Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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July 2003, Week 1 -- Free Classes




   Work at home, study at home. Several sites offer free classes online. They cover a huge range of subjects and are surprisingly good.

   Hewlett Packard has online courses on an amazing range of subjects for a high-tech company. You can learn how to design your business documents, give great presentations or sell real estate. They have self-help courses on dealing with stress and how to unlock your full potential. And of course there are lots of courses on technical subjects, like using Adobe Photoshop, bulding a web site, using Macromedia Dreamweaver, running a business with QuickBooks, and on into the night.


   All in all, it's an impressive array of courses, all of which teach skills that can be used with any maker's computer equipment. Check out the list at


   Book dealer Barnes & Noble offers hundreds of online courses, from poetry to computer programming. What's in it for them? They sell the course books, though of course you can also buy the books from some other dealer.


   While most courses are free, some carry a modest fee of $50 or less. Whether free or not, the courses are taught by people with surprisngly strong qualifications. Study Shakespeare with someone who has a Ph.D. in Elizabethan literature from Berkeley. Learn screen or fiction writing from the Gotham Writer's Workshop. Check out the rest of the list at


  Free online tutorials on investing from the Bloomberg financial news service. This is the news service owned by Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York. Check the list at


   Free Online Courses and Materials is the name of this web site  and what they have is links to hundreds of free courses offered by other sites. Click on a heading, like Science, Business, Fitness, etc., and what opens up is a list of universities, organizations and individuals that offer courses in those subjects. While the web site heading says "free," some of the courses are not free. The web master apologizes for the chance of that happening and asks that you notify him so those links can be closed. Sample free courses include "Inventing 101" and "Night Photography."


   Learn That A lot of the courses here are focused on computer topics, like building your own PC and Introduction to Linux. But they also have tutorials on chess, home repairs, parenting and how to throw a memorable baby shower. The lifestyle section includes instruction on how to avoid "freshman weight gain" for entering college students and how to make salsa (not for entering college students).


Self-running CDs


   When you put it in the drive, you want it to play. There are a number of programs that create self-running CDs, and some have features that extend far beyond just getting up and running.


   If you just want to create an autorun CD of photos, either to display your own pictures or for a business display of products and services, then it's easier to use a program like Adobe PhotoShop Album or Jasc PaintShop Photo Album, both of which are around $50 each.


   If you want to go beyond that, visit and use "autorun" as your search term. "Autorun Generator" is free and gets rave reviews from users but works only with Windows 95 and 98. "Autorun 2.6" is free to try and $20 to buy. It comes with two "wizards" to help you get started and supports music and animation files. It supports all versions of Windows.


   For more features, consider "CD FrontEnd 3," from the oddly named Visual Vision. This is an Italian program that comes in an English version. You can create a CD that not only runs on its own but can launch PDF files, play video files, and dislay graphics in any of several formats, including AutoCAD. The program also puts a web browser on the new CD, so the user can move around the internet without ever leaving the presentation. A search engine is included and provides full text search.


   CDs created with this and other autorun programs can be distributed without royalty fees. FrontEnd 3 can include a blocking routine that prohibits users from printing the contents or copying the disk. You can also embed an expiration date. This is a must-have for those creating sample or trial version disks. Finally, all or any part of the CD created with FrontEnd 3 can be password protected. FrontEnd 3 is $129 from, but you can download a limited free version called "FrontEnd Lite."


Kid Stuff

 Study Helpers

   Knowledge Adventure has been busy, coming out with four new programs in the popular Jump Start series. "Jump Start Toddlers" has 35 easy activities in a three-CD set for children aged 18 months to three years; "Study Helpers" in math and spelling cover school grades 1-5; and "Jump Start Advanced," also three CDs, is aimed at ages 7-9. The Jump Start series is one of the best we've covered over many years of reviewing these, and it remains high quality. They run on Windows and Macintosh systems and prices are $15-$30 each. Web:


NOTE: Readers can search past columns on our web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at  or