It's 10 o'clock in Bethesda, and you gotta call the boss. But he's in Burundi, wherever that is. And you're still smarting from that little Rangoon fiasco last month: You counted the time-difference wrong and ended up dragging him out of bed at 4:30 a.m. Pull that stunt again and you're going to be in deep shag without a Hoover.
It's obviously time for Terminator, the $39.95 program that acts like one of those techno-chic Geochron clocks, the kind that spreads out a map of the world showing which parts are in daylight, which in the dark. The software snags the time and date from your IBM or compatible system clock, adjusts automatically for daylight savings, and then fills your monitor with the map in mono or color. A dozen cities are displayed, each with its local time. Don't care about those burgs? Replace 'em with your own choices -- branch offices, say, or foreign stock exchanges -- by typing in the latitude, longitude and name of each.
Run Terminator alone or set it to "pop up" from underneath another program. Switch between a plain outline map, one with latitude/longitude markers, or one showing each of the 24 time zones. Joshua-like, you can command the sun's progress: Set it to advance a week every few seconds, for example, and your kids can see how the solar position changes with the seasons. A must for budding multinationals. (Tridos Software, 4004 SW Barbur Blvd., Portland, Ore. 97201; 503-228-8223.)
Artificial intelligence has become widely popular during the Reagan presidency, and it's probably no accident. In contrast to the comatose wafflings and mental mud-wrestling at the White House, AI seeks to replicate in software the logical paths and procedures experts use when making decisions. It does this by channeling the user into if/then and and/or: IF the object is feathered AND IF it waddles AND IF it quacks OR IF it swims, THEN the object is a duck.
Recently a slew of these so-called "expert systems" have hit the PC market, with uses ranging from evaluating potential employes (The Hiring Edge) to organizing a speech (Thoughtline) to diagnosing Fluffy's persistent cough (Cat Vet). All dandy if your problem is sales staff or hairballs. What if your needs are unique? Say you're a cheese consultant, advising clients on the appropriate types for dinner-party menus, and you have to leave old Bemis in charge while you're on vacation. Trouble is, Bemis' brain is wall-to-wall dust bunnies and he can't tell a salad fork from a fork lift without a wall chart.
Well, start stuffing your Vuittons, Pierre. Now there's VP Expert ($124.95/IBM), the ingenious program from Paperback Software that lets you write your own expert system. All you have to do is think through your decision methods and turn the results into simple English rules that VPE can read. In the cheese biz, for example, you'd first ask a client which part of the meal he was interested in, whether he wanted a soft or firm variety, then whether he preferred mild, pungent or flavorful. You'd also suggest a complementary food.
To get VPE to do the same thing, you'd just write rules governing the course/complement relationship, such as: if Course = Dessert, then Complement = bread and cheese. Then set up a rule for each cheese:
IF complement = bread and cheese AND
preference = mild OR
preference = flavorful AND
consistency = firm
THEN cheese = Italian Fontina
All Bemis has to do is run the program, fill the question boxes with the client's answers and wait for the result. The same structure will work for any decision system, from investment strategies to on-screen guidelines for your weekend house-sitter:
IF event = stranger shows up AND
gender = male AND
behavior = obnoxious AND
speech = slurred OR
eyes = red AND
shape = giant turnip
THEN stranger = Mike "Burps" Boynton from down the block
DISPLAY "WARNING -- DO NOT ADMIT! WANTS TO BORROW LAWNMOWER!"
VPE lets you edit and test your routines; even alerts you if you've made a syntax mistake and points to the line number. Caution: Using this program will teach you a great deal about the way your mind works. (Paperback Software Intl., 2830 Ninth St., Berkeley, Calif. 94710; 415-644-2116.)
Still searching for that hard-to-find tuna-management program? Wallpaper paste estimator? Home embalming software? Then chuck those yellow pages and shoot your snoot into the New Fourth Edition of the PC-SIG Library, the latest catalogue from the indispensable dispenser of public-domain and ShareWare programs -- those $5-to-$50, try-'em-before-you-buy-'em jobbies that are often worth 10 times their registration fees. No matter how arcane or perverse your interest, PC-SIG can probably accommodate you somewhere in its 850 floppy disks of software.
