Getting organized with the Mac; Habadex and ThinkTank help you put your thoughts, words, and deeds in order. (evaluation) Abigail Reifsnyder.
If a computer is only as good as the software that runs on it, we are only just now getting a chance to determine how good Apple's Macintosh is. Habadex from Haba Systems and ThinkTank from Living Videotext are two recent additions to the Mac software library, and if the quality of these programs is any indication, the Mac is a good machine after all. Habadex
At first glance, Habadex appears to be an electronic Rolodex. It is, in fact, much more than that. According to its makers, it is a "powerful information and time management program." Well, yes, it is an information and time management tool (a phone book, calendar, and database); but powerful? Habadex turns out to be the perfect program by which to judge the Mac since its power derives from those characteristics that take advantage of the Mac's unique design and its weakness stems from the very same source.
On a superficial (which is not to say unimportant) level, Habadex is easily accessible. When you open the program, you see an address book and a date book--the kind with little tabs you press on to open it to letters of the alphabet or, in the case of the date book, to months. Like most good Mac software, most of what needs explanation is explained on the screen, with symbols on the desktop itself or in one of the pull-down menus. (Oddly enough, the way to select something for cutting or pasting--one of the most basic functions on the Mac--is not self-evident. It is not done by pointing and dragging as in other programs, but rather by triple clicking.)
On a less superficial level, through, Habadex requires a great deal of foresight to be used effectively. The way in which you enter information directly determines how useful the program will be for you, but until you have put in some data, it is difficult to tell what the best ways is.
More important than that is the fact that the more data you enter, the slower the program moves. With five records in place, you can whip around the program, changing things here and there; with 25 records, you begin to wish that you had put the info in right the first time. Directory
There are five basic parts to the program: the directory, the calendar, the Things To Do/Occasions section, the label/list/letter section, and the dialer. The directory is the centerpiece of the program. It holds most of the information used for the main functions. Information is contained in individual records, each of which is made up of 19 fields. To enter data, you click the mouse on the New Record tab of the directory to open up a blank record. The Tab Key (not the Enter or the Return key as I would have expected) moves you from field to field.
When you finish a record, you must save it by choosing Accept fron the File menu or by pressing Command-A. Otherwise, when you try to close, a dialogue box warns you that you are about to lose the information you have just entered. I found this whole procedure to be somewhat counterintuitive also. It would make much more sense, I believe, to have included a little Accept/Cancel box at the bottom of the record.
The 19 fields can be arranged on the screen however you like and can be rearranged and renamed at will.
Of course, it is precisely this ability to customize that creates the problem I mentioned earlier. On the one hand, you don't want to waste time entering information you will end up changing, but until you have entered some, it is hard to have a feel for how you want to organize your information. I suggest that you enter one of each kind of record you expect to have, then play around with them.
For example, I put in a few friend, a few publishers, a few software companies, and so on. This helped me determine if there were fields I hadn't used at all which could be used for other kinds of information and if changing the name of a field would help me remember what to put in it.
Once you have all the information entered, you can play with it. Records can be arranged in nine different ways: by last name, first name, company name, zip code, category, account code, miscellaneous #1 and miscellaneous #2. Zip and account codes sort numerically; everything else sorts alphabetically. Calendar/Appointment Book
The second part of the program is the calendar and appointments book. On the right side of the desktop is the calendar with tabs for each month. To see a month, you simply click with the mouse on the month you want. Then you can click on a particular day to check on or enter your appointments for that day. The appointment list has three fields: time, glance, and comments. The time can be entered any number of ways (05:00p, 0500PM, etc.), but it must be entered in a legal way if you want Habadex to beep when it is time for your appointment.
The glance field is where you enter a very brief description (ten characters) of the appointment, which appears both on the top of the calendar--along with the time--when it is closed and in the monthly calendar. The comment area is where you can put a more detailed description of the appointment.
The Things To Do and Occasions tabs open up lists of just what they say they will. The Things To Do list is useful since it allows you to prioritize things with the first two appearing on the calendar top. Neither list is integrated with the rest of the program. Labels and Lists
One of the areas in which the power of Habadex is very clear in the creation of labels and lists. You can customize the format to your own size and shape labels as well as select the fields and their placement on the label. What makes this all so powerful is how easily it is done because it is all visual. If you know how you want your labels to look, it is a simple matter of placing the fields where you want them. If you don't, it becomes a matter of experimentation. The same holds true for printing lists of information.
Habadex also has a mail merge function to allow for form letters. While this is very handy, the function isn't quite as flexible as one might like. The letter can be no more than a page long and must be in only one point size and font. It can have no indentations, no tabs, and so on. In other words, it will look like a form letter. It works by taking a letter written in MacWrite or Word and copying it to the clipboard. You then choose the Mail Merge function and design to the top of the letter. The program will pick up the letter from the clipboard.
The last part of the program is telephone dialing. Since I do not have the HabaDialer or a modem for my Mac, I can only tell you that it sounded as if Habadex was dialing the right numbers for me. Habadex is quite flexible about how you can enter the phone numbers--with dashes, spaces, etc. A comma will cause habadex to pause for a second, so if, like me, you use MCI and need a long pause between the access code and the account code, you can insert some commas (though a puase is already built in).
