A gig for your thumb

Verbatim, well known for disks and tapes, has entered the thumb drive market with its Store ‘n’ Go U3 Smart Drive. We tried a 1-gigabyte version that comes pre-loaded with McAfee anti-virus and a user-friendly Launchpad interface.

It’s the “U3” that’s important here. The name comes not from a future rock band, but the Web site: www.u3.com. The site provides portable applications that you can launch from the drive without installing them to a computer first.

Many of the programs listed at U3 are not really there yet but are supposed to be available within the next few weeks. Some of the applications, like Skype and Firefox, are free, but most are not.

We think the most useful is Migo, which duplicates your own Windows desktop screen on whatever computer you are using, and lets you download your files, e-mails and browsing favorites to the thumb drive. All the icons in the duplicate workspace are clickable and will be active if that computer has those programs on board.

Most computers you would plug into have Microsoft Word or Office, for instance, along with Web browsers and some other common programs. When you then plug that drive back into your home base computer, Migo will update that machine. This takes care of the problem of looking at your e-mail on some outside computer but not being able to save it back home. When you unplug from that outside computer, there is no record of your ever having been there.

You can get a free trial version of Migo at its Web site: www.migosoftware.com.

The U3 Launchpad can also be purchased with several other drives, including the popular Cruzer from SanDisk. They’re listed at www.u3.com.

Traveling with Microsoft

The new Microsoft Streets and Trips 2006 corrects a key criticism leveled at the earlier version: that it provided no spoken directions. This meant you had to look away from the road, for example, to see where you were. Dangerous.

The new version tells you where you are and where to get off.

GPS stands for “global positioning system,” of course, and uses satellite tracking to pinpoint your location. It’s remarkable to see it in such a small receiver, a lightweight thing about the size of a deck of cards. You need to plug it into a Windows computer with a USB port.

The software also comes with Pocket Streets, which can be downloaded to pocket PCs, like the popular BlackBerry, and to smart phones.

A criticism we had with the last version of Streets and Trips remains. It does not list major restaurants and hotels in our own town even though they’ve been there for years. We would guess the same will be true for other towns. Web info at www.microsoft.com/streets.


We started fooling with a paint program that seemed like nothing much at first, but the more we got into it, the better it looked. It’s Corel Painter Essentials 3, $99 from www.corel.com, available for either Mac or Windows.

Starting from photographs, you can use Painter tools to create pictures that indeed look like paintings. There are other programs that do this, using image editors, but this was particularly easy with a tool called “auto painting.” Some of the effects look dreadful, but that’s what experimentation is all about; fool with it till you get something you like.

One tool everyone’s going to like is “smart blur.” This is like the camera filters Hollywood uses to make aging movie stars look younger. After this treatment to my latest snapshot, I never looked so good. If the details get too smoothed out, you can use the “restoration” button to bring some back.

The program comes with 10 training sessions from lynda.com. If you go to the site, you can get 10 more lessons for free. It’s a good Web site for training videos for many programs. Lynda.com offers about a thousand free short video tutorials. You take a look and then pay if you want the full course.


At www.redhotjazz.com you earn about famous jazz musicians and listen to their performances from original recordings. All the headliners are here: Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Jelly Roll Morton, etc., along with some obscure bands like the Dixie-Land Thumpers and Vance Dixon and His Pencils. We were disappointed that the Benny Goodman performance of “Sing Sing Sing” was not the one from his Carnegie Hall concert.

Now when you go to www.mercora.com there are three million tracks and 50,000 channels of music. Search for your favorites and hear them instantly. On the downbeat, so to speak, is that many of the channels defy logic, or even common sense. We clicked on a station playing Bach, for instance, and that piece was followed by Barbra Streisand singing a song from “Hello, Dolly!” Another followed up a Cole Porter tune with a rap number. Go figure. An “auto-record” feature automatically saves up to 20 hours of music to a “my music” folder.

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