A few of my favorite things

A few of my favorite things

Van Horn, Royal

THIS month’s column was originally titled “Bad News” and was to deal with technology that doesn’t work right — and the people responsible for it.

Both certainly qualify for a place among my “least favorite things.” But I decided to hold that column until January. It just didn’t seem right to approach the holidays and the year’s end with such a cranky column. But January will be another matter]

Videodiscs and Surround Sound

One of my favorite things is my home entertainment center. It’s not especially elaborate, but it works great. I have a five-year-old Pioneer videodisc player (it also plays music CDs) that cost about $300 when I bought it — what a bargain, two machines in one. My local video store rents videodiscs, and it’s usually easier to rent a new release of a movie on disc than on tape because fewer people have disc players.

The videodisc player is hooked to a Pioneer Elite series AM/FM receiver/amplifier/AV switching unit that has two great features: a universal remote control and Dolby Pro-Logic(TM) surround sound. The universal — or “learning” remote — lets me run every other piece of equipment have from this single device. The Dolby Pro-Logic(TM) surround sound lets me have theater-quality sound. All I did was buy three small bookcase speakers. I use one for the front center channel (voice) and two for the rear channels (ambience and background sound). When I first hooked up the system, I popped in the Dances with Wolves videodisc and had the volume a little high. When the first musket fired, the ricochet off the rear speakers was so realistic I ducked] Dolby Pro-Logic(TM) surround sound — different from plain surround — is incredible, but you do have to string extra speaker wires.

New Favorite Printer

My new favorite printer is a Hewlett-Packard HP 660C ink-jet printer. This brand-new color printer retains HP’s great paper-handling ability, has separate cartridges for color and black ink (which saves money), and is twice as fast as earlier models. At around $450 it’s a great value. But don’t forget to buy a printer cable, because it doesn’t come with one. Personally, I have had a lot of trouble with the paper-handling mechanisms on Apple StyleWriter printers, so this feature of the HP 660 is a real plus. The only slight downside to the 660 is that HP printer drivers on Macs do not run quite as smoothly as they do on PCs.

My other favorite printer is an Apple LaserWriter 630 Pro. One of these high-speed, Ethernet-equipped, 10 megabyte PostScript printers is on the network in my building at the university and in the lab at Hilliard Elementary (see Power Tools, October 1995). With a 10-page-a-minute output and a paper tray that holds 250 sheets, these network workhorses can support a great many networked users. In two years of continuous operation — we never turn them off — not one of these trusty printers has ever gone down. Unfortunately, the folks at Apple quit making them, and you’ll have to contact them to see if they have a similar replacement. (Someone might tell you that the Hewlett-Packard HP4MP is the equivalent, but it isn’t.)

Big Low-Cost Hard Drives

One of the best developments of the year has been the radical decrease in the cost of large, external hard disk drives. Recently, the price of 730-megabyte to one-gigabyte external SCSI hard disk drives has fallen to around $300. What a deal] With that kind of space, you can haul a whole semester’s worth of multimedia presentations into class on an external drive that fits in your briefcase] Personally, I like APS and LaCie drives, but there are many excellent vendors. PC users will need to double-check to be sure that their computers can accommodate an external SCSI drive. Those who use PowerBooks or other notebook computers will probably need a special “high-density” SCSI or PCMCIA cable. One or two of these drives and a few Photo-CDs (described below), and you’ll have the drive space to do some serious multimedia work]

Multimedia Software

Over the past few years, I have learned and used a dozen or more multimedia programs on Macs and PCs. My old standby, HyperCard, just went to version 2.3, which has much better color painting tools and image handling. When you consider that the famous computer adventure MYST (see Power Tools, November 1994), was done in HyperCard, you quickly realize the power and flexibility of HyperCard. In addition to HyperCard, Microsoft Power Point 3.0 is another old favorite of mine. (I don’t like version 4.0, because it doesn’t use the standard Mac menu conventions. It was ported over from a PC, so PC users shouldn’t mind version 4.0.) If you want to build great presentations quickly and efficiently, take a day or two to master Power Point, and you’ll be able to do them in record time. You can’t learn Power Point in an hour or two, but, once you learn it, it’s yours — much more so than other programs.

Today, many people want to do things with multimedia programs that will run on both Macs and PCs. Apple’s Media Tools (about $500) promises to be a great program for this purpose. (I just recently acquired a copy of Media Tools, and in a future column I’ll let you know how it works.) Another cross-platform media-authoring tool turns out to be HTML (HyperText Markup Language), which is the Internet’s World Wide Web authoring language (see Power Tools, June 1995) . A lot of new programs, especially such high-end word processors as Word Perfect, have extensions that let you design pages and then convert them to HTML. Claris Works 4.0 for Macs even has an HTML tutorial that you should check out.

