Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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2002 Column Highlights  
                                                              
                                                                                       
dog2.gif (4601 bytes) December 2002, Week 5 --  Software that blocks the release of sensitive information in PDF files, thus saving you from having to answer reporters' embarrassing questions about what you knew and when did you know it. Then comes a look at the easiest photo editing and album program we've ever seen. A site that converts your picture or anyone else's to a moderately realistic talking head; very funny. Games: Microsoft's best selling "Age of Mythology," and JoWood's "Arx Fatalis," a mysterious and complex new world for D&D players..
December 2002, Week 4 --  We start this holiday column with a backward glance at a few of the most interesting products we looked at this year. Because let's face it: who can remember all this stuff if you don't do a memory jog or something like that.  So there's the Cruzer, Pyro, Speak-With-A-Geek, etc. Then we turn to one more spam killer: MailWasher, which is free and has been downloaded by more than a million users. Games: Up in the air about what to get for a holiday present? Well, there's Combat Flight Simulator 3, from Microsoft, and Airport 2002, an add-on that puts you at the controls of a Boeing 747.
December 2002, Week 3 --  AskSam, a golden oldie from the early days of desktop computers, still lives, and still works well. A very nice new email organizer for people who get a lot of email. The most promoted online game of the year is largely just an advanced shoot-em-up. Books: Windows XP Annoyances. (You mean Windows XP has annoyances?)
December 2002, Week 2 --  Grab the pictures from any web site. This may sounds like a big yawn but it's actually pretty interesting; think British Museum, The Metropolitan, etc. Books: Windows Professional and Windows XP Home. Some day they will produce an operating system that never locks up. Sure they will, and I have some desert property to sell you. Games: The Zoombinis are back! Not as good as the first one, but still good. And then there's a shoot-em-up for the kids, and finally this week, Barbie the Explorer (watch that long hair).
December 2002, Week 1 -- Symantec tackles spam in its way, I tackle it in mine. Got computer problems? Call this number and speak with a geek. National Geographic puts every issue up till the end of the year 2,000 on 32 CDs, and then miscounts the number of years. A file transfer program for moving form PC to Mac. Internuts: The world policy site links to hundreds of publications. Games: You can go for Butt Ugly Martians or Nancy Drew, and they're both fun so you can't lose. Books: Build a wireless network for your town.
November 2002, Week 4-- Everything you always wanted to know about small networks but were afraid to ask. (This could get boring.) From out of nowhere comes a great program for artists (this could mean you!). Word menu is a combination dictionary and thesaurus, providing a new and interesting way to get the writing right. My CPU is a free program that tells you what your CPU is doing when nobody's looking (which is all the time). Two books tell you how to play DVD movies and music CDs on your PlayStation 2 or Xbox  game machine.
November 2002, Week 3 -- My favorite database program is updated, modernized and otherwise looking spiffy and sexy; why knock your head against the wall of Microsoft Access when you could be livin' easy? Meanwhile, elsewhere in the universe ... we examine a plastic owl that collects your e-mail. (You were expecting something else?) Internuts: "itools" limits your search to categories or just newspapers and magazines. A parents site has lots of info about home schooling, and, along the way, a ton of other stuff. Sign up any school on this web site and every time you buy something from one of their linked merchants, the school gets some of the money. Books: The best web sites for teachers.
November 2002, Week 2 --  They say that money talks, but with this program everything talks. And there's a new version of Microsoft's PictureIt, adding many of the features found in Adobe's PhotoShop Elements; we like the "add flash" feature, which lightens the foreground. Visioneer's new scanner for businesses puts the scanned documents directly into PDF format  for e-mailing. KVM boxes let you run two or more computers from one keyboard. Internuts: Oriental rugs with a war time theme. Games: Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 follows a runaway hit.
