Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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August 2006, Week 4

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GREEN BORDERS

               Practically everyone on the Web has written about the colorful border that keeps you safe while browsing the Internet. They've also complained about the $65-a-year price, which is probably why it's now been dropped to $30 a year. Another victory for the people!

    OK, so what have we got? GreenBorder puts a virtual barrier around your Windows PC so the bad guys can't get in. Every time you surf the Web or shop online, your computer is invisible to would-be intruders.

  Start by downloading the software from www.greenborder.com. To use the program, you double-click the icon on your desktop.  Now as you browse, you will see a green border around the screen window. Actually, you can make it any color you want, so Joy made it pink. You can also click to create a "privacy zone" that makes it safe to send credit card numbers, passwords and other sensitive information. When you click "end privacy zone," that information is shredded.

   The "safe files" feature used to cost an extra $15, but under pressure from us cheapskate journalists, it is now included in the initial download package. This allows you to download any kind of file -- programs, movies, music, etc. -- and then when you double-click to open it, that file runs inside your protective border. If there was some kind of spyware embedded in the download, it can no longer get out and send information back to its spymaster.

   GreenBorder comes in a personal or business version.

Talking to Your Computer

      Computers that understand human speech are a staple of science fiction movies and TV shows, but in the real world they can't understand a word you say.

   Dragon Naturally Speaking (www.nuance.com) has been burning a path Dragon Naturally Speaking 9through this fog for many years now, and each version gets a little better. The latest one is version 9.

    The promotional literature claims you don't have to train it to recognize your individual voice anymore, and we found that to be true. But it does help to train it (even though Bob once worked as a radio announcer). Once we did that -- and it wasn't hard or lengthy -- the program worked surprisingly well; in fact, it's easily the best yet.

   You still have to speak slowly and distinctly, and it doesn't understand punctuation very well. For instance, if you say "period," the program will insert a period. If you want to talk about a particular period, like the Renaissance, you'll have to train the program to recognize the phrase.  

   You only get one free tech support call. After that, phone support is $20 per incident, and e-mail support is $10 per incident. We used up our free call during installation when the program had a conflict with our Sony Ericcson phone software.  

   The truth is, speech recognition for the personal computer is still a work in progress. But progress is being made. List price is $200 for the "preferred" version and $100 for the "standard." It used to be around $600 when it first came out. A headset with microphone is included in both packages.

Internuts: Walking the Walk, Hearing the Talk

 ·  www.phillybyphone.com: A tour of Philadelphia's historic spots narrated on your cell phone. The cost is $10, and we found the free sample tour to be well done and entertaining. The site also provides maps.  Philly by Phone·  www.talkingstreet.com: This site has walking tours by cell phone for Washington, D.C., New York and Boston. Though the speakers are celebrities, the tours didn't seem as well-done as Philadelphia tour. Nonetheless, this is an interesting way to do a city walking tour and the cost is low, only $6.

Blow Up

 

    No, this is not about a Hollywood divorce or the movie starring John Travolta. It's about a program from Alien Skin. (As if that explained anything.)

   One day you take a small picture, and later on you like it so much you wish it was a big picture. This sounds like a job for Blow Up. It's a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop, or the much cheaper Photoshop Elements 3 or 4. The programBlow Up works with both Windows and Macintosh and lets you blow up a photograph by a factor of four to six. That means the final area will be at least 16 times the size of the original.

 Now lots of photo-editing programs can enlarge a picture, but what happens fairly quickly is you begin to see jagged edges or marked blurring as the picture gets bigger. Blow Up handles that problem better than anything we've seen, and you can take an ordinary snapshot and make it into a sharp-looking 8-by-10 or larger. List price is $199 at www.alienskin.com.

 Books 

   "101 Spy Gadgets for the Evil Genius" by Brad Graham and Kathy McGowan; $25 from Tab Electronics (www.books.mcgraw-hill.com).

   This is a hobbyist's delight. Here are detailed instructions and diagrams for making your own video surveillance cameras, hidden microphones for eavesdropping, telephone taps and simple devices to disguise your voice over the phone. The book also tells you how to build laser transmitters to transfer the information you pick up to another location. And of course there are the remote-controlled toy cars fitted with hidden cameras and listening devices. Go anywhere; look; listen.


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