Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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March 2001, Week 3 -- The Tax Man Cometh

   They say that nothing is certain but death and taxes, and I hear that this year they're going to merge.

   We haven't written about tax programs for a long time, and the reason is that starting a few years ago there was almost no difference between them. Since they were all pretty much the same, and the regular press couldn't stop doing these programs every year anyway, adding more coverage was an exercise in utter boredom.


   We break this period of benign neglect to let you know you can download a good tax program for free from 2nd Story Software (a name to conjure with). It's called "TaxAct" and you get it from their web site: The deluxe version is $10. Cheap.


Just about picture perfect



   Adobe got it right this time. Their new "Photoshop Elements" takes a number of the best features from their expensive PhotoShop program and puts them into this $99 package for Windows and Macintosh. This is the photo editing program most consumers and businesses really want.

   Photoshop Elements uses "recipe" menus in several categories, including animation. These are similar to the "wizards" commonly used by Microsoft and most other software companies but go a step further. Within "recipes," the user can simply click on a "do it for me" command to carry out that function. If you want to learn how to do it yourself and gain more control you can follow the recipe and make changes step-by-step. New recipes can be downloaded from the company web site as they are created.


   Most people like to manipulate objects in a photo, and they will love the masking function in Photoshop Elements; it's the easiest we've seen. Move the cursor around the edges of any object and it can then be lifted from the photo and moved. It works best if there is considerable contrast between the object and the background, but it can be made increasingly sensitive, so it will handle many objects difficult to distinguish from their backgrounds.


   Adobe phone info: 800-833-6687; web:


A useful drop box for the Mac

 Aladdin Transporter

   "Aladdin Transporter," from Aladdin Systems, creates drop boxes that automate file and e-mail communications. For example: In business, an IT (information technology) manager can automate the process of distributing files to designated groups within the company or to outside vendors. A drop box can be created to distribute assignments to every member of a teacher's class. The drop box can be configured with a number of filters, like permitting only the latest version of a file to be downloaded or distributed.


   Aladdin is a well known maker of Macintosh utilities. Transporter has a list price of $149, but nobody ever pays list. Phone info: 831-761-6200; web:


Just dial 1-800-no-brain


--  Web site for AT&T that lets you search for the availability of toll-free numbers that would fit well with your business. Those are numbers with the prefix 800, 888, 877 or 866. The rest of the phone number could spell out a company name: 800-widgets or something like that.


   Personally, I hate phone numbers that use names instead of numbers, and everyone I've ever asked feels the same. This, I notice, has had no effect at all on the desire of businesses to see their name. Maybe they think it's classy. It would be much classier to have a phone number that meant something for that business or place. Philadelphia City Hall, for example, uses the phone suffix "1776," which reminds people that's where American independence began. The Microsoft main corporate number ends in "1010," the classic shorthand of binary computer code. Now those are clever.






--  Find a summer camp for the kids. Search by location, activity type (sailing, swimming, horseback riding, etc.), age groups, etc., and available counselor jobs.  Browse the list of camps, which covers much of the world.

-- Do's and dont's on filing patents. Learn, for example, how Elisha Gray invented the telephone before Alexander Graham Bell, but decided his telegraph patent was more important and waited an extra two hours on the telephone application, allowing Bell to file first.

--  Links to free programs and free trials in all software categories. Some are old but lots of good ones.

--  Get a personalized web site and e-mail address with your name, like "," for $40 a year.

--  Gives the secrets of 15 mystifying magic tricks for free.

Kid stuff: On a roller coaster



   Electronic Arts' "SimCoaster" comes out hot on the wheels, so to speak, of Hasbro's "Roller Coaster Tycoon." Players construct a roller coaster as the central attraction of an amusement park. They then must run the park as a business. Its success depends on their management skill and the box office excitement generated by their roller coaster.

   The game is part of the Maxis series of simulations: SimCity, SimFarm, SimAnt, etc. I would not have thought this kind of game would have much appeal, but our young test players could not be torn away and it was the hit of the season. Price: $40 for Windows; phone: 800-245-4525 or 650-572-2787; web:





   "Online Investing," by Jon Markman; $25, Microsoft Press This has certainly become one of the most popular areas for browsing the web. The author is managing editor for Microsoft's "MoneyCentral" site and talks about what can be found on the major investment information sites.

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