November 2002, Week 1 --  Ontrack's System Suite saves our computer. Well, sort of, and for umpteenth time. Hewlett Packard's new color laser printer is under $1,000 and half the weight of another manufacturer's printer we tried out last year. Color is better too. Internuts: 1.) A library in New York's Catskill Mountains puts together one the best children's web sites we've ever seen. 2.) Everything you ever wanted to know about bubbles but were afraid to ask. 3.) A guide to travel and festivals in Great Britain. Not up to date, but still interesting. 4.) A place to buy all kinds of boxes for moving. Games: New ones from Humongous, the best kid's games maker in the known universe.
October 2002, Week 5 --  The new Stuffit will compress your files for email and send you a note back when the recipient got them. The new MovieShop provides ten layers of changes and additions to make your video editing easier. Maple 8 is like Mathematica, only cheaper. Internuts: 1.) Special site for public auctions of goods seized by the Treasury Department. 2.) Optical illusions to baffle your brain. 3.) A very, very funny site. 4.) Dumb warnings. 5.) A place to send all those free time offers from AOL. Games: Law and Order is hard get and hard to play. Books: Official Guide to Quicken 2003.
October 2002, Week 4 --   Tiny, easy wireless network; also slow. Nice new version of Corel Draw; it uses symbols as stand-ins for large graphics. VisiCalc lives! At least it still lives at the web site of Dan Bricklin, one of the creators; you can download it for free. How to clear Spam in AOL. Books: DVD Confidential tells you how to find the "Easter Eggs" in lots of movies on DVD. Games: Unreal Tournament 2003. Internuts: Saves those bookmarks! Go to any of these three web sites to store your bookmarks and/or your e-mail lists. Call them  back up from anywhere.
October 2002, Week 3 --  USB-1 is dead! Long live USB-2! Or something like that. Anyway, we look at some nice new USB-2 hubs. Learn to play the blues guitar. Okay, how about the regular guitar? Internuts: The government tells you how to put together a healthy diet. We have two sites for videos, one for renting one for vetting. Books: "Hack Attacks Revealed;" the title should be self-explanatory.
October 2002, Week 2 --  A small plug-in card for PCs lets you watch four video surveillance cameras at once, live on the Internet. As of this year, a billion computers have been sold, and some of them still work. Downloads: "show codes" for MS Word; a digital color wheel for artists;  a free utility prints lists of stuff you've burned to your CDs; keep track of U.S. Savings Bonds. Internuts: Government site keeps track of best routes for Fall colors; newspapers, magazines and books you can download in MP3 format; places to donate old computers and stuff. Books: Using Office XP. Games: A bad episode of Nancy Drew mars an otherwise brilliant series.
October 2002, Week 1 --  Rock bottom computer comes complete with a Linux version of Windows for $200 or Windows XP  for $300; can't beat that. Swift $1,500 machine copies 25 CDs or DVDs at once. "I Hate Spam" really works, but you have to work a little to make it happen.
September 2002, Week 4 --  Is someone spying on what you do at your computer, logging your every keystroke? Find out, and take counter-measures. A new release of Mathematica, expensive but lots of cut-rate deals for students, adapts readily to the web. Internuts: 1.) Watch any baseball game you want, live on the Internet, for far less than ticket prices. 2.) Good info and some great stories from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources site. 3.) Junk-Science looks at, well ... junk science. 4.) A great site for the fine arts has links to 1,200 other sites for the fine arts. Books: Trouble-shooting networks.
September 2002, Week 3 --  PDF-Factory provides the power of Adobe Acrobat to produce  portable documents with formatting intact, but at only half the price. Beautiful new "One Touch" scanner from Visioneer. Hewlett Packard's new photo printer accepts photo cards directly and has fine output, but ink replacement is expensive. "Medieval: Total War" is the war game of the year so far. New book on upgrading PCs is aimed at beginner to intermediate users.
