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Notes of Note
by Shepard Gorman

The November 19, 2009  Pepcom Wine, Dine & Demo event was the release party for quite a few outstanding products of note for the itinerant knowledge purveyor.  Let's deal with the newest "stuff" in categories.

Storage

We know there are never enough electronic closets to in which to stuff materials. When there are almost enough, they are not nearby. Those of us who integrate video into our PowerPoint's can really devour the megabytes and to suffice we need a virtual cave for storage. Why not have a central source for lecture material? If you lecture in the same physical area and use a multimedia cart ( e.g. a large screen TV or a video projector and a laptop) as do some of us, you hard disk space nearby. One such drive is Imation's newest WX External hard drive that uses Wireless USB  to provide 1.5 TB of file space which is approximately enough lecture/presentation material for the remainder of the century. It does this without any physical connection to a PC over a range of about 3-4meters. For the more tethered and timid, it also has standard wired connections like other manufacturer's drives. The wireless convenience factor makes it pricey at $450 list price, but the company is known for high reliability products. This one may deserve a look when the real (street) price is determined.

Verbatim announced the availability of another external USB drive with a twist. This one employs Verbatim's version of E-ink, the low energy use display technology that has ushered in the usable e-book readers, to both identify the disk and let the user see how much file space remains.  InSight Portable hard drives have  a 32 x 128-pixel display that remains visible even when they are unplugged from the userís computer.  It draws all of its power from the USB connection and is only the size of a deck of playing cards. The drive comes bundled with backup software in either in 320 GB and 500 GB sizes at list prices of $129 and $150 respectively but street prices are under $100 for the smaller unit.

Virtually every well known hard drive manufacturer  has a network attached storage (NAS) device that may also provide a solution to mass storage. While formerly these devices where the tended by the high priests and priestesses of data processing departments, they have been simplified so the small office user can easily use them.  A NAS is essentially one or more external hard drives in an enclosure with sufficient circuitry to give it an address on a local network, or in many cases, an Internet address. This allows text or PowerPoint slide file storage to be placed virtually anywhere as long as network access is available. Many of the inexpensive device include software for streaming lar4ge video or audio files. Retrieving these often very large file from a remote location means that the small hard drives in lecture hall laptops will not pose any real limit to a very full multimedia presentation. It is also more than possible to have the storage unit at home rather than an on-campus office. This allows the peripatetic professor to prepare materials at home and even use part of the NAS's capacity for entertainment or archival purposes. The size of the units vary from 500 gigabytes to 4 terabytes and the prices vary with the size and features from $280 to $200 or more. The mention of these here is meant to be a "teaser" and will be more fully explored in future article. Check Western Digital, Seagate and Iomega for some excellent examples of this genre.

Kingston Technology, 20 year veteran company in the PC memory and storage world, continues to improve on its line of USB thumb drives with models up to 64 GB. The new  DataTraveler Locker line of storage sticks is smaller and less pricey than last year's models but offers the excellent Department of Defense standard file password protection that is almost identical to the higher price models.  Just don't forget your password, because the line of drives will reformat after 10 unsuccessful log-.in attempts. The 4GB model costs about $36.

The Smart Pen: Old Storage with a Twist

The written record is still of obvious value. While the readability and transmission of electronic documents cannot be beat, there is no substitute for the "feel" of a marginal doodle or the changes in penmanship style that may convey the deeper meaning of any communication. Why not create both at the same time? With the use of special paper, printed with barely visible reference dots, the Livescribe Pulse pen "smartpen" does just that and more.  Because it knows its location on the paper as you write, it will transcribe the written record into an editable electronic record in addition to the normal hand-written note. Additionally, it incorporates a sound recording/playback device, making it even more useful, especially for the user with a disability. In fact, this large pen-sized device can record 6 hours of audio or 12 hours of writing on a single charge.  Part of the transcription magic  is computer dependent and occurs only when the data is uploaded to the $30 add-on software on the desktop PC. The backup is built in since the original written data is already at hand in PDF format.

