Dear members,

Happy New Year. May it be as good and fun filled as you would have it if you were God. And God bless us all.

First of all, this is a reminder that the first meeting of the PC Club of Costa Rica is this Saturday, Jan 17th, at the Pan American School (the regular meeting place). However, the start time will be 8:30 so that we can have a "Hardware/software clinic" from 8:30 - 10 AM. Then we will have the regular meeting at 10AM, with class, lab time or return to the clinics as each one sees fit. Let me explain a bit of what we have in mind with these "clinics".

This year we would like to make it clear that your club intends to offer free advice, repair and classes to the members of the club to resolve any problems that you may have, be it in the hardware of software area of your computing life. By this we mean that you pay your dues ($30/yr) and receive advice and help from the other members of the club free at these clinics. You don't have to pay someone an hourly fee to come fix your computer. You can just bring it to the clinic and have it repaired there. Or you can bring your software problem and others will help you solve it on the spot. We will have monitors, keyboards, mice, tools and other devices there at the clinic to analyse and fix your problem. If it pertains to software, you can bring a copy of your software (if it is something not common) and we will attempt to steer you to a fix. And ... you get to participate and learn how to do these things yourself.

It is the goal of these clinics to save members money on computer repairs and problems as well as to educate us all. If you are going to bring your computer (remember, just bring the box, if it is a desktop), please inform me and I will announce to the other members what the problem is, so that all others with similar problems or interests can come prepared. In addition, these clinics will be sponsoring a project of building a computer as a demonstration for members of what's inside that box. And we will be "upgrading" a computer to bring it into new standards; things like new operating system or a new motherboard.

So tell your friends and come have fun. This week, one thing we will be looking at is Sid Matthew's new Apple G4 laptop and the Mac OSX. Also, we will be reviewing the innards of a desktop, talking about what to do when that CD ROM won't read. But feel free to bring your box, if it has a problem, and we will take a look. See you there: 8:30, Pan American School.

Things you can use:

I still don't own a digital camera but I think I am ready to buy one. What should I look for?

A: Digital photography is experiencing explosive growth much like digital music in the recent past. Surveys suggest that digital camera sales will likely outpace film camera sales in 2004. With their ease of use, low cost and flexibility, digital cameras make more sense than film cameras for most casual photographers.

The first thing that will likely be thrust in your face by camera salespeople is the 'megapixel' rating. While this is an important feature, it is not the most important. Digital cameras capture images in little dots called 'pixels' which is why the more pixels you can capture, the more detail is available - especially for printing. If you only plan to print 4x6 or 5x7 images, then you won't need as many pixels for an 'acceptable' output. If you plan on printing 8x10s, even occasionally, be sure to get at least 3.2 megapixels.

A feature that is just as important is the lens, as it will ultimately determine much more about your image quality than its number of pixels. The ability to capture light, the type of zoom, and the actual translation of colors is determined by the lens.

In general, digital cameras offered by 'camera companies' have more sophisticated lenses then those offered by 'computer companies.' Computer companies that sell digital cameras tend to pack the camera with more features and less technology because their typical customer is less [photographically] sophisticated. Camera companies are trying to keep their more knowledgeable film camera customers satisfied, so they tend to concentrate more on the technology.

The zoom feature is another point of confusion. Typically, both an optical and digital zoom specification will be listed. The only one that matters is the optical zoom as it is a true, lens-based zoom. Digital zoom simply trims the image electronically and can cause lower picture quality. In fact, as soon as you get your new camera, disable the digital zoom so you don't use it accidentally.

If you plan to shoot things from long distances, the higher the optical zoom rating, the better. Most cameras come with a 3x optical zoom, but some cameras are now offering up to 10x in reasonably-priced packages.

The type of media that is used to capture the image is not that big of a deal, unless you are trying to match the format with other digital devices that you have. The only media that I am not thrilled with is the mini-CD types that burn the images directly to the disk. They are convenient, but my past experience has been that they are much more sensitive to being jarred, causing the laser to become misaligned.

