Welcome to the 429th issue of the PC Improvement News. PCIN consists mainly
of news and tips. There is something for everyone, and if this is your first
issue, I'm sure there will be something for you. If you give me two or three
issues, I know that you will come back for more!
We hope everyone had a safe an happy New Year's Eve! Mine was pretty uneventful.
We had planned on keeping Andrew and Matthew awake, however it just didn't
work out. Matthew hasn't been feeling well and he wanted to go to bed. I really
wanted Andrew to stay up, but he was pretty rotten all day, so Lisa wanted
him to go to bed. Then she ended up falling asleep. I woke her up around 11:45
pm. We watched a bit of whatever show Carson Daly was on, and then went to
bed. We had a very nice New Year's Day cleaning up the house, and then going
out for dinner to Swiss Chalet. Every New Year's Day my grandmother takes us
all out for dinner. Thanks Nanny!
We still have several products that we will be doing reviews for, so look
for them in the coming weeks...
While entertaining viewers with tales of galactic voyaging and hostile aliens,
the "Star Trek" franchise also preached the virtues of interracial
(and interspecies) harmony, endearing it to millions. But according to Guido
Ooms, a Dutch product designer, "Star Trek" also warped the minds
of consumers and product designers by portraying electronic gadgets as uniformly
sleek and unadorned.
"The computer stuff that is coming out right now, it is all plastic and
symmetrical and aerodynamic in shape, like "Star Trek" stuff," said
Mr. Ooms, founder of the design studio Oooms in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. "I
think there's no reason for that, really, other than that it looks like it works
A year ago, Mr. Ooms and his girlfriend, the designer Karin van Lieshout,
started brainstorming on ways to demonstrate that high-quality computer products
needn't look antiseptic. A result of their collaboration is a U.S.B. memory
stick that takes its product description literally; it is a data storage
drive encased in a real, handpicked piece of wood.
With another year of gadgets, games and gizmos come and gone, it's only
natural to ask: What hath technology wrought?
This year's crop of prominent mainstream techno-goodies revolved around one
common theme: Entertainment. Videos, games and music were at the top of consumers'
minds. A roundup of the best and worst of 2006 reflects an increasing focus
on leisure time.
When 'Refurbished' Takes on an Earth-Friendly Vibe
Jared Seltzer faced more than the usual megabyte headaches recently while
shopping for a desktop computer for his office in Takoma Park, Md. As the
information technology director of the Center for a New American Dream, a
small environmental group, he wanted to buy a computer that would be relatively
easy on the ecosystem.
His search brought him to the Dell Web site, where he chose an OptiPlex model
that had been refurbished.
"I wasn't losing anything by not buying new," Mr. Seltzer said. "And
it was good that I was being true to what we're about."
Refurbished computers, he explained, are not generally made from old clunkers
on their last legs. They are typically returned by buyers shortly after delivery
and spruced up by the manufacturer. And they often have the same guarantees
that new computers do.
Like many other consumers, Mr. Seltzer is concerned about the environmental
effects of computers, which can contain hazardous substances including lead,
cadmium and mercury, among others.
Imagine coming home and, with the push of a single button, turning on the
lights, turning up the thermostat and flipping on the TV. Another button
might shut off all the lights and turn down the thermostat when you leave.
Starting next month, Best Buy will sell a "ConnectedLife.Home" package
that features a computer with software coordinating a high-definition TV,
light switches, a thermostat and two remote cameras - all included in the
$15,000 price tag.
The components talk to one another over the home's power lines and through
a wireless network.
The day after Christmas, prices on big screen TVs went down and Raul Axtle
Mr. Axtle and his 16-year-old son, Shaheen, headed to a Best Buy electronics
store in Emeryville, Calif., to buy the TV that Shaheen had decided was the
perfect screen for displaying video games, a 40-inch Samsung liquid crystal
display flat panel.
It sold for $3,000 in April when it was introduced, but Mr. Axtle bought
it for $1,600: $600 less than it was before Christmas.
