Main Line Computer Users Group


May 2005 Issue 276

VILLANOVA UNIVERSITY, ST. AUGUSTINE CENTER, ROOM 110

MEETING STARTS - 09:30 - MAY 14 th


THIS MONTH'S CONTENTS
  • Annual Digital Camera Guide
  • Announcements & Comments
  • Last Month's Meeting
  • Linux in April
  • Murphy's Computer Laws
  • Upcoming Programs
  • Knoppix 3.7 CD-ROMS
  • Annual Digital Camera Guide (cont)
  • Hard Drive Partitioning
  • MAP/Masthead/Meeting Schedule
  • RENEWAL & Membership Form


    UPCOMING MEETING:

    For our May meeting, we are planning to take a little breather from formal presentations on using the Linux OS.

    However, our key presenter, Pete Whinnery, will be on hand to help respond to any questions or need for hands-on help with getting started on Linux (especially the Knoppix variety).

    Because of the press of time to get thru the Linux material these last several meetings, we've been on time to provide direct member assistance.

    So, for the first time in lo these many months, we'll take the time to:

    - solicit suggestions for future meeting topics

    - do a round table on announcements and news tidbits (security, whatever...)

    - "solve" as many problems as we can with the brains, experience and tools at hand

    So, plan to attend with your own input: ideas, questions and problems!!!.


    ANNUAL GUIDE TO BUYING A DIGITAL CAMERA

    [With the good weather coming on, I thought this might be a timely aid to all: ejv]

    Though lots of people own digital cameras, far too many don't know how to choose one. It's no wonder, since geeky terms like "megapixels" and "digital zoom" have made cameras as mysterious as PCs. So, here's Walt Mossberg's annual guide to buying a digital camera. [cont'd.]

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    ANNOUNCEMENTS & COMMENTS
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    OUR NEW TREASURER - effective immediately, John Deker has taken over the Treasurer's job from long patient, Dewitt (Stew) Stewart. Many thanks to Stew for the years of faithful and accurate service! John's contact info is give on p.7 and 8

    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, after all these years !).

    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 (we have hit 800+ KBps, that's really moving - tho past performance is no guarantee of the future!). If you have a BIG download, you can bring along a zip disk (or a CD-R/RW) and get it done before or after the main meeting.

    3) a half dozen or so of the regular attendees usually partake of lunch at the ?? 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. (New site is TBD, as the VU Diner is no more! All suggestions gratefully accepted...).

    **************************************
    LAST MONTH'S MEETING

    Nineteen folks attended the April meeting, including new member Kevin Dixon (he joined some months ago, but this was his first meeting attended).

    ###############
    As part of my intro remarks, I asked folks to search their memories for info on a "mystery member". At the December meeting (we think), one of our then current members gave our treasurer, Stew, a dues payment of $15 for a new member, whom , he said, would send the key info of name, address, etc. However, Stew has heard nothing yet! Would the member who brought those $$$ please contact the "new" member and have him/her provide the needed info. I have been saving newsletters for that member, too.
    ###############

    Following announcements round the table, we started to prep for the program only to get a rude shock. At last month's meeting, we had demoed the Linux distro, Knoppix 3.7, with no difficulties. But, when Pete Whinnery, our presenter, fired it up again, it showed very well on the BTO's monitor, but would not display thru our video projector. Several restarts, after changes aimed at getting it to display properly, were to no avail! By chance, member John Murphy had brought a laptop in because he had, the evening before, downloaded the latest Knoppix release, 3.8. So, he fired it up and hooked it to the video projector. Voila!! Nice image; so Pete did the rest of the presentation on John's laptop. Our thanks to John for having the foresight (read luck) to bring his laptop along...

    We'll troubleshoot the projector and see if we can get her working again for next time.

