Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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July 2008, Week 3

dog


SAVE THE BOOK

 

Flatbed scanners don’t handle books well. This is a problem for schools and libraries, which certainly don’t want someone to break the book’s binding just so they can copy a page. 

A new scanner from Plustek, the OptiBook 4600, is designed to overcome this problem and has been getting rave reviews from users. The first shipment toOptibook 4600 Buy.com sold out almost immediately, in fact, despite the relatively steep price of around $800.  

The key to the OptiBook’s performance is that the scanning surface comes right to the edge of the unit. A page can thus be scanned right up to the binding. One side of any book can be laid on top of the scanning glass and the other part of the book will simply lie over the edge. It takes only three seconds to scan a page at 300 dpi (dots per inch).  

The unit oozes quality and the software handles OCR (Optical Character Recognition) which can translate the scanned page into text that can be edited or a searchable PDF. At 300 DPI we got only one error from scanning a page of 517 words, and that error was a French word in italics. The scanning resolution can be kicked up to 1200 DPI, which is good for photographs and takes only a few seconds longer.  

Despite its outstanding features and smooth operation, there are some notable design omissions. For one thing, you cannot plug in a flash drive to store the scans but must transfer all scanned pages to the computer though a USB cable. Another complaint is that the scanner has no sheet feeder, in case you wanted to use it to scan a bunch of pages unattended. You can, of course, still scan them one at a time. All in all, we were impressed with the OptiBook 4600, however, and this should certainly save a lot of books from destruction.  

Showing Up 

Shwup.com  is a free web site that hopes its name will make you think of ”showing up,” which is what it’s about. The purpose is to provide a place where members of a family, club, church or any organization, can post photos, videos, comments, etc.  

You can do this using YouTube, of course, but the idea behind Shwup is that it provides a private setting for group contacts. Each photo or video appears as a Shwup.comthumbnail in a group’s private album and can be played with a click. Each person in the selected group gets a special link code to the album or can use their email address and a password.  

By clicking “blog-it,” a video can be transferred to any other site, which might be your own blog. The Shwup album can import photos from Flickr, Facebook, Picasa or any web site and you can rearrange these and transfer the contents to some other site. There are no storage limits. This is a trend which seems to have started with Google, and reflects the rapidly falling costs of hard drives.  

Shwup, by the way, was created by the folks who brought us Muvee.com. Muvee is one of the easiest video editing programs we’ve ever come across. We first wrote about it a couple years ago and nothing else has come along to top it for simplicity. They now have a new program, called Reveal, for editing high definition video. It’s $100 at Muvee.com, and there is a free trial available.  

Tech Support Tips 

Dell built its reputation, and its business, by providing the best tech support you could get. That was years ago. Lately, say some recent buyers, it’s been a different story. (After all, the bean counters in management always argue: tech support is not a profit center. They’re wrong about that, of course; it’s the ultimate profit center.) 

Ben Popken at the web site site “Consumerist.com,” says the way out of the miserable tech support mess is to buy from a company’s corporate division instead of the consumer division. If you buy your computer from the “small business” division, he says, you get to call for tech support from the company’s best and most experienced people. The price for the computer is the same, so you might as well skip the consumer label. Sometimes, you can get to business tech support by clicking one of the choices in the endless voice-mail hell that comes up when you first dial in. 

Our own approach is tougher: If we call tech support and get someone who obviously doesn’t know what they’re doing, we make some excuse to hang up; something like: “Oh, we’re sorry but we have to empty our waste baskets right now.”  Then we call back in and get a new support person. If you do this two or three times, you stand a reasonable chance of getting someone who actually knows how to fix the problem. 

Sometimes nobody knows how to fix the problem. We tried three tech support for pay services last week to get a printer linked to two computers. After hours of effort (we are not kidding; it was hours), one of the techs offered to set up a special web site where we could go and access the printer from the web. What a solution. After total failure from the experts, we simply installed an A/B box. These are cheap devices that let you plug in two computers to operate one or more devices, a printer and a scanner, for example. They’ve been around for 30 years. To switch between computers you press a button or flip a switch from A to B or the other way around, depending on which side you’re connected to. When we described our simple work-around to the tech support guy, he said “What’s an A-B box?”  


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