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I can see clearly now

AOpen’s LCD monitor, and more

Much as one can come to ignore a dripping faucet after a while, I had reached the point of indifference about the giant monitor on my desk. Although it was the width of a New York apartment, nearly dangled off the end of my desk and yet managed to be far too close to my face, I didn’t seem to mind it. Until, that is, I tried the AOpen flat-screen monitor.

The F50LS 15-inch LCD monitor is a sleek, beautifully designed item that weighs just under 9 pounds and takes up very little space. Installation was a matter of switching a few cables (and finding help to move my monstrous former monitor), all diagrammed nicely in the manual. The manual’s instructions for use are as minimal as the screen itself, but there is something almost Zen-like about having a piece of equipment that requires only about four sentences to get you up and running.

Like almost every other flat-screen, the AOpen display was very slightly blurry when compared to my previous monitor, a Hitachi SuperScan Pro 20, but after a few days, my eyes adjusted. This wasn’t surprising, given the generally high-resolution display and remarkable color clarity. The OSD functions, reachable through four small buttons on the monitor’s front, are also minimal, but adjust the screen nicely. The contrast/brightness effects the most change, while the horizontal/vertical position adjusts the display so minutely that it’s almost imperceptible. The monitor works with both PCs and Macs, and has a respectable street price of $339. Best of all, I now have the lovely feeling that I never have to go back to the clunky monitor of years past. Sure, you can ignore a leaky faucet, but isn’t it a relief when the dripping stops? — Elizabeth Millard

Sit, Amazon. Stay!

Mike Daisey’s “21 Dog Years.”

If you can get through the first few pages of “21 Dog Years: Doing Time @,” the rest is easy going. Mike Daisey, who worked for three years at, is a funny guy recounting a crazy time. Unfortunately, as he begins his story, he tries too hard to be funny and ends up pontificating annoyingly. “Like so many others of my generation, I cherish the notion that I have superpowers…”

Fortunately, he settles down in the second chapter and lets the material speak for itself. He describes the loony atmosphere that prevailed during Amazon’s formative years. In his cartoonish memoir, weird personalities flit in and out, dogs come to work with their owners, and a crisis mentality rules all. Daisey punctures Amazon’s smooth, high-tech media image and shows you a wildly disorganized workplace and a Jeff Bezos-worshipping cult mentality.

You don’t have to be a former employee of a dot-com to appreciate Daisey’s account. Anyone who’s ever temped at a chaotic office will understand and laugh at Daisey’s thoughts on stealing office supplies, faking productivity numbers, and hanging up on loony customers. And anyone who participated in the dot-com craziness will understand Daisey’s obsession with “making it” at Amazon.

Daisey is honest about what he can’t remember, what he believed firmly at the time and now questions, and what he never understood at all. The book is best understood by Daisey’s own disclaimer: “Some facts were injured in the telling of this story. The truth, however, remains unharmed.” By reading “21 Dog Years,” you won’t find out how climbed from rags to riches to restructuring. But you will understand what it was like to be there while it was happening. — Holly Dolezalek

Burn, baby, burn

Samsung’s SM-332 combo drive.

Touted by Samsung as the fastest 32x combo drive, the company’s SM-332 CD-R/W and DVD combination drive seems to live up to its hype. The super speedy device is designed for recording MP3 files onto CDs, watching DVD movies or playing CD and DVD video games, and if you can have a little patience during installation, you’ll find that the SM-332 is $149 well spent.

The only blemish to the drive’s perfection is a slightly bumpy installation process. The user manual included with the device contains diagrams that are too small, and therefore somewhat worthless. Also, certain instructions weren’t included, potentially sabotaging the efforts of someone who isn’t on a first-name basis with their motherboard. For example, there were two alternate installation paths, depending on the number of E-IDE cables in use, and this wasn’t covered in even the teensy diagrams. One nice installation feature, however, is the half-height of the drive, which means it can be mounted either horizontally or vertically.

Once the minor annoyance of installation is overcome, the drive proves to be very user friendly and definitely zippy. Its ability to play DVDs proved seamless, even with a notorious drive jammer like “The Matrix,” and for gaming, my Sims seemed to move at a lively pace.

Where the drive truly excels, though, is in its fast-lane CD burning capabilities. The included software, the Roxio Easy CD Creator 5, has an intuitive and friendly interface, and excellent alerts (luckily, it warned me when I accidentally put in the included rewritable CD that I would not be able to play it in most stereos). After whipping up an MP3 playlist, I burned about 75 minutes onto the 700MB CD-R in 9 minutes, using the 8x speed. Using a different CD-R, I tried the 32x option, and found that it made 9 minutes seem like an eternity-it burned faster than a brushfire. — Elizabeth Millard

Jack of all trades

Lexmark’s X83 All-in-One Print Center.

The world just keeps getting smaller and smaller. A true multifunction printer incorporating a scanner and photocopier was a fantasy not long ago, and now it’s reality-and a pretty inexpensive slice of reality, at that.

At $199 MSRP, Lexmark’s X83 is nothing fancy-in fact, one could condemn it as a jack of all trades and master of none. But if a base level of performance and reliability is all you’re after (or if you just want to save space), the X83 is just the ticket.

The X83 provides 2,400-by-1,200dpi printing (set at maximum resolution), 600-by-1,200dpi scanning capability, along with up to 400 percent zoom-range copying. There wasn’t a single jam among the 200 or so pages I printed, but there was a fair amount of smudged text. Printing speed is less than speedy (12 pages per minute grayscale, 6ppm color), but odds are you won’t buy the X83 for use in a print shop or photography studio. It only handles up to 150-pound paper stock, so photo printing isn’t a practical option, anyway.

Likewise, the scanner bed can handle documents no bigger than standard (8 1/2-by-11-inch) size. Given that framework, however, it produced flawless text scans and serviceable color .jpg and .gif files of the photos I fed it.

Again, your $199 is paying for convenience, mobility (it weighs only 22 pounds), and versatility, not state-of-the-art color and reproduction. The ability to perform the basics well makes the X83 a crucial, durable tool for the SOHOer on a budget.

(A note of caution: I tested the X83 on a PC with no trouble, but a couple of reviewers who tried it on Macs encountered crashes and printer failures.) — Dan Heilman

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