Strange New World: Picks of the Week

The strange factor hit about 11 this week here on the "Strange New World": Robots played their World Cup of soccer down at Georgia Tech and high-capacity memory cards from Kingston and Sandisk changed the way we take pictures forever. Did we mention that Pandigital rolled out a new riff on TV: the wireless digital picture frame.

And that ignores the iPhone madness, which honestly is the strangest thing we have ever seen. It's a phone, people. Calm down.

Usually summers are sort of slow for technology. No more. Here then, are our picks for the week of the Fourth of July.

RoboGoooooaaaallllll!

The robots are playing their own World Cup of soccer this week: the Robocup 2007. Held this year at Georgia Tech, the event included 321 teams from 37 countries competing in five different leagues: small-sized, medium-sized, simulation, humanoid and — our fave — four-legged. There were originally 325 teams, but four failed the drug tests. Just joking.

And if those five categories are not enough, there are two "demonstration divisions": thumb-sized and Nanogram robot soccer.

Now, don't expect the Robocup to feature a bunch of Robo-Beckhams — not just yet, anyway. Most soccer bots are lucky to move at R2-D2 speeds and look like something the kids threw together in science class.

Robotics represent a crucial part of our technological future as a supply for labor domestically and as a means of maintaining security internationally. Apart from a few commercial items such as vacuums, the United States is getting its robo-butt woefully spanked by the rest of the world. Just look at what Honda is doing with Asimo.

So anything that puts the ridiculous "robots are our enemies" vibe to rest is an important step toward the development of robots here in the United States.

Never Run Out of Space on Your Camera Again

News flash in flash memory: Kingston and Sandisk are selling 8GB and 4GB secure digital memory cards for less than $150. These mighty big chunks of storage will change the way you use your digital camera — and possibly your cell phone.

We took the 8GB card to a wedding last weekend. With it, our 7 megapixel Nikon could hold more than 2,000 shots at the highest possible quality. Even wilder, if we ratcheted back to lower resolution, we could have taken more than 5,000 pictures! Needless to say we were shooting like Rambo. Tons of images, a nice 10-minute video and even some sound clips.

The benefits are not limited to cameras. If you have a cell phone that supports SD cards and has MP3 player capabilities — and you are considering buying a new media player, say the one that rhymes with "iFoam" — it may be a better investment to just pick up one of these huge cards, use your phone to play your tunes and save yourself a couple bucks.

IPhone or no iPhone, fast SD cards are one cool set up.

Your Pictures, Anywhere

Once you take all of these shots, you might as well show them off in style. Our pick is the latest digital picture frame from Pandigital.

Digital picture frames, which have been around for a few years, are basically small LCD monitors optimized for still images. Digital frames let you load a slide show of your favorite photos and then roll it all day long. What's new is that Pandigital has just released a Wi-Fi frame ($119 for a 6-inch unit, $49 for wireless adapter) that connects to any wireless home network.

The frame can connect to all of the photos on your hard drive and will display them anywhere in your house. This is the rare tech present that your grandmother will love.

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

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