Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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January 2001, Week 3 -- Speech and Photos, Compressed

   Voice Pilot's "Hear-Look" lets you add speech and pictures to your e-mail. There's nothing remarkable in that, but what this program provides is the compression that makes such files quick to transmit.

   Ordinarily, adding three minutes of speech and a typical uncompressed photo to an e-mail takes around 20-25 minutes to send and at least as long to receive. More pictures or sound, more time. Using Hear-Look, a 6.7 MB (megabyte) file was reduced to 167 kB (kilobytes) and the transmission time was reduced to 47 seconds.


   The downside is that the recipient of the e-mail has to have the decoding software from Hear-Look to be able to view and hear the attachment. That software comes with the main program and can be made part of the e-mail but it adds close to a megabyte to the transmission. That only has to be done once, however, for each e-mail recipient. Since most people frequently send files to the same address, it becomes a minor issue. Whenever you want someone new to receive the compressed files, however, you must start by sending the decompression file with it.


   There is some loss of definition whenever you reduce a file, but the program allows you to test the compressed result for clarity before sending. We tried it and it appeared to work well without much learning or operating time.


   Hear-Look is $50 for Windows 95 and up. Phone: 877-864-2374 or 305-412-8217; web:


Shareware Junkies


Every year there's a kind of "best of breed" vote at


   For any of you unfamiliar with the term, "shareware" refers to programs which are not distributed through normal retail channels but are available as free trials, to be paid for later, often on the honor system, if you want to continue their use. A related area, "freeware," covers programs which are distributed free. Some very fine programs are available in both these categories and a few of them have gone on to major commercial success. The popular graphics program "Paint Shop Pro," for example, distributed by Jasc Software, began as shareware.


   The overall winner of best shareware program for the past year was "SmartDraw," a drawing program for creating flow charts, floor plans, maps, organization charts, etc. Interestingly, I first reviewed this program more than 10 years ago, when it was commercially available as a retail package. So it has gone the other way, from commercial to shareware. It is an excellent program, available at


    The best Macintosh program was "BBEdit," a text editor from Bare Bones Software:


   The best program for DOS was "As-Easy-As," from Trius, web: This is a spreadsheet with 3D graphics and 150 built-in financial, scientific and statistical functions.


  The best freeware program was "Enigma Browser," a web browser for Windows 95 and up, available at It's worth noting that some web browsers conflict with other programs, particularly small utilities that you might find useful and wish to keep. Changing to a different web browser will often let you use the previously offending utility.


The world at a glance has 12 terabytes (a terabyte is a trillion bytes) of Earth imagery which can be accessed from your own web site. Pick any spot and an aerial or satellite view comes up. There is a charge for this but it comes to only a few cents per picture. The picture comes in as a compressed image, so you won't be able to expand it without losing definition. Globexplorer: 925-280-8765; web:




-- An education by e-mail. They will send you a daily e-mail of 300 words (about one full page of text) on any or all of 44 topics from their menu. We logged in and browsed through brief biographies of Confucius and Thomas Jefferson. The site also sells books on the selected topics, which is obviously how they make their money, and that's perfectly all right. The topics are covered by editors from major publishing houses. The new Asian History section, for example, is handled by a senior editor from the Book of the Month Club.


-- The makers of the popular Norton Utilities provide free virus and security checks on your system from this web site. Log on and they will check for the latest viruses and tell you how vulnerable your system is to break-ins.

--  Links to the best places for finding a job or posting a job.

--  Links to museums, zoos and special exhibits from around the world.


--  A source for Chinese, Japanese and Korean word processors. Has free web browser in those languages.




   "Red Shift 4" adds more features to what was already the best astronomy program on the market. New in this version is the ability to examine an event from several points of view. An eclipse of the Sun seen from Earth, for example, can be seen as it appears from the Sun and the Moon as well.

   The program plots the movement of 18 million celestial objects in real time, as they appeared at any time between 4713 B.C. and projecting into the future until 9999 A.D. A "movie" recorder lets you create videos of your own journeys through time and space.


   Red Shift is for Windows 95 and up, $50 list price. Phone info: 908-598-4755; web:  and


NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or