Main Line Computer Users Group


December 2004 Issue 271

MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - DECEMBER 11 th
THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
UPCOMING MEETING: Another year is fast coming to a close (and tax time is just around the corner - but interrupted by the usual holiday season; so be happy!).

No really formal program is planned, so we will have ample time for folks to raise questions, discuss problems, ask for advice on gifts (for themselves or others), etc.

In addition to the talk time, we plan to have ample refreshments. From Messrs. Deker, Murphy, Volcheck and others, there'll be a party tray, hot and cold drinks and goodies. Attendees are invited to bring treats to share, too.

We will be running (under the eagle eye of Treasurer Stew Stewart) our annual Holiday Raffle! With plenty of prizes!!

There'll be some small articles, some attractive software and two special first prizes. Thru member John Murphy, we will have a full version of Microsoft Office 2003 Professional. And from Emil Volcheck, we'll have a 512 MB flash drive. With the high value of these prizes, we will want an ample pot before declaring a winner; so come prepared for tickets at our usual $1 each, or 6 for $5!! We'll see you there ???


The Myth of the Megapixel

It's that time of the year and digital cameras are being heavily promoted; so here's some advice:

"Buying a point-and-shoot digital camera seems easy enough. Just pick your price range, get as many "megapixels" as possible, a high zoom capability and you're all done, right? [cont'd]

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ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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ANOTHER YEAR GONE BY? - yes, it has and we hope that ALL our current members will feel enough value in the group to renew! With the end of the year upon us, the time is running out for getting your renewal in to our treasurer! the membership term that includes the rest of 2004 plus the next calendar year for the low, low price of $15 (which has not changed for many years).

We've mentioned it before, but, if you know any computer users that could benefit from being a member of MLCUG, bring 'em along!!

OUR WEBSITE - just a reminder that our faithful webmaster, Pete Whinnery, will be most appreciative of ideas to improve the usability and value of this website; so don't hesitate to suggest (he says he's still learning!).

REGULAR REMINDERS: 1) our email mailing list is run for the member's benefit; so please do not hesitate to post notices or problems to it. If we can't solve the problem remotely, we can be alerted to it ahead of a meeting where hands-on may do the job.

2) attendees know that we have a very fast internet connection from the VU meeting room (recently we hit 800+ KBps, now that's really moving - tho past performance is no guarantee of the future!). So, if you have a very large download, you can bring along a zip disk (or a CD-R/RW) and get it done there, before or after the main meeting.

3) a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch at the Villanova Diner after the meeting. Why not join us? It is a good time to get a little more help (or give it) and just to have fun talking about our common interests. The food is quite good, too!

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UPCOMING PROGRAMS

To provide a preview of upcoming meeting programs, your Steering Committee, by a strange mischance, actually discussed more than a month ahead. Here's what it looks like:

January - transferring audio (LPs, tapes) to CDs February - a LINUX install on the club's PC March - reviving an old photo (Fireng)

Your input is always sought; so let me hear from you this meeting. [Emil Volcheck]

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LAST MONTH'S MEETING

We had some 17 members attending in November - hopefully every member who is using Windows XP was able to make it, as the program topic, Service Pack 2, is an essential bit of technology for them. So, as an aside, if you use XP and did not make the meeting, please review the summary of the process in the article that follows this report.

The meeting began with a round-table of announcements. Some highlights from it include:

Emil Volcheck - brought in a Maxtor One-Touch II external hard drive (similar to the one Ralph Hose had brought in the month before, except) which has both USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 ports on it. So, the drive can be used on PCs, Macs and, presumably, most any other operating system or computer.

Spyware was discussed, with the main subject being what gets called spyware by various programs. One especially tough one is the series of malware put out by "CoolWebSearch". It has been reported that the spyware scanners have a problem with this source. Visitor Al Gottlieb mentioned a product called "CWShredder", which can be obtained via download from a number of site. After the meeting, Al sent me a URL; so I grabbed a copy of it. The version is 159.1 and the file is "CWShredder159_1.exe". So, if anyone finds their browsing to be hijacked by this maverick, we have a tool to use (at least until the spyware scanner folks get better at removing all traces of the villain!).

Another item on the spyware front is a persistent problem with Spybot S&D 1.3 - as it tends to keep finding five (5) "DSO Exploits" every time you run it, even tho it supposedly removed or fixed the "problem" repeatedly. John Deker told us about another little utility called: "DSOStop2.exe", that is supposed to be a firm cure. As with the other tip, I downloaded that one and have it, too. This sort of activity really takes the fun out of computing!!!!!

During the course of the program demonstration (see later item), Emil showed us a one-click shortcut to turn off your screen saver, and a one-click to turn it back on. This is a lot more convenient that the multi-step process one normally uses, makes it easier to get the screen saver out of the way when doing things like defrag, image backups, burning CDs or DVDS, etc. This tidbit is described in a future issue.

