CD or DVD, and you'd be wise to do the same. Luckily, drives continue to get better and cheaper.

MAXTOR 300-GBYTE HARD DRIVE You can set up this external drive to auto-archive your pics on a regular basis. And if you want to play it really safe, One Touch can copy your PC's entire hard drive, including OS, apps, and text files. [ One Touch II: $380, www.maxtor.com ]

WESTERN DIGITAL HARD DRIVE WITH MEMORY SLOTS Archive your cards – any format except xD – onto this 250-Gbyte external hard drive. The metal case acts as a heat sink, lengthening drive life, and there's a two-port USB 2.0 hub. [ Media Center: $280, www.wdc.com ]

APACER CD BURNER This paperback-sized CD burner is a camera-bag photo factory. It backs up your cards to disc, then double-checks burn integrity. It's also a USB 2.0 CD-RW/DVD player with a world-friendly wall-wart transformer and TV output. [ CP200: $300, www.jobodigital.com ]

IOMEGA USB DRIVE This 0.3-ounce, 1-Gbyte key-chain drive can store hundreds of hi-res pics and have room left for cool freeware. Stop by the Web site for launch-on-insert slide-show and photo-album apps. [ Micro Mini: $180, www.iomega.com ]

CASIO 5-MEGAPIXEL POCKET CAM Casio puts a lot of pixels into an easily pocketable package. It's so small (3.4 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches), the 2.5-inch screen takes up most of its back. Yet features abound. With in-camera HTML authoring, you can choose layout and background options to build a Web page of selected shots. The amazing Business Shot mode corrects for perspective on any image shot at an angle. Auto-macro switches effortlessly between close-up and regular autofocus; if you suddenly spy Old Faithful erupting while you're zoomed in on a flower, it self-adjusts in a snap. [ Casio EX-Z55: $450, www.casio.com ]

Get Your Game in High Gear

By Josh McHugh

SPORTVUE MOTORCYCLE HELMET The most dangerous moment for a motorcyclist during a race isn't the apex of a hairpin turn or the high-velocity peak of a straightaway – it's the split-second glance down at the dashboard for mph data. The SportVue's heads-up display, designed by an ex-Indy driver and some VR geeks, projects real-time readouts of the speedometer and tachometer on the inside of the visor so a rider can keep his eyes on the road. An underseat processor collects information from the wheels and engine, then wirelessly transmits it to the helmet-mounted display. Now two-wheelers can spend extra clock cycles watching in the rearview mirror as the competition eats their dust. [ MC1: $329, www.sportvue.net ]

PURE FISHING ARTIFICIAL BAIT After 18 years in the lab with a bucket of anchovies in one hand and an infrared spectrometer in the other, scientists at Pure Fishing have broken down various bait scents into a set of essential chemical compounds that make fish swoon. The new saltwater baits blast the reverse-engineered smell through the water 400 times faster than ordinary plastic lures. Biodegradable and more durable than the live stuff, Gulp! comes in many flavors, including shrimp, peeler crab, herring, and (mmm!) sandworm. [ Gulp! saltwater artificial bait: $3-8, www.berkley-fishing.com ]

FLYBAR POGO STICK There's a reason the pogo stick went out of style: You couldn't catch any real air. This xtreme jumper, developed with the help of pro skateboarder Andy Macdonald, is a great leap forward for pogos. The Flybar facilitates trampoline-like bounces (up to 5 feet high) with 12 independent latex thrusters that act like bowstrings, providing 1,200 pounds of force beneath your feet. You can also lower resistance and avoid banging your head on the garage ceiling. [ 1200: $299, www.flybar.com ]

PROAIM PUTTING GOGGLES Based on night-vision technology developed for the South African military, these golf goggles project an enhanced-light grid onto the lens, creating a holographic path for the clubhead and ball to follow across the green. Repeated practice at staying between the lines helps overcome the inadvertent head movement that happens between lining up a putt and hitting it. The goggles are illegal in tournament play (duh), but PGA swing guru Butch Harmon is a fan, and more than 150 pros practice with them. [ Virtual Alignment Trainer: $60, www.proaim.com ]

