Monday, July 22, 2024
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Five Easy Pieces (Of Hardware)

This issue we're going to take a moment to talk about some of those little hardware accessories that can make our workday just a little bit easier. They're not complicated to use nor are they mission critical. They just help to make life (and computing) a little bit nicer.


(1) Dymo LabelWriter 330 Turbo

We've all seen the remodel and organization shows running on TV. At some point the 'organizing Gurus' puts everything in baskets, bins and boxes and then does the most incredible thing….they label them. Apparently it's easier to know what's inside something if it has a label. Who would've thought?

Dymo makes a little device that is just perfect for such tasks. In today's office environment, we are constantly labeling file folders, CD's/DVD's, etc. This little device makes it simple, quick and painless.

Setup and operation couldn't be easier. Install the software, plug in the USB cable, insert a roll of thermal labels and you're good to go. The software plays nicely with a host of applications including the most popular from Microsoft Office, Palm Desktop, ACT!, Goldmine and even QuickBooks. The graphical interface makes it a snap to layout the text and a quick click later you have your label.

One of our favorites is the spool of little round 'doughnut' labels that are used for CD's. These labels are about 2 ¼" in diameter (so they don't cover the whole CD) and fit nicely onto the center of the media. The software lets you print your title etc. in a nice circular format, peeling and applying takes but a few seconds.

A warning however! This is a very addictive device! Once any organizational fanatic gets their hands on this printer, nothing is safe. The good news is, we no longer have any partially written CD's with unintelligible scribbles on them. Now all of them are neatly labeled and stored in a neatly labeled bin on a neatly labeled shelf…you get the idea.

For more information on this great little item go to the Dymo website


 (2 & 3)Targus Universal Power Adapters

This section is actually about 2 devices.

Have you ever been on a trip, in a car, a train or a plane and suddenly your laptop flashes you the 2-minute warning sign? Worse yet, have you ever come back from a trip to find that you've lost your laptop's power adapter? Well Targus has taken the panic and frustration out of these situations. We tested two of their power accessories with great success.

Now a power adapter is a pretty straightforward thing. You plug one end into your power source, such as an AC wall socket, and the other end into the laptop, right? Not necessarily. There are two very important issues here: the connector on your laptop (if you don't have the right size connector you can't plug it in) and the input voltage requirement. Targus eliminates both problems. The devices we tested were the PA179U universal AC power adapter and the PA379U universal auto/air power adapter.

Both devices come with an assortment of interchangeable power tips to fit most laptop computers. Not sure which one to use? A quick trip to their website will reveal a database of popular (and some obscure) laptops and which tips will fit them. The power transformer itself is variable and puts out up to 70 watts; more than enough for the average road warrior.

We tested these in the office, home, car and anywhere else we could find that would let us plug in and finish our game of Spider Solitaire. DVD's and other forms of 'business' related functions are no longer a problem. As long as you have one of these little life savers you will never have to wonder how that exciting spreadsheet would have turned out had you just had a few more minutes of computing time.

Targus has also released some 'combo' AC and mobile power supply kits that give you all the advantages of both items in one product. For a look at which one may answer your prayers go to the Targus website.

(4) IRIS Business Card Reader II

Part of the daily course of conducting business, especially at trade shows, is swapping business cards. They are still the de facto method of establishing your business identity. And, like baseball cards, you often end up accumulating massive piles of these little 2"x3 ½" pieces of paper stock that have been lying around since Guttenberg invented the printing press wondering how you're going to deal with them. The folks at I.R.I.S. Inc. have the perfect 21st Century solution.

We put the IRIS Business Card Reader to the test and were quite happy with the results. The Card Reader consists of a small (roughly 6"x3") device that is, in fact, just a tiny scanner for business cards. You place the card in question in one end of the device, in a few seconds it is scanned and passed through to the other side. OK, that part isn't rocket science, but that is where the fun starts. The IRIS Business Card Reader comes with some terrific software that performs some very clever OCR (optical character recognition) and distinguishes the graphics that pervade business cards from the pertinent text. It then allows you to store images or import the text content into its own little database or into any one of a number of popular contact management packages. Among them, Outlook, ACT!, Lotus Notes, Palm and Pocket PC platforms.

Setup is a snap. Install the software, plug in the USB cable and you're on your way. Scanning is generally quite accurate and options for foreign language recognition adds tremendous flexibility. The database functions allow for just about every contingency. You can do full text searches for that hard to find "I can't remember his last name and I know he worked for a printer company" contact you're desperate to find. You can also sort, export to other programs, sync with your PDA, print contact lists, or just dump to a comma delimited file to use in a database concoction of your own.

In short, this is a wonderful way to remediate one of life's little headaches. I only wish it came with a card feeder option so that I could stack them up 20 at a time. For more information go to the IRIS website.


(5) Olympus DM-20 Voice & Music Recorder

Convergence is a popular and sometimes over used term in the technology industry. However, sometimes it's nice when things like business and leisure can converge in one beautifully presented device. Such is the case with the Olympus DM-20.

This sleek metallic voice and MP3 recorder is a wonderful conjunction of the practical and the aesthetic. It comes packed with a wealth of features and conveniences. The easy to read orange backlit LCD is a pleasure to use in indoor or outdoor conditions. The built in 128MB of flash memory not only stores up to 45 hours of voice recording (or 2 hours of MP3's) but also can be used as an external flash drive when attached to your PC with the supplied USB cable or docking station. That's a serious convenience if you are running to a meeting and need to both record notes and take along a file.

Another bundled plus is the remote control/external microphone. This can be used not only as a convenient auxiliary control for the unit, but as a more directional mike for noisy or crowded situations. Of course, Olympus has incorporated several noise reduction and sensitivity modes to improve recording capabilities. One of the more intriguing functions is the Variable Control Voice Actuator (VCVA). This little bit of firmware allows the user to set a background noise level that will essentially be ignored until the user speaks above it. Once the threshold level is exceeded the recorder activates with no perceivable lulls, gaps or missed words.

The docking station makes transferring files to and from a PC a snap. There are multiple recording quality modes to allow you to conserve memory and some fascinating audio technology called WOW™ that adds some nice bass and stereo sound effects to music recordings. The package is completed with a custom carrying case for the recorder, microphone and headset. This just makes taking it along on a trip that much nicer.

Although we didn't have an opportunity to test it, the recorder does support the digital speech standard (DSS) and would certainly seem to be an ideal item to add to the speech recognition toolbox. The DM-20 is both PC and MAC compatible and is high on our 'gotta have it' list for the mobile business professional. For more information go to the Olympus website.