Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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August 2003, Week 2 -- Backpacking



    A new Backpack solves the problem of which path to take, and we're not talking about hiking.

   This Backpack is a portable DVD reader and writer, and unlike most backpacks, it weighs less than three pounds. But wait, as they say in the late night TV commercials, that's not all you get. Pause for a little background music.

   The are two incompatible formats for creating and reading DVD disks. One is DVD+RW, the other is DVD-RW. The nearly identical names just adds to the confusion. MicroSolutions' latest Backpack has the ungainly designation of Model 224010, but the very gainly ability to read and write either DVD format. As a very nice additional feature it can also create and read CDs, including music CDs.


   You can play movie DVDs on this Backpack, but only if it's connected to the computer, not to a television set. The reason is simply that you can't connect it to a television set. The only connection port is for USB-2.0. And the reason for that is you need the high-speed, 16MB a second, transmission rate of USB-2 to watch the movie. Otherwise you get that jerky, frame by frame look.


   We wrote up a hard drive version of the Backpack a couple of years ago and it drew a lot of reader interest. This one should be even more popular, since the reason for both of them is to provide portable storage. In the case of the new DVD Backpack that storage will be more or less permanent -- and large: A CD provides about 600MB (megabytes) of storage. But a DVD disk has room for 4.7 gigabytes. For a reference point, the CD alone can hold all of the Encyclopedia Britannica with room left over.


   The only complaints we've been able to uncover is that laboratory benchmark tests show that the write and read speeds for the drive are not as high as claimed on the package. Okay. This doesn't bother me. It's never bothered me. In real life the differences amount to a few seconds. Even if it takes a minute longer than you expect to create a CD or DVD, so what? I always have papers to go through and mail to check. I welcome the time.


   The "DVD plus or minus RW Backpack" works with Windows 98, Me, 2000 and XP and has a list price of $300. It is packaged with recording software and a nine ounce power supply. Web info:


Portable hard drives


   If you'd rather have a portable hard drive, there's nothing more portable than a "Pockey." It works with Windows, Mac or Linux computers.

   The 20 gigabyte version I've had for several years costs $180 retail, weighs a few ounces and fits in the palm of your hand. An 80-gigabyte version sells for $450. Think of it as a laptop substitute, lighter and cheaper. One user noted he carries drive images (that means everything on the drive, including the operating system) for six different computers as he goes around his company restoring employees' computers to their original state. He also uses the Pockey to save their personal files so those can be restored as well. A disk jockey uses his Pockey to store MP3 files and carry everything he's going to play that night. He just drops it in his pocket and goes to work.


   All the Pockeys have USB connections. They don't need a power supply because they draw power from the computer's USB port. Pockeys are made by Pocketec



Geyser Study

-    If you've ever been in hot water you might want to check out conditions at this site; it will make you feel better. This is the home site of GOSA, the Geyser Observation and Study Association.

--  There are several button choices here, including one titled "Chicago." Fortunately, they're all fun. "Brain Candy" has witty quips, like "Behind every great man there's a surprised woman." "Trivia" let us know that a piece of gold the size of a matchbook can be pounded thin enough to cover a tennis court.

 Dead Mall

--  A site that does autopsies on dead shopping malls and goes through their past, present and future. Insider definition: people in the business call malls with annual sales of less than $150 a square foot, "Grayfields." A curiosity: the Dixie Square mall in Harvey, Illinois, was the one seen in the mall car chase scene in "The Blues Brothers."

Publish or perish


   Ever want to publish a book? My own private poll found that of 112 people questioned, 111 wanted to write a book. The other one was in a coma.

   Try  for an outfit that got the endorsement of the CEO of bookseller Barnes & Noble. They charge a few hundred dollars, but provide design, editorial advice, marketing services, manufacturing and distribution. Authors receive a 20 percent royalty on sales. Some well known authors use this service for reprints.



Email Rules


   "E-MAIL RULES: A Business Guide to Managing Policies, Security and Legal Issues for E-Mail and Digital Communication," by Flynn and Kahn; $20, Amacom Press The title is long but the subject is right and tight and in the news. E-mail correspondence can be subpoenaed and has proven to be pivotal in recent law suits costing businesses millions and, in the case of the tobacco industry, even billions of dollars. As they used to say in World War II: "Loose lips sink ships." Boats float the same way today.

   NOTE: Readers can search past columns on our web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or