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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it 
Keywords: Internet, Microelectronics, Computer software
If you are like me, you will have an enormous quantity of information stored on your computer, in the form of files, e-mails, images, whatever. No matter how well you arrange them, retrieving a document takes time and effort. Of course, Windows has a search feature, but it sometimes seems to take a day and a half to find a file where you can remember only one or two keywords and searching e-mails is limited, to say the least. I have, over the last couple of months, been trying a free software called Copernic Desktop Search (www.copernic.com) and I am impressed. If I type the keywords into it, it will give all the files, e-mails and other documents containing them within a second, in separate categories and classed according to age. It is obvious, it cannot do this as a true search; it goes through a single keyword file. The latter is generated, in the background, after installation, without interfering with normal use. This process can take many hours but, once it has finished cataloguing them, it becomes fully functional. It also automatically updates itself as you introduce new documents. Its great strength is that I can find anything in my archives of the IPC TechNet, received as an e-mail list. This is interactive; if I type, for example, laminate, it finds 297 e-mails and 98 files. As soon as I add another letter or two, such as bro, it drops to 60 and 68, respectively; adding more letters to finish the word bromine, it has narrowed the search down to only nine TechNet files and 36 of my own, classed by folder and date. This is the most useful tool I have found in a long time but it does have one weakness: although it claims to conduct internet searches, it is not a patch on Google or many other search engines, but it does remember where you have been in your browsing history, so you can quickly re-find a site that you visited some time previously. Highly recommended.
The “standard” tool for preparing photos for publication, whether on a web site, by e-mail or even as a printed document is Adobe Photoshop. No doubt, its latest version, baptised CS2 (Creative Studio) is excellent, but it is horrendously expensive (average internet prices $600, £450). I had thought to make a comparison between it and some of its rivals, but Adobe did not send me a review copy, although I did obtain the latest Corel Draw! Suite ($250, £300), with PhotoPaint and the Ulead PhotoImpact suite ($80, £50). I therefore decided to compare just these two and see how they measured up for internet applications. Before I do so, I would just like to mention the disparities between the US and UK prices. The PhotoShop, at $600, is equivalent to £333 at the current exchange rate of 1.80 (time of writing), so the UK purchaser is paying a 35 per cent premium. Corel is worse: it translates to £139, not £300. How, by any stretch of the imagination, can a premium of 116 per cent be justified, just because one lives 5,000 kilometres away? This is daylight robbery. Ulead is far less greedy, because $80 is only £44, just £6 less than the UK price, which is far more acceptable, even if the premium is still 14 per cent.
So, what do you obtain for your money? The Corel Draw! 12 suite does contain Draw! itself as its key application and this is incomparable as a leading vector graphics system; if you need this, then do not hesitate to buy it. Then there is PhotoPaint, of course, which I will discuss presently. RAVE is a timeline-based animator for logos and other applications, also basically a vector graphics system, but bitmap data may also be imported and exported by conversion into any of the usual formats. This may be useful for animating titles or other items on a web site, but I recommend circumspection when adding bandwidth-intensive data. There are also some other utilities, one of which is excellent: Corel Capture is really useful for generating bitmap screen captures. All those you have seen in these columns since I started writing them have been captured using this utility (various versions).
Ulead PhotoImpact 10 suite contains two basic applications plus a number of utilities. Apart from PhotoImpact itself, there is also PhotoExplorer, which is a light and basic photo editor and filing system. An academically interesting utility is Cool360, which allows a series of photos to be seamlessly stitched together into a panorama of whatever angle you want, up to 3608, automatically correcting for position, angle and exposure. More usefully for web site designers, there is GIF Animator; this may be more practical than R.A.V.E. because it is a bitmap application and, as the name implies, it can use GIF natively, while also using objects and converting to other formats. I believe it is also more “user-friendly” for those using it for the first time.
Comparing the Corel and Ulead offerings for internet use, I would like to concentrate on two main jobs: preparing photographs for sending by e-mail and doing the same for inclusion in a web site. I must confess that I have used Corel Draw! products for at least 15 years, so I am much more familiar with their software but I will try to be fair in my assessment.
