Bob and Joy Schwabach

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June 2008, Week 2  




Is Nintendo’s Wii computer game system a breakthrough in home entertainment? How about health and fitness? A lot of publicity has goneWii Fit over this dam (or under this bridge, depending on where you’re standing). Here’s our two cents worth: 

First of all, Wii is pronounced “Whee,” like you’re having fun, which you probably will be. It’s made by Nintendo and is so hot right now that many retailers don’t have any to sell. The game unit itself has a list price of $250, but we couldn’t find it for less than $300, because of the high demand. The “Wii Fit” add-on device costs at least another $150, but it’s more fun than a puppy. Joy is totally addicted. 

Here’s the setup: The Wii Fit unit is a balance board. It looks like an extra wide bathroom scale. The board has very sensitive inertial sensors which can Wii Fitdetect your slightest movements. That’s the key, because when you place it in front of the Wii game machine and load the software, a fitness trainer appears and tells you what movements you should make.  

The figure on the screen is your personal trainer. The balance board you stand on is so sensitive that the little robotic trainer can even tell if you’re lifting your arms high enough for the arm exercises. It also checks your balance – and tells you what to do to correct it. You start by logging in your age and height. It weighs you and gives you your “body mass index.” After you take two balance tests, the Wii Fit tells you your fitness age. If you work hard you can lower it. 

The tiny trainer in the machine is like a robotic friend and nanny. It wishes you good morning in the morning and asks if you’ve had your breakfast yet. If you get on late at night, the little trainer says: “It’s getting late. Are you going to bed soon?” It was hot outside a couple days ago and the little trainer inside the machine said “Is it just me, or is it warmer today?” This is getting eerie.  

If you want to take a break you can play a game or watch the news. The Wii machine connects to the Internet through just about any wireless network and a selection of late breaking news flashes by on the screen. If you want to see the full story, you point and click with your remote control, called a “Wii-mote” by the cognoscenti, instead of “re-mote.”


The more you use Wii Fit and the better you get, the more routines are unlocked to try your muscles and patience. There are dozens of exercises. Joy is approaching Olympic status now. Bob is trying to get computer approval for his posture. Beyond exercise, there are of course games, all requiring balance skills.  

Beyond games there is ongoing research and a world of possibilities. A researcher in robotics at Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh, has cleverly reversed the sensors and Wii-mote control device, producing a screen that looks three-dimensional. In fact, the objects are so separated by depth that you can move inside room he created, behind and around objects. This is worth viewing and you can see it at; search on “head tracking.” Right now, there are hundreds of other people developing new routines and hacks for the Wii.  

Video Tape to Digital

-- “Dazzle” is a relatively low-priced device for transferring VHS video tapes to CD or DVD. Once you have a video in digital form, you can burn it to disk or send it out over the web. 

The good news is that Dazzle works and costs less than $50. The bad news Dazzleis that it will take longer than the playing time of the video itself to transfer the tape. Got a two-hour movie, home or otherwise, that you want to transfer to a DVD? It will take at least two hours to do it.  

Second problem is that Dazzle has to be connected to both the tape deck and the computer. If they are not close to each other – and there’s no reason why they would be, you will have to move them together. If you use a laptop this could be easy, but otherwise, you have some heavy lifting. You can find Dazzle at 


  •  is a Microsoft site that is offering cash back amounts of two to seven percent on products purchased through the site. Not all products are eligible for this. When you go to the site’s main page, click on the box that says “Cash Back” to get the special deals. We checked a few of them and the prices were comparable to Amazon or slightly better, even before the cash back kicker.
  •  is a collection of more than 12,000 opinion surveys the site maintains for continuous updates by visitors. Some are on odd subjects. One of the choices in the poll for Thai restaurant names, for example, is “Bow Thai.” (Oddly enough, Bob once ate at a restaurant called “Beau Thai,” in Chicago.) You can suggest a new opinion poll for their site or make one up, using their simple form for doing so, to email to people or post to your own web site or blog.
  •  is a job hunting site that keeps the job hunter anonymous. Someone looking for a job provides their email address, but that information is kept confidential until an employer likes the lookRealMatch of the candidate’s description. At that point, the potential employer pays a fee to get the candidate’s name and contact info. The site is quick and easy to use because you can cite your skills by checking them off from a list for each job category.

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