Bob and Joy Schwabach

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Recent Columns
March 2008, Week 2
1. Endless Drive
2. A Cloud of News
3. Internuts

March 2008, Week 1
1. Now Presenting
2. Point of Sale.
3. Internuts
4. Hide those Pictures
























  March 2008, Week 3


New computers are fairly inexpensive now, but refurbished computers are the cheapest of all.

Refurbishing carries with it the idea that somehow the computer has been rebuilt because there were serious problems. In fact, this is almost never the case, not least because rebuilding would usually cost more in labor and parts than you could get for the computer.

Dell, for example, has long had a policy of taking any computer that's been returned and marking it for sale as refurbished, even if it's never been out of the box. Why would it have computers returned that had never been out of their shipping boxes? Well, schools and businesses and government agencies often order more computers than they actually need and so they send the extras back.

Bob ordered one of Dell's refurbished computers a few years back; there were no problems and it still works fine. All of Dell's refurbished computers come with a full warranty, and this is generally true with other companies as well.

We did a search around the Web and found that users were generally quite satisfied with refurbished computers from Dell ( and a less well-known seller, Public Surplus gets most of its computers from schools, and many of these have been used for only one semester. It sells tons of items, only some of which are computers, through online auctions, much like eBay.

Hewlett-Packard refurbished computers got less-than-stellar comments from blogs we looked at, not because of anything wrong with the machines, but because of H-P's intrusive and sometimes peculiar software. If you're technically hip, this can be removed, of course. One of the best sources is often your local newspaper; companies going out of business or changing offices will usually unload their computers for just a few dollars.

In general you can save anywhere from $100 to $1000 by buying a refurbished computer, the savings depending on how powerful a machine. The older the computer, the less you will have to pay, but very few are more than two years old and most are less than one year old.  

Free Anti-Virus Scans 

A free service at  will take any PC file that is ten megabytes or less and put it through a rigorous scan by 32 of the best anti-virus programs.  

You start by downloading some software from You then send them a file simply by right-clicking the file name and choosing VirusTotal as the “send to” destination. A full scan takes about one minute.

The site can handle files in any of 20 European and Asian languages. The web site managers point out they cannot guarantee that a file is 100 percent safe if the scan does not find any problems, but any virus that escapes detection by 32 anti-viral programs would have to be something very unusual. 

This service is generating considerable controversy between users and producers. As you might expect, a number of makers of anti-viral software are rather upset about the free scans and some have taken legal action to try and block the site from using their software. Trend Micro’s software, for example, was recently removed from the list of programs used by VirusTotal for their scans. 

Online Certification 

O’Reilly Media, which gained notice and respect the past several years as a publisher of technical books, is now offering online classes that lead to certification in a number of professional categories. The certification is O'Reilly Schoolprovided by the University of Illinois, which has a strong reputation in computer technology. 
The courses offer certification in Linux/Unix System Administration, Web Programming Open Source Programming, and “.NET” Programming. The courses cost around $300 to $400 each. See more info at . 


  • is a free web service for downloading legal documents. You can read detailed lawyer and law-firm profiles, including their area of primary practice, education, awards and memberships, court filings, decisions and more. According to web research firm, more than 44 million people use the Internet to research legal cases and look for legal services. Many use and, which charge hefty fees.
  •  was pointed out to us as a low-cost source for large photographic prints. A 20 x 30 inch color costs $23; 48 x 96 inches (that’sMy Photo Pipe four by eight feet!) is $200. Comments from professional photographers have been good.

A few email queries from readers have raised questions about laser versus inkjet printers. So, we have a few comments:

Costs per page for color printing are comparable. Color laser toner also has the advantage of not clogging up if it’s not used for a while; inkjet nozzles, on the other hand, will clog if the printer isn’t used for a couple months. 

If you want to make color prints on glossy photo paper you should use an inkjet printer. They’re cheap and they’re good. You should not use glossy photo paper in laser printers. Laser printers use a hot steel roller to fuse the powdered ink onto the paper and the heat can melt the coating on photo paper. We’ve had it happen and it can be a real mess. In the worst cases it requires replacing the heating unit, which will cost as much as getting a new printer. 

Our favorite inkjet printer these days is the Canon Pixma iP3500, which we bought for less than $100 last year. They sell a more expensive version of this Canon ip3500printer, but there’s no difference in the output quality. Our laser printer is an Okidata C5800, which was not the cheapest when we got it but we were seduced by the magazine quality of the printouts. We’ve noticed that Okidata printers cost about 10 percent more than other brands, but on the other hand, the toner cartridges are cheaper; so you win some and you lose some.  

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