Linux High Performance Computing

News & Information Related to Linux High Performance Computing, Linux Clustering and Cloud Computing

Retrieve Everything Now With Professional RAID Recovery!

Have you lost a file or accidentally deleted something? Do you need it badly that you need to have it again but do not want to go through all the problems and process of having to redo everything again? Having a RAID 5 server is a nice setup, as if in case someone loses a file, they can easily retrieve it because of the redundancy. A lot of people have been calling now and then to ask if there is any way they can retrieve the files or files that they accidentally erased permanently. Thank the fast pace of technology for discovering something that is very useful to everybody. RAID servers are recoverable, even when it seems like the hardware is corrupted beyond reason.

dell-serversRAID recovery is very useful to all server administrators because without it, they will be in serious troubles. There are many recovery companies out there on the web, by the way but not all of them are as good at recovering RAID servers as Hard Drive Recovery Associates. This data recovery company focuses on RAID repair for Buffalo, IBM, Dell and other manufacturers.

How Effective Are Dell PowerEdge Recovery Services When You Need Them?

As we all know, there are many ways how you can recover your files but that would depend on what the brand is. Just like for any computer or device that is made by Dell, Dell PowerEdge recovery services are the best solution if you are scared to lose your files. Even if there is a backup for your files, it is still important to have a professional in case your Dell device bites the dust. This ensures that even you have your back up files, you can still get the files back. There are many people who use Dell as their primary device. There could be many reasons why they chose this brand. One of the reasons is because this brand has a reliable tools and systems.

There are many cases when users forget to save a file or back up their important files. Dell Poweredge Servers tend to be very prone to failure, especially the 2800, 2850 and 2950 models. So, if you do need to recover the RAID disk from a Dell PowerEdge server, you may want to check out this guide. It’s all great information, and will ensure you don’t lose the stuff you need on the RAID disk (whether it’s 5, 10, or 50), HDRG can help.

10 Time Saving Business Tips!

tsbtTime may be on Mick Jagger’s side (at least according to the song), but it’s probably not on yours. Your business makes so many demands that time has become an adversary. Even when you dip into your evenings and weekends, it seems impossible to get everything done–not to mention find time to spend with your family.

* Technology to the rescue. You may think you’re using technology to its maximum timesaving capacity, but there’s always room for improvement. We’ve uncovered more than 15 techniques that can liberate precious minutes from your day and hours from your week. Judging from our estimates, these ideas could add up to an entire extra day for work or play.

When you think about it, it’s mostly the administrative tasks that so subtly nibble away at your day. You need to call clients to schedule meetings. You have to address envelopes for a mailing. You need to type that valuable article into your word processor for future reference. And you have been backing up your hard drive regularly, haven’t you? No wonder your productivity is plummeting. Before you waste another minute doing these chores the old-fashioned way, consider our timesaving solutions. After all, time marches on–but it doesn’t have to stampede.

TOSS THE TELEPHONE

Schedule meetings via e-mail instead of phone.

Tuesday afternoon is open. So is Friday morning. You need to schedule meetings with five clients, but you don’t have all day to do it. Even if you did, chances are you’d only get as far as leaving voice mail on their machines. The solution: Send your messages via e-mail. It may seem a little impersonal compared with a phone call, but the people you’re contacting are established clients. They’re just as busy as you are and would likely appreciate one less interruption.

E-mail has numerous advantages over the telephone. Its main plus is its speed. E-mail’s one-sided nature means you say your piece, then send it off. The response comes, and you’re done. There’s no time-consuming chit-chat to endure, no games of phone tag to play.

The one drawback is the lack of instant feedback. Not everyone checks his e-mail every day so it might take a day or two to get a response. The solution: Plan ahead. Schedule meetings and announce them a week in advance, thus giving your clients time to answer and you time to make any necessary scheduling adjustments.

Factoring in such variables as phone tag and small talk, we determined that the average time to arrange a single meeting by phone is 10 minutes. E-mail, on the other hand, takes about three minutes.

Old way: 5 meetings x 10 minutes = 50 minutes

New way: 5 meetings x 3 minutes = 15 minutes

Time saved: 35 minutes

THE PlM IS IN

“GoldMine is far superior

to any Rolodex.”

–Rich Richbourg

In a small market, every contact counts, which is why Rick Richbourg of DIVERsions Worldwide Inc. feels his GoldMine personal information manager “is far superior to any Rolodex” for handling clients of his cave diving and underwater adventure business.

Though Richbourg uses GoldMine (GoldMine Software, 800-654-3526; GoldMine’s Web site can be found at http://www.goldminesw.com) for its address book, he also relies heavily on its calendars, to-do lists, event scheduling, and call-back features. Because he’s often away from the office, Richbourg uses GoldMine on both his office computer and his laptop. “GoldMine is a handy way to update my office PC with notes and other important information collected on my diving trips,” he says.

Richbourg’s favorite use of GoldMine is tracking communications. “I send out a lot of materials describing my business and upcoming dives,” he explains. “These can be linked to GoldMine so I always know which clients have received what information. It keeps my customer service level up, and it keeps my clients happy because they stay informed.”

Old Way: Look up names of 10 clients in Rolodex; track followup calls in a separate log, 20 minutes. New Way: Locate names, numbers, and background information of 10 clients; after call update each contact file, 5 minutes. Time saved: 15 minutes.

–Bonnie Georgia

MERGE THE MAIL

Use your PC–rather than your pen– to address envelopes.

Hand hurts, doesn’t it? That’s what you get for addressing that batch of envelopes for your mailing with a pen. You’ve already got your clients’ names and addresses in a database, so why not use your word processor’s mail-merge feature to address envelopes? Even if your printer requires you to feed envelopes one at a time, you’ll still crank out more in half an hour than you could by hand.

You may have to invest some time to learn and set up the mail-merge process, but that’s a onetime chore. We used Microsoft Word along with Hewlett-Packard’s LaserJet 5L–a four-page-per-minute printer that accommodates stacks of 10 envelopes. The actual mail-merge takes only seconds, and a faster printer will yield even better results.

Old way: 50 envelopes x 30 seconds = 25 minutes

New way: 50 envelopes in 13 minutes

Time saved: 12 minutes

FAST FAX

Send faxes from your PC rather than a fax machine.

Although fax machines have been part of our business lives for more than a decade, the technology behind them has changed very little. Most machines still transmit pages at a pokey 9,600 bits per second (bps). A computer modem, on the other hand, can send and receive at 14,400bps–as long as there’s another computer at the other end (an increasingly common scenario).

Even if you’re sending a document from your computer to a regular fax machine, there’s time to be saved. For one thing, you won’t have to watch over the computer to make sure pages feed properly. (There’s no such thing as a paper jam when you fax via modem.) Plus, you won’t need to print documents before sending them. And if it’s a long-distance fax, you’ll pinch a few pennies as well.

For this test, we faxed a 20-page document from two sources: a fax machine and a computer armed with Delrina’s WinFax Pro 7.0. In the first scenario, we had to first print the document, which added five minutes to the overall time. At the receiving end was a modem-equipped PC.

Old way: 20 pages, 20 minutes

New way: 20 pages, 10 minutes

Time saved: 10 minutes

MAKIN’ COPIES

Duplicate pages at home instead of going out.

Even if there’s a copy shop just 10 minutes from your office, you still have to get in the car, drive there, find a parking space, make the copies, and drive home. If you’re doing a big job that requires collating or stapling, you might have no other choice then to outsource the job, but for making a few copies here and there, stay home. You don’t need a photocopier–all you need is a scanner.

