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COMPUTER FILE

Problems With Organization? AskSam to Help

March 09, 1987|RICHARD O'REILLY | Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

If there is one thing that users expect of personal computers, it is that the machines will help them better organize the information they deal with.

There are varying ways to organize information, of course. A program called "askSam," version three, for instance, lets you bring order to data ranging from bibliographic notes to check payment records. Another program, "InLine," helps you organize your thoughts into an outline that can easily be transferred to virtually any word processing program and expanded into a full document.

Most database or file manager programs require you to structure the information before you keyboard it, organizing the data into categories, or "fields," such as first name, last name, address, city, etc.

But Seaside Software's $200 askSam imposes no such requirement. It is the electronic equivalent of a big drawer into which you throw any tidbit of information that you want to save. In a single file, some entries may be paragraphs of notes from a text you are studying, others may be figures from your checkbook register, yet others may be your address book listings.

Order is imposed when you "ask Sam" to give you back certain kinds of data. For instance, if you have entered sums of money with dollar signs, you can instruct the program to collect all the figures, total them, count the entries and calculate the average merely by typing in "$:".

If you only want to see the total you paid in MasterCard payments, then you would simply type in "mastercard $:"--assuming that the word "MasterCard" appeared on each payment entry.

In addition to quickly searching your file for any word or group of words, askSam can do everything that more traditional database programs do, and more. It can perform mathematical calculations, print reports with up to nine levels of subtotals, print mailing labels, link paragraphs into documents of unlimited length, sort alphabetically or numerically or any other way, dial your telephone and write your checks.

Before becoming proficient, plan to spend some time learning all of the program's features. The manual comes with helpful examples of various applications--from keeping a teacher's grade book to organizing a record collection to keeping a business inventory.

The value of writing outlines is something we all learned in school. But if you're like me, outlines done with pen and paper end up a mass of scrawls and scratched-out entries. Those done on a word processor never have the right combination or order of Roman and Arabic numerals and capital and small letters.

InLine, an $89.95 outlining program from Compusense Inc., does all that automatically. It takes only a keystroke to tell the program whether the next entry belongs in the same group as the last or should be at another level.

You can't organize your thoughts very well if you lose track of where you are in the thicket, so InLine also has a feature called "zoom." It shows you only the level of detail you want at the moment. For instance, you might be buried five layers deep in a detailed outline and have forgotten how you got there. Tapping two keys will collapse the outline shown on the screen to just the main headings. Tapping the same two keys again will give you back the full view.

Other nice touches are the ability to add a paragraph of text for each outline entry and a search-and-replace function.

When it comes time to either print the outline or save it in a form that can be used with a word processing program, you have a wide range of format choices. If you prefer, you can do it without the number and letter identifiers and without indentation. That makes it very easy to cleanly incorporate the outline text into a word processing document.

In addition to producing a standard ASCII text file that can be used by almost any word processing program, InLine also can produce special formats tailored for Word Perfect, MultiMate, WordStar, WordStar 2000+ and Microsoft Word.

Seaside Software, the publisher of askSam, is at P.O. Box 31, Perry, Fla. 32347; telephone 800-3-ASKSAM or 904-584-6590. InLine's publisher, Compusense, is at 55 Constitution Drive, Bedford, N.H. 03102; telephone 603-472-2088.

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