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February 2001, Week 3 -- The Best Software We've Ever Found

 

   Not all good things are expensive; some are even free.

   The most useful utility program I've ever run in Windows is a type called a "clipboard extender." These are programs that store anything you would normally save to the Windows clipboard, either by using "copy" from a pull-down menu or the easier and much quicker "control-c" combination from the keyboard.

   The Windows clipboard normally holds only one item, and holds it only for that session at the computer. When you shut down, it's gone. A clipboard extender, however, holds many items, as long as you like. It's the best way to handle the "boiler plate" of frequently used text. I've used a program called "SmartBoard" for this purpose for many years.

 

   SmartBoard (with advertising) is available free from Oakley Data Services, in England. Web: www.sb2k.com. You can also get there from www.wintools.com which has other free utilities.

 

   A new free clipboard extender is "ClipBoard Express," from Chequers Software in New Zealand. You get it at their web site: www.cheqsoft.com. A full registered version is only $9.

 

   A nice feature of this utility is the ability to categorize stored clips by subject, area or time. Reporters could have a folder filled with stored acronym definitions: "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals," for example, to be slugged in right after the acronym "SPCA." You could have a group for Internet sites, etc.

 

CD or not CD, a burning question

 

   It has turned out that CDs are not forever. Some commercial CDs, produced by major record companies, have become unplayable or have lost tracks after only two or three years. What then are the prospects for the CDs we burn ourselves to hold files and records? Not good.

 

   Part of the problem involves how the disks are cared for. Careful handling and cold storage help. Scratches can sometimes be buffed out, or overcome with the application of a thin layer of clear oil. The disk itself does not have grooves, like old records, but records information by changing the reflectivity of a dye under a layer of clear plastic. Scratches are almost always confined to that outer layer. The dye itself will deteriorate over time, however, no matter how careful you are, and that can not be smoothed over.

 

   There are lots of storage devices available now, and it's hard to know what to choose. CDs would still seem to be superior to magnetic disks and tapes, which can be wiped accidentally by a strong magnetic field, though in fact I have never had a disk or tape damaged this way. External hard disk drives have the same vulnerability to magnetic fields, but are the best choice if you want speed.

 

   No storage medium has the speed of a hard drive and if you do a lot of work with images, music, architectural drawings, enormous spreadsheets, etc., this is the best way to go. For long term, what might be called archival storage, the argument remains open between CDs and magnetic tape. And then there's paper. The fact is, printed documents have a shelf life of centuries when stored with only moderate care, and nothing in the digital age beats that.

 

Monitoring the view

   We just switched to using flat panel displays, instead of the older CRT (cathode ray tube) displays that work much like a TV. We bought two 17-inch Samsung SyncMaster 770 monitors for around $1,100 apiece; they offered the best size for the price.

   There has been a lot of hype about flat panels, and how wonderful they are and how everyone will use them someday. That may be, but so far I am less than impressed.

 

   There are two reasons for switching from CRTs to flat panels. The first is health. Conventional monitors, and TVs, emit alpha and some microwave radiation. The degree to which this is a health hazard is debatable, but even if the risk is slight, flat panel displays emit almost no radiation and you don't have to worry about it. The second reason is space: flat panel displays are much thinner and lighter than CRTs.

 

   Despite good color and pretty good definition the display on a flat panel does not look as sharp as my old Sony CRT monitor. Color me mildly disappointed so far.

 

Internuts

 

-- www.techweb.com/encyclopedia   Definitions for computer terms (20,000 of them). The definitions are extensive, sometimes with examples, like the difference between "XML" and "HTML."

-- www.wetfeet.com  A "pre" job hunting site. Information on what different jobs are all about, what they pay, what you need to know to get the job, plus interviews with real people who hold those jobs and tell you what they like about them and what they don't.

 

-- www.gamespot.com  Impressive site of tips and tricks to be used for playing popular computer games. Has the largest list of covered game titles we have seen so far.

 

That's entertainment

   What could be more fun than a toy train set? Build your own Lionel toy train layout and run it in Windows with Sierra's new "Train Town Deluxe." The program has 80 model layouts of its own, complete with jobs to match, like supplying the steel for the Eiffel Tower, or laying track on the Moon. Web: http://gregor.sierra.com/3dultra/traintown/   Choo-choo.

 

   Readers can search more than 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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