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Thoroughbred printer

Minolta’s QMS 3100 Magicolor printer, and more.

The market for computer peripherals has become so focused that consumers and business owners usually have little trouble finding exactly what they need. This is especially true in the printer arena, where a model for every conceivable budget and workload is readily available.

With a street price of $2,199, Minolta’s QMS 3100 Magicolor printer certainly isn’t for everyone. Even beyond the price, it probably has far too much horsepower for general consumers or other casual users. But if you work in a document-heavy setting that requires fast, quality color and monochrome printing the Magicolor might be just the ticket.

The Magicolor is speedy-up to 16 pages per minute in either color or monochrome, which Minolta claims is the fastest color output available. The resolution is 1,200-by-1,200dpi, which might fall short of the needs of professional digital photographers, but should suit most everyone else.

Other frills include is an automatic duplexer for convenient, two-sided printing, up to 256MB of onboard RAM (upgradeable to 512MB), and 10BaseT/100BaseTX Ethernet capability. It also offers a 500-sheet input cassette, a 100-sheet multipurpose tray, and a 1,000-sheet input feeder–all of which can handle paper up to three feet in length.

One shortcoming for some users is that your color palette is restricted to the basic black, cyan, yellow, and magenta–just good-enough color. Again, those who work with color as part of their profession should look elsewhere. Also be warned that the Magicolor is a beast–all those features need somewhere to take up residence. — Dan Heilman

Web slinger

Albert Laszlo-Barabasi’s “Linked.”

It takes an awfully talented writer, with a touch of mad genius, to connect the hacker MafiaBoy to the Christian apostle Paul. It’s even more impressive when this is just part of the introduction. Albert-Laszlo Barabasi launches his work on interconnections, “Linked: The New Science of Networks,” with this seemingly disparate pair, and then ties together people, events and scientific theories, uncovering the deep, vast reach of networks in our midst.

“This book has a simple aim,” he writes, “to get you to think networks.” Toward this goal, Barabasi delivers his evidence in individual strands, weaving them together to show the Web truly is web-like, that a cocktail party can be an exercise in random graph theory, and that Vernon Jordan’s social life affects the American economy.

Although he waxes often about technology in general, the author saves his longest riffs for computers and the Internet. And it is in these passages that his passion for networks truly shines. The origin and technical nuances of Google particularly fascinate him. This isn’t surprising: Google is a glittering example of Barabasi’s theories of connectivity. The search engine not only derives its power from examining links between Web pages, but also drew its audience almost solely from social networking, eschewing the snazzy marketing efforts that were the hallmark of so many other dot-coms.

But to merely hold Google up as an example of social and technical networking isn’t enough for Barabasi. He launches into a discussion of how the engine demonstrates other connections as well, throwing in Einstein, the fitness model of competition and growth, and node theory. It is a dazzling feat, and by the time he finally moves to the next linking, the mind is reeling.

The sparkling intellect and accessible writing style that Barabasi employs allow even the scientifically challenged to enjoy his theories. (Meaning that, when you go to that cocktail party, being able to chat about random graph theory is alone worth the book’s price.) The nascent science of network theory is well advanced with this nifty little tome. With his forays into topics like terrorist cells, biotech and even Monica Lewinsky, Barabasi makes it easy to think networks. — Elizabeth Millard

A shirt-pocket camera

Exilim’s EX-M1.

Take a deck of normal playing cards and throw half of them away. What you have left is something the same size as a Casio Exilim digital camera. Exilim cameras take 1.3 megapixel digital still photographs, 30-second AVI movie clips, and record up to 50 minutes of digital audio. They a build-in capacity of 12MB that’s expandable with SD cards–which is especially handy with the MP3-enabled $350 Exilim EX-M1 we tested.

This shirt-pocket camera takes decent pictures at its three resolutions (1600-by-1200, 1280-by-960, and 640-by-480), even in low light without flash. Its 1-by-1.25-inch LED window works well for viewfinding, playback, and menu selection and its coat-pocket size USB cradle/recharger recharges the Li-Ion battery fast. The picture acquisition software for Windows and Mac works fine, but it’s not needed under Windows XP, which recognizes the camera without requiring drivers.

The EX-M1’s MP3 player has a good tonal range through the bundled headphone ear buds–though it didn’t work with our WMA files. And it’s not a great video recorder, either–the 320-by-240 15-fps AVI files show grainy artifacts and are prone to eye-crossing moire patterns, but the sound is OK.

Despite its entertainment value, the EX-M1 is a bona fide business tool too. Its voice recording microphone and playback speaker are the quality of a good phone connection-8KHz, 4-bit, IMA-ADPCM WAV files–ideal for recording up to 50 minutes of meeting, interviews, or executive “note-to-self” voice memos. There’s no external mic jack, which would be nice, but the built-in condenser microphone and speaker are up to the task, and with the MP3 player’s headphone adapter, you can listen to playbacks in private.

On the downside, the controls are a little fiddly. The power button is right next to the shutter button, making it easy to turn the thing off instead of taking a picture. The menu operations work by a points-of-the-compass selector that doubles as a mouse-style clicker. It’s quite easy to click instead of pointing.

That said, for $300 without MP3 playback and $350 with, the Exilim camera is a small wonder. Just be careful you don’t lose it. — Matt Lake

Label me

Dymo’s LabelWriter 330 Turbo.

Anyone who has tried using a conventional printer to make mailing labels knows how miserable it is to waste sheet after sheet of adhesive paper trying to get it to do a job for which it simply wasn’t designed. If you do a lot of label printing, a dedicated unit is a must, and Dymo’s LabelWriter 330 Turbo is one of the best around.

At a street price of less than $200, the 330 Turbo is a bargain if you use it right. It’s the fastest label printer available, printing most labels in just two seconds. It handles more than 40 standard label sizes up to 2.3 inches wide, including address, Internet postage, shipping, file folder, disk, video, name badge, cassette, ZIP disk, and more.

But the most glamorous feature of the 330 Turbo is its Internet postage capability. The Information Based Indicia Program was created by the United States Postal Service (USPS) to enable users to purchase and print postage from their PCs, anytime day or night.

This is a great convenience to small and home office users, and the 330 Turbo (as well as some other Dymo products) uses it in tandem with software from Stamps.com or Endicia.com. (This feature won’t work with Macintosh, though most of the unit’s other features will.)

The 330 Turbo is network-ready, or can work as a standalone unit with your PC. It’s compatible with many word-processing and database programs, making batch printing simple. If you’re a small-business owner and you’re sick of making labels the hard way, the 330 Turbo could be money well spent. — Dan Heilman

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