Strange New World: Tech Picks of the Week

With summer fading fast, we here in Geekville are (reluctantly) turning our attention from the beach to school and work. And as such, we took a look at back-to-school stuff, and we like what we saw in new backpacks made from recycled materials; they're stylish enough to help ease the enviro guilt without making you or your kids look like you're hitching to the farewell Woodstock concert.

We're also impressed with a new video camera that mounts on a firearm and lets law enforcement officials record exactly who did what and when guns are drawn. And cynical as we are, we have to admit we're impressed with the new iMac from Apple, which is probably the coolest-looking desktop on the market right now.

Here, then, are our picks for top tech stories of the week.

Back-to-School Shopping Goes Green

Just think of all the good we could do if we all bought some recycled school or work goods. It's easier this year: Style is the new order of the day in recycled accessories. You can choose from several well-made, well-designed bags and backpacks that just happen to be made from stuff that usually winds up in a landfill.

Passchal tops the list of hip retread bags. Literally. The company makes satchels, bags and gadget holders from old tires and inner tubes. The Tech Brief ($165) integrates very nice leather liners and other materials with rubber from old inner tubes. The bag has a mainstream, dare we say it, high-end feel. The recycled nature of the product is actually rather understated. Which we liked.

If rubber is not your thing, try Earthpaks. These guys turn recycled soda bottles, of all things, into colorful, mainstream backpacks. Our pick of the litter is the Hombro ($49.99). Dads and tykes alike can wear this single-shoulder bag.

If you're not ready to take the full recycled plunge just yet, but still want to do your part, add a dash of "green" with these recycled luggage tags from Eco Artware ($15). And check out its other products, too. Plenty of good, clean fun here.

Look good and do good. We love it.

Personal Video Comes to Law Enforcement

The strange new world of personal video is taking a very strange twist: New cameras let law enforcement officials record exactly what happens when deadly force must be used.

A company called Pacific Concepts makes what it calls an Advanced Tactical Camera. The 7.2-ounce unit is about the size of a roll of quarters and bolts onto the front of a firearm or helmet.

This unit films whatever it is pointing at and is rugged enough for use in harsh weather. It captures the action at a respectable 30 frames per second, so the footage can be admitted as evidence in court. The camera is battery-powered and runs off readily available SD cards like those found in any camera. Best of all, it costs just $189, so even notoriously underpaid local cops can afford one.

This camera is a big deal. And we expect much controversy from it. On the positive side, tactical cameras will create a crucial record of events when guns are drawn. And they will provide a valuable neutral document, just like in plane crashes, to serve all sides in the inevitable court battle over whether force was justified or excessive.

On the negative side, the images these tactical cameras capture will almost certainly end up on the Web. And the resulting, potentially gruesome videos will certainly test the limits of what we can — or should — watch.

OK, Already, We Like the iMac

It barely counts as news after all the buzz it stirred up, but the latest version of Apple's iMac desktop definitely deserves to be one of our picks of the week. It is impressive from both a technical and design standpoint.

The last iMac looked like a giant iPod, and this one looks kinda like a giant iPhone. (Soon, we expect buildings to look like giant versions of this sleek portable device.)

Regardless, the iMac is a tasteful combo of black and gray aluminum that will make even the dullest cubicle or home office look cool.

But the machine is much more than a pretty face: At $1,499, it comes with an Intel Core Duo 2 processor, an ATI Radeon HD 2600 graphics card and 320 GBs of hard drive storage. That is some serious hardware. Our advice: If you are going to run fancy Windows applications — or play the new ports of "Madden '08" for the Mac — pay a little more and get the version with 2 GBs of RAM for $1,649.

Besides being a solid workstation, consumers looking to get going in the home media network thing — that is, storing and routing music and movies to TV screens around the home using a digital network — should consider the new iMac.

Apple's integrated iLife suite of media manipulation tools, married to iTunes, makes a great start to a very slick home network. Compared with custom-installed home media solutions, Apple's products used as media networking tools are really rather, gasp, affordable.

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.