Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 5
Column Tag: Review
Business Card Composer
by Michael R. Harvey
This piece of software is really, really cool. You're thinking, big deal, biz card whatever. No. The folks at BeLight Software have really come up with a simple to use, but incredibly deep program that gives you all kinds of ability to create business cards.
Business Card Composer (BCC) is surprisingly intuitive to use. Written in Cocoa, it provides you with multiple ways to make business and personal cards as good looking as you can make them, perhaps even a bit better. BCC can either walk you through the process with it's Assistant, giving you access to over 130 preset designs, that you can alter to your taste. the program will walk you through the process of creating a card. It's a really great primer to get you used to working in the application's environment. Once comfortable with the interface, you are ready to cut loose.
There are a ton of features packed into the little app. The screen presents you with a card representation that you can add to and manipulate in multiple ways. BCC has a plethora of images, and backgrounds you can add to your card (about 500). You also can import your own images, or search Google from within the program for what you're looking for. Any font on your system is available to you, obviously. You also have the ability to apply over 50 masks, shadows, and control opacity.
BCC integrates with Address Book, as well. Say you need to generate cards for multiple people in your organization. Once you've created the card everyone will use, just drag their name form Address Book into BCC, and the program will automatically populate the card with the new information. Once you have your masterpiece of business introduction ready to go, you have options for output. You can export to either a tiff or PDF file to send off to a printer. You also have the option to print your own. BCC includes page setups for just about every available paper out here. Personally, I am fond of the Avery 28877 card stock. It's really good heavy stock, that breaks apart with no perforations on the edges. The really nice bit here is you do not have to worry about getting the cards aligned for printing. Just hit commandP, and BCC takes care of the rest.
So, this program will help you create professional quality business cards right from your home system. Yeah, this piece of software is really, really cool. It's also useful. A bargain at $39.95, $48.95 for a CD. You can try it out by downloading the demo from BeLight's web site at www.belightsoft.com.
Michael R. Harvey
Marathon Computer sold what is still probably one of the most useful accessories for the G4 tower. It was a two piece system. One piece attached to the underside of your desk, and other replaced the top two handles of your tower. The two pieces locked together, and held the computer up off the floor. It was a great part. My only complaint was it was too long, and you needed to be sure your desk was deep enough to hold the thing. Then came the G5.
With it's new form factor, the G5 tower made the DeskMount unusable. The design engineers at Marathon were undeterred, however. They quickly redesigned the DeskMount, turning it into a single piece that the G5 handles hang from underneath the desk. Unfortunately, this thing requires an even deeper desk to mount it under. This time, it's not Marathon's fault. The G5 itself is such a large computer tower, that they had to make the DeskMount G5 longer. AS with the original, though, it is well worth it. Keeping your tower up off the floor keeps it cleaner, keeps it form sucking as much dust, and gunbk, and who knows what into the it, keeping the computer cleaner. It allows you to more easily keep a handle on cable clutter, and protects the machine from accidental fender benders. Definitely worth $59.
Michael R. Harvey
Skin Tight Armbands
There are a myriad of ways to carry around, and protect, your iPod. Speck Products has come up with another addition to their line up of iPod cases that takes care of the fitness set among us. The Skin Tight Armband.
The Armband is available for 4G, 3G, and mini iPods. In essence, the Armband is a clear plastic bracket attached to a wide neoprene strap with Velcro dots on it for securing around your arm. The clear bracket has a cable management clip on each side of the clip. With it, you can keep excess ear bud wire from flopping around. It's a nice touch. The band itself is very comfortable. It is big enough, with enough Velcro dots on it, to fit handily around most any arm size.
One of the very neat features of the Skin Tight Armband is that it has one of Speck's iPod Skins included. In fact, the bracket is designed to best hold your iPod with the Skin on. The skin itself is a translucent, rubberized material that gives your iPod an extra layer of protection. It acts as a kind of shock absorber, plus keeping the iPod from getting scratched. It looks nice, too.
