Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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January 2008, Week 3   

INSTANT NETWORK

dogYou can create a simple home or office network easily with D-Link's new DGS-2208 box.

This is what's called a digital switch box, and that's what the "DGS" letters stand for. It's the size of a paperback book. On the back of the box there are eight Ethernet ports. You plug an Ethernet cable from your router into one of them, and your computers and other devices into the others.

That's pretty much it because this D-Link switch is "self-managed": It automatically recognizes everything connected to it, and there are no configuration routines to figure out. Everything connected is now linked. TheDLINK 2208 package comes with a copy of Network Magic, which allows all users to share files and peripherals.

Aside from computers, the most common devices hooked into a network are printers and scanners. But no matter what is plugged into the digital switch box, they are all connected, with one proviso: The computers and peripherals must be network-enabled. This means they must have chips that allow them to be connected to a network, but this has been common for the past few years, and most computer equipment is network-enabled.

We want to point out that this creates a wired network, not wireless. We much prefer wired networks because they are secure from eavesdroppers, and they are less subject to interference. The DGS-2208 digital switch box operates at gigabit speeds. This is extremely fast, but please note that the data transfer rate you get is dependent on the weakest link in the chain, meaning if you have a slow router or slow service provider, your transfer rate is limited by that unit. The DGS-2208 sells for around $50 from discount retailers. It has been getting four- and five-star ratings from users. More info is available at dlink.com.

THE WII MACHINE

It's pronounced "whee," and that's also the feeling of the many people who have made it the most popular video game machine of the year. (Six million have been sold this year, 15 million in the past four years.) The Wii has inertial Wiisensors that recognize the users' body movements as they play a game. You dance and shift as you play, matching movements on the screen, which has made it into not just a game machine but a piece of exercise equipment. (Joy has become pretty adept at boxing.)

Nintendo, maker of the Wii machine, is working to expand uses even further. Currently, you can download several full games to the Wii through its wireless connection. Playing the company's Pokemon Snap allows users to take pictures of their best plays and post them to the Wii message board. This will probably be extended to other games and follows the increasingly popular practice of game players capturing their best efforts and posting the videos to YouTube.com.

You can also get news and weather reports on your Wii game machine. That's how we learned about crocodiles disappearing from northern India. (Heady stuff.)

We tried out Tony Hawk's new skateboarding game on the Wii, which has lots of movement and many falls. (You don't have to actually fall down when the game character does.) The Wii costs around $380 from discounters.

FREE SUPPORT ON VALENTINE'S DAY

CyberDefender (CyberDefender.com) is a tech service that works to solve problems on computers and help people set up new ones. Its support services normally cost $100 and up, but on Valentine's Day (Feb. 14) it's giving out free support. If the problem is particularly tough, the service can use remote control software to take over your computer and examine the problems in detail. You have to give permission for this, of course, but you can watch what's being done on your screen. (We've had this done several times and never had any security problem with it.)

VFLYER

Here's an update to a service we covered last year. Instead of plastering "for sale" fliers on car windshields, you can send digital notices to major Web services like craigslist, eBay, Google Base and others.

Called vFlyer, this service is free and produces beautiful sale fliers. It provides an online template, and you just fill in the details and drop in a photo, if you have one. The result is as professional-looking as if an ad agency had done it. (WeVflyer tried it out with a "for sale" notice for a friend who was selling a car, and the result was as classy as a magazine ad.)

When you have finished your ad, you check off destinations where you want it sent. If you're selling a house, the service can now upload your flier to the real estate Web sites Zillow and Hotpads as well as OLX and Geebo. The code used to generate these fliers, by the way, can be copied from the vflyer.com  site and embedded in any Web site.

BOOKS

"Digital Astrophotography, A Guide to Capturing the Cosmos" by Stefan Seip; $30 from Rocky Nook Press, RockyNook.com.

Almost everyone likes pictures of the stars and the planets. You need a telescope, of course, but once you have that, using a digital camera has big advantages.

A digital image can be manipulated in many ways, and there are lots of Astrophotographyprograms that can do it. Sharpness can be enhanced, false color images can be generated easily, and things not readily seen in a normal image can be brought out by filtering routines that separate parts of an image that may be only a single pixel apart in brightness. The book has plenty of pictures showing what can be done.

 


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