Strange New World: Tech Picks of the Week

Alternative reality — or alternatives to reality, rather — rule the strange new world of technology this week. Alternative power options are entering the gadget-o-sphere; now wind and solid state fuel — not batteries — can drive your electronic ambitions. And Apple's alternative to the Windows Vista operating system is coming to market later on this month.

Clearly Steve Jobs is spoiling for another crack at the PC computing market. And, finally, a Web site is offering a clearer alternative to YouTube. High-definition video is coming to the Internet. Better watch out — pretty soon those wacky Japanese game shows will be streamed in pristine video quality.

Here, then, are our picks of the week.

Tower of Alternative Portable Power

Unless you live in a cave, you know "green" is in right now. (We guess if you live in a cave you are already ahead of the curve, but never mind). And as Vice President Nobel is teaching us, we all need to do our part. But before you go starting your own organic farm, there are some more modest steps you can take to "greenify" your life.

For instance, you can drain less power from the grid when charging your gadgets. We like two new products that will make sure your iPod is charged and ready — and will save a lil juice for the rest of the planet.

First up is the Hymini, a mini turbine that you can take with you on a bike ride or stick out your car's window to harness the wind. The thing has a small prop that spins in the breeze and converts that motion into electricity that can charge your gadgets.

We also like the Medis 24/7 Power Pack Fuel Cell. This $30 electro-chemical gizmo will provide enough power to recharge your Treo even if there is no outlet in sight. And best of all, when the fuel is depleted, there are no chemical reactants — or batteries to throw away for that matter.

Looks Like Leopard Is Ready to Hunt

Apple has announced a ship date for its brand new operating system, code-named Leopard: Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. Set your watches. We got an advance look at the OS. Here is the skinny.

First the bad news: Those with gear more than 3 years old will be left behind. The snazzy new OS runs only on processors with greater than 867MHz. It will cost $129 for a single machine and $199 for a five-machine license. That's pretty darn cheap compared to Windows Vista, which can cost almost twice as much.

Leopard promises to have more than 300 new features. The new desktop will be sleekly redesigned with more one-click app access with the Finder feature being significantly upgraded. You can search your Mac for files and apps a la the cover-flow system found in iTunes. You can flip through pictures and visual representations of your files and apps. It looked very, very nice in our demo.

We also like the new feature in the "mail" function, which mines your e-mails for data like addresses and contacts and transfers them automatically to your contacts. These are just the superficial changes; there is also plenty of back-end stuff that makes Leopard faster, more robust and more secure. This code will be one cool cat.

HD YouTube

We all love to watch idiots hurt themselves on YouTube, but what if we got to see some goober get groin-kicked in HD??!

A company called Vimeo announced last week uploading 1280 x 720 video content to the Web, which is pretty much HD video. While user-generated HD is going to be pretty sweet, don't expect it to look as good as a Samsung Blu-ray disk, hooked up to a nice Hitachi plasma. There are too many uncertainties with the Internet to guarantee that kind of picture quality.

But this is still big news because HD Internet programming will force traditional television to cross into the HD world that much quicker, and it also will fuzz up the line between traditional television and Web content that much faster.

Wanna get a taste the HD vibe yourself? Just go get any one of the new HD webcams on the market — we like the Logitech 9000, ($99) — and launch any old chat program like AIM. And Presto, you are your own little Marc Cuban. Pretty cool.

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.