Finally, check the battery system and, most important, how it feels in your hands. The battery system will have a huge impact on how usable your camera is, based on cost and convenience. Some cameras use expensive disposable batteries that can eat a huge hole in your wallet, especially on vacation. I prefer cameras that have rechargeable batteries because you become less concerned about how often you use the camera. (Some also allow emergency use of alkaline batteries.) The LCD display that makes it easy to aim and review your images is also a battery killer, so be careful how you use it. If you really want to extend the battery life, turn off the LCD until you really need it.

Camera manufacturers try to keep the form factor as small as possible, so be sure to hold the camera in your hand and work with it to see if it's comfortable. AND, don't buy a camera online if you have never actually touched it, or you may be disappointed.

You can find exceptional cameras with lots of great technology and features in the $200 to $500 range.


By Dave Thompson, author of
Computer Kung Fu for Beginners - White Belt Edition

(Excerpt from Chapter 1 - Hardware Terms You Should Really Know - HDD)

HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive. Most commonly called a Hard Drive, it is where all your data is stored, ready for retrieval. Many buff computer users also call the main case with all the bits in it the hard drive, other people call that the modem. Neither of these is the correct terminology. Boffins in the industry responsible for naming computer components (you know those guys in white lab coats with thick-frame glasses, clipboards, calculator pouches, and pocket protectors) came up with a much more technical name, presumably to confuse non-computer literate people. They call it the Box.

Hard drives are called hard drives because in the old days disks designed to store data were made of Mylar or similar material and were literally floppy, hence the term FDD, or Floppy Disk Drive. Though the 3 1/2" floppy (insert innuendo here) is still in use today, its popularity is fast waning due to the fact that the disks are often unreliable, slow to read and write, and only store a teensy amount of data compared to more modern storage solutions like ZIP drives (more on these later). Hard drives these days are astronomical in size compared to disks of the mid '90s. The very first hard disk drives could store only a few MegaBytes of data and were ridiculously expensive, reserved for only the most hard core (and richest) of computer geeks. At the time of writing, the smallest hard drive available is 20 GB! That's GigaByte. 1 GB is about 1000 MB.

To put all these numbers in perspective, let us look at some examples.

The Hard Drive (funny that no-one actually calls it the HDD) lives inside the computer case itself and is probably what you hear when you first switch on your machine, aside from the cooling fan noise. Most drives have a high pitched whine that, though it may be annoying to some, is a very welcome sound should you be faced with the inevitable 'Disk Boot Error' message. In that unpleasant case, if you hear the drive spinning, the chances are good that your data is intact and can be retrieved, (or not, if it is really crucial you recover it). There is a 'Murphy's' type law involved with data recovery. You can often recover all your Windows temporary-junk-and-Internet files whilst your address book, business accounts for the last five years and the report that was due tomorrow morning has passed over to data heaven.

Hard Drives are extremely sensitive devices. A general rule of thumb is that if a drive drops more than 25mm (1 inch for you oldies [and Americans!]) to a hard surface, you will be in the market for a new one. Another tip: keep the computer up on the desk; many a drive has been killed by the legs of a chair (or a human) banging the box while it is sitting on the floor under the desk.

If you get a 'Disk Boot Error' message on start-up, check to see if there is a floppy disk in the A: drive!

What's new in the computer world


In order for Intel to bring on the next series of processors to market, major changes need to be made in the layout of motherboard designs. This is due to a heating issue of the CPUs. Intel has designed a new motherboard form factor and is hoping it will become the standard by 2007. This will HAVE to occur if Intel is to make the jump to 5.0 and faster processors from today's 3.x processors.

This new form factor is called BTX. There will also be changes to the PCI slot structure that will be referred to as micro BTX or PCI enhanced.

This is on the books and ready to roll out sometime after the first of the year. This will be as radical a change to PC architecture as the Pentium was to the 486. BTX hardware will generally not be compatible with current ATX designs. You have already seen one of the first introductions to the new design in the new Seagate Serial ATA hardware. This will be built into the motherboards much as IDE controllers are today. IDE will be phased out over time just as MFM and RLL controllers were in the past.

