by Robert Sanborn
Winter has arrived and so has the Consumer
Electronics Show in Las Vegas. And what a show it was. Saw so much neat
toys that I almost forgot about looking for computer goodies and what
the trends for 2006 and beyond will be. How about an LCD Television
screen that is over 100 inches in size. We saw a couple of those. Same
for big boy toys like a Hummer decked out with so many screens and
speakers that you wondered if there was a place to sit.
The Consumer Electronics show may have been a few
months back but there are still a lot of things lingering on the shelves
and in my own thoughts even this late in April. As you read before, the
show was huge, miles and miles of hallways to walk, and truly, thousands
of people everywhere. But the trends that start there will be with us
like the lowering prices in flat screens and memory cards. Saw a Samsung
19 inch monitor for less than $300 and now 1 gig memory cards are less
than $50. Bodes well for digital camera buffs who now discover that you
need at least 10 gig of memory for a long trip and having just spent two
plus weeks in China, I can attest to that. Same for those of you longing
for a really big flat screen monitor for your desktop. Can’t wait to
find the time to go shopping!
So what was cool? One thing was the Acer Ferrari
20 inch Desktop Monitor for around $599. Bright, slick, big, cool, and
red. How about Monster, you see their name on the old Candlestick Park
in San Fransisco and they have some really neat additions to your home
theater. Besides all the high definition video you can get, they also
have developed HDS, High Definition Sound and it is something to hear.
Put that into your next home theater system. These are the one to buy.
Monster also showed off the neatest remote control
around. How about controlling every electronic system in your home and
office. A unique design, better ergonomic layout, and also does lighting
and control multi rooms and give you mood lighting settings. Anything
electronic and it can do it. $499 gets you the controller, a Wifi link
for $100, and lighting modules all for $899.
From SanDisk comes the Sansa E200. It is an MP3
player (so what you say), that has a 1.8 inch LCD screen, sleek design,
20 hour battery life (replaceable batteries), FM tuner, voice recorder,
Micro SD Memory card slot and with 6 gig onboard, handles a ton of
News from APCUG
The APCUG events at the annual conference were
again terrific from the people and companies we heard from. Jonathon
Seckler from AMD,
www.amd.com, gave us some thoughts as to where they were looking for
the future. According to AMD, what people want out of a digital home is
to share a printer and to get on the internet. In Japan, he says that
flat panel screens outsell CRTs. Not surprising when you consider how
small their homes and offices are. They also think that the mainstream
form factor for computers in 2006 will be downsizing to the small and
quiet systems. I see that from what people are asking for, small, quiet
computers. He sees the internet getting faster and the faster it is,
the more content will come to us like blogs, pod casting, video, and
music. One thing he mentioned that I didn’t like was the fact that he
see active participation in digital home activities in television shows
like Survivor. Please, we waste enough time on junk TV without getting
more people to sit at home by themselves in front of a boob tube. What
makes listening to these speakers worthwhile is to see where their
companies are going and what they think are the trends in consumer
tastes and purchasing. Worth the effort.
Digital Photography was another workshop put on by
the APCUG that I attended. It was hosted by Lee Otsubo at
www.thedigitalphotoguy.com. Interesting to hear from him and also to
fill in some blank spots for me as well about digital photography. He
tells us that you can never have enough memory cards. I agree and you
should buy the fastest speed cards you can. You can also never have
enough batteries for your camera and you should get the rechargeable
kind. For a good 8x10 print, you need at least 4 megapixels. You should
always set your camera to the highest resolution or highest jpg quality.
It is easy to dump pictures you don’t want but you can never get a good
print out of a 640x480 pixel image. He says that for most consumers,
don’t worry about the Tiff or RAW image formats on your camera. You
should also look at the preset options on your camera for taking
pictures in different lighting conditions like snow, night, close ups,
landscapes, and so on. The auto modes can be too easy sometimes and you
can get poor pictures if the conditions are not perfect. So take lots of
pictures, you can always dump them.
For lens control, check out the zoom but never use
the digital zoom. All it does it shrink the picture and add its own
pixels and that never works. For composition of your images, don’t
always center the picture. Use the grid mode if your camera has it and
offset the subject and fill the frame. You should also check out the
minimum focusing distance for your lens. Especially if you are
interested in close ups. A couple of his favorite quotes, “you can see a
lot just by observing”, from Yogi Berra, and “If your pictures are not
good enough, you are not close enough.” Robert Capra.
You should also use flash to fill in a picture even
in the daylight. Some cameras come with a fill flash setting. You should
also give up on the red eye reduction settings, all they do is flash the
camera too many times and get annoying. So how to print the pictures.
He tells us that you should get a good quality six color photo printer
but don’t need to spend more than $200 for it. Also buy good paper that
matches the printer. I can agree with that one and I have tested quite a
few different paper brands for photos and really settled on two brands,
Pictorico and Epson.