Other than the photo-editing itself, to send a photograph by e-mail attachment requires, as a rule, cropping, resizing and compressing it, usually to a JPG format. To obtain the best results manually does require some skill. Cropping in PhotoPaint may be done by a rectangular selection, covering the unwanted part by a transparent red overlay, then Crop to Mask. There is a little problem with this technique: once you have made your selection, you cannot adjust the size without re-selecting. However, there is a better way that is adjustable, a Crop Tool, which is more flexible with a similar transparent grey overlay. Once you are sure of the selection dimensions and angle, you right-click to do the cropping. PhotoImpact has a very similar Crop Tool, except that there is no rotation possible; if it is necessary to correct a horizontal, then it would be better to rotate the image before using the tool, using the layer manager. On the other hand, dimensioning to fixed values or a locked aspect ratio or paper size is easier. For cropping, there is little to choose between the two.
Resizing to a suitable format for e-mailing in PhotoPaint is called Resampling and you may choose, say, 500 pixels wide at 72dpi; this is straightforward. In PhotoImpact, this is unnecessary (see the next paragraph), however, you can do this manually, if you wish, by the Resize feature, which also offers different methods of reducing the number of pixels. PhotoImpact wins on this score.
Compression is usually done to JPG. With PhotoPaint, JPEG Export is fairly simple, with little choice other than compression and smoothing. It works well. With PhotoImpact, you can do the same but with a much better set of controls including a wider choice of different compression algorithms and you can even choose to compress to any file size, which you can select. In both cases, you have “before and after” windows which allow you to check that the degree of “artefacting” is acceptable. However, there is one feature of PhotoImpact that is an absolute winner; there is an e-mail Export/Smart Send feature which does a one button resizing and compression to generally acceptable values, then it opens your default e-mail client send attribute with your picture already set as an attachment. This, alone, makes the low-cost PhotoImpact an excellent choice and I can assure you that it will, in future, be my default application for e-mail preparation.
For preparing photographs (or other images) for web site editing, the procedure is very similar. Again, PhotoImpact is more versatile, although PhotoPaint does have a very useful web image optimizer. However, when publishing web photographs, it is often more desirable to edit them, rather than to put them on a web site “as is”. Without doubt, PhotoPaint has more artistic effects, but these are rarely used for the technical photographs that we are likely to publish. The possibilities for correcting brightness, contrast, hue, intensity, colour, cast and so on are similar in both applications, but they are easier to use in PhotoImpact, with better windowed and full-scale previewing, although the latter may be somewhat slower than one would sometimes like, in both applications. PhotoImpact also has a number of automatic enhancements that work well. Perhaps one of the most outstanding is termed High Dynamic Range. This is useful if you have an object which has a highlight:shadow ratio which exceeds the normal range but you wish to display detail in both the highlights and the shadows, while maintaining a normal contrast in each. This is done by a clever melding of two images, which may be either manipulated to optimise the highlights in one and the shadows in the other or, better, from two exposures.
Overall, I suggest that Ulead PhotoImpact 10 suite is the best overall buy for image editing for internet use (and other ones) and will do all, or at least most, of the work you are likely to need to do easily and well. I have found it to be a mature and stable software and it comes with a 366 page manual. Perhaps the most telling argument is that it costs, in the UK, one-sixth of the price of the Corel Draw! 12 suite and one-ninth that of the Adobe PhotoShop CS2, neither of which are likely to offer significantly more for this kind of work. It should, perhaps, be mentioned that there is a cut-down version of PhotoShop at a much better price, but I am unable to judge whether the reduced features would be prohibitive or not.
Finally, for this prologue, Ulead will have started to market Media Studio Pro version 8, by the time you read this. This is a very significantly advanced software for video editing, including for internet streaming in several formats, much more than just a normal upgrade from v. 7 but, to use a popular but almost meaningless expression, a paradigm shift.
My bank just issued me with a new Smart Credit Card, you know, the type with an inbuilt chip. When I saw it, I thought to myself that this would be an ideal subject to review in this journal, without realising what a stick it was to break over my own back. If you Google smart card manufacture, you will find yourself with about half a million responses, mostly from companies offering the programming of various types of card, as opposed to the actual manufacture. Even refining the search did not make my life any easier. Anyway, here is what I found, without apologies!