There's Bullet Simulator to "understand, predict and optimize the ballistic performance of your rifles." Or The Movie Database, with facts on 2,000 films. Or Life Forms, a biological evolution generator that comes with 100 animate patterns, "or you can design a life form according to your own specifications." Try Minister's Sermon Indexer to avoid those humiliating repetitions or get the entire King James Bible on seven disks. Membership plus newsletters, catalogue and any five disks for $39. Cheap at twice the price. (PC-SIG, 1030D East Duane Ave., Sunnyvale, Calif. 94086; 800-245-6717.)
Do words with more than six letters give you core meltdown? Rather have gum surgery than try to spell Zimbabwe? You're among the nation's millions of Orthographically Impaired -- a condition that until recently would have doomed you to a life of political speechwriting and other linguistic stoop labor, "Knotts Landing" and Form 1040 EZ. But now there's Reference Set Library, from the makers of the peerless Grammatik II writing analyzer. The basic module ($89/IBM) includes the 83,000-word Random House dictionary and 300,000-synonym thesaurus plus the "reference engine" -- software grabbers for RSL's growing host of add-on options. Available now: Stedman's Medical (68,000 words) and Black's Law (16,000) dictionaries at $49 each. Coming soon: Oil Spell (7,000 petro-terms), a world almanac and foreign languages.
Just load the software into memory before you start your word-processor. (RSL recognizes 10 programs, and can be customized for others.) Then poke a "hot-key" to pop up a function. The spell-checker, enhanced with Stedman's and Black's, tips the lexical Toledos at over 150,000 words. Even then, it runs faster than a tax-fraud swami with a fistful of subpoenas. Comprehensive? It snagged and corrected misspellings in such lexical abstrusities as ipecac, heriscindium, cholestyramine and praxiology.
Want synonyms? Pitch the thesaurus even an oddball usage such as meander and it throws back three nouns and eight verbs, including extravagate and peregrinate. (Antonyms too!) With this program you can blast out a 20-page report that makes Carl Sagan sound like Madonna and still get to the car pool on time. All that and a 30-day money-back guarantee spells a real bargain. (Reference Software, 330 Townsend St., Suite 131, San Francisco, Calif. 94107; 800-872-9933.)
If you're looking at software for your laptop computer, take a long, admiring gawk at OfficeWriter Express ($595/IBM). OW, which hasn't had the popularity it fully deserves, is a word-processor designed on the Wang/MultiMate model, which means a formidable arsenal of document-management, file-translation and text-formatting features and enough on-screen help prompts to make it virtually idiot-proof. But OW improves on MultiMate by 1) dumping most of MM's nitwit liabilities, such as "page orientation" (you can view only one page at a time); 2) making the key use comprehensible to ordinary hominids (in MM, many simple functions require screwball two-key combos); and 3) running at a brisk clip (MM is a notorious creeper). OWE -- five 3 1/2 -inch disks in a traveling pouch -- combines the full new OW version 5.01 with a downright chummy modem program for file transfer and database access. If you're going places, so is this innovative, upcoming company. (Office Solutions, 2802 Coho St., Madison, Wis. 53713; 608-274-5047.)
Attention pixel-heads: Drop your mice and grab your checkbooks. Dr. Halo III is here. If you design color presentations, slide shows or mono graphics for desktop publishing, this upgrade of the venerable paint program ($139.95/IBM) is a must. It now supports all the new high-resolution screen modes (including IBM PS/2), and offers vastly improved printer drivers, a slick slide-show program, a superb, completely rewritten manual and on-screen help windows. Other new features: A "lasso" to move irregularly shaped objects around the screen and "palette editing," which lets you mix colors. Even if you've never drawn so much as a glass of water, DHIII can put you in the picture. If you're an experienced user, more power to you. (Media Cybernetics, 8484 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring 20910; 301-495-3305.)