The effect of all this stuff is to keep your hands free while walking, running, biking, weight lifting, whatever exercise you do. It is unobtrusive, and does a nice job of keeping your music in your ears, and out of your way. Direct from Speck Product's web site for $34.95 for the 3G and 4G iPods, $29.95 for the Arm Band for the iPod Mini.
Michael R. Harvey
Pro Pack for GarageBand
Zero-G is a UK based company that specializes in producing sound samples for the professional audio market. They make a lot of them, and they do it well. The Pro Pack for GarageBand is their first foray into the consumer space. It's quite a way to dip your toe into the water to see how it feels.
The Pro Pack for GarageBand contains 11,191 loops drawn from Zero-G's massive collection of samples. It is compatible not only with GarageBand, but also SoundTrack, Logic Pro 7, Logic Express, Final Cut Pro, or any application that can use AIFF files. It takes two DVD discs to hold it all. Installing into GarageBand is as easy as dragging and dropping the disc icon onto the loops window of GarageBand. Be prepared to wait after that, though. It will take time for GarageBand to load everything into the program, and index it. Once it's all in, though, you will have at your finger tips seemingly unlimited new ways to create music.
The loops in this package cover the gamut. Ethnic, to jazz, to rock and pop. One hundred seventy one lead guitar riffs. Midget gems? Whatever they, are they are there are 2,079 of them. Lots of really cool vocals, even. About 1200 of them, in fact. World, African, and Indian themes. All the loops are of really good quality. Every loop has the letters ZG in the name, making it easier to find the loops from the Pro Pack.
Apple includes a really good collection of sounds with GarageBand right out of the box. However, if you find that you've done all you can with Apple's stuff, or simply want more options, the Pro Pack for GarageBand is well worth getting. It will open up whole new horizons for your musical muse. It is available directly from Zero-G for $169.95.
Michael R. Harvey
O'Sullivan Industries, Inc. has been making desks for quite some time now. They've gotten very good at providing a myriad of styles to fit varying tastes and needs. They have, this time, come up with a very interesting gadget to compliment your desk. The Digital Satellite puts a collection of ports everyone needs to get to often right on the desk, while dropping the corresponding attachments to computer, power, etc. under the desk, and out of the way.
In order to properly install the Digital Satellite, you'll need to drill a 60 mm hole into your desk. So, if you have glass or metal, this could prove tricky to impossible. However, once you have the hole taken care of, the Satellite drops in, and clicks into place, holding securely with retainer clips (the clips can also be held in so removal is easy). The next step is to plug all the various bits from the underside to their correct ports in the computer and wall. This ought to be the last time you'll need to make a trip under the desk to hook stuff up, at least for a while.
Sitting on top of the desk now is a round bump. That bump gives you two power outlets, phone and Ethernet connections, as well as a USB 2.0 hub. The USB hub portion has four 6-pin ports, and one 4-pin upstream port. The hub is powered. While the power outlets are not surge protected, they do have a circuit breaker to protect from serious overloads. The one omission is no FireWire. With everyone and his grandmother using digital video, it's a must.
The ideal use for this device is in an office environment where you have mobile users coming in often who need to plug in and get to work. Setting this up on available desks for these kinds of users will save them, and IT support personnel, a lot of time rooting around underneath desks, and keeping cable clutter on top of the desk to a minimum. The Digital Satellite is available from O'Sullivan on many of their desks, and can also be purchased separately for $49.98.
Michael R. Harvey
It used to be that laptop computers had the ability built-in to raise up at an angle to make typing easier. Not so anymore (the PowerBook 5300 being the last model with that ability, along with the ability to spontaneously combust). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a part of the U.S. Department of Labor, has decreed that keyboard risers cause the user to put his or her hands at an angle that is damaging to the wrists. Many users still find that having the keyboard at a slight angle is far more comfortable than it laying flat. In steps PostWorx (www.postworx.com) with a solution.
