PENINSULA COMPUTER CLUB

Newsletter

Return to Home page
Return to Newsletter page


Vol. 13, No. 3: May/Jun 1997..... Supporting PC Platforms..... Editor: Larry Welling

Contents:


LarryMEETING PRESENTATION DIRECTION...?
by: The Editor's Mouth

You may have noticed that the board is trying to better ascertain the needs of our members. The questionnaires passed out at meetings are an effort to better direct our presentations and workshops. There will likely be more questionnaires in the future. We thank Myron Gershenson for his valuable input in formulating the questions to help us get down to the basics of what our members need. A goal is to make meetings relevant to the basic needs of a broader spectrum of members and guests. Questionnaires indicate highest interest in the Internet and in word processing with other subjects close behind. So, we will likely see what we can do to have presentations soon in the high interest areas.

Ernest Hintz recently did an analysis of our meeting subjects over the past three years. We had roughly half of our meetings presented by someone with something perhaps esoteric to sell in connection with the meeting, and the other half were presentations with nothing directly to sell. Which is the easier time filler? Presentations by vendors with something to sell are often easier to obtain, and sometimes they even phone the club eager to do so. The opposite of finding a vendor is finding someone, or a club member, to do a presentation about basics with nothing to sell...a much tougher task.

The Board will need the help of all club members in meeting this tougher task. Each of us has contacts in our daily lives and maybe an idea of a person who could do a presentation about using the Internet, for example. Club members, may also do a presentation! Let Myron or Susan know. The Board may ask first. You will help the club immensely by saying "yes!," and if you don't think you know enough about the subject, then learn it on your own before the meeting. Presentations only last about an hour and getting into minute detail and off the track is something we need to avoid anyway. In other words, presenting general concepts is often all we need and can expect in a hour. It must be up to members to learn further detail if they find a concept useful. Some meetings need details, but sometimes I feel we end up diving off the board of general concept into a pool of muddy details. For example, in word processing, presenting the idea of using frames and why is a general concept without diving into the details of forming each line.

So...our goal is to have meetings relevant to the basic needs of members. A little balance is in order for the technocrats in the club who need a detailed presentation of no immediate use to anyone in the club, such as myself <<grin>>. Some of us just seem to enjoy soaking up irrelevant knowledge. Remember, though, that what's irrelevant now may become relevant later for yourself or a friend you know. You learned the concept at Peninsula Computer Club.


The Skawinski Field Trip Again!

A favorite computer builder and upgrader of ours, Hank Skawinski, will do a "show" for us down at his Datawise facility in Mountain View. This will be a chance for you to see in action what a computer upgrade workshop looks like. There will be a live "guinea-pig" demonstration for us on a Real Computer (Larry's)!

Hank will be upgrading my Very Own Baby to a new Pentium motherboard with one of those fancy new AMD K6 chips that I hear are cheaper and faster than a comparable Intel Pentium. I will probably also buy a new high-speed Seagate backup drive. I expect Hank to get sick when he sees what I've done to my computer's innards, ha!

During the process, Hank will keep the show exciting with his extensive commentary on the quality of various current upgrade possibilities and trends in the industry.

Come have fun, and learn what's involved in upgrading or putting together a new computer.

We will rendezvous at the club meeting site and leave sharply at 10:15 a.m., Saturday, May 17th to arrive at Datawise in San Jose about 11:00 a.m. You are welcome drive directly yourself if you want. The address is 830-4 Jury Court, San Jose. Look for the black dot on the map. Phone: (408) 993-9473.