There’s a new breed of affordably priced personal scanners on the market and many–such as Visioneer’s PaperPort and Logitech’s PageScan Color–come with software that enables push-button copying. Simply feed a few pages into the scanner, and in seconds your printer will begin churning out duplicates.

We made copies of three different documents using the PaperPort scanner and an HP Laserjet 5L printer.

Old way: Drive to a local Kinko’s, park, get copies, 30 minutes

New way: 3 minutes

Time saved: 27 minutes

We drove to the nearest office-supply store in search of six common office items. Then we ordered the same six items from OfficeMax OnLine.

Old way: 45 minutes

New way: 10 minutes

Time saved: 35 minutes

MESSAGE IN

A BOX: PDAs

“A Newton gives you about 40 percent of a notebook’s power–and it fits in your pocket.’

–John Schettino

Freelance writer John Schettino never goes anywhere without his Newton MessagePad 120 (Apple Computer, 800-767-2775). In fact, his affection for the Newtons led him to coauthor Basic for the Newton and nab a contributing editor position at PDA Developers Magazine.

During his career, Schettino has used Day-Timer calendars with limited success. “As a writer, I like to be able to capture ideas on the spur of the moment. Whenever I use a Day-Timer, I know I’ve written it down, but I can’t remember where. With my Newton, I can search my database for things I’ve stored, and I don’t need excessive details–a word or name is all I need to find it.”

Schettino relies on the Newton’s system of alarms so he never forgets appointments, and he uses the PDA to schedule meetings on the fly. For him, a PDA is an effective mix of power and portability, making it a perfect traveling companion. “A Newton gives you about 40 percent of a notebook’s power, plus fax and e-mail capabilities, and it still fits in your pocket,” he explains.

Old Way: Search through piles of paper on desk to locate proposal for new story idea; create alphabetized database of appropriate publishing contacts; total, I hour. New Way: Input keyword “brilliant idea” into Apple’s Newton PDA; cut and paste names and addresses of publishing contacts from your computer’s PIM, 10 minutes. Time saved: 50 minutes.

–B.G.

FORGO TRIPS FOR PAPER CLIPS

Order supplies online instead of

going to the store.

Proponents of the virtual marketplace tout the convenience of shopping online versus fighting traffic and surly salespeople. Although you can’t try on a new outfit while sitting at your PC, there’s no reason you shouldn’t shop in cyberspace for such staples as, well, staples.

If you subscribe to America Online or have access to the World Wide Web, you can browse the shelves of OfficeMax OnLine (http://www.officemax.com) and order whatever supplies you need–at any time of the day or night. Instead of wandering endless aisles in search of bulletin boards, copy paper, and ink-jet cartridges, then standing in line and getting home, you can use its Product Search tool to toss exactly what you need into your virtual shopping cart.

Of course, you’ll have to wait a few days for the supplies to reach your doorstep, and you’ll pay a couple bucks extra for shipping. But the time saved is well worth planning a few days ahead.

JUST YOUR TYPE

Use optical character recognition (OCR) to convert physical documents to computer text instead of retyping them.

The technology behind OCR may not be perfect (even the best programs fall short of 100 percent accuracy), but it’s still significantly faster than typing. Even if you type 60 words per minute, you can save gobs of time by letting the computer take the reins.

Suppose a client faxes you a 1 O-page document that you need to revise and fax back. You can spend over an hour typing it into your word processor, or you can import it into a program such as Caere’s OmniPage Pro. In both cases, you’ll have to spot-edit the document for mistakes, but you’ll get to that step a lot quicker with OmniPage. (You can also use a scanner to import documents for OCR.)

For this test, we typed a 10-page document into a word processor (at about 60wpm). We then converted that same document using OmniPage.

Old way: 8 minutes per page x 10 pages = 80 minutes

New way: 10 pages via OCR, 5 minutes

Time saved: 75 minutes

ALWAYS JUST A BEEP AWAY

-Having both [a pager and e-mail] keeps me within reach of my customers.”

–Joanne Mitchell

Joanne Mitchell used to manage calls to her medical billing and training business with voice mail, but she was frustrated with the number of messages she received while she was away from the office. To help maintain her hands-on reputation with her Pacific Medical clients, Mitchell bought an alphanumeric pager, and she’s barely taken it off since.

At a rate of about $20 per month, Mitchell’s alphanumeric pager from Motorola (800-548-9954, http://www.motorola.com) is more expensive than voice mail, but it has brought her tremendous freedom and peace of mind. “It lets me take important calls and make decisions while I’m away from the office, and it helps me fulfill the commitment to my trainees of always being available,” she says.

In addition to keeping her customer service level high, Mitchell says her pager “helps project a big-business image to new and established clients.” Though she wears her pager everywhere (even when she’s in the office), Mitchell doesn’t think she could completely give up voice mail. “I would never be comfortable letting my pager simply shuttle messages to me, but having both always keeps me within reach of my customers.”

Old Way: Listen to and save, delete, or forward 35 voice-mail messages (I.5 minutes per message) left over a two-day absence from the office; write down names and numbers of eight calls to return immediately; return/leave voice-mail messages for the eight calls (average call, 5 minutes); total, 92.5 minutes. New Way: Call in response to 8 out of 35 pages received over a two-day period (approximately 7 minutes per call), 56 minutes. Time saved: 36.5 minutes.

–B.G.

FIND GOVERNMENT STATS–STAT!

Look up information online instead of visiting the library,

Looking for the latest tax information as it pertains to small business? You can spend hours combing the stacks of your local library or hop into cyberspace for up-to-the-minute data directly from the IRS. The agency’s surprisingly stylish Web site (http://www.irs. ustreas.gov/prod/) offers forms, information, and even humor.

Old way: Take a trip to the library 60 minutes

New way: Peruse the IRS’s Web site, 10 minutes

Time saved: 50 minutes

ONLINE VS. ON HOLD

Get technical support electronically rather than by phone.

For most of us, technical support is a necessary evil, like root canals and Schedule Cs. Waiting on hold for 20 minutes while Barry Manilow burbles in our ear is not our idea of time well spent. But when your PC starts to act like HAL 9000, what else can you do?

Send an e-mail or post a message to an online bulletin board. Virtually all computer companies now offer these electronic solutions as alternatives to phone support. Unless your problem requires immediate attention (Windows won’t load, your CD-ROM drive is smoking, and so on), you can fire off a quick note to the company, then check back the next day for the response. If the company has a message area on America Online or CompuServe, you can peruse the postings to see if anyone else has experienced your problem–and find out what the solution is.

We called the technical support lines of five major computer companies and waited on hold for an average of 17 minutes. We also sent e-mail or posted messages online. In every case of the latter, we received a response within 24 hours.

Old way: 17 minutes on hold

New way: 2 minutes to send/post a message + 2 minutes to check the response = 4 minutes

Time saved: 13 minutes

PICK UP THE PACE OF BACKUPS

Use a tape drive rather than floppies to

back up your hard drive.

Sometimes the truth hurts, but this is for your own good. If you’re using floppy disks to safeguard your data, you’re not only wasting mountains of time, you’re clinging to your checkbook a little too tightly. A large-capacity tape backup drive can be yours for as little as $150, and it’ll increase your peace of mind at the same time that it frees up your schedule.