This a tutorial, published in the UK, on many aspects of Smart Card manufacture. The file is long to download because it is about 3.7 Mb and is on a slow server (or, at least, it was when I downloaded it, averaging 3.6 kb/s). However, it is well worth the wait, because the 163 pages of the paper offer the most comprehensive manual I was able to find, so I propose to give a lot of emphasis to this one document. It is divided into 26 well-indexed parts, each covering a specific aspect, mostly well illustrated. Each part is self- contained but the down-side of the document is that the sections were published between 1992 and 1994, so cannot be considered as up-to-date. However, the basic principles are certainly the same, so the document is still a valuable starting point.
Part 1 is an introduction, explaining what a Smart Card is and its general configuration, contact designations and memory types. Part 2 is the start of our interest and goes through, in a logical order, the manufacturing processes, starting with the chip, usually about 5×5 mm, containing the CPU, RAM, ROM and EPROM, as well as the means of communication between them and the outside world. Of course, these are all standardised and the chip manufacturers offer a wide variety of configurations. The card itself is also rigidly specified as to dimensions, materials, chip location, magnetic stripe and so on. The commonest process is to provide a printed circuit substrate with gold plated contacts to which the die is glued, then connected traditionally with wire bonding, as well as flip chips and other methods. It is then “glob-topped” (my wording) and the module is glued into the card. Obviously, the chip has to stand the abuse of being jammed into an over- packed wallet, dropped on the floor and trodden on, bent and used to gouge the dirt out from one's fingernails and Part 3 describes the bending, torsion and ESD tests that are necessary as well as the location of the contacts. Surprisingly, the contact locations are specified to the maximum dimension of the leading edges and the minimum dimensions of the trailing edges but I could not see here the tolerances or minimum spacing between contacts. Perhaps this is why the contact design seems to vary so much between different cards. The minimum size of the individual contacts is only 2 mm in the horizontal direction and a mere 1.7 mm in the vertical, referred to the card edges, with a maximum of 0.75 mm between them.
This is, unfortunately, the end of relevance to this journal, the other 23 parts being devoted to programming the device and security for diverse applications.
The EU seems to have “reprinted” a book at this URL. This is very odd, because I cannot see the relevance. However, a little research has shown that this is on the private site of a Belgian, one Alexandre Dulaunoy. How he has acquired such a URL, I do not know, any more than as to whether he has the right to put the book, published by Macmillan Computer Publishing, on the web. However, that is his concern. In reality, the book is similar to the previous link, albeit a little more modern. It has just one sub-chapter with the title “The manufacturing process”. This is very much a summary of the foregoing, with less detail.
Not strictly on the assembly side, this is a news report about a Swiss company that has developed a way of injection moulding the Smart Card around the chip module, as opposed to gluing it into a cavity in the card. It is claimed that it improves the flexibility of manufacture.
This looks like a PowerPoint presentation of the company, a manufacturer of Smart Cards. It is interesting as it describes the workflow in reasonably good detail along with a catalogue of the major equipment employed.
This is a paper describing the feasibility of silicon-on-insulator chips for Smart Cards and two new applications for this kind of technology, random number generation and a charge pump voltage multiplier to provide the energy for programming EEPROM memories.
Ah! So thought I, but with a slight sense of disappointment. This opens a laconic single page devoted to the products of this company for use in Smart Card fabrication, such as for die attachment and for chip encapsulation (glob-topping). It then tells you, “For detailed product information, contact our regional office (see page 40), or visit our website at www.loctite.com.”. Where do they think I started out from, if it was not their web site, having found this page through their search feature? Catch 22! There were no links offered, so it really involved a manual search. I tried a PDF file, for example, on die attach adhesives to show a long list of different products. Not knowing which ones were most indicated for Smart Cards, I did a PDF search for smart, to be informed that the word did not exist in the document. With all due respect for a company renowned for their quality products, I do believe that they could do a lot better in their web site design to promote “user-friendliness”.
Note1 He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it. The Bible, Proverbs Chapter 11, Vol. 15.