Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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June 2003, Week 1 -- Background music




   "SonicFire," from SmartSound, is a great program for providing background music to a presentation or video production. It provides the same kind of music you hear in movies and the tracks are royalty-free.

   You start the selection process by selecting a type: rock, country, folk, futuristic, world beat, orchestral, classical, etc. Within those categories you can choose melodies, rhythms and beats: driving, energetic, inspirational, suspense, calm, dreamy, leisurely, triumphant, heart warming, etc. You can also add songs, tracks and sound effects from other files, that you've pulled from disks or the Internet. Those, however, may not be royalty free.


   SonicFire is intended primarily for business and professional use and is the best program we've ever come across for adding background music. It can size any music clip to fit. If you have a three-minute video and four minutes of music, the program can automatically compress the music to fit. Similarly it can stretch a short piece to fit a longer video. The process reminds me of an old interview with Charlie Chaplin in which he was asked how much of a movie's effectiveness he thought was the result of the music. "Half," he answered.


   SonicFire comes in two sizes: $249 or $499 for the "Pro" version with four CDs of music tracks. It's available for Windows and Macintosh. The music tracks in all versions are royalty free. Casual users would be best off with the company's "Music Maestro," which is $50. More music can be purchased on the company's web site:


Video the easy way

 Video Wave Creator

   "VideoWave" from Roxio is the easy way to create and burn videos.

   What makes it easy is the use of templates. Bring the video into your PC and select from one of three editing modes: In "CineMagic" mode you simply select video and sound clips in a sequence and the program puts them together in a continuous video. "StoryBuilder" adds transitions and special effects. With "StoryLine," you use a story board, which is what professionals use, to line up scenes and transitions in advance, then trim each to fit the final story. Users had mixed views about all this, with some having hardware conflicts. Pricing ranges $40 to $50. Web site:


    If you want greater control in creating videos, it's best to turn to Ulead's "VideoStudio 7," $100 for Windows.



   Though it's twice the price of Roxio's program above, the extra money is well spent. VideoStudio 7 is still easy to use and lets you edit video frame by frame. This is the professional way and the best way. You can choose to edit in storyboard format or timeline; the terms are kind of self-explanatory. You can cut a piece of video by marking the start and end points and move the cut piece around as you would with a word processor.

   Special effects and transitions can be viewed at full screen resolution, in real time, meaning as they are created. Version 7 now adds slow and accelerated motion effects, and animated titling. You can have so-called picture-in-picture effects, which lets you do scenes within a scene.


   This is as good as it gets without having to jump up to programs costing hundreds of dollars more. Check system requirements at




--  "Soyouwanna" (say it out loud) teaches you how to do things they don't teach in school but you may still "wanna" do. Some of these are serious, some for fun. How to speak with an Irish accent, for example, is obviously for fun. How to be a comic book artist is serious. Hundreds of subjects.


--  Much about the history and current use of slang and odd expressions. The discussions are sometimes learned, always literate. The author wrote about a third of the Oxford Dictionary of New Words, was a studio manager for the BBC (British Broadcasting Company), provides citations and advice for the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), the ultimate authority on English definitions.


--  A marvelous collection of books and curiosities from the University of Wisconsin. You can call up a copy of the 12th century illustrated "Book of Beasts," translated from the Latin by T.H. White. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, sheet music, and much more.


--  For a fee, quoted in advance, you can consult an expert in a wide variety of fields. There is no guarantee the answer to your question is correct.



   Users are giving rave revues to the "Rise of Nations," $50 for Windows, from Microsoft. This is one of the of the most ambitious games ever produced, putting you in control of advancing the wealth and power of a nation. This goes well beyond past warfare games, adding trade, invention, espionage, diplomacy and cultural differences between nations over a span of 6,000 years. All action is in real time, either single or multiple players.




-- "Sams Teach Yourself Beginning Databases," by Stephens and Plew; $25

   Sams excels in teach yourself books and this one covers construction of what is probably the most important business software a company can have: its database. Lessons cover database design -- how to choose the fields you need and their order, and how to design queries that let people find the information they need. A must have.


NOTE: Readers can search past columns on our web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or