Only the Best Earn
PET Seal of Approval

Reviews by Tim Boxer

Panasonic DMC-LC43
Thomas Train Set
Paint Shop Photo Album 4
Paint Shop Pro 8
Excalibur Games
Outset Media Games
Video Game Jockey
Flip n Flyer

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC43

Rocky Mountains, Alberta

Athabasca Glacier at
Jasper National Park, Alberta

Banff Hot Springs

Metis cooking at
Winnipeg Folklorama

Panasonic Lumix Digital

HEN I toured three cities in Canada this summer, one camera that I found indispensable was a beauty from Panasonic. It’s the latest addition to their Lumix digital line—the DMC-LC43 model priced at $399.95.

The outstanding feature of this lightweight camera—besides superlative Leica optics—is the ability to capture images fast. I was able to shoot cityscapes as well as interesting people with its 3x optical zoom with complete ease. The lens is comparable to a 35-105mm on a 35mm camera.

With a pixel count of 4.0, I produced a collection of superb pictures to memorialize my Canadian journey.

Panasonic claims its new digital imaging technology, Venus Engine LSI, is able to display the image on the LCD and write data to the SD memory card simultaneously as soon as the CCD captures the image. I put it to the Canadian test and the camera proved superb.

In Calgary I photographed the landscape. At Banff I ventured out to the Rocky Mountain glaciers and documented the ice fields. In Winnipeg, I arrived in time to view Folklorama and make pictures of ethnic culture. All the images appeared crisp and sharp.

You can hold the camera in the palm of your hand; carry it in your pocket. It’s always ready to use. Just be sure to have the battery charger with you. Due to my heavy shooting schedule, I had to recharge the batteries every day. But that was a minor annoyance. It’s such a gorgeous little camera, you’d be proud to take it anywhere.


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Marlee Cantor discovers Thomas
Sodor Rescue Set at the Manitoba
Children’s Museum in Winnipeg.
“I love it!” she said.

Thomas Acclaimed the Best

UR PET (Product Evaluation Team), four-year-old Marlee Cantor, found the wooden chest of the Sodor Rescue Team Set at the Manitoba Children’s Museum in Winnipeg. When she tested this Thomas train set she was thrilled. She cut short her tour of the museum with mom Gail and played engineer with this beautifully crafted Thomas train set.

Learning Curve International makes several brands of educational and developmental toys including Lamaze for babies, Take Along Thomas & Friends die-cast vehicles, Madeline rag dolls and accessories, Eden brand of infant toys, and the Lionel Battery Powered Train System (a perennial favorite).

The model Marlee played with was the Sodor Rescue Team Set. This deluxe train set for the island of Sodor features a combined track and roadway with a hospital, fire station, single stone tunnel, ambulance, water tanker, arched stone bridge – 100 pieces in all.

It makes a great gift for the preschool child who will delight in approaching different destinations with the finely made wooden vehicles and trains. Kids are fascinated with the movement and control of the wooden train play.

The Sodor Rescue Team Set, new for 2003, is priced in the U.S. at $299.99. See more at


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Organizing Your Photos

N excellent way to organize, enhance and share your digital photos is provided by Jasc Software in its Paint Shop Photo Album 4. Just two clicks is all it takes to transfer your pictures from camera to computer. If you’re still hesitant, you get free unlimited technical support.

Remove redeye in one click. Crop photos to eliminate unwanted areas. Beautify your pictures with frames and edges. Add titles and captions in your albums. Keep track of every photo by creating your own organizing system with keywords. Then you can archive your photos on a CD.

This image editor/organizer provides 40 templates to help you print photos in different sizes. Now that is a giant help.

You can download the software for $45 or order a box for $49 at


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Become a Pro

OR the professional in you, go for Paint Shop Pro 8. With this photo and graphics editor, you will get professional results in editing and repairing your pictures.

This great software from JASC will enable you to retouch your pictures where needed. A soft focus filter will make a portrait look even more attractive. If you have taken a picture that’s slightly distorted, not to worry. You can easily reshape the image.

If you want to go creative, you can change photos, remove backgrounds, apply special effects, and make a dull picture exciting to look at.

For the graphic designer in you, Use the Warp Brush to paint with textures and patterns. Use Picture Tubes to frame a picture. Indulge in painting and drawing. Add text to make unique shapes over your image. The opportunities to be creative are seemingly endless.

Download the software for $99 or order the box for $109 at


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Must-Have Items From Excalibur

OU’D better have a good supply of batteries on hand. Excalibur Electronics, based in Miami, offers a windfall of cool games that you’ll want to order for yourself as well as gifts for the holiday season. These are games that exercise your brain cells.

One nifty item is Ivan II The Conqueror, a wonderful electronic talking chess set.

The sound effects of the chess computer stimulate with swords clanging, horses galloping, men marching and drums pounding. Ivan will challenge you with a large vocabulary of spoken words such as “I will destroy you!” You’re not going to let a mere machine talk to you like, right?

Instead of surrendering to Ivan, you may summon courage, turn off the sound, and rise to triumph over the computer. With 136 adjustable strength levels, you’ll undoubtedly learn to become a chess champion.

