Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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March 2000, Week 4 -- Forget about Gas Prices

   What's the highest profit item any computer company can sell you? It's the ink in your inkjet printer.

   Forget about the high cost of gasoline. A long-time reader points out that the ink cartridge for his Hewlett Packard Deskjet 610 holds 20 milliliters (a milliliter is one-thousandth of a liter). The cost of a replacement cartridge is $29.


   That works out to $1.45 a milliliter. Scale it up and the cost is $1,450 a liter. Translating it to English measure, a gallon contains 3,785 milliliters. That puts the cost of inkjet printer replacement ink at a whopping $5,479 a gallon.


   The cost of ink from other companies is similar. On the business level, where a company can have hundreds or even thousands of such printers, that cost is significant.


   You can cut the cost by half or more by using ink refills from a third party, not the printer company. Several such refillers advertise in the back of computer magazines and on the Web. Printer manufacturers invariably post a warning in their manuals that using any refills but their own will automatically void the maker's warranty. Are they giving it to us straight?


   Well, the reports are mixed. I've heard from people who have had no problems with these unauthorized refills and have also heard from those who have had problems. The most common problem is clogged printheads. The inks are heavily pigmented, which produces strong colors. If the pigment particles are too large or the suspension liquid too thick, the extremely tiny holes in the printhead will become clogged. If you make the ink too thin, the printhead is okay, but the print color is weak and the ink can even run on the page.


   If you only need black, laser printers are much cheaper to operate.


E-commerce: don't bet the e-farm just yet

   The publicity frenzy is still in full swing. We get 60-70 news releases a day promoting the virtues of this or that web site and its remarkable contributions to world peace and the gaiety of nations. The fact that we list just a handful should give you an idea of how few of those releases are worth anything.

   The impression from advertising and hundreds of "gee whiz" articles is that we will not only soon be conducting everything from grocery shopping to marriage ceremonies on the web, but that in fact we already are -- and you're just not in touch yet. Well, fortunately we got a reality check last week from Price Waterhouse Coopers, the giant global accounting firm.


   In a survey of large companies (90 percent had revenues over $1 billion), 79 percent said that e-business accounted for less than 5 percent of revenues. Only one-fourth said they plan to invest any significant resources in online commerce, and slightly more than one-fourth cannot even take an order online. Only 17 percent considered themselves "innovative."


   So this revolution is going quite a bit slower than the publicity mill that's pumping it out. You can see more details from this report at


And speaking of reality ...

  Stephen King's F73

   Stephen King recently published a book electronically. This caused a predictable gush of press, including a Time Magazine cover story, about the demise of traditional publishing and the birth of a new genre. Novels have been published electronically for the past 10 years or more, but who's counting.

   It reminded me that we recently received a novella-game combination called "Stephen King's F13," from Blue Byte Software.


   Blue Byte has a lot of good software but this one really stinks. It's a Stephen King short story accompanied by a collection of crude, tasteless puzzles. We would never have mentioned it to anyone were it not for the recent war dance about the birth of electronic novels.


   King's electronic novel "Ride the Bullet" is available on the Rocket eBook, a handheld (better use two hands) reading tablet. We got one of these to review several months ago and never mentioned it because it's as close to techno-junk as anything we ever came across.


   The object is ... you download a book and you can read it on a liquid crystal display screen. Better hold it at just the right angle, because otherwise you can't read it at all. And hold it tight, because it's heavy. You can download a book for around $30. The electronic reader itself is a paltry $200. Of course, you can buy a real book for $30 and you don't need to plug it in. Or, for a real cost saving, go to the library, where you can take books out for free.


A curmudgeon in full

 Teac 4 X 4 X 32 CD-RW

   And just to round this thing out ... we recently tried to review a new TEAC CD-RW (re-writable). This is a consumer item and yet I doubt that any mere human could install it in a PC without divine assistance.

   The manual contains hardly a clue. When we gave up and called tech support we were told not to use the cable that came with the drive. Who would have guessed? We were also advised to change the settings in our CMOS. (How do you think that will sit with the average consumer?)


   After more help from tech support, our regular CD drive no longer worked. When they called back to help a third time, we begged off. No thanks, we'll just save time and drop the whole thing off a bridge.


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