An engineer here has come up with a quick and simple way for home-computer users to put chronological information into their machines without typing columns and columns of numbers.
No, it is not an optical character reader. Those are very expensive, and numbers have to be printed in a format for the reader to work.
What C. Edward Walter, president of Urban Aggregates, Inc., has done is write a program suitable for Apple computers that will turn a graph on paper into numbers in the computer.
The program is only one in a 15-program system that gives investors and stockbrokers a signal when to buy or sell stocks. However, half of the telephone calls Walter has been getting on his product are about the novel data-entry program.
Walter's main goal was to write a stock analysis program. Typing numbers is a tedious task. "I needed a method to get enough data into the computer so that I could see whether my analysis methods worked or not," said the 49-year-old inventor.
He could buy the numbers by hooking up with a computer information service that carries stock prices. CompuServe, a computer-based data firm, charges 10 cents per line of a weekly stock quote table, plus a $5 per hour connection fee.
If you don't have a data bank, how do you do it? "You can go to the library and can go back through the past 52 issues of Barron's magazine, get the prices, copy them all, come home and type those into your trusty little computer, each date and each price. That's for the birds, especially when you go to the library and you find an issue missing half way back."
Instead, Walter uses a pen that looks like an airbrush, and an electronic tablet to trace a published chart or graph of the stock's prices. The tablet is designed to help analyze maps using computers. With Walter's program, the computer sees the chart of stock prices as a numerical map, and translates it to its original values, displaying the figures as if in a stock table.
In a demonstration of the program, Walter entered 89 weeks of stock quotes--267 prices and dates--in five minutes. Racing the clock hurts precision, however, since a user has to be careful to trace the graph accurately.
He placed his first ad for the program in early January. Since then he has had about 200 inquiries, and sold about 15 of the programs.
A few of his callers misunderstand what his data-entry system will do. According to Walter, a congressional aide wanted to buy the system to "read" President Reagan's budget figures into his office microcomputer.
But others who understand how it works have already found other applications for it. A Levi Strauss & Co. analyst wanted to enter old graphs of sales, profits and inventories, according to Walter. The program is an easy way to make the jump from the printed analysis and storage to computer analysis and storage. However, the program is not for everyone. The entry program is $150 by itself. With the analysis program, the whole system is $175 plus $50 per year for updates. A user also has to buy the "graphics table" for $600. In addition, stock graphs of most companies' stock prices costs about $60 per year.
"For people who are doing research, this would be great," Tim Slater, head of Computrac, an investors' organization, said.
The program took about a year of part-time work to develop. It is copyrighted, and protected by a "hardware lock" or scrambler that must be purchased in order to use the program.
Manufacturers of the graphics tablets said the program is unique. "I would say it is a novel application," said Phil Roybal, manager of communications programs at Apple Computer.