For software, dump the camera software and go with
a good digital imaging software package like Paint Shop Pro or Adobe
Photoshop Elements. Photodex is another program he mentioned.
www.adobe.com was another company making a presentation to us and
they talked about Photo Shop Elements 4. This is one of the two programs
I recommend for digital camera users. A ton of new features like
organizing photos, write to DVD, Meta Data imbedded in photos to help
you better and more quickly find what you have. Some other new features
include a quick red eye removal when you import a picture, and a compare
mode to quickly select and rate pictures to get the best one of the
bunch. It has an excellent image selection tool that allows you to
quickly select a section of an image and change the color. The quick fix
tools are just great. It has an intelligence built in for things like
correcting skin tones. The magic extractor is a great tool to get you
started into the layering concepts and working with layers. If you want
to change your image, there are a lot of new artistic effects and
filters available. A new slide show feature allows you to update the
images and to add comments, text, and voice over to the slide show.
Great additions to the product and well worth adding it to your tool
Adobe also talked about their Premier Elements 2.
Part of Photoshop organizer, it will do video, pictures, audio, and
music. There is an excellent tutorial video to get you started. One
really neat feature is the direct to timeline capture which is based on
your video source. An easy way to make it work the way you want it to so
managing the timeline in your video clip is very easy. The nice thing
about this program is that the more you learn, the more complex your
videos can be. Things like multiple pictures, video on top of picture or
within an image. There are also a lot of automated tools to help you
make your DVD with titles, segments, and the like. There is a wide range
of exporting options as well for sending your video to other sources and
platforms. A very impressive program.
www.trendmicro.com and David Perry has been a long time supporter
and friend of user groups and he was back to give us some thoughts on
the nature of viruses and what we should expect going forward. If you
don’t follow that industry much, we have seen quite a shift in what
viruses attack on your computer. From the boot and file viruses, they
have moved into macros and email to the new blended threats that attack
different components in the computer. But according to David, it is the
internet and email now the biggest sources of these and the anti-virus
programs need to attack them at the packet level when they first come
near your computer. It is the control computers that manage the
internet, mail servers, and the like where security will be critical.
But we shouldn’t rely only on those systems to keep us free from attack.
One statistic that David gave us was that 1.7 million people were
victims of phishing attacks. You should never respond to an email
request for your account, bank, or social security number from anyone at
all. Period. It doesn’t matter how legitimate it looks, it never will be
from a legitimate source.
So where will the next big threats come from?
According to David, it is the practice of “pharming” where hackers
attack a domain server and poison the name server to direct you to
another server when you type in a valid web address. So instead of going
to the real Microsoft site when you type in
www.microsoft.com, you would be directed to a different server
controlled by the hackers.
Trend Micro is a Tokyo based company and has the
largest selling anti virus product in Japan and is still moving into
these shores. Their products that we should know about besides the PC
Cillin 2006 Anti-Virus program are the free online House Call scanner
for your computer
http://housecall.trendmicro.com/, and CW Shredder, see it on the
Housecall site, which gets rid of the Cool Web Search attacks. There is
special pricing available for user groups so check with them. You
should also never upgrade the software online if your subscription runs
out, always buy a new copy of the software.
www.corel.com, is another major sponsor of APCUG events and they had
a few people in to tell us what is new with their company. You may know
this but they have recently purchased JASC Software, the makers of my
favorite digital editing program, Paint Shop Pro. You will find that
Corel is becoming a software giant with quite a variety of software
packages of which probably the most well know is Corel Draw now in an X3
package version. Word Perfect has also been upgraded to the new X3
package version and there are quite a few enhancements in both programs.
For digital video production and creating your own DVDs, they have two
new programs, Visual Creation Studio and Visual Creation Studio Pro.
These we found to be easy to use software packages with features like
having the audio track follow the video track to keep it in sync and a
new sound effects bundle.
Word Perfect X3 comes with a much needed facelift
and upgrade for WP users. They have bundled a Yahoo toolbar to make
browser integration much easier. A huge plus is the addition of a PDF
(Portable Document Format) distiller to allow you to create PDF files
from within WP. You can also import PDF documents as well. Another good
publishing feature is that you can save a document without all the meta
data such as corrections, internal information, notes, and the like.
The flagship product, Corel Draw X3 has over 40 new
updates. One of them being the changes to Corel Powertrace. A new hints
toolbar and hints panel tell you how to use a particular tool. A smart
fill tool makes adding content much easier. Another improvement is the
image adjustment lab for working with digital images. There is now
support for over 100 different file formats when importing images. You
can auto adjust photos from within Corel Draw X3 or launch Photo Paint.
