Bob and Joy Schwabach

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December 2006, Week 4  


Almost Free Conference Calls

      There's a new service at that lets you connect group phone calls anywhere in the world for charges ranging from 2.7 to 16 cents a minute. We tried it, and the sound quality was excellent.

    In operation it seems like an old-fashioned switchboard: You enter your number through the computer keyboard, then the number you want to call, and click "connect." If you want to connect by telephone instead of through theConference CallsWeb site there is a small increase in the charges. Calls are billed by the minute, regardless of day or night. You can buy however many minutes you want in advance and add to them if necessary while on the call. First-time users can try  for free for 100 minutes.

   There is a similar service offered by Skype (, which is free to Skype users. This allows up to five people to teleconference on an Internet call.

Printing Labels Avery Wizard

   Avery has a new version of Avery Wizard, its label-printing program, which you can download from its Web site ( for free. We both tried it, and Bob found the Wizard was out to lunch, or at least out of magic, because it wouldn't load at all on his brand-new HP Compaq computer. Turned out that you had to have all Microsoft Office components installed, not just Word, to make it work. It also occupies a thumping 77 megabytes, which seems like an awful lot of code for printing labels.

   The program did load in Joy's computer, though it took her awhile to find the tiny red "A" that launches the software from within Word, Excel or Outlook. The program lets you import address lists to make dozens of projects, such as mailing labels, filing labels and note cards. We loved the holiday postcards with snowmen.  

  Since almost every package of labels, business card stock, name tags, etc. that you see in office supply stores is made by Avery, this is a good way to go.

   If you don't have Microsoft Office installed, then a better way to go is Avery's Design Pro 5 Limited software. This is also a free download from the Avery Web site. It takes about a third less space on your hard drive, and we had no difficulties with it.  

E-mail in Context

Clear Context  has an $80 program called IMS Pro that works with Microsoft Outlook to, well, put your mail in context. It also offers a free version with slightly fewer features.

   So what are the features? IMS scans the e-mail in Outlook and groups it by frequency of communication. A lot of back-and-forth notes between you and a friend are automatically grouped together in a continuing thread of conversation. Priority levels are applied according to the importance you assign to certain e-mails or its own analysis of what's important. We let it make those decisions for us on a bunch of e-mails and to our mild surprise it did put many of the more important e-mail contacts high on the priority list. Priority communication lists are color-coded for quick visual pickup.

 You can postpone any incoming e-mails with what the program calls a "defer" button. This is for e-mails where you say to yourself: "I'll deal with that later." You can even select the "later." Pick a time and the program removes that e-mail from the current list and brings it back in at a later time or date. We were able to use all of these features in the free version of IMS.

Internuts is a how-to site for home repairs, construction and crafts projects. Bob Vila himself used to host "This Old House," a home repair program on public television. What interested us most about this site is the section called "My Projects," where people show off their personal projects and describe how they did it and what they used.

Spam by the Numbers  

·  A trip to is enough to depress the Good Humor Man. Spam, it notes, accounts for more than 90 percent of all e-mail. This is a huge drain on Internet resources.  

·  The Times of London estimates that one in every 12 home computers in Great Britain has been taken over by spammers and is used to transmit their e-mails.  

·  According to, just 10 spammers create more than 80 percent of all spam. The United States is the leading producer, followed by China and Russia. The 10 worst individual spammers are listed here, some with their pictures. Leading the pack is a Russian who goes by several names, one of which is Alex Blood.  


   "Ultima Online, the 9th Anniversary Collection" is $20 for the PC, plus $13 a month for online membership. "Ultima" occupies a special position in adventure games. It was the first successful MMORPG, as they're called. TheUltima Online letters stand for "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game." It's a mouthful, but the game pretty much launched a genre that is now dominated by the popular "EverQuest." "Ultima Online" itself still has about 135,000 players, half of whom are in Japan.

     The initial "Ultima" game goes back more than 20 years and was the first large graphical computer adventure game. Its creator, Richard Garriott, was a Texas teenager, the son of an astronaut. Both the single-player game and the present online version are from Origin Systems.

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