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COMPUTER FILE / Richard O'Reilly

Get Organized and Take Off Weight

September 14, 1989|Richard O'Reilly | RICHARD O'REILLY designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Over the years I've noticed an inexorable tendency for a couple of things to grow. One is the number of files on my hard disk and the other is the number of pounds displayed on my bathroom scale.

Fortunately, there are software solutions for both problems.

Disc Director, which carries a list price of $59, is a new hard-disk management program that adds some useful features to this rather overcrowded genre. The Diet Balancer, $60, turns your computer into a smart calorie counter, nutrition adviser and meal planner.

A hard disk is harder to manage than the hall closet. Things fall out of an overstuffed closet when you open it, giving you a chance to see what you've got. But hard disks tend to hide everything you put on them, displaying at most a list of short, cryptic names that defy understanding a week after they are created.

Disc Director, published by Athena Software of Boulder, Colo., makes life easier. For starters, you can assign a description label of up to 78 characters and spaces to every file and every directory on your hard disk. For instance, I named the file in which I wrote this column "RVUDD-DB." In its Disc Director listing, I added an explanatory comment: "Review of Disc Director and Diet Balancer, due 9/8."

Files can be looked up in many ways. I could ask to see all files with the word "review" in the comments, or all that said "due 10/" to see what is in progress for October. Months from now, I won't have any trouble finding these reviews.

Another intriguing feature is the ability to easily reorganize directories and groups of directories, and even move them from one hard drive to another.

Although the MS-DOS operating system allows disks to be organized in multiple directories, the way to do it isn't well explained in most manuals, and few people make use of the capacity. Instead, hard disks get used the way a file cabinet would if none of the papers inside were organized into category and subject folders.

Disc Director lets you easily display the names of your directories and files and reorganize them into a logical structure. Your word processing program could be placed in a directory called "words." There also could be subdirectories for "letters," "reports" and "memos" in an outline-like format that Disc Director calls a "branch structure."

Creating a branch structure with existing directories is as easy as pointing at the name on the Disc Director screen with the cursor, making a selection with a keystroke and moving the name to another location with the arrow keys. You can also copy a directory or an entire branch of related directories to another disk easily.

You can even create something called "phantom directories" to group files together logically, but not physically. For instance, you may want to see the names of all the program files on your disk, usually files that end with the three letters "EXE." Typically, each program is installed in a separate directory, but using Disc Director you can create a phantom directory called "programs" that contains every file ending in "EXE." Then you could attach a comment to each so that you could quickly see a description of all the programs available in your computer.

Good disk organization helps you find and erase files that are no longer needed, but Disc Director goes beyond that. A "whereis" feature searches for duplicate file names across all directories.

If the number of files in a directory gets too large, system performance can be hampered. Disc Director helps you guard against that by displaying a horizontal bar graph indicating the relative size of your directories. Another feature shows you the unusable "slack size" of the directory, which increases when you have lots of very small files. Unfortunately, it offers no cure except to help you get rid of the ones that aren't needed.

The Diet Balancer, published by Nutridata Software Corp. of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., is a program that turns your computer into a helpful partner in following any sort of diet.

Prepared with the assistance of an advisory board of nutritionists, whose names and credentials are listed in an appendix, the Diet Balancer will keep track of all the members of a household. It even lets each user keep the results confidential with a password.

You start by setting up a profile, specifying sex, age, height, weight, exercise level and weight change desired. Users under age 19 and women who say they are pregnant are not given the weight loss option.

A list of 1,600 foods comes with the program, including those on the menus of popular fast-food restaurants. Each is categorized by calories, protein, carbohydrate, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, caffeine and 16 vitamins and minerals.

You can use the program two ways. One is to enter daily the foods and quantities you have eaten. A report showing excesses and deficiencies in each category will be displayed, based on your profile and goal.

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