One of Google’s neatest tools is the Google Alert. Go to www.google.com, click “”more,”” and then click alerts. Type in anything you want to hear about.

You can choose to receive these alerts once a day, once a week or as they happen. Joy typed “”Wordsworth,”” selected “”news”” and received 10

items almost immediately. Wordsworth, who died in 1850, is still in the news as it turns out. She received alerts about a bookstore closing, quotes in newspapers, travel articles, etc.

There’s a similar service from NewsGator (www.newsgator.com). You can track news topics, sports results, editorials, blogs, etc., across many sites. This used to be exclusively a paid service but just recently became free for searches through major sources like the BBC News, the New York Times, ESPN, MSNBC, the Washington Post, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and popular blogs. More extensive searches still carry a charge.

Nextag (www.nextag.com) is a shopping site that lets you search for services as well as products. Some other search services do only products. This turned out to be a good service for ideas, as it suggested alternatives to what we were looking for.

Online shopping increases every year, and Yahoo (www.yahoo.com) and Froogle (www.froogle.com) are the leading services. Interestingly enough, they do not all come up with the same products when you do a search on a general category, like trees and shrubs. Our favorite search service for most things is still Clusty (www.clusty.com), the new incarnation of Vivisimo. (This is where we found a miniature plum tree for sale from South Africa.)

ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO FAX

We found a $99 program that’s similar to FinePrint’s free PDF Factory.

Why would we bother with that, you ask, when you can get a perfectly good PDF (Portable Document Format) file created for nothing? Well, you get more features. Actually, you get a lot more features. Let us begin:

The program is called ePrint, and it’s from www.leadtools.com. You can take a file from any Windows program and convert it into any one of 140 file types. You can combine several files into one file, converting all of their separate formats into one. The PDF output can have embedded watermarks and encrypted files. You can get greater file compression for images, which means less transmission time and less cost for phone line time, if that matters. We compressed a picture from 192k to 24k.

There is a built-in e-mail program that allows you to directly send newly created PDFs as attachments and print to multiple printers at the same time. We thought ePrint was impressive and we found it for $83 (all prices U.S.) at www.programmersparadise.com.

For those who missed our earlier column on how to get PDF Factory and make PDF files for free, you can get it at www.fineprint.com. The free version puts a single-sentence line at the bottom of each page, saying the PDF was created with PDF Factory, but it is quite discreet. We have tried this program 18 ways from Sunday and it works great. The version without any tag line at the bottom of the pages is $50.

A particularly nice feature of PDF Factory for people with older computers is that it will run on Windows 95 with no problems. It also runs on Windows systems after 95, of course.

SCANNING 35 MM

There’s still a demand for scanning 35 mm slides and negatives, and now you can do it at the professional level for less than $200.

The OpticFilm 7200 from Plustek lists for $199 at www.plustek.com and can scan slides at 7200×7200 dots to the inch. That’s roughly 52 million dots to the square inch and exceeds the resolution of most 35 mm film. Color depth is 48 bits per dot, both for input and output, which is easily enough to capture the most subtle gradations.

Plustek is known as a high-quality maker and the OpticFilm 7200 won two photo magazine awards as soon as it came out. The unit comes with a special edition of the famed SilverFast scanning software; definitely professional level.

MUSICAL GAMES

Music Game International has put some of its games online for free. Try www.interactiveclassics.com and click “”play.”” You have a choice of five games, which let you learn to distinguish the instruments of an orchestra while you’re enjoying music by Vivaldi, Mozart and Tchaikovsky. They’re designed as samples for the full CDs you can buy, but they’re much more than samples and are quite enjoyable on their own. Introducing the classics.

BOOKS

“”Business Cards: The Art of Saying Hello”” by Mike Dorrian and Liz Farrelly; $30 from HarperCollins (www.harpercollins.com). (We found it for $20 at Amazon.com.)

This is without a doubt one of the strangest books we’ve ever reviewed. It has pictures of 1,000 business cards, some of them made of recycled subway tickets, punched metal, stitched fabric, laminated cutouts, etc. The designs are sometimes bizarre, but nearly always eye-catching. There are only three short pages of text, with suggestions on how to create your own designs; the rest of the book is pictures of business cards.

Readers can search three years of columns at the “”On Computers”” Web site: www.oncomp.com and can e-mail the Schwabachs at bobschwab(AT)oncomp.com or bobschwab(AT)aol.com.

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