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Technology Today
by Robert Sanborn &
     Roy Linker

 Fall Comdex 2001

 The Comdex show was almost as much known for what it wasnít as for what it was. No big booths by companies selling computers like Gateway, Dell, IBM, and Compaq to impress us, these four didnít even have a booth, and even more surprising, companies like Creative Labs was also a no show. If you were at the ICS meeting in October, you saw what really neat and exciting products that Creative is coming out with its Audrey line of audio cards. For sound, you canít get much better but they were not to be found at Comdex.

 But what was there was surprisingly enough, interesting as I did find quite a few things worth mentioning. It was a much smaller show with attendance estimated anywhere from 80,000 to 130,000 and the people at Key3Media (the organizers), keeping pretty mum on real numbers. The number of booths were less and they took far less floor space this year as well and for the most part, was easier to get around without having too much trouble going through some of the bigger booths to see what was on the other side. The lack of give aways and trinkets given out also attest to the slowing economy, smaller attendance, and general nervousness of the times.

 The big themes this year were digital imaging and wireless networking as well as the pavilions devoted to Bluetooth, USB, and the Palm platform. As to what I found interesting, here is my list in no particular order.

 Kensington, along with some other companies, are coming out with lights that plug into the USB port on your computer. Intended for laptop use in dark places (like an airplane, the bedroom at night, and so on), it takes a tiny bit of power directly from the USB port to give you enough light to use the keyboard, view papers, or the like. With a flexible neck, you can bend it to whatever angle you need. Called the ďFlyLightĒ, About $20 at www.Kensington.com

 Electric Fuel, www.electric-fuel.com, makes a line of environmentally friendly rechargeable units for devices like Pocket PCs, Cell phones, Palm units, and the like. With this charging unit, you donít need to worry about having electricity nearby when using the devices. A replaceable and disposable cartridge gives you up to three charges for you phone or PocketPC device.

 This booth we went out of our way to find because once you are there, you can use your cell phone to call their Pepsi machine to get a free drink. That is right, you call the vending machine, it asks you what you would like, and then you pick up your drink. Course, what they are really after is a means of setting up your credit card ahead of time and then you donít need to worry about carrying around change. You can also do the same thing via infrared and your palm hand held computer. www.wirca.com or pepsi.wirca.com

 Need a quick and easy way to destroy all those old sensitive CDs? The Cdestroyer (found at www.pressit.com) uses a heavy granulated type material to semi pulverize the label portion of the CD you want destroyed. About $10.

 McAfee.com, www.mcafee.com gives you an online way of checking for viruses that is different from what we used to know as McAfee over at Network Associates. Download their software, after you buy it online, and you can get a one-year subscription to PC World magazine.  Good deal. Go to www.mcafee.com/comdex for the magazine deal.  What sets mcafee.com apart is that they have some new automated update tools to keep you from worrying about having to update your virus definition files.

 One of the most promising tools I found at last years Comdex was from Biolink which had a mouse that included a thumbprint scanner to make sure that who ever was logging on to your computer was who they really said that they were. Another company was there this year, SecuGen, www.secugen.com, a Canadian company, that has come out with a similar device but also include keyboards, mice, and a stand alone fingerprint scanner that I would much prefer. The problem with the mice is that if you donít quite like the feel of the mouse and want to get another, you are stuck because you canít have both at the same time.

 The neatest tool on the floor is from a company called Hash, Inc, www.hash.com. It is Animation Master and the things they showed us on the demo floor were stunning. I have seen stuff here that was more impressive than in a Disney film it is that good. There are hundreds of features for modeling, rendering, animation, and a number of built in options for everything from hair type to particles, weather, materials, dynamics, and sound tracking. An incredible amount of tools and features for only $299.

 Another animation tool in a different light is Bryce 5 from Corel Corporation, www.corel.com. This program is a powerful 3D landscaping and animation program that will allow you to create and add realistic looking landscapes to existing images. Want to put yourself and your product in the middle of a terrific beach you can do it with this program.

 The E-pen from E-Pen In Motion, inc, www.e-pen.com is a take off on the old tablet system that you could write on and transfer the images electronically to your computer. What this does is to use an optical and ultrasonic technology to capture what you write on any piece of paper that you clip to their receiver which is connected to a USB port on your computer. Use it with recognition software either built in or from third parties to recognize what you write. For about $179.

