Online tech support

We’ve tried half a dozen of these online tech support services that fix your computer by controlling it through the Internet. They are a great alternative to having to take your computer into a shop, and we think they’re cheaper too. Here’s a new one that made us sit up and take notice:

It’s called, and Joy tried them out by asking them to set up a local network for printer and file sharing, and to speed up two slow computers.

One of the first things the tech support person asked was if she could remove all traces of Norton security products from the computers. She had nothing complimentary to say about these. We have heard the same from every other tech support specialist we’ve talked to.

This also matches Bob’s feelings on the matter; he has long refused to install any Symantec or Norton security program on his computer.

Our tech support lady went well beyond the call of duty in setting up the local network, and she installed 10 free small programs that made our computers run smoother and faster. When she was done, all three computers were able to use the same color laser printer, and we rang off smiling. is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week; most of the online tech services we’ve tried in the past were closed on weekends. You can call to get a free estimate, and if they think you can fix it yourself, they’ll tell you and there’s no charge. If you want them to fix a problem, the charges are $49 for 30 minutes, on up to $179 for three hours. If you don’t use all your minutes, they remain available for a year.

Two computers, one monitor

A new and nifty device from Belkin lets you connect two computers to the same monitor and flip between them with the touch of a button. The device can be used with PC and/or Macintosh and laptops. It’s called the Flip, and we’re going to use it all the time.

What you get is a Y-shaped color-coded core unit, with cables that connect to the monitor, speaker and USB sockets on both computers. It’s about the size of an ordinary slice of pie. A keyboard and mouse also plug into the same unit and you are in business. There is no software to load to get going, but you can download software if you want to replace the control button with a clickable icon.

Ah, but the control button is the fun of it. If you want to use the other computer at any moment, just click the button, which is in a case the size of a small cookie. The switch from one computer to the other appeared instantaneous to us.

If you use it with a laptop, you can work both computers with the keyboard that comes with a desktop, which is generally larger and easier to use. The Flip would also be handy if you get a new Vista computer but want to continue to use your old one.

The Flip costs $50 to $80, depending on features from Belkin’s own site,, cheaper at discount sites. For an extra $10 you get an audio cable that lets you switch between audio on either computer.

The only complaints we’ve heard are that some people have experienced switching freeze if they use very large monitors or are serious gamers (games often require very fast screen redraws). We didn’t have any problems.


1. We found several Web sites that let you send out nice-looking party invitations and decided we liked best. Second choice was The main difference was that Evite has hundreds of finished e-invitations you can customize with your photos or theirs, and MyPunchbowl has the same basic template into which you drop clip-art or photos.

Both services are free and allow you to send out decorative invitations by e-mail and collect responses. Invited guests can leave comments when they reply. With Evite, they can also see who else has replied and who will be there. With MyPunchbowl, a map and driving directions are included with the invitation.

2. is one of the oldest multi-lingual translation sites. We tried new ones like Fox Lingo, a plug-in for Firefox, and found BabelFish was still the best. It will translate Web sites or any text you paste into a window, between many languages, including French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean, Dutch, etc. The translations are far from perfect and sometimes nearly nonsensical, but if you work at it you can sort of figure it out. The service is free.

Books: Really Low-Budget movies

“The DV Rebel’s Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap” by Stu Maschwitz; $45, book and DVD disk, from Peachpit Press.

It’s happening. As we noted umpty-ump years ago, the combination of fast desktop computers and video editing software is going to give anyone willing to spend the time at it the ability to make professional movies. It’s a new ball game; and the umpire has just announced “play ball.”

The author used to work for Industrial Light and Magic (creator of special effects for the Star Wars movies and many others), and has his own film company. He shows the reader how to have an actor flip over a fence and make it look like he leaped from a building, make a low garden wall look like it’s 20 feet high, make muzzle flashes and realistic hits from high-tech weapons, and make Cleveland look like Paris. In short, it’s show time.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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