Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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January 2006, Week 1 -- The Best Unpronounceable Graphics Program We've Ever Run

 Xara Xtreme



   Xara Xtreme is a $79 package for editing photos and creating illustrations, and it blew our socks off. Admittedly, our socks were loose to start with, but they were caught in a high wind from the rendering engine.


   The more we played with Xara, the more we realized it was a serious competitor to Adobe Illustrator, a program costing a mere five times as much. After still more enjoyable play, we realized Xara wasn't just cheaper; it was better.
     The image-rendering is awesome. While normally you make changes to a drawing, click on it, and then wait for a graphics program to redraw it, this one redrew changes as we made them. The rendering speed was nine times faster than Adobe Illustrator, which is fairly fast already. Changes like adding a gradient to a color, shading from light to dark, or gradually shifting from pink to blue, took place as we moved the cursor. In short, the drawing updates as you move.
     Any illustration can be instantly turned into a "wire drawing,"a sci-fi effect in which you see an object as if you were looking at its underlying framework. Photos can be edited for red eye, lightened and given other fairly standard corrective treatments with a click or two.
     The most astonishing abilities of Xara Xtreme were zoom and rotation. It can zoom into a drawing four times further than Illustrator, and any piece of a drawing can be broken out and examined in full rotation. A demo shows off this feature by looking at an illustration of a microscope. You can keep zooming closer until you finally get to a dot on the microscope's slide. That dot is only one pixel, but if you zoom that pixel, it turns out to be a drawing of a woman taking a bath. The full magnification was more than 2500 percent.


   Xar Xtreme is an English program, and the woman describing the features has a delicious accent. You can watch the demo and download a free trial version at the Web site:



  Sweet Privacy Suite
True Image 9    The new Privacy Expert Suite 9.0 from Acronis goes further than ever in removing spyware and other malicious software, often called "malware." Most cleanups are done with a single click of the mouse.
   Malware is software that loads itself onto your machine as you surf the Web. One of the most insidious examples is a "root kit," which embeds itself deeply into a computer and creates a door that can be used for security breaches. They're tough to get out, but Privacy Expert nails them pretty well.
     A new feature with this program is the ability to undo any removal that turned out to be a mistake. Removals are placed into quarantine instead of being instantly dumped forever. This feature is present in several other spyware programs, as well. When you look at the quarantined programs, you can usually see if there's something there you really meant to keep.
     You can select removal categories. A single button click removes all evidence of where you've been on the Web and what you did there, for example. Other button clicks can shred files, remove passwords and remove credit card numbers and other data you've entered at Web sites. You can shred everything on the hard drive if this is a computer you're getting rid of.
     This new version of Acronis Privacy Suite supports the Firefox and Mozilla Web browsers. The popularity of these browsers is growing very fast, and it's a good thing because in general they have proven to be safer than the more commonly used Internet Explorer from Microsoft.
     Privacy Suite is $30 from, and this includes a one-year subscription for anti-spyware updates.

 LA Times publishes lengthy correction to article with plagiarized material A collection of newspaper "oops" notices. These corrections are sometimes hilarious and typically appear in a small box at the bottom of page one or two. Unfortunately, this Web site does not have our all-time favorite "correction," which was from the San Francisco Chronicle of several years ago: "The instructions for de-worming a cat, printed in the Pets section of last Sunday's Chronicle, contained an error. Please do not follow the instructions, as this will cause the cat to die."



Art This is a real estate site. You can select a location in many U.S. cities and towns, and it will show what's available for purchase and the asking price. Let your pointer hover over an area, and little flags pop up. If you click on a flag, you get a photo of the property and more details. Thousands of free charts (yes, thousands) from NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. These cover coastal navigation and fishing charts for the United States and external possessions. The charts also cover many inland waters, like the Great Lakes. Histories and other information on the work of 42,000 American artists. Examples are shown for many, and some foreign artists are included.





    "Makers" by Bob Parks; $25 from A collection of weird and wonderful devices by some inventive and eccentric people. There's a necktie machine that can tie a perfect four-in-hand in only 250 steps, taking about 10 minutes to do it. You might want to try your hand at a home-made 6-ton hydraulic press, or a nine-man pedal-powered vehicle usable on either land of water. Too heavy? How about a steam engine made of paper, or immersing your computer in vegetable oil for cooling?