The backup utility included with Windows 95 allows you to archive your data on floppy disks–provided you’re willing to sit there and swap them. Backing up an entire hard drive this way is just plain silly. But even if you’re archiving just 30MB of vital data, the floppy-swap system is a poor choice.

Using a tape drive doesn’t necessarily complete the process much faster, but it has one distinct advantage: You can start the backup at night, and it’ll be done in the morning. Because the tape backup drive requires no supervision, you need only spend the time it takes to select which files to back up.

Old way: 30MB archived on floppies, 30 minutes

New way: Entire hard drive archived on tape, 5 minutes (setup time)

Time saved: 25 minutes

THE NET RESULT

“There’s no excuse not to have a network.”

–Charlie McGrath

Charlie McGrath’s business, Gyre Media, creates multimedia presentations. His colleagues often exchange work on floppy disks, but in his opinion, “a sneakernet is just not feasible for a multimedia design business. You’d go crazy!”

McGrath decided he needed a network “the first time I realized how long it would take to shuttle 40MB files on floppies.” Setting up a network with three Macintosh computers wasn’t much of a challenge. “Because of built-in Ethernet capabilities, networking Macs is a no-brainer,” he says. “It’s so simple that even if you rarely use it, its worth the extra effort.”

“There’s no doubt that PCs are much more costly and difficult to network,” says McGrath, but he maintains that given the time you spend doing multiple file transfers as well as the cost of investing in a ZIP drive or tons of floppies, you could easily justify the expense. “There’s no excuse not to have a network.”

Old Way: Download a 40MB file from a 100MHz Pentium system with 16MB RAM to 29 floppy disks, 30 minutes; upload it to another system with same configuration, 30 minutes; total, 1 hour.

New Way: Send 40MB file via an Ethernet network, 5 minutes.

Time saved: 55 minutes.

–B.G.

ADMIRE YOUR FORM

Fill out forms electronically rather than by hand.

Forms–they’re everywhere. Between the surveys, invoices, fax covers, and order forms, you can spend hours every week just filling in the blanks. But if you have a scanner, you can use software such as Caere’s OmniForm (Caere’s Web site is http://www. caere.com) to complete forms on your PC. Just scan the form in once, and OmniForm will create tabbed fields where you need to type the necessary information. Once that’s complete, you can fax, print, or file the form.

The number and complexity of the forms you encounter will determine the time you can save with this method. We calculated the savings based on 10 forms per week. Each of our samples was a different length, ranging from half a page to five pages.

Old way: 10 forms filled in by hand, 55 minutes

New way: 10 forms completed in OmniForm, 20 minutes

Time saved: 35 minutes

YOUR PC: BUILT FOR SPEED

Tune your system for higher performance.

Here’s a list of ways you can rev up that monster on your desk.

* Give the 14.4Kbps modem the boot and buy a 28.8Kbps modem for under $200.

* Add eight more megabytes of RAM to your system. Available now for as little as $90, it will make your applications run faster.

* Put your most used applications onto your desktop start-up group so it immediately launches programs when you turn on your PC.

* Upgrade your 486 or lower-speed Pentium to a Pentium with an Intel Pentium overdrive processor. Intel is now selling Pentium CPU upgrades for 486-based systems (prices range from $159 to $219). Upgrades to 120- and 133MHz from 60- and 75MHz systems, respectively, cost $299. At press time, upgrading your system to 166MHz from 100MHz costs $679.

* Create macros in your word processor using Microsoft Word’s AutoText Feature and instantly add a logo, salutation, or closing with a keystroke.

* Design a template with your business letterhead. If you have a scanner, or access to one, scan in your signature and save it onto the template as a bitmap file. You’re now equipped to bypass your printer and fax machines and fax signed documents directly from your PC.

Time saved: 71.5 minutes

COLOR ME PROFITABLE

“Most clients like the color, and it helps me sell my work.”

— Julia Tavis

After growing fired of paying $16 per page for color proofs at a local service bureau, Julia Tavis bought an HP DeskJet 855C for her home-based multimedia and graphic design business, Got-A-Vision Graphics. Now the money she used to spend at the service bureau “goes fight into my pocket.”

Tavis’s HP printer has 720dpi resolution and super color reproduction, making it perfect for creating spot-color proofs and mock-ups of her designs. “My clients want an idea of what their finished jobs will look like,” says Tavis, “and it’s easy for them to picture the project if I use my printer. Most clients like the color, and it helps me sell my work.”

Along with ditching high service-bureau costs, Tavis was pleased to feel more in control of the final product and to eliminate the time she had spent “preflighting” each job. “Running to the local printer meant lots of time worrying about getting them everything to complete the job. The time and money you spend preflighting, driving, and waiting in line,” says Tavis “will quickly pay for the cost of a printer. And you won’t have such high prices to pass along to your clients.”

Old Way: Drive to service bureau and park; give printer job mock-up with instructions; wait in pick-up and cashier lines; drive home; total, 1 hour, 25 minutes. New Way: Print 30 copies of new brochure on one-page-per-minute color ink-jet printer, 30 minutes. Time saved: 55 minutes.

Protect Your Servers And Laptops With Equipment Insurance

slwiAs entrepreneur Ann Kitcher stood watching flames sweep through her Laguna Beach, California, home, she never thought she’d face a worse disaster. But when she contacted the carrier who had issued her homeowner’s policy, she really got burned: Kitcher didn’t have loss-of-business-data coverage. And the $5,000 in equipment insurance she did have was just a fraction of the total value of her college curriculum consultancy, which included a PC, $20,000 in furniture, supplies, completed textbooks, and nearly two years’ worth of work in progress. What’s worse, Kitcher hadn’t backed up her files.

“If I’d had a separate business policy, it would have given me the income to pay people to redo the technical stuff in my exam books,” says Kitcher. “Instead, I gave up the business.”

Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs have found out the hard way that fires, earthquakes, and even power surges can make a shambles out of expertly integrated computer systems and can quickly erase vital business data. A sewer backup in your basement might ruin the most graciously appointed ofrice. Thieves may break into your garage and steal inventory that took weeks to produce. A momentary lapse of concentration and your laptop can fall and get crushed.

With all the product and service purchases today’s entrepreneurs make, few include equipment insurance among their vital needs–that is, until it’s too late. “Many [entrepreneurs] don’t even know they have a need” says Ralph Curtis of the Curtis Insurance Agency in Oxford, Michigan. Unlike health insurance, in which cost is a major obstacle, business insurance is affordable. The problem is that when you’re building a company, you’re too busy to sit down and tally the value of your growing assets. And like Kitcher, many entrepreneurs mistakenly assume that their homeowner’s policy will automatically insure an entire business headquartered in a spare room.

“[Entrepreneurs] have to be aware of equipment insurance or else they might be left without a company,” cautions John Robards, special projects manager with the PC-user’s group Boston Computer Society.

Fortunately, some insurers and agents who had previously viewed home-based entrepreneurs as hobbyists rather than serious businesspeople are now discovering that this is a very desirable market. Over the last year, several policy alternatives have been created. “Home-based businesses are the wave of the future,” says Steve Vedas, product director for RLI Insurance Co. “And right now, this market is being underserved.”

To help you get the best deal on coverage, we’ve gone shopping. First, we created five typical small-business profiles. Then we asked dozens of insurance professionals, including nationwide carriers and local, independent agencies, for examples of the best equipment insurance options for the lowest prices.

