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July 2003, Week 4 -- Picture Perfect

   

   

   We have two five-star graphics programs here, and the good news is they don't compete with each other.

   The first one we'll look at is "Painter 8" from Corel, which finally got it right. They have made so many changes and so many good ones, that in effect we're dealing with a new program and not just an upgrade.

   Painter is what Painter does. There are more than 400 brush shapes to choose from (you can even generate them randomly, to see what fortune brings). You mix your paints just as if you were holding an artist's palette: squirt a little carnelian red, squirt some chrome yellow, mix with a palette knife. Select the kind of canvas, paper, board, etc., you want to paint on. Select the porosity. And so on.

 

   For the first time, all the tools are easy to select and use, and the program has a menu bar in the standard place at the top of the screen. Also for the first, Painter is fully compatible with Adobe Photoshop. Note: Paint programs are often easier to use with a graphics tablet, like one of the Wacom tablets www.wacom.com.

 

   Painter is an artist's program, as useful for a professional as an amateur. It runs on Macintosh and Windows XP or Windows 2000 and the list price is $299. They also have an "education" edition for $99. To get the educational pricing you only have to have some evidence that you are a student or member of the staff of an accredited school. Take an art course. Web: www.corel.com.

 

   The second is Paint Shop Pro 8, from Jasc. While Corel's Painter is for drawing and painting, Paint Shop Pro is for image editing and is most commonly used for editing photographs.

 

   This is a program that is powerful enough to compete directly with Adobe Photoshop but at $109 is less than a third the price. it's's also much easier to learn and use than Photoshop. The mark of a sophisticated image editing program is the ability to do layers, to take an image apart and put it back together as if each part were on a separate plane of existence. I've amused myself, for example, by putting King Kong behind a block of office buildings, but in front of another group of buildings, so it looks like he's stalking through the city.

 

   List price $109; even less from discounters. Web info: www.jasc.com.

 

Internuts

train collectors

-- www.traincollectors.org Headquarters for the national Train Collectors Association. Also has a store and a museum.

   The Train Collectors Association is headquartered in Strasburg, Pa. This is in Lancaster County, often called Pennsylvania Dutch country. I know this area and if you're interested in antique machinery, old steam engines, old farm equipment, etc., there's a lot of societies and museums clustered here. In fact, an internet search for Pennsylvania museums turned up 1,089 of them, many in and around Lancaster County.

 

   Which brings up museum searching in the U.S. in general: Go to the Internet and type in www.museumstuff.com/museums/usa/  followed by the name of the state right after the last slash. You'll get a list of museums and historical societies for that state.

 

Government sites of interest:

love stamp

-- http://shop.usps.com  and www.postalartgallery.com  Both of these are official sites of the U.S. Postal Service. The first one is the place to go for a complete selection of all U.S. stamps, because you can never find them all at a local post office. The second site sells enlarged framed reproductions of around 300 stamps. After all, the Post Office is a commercial enterprise.

-- www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook  The place to go for the "World Factbook" of detailed information compiled by the CIA for every country, island, region, city, etc.; $92 in printed form; free on the web.

 

-- www.state.gov  Official site for the U.S. State Department. They sell what they call "background notes" on individual countries. Prices vary but are generally $50 or less. Or, you can print them out from the web for free. Info on the web site is the most up to date.

 

Books

 

 The Ultimate Palm Robot

   Here's a kick for the home experimenter: "The Ultimate Palm Robot," by Mukhar and Johnson; $30, Osborne/McGraw-Hill www.osborne.com.

   Just as the title says, you can use a Palm PDA (personal digital assistant) or any other handheld computer that uses the Palm operating system, to control a tiny robot. You add wheels, chassis, sensors, speakers, motor, batteries, etc. Fit the Palm right on top of it all and away it goes. Since the display screen is uppermost, you can even read what's going on. The instructions are detailed and there's information on where to get hard-to-find parts, like omni-directional wheels. Best of all, the authors have included a CD with a master robot program; drag and drop various robot commands onto the master template, and you can even get the robot to talk back.

 

Games

 Pirates of the Caribbean

 

   The box office windows have barely opened at the theaters and the computer game is out. It's "Pirates of the Caribbean," for Windows, from Bethesda Softworks. This is a game version of the Disney movie, of course, and that in turn is a movie takeoff on the Disneyland amusement park ride. It's not all swashing and buckling, however; you can also explore towns, caves and islands before trading cannon fire. Nice graphics. Web: http://pirates.bethsoft.com 

NOTE: Readers can search past columns on our web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com  or bobschwab@aol.com.

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