Sirius announced four new tiny Plug and Play radios today. All of them will work at home, in your car, or with a boombox thanks to a nice universal docking system. Three of the radios are upgraded versions of older models: The new Sirius Starmates are designed to fit into smaller cars but still have a nice wide viewing area. The Sportster 3, like the Sirius Sportsters before it, has a nice tactile feel. All of these have bells and whistles that let you do things like receive alerts when your favorite team is playing, jump to local news and weather, and more. But the big news is the Sirius Stratus. It is stratospherically low priced. It's a $59 Sirius receiver and that is going to allow a lot more of us to enjoy satellite radio without killing our budgets. (The others in the Sirius lineup start at $119.) The Sirius Stratus is expected to be available in October. It'll have some features most radio listeners will be familiar with: 10 button presets, direct entry tuning, a three-line display, and large buttons. It'll come with everything you need to mount it in your car. As with all satellite radio, once you buy the radio you get your 100 or so stations for a monthly fee. All of this got me thinking about my dwindling use of my own satellite radio. I own an XM radio and take it to the gym more than I listen to it in my car. I love about three of the 100 plus stations and don't ever think of the others. And when my XM is on I always feel like I'm missing the color of local radio—what's happening in the music scene tonight? Where is the best grocery shopping in town? Is there a fair? A cool event? A special sale? Who would believe it when I tell them that I miss the commercials—and the patter of a local DJ who really personalizes things. Both Sirius and XM have flatlined in terms of growth, so I have to wonder if a $60 version of the radio receiver is going to win nonsatellite radio listeners over or whether they want to hear commercials, too. A new low cost satellite radio is a great idea—long overdue. But tell me, will it convince you to make the move to satellite or not?
When Chris Null first reported on the combusting Dell notebook it was chalked up to boys and their pyrotechnics! When he reported it for a second time, it was amusing. Now it's flabbergasting. So Null, what's the next trick? Levitating Lenovas? If you connect the dots between the two news stories of the day you might come to some strange predictions. Story one: The recall of Dell laptop batteries because they might overheat to the point of combustion. Story two: Airlines trying to understand what to ban now that they understand more about how consumer electronic devices can be used in a terrorist plot. Put these two together and you've got to believe that stories of laptops going up in smoke aren't sitting pretty with the FAA and other authorities. When there are heightened alerts the last thing you need is the potential danger of laptop computers powered by unstable battery packs. Some experts are saying that the Sony battery problem is caused by some metallic impurities that were introduced during the manufacturing process. These impurities may "intrude through the insulation that is supposed to keep apart the anode and cathode elements in the battery cells, leading to a spark that can cause a fire," according to a story in The Financial Times. Reports in The Financial Times acknowledge the fact that authorities might be troubled by this bit of information. According to an ABC news report, the Consumer Product Safety Commission knows of 339 incidents in which lithium batteries used in laptops and cellphones (not just Dell products) overheated between 2003 and 2005. Transportation officials have got to be sitting on pins and needles as they look to Sony and Dell for more specifics about the precise cause of the laptop failures. And every hardware manufacturer needs to be doing whatever it can to dispel fears of self-immolating consumer electronics. By the way, if you look historically at battery recalls these are not the first, and not even the first for Sony. Sony recalled about 415,000 InfoLithium battery packs distributed worldwide that were manufactured between March and June 1999 and were used in everything from digital cameras to portable DVD players. The recall followed the discovery of three defective battery packs. Maybe the best thing to come of all this will be more R&D and quality assurance testing on batteries.