TAYLORMADE GOLF CLUB Tired of slicing into those second-floor condos to the right of the 11th fairway? Instead of altering your swing, tweak your driver. TaylorMade's r7 quad TP features four tungsten-and-titanium cartridges that plug into four ports on the underside of the club, providing a half-dozen distinct clubhead characteristics (upgradable to 883 with the included $180 weight kit). To correct your window-breaking swing, for instance, put the two 10-gram plugs on the near side of the clubhead and the 2-gram plug on the outside. [ R7 Quad TP: $800, www.taylormadegolf.com ]

HEAD RACQUETBALL RACKET Racquetball buffs who want to add power to their swing can put the force of the US military-industrial complex behind them. Head's Liquidmetal racket is made of a proprietary alloy that's harder than titanium, without the DNA-mutating radiation factor of uranium. The Department of Defense is evaluating the alloy as a replacement for the titanium and depleted uranium that the military uses for armor-piercing shells. You can use it to punch a gaping hole in your opponent's confidence: The racket's huge sweet spot and power-to-weight ratio will give you the edge on the court. [ Liquidmetal Racquetball Racket: $275, wwwww.head.com ]

Are You Ready to Roll With the Caped Crusader?

By Patrick Di Justo

VEIL INTERACTIVE BATMOBILE AND COMMUNICATOR Now you can ride alongside the Caped Crusader (and the Warner Bros. cross-marketing department): The WB is broadcasting encrypted messages in the latest Batman cartoon, messages that can be decoded only with shiny new toys. The communiqu�s – steganographic bitstreams indiscernible to the human eye – send your gear into action. The Batmobile revs whenever the onscreen car does the same; and the Communicator beeps whenever Batman needs to talk to his butler. Alfred, bring me a sandwich! [ Mattel's Batmobile and Communicator Handheld Device (ages 6 and up; three AA and three AAA batteries not included): $55 and $27 (sold separately), www.veilinteractive.com ]

BAT SIGNAL Veil Interactive encodes messages by making small changes to the luminance value – or brightness – of the horizontal lines of a television picture. This method can be used in broadcast, cable, or prerecorded video. (The included DVD contains several minutes of coded cartoon footage.)

BAT RECEIVER The message encoded in the cartoon is read by an optical sensor on the toys, which must be within 10 feet of the screen and have line-of-sight. The system delivers 6 kilobytes per second of information, which either triggers instant responses in the toy or is stored and activated later.

BAT RESPONSE Encoded signals can make the Batmobile flash its lights, play laser sounds or audio clips, or launch a spring-loaded Batarang. The code can also "unlock" hidden features on the Communicator, like minigames and villain profiles.

GIANT MICROBES PLUSH TOYS These adorable stuffed versions of nasty disease-causing microbes aren't just for medical professionals. The surprisingly popular toy line has already moved 100,000 units. Sick with the flu? Snuggle up with a fluffy green Orthomyxovirus. Or if you don't like someone but can't come out and say it directly, give them a cuddly Black Death or Ebola. Each 5- to 7-inch doll comes with a picture and fact sheet about the real-life microbe. The GM gang added hepatitis and HIV this year in response to overwhelming demand from doctors, and they say we can expect a few new STDs in 2005. Catch 'em all! [ Giant Microbes: $6 to $7 each, www.giantmicrobes.com ]

PALISADES STUFFED ALIENS They latch onto your face, worm their way into your body, and then tear your heart in two. H. R. Giger's aliens are terrifying on the big screen, but these extraterrestrial plush toys are at your mercy. The Facehugger is a fully poseable, 30-inch early-stage alien, with bendable legs that attach securely to any human head, and a long tail that wraps around an adult neck. (One gripe: Where's the tracheal tube that slides down the host's throat and implants the alien larva?) The Chestburster is a 48-inch-long replica of a second-stage alien, which ideally should be presented as a surprise gift a few days after the Facehugger – preferably at the dinner table. [ Facehugger and Chestburster (ages 3 and up): $25 each, www.palisadestoys.com ]

