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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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April 2002, Week 1 -- Small Wonder

    

Compact Flash
SanDisk Compact Flash

   Some things still astonish me. The latest is a tiny square of plastic from SanDisk www.sandisk.com. It's smaller than a matchbook, weighs half an ounce, and holds a gigabyte of flash memory.

   These compact flash units are everywhere now, though this is the first we've seen with such a high capacity. They are used with digital cameras, laptops, MP3 music players, and as cute little "key-chain" memory sticks for portable storage. If you're a digital camera user, the most common high-definition picture size right now is two megabytes. A one gigabyte chip would let you take 500 such pictures.

 

   Flash memory is a set of chips that hold digital information -- any digital information. You can download programs and files into the flash memory card as easily as music or pictures. There are no moving parts and the memory itself is relatively impervious to the physical shocks and temperature changes of what most of us would call a normal environment. It was invented by Toshiba in the late 1980s and they coined the term "flash memory," because it could be written to and erased "in a flash."

 

   The first flash memory chips from SanDisk were marketed in 1991, held 2MB (megabytes) and sold for $200. Later that year they made a few 20MB chips, which they sold for $1,000 each. Prices for flash memory have been dropping sharply. Flash cards that hold 32MB sold for $100 at the beginning of last year and now sell for $30. This new one-gigabyte card sells for less than $800. Lower prices mean more uses, and we can expect to see flash memory used for purposes considered impractical before, like holding a complete movie, or your life history.

 

   You need a "reader" to get information out of a flash memory card and into a computer. Of course, if you have the card in something like a camera, that device itself will have a connection to feed data to the computer. If you just want to use the card as a convenient way to carry information around in an almost invisible package, you can buy card readers for around $20-$25.

 

An Office companion

  Personal Collection

   The "Microsoft Personal Collection 2002" is an add-on for Microsoft Office. You must have MS Office installed on your computer to use it, but it can be any version of Office.

   If you are an Office user, what get you here is very nice. The $55 (suggested list price) package contains Microsoft Money 2002, PictureIt!, the Encarta Encyclopedia for 2002, and the Office Personal Portfolio. We are stone nuts about the new PictureIt and this has now become our favorite program for quick photo editing. But most users the real kicker in here is the Personal Portfolio, which has 600 templates for use with MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook (the e-mail program).

 

   Nothing I can think of saves as much time and effort as ready-made templates. If you like graphic design and playing around with layout you will want to do these things yourself, but if you just want to get a nice-looking brochure or newsletter out the door, use a template. There are templates here to set up calculations for the more common spreadsheet, nice looking presentations, stationery, business cards, calendars and resumes. Ah, life in the fast lane.

 

Internuts

 

-- www.si.edu/ndm  A window into the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, formerly independent but now a part of the Smithsonian. An enormous collection of industrial arts and design: glass, fabric, furniture, etc.

 

-- www.fashionmuseum.org  A virtual museum of textile designs. Nice section on American toiles (printed fabrics).

 

-- www.fabricworkshop.org  Site for the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia; claims to be the only one dedicated strictly to new designs.

  

-- www.virtualstampclub.com  The web address says almost all of it, but the information here covers possible frauds along with news about new and old issues. Stamp collecting remains one of the most popular hobbies in the world and is a major source of revenue for small countries.

-- www.whonamedit.com  A society devoted to explaining the origins of medical eponyms, such as the Parkinson for whom Parkinson's Disease is named.

 

Downloads

 

-- "Intelliroster 2000" www.intellicate.com. British program that lets you create and manage rotating work schedules. Comes with ready-to-use templates. Free for 60 days, $197 U.S. to buy. Useful but expensive.

 

-- "CompuPic," at www.photodex.com, organizes your pictures and can turn any group of them into a wallpaper slide show for your computer screen. A "maxi show" puts them all on the screen. Astonishingly easy to use; single click-and-do most of the time. Free to try, $40 to buy.

 

Books

  Computer Desktop Encyclopedia

 

   "The Computer Desktop Encyclopedia, 9th edition, book and CD," by Alan Freedman; $50, Osborne/McGraw-Hill www.osborne.com.

   This is a must-have for anyone in the industry or seriously interested in computer technology. There are 1100 pages of definitions and thousands of illustrations and explanations of technical processes. This is really the best desk reference we have seen on this subject, a stunning achievement. (You can also view this encyclopedia for free by going to the web site www.techweb.com/encyclopedia, where you can search on any topic.)

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.