January's downtime distractions include Toshiba's Portégé M205, Sierra Wireless's Voq, and a good book, The Anatomy of Hope.
Shake It Up
Toshiba's Portégé M205 may bear a faint resemblance to the retro toy Etch a Sketch, but in all other ways this laptop is decidedly modern. It's the first tablet PC that features the highest-resolution display (known as SXGA+) and a dedicated button for OneNote, a digital notetaking application that includes a built-in voice recorder. An internal gyroscope lets you surf the Internet just by tilting the machine; a slight shake pulls up the start menu or opens apps. Powered by a 1.5-GHz Pentium M processor and NVIDIA graphics, the 4.4-pound Bluetooth-enabled M205 with 512MB memory is a mighty portable. But for the price, one would expect a built-in CD/DVD drive (available with the optional docking station) and a FireWire port. $2,299; www.toshiba.com-Mark Spoonauer
Billed as a professional phone, Sierra Wireless's Voq is a GSM/GPRS Windows mobile phone, PDA, e-mail communicator, and media player all in one. While features such as a 200-MHz XScale processor, 32MB of memory, and an SD slot for storing e-mail attachments or audio and video files are standard, the foldout keyboard makes the Voq a standout. Type in a name and the MyVoq feature not only looks it up in your contacts but in your calendar and notes as well. Send messages as e-mail, SMS, or IM with one click, instead of having to hunt for the right application first. The Voq communicates with a variety of corporate e-mail servers, like Outlook and Lotus Notes. The configuration of the keyboard can be disorienting at first, and the hourglass shape is a tad too long and bulky--but, at five ounces, the Voq is relatively light, weighing less than the latest Treo. Carriers to be announced. About $350; www.voq.com-Mark Spoonauer
1. Sound + Vision, David Bowie (Virgin)
This remastered and updated (through 1993) box set of alternate tracks and rarities, plus a full disc of new music, will intoxicate Bowie loyalists and win over at least some people who still think he made his last good record in 1983 (Let's Dance). And even if you don't buy Kurt Loder's claim in the liner notes that Tin Machine rocked, you can't call yourself a music fan without owning the early '70s tracks included here. -Rowan West
2. Talkie Walkie, Air (Astralwerks)
Sofia Coppola's favorite French ambient duo returns with its most intimate record to date, mixed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. J.B. Dunckel and Nicolas Godin breathe new life into their synthesized style of pop, exhaling sonic clouds. -Rowan West
3. Folklore, Nelly Furtado (DreamWorks)
Following up her acclaimed 2000 debut, Whoa, Nelly, Grammy-winner Furtado pours her Portuguese-Canadian soul into an eclectic "post-folk" album that evokes past masters of ethnofusion from Peter Gabriel to Neneh Cherry. One highlight: the bilingual "Forca," in which Béla Fleck's banjo dances all over an exhilarating Latin rhythm. -Rowan West
The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness
by Jerome Groopman, M.D. (Random House, 235 pages, $24.95) Given a life-threatening illness such as cancer, does one's mental attitude really have any influence on the course of the disease? Dr. Jerome Groopman of Harvard Medical School (whose earlier books inspired the television series Gideon's Crossing) suggests that hope--"the elevating feeling we experience when we see...a path to a better future"--can block pain (by "releasing the brain's endorphins and enkephalins, mimicking the effects of morphine") and can even improve motor function in a patient afflicted with Parkinson's disease or ease the breathing of an asthmatic. In this engrossing collection of case studies, Groopman shows us sick people with and without hope: An Orthodox Jewish woman wills herself to die because she has committed adultery, a Vietnam vet nearly succumbs to despair before being convinced that his illness is curable, a specialist in stomach cancer comes down with that very disease but seizes on the one chance for survival (aggressive chemotherapy and radiation). In all these stories, Groopman builds narrative suspense like a good thriller writer, while revealing again and again how emotional outlook affects a patient's prognosis. He closes this fine book by pointing out that true hope recognizes the realities of a medical condition but "tempers fear so we can recognize dangers and then bypass or endure them." -Michael Dirda
Alien Quadrilogy (Fox Home Entertainment, $100)
Fans who recoiled in horror through all four Alien flicks and still can't get enough may be sated at last with the Alien Quadrilogy. In addition to the flicks, this nine-disc collection includes 44 hours of extras, director's commentary, and never-before-seen material. From Ridley Scott's groundbreaking original in 1979 (a director's cut was recently re-released in theaters) to the effort by a pre-Titanic James Cameron in 1986 to Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 1997 Alien: Resurrection, witnessing the progression of special-effects filming and movie marketing is like film school in a bone-chilling box.
EXTRAS: Each movie comes with a companion DVD that can be viewed by chapter or as a seamless documentary, with commentary by the individual directors, save for Alien 3's David Fincher. (Who could blame him? Production on the third installment, which churned through three directors, a rash of set redesigns, and countless scripts, was its own living nightmare. Adding insult to injury, its release disappointed in comparison with its critically acclaimed and commercially successful predecessors.) Bonus material--Scott's storyboards, Sigourney "Ripley" Weaver's screen test, trailers, and scenes from the life of an extra off the set of Alien: Resurrection--is addictive. -Larry Smith