RADICA SECRET-MESSAGE SYSTEM Why pass notes when you can have encrypted IM-style chats? This toy replaces paper with nickel-sized plastic discs. Pop a chit into the base unit to read stored missives or write new ones. There's no keyboard, but the 3 x 5-inch handheld has a database of more than 8,000 words, phrases, and emoticons, so kids can choose a scripted message or scroll through the alphabet and compose their own. Each disc holds 2 kilobytes of data, or nearly 250 characters – plenty of space to update your Friendchip-equipped pals on everything that's happened since class started 20 minutes ago. [ Girltech Friendchips (ages 6 and up; four AAA batteries not included): $20 (for two base units and four chips), www.girltech.com ]

COASTERDYNAMIX DRAGON ROLLER COASTER Geeks love role-playing, from projecting themselves into the driver's seat of a slot car to playing Frank Gehry with a box of Legos. So they're likely to get a rush assembling – and pretending to ride – this model roller coaster. With the Dragon, you can design and build your own fully operational, inverted-style coaster. The standard 1,230-piece kit has enough mat�riel to make a 2 x 6 x 3-foot layout, or 2,016 scale-feet of track. For an extra $100, the expansion pack adds another 280 pieces for 30 percent more coaster. An electric motor pulls the O-gauge cars up the incline, then gravity and inertia take over. You must be at least this tall to ride. [ The Dragon (ages 10 and up): $500, www.coasterdynamix.com ]

PLANET TOYS FORENSIC FACIAL RECONSTRUCTION KIT Most educational toys impart knowledge about useless topics like math, science, and reading. This one teaches a real-life skill that will make you popular – how to reconstruct the faces of corpses by studying skull structure and tendon attachment points. Kids of all ages can play like CSI's geeky forensic detective Gil Grissom, applying layers of molding clay to rebuild facial features. There are two versions, one with a blue-eyed victim and one with brown eyes; each has a different facial structure and murder scenario (included in the manual) to unravel. Once your wannabe pathologist IDs the Jane or John Doe, they can nail the perp. [ CSI: Forensic Facial Reconstruction Kit (ages 8 and up): $20, www.toysrus.com ]

SPIN MASTER REMOTE CONTROL PLANE Do you dream of performing breathtaking stunts, loops, and sidewinders but value your life too much to board a prop plane? If so – and you're 8 or older – Spin Master's Sky Winder lets you execute death-defying stunts from the safety of your lawn chair. This is the first sub-$100 RC plane that's capable of graceful aerobatics. It comes with a controller and the display stand doubles as a charger; 5 minutes plugged in gets 5 minutes of fly time (the max). No assembly required, so you can take to the skies right away, daredevil. [ Air Hogs Sky Winder (ages 8 and up; eight D and six AA batteries not included): $70, www.spinmaster.com ]

ESTES HYDROGEN ROCKET Ditch that tired-old black powder-propelled missile for one fueled by hydrogen. It's easy to operate: You pour tap water into a hole in the top of the fuel generator cylinder, and six D-cell batteries electrolyze it into H2 and O2. The gases are piped directly into the combustion reaction chamber. When the chamber is full, it's ready for countdown. Press a button on the remote control, and the wire coil heats up – igniting the hydrogen! Expect the missile to reach altitudes of up to 200 feet. A rotary propeller lets the ship down easy. [ Hydrogen Fuel Rocket (ages 10 and up; six D batteries not included):

$50, www.estesrockets.com ]

Take Me to Your All-Time High-Score Leader

By Darren Gladstone

ALIENWARE PC FOR GAMERS Can't afford a Cray supercomputer? Gaming rigs push the envelope of what a consumer computer can do. And while we've come to expect more horsepower from beneath a killer case, we weren't quite prepared for this beast. It may not be portable enough to make it to a LAN party, but the Area 51 ALX system is the only friend a gamer needs. [ Area 51 ALX : $5,500, www.alienware.com ]

DESIGN With a glowing front grill – and the relative size – of a Ford Explorer, this rig will intimidate foes before you even boot up. Four USB ports located right up front minimize tangle and time spent rooting around behind your desk.

