Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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May 2005, Week 2 -- Pioneers



Pioneer Drive

   We've been trying out a new Pioneer external drive that's just perfect for storing your files, photos or music to DVDs or CDs.

   At 16X speed for writing DVDs, the Pioneer DVR-S806 is currently the world's fastest such drive and can also read or write to the new double-layer disks. We found you could buy it for less than $200 from discounters. This is more than you would pay for an internal drive of this type but going external has several advantages and we think they're worth the extra cost.

   For one, you don't have to open the computer case and fool with the cables when you have an external drive. Just plug it into a USB or Firewire port and you're ready to go. Like most external drives, the Pioneer will work with either PCs or Macs, and it comes with both USB and Firewire cables.


   You can put it on a shelf within easy reach (instead of trying to reach the computer when it's under your desk)  and perhaps the best thing of all about external drives is they are portable. One drive suffices for all computers in a house or office. Want to make a copy of someone's files, music or photos? Just take the drive to that computer and plug it in. Unlike plugging in a thumb drive, a DVD will hold four or more gigabytes of data, or 8.5 gigabytes if you use double-layer DVDs.


   This particular Pioneer drive handles all formats of CD and DVDs, solving a problem that sometimes causes confusion. The use of double-layer disks allows you to record up to four hours of continuous video, long enough for any movie. Check out other specs at  .


Editing PDFs

PDF Transformer

   "PDF Transformer" is just one of three nifty utilities we found that can take any PDF file and turn it into a "Word" document that can be edited, words and pictures. The documents look and read exactly the same as before, except now you can make changes.

   PDF means Portable Document Format and is Adobe's program for preserving the format, pictures and type style of any document. It's like a snapshot, and like any snapshot it is not the thing itself but a picture of the thing. That means the person who receives it cannot normally edit it or save only parts.


   PDF Transformer reads the PDF document and saves it to Microsoft Word as a completely editable file. It can also save it as an HTML file, which can then be posted directly to the web. You can also choose to convert only some pages of a document.


   The program sells for $50 from Abbyy Software A free trial is available. (Abbyy is well known for its "Fine Reader" OCR (optical character recognition) software, the best we've ever tried for "reading" documents and converting them to editiable text.) The company says PDF Transformer can convert number reports into Excel spreadsheet format. We tried this several times but the results were unsatisfactory. It works if you have a simple table to convert.

PDF Converter 2 

  •    "Solid Converter PDF" is also $50, also has a free trial version, and can be found at

   Solid Converter works in both directions: It can either convert a PDF into a Word Document, or convert a Word document into a PDF. It's conversion "Wizard" gives you the option to remove the images from a dcument if you wish, which could save line transmission time.

  • "PDF Converter 2," from Scansoft   is also $50. One of the features of this program is that it can immediately turn PDF email attachments into Word documents directly from the incoming mail in Microsoft Outlook.


  If you're using Internet Explorer as your browser, you can right-click any PDF you find on the web document and convert it to an editable Word document.


Have firewall, will travel



   ZyXel's "ZyWall P1" is a hardware firewall, the toughest kind to crack. It is designed to establish what they call a "VPN" in the network security business.

   High-tech companies love acronyms and what this one means is "Virtual Personal Network (VPN). It's designed primarily for corporate use, and priced accordingly: $299 from We found it quoted for less than $200 by doing a web search, but the device is so popular that almost everyone was out of it.


   The ZyWall P1 itself weighs about four ounces and can easily fit in a shirt pocket. To use, you simply connect an Ethernet cable between the device and your computer and another Ethernet cable between the device and a router or Ethernet network socket. You can then communicate securely, (especially handy in a hotel room). It works with Windows, Macs or Linux systems. Power can come either from a small transformer or a computer's USB port. This is high-tech, high-power communication security, for those who want it or need it.


Internuts: The next voice you hear:

 Jiggerbug Audio Books

--  It's like for movie rentals only this and the others that follow are for recorded books on CD. You can have unlimited book rentals, one at a time, for $20 a month or two for $25 here. Free trial available. What we liked about Jitterbug was the quality of the readers; our local library had the same books, but with readers that weren’t nearly as good.


-- More books on disk, $25 a month or $20 a month when prepaid for a year; take two at a time, get more when you return them. Also has a free trial.


--   For $30 a month you can have three at a time, and keep returning them when you finish. All their books are unabridged. First month free when you join.


NOTE: Readers can search several years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at and Joy Schwabach at