The Speedball is a set of half spheres designed to raise the back of your laptop up. The back is raised to an 8 degree angle, which PostWorx says is more ergonomically sound than the keyboard laying flat (although OSHA disagrees). Two small friction pads are included to attach to the front corners if needed. The unique thing about the Speedballs is that they allow you to easily slide your laptop along almost any surface. Moving your laptop to show the screen to someone sitting opposite you is as easy as sliding the computer around on the speedballs. They are very low friction. Raising up your laptop has one definite advantage. You get better air flow underneath the computer, and less heat build up with the Speedball installed.
The Speedballs come in colors to match both the white iBooks, and Titanium PowerBooks. They also come in a style that permanently sticks to the bottom of your laptop, and one that can be snapped on and off. We recommend the snap off variety, as permanently attaching them makes a laptop a bit difficult to get into most laptop cases. Tight fitting sleeves cannot fit over the Speedballs at all.
The Speedball is sold through several retailers. Check their web site to see who carries it.
Michael R. Harvey
One problem most Apple laptop computers have these days is that with such tight tolerances inherent in trying to minimize the thickness of the systems, keyboards and screens often make contact when the lid is closed. Dirt and gunk can and does transfer from the keys to the LCD screen. Abrasions from the contact of keyboard and screen can also be a problem, reducing the useful life of the screen, as well as just making the desktop hard to see. Getting that dirt off the screen, keeping it off, and preventing the keys from abrading the LCD is a problem that RadTech (www.radtech.us) has a fix for.
The ScreensavRZ is piece of fabric designed to clean the screen of your laptop, and help keep it that way. The fabric is an ultra-micro fiber called Optex. Optex was specifically designed for polishing plastic optics. As it is a non-woven fabric, it can be cut to fit, and will not fray. The package includes the fabric, and some easy to follow instructions. That is all you need to get your screen clear again. And, once that is done, just be sure lay the ScreensavRZ over the keyboard before closing the lid to ensure your screen remains clean.
The ScreensavRZ is available in Aqua Blue, Titanium, or Graphite. A "Shagwire" pattern is also available. Emblems, or logos are available on the aqua and graphite versions. RadTech has the option to have one of their standard logos imprinted on any but the Shagwire patterned cloth. Price ranges from $13.95 to $17.95. They can also do custom emblazoning of your text or logos. Contact RadTech for details and pricing.
Michael R. Harvey
When I first heard about Tron 2.0, I was excited. I was excited mainly because I had heard it was going to be a movie. There were links to tantalizing web sites that teased you like no movie trailer could. I was all kinds of worked up over it. When the video game was finally released, I was disappointed, to say the least. Then, I had the chance to actually play the game. Very nice! In case you haven't guessed, and in the interests of full disclosure, I am a ridiculously huge fanboy when it comes to Tron. I own the video (it's worn down to almost unplayable). I own the DVD (which, by the way, has some of the coolest audio commentaries you'll ever come across). I've played the games. If I could swing it, I'd have one of the full sized arcade games in my living room. Up at Big Bear Lake, CA, there is an arcade that has one. If it's working, and I am there, I'm playing it (it's not like the bar isn't right across the street anyway). So, rest assured that my review will be totally and completely unbiased . Really, though, this game is a real kick in the pants, especially if you are at all a fan of the orginal Tron movie. I mean, come on, who wouldn't want to kick the stuffing out of the MCP, or ride a light cycle (although you'll need a 100BaseT connection to ride with others on a network)? Even if you aren't, the game is enjoyable. It plays like a standard first person shooter (there's nothing terribly special about the play when compared to other shooters in the genre), but the story that drives it is very entertaining, drawing you along. Add to that great graphics and sound, a good story, lots of stuff to destroy, and Bruce Boxleitner lending his voice to the Tron universe once again in his role of Alan1. What could be better? The system requirements are surprisingly modest, considering how good the game looks. Mac OS X 10.2.8, 700 MHz G4 Processor, 256MB RAM, and a 32MB Radeon 7500/ GeForce 2MX or better video card. The game is available directly from MacPlay for $49.99, about typical for a first run game, and definitely worth it, especially if you geeked out when watching the movie for the first time as a kid.
Michael R. Harvey