Merry Christmas! May your day be filled with goodwill and good company. By the time you read this, the packages under our tree will have been unwrapped and major playtime commenced...

Share story

Merry Christmas! May your day be filled with goodwill and good company.

By the time you read this, the packages under our tree will have been unwrapped and major playtime commenced. However, as in years past, the older folks open less and receive more envelopes with spendable gifts.

If you’ve received money over the holidays, this column may help you decide how to spend it. Besides the items described in the recent Shopping Spree columns, I offer suggestions below that are mostly practical, but that can also make using technology easier and more fun.

FireWire/USB hub:
If your computer doesn’t have enough USB or FireWire ports to plug in frequently used peripherals, you can plug in a hub and get more.

I’ve been using a D-Link USB 2.0/Firewire Combo Hub DFB-H7 ($59, Windows and Mac, to add printers and speakers to my system, and it works pretty well. The hub is easy to install and provides two FireWire ports and four USB 2.0 ports, which extend the system’s capabilities by quite a bit.

Extra memory:
Computers typically don’t come with enough virtual memory to handle video editing and other major tasks without slowing down the process. More memory also enables you to have more applications open and to work with more data. Essentially, extra memory can pump up a system so it’s speedier and more efficient.

Recently, I ordered a 512MB memory module ($98) from Crucial Technology ( The Web site makes it easy to find the right module (there’s even a Web page for Macintosh owners), and it arrives with clear directions that help the installation run smoothly.

USB 2.0 adapter:
Many of us use laptops that aren’t new enough to have USB 2.0 high-speed capacity, and some don’t know it’s easy to get it with a plug-in adapter. A few months ago, I added USB 2.0 capability and two USB 2.0 ports by plugging in a D-Link DUB C-2 Hi-Speed 2-Port USB 2.0 Cardbus Adapter ($39, Windows and Mac,, and it works well.

If you regularly use a handheld (like a Palm or Pocket PC) to read e-mail or enter text, you might want a minikeyboard to make entering text easier, such as the USB FrogPad ($170, Windows and Mac, or the Bluetooth FrogPad ($196).

The keyboard is only 5½ by 3¾ inches, but the keys are big enough for normal-size fingers. The economy is in the key assignments, which allot two to six characters/functions (no more than two letters) per key. It may take time to learn the layout but could be worth it.

Photo-editing software:
Active amateur photographers looking for photo-editing software that’s very capable, yet cheaper than Adobe Photoshop for professionals, should consider spending Christmas money on the new Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 ($100, Windows; $90, Mac; To help you discover all this program can do, also get a guidebook such as “Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0: Classroom in a Book.”

VHS-to-DVD conversion:
If you’re the one who holds the family’s home-video collection, give yourself the power to convert old videotapes to DVD. There will be quality lost in the conversion. But if the tapes aren’t converted, they’ll deteriorate anyway, since the life expectancy of VHS tape is around 10 to 20 years, compared with a DVD’s 100 years. There are a few products available that can make the conversion, including ADS DVD Xpress ($90, Windows,, which provides software and hardware to connect a VCR to a computer with a DVD burner and convert the videotapes to DVDs.

Printing the screen display:
Mac owners have an easy way to grab what’s on the screen and print it. Such an easy and versatile grab-and-print process isn’t built into Windows, though it’s cheap enough to get. TechSmith SnagIt ($40, enables Windows PC users to capture part or all of a screen display, edit, annotate, draw on it, and then print or e-mail it. I use SnagIt often on my PC. Without it, I would feel deprived of an important capability.

Create crossword puzzles:
For a little fun, you could spend your gift money on Schoolhouse Technologies Crossword Factory ($30, Windows, for creating crossword puzzles. To create a puzzle, you enter a word list and clues, and the program generates a puzzle with your clue list and an answer key. It may take a little while to figure out how to use the software without a user manual, but once you learn it, the hardest part is making up a word list with clues.

Personal font:
Wouldn’t it be fun to have a font on your computer that is your own handwriting? You can create one at by writing characters on a template, scanning it and submitting it to the site.

Fontifier converts each handwritten character into an outline to generate a TrueType font that can be used on Windows or Mac computers.

The conversion takes a few moments, then you can view a font sample of your handwriting. If you’re happy with it, submit $9 to download and begin using the new font.

I tried it and discovered it’s not as easy as I imagined to write cursive letters that look good when connected into words.

Printing (rather than cursive) works better for me, but your handwriting may be more even. Besides, it’s fun to go through the process and see the results.

Write Linda Knapp at; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: