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Hot on the Web

The things you can find online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on August 1, 2003
(Issue 2131, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year)

A theme we return to again and again here is the amount and depth of information available online.

Not all of it is gold, of course – for every useful tidbit, you may have to dig through a thousand or more scams and urban myths.

But there are times that you strike an undeniable vein of true value.

One of my online projects is putting all my old CD reviews online. Vanity more than anything, I suppose, although when folks run across a review of a CD that strikes their fancy and click the "But it now" button, I earn a small commission from

I have about 500 CD reviews online now – most of the stuff I wrote for the American Reporter, Living Blues and the old San Diego Evening Tribune.

But the largest single bloc of CD reviews I ever wrote was from 1993-97 for the Blade-Citizen newspaper, which morphed into the North County Times.

But those 400-plus reviews were sitting on the hard drive of my Atari Falcon workstation. And as I'd written them in a word processor known as 1st Word Plus, they weren't even in ASCII format.

My copy of WordPerfect 11 contains a heck of a lot more filters than Microsoft Word does, but neither could recognize the obscure format of 1st Word Plus. (Readers with good memories may ask why didn't I use WordPerfect for the Atari back in the day – and I'd have no retort to that.)

So I powered up the Falcon, and started opening the reviews up, one by one, and saving them as ASCII. As I was explaining all this pathos to my programming friend Jeff via ICQ, he wrote back, "STOP!" He had me ZIP them up into a single file and e-mail them to him.

Quick results

Within a couple days, Jeff had found a Web site that contained the technical specs on a 1st Word Plus file – how it was encoded, and how that compared to ASCII. He took that information and wrote a script that opened each 1st Word Plus file and saved it as ASCII so my Windows word processors could open them.

That saved me, literally, dozens of hours of dumb labor. True enough, it cost Jeff a few hours in research and writing – but as long as I carry my 72 handicap up to Fallbrook so he can whup me in golf every so often, he seems happy enough.

There are others out there who still have valued files in obsolete formats; I at least still had the Atari handy so I could manually convert the reviews to ASCII if need be.

But for those who have their old Commodore or Apple disks but no computer to boot them up on, there are emulators and filters out there to allow you to open those files on your current computer (assuming you have a 5 1/4-inch floppy drive installed).

Netscape 7.1

Weeks after the demise of Netscape was proclaimed in the media in the wake of parent company AOL's new deal to continue using Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, Netscape 7.1 was released.

It's cosmetically the same as version 7.0x, and in most cases seems little changed.

However, the one change I have noted is that there is now a preference to block pop-up ads.

Ironically, this new feature was triggered by a pop-up ad on Netscape's welcome page after installation was complete!

I tried this feature, and it works pretty well – the pop-ups on still appear, but those on the local paper's web site no longer do.

It's a useful feature, and cheaper and easier than buying and installing one of the third-party pop-up blockers on the market.

What widespread acceptance of this tool would do to the economic viability of a free, advertising-supported World Wide Web is another question.