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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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September 2004, Week 3 -- Lost Horizons

   We recently found a new search engine that scours the web by country. There are others that do this too, and what an interesting (and cheap) way to travel. For instance we found an apartment locator site in Romania that offered a 50 percent discount if the apartment had no electricity. Where else are you going to find a deal like that?

   We found that browsing with "Blue Magic" www.bluemagic.dk, the latest of the "country of origin" search engines, found lots of web sites, but unfortunately they usuually came up in the native language. The apartment service in Bucharest was an exception.

   You also can search Yahoo www.yahoo.com by country. First click on "countries" under the heading "Regional" on the home page. That gets you a list of more than 100 countries. Click on one and select a category: news, culture, travel, etc. You get lots of news and cultural information but not much on shopping. What's the point of traveling if you can't shop?

   We were working up a lather trying to find the best glycerin soap we ever used, and we knew it came from Spain. But maybe you want to find something else you wanted to buy when you were abroad and can't find anywhere. Where can you get those custom made tiles you saw in Holland? And what about ostrich wallets from South Africa, or the blueberry wine from Nova Scotia? These are important questions.

  You can go to Google www.google.com and click on "language tools." Then choose the language (English, Spanish, etc.) you can read and click on a country from a drop-down list. Select a search topic, like "glycerin soap," and this actually produces web sites for stores and other businesses. Oddly enough, depending on your search term -- soap, leather, tile, whatever -- it also comes up with businesses in the U.S. that sell similar products. But at least you also get country of origin sources.

   We got slightly better results using Vivisimo www.vivisimo.com, our favorite search engine and the one with the worst name (try typing "vivisimo" a few times without making mistakes). We got straight through to country specific sites for any topic. We simply typed "Spain glycerin soap" in the search box and the very first site was a Spanish supplier of a wide assortment of products, including soap. Like other search engines, however, Vivisimo does not confine itself to sites in a particular country but also brings up sites that contain the country's name.

   The advantage of Vivisimo is that it's a clustering engine. That means the search results are grouped by category. It helps cull the lists. So, for example, typing "Norway," produced a list of nearly a hundred categories, though few were commercial. A search on "Morocco" produced lots of categories as well, but none of them listed a supplier for that neat fossil rock you can find in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. But ... that's entertainment.

Excel to the web

   "XL2Web" is one of those software titles that describes its purpose in techy shorthand. It lets you publish an interactive version of Microsoft's "Excel" spreadsheet to the web.

   If you are a financial analyst or advisor, a bank wanting to make standard calculations available to its customers, or even a college, you might want to set up spreadsheet routines that allow someone at home to punch in the numbers and arrive at some advice or conclusion. The client might want to know how long it would take to save enough for retirement, or the children's education, for example. The answer of course depends on how much you start with, how long it's invested, the rate of return, and the rate of tuition inflation, the school selected, etc.

   As the client punches in the numbers, they can see how changes in the various categories will alter the results. They can then decide whether or not to shoot for a higher, but riskier rate of return, or make larger cash infusions, or start earlier.

   That's a very simple example. If you're a financial advisor posting a spreadsheet to the web you would probably want to set up proprietary formulations that would let the customer make the most of their investments. XL2web allows the client to save any scenario from an online demonstration, but they would still need your advice for new situations.

   XL2Web is a hosted service, charging $100 a month for each spreadsheet. More info at www.xl2web.com.

I
nternuts: Guides for the perplexed

-- www.answersthatwork.com Tips and tricks. Make Windows XP look and work like Windows 95/98/ME, which many people find faster to manipulate than Windows XP. Create toolbar buttons for macros in Microsoft Word.
-- http://software.lifetips.com Help with Excel, PowerPoint, AutoCAD, Word, Outlook and Windows. You can submit questions to online gurus. They may or may not know the answer.
-- www.pureperformance.com Tips and tweaks for Windows 98 and up. How to remove Windows Messenger, spyware, update the video driver, defrag the disk, disable error reporting in XP, etc. How to create a bootable CD that will install XP unattended (otherwise it's going to take an hour or more).
-- www.onecomputerguy.com More tips, some simple, some for techies, like how to create a batch file to print the contents of a directory in Windows. But how to fix unclickable web links in an email was easy.
-- www.acronis.com Acronis makes disk imaging and backup software and is a new entrant to the tips and tricks category. Many of the tips suggest buying their software, but there is plenty of other good advice.

Books

   "eBay Strategies," by Scot Wingo; $20, Prentice Hall www.phptr.com.

   A straight-forward practical guide to selling on eBay: How to do pricing, promotion, control costs, dealing with deadbeats, etc. The author is a consultant who has provided auction sales advice to IBM, Dell, Best Buy and many other companies. His aim is for a seller to generate a million dollars or more in sales each year.