Strange New World: Tech Picks of the Week

Wouldn't it be great if techdom could learn a lesson or two from professional sports? Like when some idiot does something awful on the field, just turn the cameras off and ignore the dope. But here in the strange new world of technology, the more awful the better.

"Grand Theft Auto IV" made its grim debut this week, and we are sorry to say that this bloody, horrifying game is the breakout tech story of week. Sayonara to our society, right?

There was some actual feel-good tech news, though: robots are shaping up to be this summer's blockbuster. With the Pixar sure-to-be-a-smash film WALL-E gearing up for summer release, robots are beginning to get some mainstream game. West Coast retail giant Frys is discounting a robot vacuum and everyone from Fisher-Price to start-ups like Ugobe are rolling out robotic toys.

Throw in some new tweaks to Apple's line of iMacs and it looks like we have a decent set of picks for the week.

'Grand Theft Auto IV' Roars Into Action

Get over it, parents and preachers. "Grand Theft Auto IV" was released on April 29 and will be the game of the summer. It's the first incarnation of "GTA" that's available for the PS3 and Xbox 360, and yhe expectation is the game will use these next-gen consoles to their fullest extent.

"GTA IV" takes place in Liberty City, a metro area based on New York City, and players will recognize many of features of the Big Apple. The main character is an eastern European ne'er-do-well named Niko Bellic who has come to Liberty City to earn his fortune in the underworld. Unlike previous versions of the game, notably "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," you don't have to worry about Niko's diet and exercise, leaving the player more time to cause havoc all over the city.

The game is still way violent and not for the little kids — blood flows almost immediately in most any mode — but there is a lot to do in Liberty City when you're not committing heinous crimes. There are bowling alleys, Internet cafes, bars, strip clubs, all kinds of indoor activities. Niko is given a cell phone at the beginning of the game and it constantly updates when you meet new people. You can even call them and hang out, just like in real life.

But all of this doesn't distract from the main quest: dominating this new riff on the underworld. You plow through and still finish the game in about 40 hours. There goes yet another weekend.

Robot Summer

When you start seeing discounted robot shop vacs at big box stores and a coming summer blockbuster movie about robots, it's time to look at whether robotics might have a real life after all.

Last week, we saw that electronics giant Frys was pushing a $99 robotic shop vac from iRobot. And sure enough, Pixar is set to release its sure-to-be-successful WALL-E about robot in space on June 27. On top of that, we're seeing more and more robots creeping into the toy world.

Here is the ridiculously cute Ugobe Pleo ($349). This thing is actually a very sophisticated bot. There is the WowWee universe of animatronic toys, including the new Bladestar bot due out this June. And Microsoft has a robotic development effort in full swing.

Now, we're not saying the United States is going to be making something really important like Asimo, but at least some domestic news in robots is good news.

Newish iMacs

It's almost like Apple wants you to buy a new iMac every year or something. This week they launched two new iMacs with Core 2 Duo Penryn processors. For your hard-earned $1,199, you can now get a 20-inch iMac with 2.4GHz processor, 1 GB of memory, 128 MB of ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics card and a 250 GB hard drive.

If you want to give more money to Jobs & Co., you can step up to the 24-inch model with a 3.06 GHz processor, 2 GB of memory, 512MB of NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GS graphics and a 500 GB hard drive for $2,199. The new iMacs also come with some sweet bells and whistles: a 802.11n wireless router, Bluetooth, 5 USB 2.0 ports, and a built-in Webcam.

There is even a gaming angle: On paper these new iMacs should have enough power to run some decent new games, thank heavens. We can't wait to see big-time titles like "Call of Duty 4" and "Prey," which are coming soon for Mac.

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.