Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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July 2002, Week 2 -- Never Buy Anything With a Low Serial Number


   An article in June 20th issue of The Economist magazine focused on the growing irritation over bugs and other flaws in software. A recent survey by the Hurwitz Group of technology consultants found that 80 percent of business users were angry over bugs that were undisclosed when they bought software and remained undisclosed for considerable periods of time.

   This confirms my own experience of more than 20 years testing software. This is the only industry I have ever come across that sells products with known flaws and then charges the buyer for nearly identical versions that fix the flaws but introduce new ones. When auto companies acknowledge flaws they do recalls and fix them for no charge. Programmers at major software companies have told me that every program they ever shipped had bugs in it.


   The pressure from software company managers to "move it out the door," as they say, is intense. My defense against this practice is to ignore new releases of operating systems and to upgrade my existing programs only under duress. As farmers in the Midwest like to say: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."


    The fact that software producers can get away with selling shoddy products is a testament to our enormous demand for this technology. It's also a commentary on the desire for the new. Sales people from the classiest retail stores down to weekend flea markets all know that the minute a new software version comes out, the previous version is dead weight. Even if the old one works fine and the new one has lots of problems, most buyers will insist on the new. A little self control is called for here.


Digital photos without the computer


   Visioneer has a tiny box that displays the photos from most digital cameras directly on a television set. The box is called PhotoPort TV100 and is roughly the size of two decks of cards. It accepts flash memory and so-called "smart media" cards, or the IBM "micro drives."

    It contains built-in video editing software, which is managed from a remote control and keyboard packaged with it. The keyboard even has special keys that control common editing functions, like cut and paste and adding captions; there are plenty of features. A cable to connect to the TV set comes in the box.

   If you have a VCR (video cassette recorder), you can tape the pictures and captions as they come up on the screen, thus creating a video that can be sent out to friends, family and colleagues. Remember, this is all computer independent. The company's suggested retail price is $99.99, what normal people would call $100. (Visioneer was one of the first makers of desktop scanners and they were good ones.) Web:


Digital content readers and writers


   Belkin, which makes dozens of small computer accessories, has a new group that both reads and writes information to the kind of memory cards found increasingly in cameras and handheld computers. The accessories are small and plug into USB or USB-2 ports now found on many devices, including PC and Mac computers, digital cameras, handhelds and some cell phones and MP3 players.


   Unlike the Visioneer "PhotoPort" described earlier, which only reads memory cards, these devices can also write to the storage media. So digital content of any kind can be transferred to a storage card and then carried elsewhere and read out. Their reader/writer for memory sticks has a retail price of $35, one for flash memory cards is $40, and so on up to $60 for "smart media." Web:




--  Safety tips from the National Safety Council. Did you know that falling down is the second leading cause of accidental death? Car crashes are first.


--  A long web address but once you get there you'll find links to 4,654 gardening sites, 95 percent of them non-commercial. Today's tip: thin the number of fruits on your fruit tree and the remaining ones will grow larger and sweeter.


--  Find a job, an internship, check employer surveys, post a gripe about an employer. Check out message board on such topics as "Is business school a waste of time?"


--   A New York Times sponsored site of self-proclaimed experts who will answer your questions on almost any topic. Some really are experts and some aren't.

   Mia's Math Adventure

Kid stuff

   The "Mia" series from Montreal are some of the most charming children's educational programs we've seen in a while. Mia is a mouse who guides a child through four storybook adventures that cover math, reading and science. For ages 5 and up, $20 each for PC and Macintosh, from Kutoka Interactive



   "Creating Adobe Acrobat Forms," by John Deubert; $29, Peachpit Press


 Adobe Acrobat forms

   A good book on how to create and send business forms in what has become the nearly universal standard: Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format). For those unfamiliar with PDF, it retains the formatting and type styles of the original document, or as near to it as possible. While you need to buy a program to create PDF documents, you can receive them using a free reader downloaded from Adobe

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