Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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January 2003, Week 2 --  All Keyed Up




 Illuminated Keyboard

   For $100 you can get an illuminated keyboard from Eluminx. My initial reaction was "who cares?" But that was dead wrong; this thing is great!

   Have you ever worked with the computer late at night, not wanting to turn on the room lights and struggling to see the keys? Have you ever worked late at the office and had to turn on all the lights even though you were the only one there? My wife said she used to work in an office about the size of a football field and one woman often came in late and worked late; she had to turn on lights for the whole room just to work in her cubicle. And then there are some people who just don't like the overhead fluorescent lighting found in almost all offices.


   The keyboard I tested gave off a pale blue light, which glowed softly through clear plastic keys. A choice of six key colors is available, and two case colors: black or light gray. It's a standard IBM keyboard and the key action feels better than most keyboards I've used. I admit it: I'm a nut about keyboards, and most of what you get with new computers is junk. It is an absolute pleasure to use one with a high quality feel. Very nice. The keyboard is available from


Got an idea?

 Cafe Press

   CafePress is the cyberspace place to go if you've got an idea for novelty T-shirts, sweatshirts, calendars, cups, tote bags, caps, posters, etc. In other words, all the stuff that we amuse ourselves with and announce our particular choice of heroes to the world.


A lunchbox from

   For example, you can buy a T-shirt or lunch box emblazoned with the name and logo of Miskatonic University, a place that exists only in the stories by fantasy horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. You can sell such oddities, without going to the trouble of having them manufactured or dealing with the customers.

   You come up with the ideas, and CafePress manufactures the products and displays them on the web site. They set fixed prices for each item. A calendar or gray T-shirt costs a minimum of $15, for example; a package of six greeting cards is $11. You, the creator, are the listed vendor and can set whatever price you like; anything over their minimum is yours.

   This is a web site for small vendors, obviously. Anyone can play and need put out nothing but words, pictures and ideas. If it is something copyrighted, like a cartoon character, there is a section on how to obtain copyright permissions and make royalty payments. Any number can play at this marketing game and about 450 people are already engaged. There is no charge for the web site or to be part of CafePress.


Lights out

Smart Strip

   Bits Limited makes a kind of reverse power strip that. It's called "Smart Strip" and what it does is turn off your peripherals automatically when you shut down the computer.

   This seems fairly trivial, and in a way it is trivial, but I often turn off my computer and walk away leaving the printer and scanner on. I don't do it on purpose, I just forget. I would guess that many people forget. For a business with many people walking away from their computers it probably adds up to quite a bit of money on the power bill.

   The Smart Strip can be set to turn peripherals off when the computer is turned off or to turn them off when the computer goes into "sleep" mode, or to leave things alone and not turn anything off. There are variations on this and they are not confined to the computer. You could plug a TV set into the control socket, for example, and lights into the others. When the TV is turned off, the lights would be turned off. It could also be used with shop equipment, heaters, etc.


   Smart Strip has a list price of $30, from the maker



-- The sub-headline for this web site is "Out There News." What it presents is a lot of background and incidental information surrounding major topics in the news. You can also take some interesting quizzes with questions like" What does Mussolini's grandson do? (He's a jazz pianist.) And what is Bill Gates worth now?

-- A look at the world and recent history through the eyes of ordinary people: Growing up as a Japanese-American in Japan during World War II; recollections of a Vietnamese boat person; how a Swedish student sees America; life during Mao's cultural revolution, etc. Also has interesting photo galleries.


-- Discussion questions, reader comments and outlines for people who like to participate in reading groups. Hundreds of books are covered -- kind of a modern version of the University of Chicago's "Great Books" discussion groups.


Please wait, the doctor is online


   There have been a number of warnings from medical associations to be careful about information on the web. Such warnings are sensible. However, doctors are also heavy browsers of medical sites. According to a report by the American Medical Association, over 70 percent of all practicing doctors in the U.S. were regular users of medical web sites last year.


   Looking at use by the general public, 34 percent focused on information about mental health. The majority, however, said they had no medical problem but were just browsing.


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