And, yes, he knows it will be even cheaper tomorrow. "Everything keeps
coming down in price," he said. "Next year the TVs will be even
Paying less in the future for a device that can do more is now taken for
granted when shopping for consumer electronics. Gone is last century's theory
of planned obsolescence in which manufacturers designed and built products
that would quickly wear out and have to be replaced. Whether it is a big
flat screen TV or cellphone, handheld music player, digital camera, flash
drive and or external hard drive, these electronics do not usually wear out
before they are replaced. Rather, the consumer may feel compelled to buy
because the device does more, does it faster or does it better for less money
than the original.
"There is a fundamental shift that is taking place," says Samir Bhavnani,
research director at Current Analysis, a market research firm. "People thought
a product would last 10 years. They keep it three years. They upgrade their cellphone
But this new form of obsolescence can stymie the consumer because it makes
little sense to buy now if the product will be cheaper tomorrow.
Beginning of the Year Photo Tasks - Digital Photography Tip of
With the beginning of each new year, I do a little clean up of the previous
years loose ends set myself up for the coming year. This includes non photography
related items such as creating new folders in my filing cabinet for receipts,
invoices and bills and ensuring the same folders from last year are indeed
still organized. I also perform several photography related tasks which of
course are of more interest for this site.
I like to start the year off fresh and to do so, begin with a good cleaning.
I remove everything from my gadget bags and give those a thorough cleaning.
I am often photographing on beaches so inevitably, I end up with a little sand
in my bags. I brush off the outsides (which I do regularly) and lightly vacuum
the inside of the bag. I also remove any dividers to ensure I can clean the
Before I put my equipment back in, I examine and clean as necessary all of
the front and rear elements of my lenses and filters. I also take the time
to be sure that my sensor is clean though that is also a regular routine. I
clean my camera body with a soft brush, brushing off any dust that may have
settled in the seams of the camera body and replace the protective plastic
sheets I place on my LCD screens to help protect them. I then reset the image
numbering on my camera as I use continuous image numbering for the entire year
to prevent multiple image from having the same file name which in turn, makes
organization easier. Finally, before putting everything back in the bag, I
make sure that I have everything that I need as items can be left behind when
switching between gadget bags for different projects and compare what I have
to my gadget bag checklist.
The two last things I do to get ready for the coming year is to create the
file system structure to store the years coming photos, I catalog my images
by the date the photograph was taken, and to back up to removable media 2 copies
of any images I have not yet backed up, storing one of these copies in a different
location to ensure if something happens to one, the other is safe and sound
You may not have to do all of the same processes as I do depending on your
unique situation, but it is a good idea to at least do some basic cleaning
and organization to keep things running smoothly for the next 12 months.
The digital photography tip of the week
is written by the PCIN Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Chris is a long
time photographer and is currently the President of the Niagara
Falls Camera Club. You can see more of his photography at his Photo
of the Day website.
If you have a tip to send Chris, or a question about digital photography
he can address in the newsletter, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My wife is really into using a lot of different fonts when she types up
different documents. Perhaps she'd be interested in this:
Fontifier lets you use your
own handwriting for the text you write on your computer.
It turns a scanned sample of your handwriting into a handwriting font that
you can use in your word processor or graphics program, just like regular
fonts such as Helvetica.
I haven't tried it, but it seems quite reasonable for only $9 US.
The 2007.01 edition includes a wide gamut of programs to do everything
from editing images and creating web pages to playing media files and video
games. In other words, you can get your GIMPshop, NVU, VLC, and Tux Racer
You certainly don't need to be a student to enjoy this package. All of these
software titles are available on their own, but it's nice to be able to get
it all in one place. You just download the ISO and burn it to a CD.
PCIN is brought to you by Graham Wing. The opinions expressed are those of
the Editor, Graham Wing and the Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Graham Wing
and Chris Empey accept no responsibility for the results obtained from trying
the tips in this newsletter.
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