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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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January 2000, Week 2 -- Mirror, Mirror, on the Ball

   A nice piece of PC hardware brings mirrored hard drives into the price range of any business. Two IDE drives, the most common type, can be "mirrored" for less than $250.

   Mirrored drives are just what they sound like: two disk drives running simultaneously, each of them with exactly the same information. If one drive goes down, the business doesn't go down with it; everything continues to function normally. Hard disk drives have become cheap enough that it's now perfectly feasible to have an extra drive, even a large one, in a PC.

 

   For customers and employees alike, it will seem as if nothing has happened if the main drive fails. The second drive kicks in immediately. There is a warning buzzer and blinking light on the controller that alerts an operator that the main drive has failed. Nothing else is required. The disk duplication protocol that provides this kind of protection is known as "RAID, Level One." It is well known in the industry and has been around for several years. Up till now, it was expensive and generally restricted to so-called SCSI (pronounced "scuzzy") drives, which handle data faster than IDE drives.

 

   DupliDisk comes in several configurations, ranging in price from $225-$250. That does not include the cost of a second disk drive, which would typically run another $200-$250 for the four gigabyte and up variety. The higher priced controllers fit into one of the bays on a PC case. This is completely plug and play, as it's called. Setup is a cinch and the operation is foolproof.

 

   The DupliDisk mirroring system can handle up to four disk drives and will work with any PC operating system. This is very, very nice, one of the most sensible business computing additions we've seen in a long time. Arco company phone info: 954-925-2688; fax: 954-925-2889; e-mail: arco@arcoide.com; web: www.arcoide.com.

 

A nice bundle of business goodies

 

 Fortune

   "Fortune Home & Business 99" is a nice little bundle of Windows business programs at a reasonable price. For less than $50 you get a customer contact manager, sales and billing database, label maker, e-mail manager, software for scanning business cards and VersaCheck.

   Basically it's enough to run a small business with little or no other software. Several businessmen have told me they particularly like VersaCheck, which allows you to design, code and print your own checks. The program comes with a dozen blank sheets of checks for this purpose.

 

All in all, there's nothing earth-shaking here, but a pretty nice package and easy to use. "Fortune" is from MIPS Dataline America; phone: 619-613-6686; fax: 619-613-6688; web: www.mipsdla.com.

Internuts

-- www.asian-trader.com  A major new site aimed at resellers and manufacturers looking for partners and suppliers in Asia.

 

-- www.hotfiles.com  Search for some neat new free programs and web links: "Automated Composing" (the computer writes the music; you get to set the parameters); "Web-cam control center;" and "Driver-Lynx," which finds the latest drivers for PC peripherals.

-- www.geomapping.com  Lots of links to sources for maps, ancient and modern: The Harvard and Yale map collections, etc.

-- www.plumbnet.com  All about plumbing. Tips, new products, advice from plumbers ... a site that's flushed with pride.

 

-- www.historybuff.com  An eclectic collection of information about American history, broken into easily searched subjects, like the old west, civil war, Presidents, etc. There are crossword puzzles and other trivia. Interesting for the detail presented, but spotty and lacking illustrations.

 

-- www.bigyellow.com  Yellow pages for the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. Tons of information here, a little hard to ferret out and sometimes kind of slow, but it's in there somewhere.

 

-- www.gizmocity.com  A site for, well ... gizmos.

 

Education

 

   The "20th Century Day by Day," from DK Interactive Learning," on CD, $30 for Windows. An interesting idea - covering an entire century, except for the last few months, as a day by day series of news stories. By and large it works, and this is one of the most interesting history CDs we've come across. DK phone: 888-342-5357; web: www.dk.com.

 

Entertainment

 Ultima IX Ascension

 

   Two of the great ones are back.

   We'll start with "Ultima IX: Ascension," for Win 95/98, from Origin Systems. This is the last (so the company says) in a series that stretches back more than 15 years to the first Ultima adventure that ran on an Apple II. It was terrific. Later sequels got mixed reviews, some nearly as good as the first, some needlessly complex. This last one is spectacular, and remember, we're looking at computer game history here.

 Shanghai Second Dynasty 

   And then comes "Shanghai, the second dynasty," for Windows and Power Macintosh, from Activision. After Solitaire this is probably the most popular game ever written. It contains classic Mah-Johgg and about 150 variations thereof. This game has also been distributed in a much curtailed version called Taipei. Looks better than ever, lots of fun.

Books

 

   "The "Astronomer's Computer Companion," by Foust and LaFon; $40 from No Starch Press www.nostarch.com. A guide to web sites and software, along with nuts and bolts advice, examples for keeping a log of sightings and doing astronomic calculations.

 

NOTE: Readers can search more than three years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com  or bobschwab@aol.com.