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November 2002, Week 2 -- Talking Pictures

 

 

 Crazy Talk

 

   Talking heads is what broadcasting executives call the people who read you the news on television. Forget those high salaries, you can create your own talking heads with "Crazy Talk," a clever Windows program from Reallusion www.crazytalk.reallusion.com.

   Start with any digitized photo of a person, pet, painting or statue; works pretty well with cars too. Use the program to fit a wireframe mask over the face. Fit the frame as closely as you can to the eyes and mouth of the picture. When you're satisfied, the wireframe is removed and the picture is ready to talk.

 

   The effect isn't entirely realistic, of course, but it's a lot of fun and good enough to catch anyone's attention. Real voices can be used for the speech, or a computerized voice for a robotic effect. The result is certainly amusing and could add a nice touch to ads and presentations for business use. The program is $40 for the standard version, $80 for a web edition that permits talking heads to be used on web sites.

 

Photo editing

  Picture It

   Microsoft's new version of PictureIt for Windows is subtitled "Digital Image Pro," and has many of the features found in Adobe's popular PhotoShop Elements.

   Those features include some of the best photo enhancement tricks you could want. "Photo flash," for example, brightens the dark foreground of a picture "as if" it had been shot using a flash attachment. "Reduce Backlighting" brings the sky back into pictures that have lost it in a blur of white. Other tools allow the user to turn a photo into a semblance of a charcoal sketch, a woodcut, mosaic, watercolor or an antique sepia-tint. If you want more exotic features, Digital Image Pro accepts filtering programs designed as plug-ins for Adobe Photoshop. There are dozens of these and while they add expense, they also add professional features.

 

   More than 3,000 PictureIt templates let you add borders, turn photos into stickers, postcards, albums, etc. Many of the speciality items, such as refrigerator magnets and professional glossy prints, have to be purchased separately from their web site http://photos.msn.com/pictures, where you can also store about 50 photos at a time to be viewed by friends. We found the program for $90 at amazon.com and there is a $30 rebate from Microsoft. Nice features, easy to use, good price.

 

The numbers report

 

-- Sales of digital cameras have doubled every year since 1997.

 

-- Twenty percent of U.S. households own a digital camera.

 

-- By the end of this year (2002) an estimated 25 billion photos will have been taken on digital cameras.

 

Scan and send

  Visioneer 9450

   Visioneer's latest Windows scanner, the 9450 PDF, uses "Adobe Acrobat 5" software to generate a file that looks exactly like the original document and can be sent immediately over the Internet.

   The $500 list price on the 9450 PDF seems high but on the other hand, many business users will like the convenience of being able to click on a menu item and have the scanned document emailed in PDF ("Portable Document Format") right then and there; it's a nice time saver. The scanner can scan eight pages a minute in low resolution and comes with "Textbridge" software for reading text and "ArcSoft's Photo Impression" for editing graphics. It's $50 less if you don't want or need the Adobe software. Web: www.visioneer.com.

 

   NOTE: Acrobat 5 can also encrypt a PDF file, provide password protection, allow or prevent recipients from printing the document, exchange comments with "sticky" notes, and has many other features. You can use those features by buying the software and using any scanner. A free trial version is available from Adobe at www.adobe.com.

 

Seeing double

 

   You can run two or more computers from a single keyboard and monitor if you buy what's called a KVM box to fit in between. The "KVM" stands for "keyboard, video, mouse," and those are the pieces that connect to one side of the box while the two computers connect to the other.

 Rugs 

   The boxes themselves are small -- roughly book size, and range in price from $49-$169. Those are the smallest. You can connect eight computers to more expensive KVM boxes that range from $299 to $549. D-Link www.dlink.com had the lowest prices we could find, but you should also check Avocent www.avocent.com, Linksys www.linksys.com, Belkin www.belkin.com and Raritan www.raritan.com for differences in features offered by these manufacturers. In all cases, cables are extra.

Internuts

-- www.rugreview.com  Start here to go to "Afghan War Rugs" or "Tribal Rugs." Decades of war have added a new set of images to tribal rugs produced in Afghanistan. Woven images of gods and goddesses, animals and plants, have been replaced by tanks and helicopter gunships.

Games

  Disney Coaster

   "Roller Coaster Tycoon 2," the sequel, is a game that doesn't hold my attention for five minutes, but ... you can't tear kids away from it. Addictive may be the right word. I'm talking hours in front of the computer screen. You design a "Six Flags" amusement park and create a giant roller coaster as the central feature. You also sell tickets and manage the park. Success depends on your ability and imagination. This is currently the number one seller. For Windows, $30, from Infogrames www.us.infogrames.com.

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.

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