September 2002, Week 2 --  A device that provides tons of keyboard and mouse shortcuts; it's especially useful for video and sound editing. Belkin's new memory card reader reads and write to many different types. Get what the pros use to write their music: Sonar XL. And then there's Music Match, the most popular MP3 manager. Internuts: "Three men with nothing better to do." Special and regular exhibits at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington. Poison-free pest control. Books: Lots of ideas on what to do with Adobe's Photoshop Elements program.
September 2002, Week 1 -- FileMaker Pro is great for small businesses and easy to learn; there's a new version out. Special low student pricing on Microsoft Office XP, and practically anyone can get it. TruSpace 6 offers the most graphics power you can get for the money, but there's a lot to learn. Internuts: The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. A special site to teach kids about finances and the market. Games: The new "Links," the best golf simulation you can get, has 13 courses to play.
August 2002, Week 4 --  The "Cruzer" is like those flash-memory thumb drives but the memory part is replaceable. Portable CD/RW is super fast, steel wrapped and heavy duty. Getting in touch with you base computer from a remote location and monthly fee. Internuts: A site that searches for your best price on books, and boy do they find good buys. And a site of lovely abstract computer art from a physicist. 
August 2002, Week 3 --  Another wireless networking kit but this one using the 802.11a protocol, which is five times faster than the more common 802.11b. Yes, I know it's confusing. Hewlett Packard and a few other companies are offering free classes online; tons of subjects. ATI's new Radeon 9000is best in its class and great card for gamers. Internuts: let's go textiles -- a weaving arts museum, a London dealer, and rugs braided to your design. Game equipment: an exact replica (except it's in green plastic) of the Israeli .50 caliber handgun provides light beam shooting and recoil for action games. Books: tricks of the trade for game programmers.
August 2002, Week 2 -- A nearly universal file reader translates just about all of them, whether you open the files or not. Find the Groove for creating shared spaces. Plain old dirt brings down lots of computers. More teeny-weeny flash drives; they're hot. Downloads: Birthday Chronicle brings up what happened on any date in the last hundred years, as a newspaper front page. Calc program compares mortgages and other financial data. Books: Incredible Universal Command Guide lists all  the commands for all operating systems.
August 2002, Week 1 --  DeLorme has a new street map CD for the entire US that can be downloaded to handheld computers and used for global positioning. Lots of travel information too. One more spam blocker, this one sends spammers a permission-to-send form they must fill out. Ipod opener is software that lets PC users connect an Apple Ipod to their machines and download music. Smart Sound program lets you add sound tracks to videos and presentations; you can move blocks and pieces of sound around by dragging with the mouse. New heat conductive greases helps in cooling hot processors. Internuts: Social Security benefits calculator. Crime scene photos and discussion of how the case was solved. Home theater handbook.
July 2002, Week 4 --  Feed video into a small box and out comes DVD. Another tiny digital camera from Benq, which has become the tiny digital camera company. Internuts: Tips and tricks site for all versions of Windows and even some for DOS. Last minute travel bargains. Gadgets and gizmos in Japan. And how to grow perfect roses. Two new learning adventures for young children, from Disney.
July 2002, Week 3 --  Using your home or office's own electrical wiring to network computers and printers. How to make a CAD or other machine drawing look like it was drawn by hand. A new version of Web Ferret freshens one of the great Internet search tools. Games: A new do-it-yourself dungeons and dragons game from the makers of Baldur's Gate, one of the all-time great adventure series.
July 2002, Week 2--    Eighty percent of business users, and presumably home users as well, are angered by the number of programs that are released with known bugs. A tiny box prints digital photos straight from the camera, without a computer in between. Small accessory reads and writes to flash memory. Internuts: the National Safety Council provides safety tips (watch out for those stairs). A site that provides links to 4,654 gardening sites. Employer surveys and chats about jobs. Self-proclaimed experts answer questions on anything. Kid stuff: Mia, the mouse from Montreal, teaches basic skills in cute adventure games. Books: Creating forms in Adobe Acrobat.