Home- and Business-Owner Options

Bill is a 46-year-old computer-systems integrator who’s set up company headquarters in the den of ‘his 10-year-old home, which is insured for $300,000. Because he usually works at his clients’ sites, Bill doesn’t need a lot of equipment. All he has stored at his Troy, Michigan, office are a PC, some peripherals, a few files, and supplies, all of which carry, a total replacement value of $5,000.

Bill’s in a better situation than many knowledge workers, because he hasn’t built an expensive high-tech workstation at home. As a result, his $5,000 worth of equipment is covered by his existing homeowner’s insurance policy with State Farm Insurance Co. Even so, the stuff sitting in Bill’s office would be covered only if it were damaged by fire or theft–but not by such accidents as spilled soda on the keyboard. More important, Bill wouldn’t be insured against the loss of business income and lost data in the event of a disaster.

Unlike State Farm, many carriers’ standard homeowner’s policies–which cost roughly $800 to $900 annually–cover only $2,500 in office equipment. If that were the case or if Bill were thinking of purchasing more equip* merit in the near future, he could pick up a rider to his existing homeowner’s policy that would protect his valuables, income, and lost data in the event of a catastrophe.

For example, at Central Park Insurance Agency in Troy, an agent told us that Bill could buy a $40-a-year rider through Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance or Meridian Insurance companies. By doing so, he would extend his homeowner’s coverage to his business property at home, under the policy limit of $300,000 for his entire dwelling. And if Bill suddenly became a systems integrator who traveled with expensive equipment, he could purchase a floater policy for another $250 annually that would cover his equipment–no matter where it was located.

To find Bill coverage of his business income, we continued our shopping expedition and gave Utica National Insurance Group (800-933-1914) a call. With this carrier, Bill would have to switch his homeowner’s policy and would pay only $25 a year for a rider. He’d still get $5,000 in computer equipment coverage—enough to protect his office essentials. Utica’s rider also extends coverage to common office risks, such as power surges, viruses, and the infamous soda-spilled-on-the-keyboard catastrophe, not just such basic perils as fire or theft. Plus, he would be covered for up to $2,500 if his equipment were damaged off-premises and $1,000 in expenses for re-creating business records. Still, this policy does not include loss of income coverage–vital for someone carrying a home mortgage.

After doing more digging, we found out that CNA Insurance Co. (312-822-5000) has recently been targeting home-based businesses, but again Bill would have to switch carriers. A local insurance agent told us that the Chicago insurer now sells HomeWork, a rider on its homeowner’s policy. Available in at least 22 states including Michigan, HomeWork is more like a business insurance policy; it would set Bill back $175 a year, plus the deductible on his homeowner’s policy.

Although the cost is higher, the benefits are better: First, with HomeWork (available only to nonindustrial operations), Bill could match the limit of his on-premises business property to the amount of homeowner’s insurance he would take out, roughly $300,000. This is unlike Bill’s present policy, which insures only $5,000 in office equipment. And it may be a smart move–especially if he plans to make some major business purchases. Second, HomeWork covers the loss of Bill’s income for up to one year while his company’s valuables are being repaired and replaced. The policy also pays up to $10,000 in costs for re-creating destroyed data and another $10,000 if Bill’s accounts receivables records were destroyed and he were unable to reconstruct them. What’s more, HomeWork compensates up to $15,000 if a laptop, cellular phone, or any other portable product is destroyed while Bill is away from home.

But before we had Bill switch carriers, we called his State Farm agent, who told us that the company offers homeowner’s policy riders comparable with CNA’s. The good news is that the rider would carry a lower annual premium than CNA’s–$150 annually, with a $250 deductible. The bad news is that the costs of recreating business data wouldn’t be included.

But because Bill doesn’t want to change his homeowner’s carrier–or if he rented–he should consider a separate business insurance policy. For that purpose, we contacted RLI (309-692-1000), which sells its In-Home Business Insurance. He’d get comprehensive coverage of his $5,000 in equipment against any insurable loss, including theft, and the policy would cover the expenses of setting up a new office temporarily as well as loss of income for up to one year. In addition, In-Home is currently .expanding its off-premises coverage from $1,000 to $5,000 starting in California (call your local independent agent to see if it’s available in your area). All these benefits are available for a $150 annual premium–the lowest we’d heard yet–and the lowest deductible, a mere $100. There’s one caveat: At this premium, RLI would provide only up to $1,000 to re-create business data, including accounts receivables–far lower than the ceilings included in CNA’s basic policy. But for Bill, who backs up religiously and who doesn’t wish to switch homeowner’s insurance carders, RLI’s policy might be his best option.

Service Firm Smarts

Claudia, 37, is a wedding photographer based in LaJolla, California. She really doesn’t have a home office per se, just some files where she stores negatives, receipts, and so on, and a PC worth $2,000, which she uses for her accounts receivables. But she does have photographic equipment that she stores at home that has a replacement value of $13,000. She takes all of her essentials to weekend wedding shoots.

When shopping for Claudia’s insurance, we were bluntly reminded that home-based businesses are still perceived ignominiously by many in the insurance industry: Some agents told us they were too busy to deal with small accounts. And when we contacted Valerie Seymour, an agent at Brentwood, California, W.F. Hooper Inc., we learned that California home-based business owners may have double difficulty. Because insurers are reluctant to write homeowner’s policies here due to the severe earthquakes of the last 10 years that have drained finances, Seymour suggested that the photographer buy a separate business insurance policy.

So we contacted a local agent at Robertson-Rock Insurance, who was eager to issue Claudia a business owner’s policy through Allied Insurance or another insurer that he represents. The annual premium would be roughly $550, with a $250 deductible.

The important aspect of a business owner’s policy is its “inland marine property floater” provision, which protects Claudia’s photography equipment wherever she takes it. Even if Claudia rented her home, she’d be covered. A business owner’s policy also includes minimal coverage of business property and valuable papers, disks, and tapes kept at her home, loss of income, and liabilities that she might encounter as a service entrepreneur–say, a wedding guest who tripped over one of her power cords and broke a leg.

Trying to find a better deal for Claudia and knowing that small-business organizations have group purchasing power, we checked out the Small Office Home Office Association’s (SOHOA, 888-764-6211) offerings. Its business owner’s insurance package, sold through ITT Hartford and the Insurance Services Group, provides comparable coverage. Claudia’s premiums would be about $400 a year, with a $250 deductible–a better deal than what the Robertson-Rock agent quoted us. Even though the association membership fee of $49 a year is not required, its premium still cuts too deep into the photographer’s budget.

So we made more calls and found the best deal at RLI. The carrier would write Claudia a business owner’s policy, which sells basically comparable coverage to what Robertson-Rock offers– $13,000 in coverage on- and off-premises–for $338 a year, with a $100 deductible. Unlike the policy RLI would write for Bill, however, this covers equipment no matter where it’s located. In addition, common catastrophes are included, except for intentional damage and such disasters as wars and floods.

Insuring Inventory

Mary, 61, sews dresses, quilts, comforters, and other items for sale at trade shows all over the mid-Atlantic region; she also assembles garments on assignment for balls, proms, and social occasions. In a bedroom of her Rockville, Maryland, home, she has $12,000 worth of sewing machines and equipment and typically has on hand about $3,000 worth of supplies (fabric, zippers, buttons, and so on). On racks in her attached garage, she stores about $5,000 in finished goods, which she sells at shows, as well as her booth setup that cost $2,000 to construct.

