Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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March 2003, Week 2 -- Sharing



 4x4 peripheral switch


   Most networks, especially small ones, are typically used as a way to share printers and other accessories. I've noticed that very few people actually use them to exchange files, and even then, rarely. Instead of a network it would be simpler to use something like Belkin's new "4x4 Peripheral Switch." It's a kind of sophisticated A/B Box.

   An A/B Box was a simple switch that had three connector ports on the back. If you had two printers, say a laser printer and a color inkjet, you could connect them both to the back of the box and the third port to your computer. When you wanted to switch printers you simply turned a knob with a pointer to either "A" or "B" position. The switches are still sold and typically cost less than $10. A variation on this approach had two or three computers connected to a box that was in turn connected to one printer. Whoever wanted to use the printer would get up and walk over to the box and switch it to their letter: A, B or C.


   You could go on this way at some length. Back then if you wanted to send someone a file you put it on a disk and walked it over to them. This was called the "sneaker network" where I worked, so-called because of the shoes, not any secret procedures.


   The Belkin 4x4 handles four computers and four peripherals, all connected by USB cables. The box is quite small: about the size of two decks of cards. It can stand on the desk or hang on the wall. A row of lights along the top indicate how many computers are connected and which ones are active. An oval of lights below that contains four switched, which correspond to the peripherals. Inside the oval are four push buttons with raised dots; to select a peripheral you push one of these.  One line can be set to automatic "on" so that at least one user does not have to push any buttons.


   You can see the similarities to the old A/B boxes, but this handles more equipment in a smaller package. It uses USB connections only. The 4x4 is $130 list ($91 at Amazon) for Windows or Macintosh. Or you can buy refurbished ones for $60 at the Belkin web site: That "refurbish" brings up another topic: is refurbished equipment safe to buy? I've bought such before and never had any trouble with it.



--  How did people who have really interesting and/or exciting jobs, get those jobs? Here are interviews with sky-diving instructors, symphony orchestra musicians, cartoonists, art directors and many others. Neat site.

--  A site that sells speeches for all occasions but also has a free database of quotes and plenty of free tips. Most speeches are in English but the site also has speeches in Spanish. The tools section has links to web site like the Library of Congress, online dictionaries, online translation services, etc.

--   Lists of metaphors, similes and cliches. Amusing. Reminds me of advice often proffered by a former editor of mine: "Keep it light, tight, and trite."


--  A child-oriented site divided into activities, like acting, cooking, inventing, space, stand-up comedy, riding, money matters, etc. Each subject page has links to interesting web sites in that area. One of the links in the money matters section, for example, provides lots of job ideas beyond baby sitting.


A digital camera that's not just for kids


 Digital Camera Stuido

  A new children's package from Argus Camera provides a nice digital camera and excellent easy to use software for a very low price. They company says it's for children, ages 7-12, but I say it's for anyone. We spent an afternoon playing with it and thought it was great.

   Though the resolution is only 352x288 pixels, low by today's standards, the picture quality was surprisingly sharp. You can take 20 pictures at this resolution, or fewer pictures and eight seconds of continuous video. The camera connects to either Windows or Macintosh G3 computers. Downloading pictures is done through a USB cable, which comes with it.


We were very impressed with the software, which provides dozens of editing and morphing tools. It also let you create slide shows, wallpaper, calendars, newsletters, stationery, etc., all very easily.


Argus is a famous name in photography. Many years ago they were the first company to market a consumer version of the then new, and very expensive, 35mm cameras. It was the first camera I ever owned and it worked beautifully. Their new "Digital Camera Studio" is $60 from their web site; but we found it for $40 at, web site for the Ritz Camera store chain.



  IT Consulting


   "High-Value IT Consulting: 12 keys to a thriving practice," by Purba and Delaney; $40, Osborne/McGraw-Hill

   Quite a few people have a fantasy of making their living as a highly paid consultant -- especially these days, with lots of high tech employees being out of work. The authors provide some very practical advice on how to start and manage a consulting business. Like anything else, it's work.

   NOTE: Readers can search through past columns by going to our web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at  or