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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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March 2003, Week 1 -- Spies

 

 

   We ran "SpyBot" on our PC and found lots of "spies." These are left by some programs you've installed and web sites you've visited.

   Software spies are designed to track your computer usage and report back to the source that installed them. You don't know they were installed of course; nobody asked you first. Their presence may be innocuous (most are harmless) but by tracking your usage they can also report back to their masters and put you on more mailing lists for more internet junk mail, which we all call spam. The harmless ones just notify you of updates. The two leading programs for detecting spyware are AdAware and SpyBot.

 

   AdAware found one piece of spyware on my main system, SpyBot found 81. Quite a difference. Both programs are free for downloading. AdAware can be found at www.lavasoft.nu; SpyBot can be downloaded from www.cnet.com .

 

   The domain designation "nu," by the way, stands for the tiny island country of Niue, population around 1,800, near New Zealand. The "to" in SpyBot's web address stands for the much larger Kingdom of Tonga, also in the Pacific. In a kind of curious aside to that, I once had dinner with the King of Tonga, who told me how to remove grease spots from my jacket using French bread. Said he learned it at Sandhurst. Nice guy.

 

Business Plans

  Business Plan Maker

   "Professional Business Plan Maker Deluxe" from Individual Software guides you through the process of putting it all together: what the product or service is, defining the market, how you'll sell it, what financing you'll need, etc. The program has sample plans fitting 25 industries and carries a recommendation from the Small Business Administration.

   Most business plans are fantasy, and very few companies ever grow according to plan, but banks always like to see such plans anyway; it makes them feel comfortable. In a more realistic view, making a business plan forces you to think about aspects of the business you were inclined to gloss over.

 

   Professional Business Plan Maker Deluxe has a built-in word processor and spreadsheet. "What-if" scenarios let you see what changes need to be made if some of your assumptions are wrong. It's $70 from www.individualsoftware.com; the price is the same whether you download it or buy the boxed package.

 

   By the way, if things don't work out as you'd hoped, the same company also makes "ResumeMaker Deluxe," $40.

 

Remotely related

 Remote Wonder

 

   ATi's new "Remote Wonder" circuit card makes it easy for anyone doing a computer slideshow presentation to leave the computer unattended and still control the important features of slide movement and sound.

   The controller is a handheld remote, nearly identical to a television remote control. Its receiver is a circuit card that plugs into any Windows computer motherboard with an available slot. The range is considerable and the device will easily operate a computer that's in the next room or down the hall. A thumb-pad controls cursor movement, a return button activates commands, and six programmable keys can be set to change programs or initiate macros.

 

   The Remote Wonder works best with machines that have one of the ATi display cards installed; in fact some of its features work only with ATi displays and CD drives. Still, many people have ATi displays and it's a nice device if you do and you make presentations. Price is $50 www.ati.com.

 

Here's looking at you, kid

imate

   From the land down under comes something to look over your shoulder, for all of us whose computers face the wrong way.

   The "iMate" (a play on "Hi Mate!") fits on top of the computer monitor or any convenient shelf and provides a wide angle view of what's going on behind you. I see this as a true boon for office workers cut off from the rest of the world as they type away in their cubicles, and also a considerable preventive measure for neck strain. My wife used to have a desk situated so that she had to twist her head around every time someone came to the door. Hurts after a while.

 

   The iMate is not a camera, it's a swiveling, wide-angle mirror, with a kind of universal mounting bracket. It's $20 at www.imate.com.au.

 Windows XP Pro

Books

   "Windows XP Pro, the Missing Manual," by Pogue, Zacker and Zacker; $30 from O'Reilly www.missingmanuals.com.

   The latest in the "missing manual" series from O'Reilly. These fill in the blanks found, or rather "not found," in the manuals provided by software companies. They add a lot more than that, explaining what's happening and how to change it or delete it, in language much clearer than the manuals that come with the products.

 

Games

 

 Impossible Creatures

   "Impossible Creatures" from Microsoft is almost impossible to rate. User comments ranged from "totally awesome and great" to "this is really junk," with nothing in between. So this is one of those you love it or you hate it games. The game centers on designing your own impossible creatures from parts of existing animals and then going to war against others with whole armies of them. The category is called "RTS" (Real Time Strategy). The game is $40, Win 98 and up, www.microsoft.com/games.

NOTE: Readers can search past columns by going to our web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.

 

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