The gift-giving season is almost upon us and with it, the chance to give friends and family things they dream of, but cant or dont give to themselves. This year that aspect of gift-giving is more exciting and doable than ever. Hardware, such as drawing tablets and scanners, which have traditionally been big-ticket items are now in the under $100 to barely-over-$100 range. And, on the childrens CD front, the hits keep coming.
Years ago, as a former art major that still likes to dabble in creative endeavors, I eyed the introduction of drawing tablets with envy. I, like many others, wanted one but couldnt justify the expenditure; Tablets and pen tools were for serious artists only. Not so anymore and the affordable tablets on offer are not lesser functioning versions either.
The tablet thats caught my eye is CalComps new Creation Station (http://www.calcomp.com/p_t_creationsta.htm). This tablet, pen, cordless multi-button mouse, and bundled software package makes it easy for anyone to explore his computer drawing talents at the mere cost of $99. ($129 minus $30 rebate.) Its 1,024 lines per inch resolution exceeds the standard of Photoshop, Painter, Illustrator, and most other graphic programs. (This is the new generation of CalComps professional UltraSlate technology. As technology is around a while and its R&D cost is covered, the products cost goes down.)
One thing about using a pen tool is controlling where it lands on-screen. For example, the top left corner of the tablet is not necessarily the top of your page, as with regular drawing. Instead, placing your pen there lands you in the Apple menu. With CalComps TabletWorks control panel you can set the mouse to work across the entire screen, as normal, then set the pen to work only within your page (or any area). Then, when you place your pen on the tablets top corner, youre drawing/painting/writing in the top corner of your paper. Thats only one mapping option to enable you to control your pen.
Creation Station comes with MetaCreations Art Dabbler SE to help you learn drawing and Kais Photo Soap LE for retouching in case youre into scanning photos.
Although electromagnetic proximity to speakers, cordless phones, or monitors isnt problematic or damaging. However, if the pen or mouse act oddly, just put some distance between the devices.
Unfortunately, at this time Creation Station isnt for the iMac. Of course, CalComp hasnt overlooked iMacs. You can expect a USB version soon after Apple releases tablet specifications.
Another good quality, inexpensive tablet is the $79 PenPartner by Wacom (www.wacom.com). This is a pen and 4" by 5" active area tablet (no mouse) that also has WYPIWYG mode (where you point is where you go), and comes with Art Dabbler.
Another technology that has come down in price is the flatbed scanner. For example, 5 years ago Microteks 24-bit 300 x 600 dpi scanner was over $1,000. (Microtek was known for making high-end technology affordable.) More recently, their ScanMaker V310 sold for $249 when first out and it was 30 bit. Now, about to be replaced, but still available, the ScanMaker V310 lists for $79 before the $30 rebate (through November)! Their E3+, which adds a legal size scanning bed, now sells for just $149.99 before the $30 rebate. For higher resolution, you have their V600, which is 30 bit, 300x1200dpi, letter size and is now selling for $129.99 before the $20 rebate. The only catch comes for iMac owners, as these are SCSI. But keep reading .
Microteks newest offerings introduce push-button scanning to flat bed scanners, making scanning easier for everyone. Its even easy to use your scanner as a copy machine (color copy machine if you have a color printer). Simply push the scanners "Go" button and ScanSuite, the scanning interface pops up on-screen. With preset scan choices you dont need high-end expertise. Of course, you can customize your scans, if desired.
The SlimScan C3 Microteks new USB letter-size flatbed scanner has a suggested price of $79.99 with a $30 rebate bringing it to a mere $49.99 for now. Its 36 bit, 300x600, only 1.7 inches high, includes push-button scanning, and comes bundled with Kais Photo Soap, Color-It, and Caeres Omni-Page Limited Edition. (Omni-Page turns the text in scanned images into actual editable text.). As a USB device, it also has the benefit of being cross-platform so you can use it on your friends Windows machines, too. By the time you read this, the Mac boxes should be out. If not, you can purchase the PC box, then download the Mac driver from www.microtekusa.com.
The X6 Microteks new SCSI letter-size flatbed scanner raises the bar on resolutions for inexpensive scanners, with a suggested price of 149.99 before the $20 rebate. Its 36 bit, 600x1200, also includes push-button scanning, and also comes with Photo Soap, Color-It, and Omni-Page.
Microtek isnt necessarily the only company offering scanners for around $100. Additionally, other companies also now include push-button scanning for their consumer models. I simply appreciate Microtek, find them an excellent example, and have had great experiences with them.
