The Philadelphia Inquirer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 26, 1996 · Page 91
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The Philadelphia Inquirer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania · Page 91

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Thursday, December 26, 1996
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F6 THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER Thursday, December 26, 1996 m m wIf 2 lllllll CyberPlay By William R. MackUn A Disney dog, a Bond bonanza, and a 'Warthog' at war over Cuba The "Dalmatians" tale is mundane. The James Bond ts sweeping. The "Warthog" finally gets its due. Disney's Animated Storybook: 101 Dalmatians V4 From Disney Interactive for Windows .and Macintosh. Suggested Retail: $49.95 Parents' Guide: As bland as it is .inoffensive. The Ultimate James Bond: An Interactive Dossier "From MGM Interactive and Micro Interactive, for Windows. CD-ROM Suggested Retail: $39 .95 ''Parents' guide: Film clips depicting "violence and mildly adult situations. A-1.0 Cuba! .-F rqm Activision on CD-ROM Suggested Retail: $39.95. Parents' Guide: Animated bomb, gun ,and missile attacks on aircraft and land targets. Disney's Animated Storybook: 101 Dalmatians illustrates the dangers of runaway cross-promotion. Released about the same time as Disney's live-action remake of the animated feature film 101 Dalmatians, this, the sixth release in the animated storybook series, is the blandest and least entertaining. This is Disneymania at its most mundane, a digital talking book that follows the trend instead of setting it, a read-along narrative so stale you could use it for turkey stuffing, and a wafer-thin adaptation of the original animated film. Unless you've spent the last month in a Siberian gulag, you know that the new movie is such a huge hit that it has some people seeing spots. This lax, underdeveloped storybook may leave you seeing red. The Ultimate James Bond: An Interactive Dossier left me stirred and a bit shaken. Nearly perfect in concept and execution, this two-disk celebration of all things Bond is a work of sweeping detail, high-style fun and first-rate scholarship. Best-suited to aficionados of Ian Fleming's super spy, but a pleasure for anyone who enjoys multimedia software done to a T, The Ultimate James Bond uses film clips, text, stills, trivia and music to cover virtually every aspect of the Bond my-thos, from the cars to the weapons to the women. And it wraps it up in one of the most glamorous, multi-leveled interfaces I've ever seen in an infotainment package. Bond as originally written could be something of a bumbler, and The Ultimate James Bond trips up in one crucial area. The software does a thorough job of linking related topics, but in order to follow all of the links you're often required to swap disks. A short biography of Lois Maxwell, the actress who played Moneypenny in all but the most recent Bond films, contained links that resulted in no fewer than four disk swaps. All that movement undermines the general ease of the interface. Still, this terrifically entertaining multimedia history offers a reminder of what the unflappable, ever-resourceful Bond might say as he busily swapped disks: "Oh, the things I do for England." Years ago Dynamix, the same software publisher that produced some of the most highly regarded air-war games ever assigned to a hard disk (Red Baron, Aces of the Pacific, Aces Over Europe), flubbed badly with A-10 Tank Killer, a slow and tedious jet simulator. ' The A-10, dubbed "the Warthog" by its pilots, had lots to offer air-war gamers. It bristled with weapons, including a powerful nose-mounted cannon, and since it was designed for low-altitude missions such as tank-busting, it raised the possibility of a nice break from the air-to-air sorties found in simulations such as F-16 Falcon. Well, I'm happy to report that somebody has finally done the Warthog justice. Activision's A-10 Cuba!, a Windows 95 sequel to the made-for-Macintosh A-10 Attack!, is an intelligent, intuitive simulation that comes very close to being a truly great air-war game. But don't light those cigars just yet. The action in A-10 Cuba! is fast, the controls are fluid but accurate, and the graphics are nothing short of remarkable (perhaps the most realistic flight dynamics I've ever seen). The problem with the game rests on one word: Cuba. i As the title suggests, this is a simulation about air combat over and around the tiny American military base at Guantanamo Bay. Well, that's just fine and dandy if you like your missions short and uncomplicated, but if you're accustomed to flying the kind of long, comparatively complex sorties found in classic war simulations such as Aces Over Europe, you'll probably be galled by the limited list of attack possibilities in A-10 Cuba! Too bad. Such limitations keepA-10 Cuba! from claiming a plac among the top guns in air-battle simulations. ji r William R. Macklin's e-mail address: bill.macklinphillynews.com " li L C3L' cat- z , - r r HJ sal t - tf . j! LIT ..Ji How to Buy a Car Stereo Stereo stores will tell you there are mostly two buyers for new car stereo systems: the middle-aged rich with disposable income burning a hole in their pockets and the