14 enormously useful products for the DIY-ITer (2013 Gift Guide)

14 enormously useful products for the DIY-ITer (2013 Gift Guide)

Summary: Welcome to the official 2013 edition of our ZDNet DIY-IT Gift Guide. This year, in honor of 2013, we present to you 14 interesting and useful products that the DIY-ITer in your life will find particularly useful, fun, or cool.


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  • Sheet music OCR software

    Sometimes, I get tech requests I never expect. That was the case with the product I'm about to spotlight here. I was asked if there was a way to OCR sheet music. My wife sings in a choir and wanted to hear what her songs would sound like, so she could practice the music.

    It made sense. After all, if you can process text into its digital equivalent, you could theoretically do it with music. Music scoring is a consistent language that's represented in a similar way to text.

    As it turns out, the Musitek SmartScore X2 Pro ($399) does just that. It's actually quite amazing the first time you run it. We scanned in a copy of her choir music, imported it into SmartScore, and the software played the music. It was a little eerie.

    Now, here are the cautions: this is deeply complex software for the music professional. We only tapped a very small portion of the overall capability of the system, which includes ways of tuning the OCR for recognition, and even allowing you to assign different instrumentals to different parts of music, to get the software to automatically orchestrate the music.

    It's incredibly cool, but you probably should read the manual. The company just updated the software and the update they sent me hasn't arrived here yet for testing. But the previous version is pretty amazing, and I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone with an interest in turning a computer into a 21st century player piano (and so much more).

  • Vizio smart TV

    It would be fair for me to tell you that until this recent purchase, I thought smart TVs were stupid. After all, if you have a Roku or an Apple TV, why in the world would you want a smart TV, with all the normal manufacturer shortcomings that come from those mashups?

    I still, sort of, think smart TVs are stupid, but I recently found a pretty good reason for buying one anyway: cheap, multi-function monitors. The one I'm bringing your attention to is the VIZIO 24-inch Class Razor LED Smart TV ($199) and the reason I'm bringing it to your attention is that it's under two hundred bucks.

    Since 24-inch monitors are running about $150 these days, if you spring for an extra fifty bucks, you get a screen with speakers, and the ability to drop into Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube. Granted, the implementations of these services are pretty sucky, but the ability to get double-duty from what would normally be just a monitor is a pretty good deal.

    I have one mounted as second monitor, and if I don't need the extra screen real estate for a while, I often switch it to Netflix and run a Top Gear in the background. Fast cars keep me calm.

    Oh, and I didn't show you a picture of the front of the TV, because it looks like every other TV. The interesting bit are the connections on the back. It's got both WiFi and a network adapter, along with the usual connection suspects. My only complaint is I wish this thing had two HDMI inputs, but for under $200, I can't really bust on it much.

  • A fast USB 3.0 hub

    Granted, there's nothing particularly exciting about a USB hub, but when you get a working, powered USB 3 hub, things start to get interesting. After all, USB 3 is very fast, which means that you can add things like external drives on through USB 3 and see smokin' performance.

    I'm using the D-Link DUB-1340 4-Port Superspeed USB 3 Hub ($49.99) and I've plugged phones, hard drives, scanners, and more into it, and it just works. Not bad for fifty clams.

Topics: Networking, Cloud, Education, DIY, After Hours, Windows, Wi-Fi, Storage, Smartphones, Security, Privacy, Mobility, Laptops, Hardware, Google, Windows 8


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • If those are 'gadgets' ...

    ... then I'd like to see the 'datacentre' ;-)
  • Dopus

    Brings back distant memories of CBM Amiga days. Who'd have thought that 20-odd years later we'd still hanker after a decent file manager!
    • Amiga

      Actually, I think Directory Opus got its start on the Amiga and has been updated ever since.
      David Gewirtz
      • Amiga in Chrome

        Your Amiga comment reminded me of this recent article on an Amiga emulator. Fond memories...