To locate an insurance carrier for Mary, we called the Independent Agents Association of America (800-221-7917), which lead us to Bill Kingsley at The Insurance Exchange (301-279-5500). He explained that Mary’s business setup presents some unique problems. Unlike most home-based businesses, she’s not buying insurance to protect high-tech equipment. Instead, she needs coverage for all sorts of perishable materials, significant inventory, and even a trade-show booth. There’s no way a homeowner’s policy could cover her company, he says. Besides the high value of her inventory, Mary more than likely would need to present a certificate of insurance-for liability coverage–before craft-show operators would let her set up a booth. For that reason, Kingsley suggests a business policy.

(It’s worth noting here that many of the experts we spoke with said small-business owners should consider purchasing equipment and liability insurance simultaneously. That’s because many carriers are creating policies that cover both areas for one premium. However, because each type is so important to safeguard your company, we’ll report on liability insurance separately in next month ‘s final installment of this three-part series.)

To help Mary find the best protection, The Insurance Exchange suggested she contact Traveler’s/Aetna, which would write a policy that includes complete coverage of her equipment, supplies, and inventory; coverage of goods in transit as well as of the personal vehicle that she uses to go to shows; business-income protection; coverage of her accounts receivables; and up to $2 million in liability insurance. Her premium: a whopping $750 a year, with a $250 deductible.

Although this policy appeared to have left no stone unturned, it far exceeds most small-business owners’ budgets. So we gave SOHOA a call. Its comparable policy costs $450 a year, with a $250 deductible–a more reasonable figure. The main difference is Mary’s liability drops to $1 million in coverage. Gary Roth, COO of the Insurance Services Group, also recommended that Mary take out coverage that would protect her inventory while in transit if it were involved in a business-related accident. That would cost an additional $50 a year–a better deal than The Insurance Exchange could offer.

But it wasn’t until we called RLI that we hit on a winner. Its basic business insurance policy would cover Mary, all her materials, and $1 million in liability insurance, for an attractive premium of $431 a year, with a $100 deductible. The policy covers damage that’s done on- or off-premises (including transit), re-creation of lost business records–such as accounts receivables–for up to $1,000, and her lost income and the expenses of temporarily restoring a business for up to one year. However, this includes only $1 million in liability–a coverage choice Mary will have to make.

Have Clients, Will Travel

Cedric, 38, was downsized out of a personnel management position for a Fortune 500 company four years ago. He’s since become a human-relations consultant for several international firms. When he’s not in his Deerfield, Illinois, office, Cedric’s hopping planes all over the globe. Although he’s got a $2,500 PC at home for billing clients, most of his work is done with a $4,000 laptop. His other on-the-road companions include a printer, cell phone, and PDA.

Most of the insurers we’ve mentioned in this article sell some form of off-premises provision to their basic policies that protects portable equipment. So when we turned to an agency we hadn’t tapped–Safeware in Columbus, Ohio, which caters to small-business owners–we were surprised by the additional options offered. For an annual premium of $200, with a $200 deductible, Safeware’s Key Policy provides up to $10,000 of coverage on all Cedric’s equipment from damage or loss due to typical disasters, theft, and power surges anywhere in North America–whether his PC was fried or his laptop lifted.

For $99 a year in addition to the Key Policy premiums, Safeware will provide up to a total of $5,000 to protect Cedric’s custom-written software, peripherals such as copiers and phones, newly acquired equipment for 30 days from purchase, and reference materials such as computer manuals. Better yet, this Cadillac of traveling policies will reimburse Cedric for equipment rental after a catastrophe and it will cover most other expenses that might occur as a result of a business loss. Although Cedric may have to adjust his budget for this kind of coverage, the only drawback we found is that the policy doesn’t replace his lost income in the event of a disaster and it doesn’t give him international protection.

When we inquired further, we learned that he can indeed buy additional protection from Safeware for anywhere in the world for $200 a year, with a $250 deductible, which would give him $4,000 in coverage. But because his laptop alone is valued at $4,000, we asked about boosting international coverage to as high as $8,000 in benefits. Again, it was available for an additional annual premium of $80. For adequate coverage, this would be Cedric’s best bet.

Unlike Cedric, if you travel internationally only on occasion and want similar coverage, Safeware sells a $90-for-90-days policy, with a $250 deductible. The restrictions (and these apply to all of Safeware’s international coverage): Damage from power surges outside the U.S. and Canada isn’t included; you must be based in America with a mailing address here; and you should contact the company at least three days before your trip. But, if necessary, you can obtain the policy virtually on a moment’s notice by calling 800-800-1492 and charging the premium to your credit card. “We’ve had people call in from airports,” says a Safeware spokesperson.

Safeguarding Virtual Valuables

Peggy is a 28-year-old graphic artist who works out of the basement of her home in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She’s got about $23,000 worth of software, scanners, and other electronic essentials, including disks on which all her work-in-progress and completed artworks are stored. Peggy usually has several hundred dollars’ worth of her creations waiting to be delivered.

For one-stop insurance shopping, we took Peggy’s case to Frank Haack & Associates, a local independent agency. Knowing that Peggy’s business assets are information intensive and exceed most homeowner’s policy limits, we asked agent Allyn Steffen for the best business owner’s policy she could find for our Waukesha businesswoman.

One option, she told us, is Safeco Insurance’s policy, which would cover Peggy’s business for $281 a year in premiums. A second is Heritage Mutual Insurance, for $383 a year. And the third choice is CNA’s business owner’s policy (not HomeWork), which would set Peggy back $400 a year. Each policy offers $25,000 in equipment coverage, loss-of-income coverage, and $1 million in liability insurance and includes a $250 a year deductible.

Why the huge price range, we asked? Heritage and CNA offer a few extras in their minimum business policies that Safeco doesn’t. For example, Heritage pays out more for reconstructing business records and missing securities; CNA provides this plus higher coverage of property in transit. What’s more, CNA’s premiums can be locked in for three years. But unless Peggy were concerned about rising insurance expenses, none of these added features give her significant protection. And the additional annual savings she’ll reap may come in handy!

But, cautions our rep, Peggy should consider more coverage than the total added value of her equipment, because she has completed or partially completed artwork on premises (see accompanying box, “Divert Data Disaster”). “True, there’s nothing she could do to replace her creative content,” says Steffen. “But it has value to her business that she shouldn’t overlook.”

So, in search of better data-intensive business protection, we called RLI. It sells an extra provision to its business owner’s policy called an “electronic data processing (EDP) endorsement”–ideal for digitally intensive enterprises such as Peggy’s. With RLI’s policy, the total business owner’s and EDP premium would be $668 a year–much higher than the other quotes we’d heard. But when it comes to protecting your creative works, you shouldn’t base your decision on price alone.

Besides, reasons RLI’s Vedas, an EDP “gives broad coverage with respect to mechanical failure and short circuits, and it has fewer exclusions than our regular policy. It also extends to 60 days the time of coverage of newly acquired equipment that she hasn’t yet told her agent about.” All in all, this is a business decision Peggy and every entrepreneur must make when shopping for coverage.

Clearly, your equipment and business insurance options available today are staggering. Despite this, “there are a lot of people running naked out there without coverage,” says SOHOA’s executive director David Schmitt. “And the only time [entrepreneurs] find out they’ve got a problem is if their house bums down.”

So to avoid a small-business catastrophe and win the game of business, it pays to be protected.

