November 6, 2001

By Karen Kenworthy


Dear Friends,

Once again I must apologize for not writing. As many of you have noticed, our last get-together was back in early August. We've been apart for almost three months. And that's way too long.

A lot has happened while we've been apart. Everyone knows about September 11th. And tragedies and heartache haven't been confined to the events of that day. Death, pain and suffering always surround us. The world can be a sad and disappointing place.

But not always. Since last we met, my friends, the lovely Monica and her beau Bill, have had their baby. Young "Will" is a strapping lad, a joy to all who lay eyes on him. And just yesterday my Mom called to tell me I'll soon be a great-aunt again! My brother Bill's daughter, Vanessa, and her husband are expecting their second child next summer.

Now tonight, as I write this note, a miracle of a different sort is happening. For the first time in anyone's memory, the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is visible in the sky above the secluded Power Tools workshop. Invisible particles, sped across millions of miles of space, entered the earth's atmosphere, and now paint the night sky with a palette of iridescent pastel lights.

There's no doubt about it ... the world can be a joyous and delightful place.

New 'Net Monitor

Now I haven't brought a new life into the world. And I can't decorate the sky. After all, I'm just a computer programmer, and sometimes writer. But while I haven't finished the last few newsletters I've started, I have had better luck recently, writing software.

Among my recent accomplishments is a new version of the popular Power Tool I call the 'Net Monitor. Many of you will remember the 'Net Monitor. Designed to detect and report web server problems, it's used by many readers who operate web sites. I'm also a dedicated 'Net Monitor user. Every five minutes my copy of the program tests the Power Tools web site at, making sure it's pages can be viewed.

The original version of the monitor displayed an on-screen log of test results, showing when each test was performed, and whether the test succeeded or failed. The new version continues this tradition. In addition, it now allows you to save your test log to disk, creating a permanent record of each web site's performance. From there, the test results can be imported into a spreadsheet, word processor, or database program for detailed analysis.

The new 'Net Monitor has learned another new trick: It can now test email servers, or "Internet Post Offices.". Provide the monitor with an email address, and it will periodically contact that address's server to see if it's able to receive email. No email is actually sent to the test destination, so you don't have to worry about filling someone's mailbox with test messages. But the results of each test are logged on-screen, and saved to disk when requested.

One more feature has been added to 'Net Monitor v2.0. The new version now calculates several testing statistics and displays them on-screen. Older versions displayed the date and time of the last successful and failed tests, and the overall ratio of successes to failures. But now you can see statistics for each tested web site and email server. You'll also see the total number of successful and failed tests performed since the program was started.

Updated Power Toy

One of my most popular Power Tools isn't a tool at all. In fact, I call it my "Power Toy." As long-time readers know, this little program can display parrots, robots, and other cartoon-like characters. The so-called "Agents" can look happy or sad, dance, perform magic tricks and more. And with the right speech-recognition software (discussed in the December 27th, 2000 newsletter), the characters can even respond to voice commands.

The original Power Toy could also sing and dance. Just type any text into it's on-screen "Tell Me What To Say" box, click the program's Speak button, and voila! You're favorite on-screen character would pronounce your words, speaking through your computer's speakers.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, I broke this very important text- to-speech feature. In a (so far) unsuccessful effort to teach the Power Toy to speak in French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and a few other languages, I somehow caused the program to forget how to speak English. :(

Fortunately, with the help of a couple of readers, I found my mistake and fixed the program. Power Toy v2.4 is no longer mute!

If you'd like to download the latest copy of my Power Toy, just drop by Programmers can download the program's revised Visual Basic source code there too.

The new 'Net Monitor v2.0, and its source code, can be downloaded from As always, all my programs and source code are free.

Or if you prefer the convenience of having all of my Power Tools on a single CD, along with back issues of all my Power Tools newsletters, drop by my CD ordering page at Proceeds go to the very worthy cause of supporting me and the Power Tools workshop. :)

Finally, if you see me on the 'net this week be sure to wave and say "Hi!" And take a moment to count your blessing, both large and small. Despite the best efforts of a few, this old world is still a pretty great place. And life is still sweet.

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