    But, now, up and running, we dived into this month's program:

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    LINUX IN APRIL

    For the bulk of the program, Pete followed his outline, as published in the April newsletter (p.3). He covered the assumptions on which the program was based (really the strategy of a Linux trial or conversion). Then, he tackled the setting up of a "persistent home directory". This is a technique to allow you to use the Live CD of Knoppix to boot from, but have a place to store your configuration changes, files or data you create - instead of having them lost when the power goes off! We'll have a summary of this procedure published to get you going, if you'd like to play around a bit before going to a full hard drive install.

    Next, he discussed some cross-platform applications to allow you to work in both the Windows and Linux environments. An excellent example of this is the program suite called: "OpenOffice.org", which has good compatibility with the key components of Microsoft Office. OOo is included in the Knoppix distro.

    Another is the Mozilla, Firefox, Thunderbird web browsers and email clients (which are also included in later Linux distros). These are ideal ways to keep your feet in both boats!

    In addition to cross platform, there are two other approaches that can help to keep your options open:

    a) CrossoverOffice - which allows you to run many Windows applications under Linux, and,

    b) WIN4LIN - which allows you to install a full Windows OS to run under Linux. With this installed, you can actually run Windows programs in Windows, not in Linux mode.

    You'll note that these approaches will work best when your computer has plenty of memory, a very speedy CPU and plenty of hard drive space. Running emulations or stacked operating systems is no trivial chore!!

    The next task he stepped thru was configuration for printers and sound cards. Knoppix has a huge passel of printers supported; so there is a good chance your's is. And, the setup is very similar to what you'd go thru for any printer that Windows knows about.

    Sound cards were mentioned briefly - but the recent Linux distros are doing a good job of recognizing and self-configuring for sound cards (including those integrated on the motherboard).

    A similar situation is found for networking cards. Again no one reported that they had a network interface that did not work essentially from the get-go. Of course, if you have a home LAN, you'll have to do some configuration to let Knoppix thru your security barriers (whatever they may be).

    About the final topic was the saving of your configurations and setups to some place so they can be retrieved, not repeated, the next time you fire Linux/Knoppix up.

    Hopefully by the next meeting, every member with even a mild interest in Knoppix will have tried it. And, folks can come to the meeting with their questions.

    Also, remember, the MLCUG Listserv is available to all members to post their problems and questions. Help is normally quite quick - it's not hands-on, but better than waiting until the next meeting.

    Thanks to Pete, for holding up well under adversity, and showing us a bit more to make Linux familiar enough to tackle. [Emil Volcheck]

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    MURPHY'S COMPUTER LAWS

    1. When computing, whatever happens, behave as though you meant it to happen.

    2. When you get to the point where you really understand your computer, it's probably obsolete.

    3. The first place to look for information is in the section of the manual where you least expect to find it.

    4. When the going gets tough, upgrade.

    5. For every action, there is an equal and opposite malfunction.

    6. To err is human . . . to blame your computer for your mistakes is even more human, it is downright natural.

    7. He who laughs last probably made a back-up.

    8. If at first you do not succeed, blame your computer.

    9. A complex system that does not work is invariably found to have evolved from a simpler system that worked just fine.

    10. The number one cause of computer problems is computer solutions.

    11. A computer program will always do what you tell it to do, but rarely what you want to do.

    ***************************************
    UPCOMING PROGRAMS

    To provide a preview of upcoming meeting programs, your Steering Committee continues to keep a bit ahead. Here's what it looks like for:

    Jun - making and using the MLCUG Open CD Jul - protecting your data

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

    ***************************************
    KNOPPIX 3.7 CD-ROMS

    Do you want/need a copy of the Knoppix 3.7 CD? If so, please give Emil a buzz and he'll bring a copy next time for you. This Live CD can be used to boot directly or install to a hard drive.

    ***************************************
    DIGITAL CAMERAS

    (cont'd. from p.1) My assistant Katie Boehret and I have compiled a list of basics to look for when shopping for your first digital camera, as well as some tips for current owners looking to upgrade. As always, this guide is meant for mainstream, casual shooters, not professionals or the most serious photo hobbyists, who care more about things like optics and elaborate control over the parameters of each shot.

