You say your Moon is in the Seventh House, your Neptune is in Pisces, your car is in the shop and your dog is in the neighbor's petunias?
Sounds like you could use an astrological tuneup. And if you're one of the 100 million Americans who sneaks a glance at his horoscope every day, why not go the whole cosmo-prophetic hog and get it on disk from Matrix Software?
Even if you think astrology is heathen rubbish, you'll admire the clean design and versatile power of these programs for IBM, Apple and Commodore computers. Not to mention the down-to-earth prices. Matrix offers both Astro*Talk (novice to intermediate) and Blue*Star (professional-strength for IBM only) in three models: A $49.95 version that provides on-screen information; a $99.95 edition that allows printed reports; and a $300 super-seer behemoth that does everything but phone your broker. (By comparison, you'd drop around $100 for just one chart from some crone in a K mart turban -- who's probably using the same software!)
Enter the date, place, time, longitude and latitude of your birth, and Matrix starts ciphering away like a team of Babylonian tax auditors. A*T offers 11 on-screen and six printed analyses, including a six-page Natal Report; specific forecasts by the day, week and month; transit paths for any given planet over time; and overviews of life-phases and "burn rate" (amenability to change). Got a big day coming up? Type in the date and get a prognosis.
Warning: This isn't the kind of fortune-cookie stuff you see in the tabloids ("Accent on romance, knitting. Aries, Scorpio, MasterCard play key role.") You'll need an understanding of "houses" (various systems of dividing the heavens into 12 segments) as well as planetary "aspects" (how the bodies line up in the sky) and their arcane terminology, such as squares, trines, sextiles and -- a personal favorite -- "mystic rectangles." And it absolutely helps to know that astro-pronouncements can be contradictory and maddeningly oblique.
For example, say you were born in January in Idaho. Pick "Interpret Birth Chart" from A*T's main menu, and up comes a list of sun, moon and planets. Choose "sun" and the screen divides into four parts. At the left is a graphic display of the specified body's position relative to other planets. Below that is a window containing several paragraphs of interpretation, including the warning "you may have trouble getting your ideas and thoughts across to others." (Ridiculous. Hello?)
To the right is another window containing the "keyword" analysis: "The Sun (self, ambition, life direction) is in Capricorn (practical, clear-minded) and in the 10th house (career, reputation) and forms a square aspect (stresses, makes it difficult to) with the natal ascendant (appearance, manner) in Aries (aggressive, assertive), which is in the 1st house (self-image and promotion)." Whew. Fortunately, down below is a "short poetic image useful for understanding the energy represented in that degree of the zodiac": "Three stained-glass windows in an old cathedral are seen and the center one has been damaged by bombardment. DEFIANCE." Um. Well.
But check Mercury (mind, ideas, concepts), and the interpretation panel says: "You think and communicate with great force and in a very direct manner." And the poetic image reads: "A chubby little rich boy rides on a hobby horse of bright colors and wishes for hazards he may never know. SAFETY." This, of course, clears everything up.
Blue*Star, designed for working astrologers and adepts, goes into full arcane detail: It prints an ephemeris "wheel" chart accurate to within 1 degree of arc, charts for each planet's aspects and much more. Interpret the results with a favorite tome; or get the $300 version, which provides full prose analyses for the dozens of options and sub-options. Obviously, this can be tough celestial sledding for the neophyte. But whaddya want for 100 bucks -- Carl Sagan? (Matrix Software, 315 Marion Ave., Big Rapids, Mich. 49307; 616-796-2483.)
Sit up straight. Put your knees together and place a phone book flat on top of your thighs. (Can't see the phone book? Unhand that Moon Pie and skip to the next item.) Then raise your fists over your head and make a noise like a truckload of chickens stuck in the Harbor Tunnel.
Now you know what working with a laptop computer was like before this spring: Shuffling program disks in and out of grindingly slow drives, waiting for 'em to boot and squinting at the result. But now, just in time for the new crop of high-speed, hyper-legible laptops, there's WordPerfect Executive: A superb integrated package that crams six essential programs onto one mini-disk and still leaves room to write and store 15,000 words.
WPE ($249 for IBM and compatibles) comes on both 5 1/4- and 3 1/2-inch disks. It combines cut-down versions of WordPerfect's word processor and spreadsheet with an appointment calendar, "card file" database, phone directory and calculator -- all using the same function-key commands. And all running under a menu-driven "shell" that simplifies those pesky file-maintenance tasks such as Copy, Delete, List and Rename. To speed things up, WPE loads most of its programs into RAM memory; thereafter, you can switch from one to another with a single keystroke. A "clipboard" feature allows you to swap data among programs: Stop in mid-memo, hop to the spreadsheet, snatch up some numbers, and dump 'em back in the memo right where you left off. Stumped? The slim manual is succinct and lucid.
WPE caters specifically to the tech-leery business user, who gets a small arsenal of pre-defined "macros" (strings of sequential commands assigned to a single key). From the word-processor, for example, strike ALT-L for "letter." The program pops you out to the phone directory. Place the cursor over the outfit you're writing to, and WPE snaps back to the word processor, inserts the date, name, address and salutation, and puts a "Sincerely" and your name at the bottom. All you have to do is stumble through the body text.
Those who haven't used the best-selling WordPerfect products may balk at the non-intuitive command structure (for some screwball reason, both "Exit" and "Store" use the hard-to-hit F7 key); and WPE does not include a modem program, though you can easily add your own. But for sheer compact clout, the word is "perfect." (WordPerfect Corp., 288 W. Center St. Orem, Utah 84057; 801-225-5000.)
