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Ask Shak:
High Tech Gift Suggestions



ASK SHAK YOUR PERSONAL COMPUTER QUESTIONS

One of the most important relationships you’ll ever have is with your personal computer. There’s perhaps no other component of our business life that’s more vexing as that box that sits on most people’s desks. Everyone has computer questions and we’re here to assist you in that department. Below are a few questions I’ve received recently from readers. I hope the answers will be useful to you.


Dear Shak:
I’m having a heck of a time choosing Christmas gifts for my gang out here on the North Shore. I want to go high tech this Christmas. Can you recommend some cool software for kids or gadgets that adults and teenagers might find appealing?

Ronnie in Waimea

Dear Ronnie:
Yes, indeed, it’s that time of year once again. You’re not the only one writing to me about this subject. High tech gizmos ranging from Digital Cameras to MP3 players and computer games are all the rage this Christmas. What I’m going to do is dedicate this entire column to items I think offer bang for the buck and in the case of software, will provide educational value for the kids.

So here goes…

Digital Cameras—Digital cameras are not exactly stocking stuffers but like everything else electronic, prices have gone down over the last 12 months and quality has gone way up. Nowadays high resolution cameras are the norm so much so that it’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between a photo shot done with conventional film and one from a digital camera. The nice thing about digital cameras is that you can use the files to send photos to friends instantly via email. If this is your primary use--you don’t have to get the most expensive camera. Only when you want to print pictures then you might consider paying a bit more for higher resolution. On the high end I really like the Fuji MX-2700. It's practically pocket sized but still packs a high (1,800 by 1,200) resolution lens with about 2 million pixels. This is more than enough to print very crisp 4-by-6 and 5-by-7 prints. It also can store up to 142 images. Price is around $700. Another good high-end camera to consider is the Nikon Coolpix 950, which has got every conceivable function from speed to flash sensitivity. It’s more for the experienced photographer and is priced at around $800. The more budget minded individual might consider a couple of other cameras. We liked the Kodak DC210, a slightly larger than pocket-sized camera, which has a motorized 2x zoom lens. At around $400 it’s not the most expensive but quality is very good for the price. It does tend to gobble up batteries though (as most digital cameras do). Finally, at around $300, there’s the Fuji DX-10. It can’t do a lot of fancy things but it’s very easy to use and takes good quality photos.

Portable Audio—Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave the last year or so you can’t help but notice the big trend in music these is the "MP3" audio standard that allows one to play music downloaded from the Internet on digital audio devices. The quality isn’t quite as good as CD’s but it’s definitely passable and you can be your own DJ. The music is free and that’s tough to beat. The most famous and perhaps the best of these gadgets is the Diamond Multimedia Rio 500. It’s perfect for people who have a USB port on their computer because transfer of audio files is blazing fast. It operates both with the PC and the Mac and holds 64MB of MP3s, which translates into about an hour of music. It also plays "Audible files"—which are audio books that also downloadable from the Internet. Price is $269. Another option in the portable audio department is the Creative Labs Nomad 64. It lacks the fast USB file transfer of the Diamond Rio 500, but instead gives you FM radio and voice recording. Whereas the Diamond Rio uses batteries the Nomad recharges itself in a cradle while simultaneously songs get downloaded to the player. It’s priced at around $224.

Software & Games—Software (or games) are always good gifts for someone who just about has it all. If you know of a student that might need an edge this next semester check out the Encarta Reference Suite 2000. Microsoft's Encarta is among the most comprehensive reference software you can buy. It’s composed of three major works--the World English Dictionary the Encarta Encyclopedia, and the Interactive World Atlas. In addition there are a slew of other tools--an almanac, a quotation collection, a thesaurus and a style guide. Priced at $65 it’s a great deal. Another very cool reference work is the Berlitz Passport to 31 Languages. This is a wonderful item for anyone you know who's headed overseas. Berlitz makes you an instant polyglot with word-matching games, foreign language phrases and video dialogues. There’s even a way to perfect your pronunciation: speak into a mike and the program will critique your accent. Very cool indeed. Price is $30. "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" has been a perennial favorite with children (and adults) for years and the new Deluxe Edition is as fun as ever. The game presents the users with the now famous scenario: Chasing down the globe-hopping Carmen as she liberates priceless artifacts from unwary victims. There’s a wonderful multimedia aspect to this game including live-action video and animation that will keep the kids glued to the monitor. Playing along with the kids, you can really learn something as well. It’s priced at around $30. Kids aged 3 to 13 will also like Kid Pix Studio Deluxe, an easy-to-use art software, which lets them create a plethora of projects ranging from digital puppets to slide shows. With Kid Pix you get cool sound effects and flashy paintbrushes (such as kaleidoscopes and leaky pens) that will inspire the children. It’s perfect for that special child with an artistic streak and is priced at around $20.


Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com.

Pacific Business News, December 17 1999

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