All told, this is a good solid program that is easy to use and reasonably flexible. It does have two significant faults, though. First, it seems to run exponentially slower as more records are added. And second, it seems to be a case of more is less--that is, even though you can do much more with it than you can with a good old fashioned Rolodex, you can't just look something up in a hurry while you're working on something else. In other words, Habadex isn't going to replace my Rolodex, but I'm certainly happy to have both. ThinkTank
ThinkTank, from Living Videotext, is billed by its maker as "The First Idea Processor." I'm not sure about the "First" part, but, at least the "idea processor" part of the claim turns out to be accurate. Originally designed for the IBM PC, this is in many ways the ultimate computer program. It helps you do what computers are supposed to help you do: organize yourself, your thoughts, your work. On the Mac, it seems even better than ever since moving bits and pieces of information is so easy with the mouse. (On the other hand, due to memory constraints, the Mac version does not allow for paragraphing.)
ThinkTank is, in a word, an outlining program to help you organize your thoughts, whether for a presentation, an article, or simply for yourself. The idea is to get everything down on paper (so to speak), then organize it. In theory, you should never lose another idea because ThinkTank makes it so easy to write them all down, then worry later about what makes sense. In practice, it can be tricky to learn to use the program effectively. Old habits die hard, and those of us who still use a typewriter half the time--or even pencil and paper (gasp!)--have trained ourselves over the years to do a great deal of mental editing before committing anything to paper.
You begin by simply typing in your first thought. When you finish it, you hit Return, and the program is ready for your second thought. If it strikes you as a subsidiary thought to the first one, you can indent it by dragging it to the right with the mouse or by pressing Command-R (Command-L moves items left). When you hit Return again, the text will begin at the same indentation, or level, as the previous thought. You can indent it further or pull it back out.
Unless it crosses your mind right away to move it one direction or another, you shouldn't do it. Leave it and get on to the next idea. Later you can come back and organize, move things around, cut things out. Just let the ideas flow. If you sit down and try to write an outline, it won't work.
Sounds too simple to actually be a program, doesn't it? Well, there is a little more to it than that. First, each item you write is marked with either a dash or a plus sign. Any item or thought with sub-items has a plus sign; the rest have dashes. This is important because you can close up groups of sub-items under their item. Thus, if, for example, the first thing I write is Popsicles and under that I write Good Humor, FrozeFruit, and Homemade, each by itself, Popsicles would have a plus next to it and the other words would have dashes.
Then let's say I go back to the item Good Humor, select it (by clicking on it), hit Return (pushing the cursor down a line), hit Command-R (indenting the item) and write Toasted Almond. Good Humor would now have a plus sign next to it since it has a sub-item. If I now go back to Popsicles and double click on the word, it will close up the outline, leaving only the word Popsicles. If I double click again, it will open up to the three sub-items, and I will see that Good Humor had another sub-item because it is marked with the plus sign.
Why is this so helpful? This last feature keeps your thoughts from crowding you too much and distracting you from whatever you want to focus on. You can leave open only as much of the outline as you want, and you don't have to worry that you are losing the rest of your outline.
Going back to the popsicles for a moment, let's say I'm still at Toasted Almond when it crosses my mind that cherry was another big flavor with me as a kid. I hit Return and add Cherry on the same level as Toasted Almond. Now I'm really cooking: I remember that FrozeFruit offers a cherry flavor too. I click FrozeFruit, hit Return, Command-R and type Cherry.
I step back for a moment and realize I have Cherry written under two headings. This is where the program becomes truly useful. It makes it easy for me to decide that the point I'm really trying to make has to do with what has happened to popsicle flavors over the years, so what I want to do is categorize them by flavor rather than by brandname. There is no reason to be lazy about it. A few moves to the left and right, a cut and paste here and there, and suddenly I'm making my point.
When you finish an outline, you can print it out by selecting the first heading. If you want to print only one section, you select that heading, and it will be printed along with any sub-items.
Transferring outlines to MacWrite--a good idea in theory since that allows you to fill out the outline--turns out to be somewhat clunky. The easiest way to accomplish this is to copy the entire document onto the clipboard, then paste it into a new MacWrite document. The potential problem with this is that ThinkTank can hold longer documents than MacWrite can, so if your outline is very long, you can't transfer it. Another option is to begin by opening up MacWrite, then select the ThinkTank document. It will open in MacWrite, though not in its original form: the indentations and dashes will appear as dots and the word "head.c A simple translation program would take care of this.
Another problem with the program is the length limitation on each entry, or item. While I can see a benefit to being forced to make a point concisely, this is clearly a rationalization. It would be much better if you could go back and fill in paragraphs here and there as needed. (Rumor has it that there will be a new version for the 512K Mac.)
Complaints aside, I still find this a terrific program. I am very resistant to changing my ways, especially when I have to pay to do it--and frankly, I find the price tag on this program a little high for something whose value is so hard to pinpoint. But to the program's credit, it managed to convert me. I was dead set against it at the beginning, but after using it several times, I started to get a feel for it, and the next thing I knew I was singing its praises.
Products: Habadex (computer program)
ThinkTank (Computer program)