You say your attention-span is shrinking faster than Donna Rice's bikini on a hot stern? Find your memory functions boggling in info-glut? The software industry, anticipating an era of national brain-blotto, is releasing a slew of products dedicated to managing mega-masses of data. Among the best is Search Express, an amazing new text-retrieval program that lets you search up to a million documents.
Say you're the aging president of a large Western superpower and your memory isn't what it used to be. Yet you've got reams of memos, logs and reports to deal with and a gaggle of senators pestering you for details. No problem, Your Forgetfulness: Just let SE index all the documents, noting the location and frequency of each word; add a summary "header" to each for even easier manipulation.
Then search 'em in one of two ways: By connectors or by word frequency. You can ask to see all the documents in which North appears with both Secord and Poindexter, but not those which mention either hostages or Hawk missiles and nothing before January of 1986. It would take months to do this on paper. But type NORTH AND (SECORD AND POINDEXTER) AND NOT (HOSTAGES OR HAWK) AND DA = 1986. In seconds, SE lists the relevant files. Need to see where slush and fund appear next to each other? It's (SLUSH ADJ FUND). Where chicken-livered and liberals appear in the same sentence? Just put an "SS" between 'em. Zoom to the text and view each individual reference. Group your files into sub-units. Print out whole documents or only the paragraphs or sentences containing keywords. Or look for all documents which include similar word-content. Say you want skim-off, Porsche, jackass, check-cashing, Parklane Hosiery and bag-man. Each can be given a "weighted" importance from 1 to 10. SE then summons up a group of documents containing those words, ranked in descending order of similarity.
SE comes in three versions at discounted introductory prices: A low-ball edition for $99.95 that handles up to 1,000 files on floppy or hard disks; and million-file models for magnetic media or optical disk at $349 each. Comparison-shoppers will want to look at ZyINDEX (from SE's Chicago-based rival, ZyLAB); but SE's user-sumptuous interface, brisk speed and succinct documentation will make it a very short search. (Executive Technologies Inc., 1075 13th St. So., Birmingham, Ala. 35205; 205-934-9130.)
Swell. But can you get your habit-ridden staff to use it? Take old Bumpus there: When they changed the location of the men's room, he got so flummoxed that he went down to the Sunoco on the corner for six months rather than make the switch.
You need Instant Replay II ($149 for IBM and compatibles). This new version of the popular classic makes creating tutorials, demos and animated presentations fast and fun. You can run any program and enhance it with your own custom-designed help screens, menus and sound-effects. Or build "demo" sequences by "capturing" full-screen images from various programs, arrange 'em in sequence, set the timing and the display mode ("exploding" frames, diagonal "wipes," fade-dissolves and more), add interactive pop-up menus and prompts -- even compose your own music. (The new IRII offers a full piano keyboard, seven-octave range and complete editing, right down to quarter notes and rests.)
IR's manual is punctuated horribly and takes some revolutionary liberties with English grammar. But the step-by-step instructions are clear and the program is indispensable for trainers, sales reps or anyone who wants to create a jolly good show in jig time. (Nostradamus Inc., 3191 So. Valley St., Salt Lake City, Utah 84109; 801-487-9662.)
Have trouble organizing your thoughts? Ideas swirl around in your head like tea towels in a dryer? No big deal if you're, say, a mushroom rancher. But what if you're a VP entrusted with using stockholders' money wisely? You've got to give speeches, write reports -- but you've got a brain full of dust bunnies. The only way you can figure out what you're thinking is to "talk it out."
You might think about Thoughtline (for IBM and compatible systems): Boot it up and it bullies you with questions for 20 minutes and then rearranges your responses into a plausible outline, with main heading and subtopics.
In operation, Thoughtline resembles Eliza, a now-antique program that simulates a dialogue with a psychotherapist. Type in what's on your mind; Eliza recognizes the salient word or phrase and nudges you to amplify. ("Tell me about your mother.") Thoughtline is far more specific: "What does your audience want to know?" or "What would be a good opening?" Using pattern-matching and word-substitution routines, it forces you to expand your explanation of key points ("How does that relate to ...? What comes to mind when ... ?") and then routes the responses to the relevant part of the outline, which it prints out at the end of the session.
At $295, Thoughtline is overpriced by a few hundred bucks. And frankly, if you need this program, you probably shouldn't be allowed to operate electrical equipment. But for a captain of industry who's worried about being busted to lieutenant, it might make the difference. (Xpercom, 3605 Luallen, Carrollton, Tex. 75007; 214-922-2017.)
XyWrite without tears? Fat chance: Most users find that flash-fast, fully customizable word processor harder to master than the Talmud. But now local author David Rothman has published XyWrite Made Easier (Tab, $21.95), a chatty beginner's guide that explains the software by using a fictional situation: A writer recruits his "pert, red-haired" granddaughter to teach him XyWrite so that he can meet a book deadline.
This device wears thin mighty fast, and the informal presentation (no illustrations; many directions imbedded in dialogue) makes the volume hard to use for quick reference. But apprentice XyWriters will find it vastly more comfy than the 600-page program manual. And for those who need to customize their keyboards, the configuration examples alone -- including The New York Times system -- may be worth the price of admission. (Tab Books Inc., Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. 17214.)