A shocking way to network

A couple of companies have come out with home wiring networks recently, allowing us to plug a computer into any outlet in a home or office and have Internet access (provided, of course, that someone has signed up for the Internet).

The awkwardly named “XE104 Wall-Plugged Ethernet Switch” from Netgear turned out to be a really easy way to go. The device plugs into an ordinary two- or three-pronged wall outlet and has a socket for plugging in an Ethernet cable, which comes with it. You need two or more of these devices to create a network. One of them has to connect to a phone line or cable connection that provides the Internet link; the others can then piggyback onto that link.

In practice, this turned out to be quick to set up and worked right away. Previous systems designed to use a building’s own electrical wiring as a computer a network had problems because of the frequency noise created by the electrical current. But the new plug-in boxes have filtered that out. Another problem was that anyone else in the same building could spy on your computer use simply by plugging in their own box. This is now prevented by an automatic encryption routine built into the accompanying software.

We found the XE104 units for $75 (all prices U.S.) each by searching at www.pricegrabber.com. Because you need at least two of them, that would be $150. A similar device was just released by Actiontec. It also worked well, and we found it for only $50 with a search at www.froogle.com. This is the simplest way to create an Ethernet network, and the cost is acceptable. More info at www.netgear.com and www.actiontec.com.


Just when we were trying to recover from the loss of fake magazine covers in the latest version of Roxio’s Easy Media Creator, we found them again in Photo Finale, a new $40 program from Trevoli.

OK, we admit it: putting friends, family and even casual acquaintances on made-up magazine covers amused us. (Sometimes it amused them too.) Beyond this bit of frivolity, Photo Finale also seems to do everything Adobe’s Photoshop Album does and lists for $10 less.

Using Photo Finale was a cinch. Click “Create DVD” to make a backup disk of your photos, or “Web Album” to post a bunch to the Web. Templates let you create greeting cards, photo albums and many other projects, as well as magazine covers. Tech support was great. You can get a free trial at www.trevoli.com.


A new “ruggedized” laptop from from Twinhead (www.twinhead.com) can be dropped 26 times from a height of three feet without damage. (But what about the 27th time? Just kidding.)

The Durabook N14RI has a magnesium alloy base that’s 20 times harder than plastic laptop cases and anti-shock mountings that protect the keyboard and disk drives. It weighs 5 pounds.

The manufacturer says the $999 price is about half what other ruggedized laptops cost. We checked around, and this seems to be true. We paid twice that much for a Toshiba laptop three years ago, and after we accidentally dropped it once from a height of less than 6 inches, the CD drive no longer worked.


Here’s a site you can use to find out which of your online ads are producing the most click-throughs. You can also find out which of your press releases or news items are being clicked most often — if at all.

You can get a free one-week trial of this service at www.visistat.com. Its basic service costs $10 and lets you analyze which pages are getting the most hits. For an extra $10 a month you can analyze a particular ad or banner.


— Print out free graph paper, music staffs, calendars, all the world’s flags and more at www.pdfpad.com. The music paper choices even include one for the rectangular staff used for percussion instruments (drum roll, please).

— At www.bbc.co.uk you can find audio interviews with authors, painters, sculptors, composers, scientists, cartoonists, sports personalities, etc. It’s very interesting, wide ranging and not confined to British subjects. Search on “audio interviews.

— “www.privacilla.com is a complete resource for privacy issues, sponsored by companies such as Microsoft and the Cato Institute think tank. This is hog heaven for policy wonks.


“RFID Essentials,” by Glover and Bhatt ($40 from www.oreilly.com).This is fast becoming topic “A” in electronics, a development with potential applications in fields as diverse as retail sales, medicine, weaponry, shipping and personal security. This book will take you through the big picture and the details of the very tiny picture.

RFID stands for radio frequency identification, and what it’s all about is a microchip that responds to a radio frequency pulse by sending back an echo. That echo can be as simple as recognition, or a fairly extensive stream of information. The chip can be almost unbelievably small; some engineers predict it will be possible to make it as small as a speck of dust. It can be injected into people, animals and plants and embedded in clothing, shipping containers and weapons, making them usable only to those with the proper electronic ID.

Right now the cost of making RFID from silicon chips, while not large, limits some uses. But just this past week, engineers at Philips Electronics in the Netherlands reported they had been able to make an RFID chip completely out of plastic. This would cut the cost to pennies.

Copyright 2006 Universal Press Syndicate

Readers can search several years of columns at the “On Computers” Web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at [email protected] and Joy Schwabach at [email protected].

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