George QuickBooks ProVersion 5.0 CD-ROM for Windows
by: George L. Henderson

Intuit has made several improvements to their earlier versions of QuickBooks by churning out QuickBooks 5.0. The improvements and modifications are such that they would not effect any user's ability to quickly adapt to this new version. Anyone who has been using Version 4.0, would not even skip a heartbeat in making the upgrade. QuickBooks, without any doubt, is the best Accounting Program for small businesses that is now on the market. Each version that comes out is making the product better and easier to use. About the only major problem with the latest versions of QuickBooks is that they have been coming out so fast that it is becoming difficult for someone to review the new version, write a report about it, have it published, and submit a copy of the report to Intuit in a timely manner. By the time Intuit has received a review, the next version has already, hit the stands. For the sake of all reviewers, and also the pocket books of all users, let's hope the forthcoming revisions will be coming out not quite as fast.Intuit has also included two excellent manuals that come with QuickBooks Pro Version 5.0, which are titled "Installation and Conversion Guide" and "User's Guide". These manuals are well written and one can easily follow all the instructions that are necessary for installing and using QuickBooks. It is highly recommended that one read the installation procedures thoroughly before installation, so as to avoid any pitfalls that may be forthcoming.QuickBooks Pro requires an IBM 486 or 100% compatible computer, 8MB of RAM, 16 MB recommended, and a minimum of 43MB of hard disk space. If one also installs the timer and the Netscape Navigator, it will require an additional 10MB of hard disk space. QuickBooks can be used in either Microsoft Windows 3.1 or Windows 95. If one is using Windows 3.1, you must be running in the Enhanced Mode.If one does not use the QuickPay option, you will have no problems with the installation of QuickBooks Pro 5.0. However, it is always best to backup all of one's data before installation, just in case. This version of QuickBooks was the smoothest installation for upgrading of any past versions. However, if one uses the QuickPay option, then one's QuickPay data will be converted to a format that is usable by QuickBooks 5.0 payroll feature. After installation one will have to make minor adjustments. QuickBooks had a similar problem in Version 4.0. Let's hope this problem has been solved.It is very important to remember that when one installs an application program of the magnitude of QuickBooks, that all other programs should be shut down. This includes one's Screen Saver, Scheduler, Virus Protection program, etc. Any program that might turn on during the installation procedure of an application program may interfere in some way with the installation process of the new application program that one is installing. QuickBooks brings up a Dialog Box warning you of this problem, so one should take heed. One might be lucky and get through the installation process without a mishap, but why take a chance. If something does happen, you could have a real mess to clean up.A new feature in QuickBooks is the QuickBooks Overview which is an excellent instruction program incorporated within QuickBooks by means of which one can learn about all the features and operations of QuickBooks. It replaces the original Tutorial that came with QuickBooks. The program is voice modulated as one goes through the various steps, as well as being printed on the screen. It is an extremely eloquent way in which one can learn the basics of QuickBooks. Another nice feature of this instruction program is that the entire program remains on the CD-ROM that comes with QuickBooks, and not on one's hard disk, thus saving valuable space.There have been many new features that have been added to QuickBooks since the last version, which are itemized as follows:The user can now customize his or her own forms, such as invoices, bills, statements, etc., using your company's logo, controlling the placement of fields, columns, etc. The user can also resize fields and columns, control individual fonts, have greater control of margins, specify text justification, have snap grid alignment, and add a text field. These were extremely useful improvements.The most important feature of all that was added was the ability to word wrap text on forms for product and services. This feature was badly needed, and was mentioned in my former review of QuickBooks.The feature of progress invoicing has been added to permit the user to invoice one's client by some milestone, by date, or by percentage complete.One now has the ability for online Banking, in order to see which checks have cleared, view current balances, and transfer money between accounts. The user also has the ability to pay bills online.One now has the ability to inactivate customers, vendors, or employees with whom you no longer do business with. They can be reactivated at any time by a click of the mouse.There is a new feature in which one can customize his or her own Reports, in the same manner as Forms.There is an Enhanced Notes feature which makes it easier for one to keep track of all of one's conversations with vendors and employees.There are new Menu Buttons on Lists which gives one fast access to the activities that one wants to perform from any QuickBooks list.A new feature called the QuickBooks Navigator is a graphical user interface which makes it easier to learn and use QuickBooks. One can navigate throughout most of QuickBooks by merely clicking on an icon that looks like what he or she wants access to.A timer has been added to allow one to record the start and stop times for various projects.One can now print time sheets, which is especially useful for archiving time sheet data.Officers salaries can now be tracked on C Corporations, S Corporations, and nonprofit organizations.In addition to all these, there are several more features which have been added.Even though Intuit has done a masterful job in updating QuickBooks, there are several features that were not considered from my former Reviews as well as a few quirks that seemed to have crawled into Version 5.0 that were not there before.Once more, back to my favorite argument. Please call the QuickBooks' "Journal" by