HARDWARE Want your games to run at a fluid 60-plus frames per second? The ALX sports top-of-the-line processing power (a 3.6-GHz Pentium or a 2.4-GHz AMD, as of this writing) and up to 4 gigs of RAM. For no extra charge, Alienware will also overclock the rig to run even faster than the stated specs.

GRAPHICS CARD(S) Don't rely on just one graphics card to pump out pixels. Alienware's unique video array technology lets you chain together any two identical graphics cards (from either of the two major manufacturers, ATI or Nvidia) to work in tandem for twice the speed of the fastest single card.

COOLING SYSTEM How do you keep these components and the 650-watt power supply from overheating? Strategically placed fans spin at three speeds – dust never gets a chance to settle – and an alcohol-water solution is piped through the machine to absorb heat that's then dissipated through gold-plated copper tubing.

VOODOO SLIM LAPTOP PC players have a dream that one day the performance of a tower will be crammed into a slim notebook that can be upgraded a year later when the components are out of date. Enter the aptly named Envy m380. Thinner than a pizza box and lighter than a hardcover of War and Peace (1.2 inches thick and about 7 pounds), this is one easy-to-tote laptop. But there's more than supermodel looks and a sleek paint job here. The m380 is 802.11g-ready, can support resolutions of 1,900 x 1,200 pixels, and boasts an ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128-Mbyte graphics chip. When the g chip gets out of date, just pop in a new card and get back in the game. [ Envy m380: $4,000, www.voodoopc.com ]

SAITEK FLIGHT STICK Straight from Maverick's cockpit to yours: The X52 joystick with throttle control and a rubberized grip is designed to re-create all those Top Gun moments. It bristles with buttons and has – get this – a spring-loaded safety cover for when you need to launch a missile at a locked-on target. Another nice touch is the multifunction display, which shows everything from control readouts to flight time and destinations. You're one step closer to the danger zone. [ X52 Hotas Flight Control System: $130, www.saitekusa.com ]

MONSTER GECKO MOUSE How can anyone be expected to kill Nazis, zombies, or Nazi-zombies with a standard-issue mouse? If you're going to war, pack the PistolMouse FPS. Shaped like a handgun and sporting a comfortable grip, it makes first-person shooters such as Half-Life 2 seem more realistic. But this isn't some simple light gun; it's a fully functional optical mouse – and it must remain firmly planted on your desk. This takes a little getting used to, but the controls are intelligently mapped so you'll never have to move your finger off the trigger. [ PistolMouse FPS: $70, www.monstergecko.com ]

12 ESSENTIALS FOR PC PLAYERS Is your computer still on a desk, with a printer and file cabinets nearby? That's pathetic! Unless you're pretending to work on spreadsheets or something, ditch that biz-boy setup and invest in a full-fledged game-nasium. Here are a few ideas for building the ne plus ultra gaming rig.