financially reckless young with no money but a passion for loud music. While this is generally true, there also are practical car-stereo components on the market that can vastly improve a typical car radio without overdrawing the checking account. How personal organizers can simplify life Their programs handle to-do lists, appointment calendars, address books. Some can dial your phone. KNItjt M New stereo systems for cars range in price from $500 to about $3,000. Systems could include a receiver with a radio and CD, or cassette, player; an amplifier; an equalizer; and speakers. Major brands include Kenwood, Sony, Eclipse and Alpine. P 1'Pf'I1rft"P'ffll'fflp'll'T'f' T-r iy) sny. ii v it-'-nVX "t (" Many new car CD players, which are also radios, come with anti-theft features. Sometimes the CD head un'rt will simply detach from the housing in the dashboard so that it can be carried in a coat pocket or purse. Other times it will mechanically fold back into the housing, hiding the fact that it's a stereo. Most equipment aad-ons for home stereo systems are also available with car stereo systems. Larger stereo components must be stored under the front seat or in the trunk. Among the improvements to car stereo systems on the market are "drop-in" replacement speakers, which are made to the specifications of the factory-installed speakers. These can start at about $30. There are multiple-CD changers, which can be installed in the trunk and controlled by wired or wireless remote, and CD players that plug into the antenna port of a car radio. These are called FM modulator CD changers and cost about $400. Sob Fernandez By Dan Keating KNIGHT RIDDER NEWS SERVICE IAMI Here's to two groups of people those who have a computer and don't use it and those who don't have a computer but wonder whether it could improve their lives. For those folks and other computer users, I offer two just-possibly-life-changing words: personal organizers. Personal organizers are a kind of software that can make a chaotic life simpler. They handle to-do lists, appointment calendars, address books, event reminders and incoming messages. Some will let you send e-mail or a fax from right in the software, or even dial your telephone. They also go under the names "personal information managers" (PIMs), "contact managers" and "schedulers." Business-oriented versions allow calendar management over a company network or even the Internet, so coworkers can find the next open slot on your schedule and fill it with a meeting. (Is that a good thing?) They also allow everyone in an office to share the same public address book. There are dozens of organizer products on the market. Software aimed at individual users often costs less than $100. Professional models intended to handle address books of thousands of people and do schedules over a network cost hundreds of dollars. k One advantage of these products is that they don't require the latest in a powerful, speedy computer. Some are more to-do oriented. Others are based primarily on contact address books. And others are very calendar-centric. Computers obviously offer an opportunity to get your life organized. Without any special software, you can type your friends' addresses into the computer or make a list of your appointments. But these software products automate moving smoothly between your to-do list and calendar and address book. So if you look at Wednesday on the calendar, you see the note for a 2 p.m. appointment with Ed. You click on it and you get Ed's phone number, fax and e-mail address. You also get a button that will show you the notes you took during your last few phone calls with Ed, or the letter you sent him last week. Another button gives you the chance to, fax him an agenda for the meeting. To me, the biggest benefit of this kind of software hasn't been keeping track of what I have to do it's keeping track of what I've done. I'm forever wondering when it was that I asked someone for something, or when someone asked me for something. Or I'm trying to remember what was in a note I sent, or whether I ever got around to calling someone. When a task is completed, the personal organizers store it away in a database of what you've done. I've found that record of what I've been up to a wonderful help. A plus: These products don't require the latest in powerful computers. All of these services are obviously important for folks in big offices. They might be even more important for self-employed people and those working from home. Even if you use your computer just for personal business, a personal organizer can come in handy. At this time of year, for instance, I'm grateful for the ability to spit out my address book as mailing labels for holiday cards. There is not enough space here to review the dozens of products on the market, but one feature you want to look for is flexibility. All programs come with automatic blanks for you to fill in, such as the first name, last name, address, phone number, etc. for each contact in your address book. They have more than a dozen blanks for you to fill in for each person. The good ones let you change the names and labels for fields. So, if you'd like to keep a note of spouses' names or nicknames or favorite colors, you can. Powerful programs also