July 2002, Week 1 --  A new version of Franklin Covey's appointment planner. If you can't move without planning your day, you need this. Jasc's new web editor is nice and one of the last of the breed, but there's no search function. Think barley root or colloidal silver will fix your narcoleptic nephew? Check some of this stuff our on quackwatch.com. We also look at a British site with lots of free reference books. Three new books on how to understand Windows XP -- that easy-to-use, never-need-another, operating system.
June 2002, Week 4 --  The new FineReader is the best OCR software we've ever run. It not only reads text with great accuracy, it preserves the page formatting better than anything we've tried. Raritan's new KVM console lets two or more users work with the same computer up to 1,000 feet apart. Nice noise canceling microphone from Plantronics. Internuts: A site with 400 never-before recorded pieces by Beethoven. Classical music archive site. News about classical orchestras and performances. Free classical piano pieces for downloads. And a  J.S. Bach library. Kid Stuff: A new Curious George adventure. Two new books for PC hardware.
June 2002, Week 3 --    2B or not 2B, that is the USB. In other words, if you need high speed data transfer between the computer and your peripherals, you'll be turning to the new USB-2 standard; it's 40 times faster than the old USB connections. A quick click device can switch you from computer speaker sound to headphones, and that should quiet things down in the office. Quick photo albums nicely done with 3D Album and Flip Album. Internuts finds three sites for people interested in patent models, the beautifully made models that used to be required by the U.S. Patent Office. And finally the sequel to Soldier of Fortune adds more fire power and good graphics for action players.
June 2002, Week 2 --  A physical firewall to protect your system or network against intruders. No matter what happens, it's always working. Two-thirds of all consumers surveyed are not willing to pay for any services on the Internet. And finally, a book that tells you what happens when the folks in the big companies call for technical support.
June 2002, Week 1--   Positioning yourself, global-wise, with a handheld computer. Moving from one PC to another and taking your programs with you, the Hawaiian way. Did you know you can get  new laser printer for less than $200? Samsung sings. The world is getting connected: last year for the first time, Internet users in the U.S. accounted for less than half the traffic. Internuts: Old classic computer games online. Copyright your work online. Songfacts explains what those singers are actually singing in those songs you can't figure out. And finally, a new book about old arcade games.
May 2002, Week 4 --  PC Pinpoint is a new service that offers actual technical support for Windows computers; it worked for us. Vox Proxy adds animated figures to Power Point presentations, in hope that something can keep the audience awake. AnyTime is a simple, easy to use, low cost address book with lots of the functions of expensive so-called PIMs (personal information managers). Quick PopUp sends instant screen messages to anyone on your selected email list. It checks to see if their computer is on and logs responses too. We loved it.   Books: "Windows XP Headaches and How to Fix Them." You mean there are sometimes headaches with Windows XP?
May 2002, Week 3 -- Camtasia acts like a video camera inside your computer, taking pictures of everything you want to save and copying videos within the computer as well. Our favorite portable hard drive is back in larger storage capacities but still the same physical size as a deck of cards; it can connect with the new USB-2 high-speed standard. A new enhanced version of Calculation Center from Wolfram, the makers of Mathematica. It's Wolfram's thesis that you don't need to understand mathematics to use mathematics. 3D Home Improvement is back, with improvements. Internuts: Zero-Zero Fun is a ton of fun, with a huge library of jokes and unintentionally funny quotes from President Bush and many others. Free software for old operating systems. Free virus scan.
May 2002, Week 2 -- Ah, what if you can just enter whatever information you just collected or whatever thoughts you had, in any order and any style. Well you can. Such programs are called flat-file databases and they used to be popular but have largely disappeared because they slow down a little as the files get large. Note Wonder brings them back. DeLorme gets on top of topology with a new program that lets you add your own tracks to the terrain. Web Highlighter lets you highlight any text in yellow before saving or passing it on. A great free dictionary and thesaurus is available. Internuts: sites devoted to automobile hood ornaments, Victorian styles, American road and shop signs, and police humor -- which turns out to be pretty funny. Finally, a book of video tips.
