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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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December 2002, Week 5  -- Digital Loose Lips

 

 

 

 redax

   The thing about computers is they can make someone look foolish very fast. Sensitive information is sometimes inadvertently released to the whole world before anyone catches it. Such information has even gone out as press releases or official documents, the sender not realizing what has happened until something strikes the fan.

   A program called "Redax" provides a check on this danger for PDF (portable document format) files, which have become the standard for electronic transmission. These are files that preserve the formatting of an original document, including every word and picture. Redax allows users to censor documents, deleting information they do not want widely distributed. This issue comes up frequently for governments, law firms, hospitals and companies who do not want proprietary information made public. It even came up recently with the huge quantity of weapons information documents released to the United Nations by the government of Iraq. Information on the design of nuclear weapons was removed before the remaining documents were released to most UN members.

 

   Redax is a plug-in for Adobe Acrobat, the main program used to create PDF files. The user defines what is to be censored by marking blocks of text and illustrations or selecting key words. The deleted information can appear blacked out, whited out or simply as dotted lines or blank spaces.

 

   The program is used by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the Food and Drug Administration, the Secret Service and was recently adopted by the Department of Justice. Redax 3.0 is made by Appligent, Inc., and retails for $349; it runs on Windows 2000 and NT. A free trial version is available from the web site: www.appligent.com.

Quick Pix

 

   This is the easiest photo program we've seen for the ordinary user. It's called "Photolightning" and it's almost that quick.

   The click commands get right to it: remove red eye, crop picture, sharpen focus, etc. But the best feature is the ease with which you can make prints or send photos on the web. You have quick clickable choices to email a photo or create a flip album. Open a folders of your photos from the hard drive or download them directly from a digital camera and click on the ones you want. Then print them out, email them, or upload your selected set to an online photo processor, like www.snapfish.com or ShutterFly www.shutterfly.com.

 

   Photolightning is $40, for Win 98 and up, from the maker's web site www.photolightning.com. You can download a free 30-day trial. Very nice program.

 

Speak easy

 

   You can send spoken messages using head-shot photographs and special software from Pulse Corp. The result is remarkably realistic and a real attention getter.

 dog
Talking Dog at
www.budweiser.com

   The key is synchronizing the movement of facial muscles with the spoken words. The process uses $50,000 software from Pulse Corp., and has been used by large corporations like General Electric and beer company Anheuser Busch for promotional messages. By the time you read this it should also be available, with more options, from the web site: www.flowgo.com. Use is free from any of the sites.

 

   If you use the beer company site you must signify that you are 21 or older. You can visit www.budweiser.com or www.budlight.com. Each site has a selection of several faces and voices. If visiting a beer site is troublesome, try flowgo.com first to see if they're up and running yet.

 

    If you use your own picture, the Pulse software takes you through a simple process of clicking points on the eyes, mouth and facial outline. Then type in the words you want and select a speaking voice. Short messages work best. Use phonetic spelling for greater clarity.

 

   It's a charming way to send personal messages or company promotions, and the fact that the first users have been large companies tells us they think it's effective. If you use one of the beer company sites the message will be sent from them and may be automatically deleted by spam blocking software. However, a copy of the message is also sent to you. You can then forward this to anyone you wish and the sender line will show your name, not that of the beer company. To do this from Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, you have to change the security settings in the "tools" menu and choose "internet zone" instead of "restricted sites zone."

 

Games

  Age of Mythology

-- "Age of Mythology" from Microsoft is currently the number one seller on some charts. It is played like medieval war games only you move in ancient civilizations filled with myth and magic. Call on Gods and mythical beasts for assistance. www.microsoft.com/games.

-- "Arx Fatalis," from JoWood Productions, for Win 98 and up. This is a dungeons and dragons role-playing adventure for serious D&D fans. The background motif is creepy but many players like this. There are hundreds of characters in the game and they respond to you in individual ways, depending on your actions. One player said some scenes were so scary he turned up the room lights. The graphics are among the best. www.arxfatalis-online.com.

 

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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