give the best variety of search techniques. You should be able to search for a first name or a last name or a company name or a city, so you can find someone no matter what you remember about that person. Some programs offer extraordinary features. An example is Voice Pilot, which is designed to be used by voice commands rather than keyboard and mouse. You can say, "Next Wednesday," or "New appointment" or "Print" and watch the action happen in front of you. You. have to be using IBM's OS2 Warp to use it. If you use Microsoft's Schedule-l-, you can send appointment reminders and memos right into a specially designed wristwatch from Timex. Other programs are becoming coor: dinated with pocket-sized electronic organizers, since the new generation of those organizers uses a miniature version of Windows 95 called Windows CE. Well-regarded organizers are included in the major suites of office products. For instance, Microsoft Office, which has Microsoft Word and Excel, also has Schedule--. Lotus SmartSuite has Lotus Organizer,' And Corel's Office comes with the popular Starfish Software Sidekick: Some of the other well-known or ganizers are NetManage's ECCO Pro, Symantec's ACT!, GoldMine and Jan-na Contact. I Some of the best-known makers of personal-organizer books and binders have also created electronic versions of their products, such as the Franklin Day Planner people, who make Franklin Quest's Ascend, and Day-Timer's Day-Timer Organizer. You can find a healthy selection of organizer products in any computer-software store, or through computer-software catalogues. j I have to offer one important reality check. If your life is a disorga-' nized mess, these products probably won't do you any good. They can only help you if you put informal tion in and keep it up to date. Also, it's unfortunate that you must put in work before you get oul any benefit. You have to dedicate a couple of hours to get your address, book into the software, and learn, the basics of using the program. But thousands have found that that ef-j lort up tront has paid on in a simpler and smoother way to handle today's busy times. Getting that new home computer up and running SETUP from F1 reading this in a state of overwhelmed exasperation. If something goes wrong, you probably messed up. Yes, you might have made a mistake. But consider this statistic, from a recent survey on reliability and service by PC World magazine: Among buyers from the three companies readers identified as least reliable (Mid West Micro, Packard Bell and AST), three out of five reported problems with their new PCs; nearly 5 percent of Packard Bell and AST computers were classified as "dead on arrival." But before you say, "Whew, glad I didn't buy one of those," consider this: Buyers of Apple, Micron, Dell and Hewlett-Packard computers, the most reliable in the survey, still reported problems with more than a third of their new systems. And Compaq, another high scorer, delivered systems that were DOA 2 percent of the time. The solution is somewhere in the manual. l-Maybe, maybe not. And then there's the question of which manual A ripw Doll nimnticinn YT'S was shipped recently with 15 count 'em, 15 manuals, seven various "documentation updates," and a 22-by'17-incb. "getting started" guide that shows what hooks up to what. So just where do you go for a solution? There are several basic approaches you can take. Read everything and solve the problems yourself. Officially, that's the advice every computer manufacturer hopes you'll start with. Read all the manuals, the important updates, the bits and pieces of documentation that cifrhe with the various f omponents. AT the very least, you should be able to connect everything together (if you have all the necessary components and cables), plug the system' in, and turn it on. Call the manufacturer, retailer or software-maker's help lines. Sooner or later, even if everything booted properly, you'll probably encounter a problem that befuddles you. Maybe with running favorite old software through Windows 95. Or trying to connect to the online world that everybody's talking about. Whatever it is, unless you want to spend hours poring over documentation at the library or spend bundles at the bookstore, seeking help via the telephone is probably your first-line solution. Virtually all the manufacturers and dealers have telephone helplines; the numbers to call should be in that pile of documents that came with the computer. Sometimes you'll even have several choices to try if you bought a Sony at Circuit City and something doesn't run on Windows 95, for example, you could call Circuit City's technical-support line, Sony's or Microsoft'"! Not all options are equal, though. Circuit City, for example, runs a service called Answer City for purchasers of new systems that provides free telephone help for the first 30 days. Manufacturers generally offer -free telephone help during their warranty periods, typically one to three years long. Some offer on-site service, though it's up to the company to decide whether someone needs to be sent out. Sometimes, you can purchase an extended warranty, a decision you can sometimes make even after you buy your sys tem. Dell and Micron, tw6 of the larg est direct-sellers, provide on-site