Teeny tiny disk drives

We’ve been trying out a new 8-gigabyte disk drive the size of a large postage stamp. Expect to see a lot of these in the near future.

The one we’re working with is from Seagate and has the largest capacity we could find among those currently available. You can also get drives of this type, up to 6 gigabytes, from Hitachi. They’re 1-inch disk drives, but the outer case measures 1.5 by 1.5 inches (4 by 4 centimeters) and three-sixteenths inch (half a centimeter) thick. Let’s face it, that’s small.

The drive is designed to fit into many of the newest digital cameras. You can tell which cameras because the package will carry a notation that they accept “CF+” or “Type II” cards; the letters stand for Compact Flash Plus. You can also recognize cameras that accept these cards by looking at the card slot, which will be roughly twice as thick as the slots for flash cards.

Plugged into a camera, Seagate’s 8-gig card will hold over 4,000 photographs at 4-megapixel resolution. Even if you take high-definition 8-megapixel photos, the drive will hold more than 2,300 of them. These numbers are absurd, of course, but not so absurd if you turn to saving video and not just still shots. Most digital cameras can also take video now, some for 30 seconds or more. The card can hold eight hours of MPEG-2 video, which is DVD quality.

If you have a flash card reader that accepts the CF+ size card, you can plug it into the computer and essentially have a removable hard drive. Interestingly, we just got a new card reader from Edge Tech (www.edgetechcorp.com). It handles this kind of card and a couple of others. You would plug the card reader into the USB port on a Windows XP or Macintosh computer, plug the Seagate drive into one of the reader slots, and as far as the computer is concerned you’ve just added an 8-gig hard drive.

We found Seagate’s 8-gigabyte 1-inch hard drive for $250 at Radio Shack; a 4-gigabyte version sells for $120 at Amazon.com (Do a search on “Seagate Compact Flash”). The Edge Tech card reader sells for $50, but that’s because it docks an iPod. You can use it to view photos on your TV, or listen to music on external speakers. If you don’t want those features, you can find similar card readers for less than half the price. Neither device requires a power supply, drawing the current it needs through a USB cable attached to the computer.

Opening up with Open Office

OpenOffice is a free program that offers essentially the same programs and features as Microsoft Office, which ranges in price from around $80 for the student/teacher version to $400 for the standard version.

You can get OpenOffice as a free download from www.openoffice.org. Or you can get it on a disk that comes with a book, “Point & Click OpenOffice.org” by Robin Miller; $30 from Prentice Hall ($20 from Amazon.com). That’s the way we got ours, and we think it was well worth it because of all the useful tips and easy-to-follow instructions, including videos. The book comes with OpenOffice for Windows or Linux, take your choice.

The book takes a project approach to learning OpenOffice. You create an advertising flier, a slide show, a spreadsheet and a database. There are sections for beginner and advanced users, and both are very readable.

We learned that in OpenOffice you can add a cartoon thought bubble to a photo or drawing just by clicking on one at the bottom of the screen. MS Word has this feature as well, but to get to it you have to choose a shape from the shapes menu. OpenOffice also lets you drag an image and drop it anywhere on the page, which you can’t do with Word. And you can turn any document into a PDF, so that it retains its formatting.

On the downside, we had some trouble creating business cards in OpenOffice, but doing it in Word was also awkward. If you want to make business cards, it’s easiest to do it in a free program you can get from Avery (www.avery.com).

Most important, any OpenOffice document can be saved as a Word document, any spreadsheet can be saved as an Excel file, and any presentation can be viewed by PowerPoint users.

Iclone, you clone

Online gamers will like this one. Many online games allow players to create their own characters. Now, with iClone, they can even put their own faces on them. We used it to turn Bob into a 3-D warrior in just a few clicks.

The same technique can be used to personalize animated characters in chat rooms. You might enjoy using it to put a face on cartoon characters on a Web site, or in screensavers and mobile phone displays.

Moving beyond faces, you can import whole scenes with background music. If you want to experiment a bit, there’s a free trial of this at www.reallusion.com. The standard version of the program is $80. The advanced version is $180.

The numbers report

The blog is turning into the blob, a giant phenomenon reaching tens of millions of people. According to the latest Pew Internet report, seven per cent of the 120 million adults in the United States using the Internet have created a blog or Web-based diary – 8 million people. A surprising 27 per cent of Internet users read blogs. The top 400 blogs reach 50 million people.

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