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June 2002, Week 3 -- 2B or not 2B

    

 

 USB2 PCI Card

   The ubiquitous USB connectors on new PCs are going to be sent into oblivion by USB-2. It's 40 times faster than the original USB, but it falls under the second golden rule of universal computing: you have to get something else to make it work.

   USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. It has become the most common kind of connection for adding equipment to the PC. But unless you have the very latest computer you will have to upgrade your PC by adding a USB-2 plug-in card (a circuit board) for around $50. That means opening the computer case, which many people won't do, but it's really no problem. Laptop users will have to buy another extension plug-in card.

 

   There are plenty of makers of add-on cards and we recently got a set from Belkin, one of the larger makers. The set is really two pieces of equipment: one is the USB-2 add-on card, $50, and the other is a USB-2 hub with four sockets. The hub is only necessary if you want to connect more than one USB-2 device and let them each have their own port. It's $75 and if you don't need it, skip it.

 USB2 4-Port Hub
USB2  hub

   You can even ask yourself if you need the increased transmission speed of USB-2. It becomes most useful for editing video and music, where large amounts of data are going back and forth very quickly. It's useful in more prosaic ways as well, providing faster connections with the printer, the scanner, external hard disk drives, and USB linked networking equipment. USB-2 moves data at about half a megabyte a second, the same speed as the Apple "FireWire" system. I think it's worth upgrading. The cards can be purchased  almost anywhere; Belkin's web address is www.belkin.com.

   

Stay tuned

   Plantronics has a simple $20 gizmo that seems just right for the office.

   It's a "PC Speaker/Headset Switch." Just as the name indicates, you can switch between PC speakers and a headset at the touch of a button. Many people like to listen to music while they work and this is a good way for them to switch to a headset if it bothers somebody else. It's also good for tutorials and demos. Web address: www.plantronics.com.

 

Photo-Op

 3D Album

 

 

   Flip Album and 3D Album are two new programs for the display and organization of digital photos.

   Is this the future? Are you kidding? Is there anyone left who doesn't have a digital camera? Well, a few people. In the last two years the ownership of digital cameras has gone from near zero to 12 percent of the U.S. population. It figures to be on its way to 99 percent. (There will be holdouts among a few specialized photographers.)

   What to do with all those photos? Compress the images and you can e-mail them. With "3D-Album" www.3d-album.com  you can create slide shows with musical backgrounds. Keep them as screen savers, post them to the web or burn them to disk and send them to friends and colleagues. The effects are great: rising hot air balloons with your photos, rotating cubes, spinning apples, movie dissolves, kaleidoscope, etc.

   This is a very nice program and really easy: drag and drop photos into any order you want, pick the time delay for the rotating cubes or whatever your use, and add music. Done. 3D-Album comes on two CDs, one of which is a tutorial showing sample creations. List price is $40 for the PC.

  "FlipAlbum" comes in two versions, regular and professional, for $50 and $150 respectively from Ebook Systems www.flipalbum.com. We worked with the professional version here, which was easy to use and produced charming display effects, but we were left the feeling of 'why bother?' You can do much the same things with 3D Album, which is $110 cheaper and supports eight major European and Asian languages.

 

Internuts: the patent model


Machine for making toy torpedoes

   In 1925 the U.S. Patent Office decided to clean out their warehouse full of 155,000 patent models. These meticulously constructed models were required up until 1880 when applying for a patent. Even Abe Lincoln submitted one. A few went to the Smithsonian and the rest were sold at auction. Several thousand survive.

-- www.patentmodel.org  The Rothschild Petersen Patent Model Museum, in Cazenovia, NY, has 4,000 patent models. You can view photos of more than 700 of them on display on the second floor of his house.

-- www.for-inventors.com  A small model shop that builds patent models.

-- www.patented-antiques.com  They sell patent models and other mechanical antiques, like old sewing machines, cast iron egg beaters (heavy) and butter churns. (You might want to consult Thornton's "Eggbeater Chronicles," the definitive work.)

 

That's Entertainment

  Soldier of Fortune

 

   Computer game sales have passed movies and will probably maintain that lead until the next hot technology comes up, which could be many years away. The future is interactive.

   The hot new action release is "Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix" for the PC from Activision and Raven Software www.activision.com.  You have to stop terrorists from releasing a deadly virus. The action and graphics are excellent and the views often have that same birdseye quality you get from good comic book art. Fun for the desktop warrior.

   NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.