Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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December 2002, Week 4 -- Looking Backwards

 

 

 Cruzer

   Time now for a pause in the rush of events, to recall some of the best things we've seen this year. It's easy to forget, and enlightening to remember.


-- The "Cruzer" is a $40 gadget from Sandisk www.sandisk.com about the size of a gigarette lighter. It holds a flash memory card about the size of a matchbook -- the same kind cameras use. You can swap cards holding photos, data, music, etc., whenever you want. Plug the Cruzer into a USB port and read or write to the new card. No software or power source is required and it works with Windows or Macintosh.
 

 Pyro

-- "Pyro MP3 and CD Maker" from Cakewalk www.cakewalk.com  is a $25 Windows program that converts the sound from LP records and tape cassettes to files that can be burned to CDs or stored on your hard disk. The program cleans up the incoming audio to remove hiss, hum, crackle, static pops, etc. It does mixes and fades so you can create your own custom CD album. Only $25 as a download for Windows, or $49 boxed.

  Internet Security   

 FineReader OCR

-- "Speak With a Geek" www.speakwithageek.com. An independent technical support service, to replace the almost non-existent technical support service from software and hardware makers. To paraphrase Lincoln Steffens, we have seen the past and it works. This is the way it used to be: genuine technical support; $35 a month, five-day free trial.

-- "System Suite," $60 for Windows, from Vcom www.v-com.com. The next best thing to tech support. Our favorite clean-up program to get the system working right again.

-- "Alpha Shield" www.alphashield.com is a hardware firewall for all computer systems. No more trying to figure out the proper settings, worrying about software conflicts. It's a $130 box that's plug and play.

-- "Fine Reader Pro" www.abbyy.com  is a $300 Russian optical character recognition program for Windows. It reads almost any scanned page and preserves all the formatting. The best we've seen.

  Picture It

-- "Microsoft PictureIt, Digital Image Pro," $69 for Windows at www.microsoft.com/pictureit. Great photo editing tools. We especially liked the masking tool for moving any object in the picture. Never trust a photo again.


-- "Camtasia Studio," $249 from TechSmith www.techsmith.com. Captures everything you see on the Windows screen and stores it in standard video format. You can create an educational or training video or just an amusement. Click-click, change frames that quick. You can edit the screens, add voice-over, and place pointers and comments.

 BlueGear 


-- "Microsoft FrontPage" $169 at www.microsoft.com/frontpage. There are a host of programs and services for creating web sites, but we like this one the best. Logical, well organized and contains its own search function.


-- "Blue Gear," $100 from www.bluegear.com. What we have here are two tiny transmitter/receivers about the size of packs of chewing gum. Plug them into USB ports and you have a wireless network; no muss, no fuss.

 


Canned Spam

 

  
   Here's one more spam killer for those who just can't take it anymore, and by all reports it's the most effective of them all.

 

   The program is "MailWasher," a free download from www.mailwasher.net. The programmer asks you to make a payment on the honor system, for any amount you can afford or feel is fair. That's nice, and if you do it he sends a list of tips for making the program work to its best effect.

 mailwasher
Mailwasher

   MailWasher becomes the front-end for collecting your email. (You can disable that if you want). You check boxes to delete unwanted mail or "bounce" it. The "bounce" is the killer since it returns a message to the spammer that your email address is no longer active. Bounced senders are automatically added to a "black list" for instant deletion should they come back anyway. If you're not sure about a piece of email you can preview it without downloading it to your hard drive, which protects against some viruses.

 

   There are a lot of features to this program and it can handle an unlimited number of email accounts. As one reader put it: "This is the Holy Grail of spam blockers." A couple hundred thousand people have downloaded it; my wife says it's great.

 

 
Up in the air, junior birdman

 


-- "Combat Flight Simulator 3, the Battle for Europe," For Win 98 and up, Microsoft www.microsoft.com/games/combatfs3. This continues a series of highly detailed air combat simulations from World War II. The player can choose from 18 American, British or German aircraft. The program is also network ready and the player can fly against real opponents. (In the early days of the IBM-PC and its clones, the test for true compatibility with IBM was whether or not the clone could run Microsoft Flight Simulator.)

Airport 2002 


-- "Airport 2002, volume 1," for Windows, from Wilco Publishing www.wilcopub.com. This is an add-on from an independent maker; you must have Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002 to run it. Three major airports in the U.S. and three in Europe are simulated in action and 3D. The player comes in with a Boeing 747 and must taxi to the gate. Other people and equipment are moving at the same time. The instrument panels are "live" in the sense that clicking on any control affects the plane's movements.


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.

 

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