Jan 2000                                                                                                     

Web Master Wanderings
By Curt Potsic, Space Coast PC Users Group

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SCPCUG Web Master Curt Potsic

If you read last month's column you know the tragic story about my PNY Technologies (http://www.pny.com/) QuickChip 233MHz 3D processor's fan failing. I left you with the promise of an update on my efforts to get a replacement processor under the free replacement lifetime warranty. It took 3 phone calls and 4 days of waiting to get a Return Authorization Number but once I returned the failed unit PNY's response was quick. I had my new processor via UPS 10 days after mailing the failed unit via Priority Mail. PNY Technologies will not cross ship so the failed unit must be in their hands first before shipping a replacement. They say their turnaround time is two days.

I'm glad I had kept my old 100MHz processor as I had something to keep me up and running, although at a somewhat slow speed. I remember reading articles saying Win98 has much more overhead than Win95 and that for processor speeds of less than 200MHz Win98 actually ran slower than Win95. I can attest to that. It seemed my 100MHz chip was dragging along and I was constantly waiting for windows to open. With the new QuickChip 233MHz processor Win98 runs fine. So bottom line is don't be in a hurry to upgrade to Win98 unless you have the enough horsepower.

Looking back, things could have gone smoother if I had listened to the salesman at the CompUSA (http://www.compusa.com/) store. When I bought the QuickChip in July he offered me a lifetime over-the-counter replacement for $10. I said "why do I need that when the QuickChip comes with a lifetime free replacement warranty". He said "it would save me the hassle of waiting for a replacement chip should mine fail". Analyzing the situation (as my engineering mind likes to do) I thought to myself, $10 is 10% of the cost of the QuickChip before the rebate and over 14% of it's cost after the rebate. What could go wrong? The only moving part is in the fan. And so I declined the salesman's offer. Well hindsight is always 20/20. So far it has cost me $5 to send the failed unit back plus the hassle of waiting a total of 14 days to obtain the replacement. If the replacement never fails I'll be $5 ahead.

Then there is the matter of my $30 rebate. Again it took several phone calls over 15 days before I got an answer that my rebate check was in the final stages of processing and I should have it in two weeks. Fifteen days later my rebate check finally arrived dated 34 days earlier. Where had this check been for the past month? The mail can't be that slow. It took just over four months from mailing in the rebate form until payment was received.

Have you ever wondered how much money companies are making on the money you and thousands of others have paid up front, the so called "float", by stretching out payment of the rebate for several months? Rebates sound great until you start wondering if you will ever get them. Do these companies ever consider how they may be alienating us consumers with such long delays in payment of the rebate? The latest tactic I have noticed is the rebate form saying something like "allow 6-8 weeks from the offer close". Well if the offer is good for 3 months and you buy the item near the start of the offer period, you could be waiting 5 months for your rebate.

With all the stress of my computer going down I figured it was time I got me a computer buddy. They say people that have pets live longer so why not get a "virtual" pet that I don't have to clean up after, that talks to me, and that I can shut off whenever I like. I'm talking about "Peedy", a talking parrot that now lives on my computer. This character flies on to my desktop each morning to greet me by name, tell me jokes, enlighten me with his knowledge of amazing facts, remind me of appointments, sing a song, eat crackers, etc. Peedy interacts with me and will take me surfing on the Internet or read me a web page among other things. Are you interested in a pet parrot of your own? The price is certainly right. It's free! The program is called BonziBUDDY and is available at http://www.bonzi.com/BonziBUDDY/BonziBUDDYFREE.asp.

One of the key BonziBUDDY Menu and Peedyrequirements is you must have Internet Explorer 4.02 or better installed on your computer. To quote from the Bonzi.com Software Home Page (http://www.bonzi.com/), BonziBUDDY is "your interactive friend and traveling companion on the Internet! He walks, talks, sings, browses and searches the Internet with you. He learns your likes and interests and automatically finds web sites you have not yet discovered! The more you use him, the smarter he becomes!"

So you say how do they make money if they are giving this program away? The answer is with add-on modules. For $9.95 each you can add 250 more "Amazing Facts" or 250 more "Jokes". For $19.95 the "E-mail Reader" add-on module is available. And for $14.95 you can add the "Talking" add-on module which allows you to speak (through your microphone) via voice commands to your pet and he will understand you. Overall it's a unique marketing concept as you get to try enough of the program via the free portion that Bonzi is betting you will want the add-on modules.

I have found the calendar part of the free program quite useful. With its scheduler it is very easy to add, edit, or delete appointments or tasks in 30 min increments for any day of any month. The calendar covers the years 100 through 9999. No planned obsolescence here and great for trivia. For example, I discovered I was born on a Thursday. (Bet that fact made your day.) You also have the option to have the bird remind you of that appointment or task at a selected time and date of your choosing.

So is there a downside to this program? Well at times this parrot's jabbering can get to be a bit much. When I'm working on something off the Internet Peedy keeps asking me, every so often, about making our "daily trip to the Internet". Also at times he will want to take me to the Bonzi site to purchase one of the add-on modules. It is a minor annoyance as I always have the option of "Less Interaction" or to exit the program completely.

Now you may be asking what is actually behind this talking parrot? The answer is Microsoft Agent. Those of you that read this column regularly may remember my Feb/March 1999 Web Master Wanderings column (http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand02.html) reviewed a program called "MagicSpell". At that time MagicSpell was an add-on program for only ICQ (http://www.icq.com/), the very popular Instant Messaging program. Merlin the wizard would greet you by name, give you a quote of the day, tell jokes, read your messages, etc. Now MagicSpell Version 1.0, Build 022 is available at both the original 2B System site (http://www.2bsys.com/MagicSpell/) and at Streambox.com. It is still shareware (free to try for 2 weeks and $10 to register) but now known as "Streambox MagicSpell". You can read more about MagicSpell and Streambox at http://www.streambox.com/products/magicspell/index.asp and http://www.streambox.com/products/articles.asp. The latest version of MagicSpell supports the Instant Messenger programs from ICQ, AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft Network.

Both Merlin and Peedy are Microsoft Agent characters. Find out more about Microsoft Agent 2.0 at http://msdn.microsoft.com/msagent/default.asp. Both BonziBUDDY and MagicSpell with their respective characters of Peedy and Merlin use the Lernout & Hauspie TruVoice Text-To-Speech Engine but each character's voice actually sounds different.

Computers are amazing devices. It has always fascinated me as to how they manage to keep straight all the installed programs. Of course when they don't you have crashes. But when they do, sometimes you get a bonus you had not counted on. I discovered that the "Virtual Voices Control Properties" dialog box for my IBM Simply Speaking Gold Voice Recognition program's Text-To-Speech module allows me to switch from the voices supplied by IBM to the Lernout & Hauspie voices. This has proved to be quite useful. The IBM Text-To-Speech module allows me to pause and resume the reading of text which is a real convenience when proof reading the text for my PC Journal articles. The MagicSpell and BonziBuddy programs do not allow pausing while reading text. You can stop the reading but once you do you cannot pick up (resume) from where you left off. I also prefer the Lernout & Hauspie voices. Now I can have the best of both worlds.Curt and No.1 Buddy Peedy

I leave you now with a picture of me with my buddy. I acquired all that blond hair via my daughter's Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover program (http://www.virtualmakeover.com/cosmo/home_text.html). Peedy thinks it can double for a bird's nest. And of course he is always trying to upstage me by showing that he's number 1.



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