Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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August 2001, Week 1 -- Holding


 On Hold Plus


   You can have callers listen to music or a message while on hold with "On-Hold Plus," a $399 device from Intellitouch Communications.

   The box handles up to four phone lines and when a caller is put on hold it can play music from a standard CD or you can record repeating messages. It has become common to repeat instructions or product options when a caller is on hold, though I much prefer music. The small box can either sit on a desk or be mounted on the wall.

This little business convenience was chosen "Best of Show" at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The show is the world's largest of its type. Phone info: 800-839-7277 or 858-457-3300; web:


The next voice you hear ...


   Your Windows computer can read you a book or your e-mail, in a male or female voice, using a $69 program called "iSpeak" from Fonix Corp.


   The program reads any text and could be useful for anyone from the handicapped to students. Some people like to hear the same text they are reading, for better retention. The text files can also be saved in the popular MP3 format and played back later from any MP3 compatible player.


   Fonix phone info: 801-553-6600; web:


Things to come: paper cell phones



   Stick around and you will soon be inundated with disposable cell phones. Several manufacturers are about to come out with cell phones that you use for a set number of calls and then throw away. Prices are expected to range between $10 and $25. The cheapest phones will be made of coated paper.

   Expensive cell phones that allow the user to access the Internet, collect e-mail, get instant messaging, etc., just aren't selling. It turns out that most people use cell phones just to make phone calls. What a surprise. We never wasted any ink writing about the fancy cell phones before because they never struck us worth any ink. Come on ... are large numbers of people really going to stand around on the street and access the Internet on a one-inch liquid crystal screen. What really amazes me is the number of executives and companies who will approve production of a product they would never buy themselves.


Computer Instruction


   The "Professor Teaches Microsoft Office XP" is a $40 set of nine CDs that cover tutorials for all the new Microsoft Office programs that will come out with the new XP operating system, such as Excel and Word 2002. The tutorials do not cover the operating system itself, since that has not been released yet in final form. CD tutorials for Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows ME are included, however.

   The maker is Individual Software, a company well regarded in this field. Phone info: 800-331-3313; web:







   The distinction between professional and amateur movies becomes thinner each year, and a lot of companies are aware of this. At least half a dozen companies have video editing kits that let you arrange scenes, do dissolves, zooms and other tricks of the trade. A new one that impressed us recently is "MovieWorks," from Interactive Solutions.

   The program is aimed primarily at business and educational users. You can use built-in paint and animation tools combined with video and audio. The program can be used to make business presentation or educational courses that can be output to either tape or CD. The learning curve seems to be about two hours.

   MovieWorks is $149, for either Windows or Macintosh. Phone info: 925-734-0730; web:



--  Hundreds of magazines, arranged by subject, laid out in rack form as if you were browsing at a news stand. Clicking on a magazine takes you to its web site. There you can peruse the table of contents and read individual articles. For many magazines you can also search their archives for past articles. Handy.

--  Degrees and courses online, from reputable universities: University of Illinois, New York University, Florida State, University of Maryland, etc. Typical fees are $30-$50 a course. These are much more thorough than the freebie tutorials usually found online.


--, and  Links to factory outlet stores, where manufacturers typically unload merchandise at much reduced prices. Examples: Brooks Brothers, Lands' End, Sharper Image, J. Crew, Hickory Farms, etc.




-- Everything is $10. Some pretty odd stuff, like pirate flags, cast iron nun bottle openers, and hula guys instead of girls.

--  How fuel cells work; has lots of links to other sources of information.

--  Site for the International Human Powered Vehicle Association. Everything from bicycles to ornithopters (bird-like flight) that work by pedaling as fast as you can (Don't take any breaks.) Engineers from many places contribute plans and ideas.




 Dreamweaver 4 The Missing Manual


   Macromedia's "Dreamweaver" and its ancillary programs rule the roost among professional web designers.

   O'Reilly's "Dreamweaver 4: the Missing Manual," by Dave Macfarland, should fill in any blanks. The missing manual series is aptly named and covers many topics. A lot of programs have manuals that are so difficult to follow they might as well be missing in the first place. This is not completely the fault of the writers. The book is $25, from O'Reilly Books; 800-998-9938; web:

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