"Excellence," said John W. Gardner, "is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well." That's worth thinking about with back-to-school time right around the corner. Students these days take their computers everywhere and use them for everything, so with that in mind, here are some ideas for making the back-to-school computer experience an excellent one.
We've selected these devices not only for their quality, but for their small size and portability. And because the popularity of Macs continues to surge on campus, we've looked for products that work with both PCs and Macs. Where a device works only with the PC, we've found comparable Mac products.
So here are 15 devices and services for work and play that will surely help students do extraordinarily well.
On the record
A cheap recorder may do for your day-to-day classes, but if you want to really catch that star lecturer or do some high-class blogging, this is where you start. The Samson Zoom H2 Handy Recorder is about the size of a thick smart phone and weighs just 4 oz., but this is serious audio equipment, make no mistake. Four directional microphones let you record in a variety of two- and four-channel configurations, with full control of gain and levels.
The H2 records in either WAV or MP3 format to SD cards, and is powered by two AA batteries for up to four hours of recording. Capacity is high bordering on the ridiculous: The H2 can accommodate up to a 16GB SDHC card, which at holds 280 hours of MP3 stereo recording.
You can upload files to a PC or Mac via a USB connection, or you can use the H2 as an audio interface to your computer: The H2 includes line and external mike inputs and outputs for USB and headphone/line outputs. The device lists for US$334.95, but it's currently available from online retailers in the US$175 range.
YouGetItBack is a security company with a difference: It assumes that if you give people a chance, they'll do the right thing. It sells brightly colored sticky tags that say "Reward for Return" and include an 800 number and a Web site address. Tags range from US$9.99 to $24.99; different sizes and wording are available. You register your device online, and if it gets lost, all the finder has to do is go to the Web site or call the number, and arrangements will be made for pickup and return.
And what if the person who found it has no intention of giving it back? YouGetItBack offers two products: Mobile Superhero (currently free in beta, eventually about US$20) lets you back up your contact data and remotely lock, unlock and wipe nearly 60 phone models, even if the SIM card is changed. A Global Positioning System feature lets you locate it on a map. Laptop Superhero (which, as of this writing, wasn't yet available) lets you display an "If found, click here to return" screen, trace the IP address of a stolen computer or remotely log it off.