by Michael W. Hey (0703), with technical assistance from Bruce Knox (0874).
What is ThinkZ? Thinkz is the latest software application from Wordmongers - it intends to increase the usefulness of the Z88, and allows it to be used as a portable note-taker.
ThinkZ enables you to make notes under headings and elaborate on them as you go along. It provides a computerised alternative to the backs of old envelopes, so that ideas can be recorded as they occur and then duly elaborated upon in an orderly and structured fashion rather than being scribbled down all over the place with loopy arrows joining things together.
To enter ThinkZ press O (O is for Organiser). The title screen asks you to select a name, which becomes the file-name used whenever your file is saved.
As an example, if I was invited to speak to the local Computer Society about the Z88 I would use ThinkZ to plan my talk.
First of all a rough outline is devised:-
Then one elaborates on each main heading. For example, by choosing "Third-party software" and pressing <>down "Third-party software" is displayed in bold at the top of the screen, and further entries can be made underneath it, e.g. Databases, spelling checkers, typing tutors, games, Thought Organiser," and so on. Selecting databases, one could then press <>down and specify "Data Organiser, Z-Base", plus any others you may have.
Thus, by going through each of the major headings a well organised whole can be produced, set out rather like a family tree.
If one gets lost somewhere in the maze, pressing square-up returns you to the start.
The variety of uses for ThinkZ is limited only by the imagination of the user. It can be used for planning anything from sales campaigns to decorating the house, preparing shopping lists, planning articles and essays (this review was planned using ThinkZ). I am using ThinkZ to organise my campaign to save as many as possible of our remaining red telephone boxes. ThinkZ is useful in preparing anything which needs to be planned from the top downwards, starting with an outline, and progressing into greater and greater detail, and where you otherwise might be unable to see the wood for the trees.
ThinkZ is quite easy to use. The instruction book is of Wordmongers' usual high standard, and because ThinkZ follows most of the well-established Z88 conventions (e.g. <>V for insert/overtype, <>X for edit, and <>FS for file-save, etc.) you can manage quite well without reading it. There are one or two differences so I recommend reading the booklet.
The <>Z command marks a line with a sort of square bulls-eye. This is used for setting up links between lines so that the sideways cursor arrow will move between related lines. In the example above, "games" under "Third-party software" could be linked with games available through the Software Library. It is not possible to mark a block for moving and copying operations as in Pipedream: if you want text to appear twice it must be typed in fully twice.
There is no facility for sorting items into alphabetical order. This might be useful to anyone producing a really huge model. I have made enquiries, and Wordmongers tell me that it would be a very difficult feature to implement (though I hope they will try). Nor is it possible to print out part of a ThinkZ model (you have to go via Pipedream).
One interesting feature is the built-in musical instrument, included so that you can play little tunes while waiting for inspiration to strike. (Roy Woodward gave a spirited performance of "Doe, A Deer" on my Z88 one afternoon.) Sadly, it is not possible to make the CLI play "pre-recorded" selections.
Although ThinkZ is very useful it has one or two tedious properties. The screen can become rather cluttered with little arrows. Each line which has descendants is marked with a little arrow pointing down into a little box, each line that is linked has a little arrow with two heads and the current line is indicated by a pair of double-shafted little arrows. The effect looks like the aftermath of a battle with the Indians.
Unusually for Wordmongers' software there seem to be many rough edges. One feature allows you to rename a ThinkZ model, but due to a bug the new name becomes invisible. You cannot restore the old name (that is invisible, too), so you have a ThinkZ model with a blank title line. The moral is: choose your model name very carefully!
There is an instruction called <>CLEAN, which cleans up a ThinkZ model, and this can cause all sorts of dreadful things to happen.
Another bug sometimes makes lines vanish off the screen after editing. This is easier to cure - you go up a level in the hierarchy, and then back down, and the line reappears.
And another thing: sometimes the word DEL gets plonked into the OZ window (on the extreme right of the screen), and once there it appears in Pipedream, BASIC, the Diary, etc., and can only be banished by a reset! Judged on the strength of ThinkZ the authors might be better re-named Wordcobblers.
Not so much a bug as a curiosity, a sub-entry can be made to an empty line. There is nothing wrong with this, except that it is illogical and looks really odd!
When you open a new ThinkZ model ThinkZ creates three files, each bearing the name of the model with the extensions .DEL, .CDS, and .LNK - the terrible three! The .DEL file is continuously updated as you work, but the .CDS and .LNK are not. In order to operate correctly when ThinkZ resumes work on a file the three must tally in order that all the aforementioned arrows can be put back in the right place. If the .DEL file (containing the text) becomes orphaned then you are snookered. You are presented with the helpful message "Cannot find all files - Restore from your backup."
The problem gets a wee bit complicated because the three files do not appear together in Filer, and the last updated times do no always match if they are catalogued.
I believe that the three files should be combined with the .CDS and .LNK information held as an "invisible" header (in the same way that Pipedream holds its Options information).
In my capacity as Chief Software Destroyer I had a go at editing the .CDS file. The results were a disaster: I urge you not to bother.
If the files do not match you get an interesting assortment of error messages, culminating with the ominous "Total failure - get expert help". In plain English this means your bugs have become totally gerred.
I telephoned and got a sympathetic hearing from a Wordmonger, but there was no way of retrieving my work! ThinkZ has a <>PD instruction which saves the contents of the .DEL file in Pipedream compatible format, and I found it best to do a <>PD every five minutes so that I did have some means of resurrecting my efforts after a bad crash.
A recovery procedure is required desperately. If things do go wrong you are left with the real potential of losing all your work, including the last back-up version, because loading the .DEL file into Pipedream gives you one great block of text. Sometimes the text is also lost, being largely replaced by question marks (rather symbolic, really).
I have been using ThinkZ since July and I love it. It is terrifically useful to someone with a completely disorganised mind. I even use it for "flow-charting" BASIC programs. I consider ThinkZ a really good buy.
I keep ThinkZ loaded in my Z88 so that as thoughts occur to me I can switch on and jot them down.
This might seem odd, because looking back over this review it seems to be a list of complaints!
My biggest disappointment with ThinkZ has been its "fragility". It has been responsible for more crashes and mid-air collisions than any other software I have used. It can be upset by so many little things, and once things have started to go adrift there is nothing you can do that will not make them worse.
Once the program has been given a thorough overhaul it will be yet another useful asset to the Z88 and and a valuable tool for its users.
Thinkz is available from all good Z88 dealers, price £52.50.
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