 As they did last year, Intel has teamed up with a number of companies including HP to create newly designed computers that are both artistic and functional, and fun to look at. From HP came the Concept PC 2001 unit that comes with hardly any internal expansion but does come with five USB2 and two FireWire ports. You use an 18 inch LCD monitor with an integrated CD-R drive, Web cam, Bluetooth, and a speaker built in.  Pretty slick. With Legend Computer in China, the Taishan is another concept PC includes a 15inch LCD with a built in DVD drive. See both of these at http://developer.intel.com/technology/easeofuse/conceptpc.htm.

 Turtle Beach has long been one of the premier audio companies for the computer world and this year they were showing off the AudioTron, a digital music player for home networks. It is a smart stereo component that uses a PC network connection to play digital music files stored on a PC hard drive or from Internet radio broadcasts. By storing and assembling the music on your home server computer, you can then play any of this music through traditional speakers from the Audiotron console from anywhere in your home. At $299, I am not sure I want one for every bedroom, living, dining, study, library, family, den, workshop, and so on if you catch my drift but it is an interesting technology. What you do is to turn your computer into your giant jukebox with thousands of Wav, MP3, or Windows Media files. www.turtle-beach.com

 We still saw a lot of the tiny digital pen type cameras and a new one from Aroma, www.aromaco.com actually includes a digital camera, PC Camera, digital camcorder all built into the same ADG-5000 unit. If you need one of these devices for whatever reasons, this one is not too bad but I canít still recommend any of these kinds of cameras if you want good clear crisp pictures. It will take up to 80 pictures at a time and will do short bursts of video as well. A little bigger than some of these units but this one has quite a few features for its size.

 Maxtor has come out with the perfect external storage unit for those big jobs that need a lot of storage. At 80GB and with FireWire connectivity, this is the perfect way to get you going with a fast 7200-RPM drive. At around $349 from www.Maxtor.com

 Pocket PC

 As a Pocket PC User, I was certainly looking for the newest products to see what was what in this arena and there was a lot of buzz around concerning these new units. With the release of the Pocket PC 2002 operating system, Compaq, HP, Casio, Audiovox, and Toshiba have all come out with new units and they are all based on the Intel StrongARM 206mhz processor. What makes it even better is that with all of them on the same platform, upgrades in the future will be easier than ever. My old Casio E115 is based on the MIPS processor and so will not be upgradeable to the new Pocket PC 2002 software so if you have an older unit, be sure to check the upgradability before getting the new software. With more memory, faster processors, and better color and better batteries, these are definitely upgrade systems. I think with these new systems, you will also see a ton of new applications coming out soon as well. Go to the Pocket web site at www.pocketpc.com and see for yourself.

 Adobe systems are now making available a PDF viewer for the Pocket PC on their web site. Still listed as a beta version, it is a long overdue product as more and more documents show up on the Pocket PC.

 At the Microsoft Pocket PC event at Comdex, they were showing a number of wireless applications and programs and in fact were giving away Socket, www.socketcom.com wireless adapters for digital cell phones. Connect your Pocket PC to the digital phone of your choice, and you can do email, web surfing, and connect to host systems right from your Pocket PC. Course, the cost of that surfing will be between you and your Internet and cell phone provider and will cost you at least another $5 per month (at least from Sprint). They also include a number of products for Bluetooth, traditional networks, communications, and traditional land line modems for your Pocket PC.

 Another neat Pocket PC product was from Conduits, www.conduits.com, who have come out with a number of titles for the Pocket PC including Pocket Slides. You can drop your PowerPoint presentations to your Pocket PC and use this program to view the slide show, and if you connect it to a projection unit, can use it instead of a laptop to give presentations. $39.95 Another neat tool of theirs is Pocket Watch that turns your Pocket PC into a world time piece and a geo clock showing when the sun rises and sets all over the world. $14.95.

 Pharos, www.pharosgps.com, has come out with two new GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) systems for the Pocket PC that looked very impressive. The iGPS-CF is a Compact Flash card unit that connects directly into the CF slot on your Pocket PC to allow you to use it as a stand-alone navigator and tracker whether you are on foot, in a car, or boat. Available for $325. For a more versatile connection, get the iGPS-180 receiver, about $249, that has a specific cable for either your notebook, Pocket PC, Palm or Handspring, or even a USB version.