Divert Data Diasater

Sure, insurers cover the restoration of lost files if disaster strikes. But they still haven’t come up with a way to replace lost business while you’re re-creating those files.

“Your clients may go somewhere else if you’re down for a month trying to reconstruct everything you’ve accomplished during the last two years,” says Bill Kingsley of The Insurance Exchange agency in Rockville, Maryland.

Although there’s no way to completely protect yourself from catastrophes, here are some strategies to safeguard your information.

Secure a second copy. Backing up isn’t hard to do, so make it part of your daily routine. Besides your database, creative works, and billing records, other items that need duplicating include investment documents, contracts, supplier lists, and receipts.

Create an inventory list. Most office components have visible serial numbers. Record them with such programs as Proof 2.0 (Fusion Software, 800-856-8566; Win; $9.95), print out two copies, and store each in separate locations off-premises. For extra protection, videotape your office equipment.

Find a safe haven. Stash your inventory lists and back up disks and videotapes in such places as a safe-deposit box, or your mom’s house. But avoid the basement because it may flood.

Lastly, keep in mind that having a warranty doesn’t automatically render you worry-free. A warranty may protect you against product defects, but it is no substitute for equipment insurance. “It won’t cover your loss of data from fire, lightning, or power surges,” adds Allyn Steffen, at Frank Haack & Associates agency in Milwaukee. What’s more, an extended warranty on all your components may cost more than the premiums for some policies.

Inside Advice on Insurance

When scouting for business coverage, consider these pointers.

Investigate your insurer. Just because your carrier is listed in the yellow pages doesn’t mean the company is reputable. Before you buy coverage, call your state insurance department to make sure an insurance carrier is licensed. Also check the firm’s ratings in such guides as A.M. Best, Moody’s, and Standard & Poor’s, all of which evaluate the financial stability of insurance companies.

Watch your policy’s prose. Nearly all policies nowadays cover current out-of-pocket costs for repairing or replacing damaged goods. But if you’re covered under an old plan, make sure your policy doesn’t offer “actual cash value.” This means you’d be paid only the depreciated value. And, believe it or not, replacement-value coverage doesn’t raise premiums that much.

An option worth looking into for computer-intensive business owners is “functional replacement costs,” which pays you to replace the damaged equipment with comparable equipment that may be more or less expensive than what it replaced. For example, if a power surge fried your 386 PC, such coverage might allow you to upgrade to a 486 because it’s the current functional equivalent of what your 386 was when you bought it–or simply because you probably couldn’t find a new 386 even if you wanted to!

Look for round-the-clock service. If possible, select an insurer that has 24-hour access. “A loss situation can be a very traumatic time,” says one Maryland agent. “And you need to talk with someone who can help right away.”

Ask if claims are paid promptly. When you have to replace damaged office essentials, you can’t wait forever. So it’s not unreasonable to ask potential carriers how long you’ll have to wait for payment after filing a claim.

Protect Your Portables

Whether you schlepp a ThinkPad cross-country every month or a PDA and cell phone across town each day, the probabilities that your high-tech essentials will be in jeopardy are about the same. Last year alone, nearly $1 billion worth of equipment was damaged or stolen. Naturally, you should insure your portables. But to help you head off potential problems, we asked experts at Safeware insurance, which specializes in computer coverage, and Corporate Travel Safety in Canoga Park, California, for on-the-road advice.

Leave your mark, Should, say, your laptop get lifted at LaGuardia airport, you’ll help police recover it faster if you’ve used an etching pen or nonwashable ink to permanently identify components. Better yet, Security Tracking of Office Property (800-488-7867) sells an aluminum plate for $25 ($8.75 if bought in bulk) that bonds to your PC. If removed, it leaves an indelible imprint reading, “Stolen Property.”

Secure your system with software. CompuTrace TRS, a program by Absolute Software, silently tracks down thieves when they hook up your stolen machine’s modem to a phone. Working in the background, the software dials the publisher’s headquarters to reveal the crook’s location, and using caller ID, the company notifies police once you report your system stolen (800-8IT-HEFT, http://www. absolute. com; $60 for a one-year service contract).

Forget those files. Even if you can’t catch the crook who stole your PC, you can at least render your files worthless with such encryption programs as RSA Secure by RSA Data Security (415-595-8782; Win 95/Win 3.1/Mac; $129). This program can also be downloaded for a 30-day trial period through http://www.rsa.com.

Circulate your stolen serial numbers. Another option for trying to recover your laptop is to list it with the National Computer Registry, a hemisphere-wide clearinghouse for stolen PC serial numbers. This group tries to intercept and recover your stolen computer by making its serial number available to law-enforcement agencies and resellers. There’s no charge to have the number of your purloined machine listed, which you can do via the National Computer Registry’s Web site (http:// www. nacomex.Com/stolen/), or call 212-614-0700 and ask for the registry form.

How To ReUse Old Tech

htrotTHE OLD SONY TELEVISION IN MY HOME OFFICE WAS considered state of the art when I bought it 20 years ago, and it still displays a beautiful picture. It’s far from obsolete. The only problem is that it doesn’t have enough audio-visual inputs for all the cable, satellite, videocamera, VCR, and computer multimedia jacks I want to stick in it.

The new TV–the salesman calls it a “video receiver and monitor” has lots of A/V jacks and sports a bigger screen than the old set’s 19-inch one, and it costs less. Not a bad trade-up.

Meanwhile, I’ll hand down the old Sony to the kids, who don’t care about such things as S-video inputs, dual-tuner PIPs, and graphical onscreen operating systems–they just want to run video games and watch MTV. If the old set can stand such excitement after years of being tuned to CNN and CNBC, it may be good for another few years.

If only computers were so long-lived.

Like me, the PC in my home office has become increasingly decrepit and memory deficient. It’s too bulky to use as a family message center in the kitchen; it’s too kludgy to network easily; and it can’t run the newest software without expensive brain and organ transplants. Will it last 20 years, like the TV? Ha! Maybe 20 months.

The value of computers can’t be measured in dollars alone, of course. After all, the old PC has paid for itself many times over in increased productivity. Still, those of us who’ve been through several generations of PCs have learned that computers lose their dollar value faster than almost any other major investment.

So what do you do with the old dust-gatherer? You could try to sell it. There’s a brisk market for late-model PCs in good shape. Be prepared, however, for reverse sticker shock: The computer system for my company–which I bought for $5,000 in 1992-would fetch only several hundred dollars today. The configuration that cost me $5,000 in 1987 was recently offered for $125. And the one I paid $5,000 for in 1982 was recently advertised for–brace yourselves now–S25.

Alternatively, you could do a very good deed, make people happy, clean out the closet, and get a tax break at the same time–all by donating the machine to a local school.

In this back-to-school month, the computer outlook at many public schools isn’t bright. Budget cutbacks have kept the computer-to-student ratio in some districts to near Luddite levels. (Worse, many school administrators don’t seem to realize that their schools will also need phone lines and modems if they want their students to be able to use the computers they have to best advantage.)

According to California officials, if just 10 percent of the state’s unused computers were donated each year, schools there could have a million bonus machines in classrooms by the year 2000. Thousands of people could gain job skills and self-esteem by learning to fix and recondition the computers that business owners may no longer need.