Realize your true potential. Order ($99.95) from and let’s see what you’re made of – pawn or king.

Also from Excalibur is The New York Times Touch-Screen Crossword Puzzle. With the stylus that’s included (2 AAA batteries are not included) you tap a square and the hint key to see clues across and down. Tap the hint key again and the whole puzzle comes to view.

There are 1,000 puzzles to keep you busy on the subway, auto or plane trips, and in the doctor’s waiting room.

You enter your answers by using the stylus on the QUERTY keyboard at the bottom of the screen. You can adjust the contrast of the screen, and turn on the backlight so you can work the puzzles anywhere, even in the dark. Priced at $69.95 at

LCD Backgammon is an electronic game with eight levels of play. You proceed at your comfort level, from beginner to advanced. There are no pieces to lose here, once you install your three AAA batteries which, of course, do not come with the unit.

You play on a large, colorful LCD with electronic dice rolling. There buttons to use to take back your move, to get hints for coaching, adjust the contrast, and save the game in memory.

The game is useful when you’re alone – it’s you against the computer. Priced at $29.95 at Excalibur.

Forever Flashlight is quite an extraordinary item. There are no batteries or bulbs to burn out. It works on English physicist Michael Faraday’s Law of Induction. I never passed physics in school, so I can’t explain it. But trust me, I’ve tried it and it’s true – it lights up without batteries!

All you do is shake it for 90 seconds. Turn on the switch and it shines for up to five minutes.

Leave it in your car, or at home.  After a vigorous shaking it will always be ready to use. Costs $19.99 at Excalibur.

Excalibur is fun and games. The fun part is its JokeMaster. A smart fit in the palm of your hand, this unit is packed with 1,000 jokes that will amuse you whenever or wherever you need a lift.

I carry it in my pocket wherever I go. I turn it on for a smile or giggle at a bus stop, while waiting in line at the bank, riding in a cab, or when Nina is giving me a lecture. Instead of bringing up Solitaire on the monitor, I turn on the JokeMaster to bring up a smile and a good feeling.

After reading a joke or a one-liner, you can press one of three buttons to elicit a response – a giggle, a guffaw or a Bronx cheer. It’s a built-in laugh meter.

You choose from 19 categories of laughs, such as lawyers, animal crack-ups, parents and kids, aging jokes, and yo mama jokes. Priced at $29.95 from Excalibur.


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Games to Entertain

UTSET MEDIA of Victoria, British Columbia, is an excellent source for highly entertaining party games and educational board games. Get their catalogue of quality games by calling toll free 1-877-592-7374 or visit them on the web at I got a chance to look over three of their output of more than 40 family games.

Professor Noggin’s Wonders of Science takes science out of the classroom and into an enjoyable trivia game. You learn surprising new facts as you play. With a rich assortment of 30 topic cards, questions (and answers) range from birds and fish, environment, machines to sound, time and weather.

Wonders of Science is one of several card games in the Professor Noggin series.  Four new titles released in the spring were Ancient Civilizations, First Peoples of North America, Famous Inventions and Wonders of Science.

Each games is designed for 2 to 8 players, ages 7 and up.

Doubletaire is a fast action game for 2 to 7 players, ages 7 and up. Based on the classic solitaire, players race to play as many cards as they can before the game is stopped.

To win you need a combination of speed and strategy – and a little luck.

Package includes two decks of special Doubletaire cards, scoring pad, 15-second timer, and an instruction sheet with new rules based on solitaire.

CrossCrib will appeal not only to players familiar with cribbage but everyone who wants to learn a variation of this traditional favorite. The fun escalates as you try to build five high scoring cribbage hands while trying to sabotage your opponents’ hands.

CrossCrib – easy to learn but difficult to master.

To help you, the box contains the requisite instruction sheet, game board, CrossCribb card deck, 2 scoring pads, pencil and dice. It is desoigned for 1 to 6 players, ages 8 to adult.

You can play solo if you wish. The instructions also include rules for such variations as CrossCrib 20:20, CrossCrib DoubleTrouble and Cross Poker. They say it’s addicting, so beware.


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Game Console to PC

ERE is a way to liberate your TV from your various game systems. While the rest of the family are attached to the TV, you can connect your games to your PC. With the Video Game Jockey from you don’t need a second TV for your Xbox, Playstation 2 or Nintendo.

And you will eliminate clutter on your desk by connecting your console game systems, DVD player, VCR and camcorder to your monitor. It’s plug & play; no software drivers required.

It’s easy to connect your computer’s speakers or home stereo to the Video Game Jockey for stereo sound.

Priced at $79.99, the unit is available at


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Flying and Spinning

LIP N FLYER a cross between a hybrid horizontal yo-yo and a gyroscopic flying disc. Whatever, it’s a lot fun, says Miryam of our Products Evaluation Team (PET). The flying disc from Stellar Toys is lots of fun for kids ages 7 and up.

You toss it in the air and perform tricks with the bungee cord. It floats with a spinning motion. Catch the disc itself or grasp the cord which trails behind and perform tricks as the disc continues to spin.

It’s an excellent outdoor activity. Miryam tested it indoors. If you do, watch out for the china and chandelier.

Priced at $9.95 at

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