Hidden in plain sight

A staple of the movie business is safes and secret documents hidden behind pictures. Well, how about hiding things IN the picture?

You start by downloading some software from www.asmask.com. Run the software and browse to any image stored on any of your drives: hard, CD, thumb, floppy, etc. Select an image and then browse to a file or folder you want to hide.

After the picture and the files have been selected, you enter a password. As soon as you click “save the image,” it is saved with the files hidden inside it. (Don’t give it the same name you had on the picture before; give it a different name so you know it contains hidden material.)

In order to recover the hidden files, you need a “reader,” which is a separate program, and it’s free. If you send the picture with the hidden files to anyone, they have to download the free reader software to read them. It’s a small program.

This all gives new meaning to the standard “Wish you were here” vacation photo, or a shot of Uncle Max lounging on the beach. Who knows what hidden messages lurk inside that innocent picture? Heh, heh, heh.

The hidden file can be text or a video or an audio message; it makes no difference. Inside the picture, that file is encrypted with 256-bit encryption, the kind used by banks and the government; only the proper password can bring it back out (that, and knowing where it is in the first place, of course).

Hidden on disk

If you have Windows XP Professional on your computer, you can encrypt any file by right-clicking, choosing “Properties,” “Advanced” and “Encrypt contents.” Or, you can buy CDs that automatically encrypt any files saved to them.

The disks are a new line called EncryptEase, from Ricoh, and cost less than US$10 each, slightly less in packages of five or more. If you do a lot of encrypted disks, this is more expensive than buying an encryption program, but for a quick burn or occasional use, it’s not that costly, and it’s certainly easy.

The encryption routine comes from software that is already on the blank disks (so they’re not really blank). As soon as you put one into the drive, the software starts up. It asks if you want to burn new files or transfer existing files. To burn new ones, select a password. After that, click on any file or folder and drag it over to the EncryptEase window on the screen. Click “burn,” and it burns. Only you and members of the club will ever be able to read it again.

You can rewrite information to the disk up to 20 times, Ricoh says, and the CD holds about 600 megabytes of data. That’s equivalent to more than half a million double-spaced typed pages. The disks are sold on www.ricoh.com.

A VCR for your PC screen

The next best thing to a live demonstration is a “how-to” video. In fact, since you can rewind and pause, it’s often better than a live demo.

The new Camtasia from TechSmith can make a how-to video out of whatever is displayed on your computer screen. You can show an audience how to use a complex program, repair an engine or bake a cake, and they will see everything you do if you have those images in the computer. You can even add picture-in-picture narration, so they see you in one corner of the screen, explaining things as they appear on the main screen.

We thought Camtasia had a great set of video editing tools. You can easily add captions, call-outs, arrows, voice commentary, extra video, etc., anywhere in the video you’re creating. You can output the Camtasia video as a Macromedia Flash file, which means it can be added to almost any Web site.

Roxio, which makes the popular CD and DVD burning software, Easy Media Creator, uses Camtasia to make the video tutorial on its Web site. This alone, the company says, eliminated an estimated 700,000 technical support calls. IBM uses Camtasia for more than 400 presentations it gives at live conferences and for distribution later.

Camtasia 3.1 lists for US$300 from www.techsmith.com.

Radio Remote

Nearly all computers can be used as CD players if you want. But who wants to sit at a desk and select tracks and adjust the volume? You can do it remotely with a new device called AirClick USB from Griffin (www.griffintechnology.com).

A tiny receiver the size of a pack of chewing gum plugs into any USB port on a Mac or Windows PC, and a second device, only slightly larger than a pack of gum, is the remote control. After installing the software, an icon will appear in your task bar.

The remote control has five buttons: volume up, volume down, play/pause, forward and reverse. It comes with what Griffin says is a lifetime battery and works up to 60 feet away from the computer. An added benefit is that the same controller can be used for PowerPoint presentations.

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