To that end, several states and communities have established programs to collect PCs that are gathering dust. The computers are taken to vocational schools, prison workshops, or local computer clubs for testing, refurbishing, and repair. Lost causes are stripped and scavenged for parts. In the process, students, homeless people, prisoners, and others are taught to troubleshoot and repair the donated PCs, giving them valuable job skills that will last long after these computers are truly obsolete.

The rejuvenated computers are then distributed to schools, community centers, libraries, nonprofit organizations, and other groups that desperately need them. Even overhauled, they may not be suitable for the latest multimedia chores, but they’re certainly useful for simple word processing, database, and spreadsheet tasks. One of the more satisfying uses of donated computers is in children’s wards in hospitals, where they enable otherwise isolated youngsters to play games, stay in touch with friends and family via e-mail, and keep up with school studies.

Unfortunately, donating doesn’t solve the whole problem. Although it’s surprisingly easy to find hardware and software donors–a simple newspaper ad in New Mexico recently generated five truckloads of donated computers for a school district–it’s surprisingly difficult to match them with recipients. Many groups are forced to decline some donations because the offered computers don’t match their needs. Others are staffed by volunteers who don’t know how to use computers, let alone know where to seek them.

That’s where local entrepreneurs and volunteers come in. Business owners typically have experience with computers and software, with marketing and publicity, and with the community–a rare and valuable combination.

Saving Money Without Being Cheap

npDo you think you got a great deal on your new printer? Don’t be fooled into believing that the price tag tells all. Whether it’s a fax machine, cellular phone, 800 number, laser printer, color inkjet printer, or photocopier, most office technology has hidden costs that can swallow a budget.

Printers, fax machines, and copiers suck up toner cartridges. ink, and thermal paper. Your first cellular bill could put you off from ever using the phone again. Even toll-free numbers have hidden costs that will make you question their usefulness in providing your customers with easy access.

The key to avoiding after-purchase sticker shock is to research thoroughly before you make a purchase, no matter how minor. Accepting a free cellular phone may seem like a bargain–until you end up paying hundreds of dollars a year more than if you had chosen another carrier that didn’t offer the freebie. Buying an inexpensive printer might seem ideal, until you start to shell out dollars for new cartridges. A drip at a time, these expenses bleed your budget dry over the course of a year.

Sure, you’re busy. You don’t have time to check out alternatives that could save money. There are hundreds of printers on the market, scores of fax machines and copiers, as well as three major phone companies, each with hundreds of rate plans. Every printer company makes models for every situation: light duty for the home user, medium duty for small and home offices, and heavy duty for large offices. But if you go into a computer–or business-supply store and ask for a printer for your small office, you’re likely to be asked, “How much do you want to spend?” Follow our advice and you’ll be able to respond: “Now? Or a year from now?”

LASER PRINTERS

Normally, you think about two things when you buy a printer: speed and print quality. After all, that 600dpi laser printer costs only $200 more than a 300dpi model and it cranks out six pages per minute (ppm). You get better looking text and graphics for a small initial added cost. Right? But consider that your annual budget will have to support the extra cost per page in toner and paper consumables that comes with the higher-end model.

At 600dpi, a laser printer uses significantly more toner to cover a page than a 300dpi unit. After you consider paper and toner costs, expect your text pages to run 10 cents per page versus 5 cents per page with a 300dpi printer. Run off as few as 25 pages per day and you’re printing 6,000 sheets a year–and paying $600 for toner and paper. You’re also paying $300 more per year than you would have with a 300dpi model.

You can reduce that hit somewhat by taking one smart step. Some people chuck out their cartridges at the first sign of spottiness on their pages. Don’t. Printers use up toner in the middle of the cartridge sooner than at the ends. You can get as many as 500 more pages out of a toner cartridge if you take the cartridge out of the printer and rock it from side to side when it starts to run low. Rocking evens out toner inside the cartridge and gives it a new lease on life. Keep another toner cartridge handy, but save your money by holding off on replacing your old one until it’s truly empty.

COLOR INK-JET PRINTERS

So, think that you can save $150 by going with a less-expensive ink-jet printer? Even though these inexpensive machines can add color to your business life, expect to pay about 18 cents per page for black-and-white text in draft mode on a color ink jet as opposed to the 5 cents per page you’d spend on a 300dpi laser and 70 cents per page for top resolution in color. If you print just 25 text drafts a day, you’ll spend $3.25 more per day with that “inexpensive” color ink jet.

Ink-jet printers are much more costly to operate than laser printers for a number of reasons. The best ink jets for small business spray ink onto your page from four cartridges-one each for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black–through tiny nozzles. When you run out of ink, you’ll find a shocking difference in price for replacement cartridges. Those for the Canon BubbleJet Color 600 cost as little as $10 each. Those for Canon’s Bubble Jet Color 800, 820, or 880 run $40 each. That means you could pay as much as $160 to replace all your cartridges at once.

These cartridges are only good for 600 to 850 pages at 5 percent coverage–about half of what you get from the lowest-end toner cartridges for laser printers. And that’s only when they’re printing in draft mode. If you’re doing full-page graphics for a presentation, expect your cartridges to run out much sooner.

Paper and transparencies are another area to watch. Many high-end color printers only achieve their 720 by 720dpi print resolution when you use special coated paper that costs close to $2 a sheet! Transparencies are similarly expensive. Make sure your image is perfect using draft mode with regular paper before printing it on special stocks.

CELLULAR PHONE SERVICE

Every cellular provider has dozens of rate plans, but the cheapest is not necessarily the best. One cellular provider that we looked at had monthly rates as low as $30 for 30 minutes each month. But if you spend 120 minutes a month on the phone, you would pay 40 cents a minute after your prepaid time is used up. In the end, it is cheaper to buy the provider’s $59 plan that includes 150 minutes a month.

Some cellular providers have what is called “calling party pays.” That is, you only pay for calls you make. Any call you receive is paid for by the person who originated it. Although economical, want to guess if your customers will like being charged to call you? It is, however, a great way of discouraging calls, provided you make sure your customers know they are on the hook for the call.

Judicious use of your cellular phone will help cut down costs. Never make cellular calls when you could use a calling card from a pay phone or a client’s phone.

800 NUMBERS

An 800 number is a very inexpensive way to make your small office look like a contender and encourage long-distance customers to call you. The cost of maintaining an 800 number varies by region, but most users pay a flat fee of 12 to 18 cents per minute. However, look at how your phone company rounds your calls. A call that takes two minutes and one second is rounded up to the nearest billing rate. If you’re on full-minute billing, you pay for a three-minute call. At 18 cents a minute, you’re charged 54 cents. But on six-second billing, you’d pay only 38 cents for the same call.

The downside of 800 numbers is that you pay for every call–even wrong numbers. Industry spokespersons estimate that the number of misdials on 800 numbers is between 2 and 5 percent of all calls. This is partly due to the “recycling” of 800 numbers currently going on. Because 800 numbers are mostly allocated, phone companies press unused numbers back into service in as few as 90 days.

If you get an 800 number tomorrow, it was probably in use by another company just a few months ago. You may have people calling you–on your dime–looking for a defunct software company in Texas. The good news is that calls to wrong numbers tend to be short and they decrease over time as people realize that the company is no longer at that number. Congress has approved a new set of toll-free numbers: the previously unused 888 exchange. Holding out for an 888 number will help you avoid wrong-number calls to your toll-free line.

