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September 2003, Week 3 -- The "Joy"-Stick of Computing

   
Cyborg Controller

   It must be 10 years since I last reviewed a joystick, but it shouldn't have been -- because they're fun. They are also useful for plenty of computer tasks, and not just playing games.

   Engineers often use joysticks, and trackballs, for circuit design and similar blueprints. I've even seen people use joysticks for word processing. Why not, they control the cursor just as well as a mouse does. Pull the trigger instead of clicking the mouse button. Zap that purple adjective! Could put the fun back in writing. Of course, joysticks are practically required for remote control devices and flight simulators.

 

   We looked at the new Saitek "Cyborg evo," which has more tricky moves than a Chicago fan dancer. It has five programmable thumb buttons, a rapid-fire trigger, rudder control twist (or "funktion" as it's called in the German version), throttle lever, four more programmable buttons in the base and a palm rest. All this for just $40? That's from the maker www.saitek.com; it's only $29 from Neutron Express www.neutronexpress.com. My mouse cost more than that! The Saitek evo is for Win 98 and up and has a USB connector.

 

The "tabulet rasa"

 Wacom

   As long as we're on cursor control devices, there is nothing that quite beats the utility of a graphics tablet.

   Wacom www.wacom.com dominates this area. Their tablets start at $200 and make life a lot simpler for computer artists. While some people can draw by controlling a mouse, most, myself included, find it very difficult to do a sketch that way. It's much easier to use a graphics tablet, where you can draw with a pen-stylus, in much the same way as with a pen or pencil.

 

   We worked with the "Intuos 2" tablet, a middle range drawing tablet that lists for $350 and has a 6x8 inch drawing surface. It comes packaged with a mouse, a pen and lots of software, including Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 (the very latest one). The pen needs no batteries but its movement is sensed by the tablet, which creates lines on the computer screen much as if you were waving a magic wand. The pen is also pressure sensitive, allowing more than 1,000 steps of increasing pressure to produce thinker and bolder lines. The opposite end of the pen turns out to be an electronic eraser; wave it across something to be removed and it's done.

 

   Wacom tablets go up 12x18 inches, for $750. Pricing is commonly discounted, however, and you can usually get 20-30 percent off with a little searching on the web. The tablets work with Win 98 and up and Mac OS 9 and up.

 

   It's worth visiting the Wacom web site for lots of stories from tablet users, including the guy who designs McDonald's "Happy Meals" toys for children, a toy designer for Fisher Price, and an eye hospital that uses the tablets to store doctors' quick drawings and notes -- which can then be filed and retrieved electronically.

 

Internuts

 

-- www.nobel.se  The official site of the Nobel Prize Commission. Lots of interesting articles in all the subject categories for which the prize is awarded. "Physics in Denmark: The First Four Hundred Years," gave us a little pause. Also has children's games that teach you things, like all about lasers.

-- www.investfaq.com  A vast resource of links to services and advisers for all things financial. Find information about stocks, commodities, bonds, accounting and even identity theft. No ratings on reliability, just links.

-- www.cyberdance.org  Links to news, summer programs, goods and services, organizations, etc., all related to dance. Clicking on "Dance Web Sites," for example, produced 11 pages of links. The search could be narrowed further by specifying location.

 

Games

  Tron 2

 

   "Tron 2.0," $50 for Win 98 and up, from Vivendi Universal. This is a fast action game loosely based on the Disney Movie "Tron," which came out in 1982 and is a sci-fi classic. It's an adventure that takes place inside a computer.

   The movie can be considered as Tron 1, and so the game is Tron 2. The game is very fast, has great graphics and gets four and five stars from users. The word "Tron," by the way, comes from the old BASIC programming language and is short for "trace on," the command used to find the source of an error in the code. Buckle up. (Works well with a joystick.) Web: <www.tron20.net>

Books

  PC Mood Projects

-- "PC Mod Projects," by Chen, Mixon, Mansfield and Punska; $25, Osborne www.osborne.com.

   I couldn't resist this book. Because while there are quite a few books on how to build your own PC, the subject of this one is building you own PC case. There are some very clever (and attractive) designs here and frankly I only wish that some PC manufacturers would adopt them. How about a water-cooled PC? They have one here.

 Repairing and Upgrading PCs

 

-- "Upgrading and Repairing PCs," 15th edition," by Scott Mueller; $60, Que Books www.quepublishing.com.

   This is the definitive book for upgrading PCs and this special edition comes with a DVD (not a CD but a DVD) containing two hours of video that steps you through any repairs or changes you might make. The disk also contains updated vendor sources for materials and PDF files of chapters from previous editions.

 

NOTE: Readers can search past columns on our web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.

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