3 min read

The Fantom strikes

Terrabyte hard drives, free Web cams, and free phone calls even by three people at once

The new Fantom hard drive provides a terrabyte of storage for $546. Time for some definitions: A megabyte is a million bytes. A gigabyte is a thousand megabytes. A terrabyte is a thousand gigabytes. It’s a big number; think of it as 1,500 CDs, fully loaded. Oh, and a byte is a single character, like a letter or number.

A Web search turned up a similar drive at Amazon.com for the same money, but it didn’t have a fan or internal airflow. Heat buildup is a common cause of drive failure, so we would go with a drive that has a cooling fan. If you have a drive failure with a terrabyte of storage, you have a real problem. Formatting this giant drive took about an hour and a half.

We tried out a Fantom 500 GB drive (list price $270). It’s very solid and weighs a hefty six pounds. More info at Micronet.com.

A new Web cam you

Logitech has some free software for adding video effects to what people see when you’re using your webcam. Instead of your own face, you can use a cartoon character that smiles when you smile, frowns when you frown. You can also put a crown on your head, look like an alien or turn into a talking Bambi.

The software uses animated 3-D renderings that change in accord with your movements. It works with Logitech web cameras, which sell for around $50 to $100 and are widely distributed (even we have one).

Three on a cell phone

We tried out a device called the “Spracht Aura Mobile BT.” (Spracht? Where’s my German dictionary?) This lets several people talk into a cell phone at once; no crowding.

The Spracht Mobile easily fits in one hand (most of the space is taken up by the unit’s speaker). The sound quality was terrific, better than the cell phone itself, and we’re talking about an expensive Sony Ericsson cell phone here. It can be used with any phone that has Bluetooth capability, or connected to any PC or Mac computer with a cable.

You both speak and listen through the same device. The volume is good enough that everyone could hear it in an open car or a conference room.

If you’re connecting it to a computer, it’s a quick and easy way to make Skype calls, the software commonly used for making Internet phone calls. Skype now lets you connect to landlines at no extra charge, by the way. We talked for an hour to friends in California, and the quality was great. Computer-to-computer calls were always free with Skype and other Internet phone services, but being able to call someone’s regular phone line free of charge is a new wrinkle.

The Spracht Mobile comes with several accessories for connections to various devices, including a charger that plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter. Since it has good pickup and volume, it’s kind of ideal for hands-free operation in a car or elsewhere. The battery is good for four hours of talk or 24 hours on standby.

List price for the Spracht Mobile is US$150, which is not cheap, but the quality was excellent. Web info at Spracht.com.

Free phone calls

We found another service for making free phone calls over the Internet; it’s free to many countries and nearly free to the rest. It’s Jajah.com, and using it is reminiscent of the old phone systems that used an operator to connect your call.

There’s no software to download, and you don’t need a high-speed Internet connection; dial-up will do. You just go to Jajah’s Web site and type your phone number in a box on the screen. Then select the country you’re calling and type in the phone number you want to reach. A few seconds later your phone will ring and you will hear a message telling you that Jajah is connecting your call.

That call can be to a cell or regular phone. You can make free or low-cost calls to land-based phone lines almost anywhere in the world. Calls to cell phones can’t be made everywhere but work in the United States, Canada and some Asian countries. You can schedule calls from an Internet cafe when you are traveling. A new mobile version lets you initiate calls from your cell phone, if you have one of the supported brands. We tried it and it was simple to use and the sound quality was good.

The numbers report

If you haven’t blogged yet, don’t feel bad about it; we’re all over-blogged and counting. Estimates run between 10 million and 30 million blogs and rising. Postings to these blogs run about a million a day. According to a survey by Insight Express (insightexpress.com), only 1 percent of us would miss blogs if they all disappeared tomorrow. One-fourth of all users would severely miss the Web and e-mail, about the same as those who would miss TV.

It’s a mystery to us

Yep, there’s a new Nancy Drew mystery game, and some day we’re going to solve one of these (if we live that long). The latest is “Nancy Drew: The Creature of Kapu Cave.” That doesn’t mean that Nancy is the creature; it means that she’s looking for … well, you get the idea. The Hardy Boys are there to help, though not much. It’s $20 for Win XP, and aimed at ages 10 and up.