its correct title, which is "General Journal". QuickBooks has an excellent General Journal, with that one exceptionits title. QuickBooks has a "General Journal Entry" dialog box in which one can make entries into what QuickBooks calls "Journal". This alone is not consistent. The term "General Journal" was invented eons ago, and has a distinct meaning, especially to accountants. So for the sake of all accountants everywhere, please use "General Journal" as its title.An important tool that I have been commenting on in my past Reviews and which has been missing from QuickBooks is Ledgers. QuickBooks has come forth with the a new feature called QuickReports. Actually, QuickReports is not new, but it has been revised to have a Ledger type of Format. I will concede that this is probably a much better use of the term Ledger, and QuickBooks applies it to not only the List of Accounts, but also to items such as vendors, customers, etc., which strictly speaking are not Ledgers. In the earlier versions of QuickBooks, a view of the QuickReport of any specific item showed only the balance that was in this item and not all the transactions that led up to this balance, which quite often was zero. The new QuickReport feature is definitely a big improvement, is a much better solution, and more than covers all the Ledger arguments that I have made in the past.An important feature that has not been incorporated into QuickBooks and is badly needed is a spell checker for those portions of QuickBooks where one writes text into a memo, such as invoices, billings, etc. It would also be nice if QuickBooks would also underline all potentially misspelled words in red as one is typing, in the same manner that Microsoft Word does. There is almost nothing as embarrassing and humiliating as for one's client or customer to notice a misspelled word on his or her invoice. It reflects upon the quality and care that one may take in his work, profession, or the product that he or she is furnishing. I have reported on this missing feature before, and I feel that it is most important that it be included in the next upgrade.Another feature that I have reported on previously and is still missing, is to have an Uncashed Check Report included in QuickBooks. It is quite common for one to periodically check to see if a certain check has come in or not. This feature seems like a simple thing to include, and would be most valuable.QuickBooks still does not have the ability to archive its obsolete data. It has provided for the ability to hide customers, vendors, employees, etc., who are no longer active with the firm anymore, which is a great addition, but solves only part of the problem. It is data that is backed up which is 2 or more years old that is becoming a problem. My data in QuickBooks is an accumulation of over two years, and it seems like it is taking an eternity to back up each day. It takes about 4 minutes now, and I hate to think what it will take 5 years from now. I have reported this problem in detail in my Review of QuickBooks 4.0, and if the reader wishes more detailed information on this subject, I recommend that he or she read it in that Review, rather than repeat it again here.I have reported on the importance of QuickBooks having the ability of having a Personal Account in detail in my last two reviews of QuickBooks. I still maintain that this is an extremely important feature that is still missing. If the reader wishes more detailed information on this subject, I recommend that he or she read it in these last two reviews, rather than repeat it again here.Another feature which I have reported in my last two reviews is the inability to assign Account Numbers to Account Titles that are automatically created by QuickBooks. This is a feature that would make a printed report of the Balance Sheet and the Profit and Loss Statement have a professional look. Without this feature, these Account Titles have no numbers, while all the rest of the Accounts are numbered. It just appears to anyone viewing the reports that someone forgot to enter the appropriate numbers. This seems like a simple task to perform, and it would enhance one's reports greatly.The problem of the Windows 95 Task Bar which is located across the bottom of some windows, is that it covers part of the window above it, and it has not been resolved yet. This Task Bar covers some vital information sometimes, such as in the Reconcile Window, and should be corrected. This subject was covered in more detail in my Review of QuickBooks Pro 4.0, and if the reader wishes more detailed information on that subject, I recommend that he or she read it in that Review, rather than repeat it again here.There are several things that Intuit has added and changed which has made QuickBooks work better, but sometimes certain quirks have been introduced which I do not think Intuit had intended. The new feature that QuickBooks had in Version 4.0 in which one had to make a choice to backup one's work either by Macintosh or Windows, has been removed in Version 5.0. This was a grateful correction because it seemed like an unnecessary step one had to perform in backing up one's work.A very helpful feature that was added was the ability to replace an existing Memorized Transaction with a new or updated Memorized Transaction of the same name. It would also be extremely helpful if one could modify or update an existing Memorized Transaction, without having to create a new one first.A feature that somehow got lost in the shuffle, is that when one is making a new Account Name in the List of Accounts and other lists, and after clicking the OK button when one is finished, it does not highlight the New Account in the List anymore to see if one has entered it correctly and is located in the right location. If one has a large List of Accounts, and he or she had made a mistake and place the new Account into the wrong sub account, it could take hours to find whatever happened to it.In conclusion, QuickBooks has done an admirable job in developing such an Accounting Program as QuickBooks Pro, Version 5.0 for Windows. It is very encouraging to see that some of the suggestions that were made in former reviews have now been incorporated in the latest version of QuickBooks. I sincerely hope that Intuit will continue this practice in the future. We all benefit from a better product.


