Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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September 2000, Week 4 -- One High Speed Modem, Many Users



   Westell has a high speed modem that allows 64 users to connect to one DSL line. DSL stands for "Digital Subscriber Line" and allows transmission rates 10-20 times faster than 56k modems over ordinary phone lines. Such services are expensive (around $150 a month), but if one line can be shared among many users it's cheap.

   The Westell "Wirespeed DSL modem" with pre-loaded software lists for $373. You would also need an Ethernet hub to distribute lines to each computer, which in turn have to have Ethernet cards installed to receive the lines from the hub. Hubs run anywhere from $100-$1000, cards $30-$80, depending on speed and maker.


   Westell phone info: 630-898-2500; web:

   Quicken WillWriter 2001

Write your own will

   "Quicken Will Writer 2001" lets you look at the differences between making a will and a living trust. The $30 program for Windows and Macintosh continues to contain the standard forms and advice for creating final wills and testaments and the granting of "power of attorney." All documents can be revised at any time.

   For reasons that are entirely baffling, Quicken Will Writer is distributed by Mattel, makers of the Barbie Doll. Phone info: 510-792-2101; web:


House and home

 10,000 Home Plans



   You can get 10,000 home plans in a six-CD set from

   As you can tell from the name, the company is a both a publisher and a web site. In fact they claim to be the largest publisher of home plans in North America.

   There are several big home plan sets available on CD. Sierra and Broderbund both make sets, and there are others from more obscure publishers. The trouble with most of them is that the selections are mundane. Common styles like Colonial, Cape Cod, Ranch, Bungalow, etc., are represented in hundreds of variations, nearly all of them quite familiar to anyone who has driven through a suburban subdivision. The Homestyles set, however, includes modern designs along with traditional.

   You can do virtual walk-throughs in more than 50 of the homes and there are color renderings of more than 2,000 home facades. List price is $30, for Windows. Phone info: 888-626-2026 or 651-602-5000; web: .




   Searching the web:


-- A metasearch service is one that polls many other search engines and provides a summary of the findings. This service claims to get the highest relevancy rankings for your search. In other words. The closest hit to the subject you are looking for may come up as the 15th or 20th selection in a single search engine, but "7metasearch" claims they can usually make it turn up in the first few listings. We tried doing the same search with the "Bullseye" search tool and the results were the same.


   NOTE: There are several metasearch services and we have written about some in the past, most recently Copernic and Bullseye.


-- This is a service that links to search services in more than 130 countries. So, for example, if you are looking for a furniture maker in a particular country, you can go to a search engine service in that country and type in your key words. Unfortunately, the results nearly always come up in the native language of that country. If you can't read it, try the free translation service at They don't cover all languages but it's worth a shot.


-- Finally, when all else fails you can enlist the aid of a human researcher. It will cost you, though. ResearchMaven puts a human on the trail of your information, but charges run $100-$500 per search report.


Education sites:

-- The call letters stand for "Internet Public Library," a reference service provided by the University of Michigan and lens maker Bell and Howell. There are more than 13,000 texts online, plus links to newspapers, magazines and libraries around the world. There are research sections designed for children and teenagers as well as adults. An outstanding service.

--  Links to resources, organizations and people who provide help with schooling children at home. Additional links to the home pages of children schooled at home.

--  Ideas and links to more ideas for science projects for school children: Lava lamps, magnetic levitation, simple telescopes, etc.


--   More science project ideas, these from the science museum in San Francisco.



  Upgrade Your Own PC

  "Upgrade Your Own PC," by Corey Sandler; $25 from McGraw-Hill. Lots of photographs (over 100) and clear advice give even novices the help they need to upgrade and older PC. The author was the first editor of PC Magazine.

  "Encyclopedia of Computer Science, 4th edition," by Ralston, Riley and Hemmendinger, editors; $150 from Grove Dictionaries. Large and heavy, as any standard reference work should be; more than 900 illustrations. Nice to have for a school, newspaper or news media.


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