The Incredible Jack and Think Tank: two unusual programs in Pascal. (evaluation) Steve Arrants.
It has been predicted that Pascal will eventually replace Basic as the language of choice for microcomputing. Easy to understand, quick to use, and versatile, Pascal is a good choice for some applications. In fact, software authors are beginning to use Pascal in commercial programs.
It will take a long, long time before Pascal beats Basic, however. There is just too much of an investment in Basic software. But as more quality Pascal software is marketed, its following grows and becomes more loyal.
The two packages reviewed here exploit the main strength of Pascal--text processing. Both could have been written in Basic and assembly language. they probably wouldn't have been as easy to write or use, however.
The Incredible Jack is a word processor/spreadsheet/database package all on one disk, in one program. It is impressive not so much for what it does, although it does a good job, as for what it sets out to do. Think Tank is an "idea processor." Really nothing more than an outline generator, it sounds like another wasted application. The surprising thing about Think Tank is how useful it is once you get accustomed to its commands an formats. I think you will be impressed. The Incredible Jack
When this package was handed to me for review, I couldn't believe that the people at Business Solutions Inc. were serious. A word processor and a database and a spreadsheet on one disk? To top that, the documentation is a 125-page book about the size of a floppy. It couldn't work. There was no way that all that code could be packed onto one side of one disk. One boot of this disk, and that would be it. The software would be so incredibly, bad, so bare bones, that reviewing it would be a joke.
OK, I was wrong. The Incredible Jack does what it says it will do, and it is all on one disk. The idea behind the development of The Incredible Jack is that bundling the most used and useful types of business software will please many people: no more trying to insert VisiCalc files into a WordStar report; no complex formating of tables or information into a database. One program would do it all. Apple owners would have something resembling the IBM PC package 1-2-3 from Lotus, a software package that fully integrates the three most important business operations--organizing data, manipulating data, and printing data.
Well, if you want the best of those three operations, you will still have to purchase three different software package. Like a Renaissance man, The Incredible Jack does many things well, but noe superbly.
That is not to say that it doesn't impress me or that it is useless. After all, great software has to start somewhere. And a strong point in its favor is its ease of use. It is not like learning WordStar, VisiCalc, and DB Master all at once. The different parts of this program work in harmony, producing an easy to learn and easy to operate piece of software. Using Jack
If you have ever written a letter on a word processor, writing a form letter should be easy. If you have mastered form letters, creating a database file is almost as simple. Include a way to do calculations on database fields, and you have The Incredible Jack.
Calculations with The Incredible Jack are not the type users of spreadsheets are used to. There are no rows and columns or cells. In this package, they are called labels. Just because it doesn't look like WonderCalc or any of those other spreadsheets doesn't mean that Jack can't do sophisticated calculations. For example, let's say you are printing billing notices. If one client hasn't paid in 90 days, that data in one label could cause an extra warning in his letter or print out a stronger letter.
Again, I must stress that you don't move from calculations to the database and then into the word processor. All the commands are available at any time. There is no need to save a calculation file and reload it on your word processor. This is the most impressive feature of The Incredible Jack: all the features are available instantly.
The screen is divided into four sections: a command line, a tab line, the work area, a footnote area, and a status line. The prompt messages are almost completely self-explanatory. Enter D for the Disk mode to set up a new file. Enter the filename and space is reserved on disk. You are immediately switched into the File mode, ready to enter text. The Pset command may be used to format your work. Enter the text as you would with a computer word processor, i.E. don't enter a return unless you wish to start a new paragraph or block of text.
Suppose you want to create a form. Instead of calling on a new program, enter the form headings and spaces for the fields, ending with a caret, the character that delimits the field. After completing your form, use the Lock command to freeze the headings and fields. To use a form, enter the information requested for a field and press the tab. Jack jumps you over to the next field automatically.
Calculations are almost as easy. At the file menu, enter CALC and return. Type a definition such as PRICE or DISCOUNT, enter some spaces and end with a caret. To select a calculation formula, select the Food mode. Let's say that the discount will be 10% for all purchases. Enter DISCOUNT: .10* PRICE. You have just set up your first calculation formula.
All of these modes can be combined. You can change a form into a form letter, have a form letter with calculations, or keep an inventory record with calculations. The versatility of The Incredible Jack makes it an impressive package. Summary
The documentation is so-so. I think that the designers of The Incredible Jack got a little carried away and through that the documentation should be as small as the disk. A tutorial is included. Although written in Pascal, a fast language, disk access can slow things down, as in the case of Think Tank. Also, transferring Jack files may be difficult unless you convert them into DOS format or have a Pascal-based communications program.
