Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 6, Number 3: February 2006

Interesting & Peculiar Products

Talk to the Hand?

It’s not a product yet, but even the early description in the November 22, 2005 PC Magazine is enough to give me serious creeps: Programmable dermal displays. Which is to say, embedded data screens visible on the back of the hand, “activated by three billion display nano-robots underneath the skin.” You touch the back of your hand and the data becomes visible, based on “billions of fixed and mobile nanobots monitoring vital signs and physiological parameters throughout the body.” Power would come from your glucose supplies. Robert A. Freitas, Jr. (who presented this concept in Nanomedicine, Volume 1: Basic Capabilities) thinks it’s a wonderful idea. I’m not quite ready for that—or, for that matter, for billions of nanobots coursing through my bloodstream. Your eagerness for internal technology may be greater than mine.

Community Search

A “first looks” review article in the November 22, 2005 PC Magazine considers five sites that I assume are fine examples of social software—“sites where users share among themselves the bookmarks they’ve created and content they’ve encountered.” So far, I haven’t signed up for much social software (I had an Orkut account which might still be there, but abandoned the site after a month or two). “Communities of knowledgeable, interested people can identify relevant sites with a greater accuracy than a search engine.” That’s doubtless true, if the community is composed of people I have some knowledge of and trust in—although it’s also true that such communities can serve as enormous echo chambers.

This is a group review but I think it makes more sense to discuss it here than in PC Progress. Although there’s no Editors’ Choice—not surprising at this early stage of the game—two services did earn four dots out of five. Clipmarks ( lets you “tag, store, organize and share snippets of Web pages” once you install an IE plug-in (although the installation, oddly, doesn’t enable the Clipmarks toolbar!). Yahoo! My Web 2.0 offers what the review calls a “more fully realized social bookmark engine than either or Shadows”—easier to navigate, smarter about organizing tags and bookmarks, and quite possibly already on your machine via the Yahoo! Toolbar (available for IE and Firefox). Yes, it does have a cloud view, and you can decide whether your tagged pages are available to everyone, your own community, or are private. The review concludes, “[A] massive user base coupled with generally well-rounded features make My Web the best place to get social about your bookmarks.”

Perhaps the most surprising part of the review, to me at least, was the lowest-rated service, with 1.5 dots: “The place is a cluttered mess. Even after you learn your way around, you may find little reason to stay. At first glance, it’s hard to tell what’s going on…” The section ends with “Much as we like the idea of accessing our bookmarks from anywhere, we don’t find particularly palatable.” Being first apparently isn’t the advantage it used to be. (The other two are Jeteye, “a little bit community, a little bit blog, and a dash of wiki,” and Shadows—sort of like but with a much spiffier interface and more compelling community features.)

The Last DVD Burner?

The Pioneer DVR-R100, an internal DVD burner lists for $90, supports every writable DVD format except DVD-RAM (including both dual-layer formats)—and “supports what many believe to be the fastest speeds that the…formats will ever attain.” That’s not unreasonable: There are physical reasons to limit write speed, particularly for such precise media not carried in a cartridge. Thus, while the November 22, 2005 PC Magazine review acknowledges that newer models will probably appear, including some from Pioneer, this one may have “real staying power” because it reaches the peak of what’s likely.

How fast is fast? The drive burned both forms of dual-layer DVD at 8x, producing a full 8.5GB disc in less than 20 minutes (even though the media are rated for 2.4x and 4x speeds respectively). It also burned 6X-rated DVD-RW media at 8x, taking 5:20 to write two 1GB files and finalized the disc. Oddly, the same job took more than nine minutes using 8x DVD+RW media. As for good old CD-R, it took 2:15 to burn 65 minutes of CD audio on a 40X blank; that’s 29X real-world speed, which is astonishingly good.

While the software bundle doesn’t include MP3 ripping (but Windows Media Player does), it’s a fine Ulead bundle, including digital media production, photo and video editors, a media manager, and a backup utility.

Roku SoundBridge Radio

“You’ve got access to tons of digital music and Internet radio stations through your PC—what are you doing still waking up to that clock radio?” That’s the lead for a short, enthusiastic Sound & Vision blurb for this $399 device—which is basically a radio with wifi so it can pick up signals from your PC. Of course, you’ll have to leave your PC on and active all night so you can wake up to internet radio, but that’s a small price to pay for a fancy alarm clock. Right?

Laser-speed Ink Jet Printer

The December 6, 2005 PC Magazine awards an Editors’ Choice to the $449 Ricoh Aficio G700, a printer that “doesn’t fit well into the usual categories.” It sprays ink directly on paper, but the ink is a gel and dries almost instantly. That allows higher speeds—faster printing on color business documents than any color laser printer PC has tested. Print quality is also laserlike: good for text, not so hot for photos.

Cheap Speakers

Jim Louderback continues his quirky off-and-on survey of cheap PC components. This time, he’s looking for “a decent set of stereo speakers—with subwoofer—for less than $50.” I’d suggest that you have to stretch “decent” pretty far to meet that price point, but maybe my standards are too high. In any case, Louderback’s favorite was the Logitech X-230, $49.99, although the Altec Lansing VS2221 at the same price yielded slightly higher ratings from an informal listening panel. Worst, unsurprisingly: a Cyber Acoustics set for $25, and apparently not worth even that much. For $50, you can get a pretty good set of headphones, but I’m not so sure about speakers.

“Software Giant Killers”?

The title on the December 2005 PC World story may be a bit overstated, but some of these free software alternatives might be worth a try, if you’re seriously cheap or just want to avoid certain software companies. OpenOffice isn’t Microsoft Office, but it is free, and the 2.0 version appears to be fairly competent for word processing and spreadsheet purposes—but not if you’re using group-edit features. ZoneAlarm has always been a competitive firewall product; while the beta MS Windows AntiSpyware is good, it’s not as good as the $30 Webroot SpySweeper. Picasa is a first-rate image organizer; GIMP works well as a graphics application if you’re experienced. They review MusicMatch Jukebox 10 well, but I think the Plus version is worth the $20.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 6, Number 3, Whole Issue 73, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG.

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