Odds, Ends, and Accouterments
December 2nd, 1998

Mac users are so cool. Last weeks column offered a comparison between using a local internet provider or using AOL to access the internet. I mentioned that chat rooms, Buddy Lists, and Instant Messaging were only available on AOL to AOL users. A number of readers let me know that there are other venues for accessing these features. I am most grateful to the following, all of whom told me that I could access AOL's instant messenger service as a free download: Bradley Marshall, Dave Chia, John Scott Mastergeorge, Denny Lisagor, Timothy, Patty Fremlin, Scott Ribe, Darryl Asher, and Bill Judd.

I decided to test out their recommendations. Using Netscape, I went to AOL's web site and clicked on the button offering the Instant Messenger option. I was asked to select a user name, a pass word, and to give my primary e-mail address. Once I completed that I was given the option of downloading Instant Messenger. The whole process took about 15 minutes. Once the download was complete I clicked the install button and followed the directions. I was able to create a buddy list and can also utilize private chat rooms. Parties you wish to converse with must be registered with either AOL or AOL Instant Messenger. You can't just find anyone in the world and send them an instant message. You can't just list an e-mail address under the Buddy List either. However, for my purposes this will meet all my needs. Now if I can just get through to AOL to cancel my service with them. So far I have been getting busy signals for the last 2 hours.

A couple of readers suggested IRC (internet relay chat) rooms. Bill Judd suggested ICQ which he says can be reached through http://www.icq.com. M Gilbert suggested http://www.starnetusa.net/services/backstagepass.shtml. I have not personally checked out either of these sites due to time constrictions. However, one caution does seem to be pertinent. According to the editor of this great magazine, the IRC rooms are not monitored or controlled in any way. That means you could find yourself being exposed to things that you find offensive. Just be aware that this is a possibility.

One reader pointed out to me that I referred to America Online as American on Line. Oh those pesky typing fingers. [Editor's note: Seems the editor of this great magazine somehow missed that. Thanks to all the readers that let Nancy and I know about it. :-)]

One final reader comment comes from Rick, AKA wizardsofaz. Rick has created a Mac site at http://www.wizardsofaz.com and he invited visitors to check it out. On it you will find a Java version of an IRC client so you can try out IRC chat. Be warned, the Java IRC client can be slow, but it will give you a taste of what it can do.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, if the holidays are coming and it is time to think of gifts to get or give. For those who celebrate Christmas, old St. Nick is fast completing his list and those celebrating Hanukkah are almost out of time. I have prepared an overview of things that might be on those lists so that those non-techies among us will at least know what to ask for.

Computers - There is the iMac Desktop of course. Simple to set up, easy to use, and super friendly. They sell for $1,299 and now that the initial whirlwind is over you can shop for competitive prices and options. For instance I saw one ad that offered free 64MB RAM upgrade with purchase. The Macintosh PowerBook is on a number of lists. Granted, you may not be called upon to save the world from aliens with your PowerBook like Jeff Goldbloom in the movie Independence Day, but they are still might handy to have. The Power Macintosh G3 Series Desktop is the fastest desktop computer on the planet. They range in price from around $2799 to $4,499 depending on the configuration. Patient shoppers may be able to find deals on older PowerBook G3 with a 233 MHz processor.

Printers - Printers are so nice to have and they come in all ranges of kinds and prices. Before purchasing one you need to decide what you need/want it to do. There are laser printers and inkjet printers. The laser printer is usually faster, puts out a more permanent finished page, and uses toner cartridges as the reproduction source. The inkjet is usually less expensive, produces finished pages that will smear if they become wet and uses inkjet cartridges as the reproduction source. As a general rule the toner cartridges are more expensive than inkjet cartridges. Some inkjet printers do a better job on things like transparencies. Apple LaserWriter printers run around $2,000. Hewlett Packard has several and they range from $900 to $4,000. Obviously, the color printers are at the higher end of the cost range. Tektronix has laser printers at around $2,500 and $3,900; and Xerox has one at around $3,800. Toner cartridges range from around $25 to over $300. Most of these printers cost more than I can afford to spend on a computer. Epson makes color inkjet printers that run from around $180 up to $1,300. Hewlett Packard inkjet printers run from around $300 to $2,000. Ink cartridges usually come in a set of 4 or in one container that houses the three primary colors and black. Prices range all the way from about $25 to over $300. The less expensive ones are probably just black. I recommend that you make sure you find out how much your toner or ink will run and with what frequency it usually has to be replaced. Once again, patient shoppers will be able to find great deals on printers, from refurbished models to discontinued models and other specials.

Scanners - A scanner allows you to take a picture or a page of text and copy it onto your desk top. Once there you can use it in numerous ways. High end scanners will allow you to feed numerous pages at once and they will automatically run through to be scanned. Some scanners
will only scan text or only in black and white. Others will scan photos or text but with different degrees of clarity. It depends on what you want it to do and what you can afford. I found scanners that ran from under $100 up to over $8,000. Agfa, Apple, Epson, Hewlett Packard, Minolta, Microtek, Umax, and Nikon all make scanners for Macintosh. Before purchasing one you will need to make sure it is compatible with your computer. Note: If scanning is something that you rarely do you can choose to take your page(s) to a local copy center and they can usually scan for you. In my area it costs about $10 an 8-1/2 by 11 page.

Modems - A modem is the method by which your computer connects you to the internet. Many newer machines have modem's built in. The slowest modems that are generally in use now are 14k. There are also 28.8k, 33.6k and 56k. (Most phone lines don't really run 56 k, but they are still by far the fastest). External modems are easy to install, they just plug in. However, the configurations of your machine will have to be modified to accept the modem. If you can't do it yourself, call on your friendly neighborhood techies to help. If you upgrade your internal modem you will probably need someone to help you do that. Some of the slower modems on the market advertise that they can be upgraded to 56k so if you can't afford the fastest you might want to look for one with upgrade options. 56k modems run around $150. 33.6 ks run around $100 to $130. If you want a 28.8 ask around. Someone who upgraded probably has one sitting around that you can talk them out of.

One last thing, I asked the editor to recommend a site where one can safely shop for used equipment. He recommended MacTrader Online. If you of some other good sites, let me know and I will mention the site and you in a future column.

Happy Hunting