BOOT CAMP 354 (30/11/04)


Christmas computing


With just under a month to go to the big day no doubt you are in the throes of compiling your prezzie lists so here’s a few (mostly practical) computer-oriented gift suggestions for friends and relatives with computers, and don’t forget to reward your faithful PC if it has behaved itself over the past year…




This could be an early present or one for next year, perhaps? It is a simple to use design and print package with all of the tools and templates needed to produce highly personal and eye-catching greetings cards from digital photographs or custom artwork. It’ll even create gift tags and labels and there’s a CD photo album utility so you, or the lucky recipient can send copies of family pictures and greetings on a disc that can be viewed on a DVD player and TV. The program is widely available from computer stores and you should be able to find it for between £20 and £25 from online sellers such as: and





Despite early assertions that CDs were virtually indestructible we all know that optical discs are easily damaged by careless handling and storage. Scratches and marks make recordings skip (in the case of audio CDs and DVDs), and they can render data unreadable on CD-ROMs and video games discs. Skip Doctor effectively resurfaces lightly scratched and scuffed discs using a combination of a specially formulated fluid coating and a buffing wheel, mounted in an easy to use jig.  Just pop in the disc, turn it on or crank the handle and in two shakes your disc should be as good as new. It works on all types of audio, video, data and video game discs (12 and 8cm sizes), and could easily pay for itself saving a couple of unplayable discs from the rubbish bin.  The manual version sells for just under £35 from:, there’s also a motorised model for £55 from:





Cybertool is a specially designed Swiss Army knife for PC owners. It has no less than 34 tools to help service, upgrade and dismantle PCs and many other electronic gadgets. In addition to the usual assortment of blades, scissors and the obligatory toothpick there are 13 screwdrivers, a wire bender, cutter, crimper and stripper, tweezers, reamer/punch, wrench with Hex drive bits, Torx bits, pliers, cap lifter, ball point pen and even a can opener. For those that prefer not to poke around inside their PCs there’s the Swiss Memory Knife, which has a blade, scissors, nail file, pen and a detachable 64Mb ‘pen drive’ memory module that plugs into a PC’s USB socket. Cybertool sells for around £42 whilst the Swiss Army Memory knife costs just under £60, from Victorinox stockists and





This is the perfect gadget for owners of Wi-Fi equipped laptops. Just switch it on and it shows if there is a wireless ‘Hot Spot’ within 100 metres. There are now thousands of them in the UK, in and around hotels, airports, restaurants, shopping centres, exhibition halls and cafes, providing high-speed access to the Internet and email (usually for a fee, though some are free to use). The detector’s built-in LED bargraph gives a relative indication of signal strength, which can be used to determine the Hot Spot’s general direction. It has other applications and can be used for identifying dead spots in home or office wireless networks. It’s small (60 x 30 x 15mm), weighs less than 22 grams and will detect both 802.22b and 802.11g Wi-Fi networks but it will ignore other wireless devices, like Bluetooth, cellular and cordless phones. This model sells for around £25 and can be obtained from:





Here’s a jokey gift idea for the PC genius in the family, or maybe use it as a practical joke, for someone that’s nervous of computers. It’s a bright red ‘Panic’ button, designed to replace one of the ‘keycaps’ on a standard PC keyboard. Don’t worry it doesn’t actually do anything, and there’s no software to install, though it might be wise to suggest that whoever you give it to fits it on one of those mysterious and rarely used keys, like Scroll Lock or Pause Break. It’s a perfect stocking filler and costs just £2.99 from:




This is another useful gizmo for owners of laptop computers though it will work with any PC that has a USB socket. Power Bank is a compact portable battery charger and it comes ready to use with four AA sized high-capacity Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMh) cells plus a standard USB cable. It’s just the job for powering all of the other battery-powered gadgets, like a radio, camera, torch and so on, that we take with us on holidays or when travelling. The charger is meant to be used when the PC is operating from its mains adaptor, though you could power it from the laptop’s own battery in an emergency but it will probably flatten it long before the full 7-hour charge cycle is complete. It’s available from: and costs £12.



Next week – XP Tuning Tips





Short-range (5 to 10 metres) wireless communications system used to link electronic devices, like cell phones with hands-free headsets and PCs with printers and peripherals such as keyboards and mice



Tamper-resistant screw or fixing, frequently used in the assembly of electronic devices, with a six-sided ‘star’ shaped screwdriver bit fitting



Wireless data communications system with a relatively short range (typically up to 100 metres in the open) providing the same kind of speed and functionality as a cabled network -- for exchanging files, printers and connecting to the Internet -- but without the wires




Here’s a quick and easy way to get your home or office PC into the festive spirit, decorate it with a USB powered Christmas tree… Yes, unbelievably such a thing does exist. This 12cm tall microchip marvel is made from a drop-proof clear plastic material. It plugs into a spare USB port on your computer and lights up when your Windows, Mac or Linux PC is running, changing colour (red, green, blue and cyan) once a second. It costs just £10 and is available from:

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