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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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March 2002, Week 2 -- All Those Pictures ...

   

 

 After Shot

 

   Jasc's new "After Shot" is an eye opener. It's designed for digital camera users and has the usual image editing tools you find in nearly all such packages. But two features are different:

   The first is a stitching routine that neatly combines separate images into a single panoramic view. Providing panoramic views is particularly popular with realtors and travel agents; they can take shots of a property or a scene from slightly changing angles and then stitch them together into an impressive picture.

   But it's the second feature that provides the real power here. It's a superb and easy to use image cataloger. When a digital camera is connected to the computer a single click in the software brings all the images into After Shot as thumbnails. Even the brief movies that many digital cameras can take are brought in as single frames in sequence and can be accessed as single frames. Images can be grouped into related subject albums by dragging the mouse over a large number or clicking them individually.

 

   The sorting of digital photos quickly becomes an enormous problem for individuals who take a lot of pictures, but especially for businesses and schools, who can very quickly accumulate thousands of shots of products, procedures, books, people, etc. Each image in an album can be renamed -- instead of being stuck with the usual naming practice of undecipherable codes like "P1000107.jpg" and the names can be searched by keyword. The album itself can be named to describe the subject -- window parts, for example -- and each image in that album will then be automatically named "window part 1, 2, 3," etc. Images in an album can be edited as a batch as well: they can all be flipped, brightened, etc.

 

   This kind of album and catalog creation can be done by many image editing programs, but nothing we've seen is as easy and fast as this one. After Shot is $49, for Win 98 and up. Web: www.jasc.com.

 

Wireless networks

 

 

 Zywall 10

   We came across an interesting small wireless network from Denmark. It offers good security for schools and businesses using PCs.

   The "Prestige 316" is a $270 box from Zyxel that connects to the Internet and provides a broadband gateway for cable or any other high-speed connection. It receives and transmits to wireless ethernet cards installed in the computer in the network. That's standard and there are many such boxes.

   The next box is the best part: it's the "ZyWall 10" firewall, for around $300. The problem with any wireless network is that anyone else with similar equipment can tune in and take down everything you transmit. But the ZyWall scrambles information being transmitted between the Internet gateway and the computers in the network and flashes immediate alerts of any attempts to pry in by outsiders.

 

Laptop Gadgets

   The cutest mouse since Mickey is a new optical model from Kensington Technology www.kensington.com. It's called "Pocket Mouse Pro" and is about half the size of a regular mouse, just right for laptops.

   It has three buttons and a scroll wheel, like all first class mice, but the real surprise is the USB connecting cord: it is in the mouse itself. Press a small silver button on the side of the mouse and a small hidden door pops open in the side to reveal a coiled up USB cord. Pull the cord out and plug it into the computer. When you want to put the mouse away, click the button to open the trap door again and the cord coils up on its own.

   Pocket Mouse is $40 and works with PCs or Macs. It's one of several new products from Kensington, which oddly enough, has been around for exactly the same length of time as I've been writing this column: 20 years. Another item of theirs we liked a lot was a thin cable much like a bicycle lock. It plugs into a side opening on most laptops, designed for this type of lock. The cable lets you lock the computer to any convenient post or anchor. It's called "Slim MicroSaver" and lists for $45.

 

Education

 Preschool

 

   "School Zone" www.schoolzone.com  has come out with the best new children's educational sets we've seen in a long time. Each one is $20 and comes as a combination package of a workbook and a CD that runs on both PCs and Macs.

   But the really nice thing here is that the workbook is independent of the CD. While the disk has the usual learning games of letters and numbers and connect the dots, the workbook has its own games and puzzles and can be used without turning on the computer. This is a pleasure to see; not all learning is done in front of the digital box and the workbook is something children and parents can go through together. So far there are four sets: pre-school, kindergarten, first grade and phonics.

 

Hitting bottom

   Gateway, which has been experiencing hard times lately, is pushing a fast (1.2 GHz processor) desktop computer with Monitor, CD burner and Windows XP, all for less than $600. This matches similar deals being offered by Dell and Compaq. Since that brings most of the major makers on board for low-ball pricing, this figures to very quickly become the standard price for a new PC with Windows XP. Smaller makers are coming in even lower.

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.