Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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August 2004, Week 5 -- New Skins for Old Disks




   We've hadn't seen these before but they sure seem useful. They're clear plastic covers that snap onto CD and DVD disks to prevent them from being smudged or scratched. The disks can be played with the covers on or off.

   After renting movies on DVDs recently we found that some of them, about one in four, froze while being played. We thought the problem was the DVD player itself, and exchanged it for a new one. But after some examination we realized that the disks had very tiny marks or pieces of dirt on the playing surface. When you think about it, these rental disks are handled by many people, often by children, and getting smudged or dirty is not remarkable. When we carefully cleaned the offending disks they played with no problems.


   For your own disks, particularly video game disks, it would be a good idea to cover the playing side with one of these clear shields. They're thin and snap securely onto the disk. We got a package of protective skins made by "d_skin Protective Disc Skins." A package of 20 costs $20 from Best Buy but you may be able to find a better deal. When you're looking for any product it's a good idea to start with searches at, and


Multi-function video display

   We got one of the new Samsung multipurpose monitors that serve as either computer monitor or TV, and can even do both simultaneously. It's called the "SyncMaster 192MP" and retails for $1,129; we found it for $807, after rebate, at

   This is a flat panel 19-inch LCD display. Image resolution is 1280 by 1024 pixels, which, believe us, is plenty sharp. The unit weighs about 20 pounds and comes with its own power supply. On the back are sockets for connecting a computer (PC or Mac), a cable or rabbit ears antenna to pick up TV signals, CD and DVD players and VCR cassette player. The monitor is also HDTV ready. Web:


   The screen can handle computer and video at the same time, showing a picture-in-picture in one corner while you're working on your own programs. The picture can come from any video source. You do not have to plug in a separate video card for this, it's handled by the software that comes with the monitor. The monitor has received nothing but rave reviews from users who have early models. Interestingly, this multipurpose monitor costs less than the smaller, computer only, Samsung monitors that we bought three years ago.


Learn direct mail and other skills


   Hewlett Packard offers free online classes on how to run a direct mail campaign. We took a quick look and saw the course was run by a professional. Other free courses cover real estate marketing, Linux, Photoshop, Windows XP, etc. It's hard to lose for free. Web:


Walk-around presentation tool

   We came across an interesting device for anyone using a computer for presentations. It's a radio control mouse with a built-in laser pointer. The receiving module is tiny and plugs into any USB port.

   It's awkward for anyone speaking to a group to be locked into place because they have to be next to the computer. This way they can walk around and gesture. No mouse pad is required because the wireless device uses a trackball instead of a standard mouse arrangement; a trackball is like a mouse upside down, so you can move the ball with your thumb. The "Wireless Multimedia Presenter" is $80 from Targus


Shooting pool




   "Live Billiards Deluxe," from TerraGame, is far and away the best billiards simulation we've ever seen. It is so good we would rank it as both a game and a teaching tool.

   Whenever you line up a shot, traces appear on the screen showing where the ball is going to go and where other balls it strikes are going to go. Adjust your shot slightly and the lines adjust as well. In a short time you begin to learn what kind of angle you have to take with the cue ball to get other balls to go where you want and how to use what experienced players call "english," which is adjusting the cue ball's spin. Despite the title, however, you can't play billiards, only pool.

   TerraGame is one of several companies that make games available to play online or purchase for use offline. Live Billiards Deluxe costs $20 for unlimited play at home and one month of playing online against others. Consult the web site for charges on other games, like Scrabble, Poker, Monopoly, Risk, role-playing games, math, etc. There are around 400 of them, for children and adults. Web:


Internuts: Sharing


--  This is the official site of the Shareware Industry Conference. Each year they give out awards for the best shareware programs in many categories. It's a good place to go to find new shareware that's already been vetted, so to speak. In other words, it works well and is not known for causing problems -- which is more than we can say for a lot of programs from well known companies.


--  Has 5,000 shareware and freeware titles in 280 categories. Some of these, like SpySweeper and SmartDraw, are well regarded.


NOTE: Some shareware programs can cause problems running other programs on your computer and a few place ads and spyware. You can read user comments to gauge the risk and you should always have spyware removal programs on your machine just in case. Don't get paranoid, however; most shareware causes no problems.