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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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September 2003, Week 5 -- Duds

   
 

   We had a couple of duds this week. Normally we don't waste space on duds, since that would take up space that could be used for good stuff. But we have a little slack this time, so we'll fill you in.

 Street Atlas 2004

    The new "Street Atlas USA 2004," $50 from DeLorme, was something of a trial. Very slow, awkward to use, couldn't find addresses even when we provided the zip code (How many people would know a destination's zip code, anyway?) and couldn't find zip codes for addresses we knew were correct. After several years of turning out pretty decent street guides on CD, they seem to have stumbled. We tried the new one and you can color us depressed. DeLorme web site: www.delorme.com.

 

   By the way ... it's kind of hard to justify buying any kind of street map software these days. Why not just go on the web and visit any of the following: www.mapquest.com, www.mapsonus.com, www.expedia.com , www.yahoo.com or www.bigbook.com? All these sites show North American street maps and provide driving directions, no charge. Their directions were better than the Street Atlas CDs. Or for $10 you can buy a Rand McNally road atlas and work it out yourself.

 

 

   "The New York Times Touch-Screen Crossword Puzzle," with one thousand crossword puzzles in a handheld device.

   Okay, whadda we got here? It costs $70 and requires two AAA batteries, which did not come with it. The box cover shows a brightly lit display about the size of a man's palm. The reality was a display about the size of a business card, and not lit up at all, brightly or otherwise. It was harder to read than the natural disaster disclaimers on an insurance policy.

   The stated objective of said device was to provide crossword puzzles in a small piece of equipment you can "take with you anywhere." We feel compelled to point out you can buy paperbound books of crossword puzzles -- including those of the New York Times -- for less than $5, and you can "take them with you anywhere," no batteries required. For those who still desire to find a four-letter word for silly, electronically, visit the web site www.excaliburelectronics.com.

 

Memory frame for business displays

Picture Frame

   A year ago we wrote about a small flat panel screen that came mounted in a picture frame and had enough memory to display a slide show. Now the same company, Pacific Digital, has come out with a much larger 8x10-inch display that can show pictures and sound and lets the user add special effects.

   It seems like it would make a nice display device for a company's reception lobby or a trade show booth. But at $500 it would be cheaper to have sound and pictures on a TV. Still, there is something cool and futuristic looking in having the display look pretty much like an ordinary picture frame, but one that talks and changes. More info at www.pacificdigital.com.

 

Jigsaw this

 

   "Living Scenes Jigsaw Puzzle" converts any picture you have in the computer into a jigsaw puzzle on the screen. You can scramble the pieces and reassemble them with the mouse and choose to make a puzzle with few pieces or many. Home hobbyists will be disappointed to learn you cannot print the jigsaw picture so you can cut it into cardboard pieces. We tried it and the picture printed without the jigsaw lines. Price is $15, from www.livingscenes.com.

 

Books: Hacking through the undergrowth

 Windows XP Hacks

   Three new books from the O'Reilly imprint describe "hacks" that make it easier to navigate and use Amazon, Ebay and Windows XP. "Hack" in computer talk simply refer to small routines or bits of code that make it easier and faster to move through a program. The word is often used to describe damaging computer attacks, but that's not what it means to programmers and was not its original use. The three books below are $25 each, from www.oreilly.com.

  

-- "Windows XP Hacks: 100 Industrial Strength Tips & Tools," by Preston Gralla. The tips and tools cover simple things, like controlling cookies when browsing the web, to creating your own icons and cursors and making sure a network server is always available. Learn how to build a wireless network hub out of tin cans.

-- "Amazon Hacks, tips & tools," by Paul Bausch. Most people think of Amazon.com as a giant online bookstore. But it's much more than that, and you can use the tips here to find the exact product you're looking for, not just a book, from among the hundreds of thousands they have.

 

 

 

-- "eBay Hacks, tips & tools," by David Karp. Learn how to monitor auctions, use advanced searches, and never loose another penny to dishonest sellers.

Kid stuff

-- "Pirate Raider," $20 for Win/Mac, carrying the Fisher-Price label. Pirate adventures have always been popular in the movies and this game will be a winner with children ages four and up. The pirate vessel was easy to control and the adventures were fun. We had no trouble and we're basically about six. Game comes with a nice pirate captain play figure in the box. Web: www.education.com.

 Barbie of Swan Lake

 

-- "Barbie of Swan Lake," $30 for Win/Mac. This charming children's program lacks just two things from the title: Barbie, and the music of Tschaikovsky's famous Swan Lake ballet. Once we got past that, it was definitely a charmer for small children. The box says ages 5 and up but we'd make that 3 and up. No web site listed on the box, so we found the program at www.amazon.com.

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.