Donald B. Trivette
What avid reader of COMPUTE! hasn't wished for a magic way to get the program listings off the pages of the magazine and into the computer?
The device in the photograph, called a Softstrip Reader by Cauzin Systems, does just that-almost. It can't read English, or even BASIC, but it can read any program, text, or data that has been encoded in the Softstrip format-a kind of universal product code Cauzin has developed for computers. The black-andwhite strip you see here, which looks like something you rub with a coin to find out you've lost a contest, is in fact Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. All 276 words of it are contained in the six-inch strip.
The Softstrip system consists of both hardware and software. The hardware is a reader the size of a giant rolling pin that plugs into the computer's serial port just like a modem. It gets power from a small transformer that plugs into a wall outlet. A truck inside the D-shaped plastic case moves the read-head down the strip when the reader is activated.
The software is a program called Cauzcomm. On the IBM, you can run Cauzcomm by typing its name at the DOS prompt, or by installing it as a resident program which is called up at any time by pressing the Alt-R keys. Once running, Cauzcomm displays a simple four-item menu: Read, Help, Options, Quit. To read a Softstrip, you align the reader over the strip, using the black dot and the heavy line as guides, then select Read from the menu. In less than 20 seconds, Cauzcomm reads the text of the Gettysburg Address into a disk file named GETTY.TXT. It couldn't be easier or more straightforward.
Cauzin System's Softstrip Reader is a
new type of bar code reader that speeds
up the entry of published program
Make Your Own, Too
Examine the strip and you'll see the header markings at the top. The header indicates the filename and whether the strip is intended for an Apple or an IBM computer. It also tells the number of characters (bytes) in a horizontal line (typically four), the height of each line (typically 12/1000 inch), and the paper-to-ink contrast level. You'll see markings called the checkerboard running vertically down the left edge of a strip, and along the right edge, the rack. These denote each horizontal line and send alignment information to the reader. There's a parity mark at the end of each line for error detection.
Cauzin sells an optional program that lets you make your own Softstrips with a dot-matrix printer. Or, for about $20, you can have Cauzin make a denser negative - up to 5,500 characters in a nine-inch strip-suitable for publication. Strips may be printed on almost any kind of paper, although lower densities are recommended for porous grades of paper. The strips can even be photocopied.
The reader comes with a booklet of 48 BASIC programs, and Cauzin plans to attract buyers by publishing programs in its advertisements in many computer magazines. The reader costs $200 and is available for the IBM PC/PCjr, the Apple II series, and the Macintosh. For more information, write to Cauzin Systems, 835 South Main Street, Waterbury, CT 06706.
Will Softstrips ever become a standard part of published program listings? Right now, it's a chicken-and-egg situation: Magazines and books may not print Softstrips until a sizeable number of their readers own the devices, while people interested in Softstrips may hold off buying a reader until Softstripped listings become more common. If you want to express an opinion on this topic, write to COMPUTE!, P.O. Box 5406, Greensboro, NC 27403.