Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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August 2006, Week 2

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FREE NEWS AND VIEWS

                 
   The News: You can use Google for an easy way to see summaries of all your favorite Web sites and blogs. Go to www.google.com/reader and enter the search terms for news you want summarized. These can be anything from what's in a particular newspaper or group of newspapers, to columns like ours or one-man opinion blogs, sometimes called "rants."

    Put in a search term and a list of sites with that subject will come up. Click to subscribe to those you want. Nearly all are free, though a few might carry a charge. Compared with other so-called "RSS" feeds we've looked at, this one is much easier to use.

   The Views: A helpful reader reminded us of a site we found a year ago and then forgot. It's www.irfanview.com and what it has is a great free program for converting image and multimedia files between formats. You can also use the software to create slide shows, play movies and process a batch of photos all at once.

Microsoft's Homework Helper

   The new 2007 edition of Microsoft Student is out and ready for the start of the new school year. The price range is $60 to $70, the same as last year, andMicrosoft Student 2007 there are more new tools for math, science and languages. There is a $20 mail-in rebate. This package has always been a good deal for the money, and it gets better and better. The fact is, we love it, and we think everyone should have it.

    The core of Microsoft Student is Encarta. This started out 25 years ago as a kind of junk encylopedia bought from Funk & wagnals, but it has been gradually improved and enlarged to the point that it is now our first choice for reference material. The environmental section for kids is better than reading a book on the subject and very fair-minded. Excellent gamest each geography, science, math and languages. The jobs and careers section has templates for resumes and introductory letters. 

   An interesting thing happens to your Internet Explorer Web browser after you load Microsoft Student: An Encarta box appears on the right of the screen. Any search term you enter for searching the Web is also entered in the Encarta box. Click on that box and you are taken to the online version of Encarta, where the information can provide crucial background for what you are picking up from the Web.

   Other parts of Student teach you how to create charts and graphs in Microsoft Excel and Word. A project section teaches you how to create brochures, time lines and posters. There's plenty more and lots of info at www.microsoft.com.

 Asking For Help

 ·  www.askmehelpdesk.com has user forums on just about any topic you can think of. Here you can find out helpful things like how to network two computers using a cable that connects them, and how to fill out forms on screen. The Web site has free answers to questions in 300 topics. General areas include Computers, Education, Family Life & Health, Arts & Leisure, Business & Careers, Law, Science and Home & Garden.

Credit Card Guard

  ·  www.zillabar.com provides a toolbar for your Web browser that protects you against sites that try to steal your credit card numbers, passwords and other information you want to keep private. You type the term or terms you wantZILLAbar to search on, and the ZILLAbar toolbar gives you onscreen alerts whenever you encounter a risky site. Options on the toolbar let you blacklist any risky sites and automatically erase your search history. ZILLAbar uses the Lycos search engine for browsing the Web; it is similar to Google and Yahoo.

It's a Hummer

·  www.lala.com is a music CD swap site that lists 1.8 million titles, about LALAtwice as many as you would find at Amazon.com. Titles range from Bach to garage bands. You start out by registering with the site and providing a list of the CDs you have.

   As soon as you have made your first CD available for swapping, you are entitled to order a CD for a fee of $1 plus 75 cents for shipping. This is quite different from purchase sites, like iTunes, where you pay $1 for a single song; here you pay only $1 for a whole album. Often, the album cover for the CD is displayed next to the offering.

   If someone requests one of your CDs, you are sent a shipping kit with a prepaid mailing envelope. This is similar to the familiar red envelopes used by Netflix. We listed four CDs we never listen to anymore, and all of them were requested immediately. Joy then went looking for CDs featuring the Mambo King, Perez Prado. She found 288 titles; it's hard to imagine you could find that many Prado titles in a music store, online or not.

   Twenty percent of the profits from LaLa.com are used to provide insurance and legal aid for musicians.

The Numbers Report

   Sites devoted to job searches, career development and career training have drawn one-third of all the European online population. This makes it the No. 1 attraction among Web subjects so far this year. This report comes from ComScore research: www.comscore.com.


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