Really simple syndication

The new buzzword “RSS” stands for “Really Simple Syndication.” (Or maybe we should call it a buzz-acronym.) It’s a quick and easy way to feed new information onto your computer screen.

We found two approaches: One is what’s called a “news aggregator.” You go to a selected site, like newsgator.com, and look at what’s new from the RSS feeds you’ve previously subscribed to. Similar sites are SharpReader.net, FeedDemon.com and FeedReader.com.

An approach we liked better is KnowNow eLerts, still in beta testing, at http://download.knownow.com. This is free and sends you alerts from any source that has an RSS feed. To make it all work, you download the eLert tool bar. Then drag the little orange icon, representing a news source that has an RSS feed, onto the bar. You must use Internet Explorer as your browser.

The KnowNow eLerts pop up on your screen, and you can go to any of them right away or leave them for skimming later. Some obvious choices might be sports scores, event tickets, airline specials, new items on auction sites, job postings, etc. A handy channel guide at this site also lets you choose prime news sources, like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and others.

Photos

We just got hit by another photo impact. It was painless; this one is Ulead PhotoImpact 11.

That’s 11 times now, and each one has been great. We’ve praised this program all 10 times in the past, and the simple reason was that it deserved it. Number 11 continues the string. It has a new, easy interface. Let’s get right to some of the new tricks and features.

You can take three pictures of the same scene and combine them into one. For example, you photograph a beach scene, but you don’t like the way the sky looks. You have another shot with nice waves, but the rest is muddy. A third shot has a lovely sunset. The program will merge all three into a great-looking picture.

Next cool feature, as they say, is similar. Let’s say you want to remove people who are standing in the way of one of your shots. If you take a sequence of shots of the same scene – easy to do with most cameras – the program can remove the figures and automatically fill in the full picture minus the figures who were moving in front of it. The feature is called “smart remove.”

With every photo editing program there’s always the masking problem. If you want to move a figure to a new picture, you have to outline it very carefully. PhotoImpact has a feature called “object extraction.” You draw a rough outline around the figure and then use brushes of various sizes to remove the bits of background still left. This process can be as detailed as you have patience for, but a child could do it. You can keep enlarging the figure to see extremely fine details. We used it to move our two little granddaughters, wearing princess costumes, in front of palaces.

PhotoImpact 11 from the Ulead Web site (www.ulead.com). The package comes with a bonus disk that has 3,000 stock images and tutorials on editing photos and creating a Web site. It also comes with PhotoExplorer 8.6, a photo organizer that you can also use to capture, edit and save video and convert it to any of several formats, including Apple format.

An aside on prices: Earlier versions of PhotoImpact can be found for little money, and they are all excellent. We bought version 5, which we use for our Web site.

Internuts

At www.webstrider.com: You know there’s a link to that thing somewhere; you remember reading about it, but you just can’t remember the Internet address. OK, it could be here. This site has links to nearly all of the best sites, listed by subject matter. A few are obscure, like “How to fly a helicopter” and “How to do just about anything by e-mail.”

At www.legalmatch.com: Describe your case and what you’re willing to pay for an attorney, and they match you with someone in your area. Site has many testimonials from users.

At www.cellartracker.com: Site can keep track of your wine cellar and has comments from more than 9,000 users on what’s good and what’s not.

Atwww.jiggerbug.com: Audio books by mail. We’ve mentioned this site before, but now it has a system that lets you download books to your MP3 player. Four thousand downloadable titles will be available this month, and there are already 25,000 on CD and cassette. So we thought it was worth another mention.

A watchman for the Mac

A while back we wrote about a program called Centurion that prevents users from making changes to a Windows computer. This affords protection for computers in libraries and schools, where there are going to be many users.

That same program is now available in a Macintosh version for $60, from www.centuriontech.com. Any change the user makes will be fully functional and appear permanent to the user. However, when the computer is rebooted, all the changes disappear. Apple uses this software on the 7,000 computers it has on display in its stores worldwide.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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