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BUS Build your own robot; it'll take half an hour

You don't need an engineering degree to build your own robot these days; the Lego Mindstorms NXT kit comes with all the hardware and software you need to whip up a working automaton in half an hour.

Lego Mindstorms NXT includes LabView software from National Instruments, which lets robot makers program their machines by dragging and dropping icons on the screen instead of writing code. The software works with both Windows XP and recent versions of Mac OS X. Bluetooth wireless signals are supported, so finished robots can be controlled with compatible mobile phones.

The Lego Mindstorms NXT kit, which sells for about $250 and is aimed at children age 10 and older, will arrive in stores early next month; it can also be ordered at www.mindstorms.com. The Mindstorms kit includes 519 Lego Technic building blocks; sound, light and touch sensors; a 32-bit microprocessor called the NXT Intelligent Brick, which serves as the robot's brain.

-- J.D. Biersdorfer/

New York Times

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A universal remote that needs no teaching

The problem with most "learning" universal remotes is the effort required to school them -- a process that involves pointing your other remotes at them and laboriously programming in button after button.

But the Philips SRU9600 comes already educated. Roughly 3,000 device codes -- for manufacturers from Apex to Zenith -- are already programmed. The SRU9600 can control up to eight devices and can perform up to 12 operations with one button press -- like turning on the TV, cable box and A/V receiver.

The key to the programming is a built-in wizard, which asks you, on its three-inch LCD screen,what equipment makes and models you own.

After programming, the SRU9600 also makes itself easy to use, by lighting up only the buttons that are active for the device you are currently using.

The remote, priced at $150, will be available through the Sharper Image (www.sharperimage.com) in less than a month, Philips says.

-- Roy Furchgott/

New York Times

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This banshee's wail is best at lower volumes

The name "banshee" may conjure up screaming wraiths swirling above frightened villagers, but the Banshee portable speaker is much less alarming. This compact speaker system, a 16-inch package that looks like an alien egg sac, can simulate surround-sound audio.

The Banshee has five 10-watt speakers and a sparse control panel with a power switch and two volume buttons. The set works with any audio player that has a 1/8-inch headphone jack, including iPod and Creative Technology MP3 players. A short cable, included, hooks up to the player and sends audio to the Banshee.

The $149 set, which comes in black or white, also includes a small stand for MP3 players. While the speakers tended to distort at higher volume, the audio was generally crisp and clear, with a hint of surround sound even when playing standard stereo music.

-- John Biggs/New York Times

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