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Remembrance Of Times Gone By

We're entering the season of events. May and June are popular months for graduations, weddings, bar mitzvahs and confirmations along with Mother's Day, Father's Day and plenty of anniversaries. Sadly, for some families, it will also be a time for memorial services.

Whatever the occasion, photos can help focus attention, bring up memories and stimulate emotions. In a group setting, the best way to display them is often via a computerized slide show. For this a PC, some simple software, a scanner and a digital projector can come in very handy.

I speak from recent experience. My father-in-law Clarence passed away a couple of weeks ago and, to commemorate his life, we put together a slide presentation for the reception immediately following his memorial service. The process of creating the presentation certainly brought tears to my eyes, and the display seemed to have a pretty big impact on the family and friends who attended the service.

There are several steps you need to go through to create a slide show. First, you have to select the photos. If they're not already digital, you may have to scan printed pictures. You then have to arrange them in the proper order using whatever software you select to display the presentation. If you decide to include a soundtrack, as we did, you have to make sure that the music is in a digital format, unless you just play a CD or tape along with the show. Finally, you have to rent, buy or borrow a digital video projector and a screen and make sure they are properly set up.

I've had a digital camera for several years and already had lots of pictures, but there were plenty of pictures of Clarence, 83, that were taken long before the age of digital cameras. My wife and I had some of those pictures on our mantle but most were at his home.

Fortunately, I have a laptop and a relatively lightweight scanner, so I brought both over to his wife's house, where several family members helped select photos to scan for the slide show. The process of selecting and scanning those photos was therapeutic.

One note of caution: If a picture has been in a frame for a long time and it's mounted directly against the glass, there is the possibility that the emulsion might have attached itself to the glass. Removing it from the frame can damage it. I discovered that as I tried to remove one precious photo from its frame and noticed that it was sticking. Rather than risk tearing it, I scanned it while it was still in its frame. The scanned image didn't look quite as good, but I was able to protect the original.

When scanning photos it's important to understand the scanner's settings. Some of the first photos we scanned looked a bit grainy until we adjusted the scanner's resolution from 150 dots per inch (dpi) to 600 dpi. The higher-resolution images were larger and much clearer.

The next step was to edit the pictures. Clarence and his wife Lucille were together for 61 years, but some of the photos included former spouses of other family members, which makes one appreciate the ability to crop. Another advantage is the ability to enhance and correct the color. With a little work, some of the scanned photos looked a lot better than the originals.

Then there is placing them in the right order. Windows XP and Macintosh OS X have the built-in ability to display a slide show directly from within the operating system with no additional software. Pictures will be displayed in the order that they appear in the folder, but you can re-arrange them.

There are also a number of commercial and shareware programs you can use. I used Paint Shop Photo Album 4 from Jasc Software ($45, not only to arrange the photos but also to add a musical soundtrack. The program has a share feature that allows you to create a self-running slide show. You can embed a musical track from an MP3 file, which will run in a loop along with the slides. Unfortunately, you can only select a single track. We wanted two songs - Louis Armstrong's rendition of "What a Wonderful World" and Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again," so I solved that problem by using Sound Forge - a digital audio-editing program to merge both songs into a single file.

In addition to displaying the show, Photo Album 4 lets you create a slide show that you can give to others either via a regular CD that plays on any PC or a special "Video CD" that can be played on a regular DVD player attached to a TV set. Family members and close friends went away with a copy of the CD for their own remembrance. The program can also create a Web site with the photos, which is a great way to share the memories with people who can't make it to the event.

Once you have your slide show, there is the issue of displaying it. One option is to simply place a desktop or laptop PC somewhere in the room where people can gather around the screen. But if it's a larger gathering, it's nice to have it projected on a screen or a wall. For this you need a digital video projector that plugs into the display adapter port of any PC or Mac. I borrowed a 2.2-pound Hewlett-Packard sb21, which sells for $1,999, but it is possible to buy digital projectors for as little as $900 or rent one from a local audio visual store.

If you're having your event at a hotel or other public place, check to see if it offers projectors, but shop around. Some hotels charge above the going rate for rental equipment.

Be sure you have a good surface to display the presentation and also be certain the sound is appropriate for the audience, the room and the level of ambient noise.

If you don't have access to a digital projector or even an onsite PC, you can create a video CD and play it on a TV set with a DVD player.

A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."

By Larry Magid