Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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July 2001, Week 5 -- A Spy in a Box

   What if you bundled a computer, a camera and a modem all in the same box? If it had an operating system it should work unassisted for years.

   StarDot  has one like that. It combines a high definition web camera, computer and communications hardware in a self-contained "NetCam" unit running the Linux operating system. "NetCam" needs only a phone line to connect to the Internet full time.

   Suggested list price for the NetCam is $599, and some of the uses are obvious. Security surveillance comes to mind immediately but the camera can also be set up as a promotional tool, showing beaches and other amenities at resorts or special promotions at theaters and malls. Continuous web camera displays have been shown to increase traffic to web sites.


   This is not the only unit of this type and we can expect to see more of them, at even lower prices, in the future. The advantage of a self-contained unit is that it operates continuously without any outside care. Like any web camera it can be accessed from anywhere in the world with you web browser. The camera can be assigned to its own web site or get a piggy-back listing with sites that do multiple web cams. A weatherproofed version for outdoor use is $750. StarDot phone info: 714-228-9282.


Scanning with a pen


 IRIS OCR Package

   The title of the "IRIS Office Suite II," for Windows or Macintosh, is a bit misleading. Unlike what you would expect from an office suite, there is no word processor, spreadsheet or database. Instead what you get it is software for OCR (optical character recognition) and a thick pen.

   There have been several attempts at making pens that can scan small amounts of text in a book or newspaper. Up till now they haven't worked well: the pen had to be moved very slowly and carefully to get any reading of type at all. This one is called IRISPen II and has been selected as the editor's choice by four computer magazines. Unlike earlier pens, it can  read up to 1,000 characters a second with better than 99 percent accuracy, but a slow and steady hand is still required or you get nothing.


   The IRISPen can also scan small pictures, in color or black and white, something I have not seen any other pen scanner do. The accompanying software comes in versions for reading from a flatbed scanner or the pen, and is able to read business cards, bar codes and some hand-written numbers. The software can read printed text in 56 languages, and can read the text aloud in six of those.


   Pricing runs $129-$149. The IRIS web site is




   You can get a free "sticky note" program for your PC from It lets you put notes on your computer screen with anything from somebody you have to call today to extended tasks. The notes can any size, either always showing or hidden to pop up at a set time and can hold almost any amount of text.

Bowdoin Owl
This owl was the mascot for the Bowdoin Arctic Expedition

   This is very similar to a "Post-It Notes" program that came out several years ago and may still be around somewhere. The program imitated the well known Post-It Notes from the 3M company. This one is free, however, and is called "NoteWhen."


--  The "spri" stands for the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University in England. The library file contains links to polar museums collections in many countries. The links are clickable.

--  This is a site for an Irish company that provides a free encryption service called "hushmail." Users can send and receive secure encrypted mail for free. More extensive corporate services carry a charge.


--  Free tech support. The name is easier to read if you think of it as "PC-911," like the national police emergency phone number: 911.

--  Tech support for $10 a question.

--  Advice on buying audio and video equipment.

--  A web search site that uses "Quickbrowse," a tool developed by a German journalist, to stitch together web pages that correspond to your search. You can then scroll up and down all the pages at once.

--  Select a key word or author and the site comes up with quotes from nine reference sources. But it does not include the best known source: "Bartlett's Quotations," which you can find at Bartleby's Bartleby's is a superb reference source.




 Incident Response

   "Incident Response," by Mandia and Prosise; $40, Osborne/McGraw-Hill This is a manual on how to recognize whether or not a computer break-in has occurred at a company and what to do about it if it has. There are long sections on initial preventive measures and detection if those fail. Only a tiny proportion of computer break-ins are ever reported, by the way. Most companies take the position that acknowledging a break-in and/or theft of information might shake the confidence of their customers. So it remains a largely hidden crime.

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