service for a year, but cover only defective parts during the second and third years unless you purchase an extended warranty. Software companies offer a variety of telephone help, sometimes via toll-free numbers listed in the software package. Microsoft itself provides various services to its software users, though there is usually a cost for a home user. For example, Microsoft provides 90 days of free support to new users of Windows 95, starting with your first call to their technical support personnel. But the call itself isn't free, unless you happen to live in Seattle, and the free help is available only Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time. The number to call for Windows 95 help is 206-635-7000. For a toll-free listing of various Microsoft help phone numbers, call 800426-9400. One service provides 24-hour, seven-day-a-week support , for $35 a call, billed to your home phone or credit card. Pay someone else to do it. Tliis iti ilie laM-bul-iiol-ieast solution to your woes. For a fairly modest fee, you can hire somebody to put things together and make sure they work. The national standard here may be Minneapolis' Geek Squad, which charges $75 an hour for a hired-gun computer geek dressed in black suit and tie, white shirt and socks, and fedora. Though CEO and "chief inspector" Robert Stephens says the firm plans to expand, for the moment your local choices are less (or more?) colorful: computer dealers or independent contractors that will provide setup services for a similar fee. " The advice here is twofold: shop around, and buyer beware. Not everyone out there who claims the mantle of geekdom deserves to wear the uniform. Here are some possibilities: If you buy your computer from a megastore such as Micro Center or CompUSA, you can often buy setup services up front. CompUSA has a three-tier system: $30 for delivery only; $50 for delivery and installation; and $150 for delivery and installation plus an hour of training in Windows and other bundled software. Be warned, though: These corn-panics do not necessarily have enough people to handle peak demand swiftly. If you call today, don't expect someone to ring your doorbell tomorrow. Another approach is to call an independent service firm, one you might find in the Yellow Pages or through word-of-mouth. Center City's Crocodile Computers charges $75 an hour for the first hour, and $55 per hour afterward, for setup or other service, accord- to two hours is typically what it takes to set up the system and check out the hardware and software, he said. Caughlin, who has been in the business for eight years, said new owners often just want too much, too soon, when their proficiency is, uh, rudimentary. "If you buy an IBM Aptiva straight out of the box, you shouldn't have any problems," he said. "But some people will anyway. . . . They don't have any idea what they're getting into. ... "Everybody thinks they have to be on the Internet or they'refgoing to fall behind." Apple's new portable can scan environment By Stephen Lynch ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Apple Computer is the Leif Eriksson of technology. Sure, they got there first, but no one's grilling hot dogs on their national holiday. The Macintosh, of course, was the first easy-to-use, point-and-click personal computer. But it is Microsoft's Windows 95, introduced more than 10 years . later, that gets all the credit. Then Apple poured mil-, lions into designing the Newton, the first viable hand-held computer. This fall, though, digital assistants with Microsoft's Windows CE operating system are seducing buyers. To add insult to injury, Apple's still the innovator in portable computing. The eMate 300, the new laptop-Newton hybrid rolling out an artist's palette, student's notebook and scientist's log. At first, the eMate will be sold only to schools. But its design and features are enough to make science-fiction fans pound the tables for a general release. The eMate looks like a clamshell, with a full-size keyboard and a see-through casing (in either clear or translucent green). It's lightweight (about four pounds) and runs 28 hours on a fully charged battery. t Students, can use the keyboard or a stylus to enter data. But perhaps the most intriguing feature is eProbe, a series of modules that plug into the eMate and let students take scientific samples. The basic kit includes probes that check light intensity, temperature and voltage. Students also can gauge barometric pressure, pi I levels, humidity and oxygen content with other probes. It is, basically, a Star Trek tricorder, a handheld device to scan the environment. And already, says Julie Schere'r, eProbe product manager, real scientists are interested in the implications. "They want the ability to acquire and analyze data T..n.iT. sid "V.'c think eProbe is kind of the home chemistry set of the '90s." Also, since the eMate has simple wireless and modem Internet access, the information can be beamed back to the lab for study. Apple sees the device as the perfect educational tool for the '90s, an electronic binder for every subject. Write a report at a desk, flip it sideways to doodle, take it into the woods to catalog plant photosynthesis.

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