Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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September 2007, Week 2     

SEEING DOUBLE

We've become quite taken with using two monitors. We mean two at once.

Using a small DualHead2Go box from Matrox (Matrox.com), we connectedDual Head 2 Go two flat-screen monitors to Joy's main computer, running Windows Vista. It also works with Windows XP, 2000 and Mac OSX.

What we got was a display that stretched across both screens, literally giving us the big picture. That was fun to look at, but the part we thought more interesting and useful was being able to run different programs on the two screens. We could use the mouse to drag any icon from the desktop on one screen over to the other and open it there. Both screens remained fully operational. You can also drag open programs from one screen to the other.

Having two programs displayed at once lets you switch back and forth. A writer or researcher can have a word processor on one screen and notes or a browser on the other screen. You could work on one and watch the stock market or a sports event on the other. You can use and learn a new program while displaying the manual or an instructional video on the other screen.

We just love this for the office. Even though it takes up more desk space, what with the drop in monitor prices, it's not that expensive. The two monitors we paid $1,000 each for a few years ago can now be had for less than $200.

Gamers love dual monitor displays, once again for the big picture, and that can be carried to three monitors, with a triple-head video splitter, for a kind of Triple Head 2 GoCinemaScope display. Some game programs are written to take advantage of this kind of setup, and you get to see not only the center of the action, but what's happening on the periphery as well. The Matrox TripleHead2Go is so popular with gamers that it's currently out of stock.

The Matrox DualHead2Go we reviewed retails for $229 and was designed to work with the new monitors that use DVI connectors. The triple head would be $299. Following Bob's rule that "no matter waht you get, you have to get something else to make it work," we went out and bought adapters to be able to connect our older VGA monitors. They cost $3 each.

There are other ways to go here, and you can skip having to use a junction box by buying a multi-socket video card that fits inside the computer. But that computer must have an additional video slot to accommodate the expansion, and not all do. There are cards that can handle from two to 10 monitors, and prices run around $150 to $800. Who would need 10 monitors connected to the same computer? you might ask. It's very useful for distributing video to classrooms.

PROFESSIONAL LEVEL GRAPHICS

The new trueSpace 7.5 from Caligari (Caligari.com) lets you create three-dimensional scenes, objects and characters that can be used in ads, displays, games and videos. New features include transparency and reflection functions. We played with it, and it is awesome.

This is professional level software, so the price is $595, and the learning curve is long. The program comes with instructional videos, but you can still expect toTrue Space 7.5 spend a lot of time making your first scene. On the plus side, we found that spending a lot of time with this program was a lot of fun.

An interesting sidelight here is that Caligari has a recommendation service for what it calls its Gold Ambassadors. These are individuals and graphic design firms that have used Caligari to create some very impressive art work. You can browse these examples by going to the Caligari Web site and clicking on "Galleries" to the side of the home page and "Newsletter" at the bottom. Be prepared to stay for a while because this is quite a show. A monthly contest awards winners free software and/or training sessions.

INTERNUTS

  • Accuweather.com/astronomy  is a new feature with star charts and a sky photo of the day. Enter a U.S. location, and it gives you information on the night sky from there. You can also get free hour-by-hour weather forecasts for any U.S. location.

  • Body.AOL.com has tips on nutrition and fitness. Includes celebrity diets, memory exercises, a calorie burn calculator, etc.

  • MyPhotoAlbum.comMyPhotoAlbum.com  offers a free Web site with templates for making photo albums. There are many sites like this, but since it's free, there's no harm in taking a look.

 
BOOKS: BUILD-A-SPIDER

"Webbots, Spiders and Screen Scrapers" by Michael Schrenk; $40 from No Starch Press (nostarch.com).

What have we done lately for programmers? Not much, we answered to ourselves, so here's an unusual offering. Whenever we use a browser to find something on the Internet, that browser uses a software agent, often called a spider or a "bot" -- short for robot -- to go out and search for key words or symbols. This book tells you how to write your own search agents, using the PHP/Curl language. Among the agents described are ones that can send and receive e-mail, unlock password-protected Web sites, and automatically bid in online auctions. By the way: Why are they called "spiders"? Because they travel the Web, of course.

 

 

 
 
 
           

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