Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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April 2002, Week 4 -- Hard to Put a Label On It


  Label Printer


   One of the true annoyances of computers and their printers is the difficulty of printing a single label.

   If you have a mailing list with a couple hundred labels to print out, it's no problem. Word processing programs and databases can pump the information out as fast as you feed those self-adhesive label sheets into the printer. But one label, that's a sticking point, so to speak.

   Some computer printers handle the one label problem, some don't. So we use a Dymo label printer. We also have a Seiko label printer. And recently we got a Brother P-Touch 1500, which also prints strip labels for things like warnings or identifying package contents. It's $90, which isn't much really, but then there are additional costs for supplies. Some people would argue that anything more than ten cents is expensive just to make a label.


   Everything about printing single labels seems expensive. The Dymo 330 Turbo LabelWriter we're using costs $250; the Brother PT-9200DX costs $400; the Seiko SLP240 is $300. Even the names make them sound like race cars. But you don't have to go that high: bottom of the line label printers run $80-$90.


   Most of these small printers can put out labels for shipping packages as well as the small envelope address size. They save time and frustration and they're worth it for that alone. They are all able to add company logos to a label, some with color, and print several styles of bar codes. Best of all, they automatically shrink addresses and typefaces to fit the label; no more retyping or working out abbreviations to make things fit. So they seem expensive at first, but they're worth it.


   Label printer web sites:;;


USB: 2B or not 2B.

  pocket hub


   The $50 "Pocket Hub" from Kensington solves a problem we have on every computer we own. I bet a lot of other people have it as well: there aren't enough USB ports.

   USB, which stands for Universal Serial Bus, has become, well ... nearly universal. The problem is, most computers come with only one or two USB ports, and almost all the new computer accessories come with USB connectors. In fact, our IBM NetVista machine accepts only USB connectors, so the days of being able to plug something into a parallel or serial port are fast disappearing.


   The Pocket Hub adds four USB ports to any computer that has at least one USB port. Plug it into that one port and bingo, as somebody or other once said, you have four USB ports. We had a USB expansion box from Belkin last year but that didn't work well. It also required software. The Kensington Pocket Hub needs no extra software and works just by plugging it in.


   If you don't have any USB ports on an old computer, you can buy an expansion card that adds USB ports to PCs for less than $25. On PCs, you must be running Windows 98 or higher for the operating system to recognize USB.


   USB2 cards are also available now for around $50-$75. This is a recent upgrade to the USB standard and it increases the data transmission speed by 40 times, making it the equal of the FireWire system developed by Apple. Higher speed is always useful but especially so for digital photography, video and music. Though no computers are being sold with USB2 right now, it figures they will be soon. In any event you can add it for relatively little cost.



  Symphony kids

--  A wonderful site where children can compose their own melodies on their own keyboards and post them here. It's a kind of music laboratory for young people to learn about composition. Is it time for "A little night music?" The director of the San Francisco Symphony offers advice. A "radio" on the site plays one-minute selections from many composers. The site opens with Aaron Copland's majestic "Fanfare for the common man."


--  Never be thrown by an obscure acronym again. Don't know what NGO stands for? It's "Non-Governmental Organization," a class of organizations that may or may not actually be sponsored by a government. It's also the international code for the Nagoya, Japan, Airport.


--  The "Windows Annoyances" book from O'Reilly & Associates are based on the tips and tribulations found on this site. What to do if you hate the "start menu?" How to get rid of the little yellow speaker on the system tray. Add and remove destinations from the "send to" menu. All this and trouble-shooting too.


--  Got an odd printer? Look here for all the drivers fit to print; 58,000 of them in fact.


Kid Stuff



  "Moop & Dreadly," for ages 5 and up, and "Ollo," 3 and up, are from a new game company: Plaid Banana. What makes this worth noting is that the company founders were formerly with Humongous Software and created "Backyard Baseball," "Putt Putt" and "Freddi Fish." Those three are among the best children's programs we ever ran, and Backyard Baseball in particular is a classic. In certain circles, famous programmers are like rock stars, and these are them. Their new efforts are $20 each, for Windows and Macintosh

   NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at  or