Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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November 2002, Week 4 -- Network this!




   I'm up to my ears (well, eyeballs) in home and small business networks and sinking fast. Here's is a last gasp for the perplexed.

   There are four basic ways to go:

1.) Direct Ethernet links. This is the most secure way to link computers into a network and provides the cleanest transmission. You connect two or more computers with ethernet cables. Many new computers come with ethernet connection sockets. If you don't have one, you can buy an ethernet card for around $50 or less.


2.) Wireless networks are all the rage these days and many companies are pushing them hard. The advantage is no cables; computers can be far apart and moved around and still be on the network. Some people have complained that computers in certain locations can't get on the network. The problem is similar to bad radio reception: most people have had the experience of getting poor reception in some parts of a house or other building. If the radio reception is poor some place, the wireless network reception can be poor as well.


3.) Phone line networks simply use a building's phone line wiring to connect computers. You plug the network line into the phone jack. If phone jacks are readily available this is a simple way to go. There can be problems from electrical disturbance.


4.) Powerline networks require powerline ethernet adapters. They cost $100 or less. Plug one end into the computer and the other end into an electrical outlet in the wall. Viola!, you're linked. This is the easiest way to create a network. The downside is that power lines are electrically "noisy" -- lots of static. This can be filtered but if the network is crucial to business, it's too risky. Many attempts have been made to use powerlines for telephone connections, for example, but all have failed because of the electrical noise.


Tip: Go to US Robotics web site for a much longer explanation of different types of networks (many of them supplied by US Robotics of course).


A great paint program

Nature Painter

   Just a few days ago my wife and I were talking about how we just don't see great programs from unknown companies anymore. A couple days later we got one. It's called "Nature Painter," for Windows, and it's available as a download from for $25, or on a CD for $33.

   This is not a drawing program, and it's not a paint program in the usual sense -- like the paint programs that come with Windows or Macintosh. It's a painting instruction program with tons of expert painting tools you can then go on and use yourself. The makers say it's a great way to learn about oil painting before you go out and invest in art supplies. I would say it's the equivalent of an art class on a disk. The tutorials will knock you out.


   NOTE: A lot of people, myself included, have trouble drawing with a mouse. A better way (much better!) is drawing with a graphics tablet. They start around $100 and Wacom is the leading maker The low-end tablet comes with lots of software, a pressure sensitive drawing pen and a mouse.


Today's special on the word menu

Word Menu

   "Word Menu" is a different kind of dictionary, from FractalEdge Instead of looking up a word you look up a subject.

   Click on science and technology, for example, and you get machinery, tools, electricity, weapons, Internet, etc. Click on one of those and you get a bunch of words related to that subject. If you know them, fine, but if you don't you click on one of those and it takes you to the definition. The idea is that you don't know what you don't know until you see unfamiliar terms in different fields. It's kind of a cross between a thesaurus and a reverse dictionary.


   It does not have every key word in every field. There will be omissions but all in all, it's a playing field for words and you will not only learn a lot but have some fun doing it. The program was developed by a screen writer and is $35, for Windows, from Write Brothers


Just what's going on down there?


   "MyCPU" is a tiny Windows utility that tells you what CPU (central processing unit) is installed in your computer. (Tech support people always want to know this.) It shows the maker, type, model speed, stepping interval, etc. It scans for special features like multimedia extensions.


   This is and a few other utilities are free from the one-man web site The "password viewer" utility is interesting; it shows the password hidden by that string of asterisks that appear when someone types their password.





  "PS2, Blow the Lid Off" and "Xbox, Blow the Lid Off," both books by Brian Underdahl; $15 each, from Osborne-McGraw/Hill

   Lots of tips and tricks for game machine players in here, including how to cheat and give yourself unlimited game playing lives. But gamers and others will be at least as interested in the instructions on how to play DVD movies or listen to music CDs on a PlayStation 2 or Xbox and how to network the machines. No need to buy a separate DVD or CD player.

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or