      • Started on Amiga

        I just checked out the website and it does say they started on Amiga.
  • File management software

    I've been using windirstat it's free and works cool shows a graph with blocks to display size of all your files on your drive
  • 14 enormously useful products for the DIY-ITer (2013 Gift Guide)

    I nearly forgot about Directory Opus, been using other software instead. I will have to give that another look as well as the Cisco cloud software.
  • D-Opus

    This is one of my "must haves". Been using it since the first release and upgraded every time. When I setup a new PC for myself, DO gets installed as soon as the O/S is up and running. Can't live without it and the price has been coming down in recent years. $45 is a steal for this software.
  • Adobe Creative Cloud

    Adobe lost me as a customer when they eliminated the package products. I'll keep using Dreamweaver (not my first selection when programming anyway) as long as it works, but I'll never spend a monthly fee for Adobe tools. Just not worth it, and it sucks that you don't even get a choice. Its "cloud" or nothing with Adobe, so I'll take nothing and use competitive products instead.
    • They still sell CS products, too.

      You can still buy the one time price CS packages. Here is a link to CS6.
  • Don't Expect To Run Creative Cloud in Ubuntu.

    I tried out a 30-day membership of Creative Cloud but made a mistake when I try to download Photoshop but it's not compatible with Ubuntu. I feel like an idiot for doing that.
    Grayson Peddie
  • Good gift guide

    Now we need an article on some real DIY home winter projects. Things like...
    ... setting up a Linux home server.
    ... rewiring the home. (Who doesn't have a bunch of cables running along the baseboards?)
    ... audio feeds throughout the house.
    ... high tech patio and BBQ area.
    ... home security system.

    The greatest DIY in this article is swiping a credit card. Rather than throw away your old equipment, you should always consider a redeployment; be it at home or donating to someone.
    • Well, we've done that (or some of it)

      We did the home alarm system series of articles. I'm not at my desk, so I can't get to them easily, but Google "Gewirtz logitech alert" and you'll find them. My house has been wired for GigE in the walls (I think I link to that article in this piece). We've talked about Linux home servers a whole lot, go back through DIY-IT, sjvn's stuff, Jason Perlow's stuff, and others.

      As for the high -tech patio and BBQ area, I'm all ears. I've been thinking about that, but I'm thus far uninspired. Inspire me (and the rest of us).
      David Gewirtz
  • Spam

    Rine1936 needs to be blocked. He obviously does not know tech and only wants to spam this great sight.
  • Chromebook.

    The Chromebook is not aimed at productivity apparently. It seems to be solely for people who want to surf the internet and check their email.
  • Chromebooks, anyone? Are they gadgets? What FOR?

    Nope and Nope, they're not exactly gadgets to me so why get them? For the same price, you can get a device with Windows 8.1 that has Office, can surf the internet and so on and it's a better deal for real techies. And, it (the competitor) has a big advantage. You can take the display off the base and make it a tablet. Oh, yeah, and you don't have to be tied to WiFi every second so you can use it everywhere and not just where there are hotspots. To me, the Chromebook's worse than a desktop PC because you have to be in range of WiFi to even do anything on it so it wouldn't work for me and therefore I'll never buy one. I'd encourage everyone else who doesn't have continuous WiFi access to boycott them as well. They're connected consumption machines and nothing else unless you bother with Google Docs or G-Cal and other vendors have better alternatives even free with their devices. Please, these things are Google deployed frauds and traitors to technology and should be treated as such by everyone who sells or even looks at them.
    • Scroogle much?

      You forgot to mention that the pawn shop will not buy your Chromebook for pennies on the dollar.
  • Apparently the people running pawn shops

    are pretty smart.
  • To be useful, OCR software must accompany any scanner

    Most documents are useless without the ability to search them. Optical character recognition (OCR) software can make all the difference when you need to find them at some point in the future.
  • Zombie Plant "PLAYS DEAD" when you Touch it!

    Ok - You might think you need a remote to make this work but the Zombie Plant is a freak of nature that Plays DEAD when you Touch it!

    Found the kit to grow it at