FAX MACHINES

The advice on printers also goes for fax machines. The cost of fax machine consumables varies depending on the technology you use. Thermal-paper fax machines are still on the market because their purchase price is less than those of plain-paper units. If you only receive a few faxes a month, they’re fine. But you’re paying between 4 and 10 cents per page for the special rolls of paper that these units need to do their job. Plain-paper fax machines actually cost slightly less to operate: 4 to 8 cents per page.

Over two years, a more expensive plain-paper unit could pay for itself if you printed out more than 22 pages a day–admittedly a pretty high volume for a small office.

Even after you’ve chosen your fax technology, the cost of consumables will vary– so it always pays to do your homework. For instance, in addition to its toner, the Brother Intellifax 3500 ML plain-paper fax machine needs a $200 replacement drum every 4,000 copies.

COPIERS

Buying a copier makes unjamming one seem effortless by comparison. But whether you buy new or used, rent, lease, or rent to own, get ready to keep paying when you bring a unit home. Buying a personal copier such as the Xerox 5222 for a small office will cost $450. However, you’ll end up paying 7 to 8 cents per page. You’re almost better off buying a sheet-fed scanner and using your laser printer.

Although buying a large copier is always cheaper than buying several small ones, a medium-range copier such as Xerox’s 513 model costs $1,200. You’re paying up front to get its 1-cent-per-page copying capability. You might be better off renting or leasing, if you can ensure the cost per page doesn’t rise dramatically. Copier manufacturers have a variety of lease options that could easily bamboozle you into paying significantly more than necessary.

Also keep in mind that manufacturers often overstate a copier’s maximum capacity. A duty cycle of 1,000 sheets a month assumes steady usage–not a few sheets a day for three weeks followed by 200 sheets a day for a week. Make sure you get a unit that can handle significantly more than your intended volume.

If you already own an older copier, weigh the cost of keeping it versus buying or renting a new one. Take the cost of last year’s maintenance, add on the cost of power, paper, toner, and drum replacement, and then divide by the total number of pages. If you’re paying more than 5 cents per copy, think about replacing your copier.

Can Gaming Help You Be Productive??

cghybGIVE THE GAMEBOYS BACK TO YOUR KIDS. TAKE MYST Off your hard drive. It’s time to play some real games. Designed for adults, these are simulations of real-life situations that you can play for hours on end. And you can play them with others–both on- and offline. If you get really good at them, you can use such entertainment to simulate business problems. Solve them in the simulator and you are set for the real thing.

If you have any doubts about the value of simulation games, go on America Online, CompuServe, Prodigy, or the Internet and find the Games forum. There, you will find people who are regular players of President ’96 and Virtual Airlines. You can actually talk through the simulations and even create your own or have one created for you.

Doom, the granddaddy of downloaded action games, has a cult following that includes thousands of programmers. Basic Doom is an animated game in which you get simulated weapons and a clock. You have to outrun the most gruesome pack of marauders under heaven. It’s all about opening doors and finding your way in the dark.

Now, the big question–how on earth could this possibly be constructive for a small-business owner? Well, the game can be quite therapeutic under the right circumstances, much the way punching a heavy bag can be. Say, for instance, you just finished months of effort creating a new logo and motto, only to find they have just been copyrighted the day before by a competitor. You’re now fuming, with the feeling that you will crush the next person who even says hello. Before inflicting harm on anyone, sit down at your desk and mow down hordes of cyber-demons. After being immersed in an artificial world where you have the freedom to indulge your aggressions, your mood will calm to at least a civil state, allowing you to cope with the rest of the day rationally. If you want to get this game, it is available as shareware (a limited-functionality version of the full game) free over the Internet through about three-dozen sights (ftp.csusm.edu/pub) and the HOC site on AOL. Just use any Web browser search engine to find it–or simply go to a computer store and get the $5 demo. The full-blown program, currently at version 3, sells for roughly $40.

Some games were built for business simulation. Maxis Software, for instance, makes a series of Sim games. Try SimCity and learn how to build and market a new city. How? To build your city, you must zone land as industrial, residential, or commercial and then protect these zones with police, hospitals, and so forth. You start off with a budget but it is up to you to decide how to spend the money and keep the city profitable (take a look at your business plan for a refresher course). Here is your chance to play out all kinds of what-if scenarios: What if I moved my office from the mini-mall on Fifth Street to the low-rent district across from the university?

While you design a working model of a city that keeps its aesthetic value, your subconscious may be applying some of those ideas to whatever job you’re trying to accomplish work-wise. And so through the simple act of playing a game, you’ve jump-started your creative juices and given yourself a quick refresher course in, say, budgeting. There are two versions available: SimCity Classic and SimCity 2000; the latter has more detail and playing options. There are some great clones available on the Internet for free, but they aren’t as sophisticated as the commercial versions. To find the clones, try searching the Web for such keywords as sim city or sim game.

Maxis also has another title called SimTower. The object of this game is to build a functional skyscraper, complete with elevator scheduling, lobby decor and functionality, restaurants, businesses, and tenants. Again, think about having to deal with the responsibilities of maintaining a skyscraper and how you can apply what you’re doing while having fun to what you face every day in running your own business. And if you want to get even more specific, there are SimIsle, SimFarm, SimAnt, and other versions.

Another title that will tickle the entrepreneur in you is CivNet (Spectrum HoloByte). This game is the newest version of Civilization. The object here is to build your own civilization from the ground up, survive next to other civilizations without being taken over (sound anything like your competition?), and finally conquer the world (own your market!). The detail is fairly good, without becoming too complex, and all aspects involved in shaping communities are included. You must make decisions on what kinds of objects and technology to develop, what land to populate, and so forth.

One of the more interesting aspects of this game is that after you finish playing the computer and have mastered many different strategies, you can go online and play against other opponents via the Internet. And if you have a virtual corporation, for instance, you can play with your partners (whether they’re across town or in another state) so that you all develop similar skills. It may even turn into an impromptu brainstorming session.

Now, let’s say you’re on an airplane going to meet a distant client. Have Broderbund’s Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? on your laptop and you can discover places of interest in the city you’re going to. Try to catch the elusive spy and get a geography lesson at the same time. If your client is an avid golfer, brush up on your putting with Access Software’s Links Championship Course. Learn how to get out of sandtraps, how not to hit trees, and the finer nuances of courses around the world.

For brushing up on the cutthroat activities of the corporate world, there’s Microforum’s Virtual Corporation. This voicecontrolled CD-ROM lets you rise to the top of a make-believe corporate ladder by forming strategic alliances throughout the network, perhaps showing you where your own business is lacking and letting you map out a virtual corporation of your own.

As you find yourself surfing the Net, you’ll see literally thousands of games available for free–including poker, blackjack, and hearts. These types of games may not sound particularly business-oriented, but sometimes all it takes is a five-minute break to relieve the stress that mounts in a day. Be careful when downloading, however, because many of the games don’t work as promised and could have a virus. Also, don’t expect to find a game in the same place you found it before.

If you like chess, check out some of the games online. These sites let you play interactive games online. Other game servers to surf include http://www.lanmax. com/games.html, and http://www.shopping. com/wwm7.html. You can also try using a search engine such as Alta Vista (http:// www.altavista.digital.com), which seems to have the latest game information around. Try to be specific when using keywords; keying in games is too broad, so try to narrow your search to chess games or action games to get better results.

Slowly, business owners are starting to realize that computer games are not just for kids. Whether to spur creativity, refresh budgetary knowledge, deal with time management, or just to take a well-deserved break, games do belong in the workplace– so long as they don’t become the only thing you do in your office.