A Less "Taxing" IRS?
by: Ted Meyer, PIBMUG, and IRS Field Examination Branch Chief

[Ed Note: Yes, yes, I know you just finished your taxes, but now's the time to prepare for next year since I just found this article, right? It's a pretty good article. By next April, I'll probably forget I have it!]

OK, don't panic!!! This is an article, this is just a newsletter article. In the case of an actual audit, oxygen masks will automatically drop from the overhead compartment. Please place the oxygen mask over your own face before you try to assist the CPA or Attorney sitting next to you.

Wait a minute. What does the IRS want with PIBMUG? More to the point, why would you want to read an article from the IRS when you could be spending your time much more efficiently doing something like watching Win '95 suck up hard drive space like a camel guzzles water after a month trekking the Sahara? Why? Because April 15th is just a few months away. And because computer users are just the trailblazing type of pioneer that may try out and benefit from new information and services available from the IRS. Have you heard of TeleFile? How about Form 1040 PC? Tele-Tax? Have you visited the IRS homepage on the WWW? No? Well read on. And you may want to cut this out and paste it to the refrigerator. Because I can guarantee, come April you'll be looking for help and this is the place to find it.Providing Tax Information and Forms

The IRS has undergone and is continuing to undergo some dramatic changes as a part of both the Clinton Administration's efforts to "Reinvent Government" and as part of a major IRS reorganization. Some of these cost saving changes have resulted in the closing of certain local IRS offices and in an overall reduction in IRS staffing. But in order to maintain and improve customer service to the taxpaying public the IRS has implemented a number of new and updated electronic systems to provide tax information and supply appropriate forms and instructions.

Toll Free Phone Service: The most common way to receive assistance, forms, and publications is by dialing our two nation wide toll free numbers. (800) TAX-1040 will provide assistance on tax bills, refund inquiries, and general law questions. Although this number is staffed from 7:30 to 5:30 daily, in the months leading up to April 15th it can be very difficult to get through. (800) TAX-3676 will accept orders for most forms and IRS publications. However, it will generally take I 0 working days for delivery. Use of any of the alternative ways of obtaining help listed below is strongly recommended for speed and ease of use before calling these numbers.

Tele-Tax Pre-Recorded Topics: (800) TAX-4477 is the easiest, quickest way to get help. Tele-Tax includes answers to over 140 of the most common taxpayer questions. Tele-Tax topics are listed in the back of your tax package. Tele-tax will also allow you to check on the status of you 'r refund. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there is rarely, if ever, a busy signal.

Forms by Fax On Demand: (703) 487-4160 is a fax-on-demand service that will fax up to three forms (with instructions) per call. The caller must call from the voice unit of the fax machine or computer. This is not a call-back service. The forms are transmitted immediately by initiating a fax session after the selections are made from the voice unit. There are more than 100 common forms available from this service, but is not toll free.

Modem, Internet, and World Wide Web Access: Have access to a modem? Taxpayers can download virtually all current tax forms and publications via Fedworld, a free government information clearing house BBS at (703) 321-3339 (not toll free).

The same information is available via Telnet at iris.irs.ustreas.gov and via FTP at ftp.irs.ustreas.gov. But the most comprehensive assistance is available via the World Wide Web at http://www.irs.ustreas.gov. This innovative site offers a quick and easy way to get tax information, forms, and publications around the clock through April 15'h and beyond. Accessed through a home page with a retro tabloid motif, this site offers links to over 600 tax forms, IRS publications and instructions, tax laws in plain English, frequently asked questions, and summaries of more than 150 tax topics.