    CATEGORIZING CAMERAS. Digital cameras can be broadly sifted into three main categories: pocket-size, point-and-shoot and high-end. Thanks to technology, pocket size cameras do a splendid job of marrying high-quality features with tiny size -- the perfect solution for casual photographers like me who don't want to lug a big camera everywhere to get good shots.

    These pocket-size cameras are so stylishly slim and eye-catching that they're starting to appear in various colors and with extra features, such as unique sound effects. Be careful not to pay more for a stylish-looking camera that lacks good features.

    Point-and-shoot cameras are better for folks who don't mind carrying a camera case or who would rather have a sturdier feel and a lower price. These cameras come loaded with features, some of which might not be as commonly found on space-constrained pocket cameras.

    High-end digicams are larger, costlier and most commonly used by avid hobbyists, who value their numerous manual settings and options. But camera companies are doing a better job of marketing them as less intimidating to average photographers who may want to take their photography to the next level.

    MEGAPIXEL CONFUSION. The digital-camera makers, and their retailers, try to boil down the measure of a camera's quality to one factor: its "megapixel" rating. But, like processor speeds in computers, this megapixel number can be deceptive. More megapixels don't always mean better pictures.

    Megapixels are a measure of the maximum resolution that a camera can capture. But they have to be seen in tandem with the size of a camera's image sensor. That sensor must be large enough to capture the ever-climbing megapixel numbers advertised with many new digital cameras -- or else each pixel won't carry as much color information. In many low or moderately priced cameras, manufacturers add more megapixels without increasing the sensor size, which would be costly. They simply shrink each pixel, and that approach yields little or no gain in picture quality over a camera with the same-size sensor, but fewer, larger pixels. When comparing similar cameras with lower and higher megapixel ratings, ask if the higher-megapixel model actually has a larger sensor than the lower-megapixel one.

    Don't be hoodwinked into buying a camera with a strangely high megapixel count and a too-good-to-be-true price. It isn't difficult to find digital cameras with five to seven megapixels that sell for about $300 or so, such as the five-megapixel $329 Canon PowerShot A95 and 6.3-megapixel $350 Fujifilm FinePix E550. Most users don't need more than about three or four megapixels anyway, as higher counts are mostly useful for doing detailed editing and making really large prints, two things that most average users seldom do with their photographs. The good news for buyers is that prices of three- to four-megapixel cameras have dropped significantly in the past year.

    ZOOMING IN ON ZOOM. The only real zoom that you need to pay attention to on a digital camera is the optical zoom, or how much the lens physically moves to capture a photograph. Most digital cameras average about 3x optical zoom, which will suit average users just fine. "Digital zoom" describes a computerized blow-up of part of an image that your optical zoom has already captured, and it usually degrades image quality.

    To trick consumers, camera companies often advertise the camera's "overall zoom" -- a number reached by multiplying the digital zoom (often greater than the optical) with the optical zoom. For example, a camera with a 3x optical zoom and a 4x digital zoom might be advertised as having a 12x overall zoom, which is misleading. Read closely and ignore digital zoom completely when shopping for a camera.

    SCREENS, OPTICAL VIEWFINDERS. One of the hottest selling points for new digital cameras right now is their larger LCD viewing screens, most of which average about 2 inches diagonally. These allow users to review photos without squinting or holding the camera close to see captured pictures. You can find larger screens; the $350 Olympus Stylus 500 has a 2.5 inch LCD.

    Keep in mind that these screens often must be jammed into a small camera size. In order to fit them onto some pocket-size cameras, companies do away with optical viewfinders completely. This makes it harder for users with unsteady hands.

    And on some cameras, having to depend on the LCD might make it impossible to take pictures in bright sunlight, which washes out the image on many screens. Be sure your camera has both an optical viewfinder and an LCD viewing screen. The $349 Konica Minolta Dimage X50 is a good example of a pocket-size camera that boasts a 2-inch LCD and an optical viewfinder, yet still measures about the size of a deck of cards.

