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November 1999 Volume 6 no.11

Getting it all into one box

by Thomas Caldwell

Spending more and more time in front of the computer is all too much today's reality. Most likely it will be tomorrow's as well. There is little we can do, except, perhaps, make the best of it.

With that in mind, what can we do to simplify today's office environment? What about doing something about the damn telephone and tree-killing fax machine taking up so much space and time? I know, I know--phones and faxes are both simple ways to get messages across town. Isn't there some way we can combine everything into one, neat system? Perhaps saving money at the same time?

Fax modems and software have been around since the early PC days. So have rudimentary voicemail/answering machine systems that fit into a slot and use the hard disk to record. Nothing new here, until now. One local company has introduced a new service that is, for want of a better word, hot. Tokyo-based Reach International has just introduced a new service called Call Me. Customers are issued a regular Tokyo area code phone number that is used to receive both voice and fax messages. The company's system receives the messages and immediately forwards them to your e-mail account. Voice messages in *.WAV format, fax messages in *.TIFF format. The messages are then played or read. Simple, neat, easy and, best of all, very cheap. The savings in long distance phone charges alone will probably pay for the system within days of use. Check out for more details.

Digital cameras
Sorry to the gentleman in western Canada who wanted my opinion about digital cameras a few months ago. I had to wait to get back to you because of all the changes that have been taking place in the market.

The answer to your question is, well, now. Now, that is, would be a good time to start using digital cameras for serious photography work, if you are not a serious photographer but want to be. Nikon's just-introduced D-1 professional SLR looks like it might be the latest nail in the coffin of photographic emulsion and the hazardous chemicals they run with. Like North Korea, it is only a matter of time.

Although I haven't seen the camera with my own eyes, sources tell me it beats the pants off of existing professional-class digital cameras and is even easier to use than Nikon's current top-of-the line film camera, the F5. The image quality is also supposed to be superb and will win over even the most loyal devotees to film. There also seem to be plans for the D-1 to be made the official top-of-the line camera Nikon produces; the first time a digital camera has had such a role.

At the time of this writing, plans are for the body to run about JPY600,000 in Japan. Not cheap, but not too much more than most professional film cameras and cheaper than some. The D-1 will also take conventional Nikon and Nikon-mount lenses. It looks as if the film wars between Kodak and Fuji may prove irrelevant in the not-to-distant future. In a way, it will be one more industry wiped out by the personal computer.

The best in free software
Notice I didn't say shareware, but free software, known to most of us as freeware. I constantly get inquiries recommending cheap or free software and the number of people asking is rising.

There is good reason for this. The current state of the Japanese economy has resulted in many software budgets being trimmed, if not outright chopped. System managers are finding they have no choice but to look into the world of so-called unsupported software (read: Linux and its siblings).

For those that are new to the concept, one product that is highly recommended is called The Gim, short for: GNU Image Manipulation Program. Gimp is one of the most well thought-out imaging tools of its kind. It the bells and whistles needed by most people, and the list of graphic formats it handles would fill half this column. Among them, *.PNG or "Ping" files; a new format you will be hearing about in the future and one that could end up replacing *.GIF on most of the world's Web sites. Gimp is free to anyone who wants it. Check it out at


Thomas Caldwell is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo.
You can reach him at

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