Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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May 2006, Week 1 -- Bidding on Ebay

  FinalBid

 

 

 

 

 

   Have your ever had the eBay experience of bidding on something you wanted and it's "going, going ... gone," without you? Mysterious, to say the least.

 

   You thought you had put in the high bid, but someone else bid higher at the last minute. This happened to us so often we stopped bidding on anything.

 

   There are several programs that will let you ace out the last-minute bidder; unfortunately, the last-minute bidders have them too. But we recently got one that's pretty easy to use, and it allowed us to navigate the confusing eBay site, as well.

 

   It's called Final Bid from Vcom, a company well-known for utility programs. First, it allows you complex searches to find the items you want. If there are several people offering the same item -- a Beatles CD, for example -- you can make a clustered bid to all of them. The program will cancel the bids to other vendors as soon as one is accepted. That winning bid would also be at your lowest price.

 

 

 

   The program can be set to make bids whether you are present or not. At the last minute before an auction closes, for example, the program can log onto eBay without you and make incremental bids above the most recent bid, up to whatever limit you have set.

 

 

 

   The program also lets you save pictures and descriptions of items that interest you so you can ponder them at leisure. Some people resell what they buy and keep the same descriptions. Final Bid is $40 from www.v-com.com, as a download or on disk.

 

 

 

One Gee-Whiz of a Toolbar

 

 

Advanced Toolbar

   The Advanced Toolbar we just tried out is free and links to just about every site under the sun with the click of a mouse. It also comes with an automatic form filler, adult content blocker, spyware remover, pop-up blocker, browser tracks eraser, calendar and the kitchen sink.

 

   The toolbar has links to newspapers, radio stations, driving maps, 70 online games, TV listings, health and medicine information (Web MD, Mayo Clinic, etc.), dictionaries, homework helpers (Cliff Notes, for example), sites for children, world facts and, oh yes, kitchen sinks. If you type in a search term, the toolbar can query more than 100 search engines. The drop-down "tools" menu gives one-click access to the Windows control panel, disk clean-up, system restore, etc.

 

 

 

   The Advanced Toolbar works only with Windows Internet Explorer. When you load it, a bar of choices appears near the top of the Explorer home page. You can add frequently used tabs to that toolbar -- like "mail," and get your mail just by clicking on that. Others we put up were "music," "clear browser tracks," "health," "games " and "e-cards," and we're adding others as we think of them.

 

 

 

   How does a company make money on a free service? As someone always says in those old war movies, "Vee haff our vays." Actually, quite a few successful Web businesses have started out by providing services that were completely free, but were later converted to monthly charges. You can get the Advanced Toolbar at www.advancedtoolbar.com.

 

 

 

Hard Driven

 

 

Seagate 160 GB

   Seagate has some new high-capacity portable disk drives ranging from 40 gigabytes to 160 gigabytes; prices go from $119 to around $300 as you go up in capacity. The new drives can work with Windows or Mac computers and require no external transformers, drawing their power directly from a computer's USB ports.

 

   On the Web site www.seagate.com, the drive is identified simply as "USB 2.0 Portable Hard Drive." We got one, and it feels and looks like it could withstand anything short of a shotgun blast.

 

   The data transfer rate is a very fast 480 megabits per second. That translates to more than a million words a second. That speed is aided by an 8-megabyte cache in the larger drives, which means the chit-chat of queries back and forth between the computer and the drive can be kept out of the traffic while the business at hand keeps going.

 

 

 

   The drive is the size of a paperback book and has well-ventilated sides to keep things cool. Very nice; in fact, the nicest portables to date.

 

 

 

   Some commentary here: Large-capacity drives carry risk because of their capacity. When you have 160 gigabytes of data and that drive fails for some reason, you have a real problem. If that information is mostly text, like records of transactions, contracts, legal briefs, etc., it would be about 30 billion words -- about 150,000 books of roughly 500 pages each.

 

 

 

A Book and a Blog

 

 

Fotolog book

   "Fotolog Book" by Andrew Long and Nick Currie; $35, Thames and Hudson (New York).

 

   Fotolog is a Web site: www.fotolog.com. Every day, people from 200 countries post around 300,000 photos to the site plus 3 million words of commentary. At last count, there were roughly 3 million members, and they have posted 94 million photos. About a thousand of them are in this book, also with commentary.

 

   Fotolog was founded in 2002 by Adam Seifer, who used it as a photo blog to display pictures of each of his meals before he ate them. (He likes eggs a lot.) He still does this, while others indulge their fascination with utility poles, wet streets, doorways, etc. This collection is more interesting than that, however: A young woman dresses as a child, for example, and is photographed in scenes from "Alice in Wonderland"; another rides a bicycle costumed as a dog or a rabbit.

 

 

 

   A free membership in Fotolog allows the member to post one photo a day; for $5 a month the member can post six photos a day. Digital photography has done more than create another way to take pictures; it has created a kind of communication and community that would have been nearly impossible with film.

 


 

 

NOTE: Readers can search several years of columns at the "On Computers" Web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@aol.com and Joy Schwabach at joydee@oncomp.com.