    SHUTTER LAG TIME, START-UP TIME. When digital cameras started gaining popularity, a feature that frustrated most users was the slow shutter speed -- the time measured between when the shutter button was pressed and when the photograph was actually captured. Many newer cameras have improved this feature to around one-tenth of a second or less, and it makes a difference when you must capture an image instantly.

    Shutter speeds aren't easy to find when researching cameras, but it's worth taking some time to discover them. If possible, test your camera in the store, taking note of any noticeable lag time.

    The time it takes for your camera to start up, which is measured by the time between pressing "power" and being ready to shoot, is also important for capturing photos instantly. Any camera worth its salt will take no longer than a second to start up; some even do so in a half-second. Again, this specification will be buried in the camera data, but is worth finding and testing in a store to get a real feel for how quickly your camera will respond when you need it.

    SHOT-TO-SHOT TIME is another speed issue -- the period between taking one shot and being ready to take the next. The biggest factor here can be the time it takes to recharge the flash. If quick shooting of multiple pictures is important to you, look for a camera with a fast shot-to-shot speed. Some cameras have a special "burst mode," which allows rapid shooting of a limited number of pictures. But, in this mode, auto-focus may not function fully.

    SAVING, TRANSFERRING PHOTOS. Your camera's digital images will usually be saved onto memory cards, and these come in many types and sizes. The most common types are SecureDigital (SD) and Compact Flash. Sony uses Memory Stick, which is mostly proprietary to Sony products and most convenient if you own a Sony PC or laptop. Olympus and Fuji use their own proprietary card type, called xD. An older type of card, called Smart Media, is in decline.

    I recommend at least a 256-megabyte card to relieve the stress of constantly unloading your photos from the camera. If you really need the storage space for a special trip or event, a 1-gigabyte card sells for about $90.

    One of the easiest ways to transfer photos from your camera is by using special card-reading slots that now are being built directly into more and more computers and printers. This saves you the trouble of connecting your camera to the device with a USB cord; instead, just remove the camera's memory card and use it in the built-in card reader.

    If your computer or printer doesn't have a built-in card reader, you can buy one for very little money. Alternatively, you might like using a digital camera that comes with a cradle. These cradles provide a home base for the camera so that once inserted, its contents will upload to the computer. Some cradles also charge your camera, eliminating an extra step.

    WIRELESS. Kodak will soon introduce a wireless camera that can transmit its photos via e-mail using Wi-Fi wireless networks. Some other cameras, especially those built into cell phones, can transmit pictures to the Web or to e-mail accounts over cell phone networks, or directly to a printer using wireless technology called Bluetooth.

    Be sure to buy a camera that fits your needs and budget. If you pay attention to these tips, you'll be less likely to get railroaded by a sales clerk into buying more, or less, camera than you need. [By Walter Mossberg, 4/20/05]

    ***************************************
    HARD DRIVE PARTITIONING

    Some members would like to install Knoppix, or other Linux distro, on their hard drives. If you want to do so AND RETAIN your Windows installation, you'll need to partition the hard drive to make room for the new OS.

    We suggest 5-10 GB of space for Linux and probably a 30-40 GB hard drive so you can spare that kind of real estate.

    Remember that partitioning is not to be taken lightly, so we've offered to have some sort of "Partitioning Workshop" at a non-meeting time. To determine if that is appropriate, we need to know how many folks would like to get help with the partitioning step. Depending on the interest, we can decide how best to tackle it.

    So, send Emil an email if you want help. He'll accumulate the requests. Let him have your responses before the May meeting; so we can make an announcement. [Emil Volcheck]


                    PC/128/64 Meetings  2005  Steering Committee Meetings
    
    			May 14 			        May 18 **
    			June 11 			June 15 **
    			July 9				July 13 *
    
    	* = SECOND Wednesday	** = THIRD Wednesday location TBD
    *********************************************************************************
    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://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: John Deker       610-828-7897  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