Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Greatest Gift for your Parents

I don't know about you, but in my experience as we get older the snapshots we take of our families become increasingly precious.  (Even the ones that are poorly framed and overexposed... that's the difference between a photograph and a snapshot.  A snapshot jogs a neuron associated with positive prior experience; whereas a photograph has to make people say "Wow!" without the benefit of that shared experience.)  Anyway, that's why photo-related gifts can be so valuable, and that's why so many people are thinking about gifting the new wave of digital photo frames now available.

BUT... if your giftee happens to have a computer (even if it's only to check email via the web), here's a gift idea that is inexpensive, easier, and more flexible than those expensive digital photo frames: Upload all of your digitized family photos throughout the ages onto their computer's hard drive and turn them into a screen saver!

"Isn't that essentially the same thing as what a digital photo frame offers?", I hear you ask?
Yes, but look at these considerable benefits from going the free route:

  •       Images can be displayed larger
  •       They can see the images from the same chair where they already spend a great deal of time
  •       Pictures can be easily added every time you visit
  •       Screen savers can hold significantly more photos than can any digital photo frame
  •       IT'S FREE!
To set this up on an XP or later machine, follow this procedure:
  •       First, upload all the images you want displayed into the "My Documents/My Pictures" directory.
  •       Right-click on the desktop and choose "Properties" (or "Personalize" if you're on Vista), then click on "Screen Saver".
  •       In the dropdown box, choose "My Pictures Slideshow"
  •       Then hit OK and then wait for the screensaver to kick in.
I've done this for my Mom, and she's told me it's the best gift anyone's ever given her (although I think my Dad might have a few things to say about that!)

Here's how to do it on a Mac:
  1. Load images onto the MAC (import into iPhoto or just transfer images to a folder on the computer).
  2. Open System Preferences
  3. Select Desktop & Screen Savers
  4. On Screen saver tab, Click "Choose folder"
  5. Click Options to set personalized display options: Place a check-mark on any of the following: Cross-fade between slides Zoom back and forth Crop slides to fit screen Keep slides centered Present slides in random order
  6. Set the "Start screen saver" timing interval (3 min - Never)

Here's another important tip in the same realm, although it has little to do with photography.  If you're like me, you've taken on the role of computer tech support for your parents.  And my Mom's XP computer would always slow down and become increasingly unreliable over time, to the point where I was re-installing the operating system every year or so and starting over.  For someone who only surfs the web and doesn't create nor store content, this is kind of a waste!  (My Dad's XP computer, by contrast, has been a rock - never needs rebooting, never slows down... and he actually creates content!  Go figure.)

Anyway, I solved the problem using a program called Norton Goback.  It's a program that lets you take a snapshot of the hard disk (say, right after I do a clean install of the OS and configure it for my Mom's needs), and every time you reboot, the hard disk reverts back to that snapshot.  No matter how many virii or pieces of malware attack my Mom's machine when she's using it, or how many times the toolbar mysteriously vanishes from Internet Explorer, it all gets righted the next time she reboots.  My tech support phone calls have gone from twice a day to about 3 times a year, and everyone's happier.  (Regretfully, Symantec (the company that markets Peter Norton's brand) no longer sells GoBack, but you can purchase a similar product called Rollback RX.)

In the same vein, the ability to log into another machine remotely can save a non-technical user from having to be articulate when describing a problem.  If you're a techie, Microsoft Windows from XP (and later) has this capability built-in, and be prepared to spend at least an hour getting it to work.  If you're not a techie, or place great value on your time, an excellent subscription-based tool is GoToMyPC.com - it works seamlessly, through firewalls, routers using Network Address Translation (NAT), and with computers that have a dynamic IP address.

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