Layton Fireng showed us some samples of color photoprints from a digital camera which has the capability to produce its images in so-called "RAW" format. This format preserves all the information that the camera can gather in the image file it creates. These files tend to be rather large, as they are not compressed in the camera itself, like the typical JPEG, or even TIFF, file formats. The difference in fine detail in the prints from the RAW images was quite evident. The suggestion being to use the RAW format, if available, for images that you plan to do processing, cropping, etc. on at a later time. Oh yes, and be sure to get a high capacity memory card for your camera!!!

This somewhat loosely defined "announcements" session was finished and we turned to the day's demo: the installation of Windows XP Service Pack 2 on the club's BTO computer. See the next item. [Emil Volcheck]

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XP SP 2 Experiences

Here are the results of installing SP 2 on the BTO PC. The actual times are from the trial run I made before the meeting. The meeting times appeared to be roughly comparable. With the total elapsed time from "Go" to the "Finished" announcement and "Ready to restart" was 12m34s; so there was no problem with the live real-time demo that we conducted at the November meeting.

This was the fourth installation, and the fastest so far. The others were 16, 18 and 22 minutes, roughly proportional to the system speed.

Since I had made an image just before the test install; I restored it so we were in original and excellent shape to do the demo.

BTW, the install added a net of 110 MB of stuff to the C drive (for reference, a complete install of Windows 95 was about 55 MB!!!).

Here is a rough timing of the installation steps:

Ran the SP 2 installation CD, which proceeded as follows:

Started "Update.bat" on CD 0:00 Inspecting system 0:04 Checking space for installation 1:42 Backing up files 2:54 "Cancel" button gone 5:15 Installing files 5:29 Update registry, finish installation 10:26 Finished, ready for restart 12:34

I had it not restart, but closed all windows and powered down. After a minute or so, powered up. Startup steps included:

Splash screen to turn on Automatic Updates - not now Boot finished. Security Center appeared - AV was OK - Firewall was OK - Automatic updates NOT OK Security shield shows in system tray (because of not OK item)

Hooked her back up to the net and got an immediate Zone Alarm query on the "Win32 Service Host" - said OK and let things settle.

As of this writing the BTO has been running for three weeks with no evidence of problems.

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A Bit of Relief From Computers!

[Courtesy of Joe Pizzirusso]

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The Myth of the Megapixel

[cont'd from p.1] While that's certainly what the camera industry wants you to think, alas, like with most things involving technology, it's not nearly as simple as it seems. Even if you're a casual photographer shopping for an automated, pocket-size, point-and-shoot model, the landscape is filled with myths and traps that can lead you to the wrong decision.

So here's a rundown of the seven most common pitfalls digital camera buyers encounter and how to avoid them. Note that these tips generally apply to point-and-shoot models under $500, not to the much more complex, manually controllable models aimed at serious hobbyists and pros, which usually cost much more.

The Resolution Ruse: Years ago the computer industry successfully, but inaccurately, reduced the perceived value of a PC to one number: processor speed. Now the digital camera industry is aiming to do the same thing, by boiling down the value of a camera to its number of megapixels, a measure of the maximum resolution the camera can capture in its images. But as with buying a computer, spending more to get a higher megapixel magic number may be a waste of money. Consumer cameras are currently approaching 7 megapixels, but a much less expensive 3- or 4-megapixel camera can produce terrific images that look just fine, even when printed at 8x10.

Also, all megapixels are not created equal. Many camera makers try to eke out a higher megapixel total without spending the money to install a larger sensor, which is really the key component in a digital camera. That means the pixels in a 5- or 6-megapixel camera may well be smaller than those in a 3- or 4-megapixel model, and smaller pixels carry less color information. So photos from a lower-megapixel camera may look better than those from its higher-megapixel brethren.

In general, a camera with 3 or 4 megapixels is adequate for most people, with two exceptions. Because editing is a process that tends to throw away pixels, heavy editors should choose a 5-megapixel camera if possible. More megapixels also make sense for folks who want to make prints 11x14 and larger.

The Zoom Illusion: Camera makers love to advertise a big zoom number, as in "12X." But look carefully at the fine print. That total is usually derived by multiplying two types of zoom effects: optical and digital. Of the pair, only optical zoom is real, however, and the actual product of a zoom lens. Digital zooming is a computer trick in which the camera blows up the pixels in the image to make an area look as if you zoomed in on it. In my cameras, I turn digital zoom off completely and rely solely on optical zoom because digital zoom can make an image appear grainy. I advise buying cameras with 3X optical zoom and ignoring the digital zoom altogether.

The Screen Play: One of the great things about digital cameras is the LCD screen they sport on the back. These screens, which are getting larger, let you review your pictures right away and delete the ones you don't like. But some camera makers are now making the screen the sole way to frame a shot before a picture is taken to save money or space, they are leaving out the traditional optical viewfinder and assuming that users can make do with the screen instead.