FALCON-NORTHWEST PC This squat PC squeezes maximum action into a minimal footprint (10.8 x 8 x 14.8 inches). Components are easily upgradable, and the 520-watt ATX power supply will juice even the most demanding graphics cards. [ Fragbox 2: $2,656, www.falcon-nw.com ]

SHARP 3-D MONITOR Sharp's pioneering 3-D display technology is finally making its way to your desktop. This 15-inch monitor beams slightly different images at each of your eyes, which your brain decodes as, say, a three-dimensional firefight. [ LL-151-3D: $1,500, www.sharpsystems.com ]

ZBOARD MODULAR KEYSET Here's a cool keyboard shortcut: button layouts tailored to each game. Swap out the UT2K4 keyset for the Doom3 layout, with a hot key for toggling between your flashlight and your BFG. [ Doom3 Keyset: $20 (keyboard base $50), www.zboard.com ]

LOGITECH LASER CORDLESS MOUSE Goose your response time with an optical mouse. The MX 1000 has 20 times the resolution of its peers and follows movement on any surface – even a mirror. [ MX 1000: $70, www.logitech.com ]

GAME CABINETS CONTROLLER Playing emulated arcade classics with a keyboard and mouse sucks. The Stinger has enough buttons for Defender, dual joysticks for Robotron, a trackball for Missile Command, and even side-mounted buttons for pinball. [ Stinger: $500, www.gamecabinetsinc.com ]

GAMEDECK COCKPIT This desk-chair combo is modular and fully adjustable, with pneumatic swing arms to accommodate all sorts of peripherals. Wanna play a driving game? Pull the steering wheel forward and stomp the gas pedal! [ Navis: $4,400, www.thegamedeck.com ]

APC UNIVERSAL POWER SUPPLY What if power fails while you're deep in a battle? The ES725 will save your PC from surges, plus buy you an hour of game time during a blackout. Frag on while neighbors fumble for flashlights. [ Back.UPS ES725 Broadband: $100, www.apcc.com ]

FELLOWES TOOL KIT Call it modder's little helper. The kit comes with a six-piece screwdriver set, wire stripper, chip extractor, flashlight, and an X-Acto knife to keep all those warranty seals in mint condition. [ 100-Piece Tool Kit: $115, www.fellowes.com ]

SENNHEISER USB HEADPHONES The neighbors don't need to hear every virtual shotgun blast. The PC155 headset engulfs you with personal 3-D sound, so all they'll hear is you cursing at the competition. [ PC155: $140, www.sennheisercommunications.com ]

FUNC INDUSTRIES SURFACE TREATMENT Excess friction is no fun. That's why swingers apply Astroglide and gamers get Liquid. This silicon emulsion turns your desk into a glassy-smooth mouse surface. [ Liquid: $10, www.func.net ]

JOLT CAFFEINE GUM Red Bull is the standard fuel for all-night LAN parties, but there's a speedier fix. Jolt gum takes effect in less than five minutes, and two pieces have as much caffeine as a cuppa joe, plus guarana and ginseng. Power up! [ Gum: $9 (six packs), www.joltgum.com ]

STADIUM PAL CATHETER Don't interrupt EverQuest 2 for a mere bathroom break. Instead, strap on a catheter and attach a "collection pouch" to your ankle. Add an IV drip and you'll never have to get up again! [ Catheter: $30 (ladies' "leg bag": $35), www.stadiumpal.com ]

SPHEREX SPEAKER CHAIR There's no need to rewire your entire living room just to get surround sound. Park your backside in this surprisingly comfy chair, which features a built-in 300-watt 5.1 system. The rear channel is in the headrest, the left and right channels are in the armrests, and the center channel is right between your knees. The subwoofer? You're sitting on it. Ah, the wonders of the modern age. [ 5.1 Surround Chair: $1,500, www.spherexinc.com ]

DIGITAL ACT GBA TELECONFERENCING DEVICE In Japan, Game Boy Advance isn't just for kids – it's for middle-aged salarymen, too. Which explains (a little) why this gadget exists. The Campho turns your GBA (including SP models) into a videophone. Just slip in the cartridge with its integrated 357 x 295 cam, plug it into any analog landline, and voil�, videoconferencing at 5 frames per second. Now you can call up business associates and trade vidphone high fives to celebrate beating Metroid Fusion in less than an hour oh, and to discuss Q4 sales figures. [ CamphoAdvance: $174, www.digitalact.co.jp ]

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