Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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July 2002, Week 4 -- Alphabet Soup


 Instant DVD

   The ADS "USB Instant DVD" is a small box that converts NTSC from a VCR or TV to DVD. Doesn't that sound like fun?

   Unraveling all those initials simply means that the video from almost any source can be fed into the box and will come out as digital video. The source can be a video cassette recorder, a video camera, laser disc player, or even a TV (television set). Connect that source through a USB cable to this little box and the output goes into the computer as digital video in DVD format. DVD, of course, stands for "digital video disk." ADS is just the company's name, and we don't care what the initials stand for.


   Despite the alphabet confusion this is really a pretty neat trick. Because the result of the transference is a much compressed version of a lot of video. Let's say you, the company, the school, whomever, has a lot of old video tape. It could be training tapes, home movies, course work or just promotional material. It takes up a lot of space and ... and this is a real problem in these modern times, it can't be sent out over the Internet or posted to a web site. Only digital material can be sent over the Internet.


   If you feed that video information through a USB cable, the most common kind of connector in use right now, the Instant DVD box not only converts to digital video in DVD format but compresses it into MPEG-2 as well. MPEG, by the way, stands for "Moving Pictures Experts Group." They're the folks who agreed on this kind of compression format and it has become a world standard. The DVD info is stored on your computer's hard drive and can now be transmitted over the worldwide web, AKA ("Also Known As") the Internet. It can also be copied to disks that can be played on just about any DVD player. Since a DVD disk can hold as much as 28 times the amount of data on a CD, we save a lot of shelf space.


   Anyway, I'm impressed. Maybe just as impressive is the way things are priced in the technology world, and maybe all over. The ADS Instant USB to DVD box is $249 when purchased from the ADS Technologies web site, or $155 from discounter Amazon at I'd call that significant price difference.


Tiny cameras

  Digital Camera 1300


   Benq is on a tiny camera run. Their first offering earlier this year was about the size of two packages of gum and had 8MB of memory.

   Their latest is the Benq DC 1300, which broken down into words stands for a Benq Digital Camera with 1.3MP (megapixel) resolution. The camera is slightly smaller than a deck of playing cards, has 16MB of memory and weighs just over two ounces. The 1.3MP picture resolution is high enough to make sharp 4x6-inch color prints and fits most user requirements. The camera also has a built-in flash.

   The DC 1300 can handle 30 seconds of full-motion video with sound or run off shots in three-frame sequences. This last kind of mimics the sequences that can be shot with motor-driven 35mm film cameras. It's often useful for sports events.


   The downside here is that the 16MB memory can't be removed and replaced with a larger capacity chip. On the other hand the price is only $99 from the Benq web site: They say that's a summer special but I would bet the price drops below that as the year wears on; competition is fierce.


   NOTE: So-called "credit card" cameras will become widely available this year from at least three companies: Casio, Panasonic and Logitech. The cameras are credit card size and about a quarter-inch thick. At least two will include LCD viewing screens.





--  Tips and tricks for PC-DOS and all versions of Windows from Win 95 on. Covers just about everything but the kitchen sink. Includes how to trouble-shoot your hardware. Very readable instructions. A lot of stuff here: how to speed up Windows, assigning hot keys to quick start programs, how to make older applications compatible with new versions of Windows, how to install a new version of Windows without losing the older version (nice if you want to keep old programs), etc.

--  The name is a bit reminiscent of Area 51, the military location that is rumored to hold a downed flying saucer. But it's actually about last minute travel bargains. There are several sites that concentrate on this subject but this one seems pretty good. Covers air fare, hotels and activities.

spy camera
tiny camera

--  Gadgets and gizmos from Japan, some available only in Japan.

--  Tips on how to grow and display perfect roses. For instance: dip cut roses in Listerine for 30 seconds before you put them in a vase. Who would have thought it?


Kid stuff



   Two new learning adventures from Disney: "Search for the Secret Keys" for ages 5 and up, and "2nd and 3rd Grade" for 7 and up, both for Windows and Mac. You can't beat Disney for art work and the games are great. On a further note, there is almost no bad children's software. I know parents fuss about this, but in fact we've only looked at two or three marginal children's programs in 20 years. The kids love them all.

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or