July 2005, Week 1 --
A Concert in a Matchbox
We've been using a little MP3 player called "Sansa," from Sandisk,
the big maker of flash memory cards. " It's smaller than a business card
and about half an inch thick. The small display screen shows what's
available to play, what's playing, and the run time.
We've had trouble with some MP3 players before -- too confusing and
clunky, but this was an absolute breeze. We just connected Sansa to the
PC with the USB cable that came in the package and Windows immediately
recognized it as an external drive. If we also put a music CD in the
computer, Windows' media player utility pops up and gives us several
choices, including moving anything on that CD over to the external
drive. We could also transfer audio books this way, or store text or
On top of all that, the tiny Sansa is also an FM radio and you can
preset if for up to 20 stations. It comes with earphones, and our
reception was clear as we moved about in a 24-story building. One
triple-A battery powers the device and is normally good for 16 hours
The Sansa player comes with removable flash memory cards, which of
course are Sandisk's main products. This makes it extremely handy in a
couple of ways: For one, you can store different styles on music on
separate cards and have a kind of miniature record collection; a dozen
of them would easily fit in a small pocket. Second you can use it as an
ordinary external drive and store data on flash memory. These now come
in sizes up to two gigabytes. It's expensive storage compared to an
external disk drive, but ultra-portable and flash memory cards have
survived being driven over by trucks and going through washing machines.
Once again, this was stone easy to use and the quality was excellent,
one of our best recent new products. Amazon sells it for $99 with a 512
MB (megabyte) card, which holds 8-16 hours of music, depending on
whether you use the MP3 or WMA compression format. You can change cards
any time, inserting smaller or larger capacities. More info at
Erasing your tracks
Winferno's new "PC Confidential" erases your tracks when you're on
the Internet and securely shreds your personal files when you want to.
The program also destroys your records of any chats you had on the three
major chat services: MSN, AOL and Yahoo.
The shredding feature lets you skip handling individual files and drag
a whole folder to the shredder instead. The file shredding is done at
the same level required by the Department of Defense. For most people
worried about what may be seen on the hard drive when they give away
their computer, all they would have to do is open PC Confidential and
select the "My Documents" folder for shredding. This is nicer than
erasing the whole hard drive because the recipient will still have
programs to use.
When erasing your tracks, PC Confidential generates a privacy report
in each category it is about to delete. Our report found 949 items in
our browser cache, 262 items in the Windows Explorer history section and
195 items in our browser history. The broswer history is particularly
important because it may contain information that Windows saves to allow
you to auto-complete logon forms. This could include passwords and other
The number of items deleted may seem high but in fact is fairly
typical if you actively browse the web. The reason you want to delete
those items is not merely to remove possible personal information but
because that's how the software on many web sites tracks you. If your
browser cache shows that you go to a lot of financial web sites, for
example, you will almost immediately start getting a lot of spam from
stock market advisors, investment plans, newsletters, insurance offers,
PC Confidential is $40 for Windows, at the Winferno web site:
www.winferno.com. Winferno, by the way, is a company that has long
specialized in privacy utilties.
Games: Alien Action
"Area 51," from Midway Games; $30 for Windows XP or 2000, PlayStation
2 and Xbox. Up to 16 can play.
Area 51, of course, refers to the high security Air Force base near
Roswell, New Mexico. Fans of alien visitation stories believe it houses
a crashed flying saucer along with its dead crew. In this difficult,
fast moving game, a highly contagious virus from that crew takes over
humans and controls their actions. The result is a shoot-to-kill
thriller. The player consensus is that it's scary and great. David
Duchovny, star of the X-Files, is the voice of the lead character, a
failed medical student and expert marksman.
"Windows XP Speed Solutions," by Curt Simmons; $25 from Wiley
A slightly techie book, but with lots of information on how to get
rid of the junk that accumulates on your hard drive and speed up your
computer's operations. It's part of the PC Magazine series. The part on
increasing processor speed is probably more technical than most people
can handle. Some tips, like how to clear the registry file, should be
used very carefully, but are good if you pay close attention.
NOTE: Readers can search several years of columns at the "On Computers"
www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at
email@example.com and Joy Schwabach at