 Quick Review

 I didnít get to mention it last month but the new audio cards from Creative Labs is really something to see and hear.  John Gasaway of Creative Labs was in town in October to show off the new line of sound cards and they are really neat. Besides having true audio quality cards, they have bundled some pretty good software as well to do things from cleaning up audio tracks to time scaling to compress the length of a recording or sound track but not change the pitch. Need to squeeze a 10-minute sound track into nine minutes, this will do it, and did I mention Dolby Digital 5.1 support. One of the cards includes fire wire to connect your video recorders and the like at high speed. Depending on the card you get, it can have inputs and outputs for audio, optical, analog, midi, SPDIF, and a remote RF port. What you now get is studio quality audio on your PC with better than a 100 decibel signal to noise ratio. Software tools will also clean up recordings from pops and scratches so that when you copy those old tapes and records, you now will truly have a clear digital sound track for your home made CDs. Priced from $99 on up, this is the card to step up to.

 A First Look

 Let me introduce you to the National Geode Origami Mobile Communicator. Before I tell you the size, of course that just tipped you off, let me tell you what is included. It is a digital camera, a digital camcorder, a video conferencing terminal, an Internet access device for web surfing, an email terminal, an Internet picture frame, an MP3 player, and a smart phone to begin with. It comes with a keyboard attached (sort of), of course, built in microphone and speaker, 640x480 TFT LCD display (4 inch in size), CF Storage slot, Microsoft Windows XP imbedded, with Windows CE 4.0 coming early 2002, USB and Bluetooth. It is the shape of an oversized clamshell type phone at 7.6 inches by 3.8 inches and is 1.3 inches deep. The flexible form factor allows you to turn it different ways for different applications. One way as a camera, one as an email terminal, and another to use the phone. Did I mention the integrated touch screen support?  Go look at www.cocom-ia.com; it is built as a partnership between CoCom of the UK and National Semiconductor here in the states.

 Short Takes

 A lot of new anti-virus software is coming on the market including Kaspersky from the former Soviet Union. This one is at www.kaspersky.com and from the quick demo I saw, looked pretty good. More later.

 USB (Universal Serial Bus) has been with us for quite a while, since the Pentium I computers, but has gotten a lot of bad press over bad drivers, hardware, and incompatible interface designs. It has finally stabilized a bit now that we are on the four generation away from that original Pentium and what I did see was a bunch of USB 2.0 products coming out from film scanners to hard drives, to a new CD Writer from Plextor. Many of these devices seem to be backward compatible with the older USB standards but what doesnít look like it will happen is to have any kind of upgrade path to the millions of older computers out there. It sure is hard to think of a Pentium 4 as being an older computer but that is the way it is with technology.

 So, what was fun about Comdex this year? Well, Mercedes Benz had a road track laid out in one of the parking lots to allow us to take their cars for a literal spin around the block and I must say that the S600 was fun to drive. 2C Computing got me around the hassle of not taking a bag onto the show floor by giving us a rolling piece of luggage to carry stuff home in, and of course, the Palm powered Pepsi machine that I could phone for a soft drink.  Big name entertainment was missing and the parties were smaller than before but Compaq treated us to a performance by ďBetter than EzraĒ, who ever they are. At least the bar was open.

 

January 2002    

 So what will be new and exciting this year? For one thing, Microsoftís Xbox is impressive. Just ask any kid (of any age) who has played with one recently to tell you that the graphics, motion, sound, all are truly impressive. I am not a game player and the last time I watched a friendís child play with an old Nintendo, was not excited by what I saw on the screen. Flat graphics, choppy motion, sound from an old AM radio speaker, and a dull game to boot but what a difference a generation makes. If you have kids that are into games, by the time you read this I suspect many of you will have already bought one.

Well, Happy New Year. we are certainly looking forward to it to finish out a rather difficult year. 
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Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant, and the Program Chairman for the Indianapolis Computer Society. Reach him through the net at robert@sanbornsoftware.com

Roy Linker is Associate Editor of PC Lifeline and a Computer Consultant in NY and can be reached at roy@pcll.com.

 

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