Strange New World Tech Picks of the Week

Forget the ball dropping, Dick Clark propped up in Times Square jive. The gadget year begins with the ultimate January one-two punch: the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas followed closely by the MacWorld Expo this week in San Francisco.

Most major media are painting these shows as flat. Don't believe it. Sure, there were no blockbusters like a new PlayStation platform from Sony or a new iPhone from Apple, but there was plenty of cool gadget news to get 2008 off to an electric start.

Here are our picks for the top tech stories of the week:

Go Green, Young Man

We love gadgets. But with all that nasty stuff in screens, chips and plastic housings, most of the electronics industry's posturing about being eco-friendly is just that: posturing. So we really dug finding a company at CES that has taken "green" to a new level of Kermitness; United Pepper is selling a basically biodegradable webcam. Its cameras are made of — get this — cotton sand and other biodegradable parts. The lens is the only plastic, inert item. The company also makes a low-environmental-impact USB hub.

United Pepper's products are built under the guidelines of fair trade, so the foreign workers making them get a decent wage. They cost a bit more, but won't you feel better posting your latest stupid YouTube video if the camera you use is helping to save the world?

Macbook Air Can Get Heavy on the Pocketbook

At Macworld, Tuesday, Apple's Steve Jobs announced his company's new Macbook Air laptop computer. It is the thinnest laptop in the world and at its thickest it is just .76 inches thick. This 3-pound marvel may be the first "ultra-portable" notebook actually worth its price.

Most ultra-portables are small and skimp on screen and keyboard size. Not the Air. We were especially excited by the optional Solid State HD you can buy for the unit. You can boot up faster, toss it in the bag without worrying about hard-drive damage, and we could go on. Basically the solid state Air is like having an iPod Nano instead of an iPod classic. Our euphoria lasted until we checked the price: the 64gb SSD drive will balloon the unit from $1,799 to $3,098. Ouch!

Giving the Wii the Shaft

In case you are a dead gamer walking, the Wii is far and away the most fun video game console on the market. Its motion-sensitive controllers take video games to a new level and actually give you a bit of exercise, too. But there is a problem: On some games, mostly the traditional titles older gamers know, the motion controls are just plain weird. Do I really need to wave my arms to make a guy jump over a barrel? That's where the Shaft comes in.

This old-school arcade joystick for the Wii has a palm-filling joystick and six buttons. It lets you tackle new-school games with old-school style. Give your arms a rest and let your fingers do the killing.

Jonathan Blum and Dan Evans co-host "Strange New World," a weekly syndicated radio show. Blum hosts the blog and Evans is a features editor at PC Magazine.