Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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August 2000, Week 2 -- Getting Personal about What to Buy



   Readers often ask write to ask for advice on the purchase of a new computer. I'm always reluctant to answer, because it's a tougher question than one might think. Here's a good example why:

   We misplaced the AC adapter for our Gateway laptop computer recently. This is the cable and transformer that allows you to run without a battery when you're in the office and to recharge the battery for taking the computer on the road. Since we were about to take a trip, not having it was a serious matter. We went to a Gateway store for a replacement, and were told we couldn't get one right away. AC adapters, a very common item, had to be ordered directly from the factory, and that would take a few days to a week.


   I was leaving the next day and needed it right away so I turned to a couple of giant computer stores. They sell just about anything made for the digital age but they couldn't sell me an AC adapter for a Gateway, because Gateway has a proprietary input jack that will only work with their own adapter. Now this creates quite a problem, because if that laptop is your only computer and you need it right away ... you're up a creek without a paddle.


   A number of computer companies design their equipment so you have to buy accessories and upgrades from them. This is an old practice to "lock in the customer," as they say. Compaq, IBM and Apple used to be notorious for it, though they've loosened up after much criticism. The practice is common in the auto industry, of course, and something that's considered by all manufacturers, who see a rich profit from that side of the business.


   That brings us back to answering the question of what to buy. If it's important to you to be able to get parts and service quickly from local sources, ask the sales person if you can do that with the brand you're looking at. You'll be surprised how often you can't.


   My own solution is usually to buy generic computers, made to order by a local shop. They use standard components I can get anywhere, and are nearby for upgrades and technical support. You can't do that with laptops, but it works out well for desktop machines. Still, I understand that this approach makes many people nervous and they feel more comfortable with a name brand. Just ask some questions and get some answers to justify that comfort level.


Press releases revisited


   To my surprise, there was a heavy response to our recent column complaining about the poor quality of press releases. That's good news.


   Nearly all the responses were from business people looking for advice on writing their own press releases. I've answered with a column-length guide to better writing, and posted it to our web site instead of taking up column space here. You can read it at Most of the rules and advice apply to the writing of any news article, with a few extra points relating to press releases.



  The Ellis Island Experience

   America remains a nation of immigrants, and for many years most of them first touched land at Ellis Island, New York Harbor. "The Ellis Island Experience," $40 on CD for Windows, chronicles much of that traffic in words and pictures. From South Peak Interactive; web:

  "Generations Grand Suite 8.0," from SierraHome, is the number one selling program for genealogy research. The current version contains information on 350 million names. It's $90, on 31 CDs, including the full register of the first U.S. census in 1800. Phone: 800-757-7707; web:


   You can look up 470 million names at, where you'll also find information supplied by other researchers and questions from those seeking more information about family lines.







-- Contains the "Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology," the largest dictionary of technical and scientific terms ever compiled in English. You can listen to the pronunciation as well.

-- A great site for ethnic food recipes and also a grocery store for exotic ingredients. You can click to buy ingredients on the spot.

-- All Thai, all the time. Great recipes and you can buy the ingredients, all shipped directly from Thailand.

-- Lots of articles that have been reviewed by doctors and researchers. References are cited at the end of each article, a valuable resource.


--; If you haven't started a web site for your business yet, you'll have to do one now in self defense. If you're not on the screen, you're not in the scene. Each of these three sites make it easy to create a decent looking site in an hour or two. Site building is free. You do not have to know HTML (hyper-text markup language).


That's entertainment

 Deus Ex

   The hottest adventure game going right now is "Deus Ex," from Ion Storm. As you work your way through a future world of a fatal epidemic, economic collapse, social chaos and deadly conspiracies, just blasting your way around will not solve the problem (though a lot of times it doesn't hurt, either). This is a thinking gamer's game. Around $40, for Win 95/98; needs accelerator card, 128 MB of RAM, and nearly a gigabyte of hard disk storage. Web: or


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