Erasing camcorder tapes, quality speakers, black and white digital photography

Week 1, 2007
Q: Is there a cheap way to completely erase used 8 mm camcorder tapes so I can reuse them? When I looked on line for the handheld magnetic erasers they were rather expensive.
-Doug Sneddon

A: Take your camcorder and put on the lens cap, rewind to the beginning, press record and let it record in a closet or somewhere where there is no noise. The camcorder has an erase head before the record head- it will erase everything for you. It is not ideal but it will do the job.

I recommend that anyone keep their raw footage whenever possible (even when the video has been edited and put on a DVD) rather than re-record over the tapes. If the DVD is lost, scracthed, or damaged, the memories could be lost forever. If you have the raw footage it can be re-used. If recorded over, it is gone forever.

Q: My son wants outdoor speakers so he and his friends can have music around their outdoor bbq pit. He lives on a farm in Iowa (so the weather is not always great). What do you recommend? I was considering the Polk Atrium 60 but it is fairly expensive, and I don’t want to spend the money if it isn’t worth it!

I need some speakers for myself, too. I have simple JBL speakers sold at the Apple store for listening to music off my G4 laptop. The sound is ok (better than the laptop itself) but not great. I listen for hours a day, so it is worth it to me to get something better. Can you recommend something for a laptop? The speakers would stay in my office.

-Sara Kiesler, Pittsburgh, PA
A: The Polk Atriums are great and worth the money. Spending money on quality speakers is never wasted!   If you do not want to spend that much, try the Dayton speakers at Parts Express, found at
For your Apple computer, the best speakers you can get are probably the Harman/Kardon Soundsticks, now the Soundsticks II. If you can find the Monsoon flat panel speakers they are better, but they are discontinued and almost impossibe to find. Try ebay for them. You won’t be disappointed so long as you get a pair in working order. I have a pair of Monsoon MH-500s and I have yet to find something that can come close to matching them. Expect to pay between $100 and $200 for a working pair of Monsoon computer speakers.
Q: How do I take black and white pictures with my digital camera?
-J. Frank, Ridgeland, SC

A: Some cameras have a setting to take pictures in black and white directly with the camera- check the settings menus on your particular camera. The best way to do it, however, is by taking it in color then converting it in software. That way you have both a color and a black and white sample of the same image.

I recommend Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements for all image editing- they are the industry standard as well as the best image editing programs out there.

To convert a color picture to black and white in Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, open the picture then go Image>Mode>Grayscale. After it is converted, tweak the brightness and contrast settings to get the black and white look that you want.

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