Keith Ferrell, Features Editor
Requirements: IBM PC, XT, or AT, or compatibles; DOS 2.0 or higher; 128K RAM or higher.
Several times a day I find myself making the following resolution: This time the desk stays clean.
It doesn't, of course. Ideas occur and get jotted on whatever paper is closest to hand; notes and requests arrive from various sources and find their way into the mix; scribbled reminders of items on my agenda, reference notes and citations, phone messages—it can take a few hours to clean my desk but only a few minutes to pile it high once more.
I'm not alone in this. Harold Geneen, former head of ITT, can become positively poetic extolling the virtues of a cluttered, busy desk, and in his management book advises distrust of those whose desks are too often too clean. Not that there are many of those: From vivid evidence obtained on visits to other offices, sessions seated on the other side of other cluttered desks, I've gathered pretty conclusively that the at least occasionally chaotic desk is pretty close to being a species norm.
Tornado Notes offers a clever RAM-resident solution to the chaotic desk approach to work. The program uses windows to simulate notes of various sizes and configurations, interleaving and overlapping them-on the monitor so that you face an apparent pile of notes, ready to be sorted.
Browsing Is A Breeze
That sorting, though, like almost all of the other features of Tornado Notes, is elegantly programmed, and is available to users in a variety of ways. Using the up- and down-arrow keys, you can browse through the pile a note at a time, setting a leisurely pace for cleaning out the notefile, or flying through the pile almost faster than your eye can follow. The current note is highlighted to catch your attention. A simple two-key command (and one of those accesses an alternate menu) lets your computer do the walking, flipping automatically through the whole pile of notes.
Keepers of chaotic desktops occasionally seek to impose order through coding schemes—this color for all notes related to that matter, pink for all phone messages, and so on. Given enough time and sufficient clutter, you can conceive pure palettes of potential organization—and have the whole rainbow fall apart the first time you apply the wrong color to a purpose.
Tornado Notes deals with that dilemma by way of a search mode through which you can separate a specific pile of notes from the general morass. The key that you search for to create your subpile can be any word, graphics symbol, or combination contained in a note. Once the key is requested, the program gathers all the notes sharing the key, and you have a dedicated pile of notes at your disposal. The search mode is smart and quick. No matter how I tried to fool it, the Get function provided me with the right group of common notes each time I tested or used the function.
Not all notes are created equal. Some of mine are little more than a hurriedly scribbled word or phrase; others are several lines or even paragraphs long. Tornado Notes accommodates the occasional need for length—or longwindedness—with a function that lets users alter the dimensions of the notefield. If you wish, notes can be stretched to cover the whole screen, shrunk to encapsulate a single word or phrase, made tall and narrow or squat and wide. I've found the program's default to be sensibly sized for the majority of my notes: three inches tall by two inches wide. Once the note is entered, the box shrinks to the minimum size.
Easy To Use
Getting into Tornado Notes is easy (easier, in fact, than it sometimes is to find an appropriate scrap of paper for a note). Once the program is loaded into memory, accessing it is simply a matter of pressing Alt-J. Once you're done with your notes—and they're saved to disk—returning to your other work is as easy as pressing the C key. When a note has outlived its usefulness, the T key provides a trashcan for dumping it.
The introductory tutorial is brief and engaging, guiding you through the basic functions and features of the program without going into exhaustive detail. One of the notes in the tutorial explains Micro Logic's thinking, advising users simply to get started making notes. A new notefield is called up by pressing N; Esc gets you out of the edit mode and adds the new note to the pile. Tornado Notes makes it easy to create dedicated piles of notes—this one for phone messages, that one for reference notes, and so on.
There are all sorts of elegant and engaging extras built into Tornado Notes. A special notepile called Facts is a collection of just that: measurement conventions and conversions, ASCII code tables, forms that can prove useful as standard note formats for messages and memoranda, and so on. The program constantly reminds users to save their notes to disk, lest they be lost when the computer is shut off; once the habit of saving is acquired, the reminders can be turned off. Color is adjustable on color monitors, as is shading on monochrome. Dating each note is as simple as pressing Esc-T. Time-stamping notes is a bit problematical, as it is invoked by Esc-T; until I got the right key rhythm for time-stamping, I found that when I pressed Esc-T, it tended to summon the trashcan instead of placing the time.
Tornado Notes resides neatly in RAM, with its default set at 20K. The residency is easily reconfigured to use as little as 5K, or—for those who take lots of notes—it can use much more than 20K. Included in a read.me file on the disk are those programs with which Tornado Notes has trouble sharing residency. The program is not copy-protected, so it can be backed up or added to a mass storage device. The manual provides clear instructions on loading the program onto a hard disk, if one is available. I added Tornado Notes to my autoexec batch file; when my computer boots up, so does Tornado Notes, ready to go at the stroke of a key.
Did Tornado Notes solve the problem of my cluttered desk? Sort of. Handwritten notes have disappeared—everything goes to Tornado Notes right away. The desk space freed by the program, though, quickly became filled by books, magazines, more. Maybe there's a marketing opportunity here—Tornado Tomes anyone?
Hackensack, NJ 07602
$49.95; volume discounts available.