A media bee in our bonnet

We thought we couldn’t do without Active Desktop Calendar to keep track of appointments. But now we’ve got another bee in our bonnet.

It’s called Mediabee, and it’s also a free calendar program. Both of these programs are available from www.download.com, but putting a calendar on your desktop is just about the least of what Mediabee can do. As one user commented: “This software saved my marriage.”

You can create calendars that can be viewed online by family and friends, you can make a single to-do list that affects each family member’s separate calendar, and have e-mails sent to everyone’s inbox to remind them of upcoming events. You can even have reminders sent to their cell phones every time an event on a calendar gets changed.

When the program first comes onto your screen, you get a weather report and the day’s top news stories. You can also click to get links to shopping, maps and TV listings, including cable listings.

Click on the camera icon to view a slideshow of the photos on your computer, or browse a selection of great photos from several Web sites. We took a look at vast prairie fires in Texas and a shot of the Martian landscape (no relation). In the current version of Mediabee, the Web sites have been pre-selected, but later versions will let you enter your own choices. Other links provide jokes, cartoons, games, etc.

There is so much going on in Mediabee that we strongly recommend viewing the demo or reading the instructions first. At present the program works only with Windows, but the company tells us future versions will work with Mac and Linux. This program would be a steal except it’s already free.

Super film effects

Exposure is a photo editing plug-in from Alien Skin that can make digital photos look like they were taken with a film camera. We tried it, and the results were striking.

You can re-create the brilliant colors achieved with Kodachrome, the film used to put the visual bounce in countless old advertisements, such as the movie posters for “The Wizard of Oz.” This is especially nice since Kodak no longer makes Kodachrome.

You can reproduce the look of pictures taken with Ektachrome, Agfa, Fuji and a dozen other films. (You can simulate eight different versions of Ektachrome, made at different periods.) You can change the color tone of any picture or convert color to black and white. You can even change the grain of the film, so to speak, the scattering of tiny light-sensitive granules and dyes that give photos from some films a recognizable look.

Some of the effects are stunning. We looked at a murky picture of a sunset and applied the Kodachrome setting to produce the kind of picture you’d see on a calendar or travel poster. A split-screen feature lets you see before and after effects. You can select a “preserve illumination” feature that holds a change while you try other effects after it.

Finally, you can save a sequence of changes you’ve made to any picture and preserve that as a “recipe” you can use later as well as e-mail to others. That way a large group of pictures can be tuned, so to speak, to have the same enhancements and look.

This is one of the most impressive photo effect programs we’ve ever seen. It works as a plug-in that can be automatically added to Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements 3, Macromedia Fireworks or Corel Paint Shop Pro. You must have one of those programs to use it. The list price for Exposure is US$199 from www.alienskin.com, and it works with both Windows and Macintosh.

VoIP your cell phone

The problem with using a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service like Skype or Vonage to make free and low-cost phone calls over the Internet is that you have to be at a computer. Something of a breakthrough, or break out, was made a few months ago when Zyxel, Netgear and others started selling a mobile VoIP phone that you could use whenever you were within range of a WiFi hot spot. But who wants to carry around two phones?

Now, if you use the Cingular network [in the U.S.], you can get VoIP on a regular cell phone by downloading some free software from www.iskoot.com. The company plans to have a wider selection of services later and also to work with Web-based services like Google Talk. VoIP calls are generally free to other VoIP users, or two or three cents a minute to other users. It still costs you cell phone minutes, but you’d save a lot on overseas calls.

Internuts

At www.43things.com you can create a list of things you want to do and/or look at other people’s lists. As for your list, the Web managers will send you a reminder in a week, month or year that something is coming up that you wanted to do. High on the lists of things many people want to do are “get married and live happily ever after,” “read all the books they have” and “download free movies.”

Do you remember Lycos? Well at http://games.lycos.com, which is a game site, users can compete for cash prizes. They say it’s legal because the games are based on skill, not luck. They include Spite and Malice, a card game Joy recently learned from her aunt in Palm Desert. Site has a lot of ads.

Paper Lace’s the Night Chicago Died was a big hit in the seventies and at www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org: you can get the real story behind the big Chicago fire. Chicago is now the fourth most popular tourist destination in the United States, so you might want to learn some history before you go. The site has pictures, essays, art, music and maps. (Las Vegas, Disney World and New York are the first, second and third most popular destinations.)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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