May 2002, Week 1 --  If your laptop is lost, stolen or strayed, how would you like it to make a phone call and tell you where it's at? Can do. We look at three ways to protect that much too expensive piece of portable hardware. Meanwhile, the new System Mechanic for Windows has a wonderful set of tools to set your system working right again. May not work every time, but it works a lot of the time.  
April 2002, Week 5--  What if the building burns down? Past time for remote backups. System Commander is great for running multiple operating systems. Why would you want to do that? Well how about using those great DOS programs you hated having to lose to Windows? How about a little Linux? Chart the corporate maze with OrgPlus Pro. And above all ... what is a topic number one these days? How to get rid of pop-up ads, that's what. AdSubtract does the job.
April 2002, Week 4 --  Quick and easy ways to print single labels, but it will cost a bit. A very nice pocket hub from Kensington that expands the number of USB ports on Window or Mac computers. Internuts: a music composition site for children; plays too, classical to rock. Acronym finder tells you what that weird group of letters actually stands for. Then ... all about Windows annoyances, and how to get rid of them. And where to find 58,000 printer drivers. Kid stuff: The guys who did Putt Putt and Freddi Fish start their own company and come out with two new efforts.
April 2002, Week 3 --   Microsoft Works works well, and if you don't need its big brother there's a big savings. A new photo quality inkjet printer from Canon. A fast laser printer from Brother for less than $300, a $199 color inkjet that fits in briefcases, and a color laser printer for $3,200. Sharing photos online.
April 2002, Week 2 --  Two new digital cameras bracket the consumer market for high and low resolutions, the low end one being about as cute as you can get. We spend a lot of time on those and then a little bit on PrintMaster Platinum, our favorite for greeting cards and all that other fun stuff.
April 2002, Week 1 --  SanDisk carries flash memory cards to the one-gigabyte level. Microsoft's "Personal Collection" has 600 templates for common uses of Office and they thrown in their photo editing PictureIt program. Internuts for browsing fabric museums: the Cooper-Hewitt and a couple obscure but interesting ones. The Virtual Stamp Club warns of frauds as well as providing "where to find" information. A web site for the history of diseases named for researchers. Downloads: Organize work schedules, or turn your pictures into wallpaper slide shows.
March 2002, Week 4 --   Backups: the soft way and the hard way. The return of the trackball, and not for games. Dell has an auction site where the bidding starts at $89, and some of the computers are still under warranty. We found a great typing instruction program for kids; it's good enough for adults. Meanwhile, work out your aggressive fantasies by building a combat robot.
March 2002, Week 3 --    There are a dozen programs out there claiming and aiming to kill those universally hated pop-up ads, but this one seems to be the best. There are also dozens of programs that generate macros, those captured command routines that can be executed with just a click or a couple of keystrokes. We look at two. Internuts: the journalist's toolbox has links to 7000 useful information sources, and you don't have to be a journalist to use them, Check up on the latest science news at the science network; find a few bugs at insects.org, and check the results of 5000 clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health. We finish up with a couple of nice business programs to download.
March 2002, Week 2 --  Jasc's After Shot is the easiest photo cataloging program we've ever run. (And it stitches pictures together for panoramic views as well.) Nice new firewall product for wireless networks. New mouse knows how to curl its tail. School Zone has best new children's program in a while; you don't always have to have the computer on. Gateway drops its prices below $600.
March 2002, Week 1-- Microsoft's MapPoint hits the spots where your offices and business contacts are, or are going to be; beautiful maps, highly detailed. The company's Visio does the same for organization charts and office floor plans; been around for ages but still the leader. Sonifier can add thousands of sounds to your web site; fly like a jet, land like a ton of bricks. Internuts: A portfolio monitor and more. Word for word translations between dozens of languages.