The real genius of this 4 megabyte quite large-sized pen tool,  may be the applications for it, whether existing or in development. For example , there are foreign-language dictionaries translate "on the fly" and some of them use the audio capability to correctly pronounce a word, even if the written form was a phonetic transliteration attempt.  For those who don't want to suffer through meetings, an excellent blackjack game is one many available.  for this platform.

One of the drawbacks in the past for graphic input devices has been the cost of special notebooks or paper. That has ceased to be much of an issue for the LiveScribe. First, college sized notebooks are available from the company for about $5 each and second, for those on a tight budget, many color laser printers can make a virtually unlimited supply of paper with the included software. The only cost would be for paper and toner.  The pen comes both 2 and 4 megabyte versions with the latter being able to store more than 400 hours of audio recordings or more than 12 hours of continuous writing.

Shrunken PCsNetbooks  are "Looking" Better

Net books are the fastest selling type of computer on campus in 2009.  They are small, inexpensive, often energy-efficient, small form-factor. light weight laptops.  Asus virtually invented the category several years ago with their EeePC line.  Time has marched on and so, inevitably, the specifications of these machines has improved. Processor speeds have stayed about the same ( 1.6 Ghz), but screen sizes have gone from 7" to as much as 12". Semi-permanent storage capacity has moved  from 4 megabytes (MB) on a solid state drives to 160 to 250 MB hard drives. Webcams and small speakers are also standard. Some of the newer machines will reliably operate from their batteries alone for well over 6 hours, a big change from the 90 dependable minutes when this category of machine emerged less than 18 months ago. Most of the netbooks use Windows XP Home as the operating system but perform excellently as well with other operating system like Unbuntu.

Asus's and their partner NVidia, is the producer of many high-end graphic display products officially co-announced  the Eee PC 1201N on November 19, 2009.  This netbook seems to be a next-generation machine. Their new offering will use NVidia's new ION graphics chips. Both companies claim this change will allow their netbooks to smoothly display full 1080p HD graphics and output it via HDMI to an external monitor.  The 12", 1366 x 768 pixels display 3.2 pound PC uses Windows 7 Home Premium and has a dual core processor, 2 GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, 802.11n WiFi, and Bluetooth 2.1 along with a webcam, stereo speakers, output ports for VGA, HDMI, Ethernet and audio ports with a claimed 5 hours of battery life in a package smaller than most textbooks. The full list price is $499, but expect about $400 as a "street" price after Christmas. Previous Asus model used by both NCCFUN's co-editors, have proven to be near flawless traveling companions for several years.  We are awaiting the shipping models in December but it is fully expected that the 1201N will be at least as highly useful and dependable as its older siblings.

Care & Maintenance

Iolo has announced the newest edition (Version 9) of their well-known System Mechanic program. Often described as the toolkit that Microsoft omitted, it is a collection of over 40 integrated programs that just make life easier for the PC user. Some components do things like tune your PC, boosting speed, reducing the chances of a dreaded system crash (Always in the middle of a really good presentation!), Others really permanently delete files, reduce start-up times and constantly monitoring the machine's health. Problems are corrected with a one button fix.  It will do this and more on up to 3 PCs for about $40 dollars. To a PC user it is a tool to no more be without than a carpenter would be without a hammer and a saw..

Check out Diskeeper's latest version of its eponymous product  for 2010. It now not  only de-fragments a drive after it is scrambled and slowed, but actually has a mode that will prevent that from happening in the future. While it reportedly slows the hard drive write cycle slightly, in informal testing this reviewer finds it imperceptible. Constantly assuring that the hard disk is operating optimally would be well worth any slight time cost even if it could be detected.

Now Hear This !

The new Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini all-in-one speaker system with iPod, USB and miniature stereo connections, raises portable sound to a new level. It's the size of a small table radio with 18 watts of amplifier power. It employs a highly efficient digital amplifier paired with speakers that specially tuned for the enclosure. The result? Classroom- filling sound without distortion and remarkable good bass from a really portable package. If it wasn't $400 list , I'd own two of them (one for each ear.)!

 

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