Finally, it won't replace WordStar or VisiCalc. There are just some things that they can do better, easier, and quicker. And because it won't be the only program you use, it won't make using the Apple any easier. You will still have to learn different commands and different formats for each program. If you think that you will only be doing light word processing/database/spreadsheet/applications, The Incredible Jack may be the way to go. Think Tank
Back in grade 3, Sister Amadea taught us all how to outline. Eight-year-old are not noted for their organizational ability, and at that age, I was more interested in how the Baltimore Orioles were doing in their division. But, Sister worked at it, until we all could outline almost anything from a one-page book report to a plan for life. No matter what you do or plan to do, getting your priorities set up in an organized fashion is the best beginning. Until now, using a pad (or two) of paper and a supply of pencils was about the only way to get organized.
People do not think in a straight, organized path. We are not like computers. Intuition and insight enter into the process, as does the process of one thought causing us to remember another. So, you sit down with paper and pencil, or 3 x 5 cards, or some other organizational tool, writing down the first thoughts that come into your head. A few ideas come to mind. You write them down, and suddenly you are off on a tangent. Or you have the plan all neatly written down, and you decide to change just one point...
Well, now it is a little bit easier to organize your thoughts. With Think Tank, described as an "idea processor," thinking, rethinking, planning, organizing, and delegating jobs can be made a little easier. Really just an outline generator, Think Tank tries to make outlining as easy as work processing. By breaking down the physical barriers such as a full note-pad, blunt pencils, etc., Think Tank allows you to flow with the thoughts, cleaning them up later. Since it runs on your computer, erasing something you don't like is just a simple keystroke. The idea behind this product is that the easier it is to process ideas, the quicker and more effortlessly those ideas will come. Using Think Tank
Although the package looks frightening, working with Think Tank is easy. All you need to do is enter your thoughts into your Apple. Entries can be in complete sentences, fragments, paragraphs, or cryptic notes. Each entry can be indented, depending upon its importance in your overall scheme.
Again, thinking in a straight-line, organized fashion isn't necessary. Just put down your ideas and organize them later. One idea becomes a heading. Expanding on the heading forms a paragraph. You think of something that branches off from the paragraph, and you form a sub-heading, and so on and so on. New information or a change of mind is easily accommodated.
After entering an idea, edit it, add to it, or change its importance by moving it around. Don't worry about its placement too much. After all, you don't want to stifle your creativity. Just let the ideas flow onto the screen, taking shape and building upon themselves. Anything can be added anywhere. Ideas that aren't needed can be swept away easily. Indent a heading or an entire paragraph to give it added importance. Scan through your outline to add or delete what you wish.
The commands used are very simple land divided into four main groups. Each command is connected to another command, much like tree branches connected to a tree trunk. Moving the cursor over a command causes a brief explanation of that command to be displayed.
Want to see just the main headings of your outline? Enter CONTRACT and only main headings are shown. Enter EXPAND to get a look at more parts of the outline.
Printing is easily done after setting certain parameters such as slot number, page length, and lines per page. You can print out a full outline or a contracted one, having only those categories you want printed.
Although the program is written in Pascal, Think Tank files can be translated into DOS text files with a utility that is provided. Since so many people use DOS based word processors, this is a welcome feature. You can merge a Think Tank outline into an Apple Writer or other Apple word processor, or send them over a modem with a DOS based telecommunications program. Documentation
The documentation for Think Tank looks frightening. The thick, spiral bound manual made me think that learning to use this software was just not worth it. The manual is very well done. A tutorial, reference section, good technical information, glossary, and a "refresher" section for old users of Think Tank make this one of the best documentation guides I have seen.
Although there is a great deal of information presented, it is done in such a way that it didn't bore me. Finally, a truly useful reference card is included. Nothing on the card is left to chance. All possible commands are covered, including when to use them. Summary
Think Tank isn't for everyone. It does have its drawbacks. Since it frequently accesses the disk, it can be slow. Also, the paragraph buffer of 2K may seem too small for some people, though I didn't have a problem with it.
The hardware requirements will cut out many buyers. Two disk drives, the Apple 80-column extended memory card, and a printer are needed. With computers entering the schoolhouse, Think Tank seems to be a natural choice. Unfortunately, many schools do not have the necessary equipment.
Of course, Think Tank will not replace a list of "Things to do on Saturaday." It may not be ideally suited for keeping a list of references or phone numbers. Index cards and little black books are just fine for those uses. But Think Tank may be useful in planning out long range or complicated projects. For writers, students--even eight-year olds--Think Tank will be a great help.
Products: The Incredible Jack (computer program)
Think Tank (computer program)