February 2002, Week 4 --  Alternative inking methods for inkjet printers; how to knock your color printing cost down from $1 a page to six cents. Big savings for color laser printers and regular black and white too. Tons of books on "dot net" coming around; Microsoft is pushing their new web programming language.
February 2002, Week 3 --  Looks like something from a sci-fi movie, but it's really a teleconferencing phone that makes it easy for three or more people to participate in a phone call without always leaning in front of each other. New version of Final Draft, the leading program for writing movie and TV scripts. Studio 7 gets the huzzahs right now for making movies on PCs. Internuts: A site full of stupid statements from people who may or may not actually be stupid, but the evidence is mounting. The Comedy Zone has some funny stuff (I should think so). The Environmental Working Group site will get you all choked up (don't drink the water either). And finally ... an archive of what web sites used to look like before they got gunked up with Java applets. Books: The Macintosh Bible and a book on Mac movies.
February 2002, Week 2 --  EZmeeting makes those teleconference meetings, well ... easy. If it didn't, they better look for a new name. A free address checking service from Dymo, the label maker company, is sort of useful. If you ever wanted to be a game designer, there's a good new starter kit here; it would sure help if you know the C++ programming language. Internuts: a site for checking out changes in the language; another for the history of paper dresses (much more interesting than one would think); a site for half-baked invention ideas (add your own); and last but not least ... a great site for facts for kids, and adults too. Education: Typing Pal Jr. is an excellent teaching program for kids. We end the book of WinZip, more than you ever wanted to know about the popular Windows compression program.
February 2002, Week 1 --  The buzz word of the moment is wireless. Everybody's doin' it, as they say, and it's getting cheaper every month. Meanwhile, you can go online and test yourself to find out what kind of personality you really are, or likely are. The results can be uncannily accurate. Disney Print Artist will keep the kids happy, and busy, for some long afternoons. Two small books of advice on handling junk mail and regular email. 
January 2002, Week 4 --  Okay, we get off of our philosophizing kick and look at some new products; everybody breathes a sigh of relief. ATI's new high-end video display card for the PC rivals the displays from nVidia and offers some extras as well, like bringing in TV stations. Lexmark's new 1200 dpi laser printer lists for less than $300. Go laser. A new low-priced film scanner lets you slip in single slides in one slot or run a whole roll of film through another and have the frames scanned automatically. Internuts: Get some old lunch boxes and other neat stuff from the Chicago Historical Society, and then go read comments from professional writers on how they became professional writers.
January 2002, Week 3 --  There is no subject more guaranteed to draw angry letters from readers than criticizing Apple and any of their products. You would think I had said something rude in church. In short, we criticize the iMac here and point out that Time magazine covers aside, the reality is that Apple's share of the personal computer market has been declining steadily for close to 20 years. Is it possible they're doing something wrong? Perish the thought.
January 2002, Week 2 -- A bit of musing on this the start of the 20th year of writing the On Computers column. Who do we cover the things we cover? And why do we not cover some other things? And why do we tend to skip trade shows, and don't report on every latest gizmo to come along. Most of them will never get any further than a trade show booth, that's why.
January 2002, Week 1 -- This is a moving story. Not a soap opera, but the transfer of files and programs from one PC to another, usually to the new one you just bought. We look at LapLink and PCSync. And then we look at Microsoft's new version of PictureIt combined with Microsoft Publisher. Come look and go nuts; this thing is great. Some great screen savers next, some free and the rest for not much money; very beautiful. Internuts: Two completely fun sites this week. First is stupid.com, which lives up to its name, offering some of the most tasteless gifts and knick-knacks you never want to own. We bought some. Second is ifoundaduck.com, which just as it says is all about searching for ducks -- rubber ones. We close with a new mystery from our favorite girl sleuth: Nancy Drew.

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