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Although most people are watching this year’s Tour de France to see if Lance Armstrong can make history by winning his sixth consecutive title, I’m more impressed by the way his team, U.S.

Although most people are watching this year’s Tour de France to see if Lance Armstrong can make history by winning his sixth consecutive title, I’m more impressed by the way his team, U.S. Postal Service, protects its champion, drafting him, blocking for him, and aggressively setting the pace and the tone for each stage. If he gets his record sixth tour title, he will not have done it alone.

I’m fairly new to the whole concept of stage racing. I’ve always tuned in, but didn’t really know what to watch for. To tell you the truth I was more excited by the crashes in the sport highlight reels than the breakaways and chases. But I’m slowly catching on with the help of Whistler’s own Will Routley, who I’ve been covering for the sports section this year. This is Will’s first year racing as part of a team (www.symmetricscycling.com) and it looks like he’s already been selected to represent Canada at the Road World Championships. It’s not quite the Tour, but it’s still a big deal.

The Tour de France started on July 3 and will wrap up on July 25 after covering 3,390 kilometres of brutal French roads – high mountain passes, narrow cobblestone streets, you name it. It seems that spectators line every inch of the course, which only goes to show just how popular this event is.

To follow the Tour de France properly this year, you might want to bookmark the following sites:

Le Tour de France – www.letour.fr/2004/us/index.html

This is the English language version of the official tour site, with daily updates and commentary, rider profiles, analysis of strategies and stages, weather reports, daily standings, daily gaps, pictures, videos, and even live radio broadcasts.

Outdoor Life Network – www.tsn.ca/oln/tour_de_france/

The Outdoor Life Network is broadcasting this year’s Tour de France live every morning and a repeat every evening for the duration of the race. Times change daily, so check their listings to find out exactly when to tune in for each stage of the race.

U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team – www.usprocycling.com

Find out more about Lance Armstrong’s bid to break history and the riders that are helping him along the way on the team’s official Web site. Good interviews and analysis of the various stages.

Pretty pictures

InfoTrends, a technology research group, predicted that more than 53 million digital cameras will be sold around the world in 2004, about 15 per cent higher than last year. Moreover, they expect those sales to continue to grow to 82 million units a year by 2008.

You could probably do worse things than buy stock in a digital camera company these days.

The reasons for this success are obvious – the pictures are good, you erase what you don’t want, you can store thousands of images on your hard drive or CD-ROMs, and your only pay for the prints of your very best shots. The technology is getting better and better, with the top cameras allowing you to take poster-sized shots without any obvious pixelation. You can also edit your photos at will, changing pictures to black and white or magnetta, removing red-eye, and adjusting contrast, brightness and other critical levels. With programs like Adobe Photoshop you can even turn your shots into art.

The success of the digital camera has given birth to another industry – photo-centric printers. Most ordinary colour printers can make fair prints of digital pictures, but it takes a more specialized kind of photo printer to produce photo-quality reproductions you’d be proud to put on your wall.

This month’s PC World magazine (www.pcworld.com) included an article titled "How to Shop for a Photo Printer" that also reviews 26 different models. If you’re in the market to pick up a serious photo-centric printer I suggest you pick up this issue before you make your decision.

Photo printers cost anywhere from $80 to $600, depending on the features. There’s a Murphy’s law of colour printers that suggests that the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the replacement cartridges, so be sure to look at the price of those as well.

The print ‘dpi’ (dots per inch) is important for resolution, but PC World reviewers have discovered 600 by 600 dpi printers that produce sharper reproductions than 1200 by 1200 dpi printers. Sometimes the brand you purchase and the ink you buy is more important than the technical specifications.

Before you decide that your old colour printer is no good at reproducing photos, you might want to consider replacing your black cartridge with a special photo cartridge that retails for around $35. It can make a dramatic difference.

Paper is also important. You can purchase paper that was made specifically for colour photos, so give this a shot before you decide to do an upgrade.

If you still decide you need a new photo-centric printer then look at models with a larger number of ink tanks (some have up to six) or optional gray ink tanks. Keep in mind that the more ink tanks you have, the more you’re going to be paying out for replacement cartridges.

Every printer has its limitations, so do the right thing and ask for a demo – most stores will comply or will show you a few samples if they sense a sale.

The last piece of advice is to crunch some numbers. What is the cost, how many pictures can you get from your cartridges, what is the replacement cost of those cartridges, and is the convenience of producing pictures at home worth the expense and lower quality prints?

Then ask yourself if you’ll save money in the long run by bringing your digital photos to your local camera shop for professional processing. You can bring your flash memory cards with you or make disks of your pre-edited shots, and they’ll reproduce them on photo-quality paper, gloss or matte, border or no border, for between $0.40 and $0.60 a print in Whistler, depending on how many you need. At that price you can make a thousand photo reproductions for the price of a single high-end photo printer without needing to replace a single cartridge.

Think about it.




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