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February 2003, Week 4 -- Pesky Little Critters

 

 

 

Pocket Mouse

 

   All attempts to get rid of mice have failed. Not just real mice, but those sometimes annoying devices that control our computers as well. At least they're not as annoying as the substitutes.

   We bought a new laptop -- nothing special: a Toshiba Satellite model 2415, a steady work horse -- and in the first day I was sick of using the little touch screen as a substitute for a mouse. The tiny thumb controlled joystick used by IBM and others is little better, and the rolling trackball approach also leaves much to be desired.

   On the other hand, plugging in an external mouse has its own problems; not only does it add one more item to carry around but the dangling cord is a nuisance. If you get a radio control or infrared beam mouse, you don't have a trailing cable but you have a receiver as well as a mouse and now you have two extra pieces of equipment to carry around.

 

   Our solution was to buy a "PocketMouse Pro," an optical mouse from Kensington www.kensington.com. It costs $44, but it's smaller than a regular mouse and the cord retracts inside (like one of those roll-up cords on vacuum cleaners) when you're not using it. Just drop it in your pocket and go. I think $44 is kind of expensive for a mouse but I heartily recommend this one.

 

   For those who prefer no cord -- even the kind that roll up inside, we took a look at Kensington's new wireless version, called the "PocketMouse Wireless Pro." Now let it be known here that all wireless controllers require two pieces: the signal sender and the receiver. But the Wireless Pro copies the idea of the roll-up cord, substituting a hidden compartment to store the receiver inside the mouse. Unplug the receiver (about the size of a pack of gum), store it in the mouse and once again you can drop the whole setup in your pocket and go. Price is $50.

 

 

   Now that's nice, and as long as we're on the subject of mice we'll go a little further. My only objection to the wireless mouse for a traveling setup is that any time you have two pieces of anything you are likely to lose one of them. Even if you can store one inside the other. So it's back to the desktop:

   Kensington is proudest of its new "StudioMouse Wireless," which has a charging cradle and lots of buttons. Before we go any further let me say that I have no connection with Kensington Technology, never met anyone from there and have no idea where it is. I used a three-button Logitech roller ball mouse for years and loved it. Finally, after 12 years, it up and died a couple of weeks ago. Sic transit gloria mousey.

 

   The Kensington StudioMouse is also three button, plus a scroll bar for scrolling pages on the screen. The middle button is nice to have for automatic double-clicks. Now we're up to $90 -- eek! But it has a recharging cradle, so you'll save some money on batteries.

 

Thanks for the memory frames

 

   The idea here is the same as the LCD screens Bill Gates has set up in his house: You take a liquid crystal display (LCD for short), hang it on the wall or put it on a table, and display pictures of the kids, company products, whatever. Gates uses his for changing displays of art.

 

 

   Pacific Digital has something similar in a small display called "MemoryFrame." More than 50 pictures can be loaded into the frame, either directly from a digital camera or from a PC with Win 98 or higher. The display screen itself is just 3.5 by 4.5 inches, but seems adequate; the color is bright and the display sharp.

   Loading pictures is extremely simple: just connect the frame to the computer or camera with a USB cable and send the pictures. MemoryFrame can be set to display a fixed picture or a slide show with selected time delays. Some features can be set with software from a computer but the main ones are also controlled by buttons on the back of the frame.

 

   Since you don't need a computer to either load or operate MemoryFrame, it can be used to display the latest pictures loaded from a digital camera. It weighs 28 ounces (800 grams) and can be moved around easily, needing only an electrical outlet for the power transformer.

 

   We were quite taken with the little picture and its frame; it's really charming. Not so charming is the price: $330, but I think it's worth it. Competing display screens are cheaper but require you to connect to the Internet every time you want to load new pictures. Pacific Digital web site: www.pacificdigital.com.

 

Games: City Lights

 SimCity 4

   "Sim City 4" returns to the original concept and it's better than ever. Forget the variants of recent years: Sim Farm, Sim Ant, Coaster, Safari, the Sims (family), etc. The true game is Sim City itself, written 20 years ago as a teaching program for city manager classes. Sim City 4 recasts the original and takes it where no Sim has gone before. Build several cities and interconnect them. Build a village or a world class metropolis. See it operate day and night. Now try to control it. It's $40, for the PC, from Electronic Arts www.simcity.com

 

NOTE: Readers can search though past columns by going to 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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