And did I mention the power trace? Very impressive as they easily cut
out a segment within a photo. Then after that, use the smart fill tool
to easily fill in objects with all sorts of items. Great stuff. Of
course, watching a pro work with some of these editing tools make it
look so easy but when you see them work the tools, it really gives you
some great ideas on how to make the program work and make those kinds of
One neat company I ran into was Otterbox,
www.otterbox.com. They make some of the neatest and useful
ruggedized protection cases. I picked up a few to give them a run
through and they do the job. The first one I used was while traveling in
China to keep track of all my memory cards for the digital camera. It
was the simple little model 1000 but it is made like the rest of them of
seriously stiff plastic that has a heavy duty clamp clip, a seal between
the top and bottom and is strong enough to withstand anything I threw in
the bag and then some. These are truly indestructible, waterproof,
solid, and they float. I just put a layer of padding between the cards,
and it truly keeps them out of harms way. Same with some of the USB
drives that I need to carry around. This one was for around $12.
The next unit I got was for my iPAQ PDA, the model
1900. You need to look at this unit to believe it. Seriously protected
from all sorts of elements and pounding it is well shielded with a front
see through window that flips up to reveal a membrane covering the front
of the unit. Tight enough to the iPAQ to seal out anything, close enough
to still use the stylus to write messages, check mail, calendar and the
like. If I need to get to the memory cards on top, there is a clamped
top section that I can remove. Need to charge the bottom, a very heavy
duty rubber seal closes up the bottom of the Otterbox. For even extra
security, there are metal screws and sockets that you can screw these
irremovable clamps down to really keep them there. There is a holder on
the outside for your stylus. Inside when you slide in the iPAQ, there is
a Velcro strap to keep it really snug to the front of the case and the
membrane. This allows for thicker units to be used. Outside is also a
Velcro strap to keep the Otterbox snug to whatever you need to attach it
to. The instructions are simple, pictures clear, and to the point. This
is really the unit to have if you need to work with your PDA in a less
than ideal condition or outdoors. For about $100. You can go to their
web site and see the fitting guide to make sure that your PDA will work
with this case.
Another piece I got which is what I have been
looking to add for my van was an Otterbox for my GPS unit. The camper
van I have has a front windshield that is so sloped that getting and
keeping a good GPS signal has been tough but I have this great roof
storage area above the driver that would do great except it is exposed
to the weather. The Otterbox 1600 GPS case is perfect. Just mount it up
there with the super heavy duty double sided tape on the bottom and it
goes no where while keeping the GPS receiver out of harms way. What
surprised me at first is that it was a solid black case and I had
thought that it wouldn’t work without having the direct view of the sky
but the plastic case doesn’t get in the way at all so it can be sealed
up there nicely. The only snag was that the padded insert was too small
so I had to modify it so the Pharos GPS receiver I have would fit and
once in, was just fine. Worked like a charm on my test drive around
town. This case sells for about $20.
If you haven’t been to the Cnet web site lately,
www.cnet.com, you should take a look, new products listed, new
buying guides, a security center, and a new How To section that is quite
impressive. Everything from building your dream computer to home video,
cameras, networking, and games. For those on the go, want Cnet for your
Pocket PC, then go to
http://m.cnet.com . If you join their community, you can create your
own My Products site. You put in what you have and what you like and it
builds a database for you of those products. Finally, want to know
everything there is about HDTV ? Then try out
http://hdtv.cnet.com for complete coverage. Pretty cool stuff from
Cnet editor Brian Cooly.
More Cool Stuff
www.digitalinnovations.com has the kind of stuff you wonder why
didn’t someone come up with that years ago. Take a look at their web
site. Things like the Ispot, a wireless lost item locator. Put one of
these fobs onto something, loose it, hit the corresponding button on the
main unit and you hear where it is. A glare shield for a Sony
Playstation unit. Skip Dr. is the automatic disc repair system for CDs
and DVDs. How about a USB Drive lock with a key combination on it. This
really keeps your USB drives secure. A media vault that also has a three
digit combination lock on it. Or for real security, a motion activated
alarm for a notebook or anything else lying around. We even got some
sneak peeks so there is even more neat stuff coming.
How about the world’s smallest footprint vacuum
tube hi-fi stereo amplifier. From Z.Vex Effects at
www.zvex.com the iMPAMP is truly cool stuff. Lay an iPod flat and
you will get the idea of how big this unit is. Plug in your speakers,
bring your audio source whether from a tuner, computer, iPod, or
something similar and sit back and listen to music all day long. About
Bogen Imaging caught my eye with a tripod so solid
and light that I need to get me one.
http://www.bogenimaging.us/ check out the web site for the Manfrotto
line of Modo tripods that are incredibly light and strong. Less than 4
pounds for a tripod that stands 5 feet high!
www.etoncorp.com is a maker of radios for all occasions but these
radios have a lot of style and flair behind them. Some are designed by
Porsche Designs and it shows. Take a look at their web site at
www.porsche-design.com. My favorite is the Eton S350 deluxe, about
Finally, for the person who has everything from
www.coolitsystems.com is the beverage chiller that is connected by
USB. For around $40, you get to use your computer to cool that can of
what every you drink.
Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC
Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at firstname.lastname@example.org