By the way, if youre interested in scanning check out the Scanning Tips link from microtekusa.com. One such link is "A Few Good Scanning Tips" by Wayne Fulton
If your friend is using his Mac to run Windows, consider a programmable two-button mouse. I like Macallys. Its comfortable, flexible, and lists for just $39.
A power supply isnt exactly a sexy gift, but its certainly a nice one. There are places in the US where lightning destroys hard drives or computers regularly, and believe it or not, even under the best circumstances power is not always "clean." Most power strips dont protect against power surges. Personally, I wont plug my Mac into the wall without an American Power Conversion power protection device. APC offers various levels of protection starting around $24.95. There are two aspects of protection: surge protection and battery backup (which keeps your computer on during power failure, allowing you to shut down safely without losing data). For those who leave the Mac on unattended, I recommend one of the backup units that comes with PowerChute software and automatically shuts down for you. (Itll come with Windows software but when you call, they swap it for PowerChute Plus.) Regardless of what you choose, you cant go wrong with APC just get one that also accommodates your modem. APCs tech and sales support is fabulous. Visit www.apcc.com or call and (888-800-4APC) tell them what youve got and theyll tell you whats best for you system.
Everyone who has data he wishes not to lose, should have a removable drive to back up to. Iomegas Zip Drive revolutionized removable media and has become somewhat of a standard in this arena. The external SCSIs SRP is only $119. Each Zip disk holds 100 megs of data and costs only $10. iMac users will want their new transparent blue USB Zip drive, will be somewhere under $149. Hopefully theyll be in the stores before gift-giving time. If not, it will be soon afterward. With (free) RecordIt software a computer and Zip even become a digital tape recorder. If your friend already has a Jaz drive, which holds either 1 gig or 2 gigs per removable disk, an extra disk always makes a great gift. (The drive does too. Although this article focuses on items around $100, I cant help but mention that a 2 gig Jaz drive lists for $399 just in case youre feeling very generous.)
For iMac users, another great removable option is Imations SuperDisk Drive. This unique disk drive reads both Imations own 120 meg removable disks and the good old-fashioned floppy disk. The iMac doesnt come with a floppy drive because these small capacity disks have become somewhat out-dated. However, in case your iMac-using friend needs to use floppies, thisll cover him while also providing a viable backup medium. The SuperDisk lists for $179.99 and youll see it as low as $149.99. A 5-pack of 120 meg disks is around $60 on the street. I must admit I dont had first-hand experience with this drive yet, as I dont have an iMac, but its such a nice solution I had to recommend you look into it. Its easy to do so since real people answer Imations phones (800-854-0033). Other versions of SuperDisk for all other Macs are also available from Winstations (www.winstation.com).
Wanna give your friend the world? How about setting them up with an ISP, prepaid for 6 months or year? (A real one, not AOL. I prefer a nice, local one who will be there to really help.) Youll probably find this issue of ComputerUser has ads for a few that would be great. I also suggest asking members of your local User Group for recommendations. (How handy that ComputerUser lists User Groups.)
What would holidays be without kids, and what better gift for a child (after a Mac) but great stories and games that also happens to teach them at their own speed while theyre having fun. Theres more then ever for kids of all ages these days. Most childrens software runs on both Mac and PC so its easy for kids to share or take their favorite games when they visit pals.
HMI (Houghton Mifflin Interactive, a new division of Houghton Mifflin publishing) has just brought Curious George to the Mac. The kids will love it, enjoying the stories and learning from the games they play with George. There is a series of CDs that cover several age ranges and skills. Who can resist Curious George in any form? I sure cant so I kept the great metal lunchbox that came with Curious George Reads, Writes, & Spells for Grades 1 & 2. After all, who would appreciate such a great nostalgic item more? For a limited time each comes with George memorabilia something for the kids and something for you (unless youre the rare person who can resist that cute monkey). Reads, Writes, & Spells puts the child and George in the role of reporter and has a suggested price of $44.95. (www.hminet.com or 800-829-7962.)
HMI also has the Animated Monster Maker, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and other well-loved characters.
Also consider anything by Headbone or Solei. Both provide good entertainment while introducing children to various cultures and places of the world. Another skill-builder is Gryphons Gryphon Bricks, which is similar to Lego. Humongous is also a gem of a software company with its uniques Junior Adventures (ages 3-10) and Junior Sports (5-10), Junior Arcade and Junior Field Trips (3-8) and more. (Check out headbone.com, soleilsoft.com, gryphonsw.com, and humongous.com.)
The more common computer become, the more fun they become. Happy Holidays.
©Deborah Shadovitz 9-1-1998