Intel apparently announced this to developers in September. To date, I have seen very little in the press in regards to it and/or how it will impact the PC market. I did a Google search tonight and it only came back with some 4300 hits. Not a small number you say? A search on ATX motherboard came back with 758,000 hits.

This is an evolution in the industry. People balked when we jumped the 486 platform to ATX. After a time, it became accepted when they saw the difference in speed and stability. This will occur again. Back when the ATX came out, none of us figured we would be so much in the line of hardware migration. This time, I don't believe it will take as long. I, for one, would like to see an integration and or smoothly planned migration to also accompany the technology jump from 32 bit to 64 bit. This was a major point of the ATX revolution. It allowed us to move from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95 and beyond. We need to see this same evolution occur putting 64 bit processing on the desktop. Will this happen and, if so, when? I don't know, but I'd like to see it.


Q: What is a thumb drive and what is it used for?

A: The term 'thumb drive' refers to a new generation of small storage devices about the size of your thumb, plugging into a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on your computer. They are also commonly referred to as 'USB flash drives.'

They use a technology called 'flash memory' (same as is used in most of today's digital cameras) which is basically an electrically erasable programmable read-only memory module (EEPROM) that can be used as a reusable portable storage device.

The size of the drive will determine how much information can be stored. They range from 8Mb (5.5 floppy disks worth of data) to 1Gb (almost 700 floppy disks worth) and can store any type of computer file. The most common sizes are 64Mb ($30-$50) and 128Mb ($50-$100) and are available from a wide variety of companies from
Trek to Sony.

If you need to transport information from one computer to another on a regular basis, it is a great way to make it very easy. Because of its size, (many are setup as key chains) it is much more convenient than a floppy disk, CD or Zip disk, and it's compatible with any computer or laptop that has a USB port in both the Mac and Windows operating systems.

It's great for pictures, music, documents, spreadsheets, or presentations and is being used more and more by those that speak in front of groups.

Imagine making a presentation to a group then allowing anyone that wants the electronic version of the presentation to quickly download it to their laptop at the end of the meeting.

Or you may want to get a dual-purpose flash memory device like
Creative's Nomad Muvo, which doubles as an MP3 player. You just slide the drive into a small carriage that contains a AAA battery and plug in the included headphones to listen to whatever music files are stored on the drive. It comes in 64Mb (about 20 songs) and up, and prices start as low as $80.

As a music player, the Muvo is great for those on the go because there is nothing to cause the music to skip (no moving parts!), and when you need to transfer documents or pictures, they co-exist with the music files.

Some of the more sophisticated units incorporate password protection for access to the drive, in case it falls into the hands of the wrong party. And some are now introducing biometric security so that you have to provide an authorized fingerprint in order to access the data contained on it.

Most also incorporate lock protection, much like floppy and Zip disks that won't allow data to be changed, erased, or overwritten as long as the switch is in the locked position.

These drives truly live up to the 'non-volatile' memory tag because they can generally maintain the integrity of the data for 5 to 10 years.

When you plug one of these drives into your system, it will show up as a standard drive using the next available drive letter and is even accessible via a network. When you unplug it, the drive letter will disappear.

If you work with data between two or more computers, you should really consider owning one of these mini wonders!

All those things Linux


In the IBM commercial, a blond, blue-eyed boy sits mum as a stream of celebrities ply him with information on everything from plumbing to the mysteries of the universe. The more knowledge the boy absorbs, the more it benefits humankind, it says.

"Collecting data is only the first step toward wisdom, but sharing data is the first step toward community," Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. advises the boy in the ad, recalling the ethos of the programming community behind Linux.

The ad closes with the slogan "Linux. The Future is Open. IBM."


"Nearly 1,000 Linux desktop machines are now being used
to deliver the weather. Facing the burden of using HP-UX
workstations, the National Weather Service has now switched
over to IBM IntelliStation PCs operating Red Hat Linux..."

That's all for now. If you would like to bring your machine or machine's software problem to the next meeting, please contact me and tell me the details so that we can be prepared to help you with it. Just drop me an email about it. See you at the next meeting.

Chuck Jennings <>