I think this is a bad tradeoff. When you hold a small camera far enough away from your body to see the screen well, you risk shaking the camera more than when you're holding it closer to your body, as with an optical viewfinder pressed against your eye. Also, I have used many cameras whose screens couldn't be seen in bright daylight, rendering them useless for framing shots. For these reasons, I strongly advise buying a camera with both a screen and a viewfinder.

[Note: Mossberg did not mention that using the LCD panel also runs the battery down much, much faster. So, if you want to use it, make sure you have gobs of spare, charged batteries!! - ejv]

The Speed Trap: The dirty little secret about digital cameras is that most are slow slow to start up, slow to capture an image after you press the shutter and slow to be ready to take another picture after the prior shot is completed. And speed makes a big difference when you're shooting action scenes, such as a baby's first step. So check out the speed specs on a camera you're considering. The camera should start up, ready to shoot, in less than a second. As for shutter lag and shot-to-shot time, there's no standard, but try to buy the model with the least delay in these measures.

Also, make sure your camera has some sort of "burst" or "continuous" mode, which allows for rapid sequential shooting. In many cases, you can take only a limited number of shots in this mode, but it's still worth having for action footage.

The Memory Mess: Digital cameras store their photos on memory cards, which come in a bewildering variety of types. It might not seem as if it matters which type a camera uses, but it does. If you have other cameras or portable devices that use memory cards, such as music players or PDAs, it pays to buy a camera model that's compatible with the same type of memory card as your other gadgets so you can share and swap cards among them.

Also, some card types sell in much greater quantities than others and, thus, often cost less. CompactFlash cards are usually cheaper. And SD cards are quickly becoming the most popular type of card, so their prices are pretty good. In contrast, Sony's proprietary Memory Sticks don't work in many other companies' products, and I'd stay away from the new xD format, which can be hard to find and might not fit into the built-in card slots on laptops. Finally, some new, faster cameras, like Kyocera's models, require higher-speed cards, which can save images more quickly. The Motion Notion: Most digital still cameras can also shoot video, but don't expect them to replace your camcorder. The clips these cameras take are usually very brief, and the memory cards in most cameras are too small to hold much video. So it's best to think of these video capabilities as a minor added feature at best.

The exception is a new class of digital camcorder that dispenses with tapes and uses large memory cards. These cameras which are so far made by only a few companies, such as Fisher and Panasonic aim to blur the traditional line between still and video models. But they usually produce lower-quality still images than the better digital still cameras.

The Printer Factor: Traditionally, you've had to connect a camera to your computer and transfer images in order to print them. But many digital cameras now include PictBridge, a standard technology that enables you to plug a camera directly into a printer (one that supports PictBridge), completely bypassing the computer. So make sure you buy a model that is PictBridge-compatible.

For more sound information on digital cameras, several Web sites offer lots of good detail. Two of my favorites are Digital Photography Review and the Digital Camera Resource Page. Both are worth consulting.

The bottom line is that cameras are more complicated than they seem, so you have to choose carefully, ask questions and avoid letting yourself be talked into more, or less, camera than you want and need.

[By Walter S. Mossberg, Oct 2004]

DIRECTIONS FOR ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER MEETING ROOM

Meetings are in the St. Augustine Center at Villanova University. The regular monthly sessions meet in Room 110.

Enter from the ITHAN AVENUE main gate, then proceed to the upper level of the 2-level parking building adjacent to the St. Augustine Center, on the Ithan Avenue side of the building.

NOTE: maps on our webpage - http://mlcug.org/


PC/128/64 Meetings  2004-5  Steering Committee Meetings

			December 11 			December 15 **
			January 8  			January 19 **
			February 12			February 16 **

	* = FOURTH Wednesday	** = THIRD Wednesday at Tom Johnson's home
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EDITOR:  Emil J. Volcheck, Jr.   1046 General Allen Lane    West Chester, PA 19382-8030
(Produced on a Powerspec PC: Athlon 2000+, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive,
Brother HL-5170DN laser printer, HP Scanjet 6300C, CD-RW, DVD-RW and 250 MB Zip drives,
using Appleworks 5.0.3)

          MLCUG LISTSERV: for members only...
                     WWW: http://www.mlcug.org/
               PUBLICITY: Position OPEN!
       VILLANOVA SPONSOR: Prof. Frank Maloney, Dept. of Astronomy

MLCUG STEERING COMMITTEE:

PRESIDENT: Emil Volcheck    610-388-1581  SECRETARY: Charles Curran 610-446-5239
TREASURER: Dewitt Stewart   610-623-5145  AMIGASIG: John Deker      610-828-7897
WEBMASTER: Peter Whinnery   610-284-5234  DATABASE: Layton Fireng   610-688-2080
AT LARGE:  Tom Johnson      610-525-3440  AT LARGE: John Murphy     610-935-4398