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Streaming Media
The Moving Picture: Unsung Heroes
Posted Dec 6, 2005 Print Version     Page 1of 1

In our business, you're only as good as the tools you can bring to bear on the wide variety of tasks we perform. I write mostly about major tools like computers, NLEs, and DVD authoring programs; here I want to identify some of the smaller, lesser-known tools that help me work more smoothly and efficiently.

First is my KVM switch from ATEN ( KVM stands for Keyboard, Video, and Mouse, and KVM switches let you control multiple computers with one set of each. I don't know about you, but I seldom retire my computers. Instead, I like to keep them around to control a printer, serve as a disc replication station or perform occasional rendering tasks, or even to test new products on older, less powerful platforms. What I don't like is the clutter associated with these systems, which can quickly overwhelm my limited desk space.

I've used KVM switches for years, but until recently, they didn't offer DVI connectors for the latest digital monitors, and didn't allow you to share speakers or other peripherals like scanners and printers. Now they can do all these things. The model I have, the CS-1754, can connect up to four Mac, Windows, Linux, and Sun computers, with audio and support for two USB peripherals. You can find it for about $300 online.

ATEN also has models that let you connect dual monitors to multiple systems, and a host of other units with more or less connectivity and capabilities. If you have multiple computers in your office, consider a KVM switch to reduce clutter.

The next tool is a "personal paper trimmer" from Fiskars ( Between the digital pictures I print for families and friends and CD and DVD case covers and other art I print for business, I find myself cutting heavy photographic paper pretty frequently. Before I got the Fiskars trimmer, I used Exacto knives, razor blades, and other random sharp edges that always seemed to gouge my desk and shift a millimeter or two at the very last moment, ruining the trim just as I was about to finish. Then I got the 12" Fiskars model ($24.20 online), which comes with an embedded blade safe enough for my five-year old to play with, that's also replaceable when it gets dull. If you haven't found the optimal tool for trimming your digital pictures, labels and covers, check it out.

The boom in digital cameras has created a constant stream of visitors with different kinds of media—SD, CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SmartMedia, and MultiMediaCard. But no matter how obscure the storage format, the inability to download pictures of your kids from your mother's digital camera is definitely your fault.

I armed myself for future visits from Mom with an ImageMate 12-in-1 Card from SanDisk (under $30 at Wal-Mart). The unit can read 12 different formats and connects to your computer via USB. As with most such models, no software is required on Windows XP computers, so using the connector is a snap.

I travel occasionally on business, usually to perform training or give a presentation, and have learned to prepare for the worst, either a busted or lost laptop. This takes two different peripherals, a 2GB USB Key (my Verbatim key costs about $200 online) and an external 250GB hard disk (my Maxtor costs about $220 online).

Before leaving, I back up all my important files onto the Maxtor hard drive, so I'll be sad but not out of business if tragedy strikes my laptop while on the road. I also store my presentation or training materials on the USB key so I can be up and running on another computer if my laptop mysteriously doesn't boot.

I also periodically use the Maxtor to back up my office computers and store critical files offsite, which is always recommended. On my trips, the USB Key always proves useful for a variety of other tasks; in my last class, for example, I used it to transfer some extremely large PowerPoint files to several students, so I didn't have to burn and send a CD-ROM upon my return to the office.

The one software program I have on all my Windows computers is Ulead's PhotoImpact, an image editor that always seems to delight. PhotoImpact was the first editor that let you preview JPG files at various rates before compressing them for transfer or the Web, and more recently the first I found that lets you trim images for specific picture sizes, like 5x7, or for specific aspect ratios, like 4:3 or 16:9 for slideshows or DVD menus, both awesome time savers for digital producers. I also find its automatic color and contrast adjustments best of breed, so I can optimize, crop, and print my images with minimum muss or fuss.

Finally, the peripheral responsible for the most oohs and ahhs in my office is the Epson Stylus Photo R200 printer, remarkably priced for under $100. It's the lowest-cost device I've found for printing directly on CDs and DVDs, which is a cheap and easy way to impress clients, family, and friends. It also has more than sufficient pixel resolution for printing my digital images, and the six ink cartridges seem to last for months. Better yet, you can replace the cartridges separately, saving lots of money over all-in-one cartridges which you have to replace when any of the colors runs out.

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