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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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December 2005, Week 4 -- Talk, Talk, Talk

 

 Chatterbox

 


   Another advance in the history of communication came our way recently in the form of Chatterbox, a small device that provides a speakerphone for Internet phone calls.

 

   The VoSky Chatterbox is $30 from Actiontec, and it works with the popular Skype phone service for the Internet. The Chatterbox is about the size of a computer mouse. Just plug it into your desktop or laptop, and after you've downloaded the free Skype software from www.skype.com, you're set to talk. If you're calling fellow Skype users, the calls are free -- anywhere in the world. You can also call non-Skype users by signing up for six months of service for $10. That's not $10 a month, but $10 total. Connection costs run about 2 cents a minute.
   
     The Chatterbox is a full duplex speakerphone, which means you do not have to push a button to talk and then let go to listen but can just carry on a normal conversation. You need to connect to a PC with Windows 2000 or XP, and that machine should have a high-speed Internet connection. We found the sound quality good even when we were standing a dozen feet away from the device. The Actiontec site is www.actiontec.com.
   
     If you want to be able to talk and walk instead of staying near the computer, you can use the Linksys CIT200, which works just like a cordless phone. Like other cordless phones it has a base station, which plugs into the computer.
   

 

   The CIT200 costs a little less than $100 from discounters like buy.com It includes a speakerphone, and reception was good. As with the Chatterbox, you must have software like Skype.

 

 

Wi Fi Phone

Walk About, Talk About
 
   Vonage, an Internet phone service, has extended Internet calling to the cell phone world with a pocket-sized unit called the UTStarcom F1000. The Vonage phone works by accessing the Internet from wi-fi Internet hot spots, which are becoming ubiquitous in cities. We commonly find them in hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, schools, libraries and many office buildings. You can hardly go anywhere without having an access point.
 
     Find more info at the Vonage site: www.vonage.com. The phone's cost after rebate is $80.
   
  Escape Without a Scratch
   
Scratch-less Discs    Don't scratch that CD unless it itches.
 
   Scratch-Less Disk Industries has come out with -- what else? -- scratchless CDs. They're not totally scratchless, of course (if you put some muscle into it, you can scratch them), but they are pretty tough. The disks have tiny bumps around the edge and a hard polymer coating from General Electric on the playing surface. We hope Blockbuster Video is listening because about a third of the movie disks we rent either have scratches or smears of peanut butter and jelly.
 
     For right now the scratchless disks are available in CD-R only; CD-RW and DVDs will be out shortly. We found the CDs at Amazon.com  and jr.com  for $9 for a pack of 10. These should be good for schools, libraries and anywhere else a lot of people handle disks.
   
  A Really Nice New Search Tool
   
     We tried a new toolbar for an international metasearch engine called Ixquick. "Metasearch" means it searches other search services with your question and then filters the results to provide answers that seem most relevant. This cuts out a lot of junk.
   
     The toolbar is free from the Ixquick Web site: www.ixquick.com. After downloading, it appears unobtrusively at the top of the screen for whatever Internet browser you're using. Searches can be made in any of 17 languages, including Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
   
     Ixquick is the fastest people finder we've ever tried. We typed in the name of an aunt, clicked on the Phone Book tab and "Voila!" -- two names popped up, one of which was right. You can also do reverse searches, what we used to call the "trick book" back in the old newspaper days. Type in a phone number and you get the name and address. This works for individuals and businesses in 33 countries.
   
 

 

InstaSong 

 

 

A Song in the Air
 
   For $5 you can order a personalized song from www.instasong.com, to be delivered to your loved one's e-mail address. We tried it and while the song was not likely to be climbing the hit charts any time soon, it wasn't bad.
 
   You fill out a brief form with pet names and other personal information that can be incorporated into the song. The recipient has 45 days to click on a link and listen. If you want to send it on a CD or cassette, and get a printout of the lyrics on parchment, go to www.giftsongs.com.
   
  Books: Panic in the Streets
   
 My Job Went to India

 

 

 

 

   "My Job Went to India, And All I Got Was This Lousy Book" by Chad Fowler; $20 from Pragmatic Bookshelf (www.pragmaticprogrammer.com).
 
   The clever title of this book hits a hot button for the United States. We hardly see a day's news that doesn't have some story about job flight, and then there are the weekend think pieces about how America is falling behind in math and science. Pulling our hair out seems to be the new national pastime, but in fact, things aren't that bad.
 
   The Investor's Business Daily recently cited a study by Duke University that found that some countries (particularly China and India) typically list auto mechanics and graduates from two-year colleges as "engineers." If you count only four-year engineering and computer science degrees, the U.S. had 137,000 last year, and India, with three times the U.S. population, had 112,000. There's still time to panic.