Kodak Photo-CD

Photo-CD technology is a sleeper technology with more uses in schools, homes, and businesses than most people realize. It’s so simple. Take some 35-millimeter slides, send them to a Photo-CD processing facility, and in about 10 days you get a Photo-CD with up to 100 high-resolution images. What’s even neater is that every image on the Photo-CD is on the disc in five different sizes/resolutions. (I make a lot of use of the quarter-screen size — 320 by 240 pixels — in multimedia presentations.) The Photo-CD you get back is “interoperable,” which is a fancy way of saying it will play on Macs and PCs that have the right kind of CD-ROM drives.

Since facilities that process Photo-CDs use top-of-the-line slide scanners — costing tens of thousands of dollars — your Photo-CD will contain incredibly good images. There is absolutely no way to get better images in a format that your computer can use.

Here are a few details on Photo-CDs. Assuming you can’t find a discount processing facility, the cost per image (slide) is about $1.20 if you send in undeveloped rolls of film and about $1.50 if you send in developed slides in mounts. (These are high-end prices; you might do much better.) You don’t have to have 100 images done at a time, either. Instead, you can send in a single roll or a few dozen slides. When you want more images added to the disc, just send the new slides and the partially filled disc back to the processing company. When you make a Photo-CD a few slides at a time, you end up with a “multi-session” disc. Multi-session Photo-CDs will play only in CD-ROM drives that are “multi-session compatible And most newer drives are. If you have any doubts, Kodak has a special number you can call for information: 800-235-6325.

When I do multimedia projects, I assemble the source images (slides) and have a Photo-CD made of them. In this way, I don’t have to use any space on my hard drive to store my still images. Instead, they are stored on a Photo-CD that goes in my computer’s CD-ROM drive. If I need more than 100 images, I just get another Photo-CD made. Since every Photo-CD holds about 650 megabytes of image data, the hard drive space I need for a big project is substantially reduced.

Here’s an interesting scenario to consider. Take a picture (slide) of every student in your school. Have Photo-CDs made from these images. Then purchase a “jukebox” style CD-ROM drive that holds six to 10 discs (about $600). Voila, you have every student’s picture in a digital format that is instantly available on your school’s computer system or network.

Miscellaneous Favorites

Since I am about to run out of space, I will have to make this section brief. New Media is a relatively new magazine that features in-depth coverage of new technology. Recent issues have discussed CD-ROM recorders and the race between phone companies and cable TV companies to bring “video on demand” and the Internet to your doorstep. Get New Media if you want to really understand the future.

First Class (SoftArc in Canada and Apple in the U.S.) is a combination mail, bulletin board, and remote-access client-server software program that is hands down the best network software I have ever used. Users and sysops all over love it. My favorite Internet Web sites are Kodak, which has free high-resolution photos, and Apple, which has great technical assistance information. I end up using Apple’s site out of necessity, which should give you a hint about my January column.

Now for the answer to last month’s trivia question, Why should you not buy or use any applications program that has a “.0” or a “.5” in its version number? I listed examples such as Claris Works 4.0 for h Mac and Windows 95 for IBM — translated Windows 3.5. The answer is simply a commentary on how software is developed. Versions that end in a “.0” are the initial release of a substantially new version of the software. Versions with a “.0” have usually not been “debugged” very well. Claris Works 4.0, for example, has trouble printing any document that it translates from a Works 2.0 or 2.1 document. (The “work around” is Edit: Select All, then Edit Copy, then open a new Works 4.0 document, and Edit: Paste your text into the new 4.0 document.)

Software that gets to about version “.5” has often had too many features, patches, extensions, drivers, and fixes added to it. Both System 7.5 for Macs and Windows 95 for PCs fall into the “too many patches” category. On Macs the patches appear as extension icons that line up across the bottom of the screen as the Mac starts up. On Windows PCs, extensions scroll up the screen rapidly as DOS and Windows load. The ideal operating system or application program has few if any patches. Incidentally, Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 are not operating systems; they are windowing programs that run on top of DOS — not a good plan.

This month’s trivia question is really two questions: “What is a ‘Portfolio Photo-CD’ and what kind of CD-audio discs come with music videos?” You really oughta wanna know] Happy holidays.

ROYAL VAN HORN is a professor of education at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville. He is the author of Advanced Technology in Education (Wadsworth, 1991).

Copyright Phi Delta Kappa Dec 1995

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