Forms are available in both Adobe PDF and PCL format. This award winning site had more than 66 million hits in its first six months of operation during which time about 2.5 million forms were downloaded. The site also provides access to state taxing agencies by way of a link with the Federation of Tax Administrators. For example, the State of California Franchise Tax Board can be found at http://www.ftb.ca.gov.Alternative Ways of Filing

Tired of filling out all those forms by hand? Running out of paper printing all those forms and attachments? Want to get your refund quicker? Well, the IRS has developed a number of different programs to give you a choice in determining the easiest way to file your annual income tax returns. You might qualify to file by telephone, by using your own computer and modem, or through your paid preparer's computer. All of these systems allow the IRS to bypass their normal procedure of transcribing line items off of the return into their computer system, thereby reducing errors by 15 - 17 percent.

TeleFile: TeleFile is an innovative method which allow qualified taxpayers to file their income tax returns by using a touch tone telephone. Eligible taxpayers receive a TeleFile tax package through the mail which contain a PIN that is used as the signature on the return. TeleFile is quick and easy. It is completely automated and available 24 hours a day. TeleFile provides more accurate returns as they are processed through the Electronic Filing system (ELF), which allows refunds to be issued in approximately three weeks. TeleFile is only available to taxpayers with total wages of less than $50,000, interest income that does not exceed $400, that have no dependents other than a spouse, and that filed a form 104OEZ last year.

Electronic Filing: Electronic filing is the process of utilizing a tax professional to prepare your tax return on computer and transmitting it directly to the IRS electronically. Tax professionals must apply to and be approved by the IRS before they can participate in this program. After the return is prepared, but before it is transmitted, a single form is prepared and signed by the taxpayer. This form, along with any hard copy attachments such as Forms W-2, is mailed to the IRS. Taxpayers usually receive their refunds in 10 - 17 days if they request to have them deposited into their bank accounts, or within 3 - 4 weeks if they request a traditional paper check refund.

104OPC: The 104OPC return is prepared on a personal computer using an IRS-accepted print option. This option is included in various commercial tax preparation software package like Turbo Tax or MacInTax. The program automatically prints the return in a three-column "answer sheet" format. It prints only the line numbers, dollar amounts, and when called for, brief descriptions of the line entries. Since the format is condensed, an 11 page traditional paper return can be reduced to a two-to-three page 104OPC return. The 104OPC format increases accuracy because of the up-front validity checks by the software. They can also be processed by the IRS faster and more accurately than a regular tax return. Most programs will also print out a "traditional" return for the taxpayer's own records. The 104OPC paper return process allows direct deposit of a refund, or if you owe taxes you can file early and pay by April 15'h using a payment voucher.

OnIine Filing: Online Filing is a process that allows you to prepare and file your tax return using your PC and an on-line service or transmission agency. First, you prepare your tax return on your own computer utilizing a tax preparation software package like Turbo Tax or MacInTax. Next, you transmit your return data to an IRS-accepted on-line service or transmission agency. Finally, the transmitter converts the return data to IRS specifications and electronically transmits the return information directly to the IRS. After the return is accepted for processing, the taxpayer must sign and mail Form 8453-OL (with Forms W-2 attached) to the designated transmitter who will forward them to the IRS. In addition to the cost of the software, the transmitter may charge you a small fee if you use their services in this way. The Bottom Line

The world is changing and so is the IRS. The IRS now offers several new ways for taxpayers to get help, obtain forms and publications, and file tax returns electronically. As computer users, no longer will you have to search the libraries and banks for the right forms or instructions, nor must you drive to the Post Office at 11:30 on April 15@ to file our returns. Now, if you can just find where you put those W-2 forms you're ready to go. Happy tax day!


Mathcad Plus 6.0
by: George L. Henderson

Mathcad Plus is a product of MathSoft and is the greatest thing in mathematics since the invention of the calculator. In fact it has completely replaced the hand calculator, except for one thingit is quite difficult to fit one's computer into his or her shirt pocket. Therefore, there is still a need for the hand calculator. This program has been around since 1991, so it is not new. It has progressed through several stages in the past 6 years, and has improved tremendously with each new version.Mathcad will do everything that a hand calculator will do, and in addition will solve algebraic equations, differential and integral equations, matrices, will create graphs of functions, and also has many, many more features. It is a unique new way of working with formulas, numbers, text, and graphs, which is not in the form of the familiar programming language which is difficult to learn. In Mathcad, equations look the same way as one might see it on a blackboard in a reference book. However, there are still a few little tricks one has to learn in Mathcad to get the equations to look like that, so it is not a no brainer. Just as well.Although Mathcad states that the equations Mathcad writes look just like the equations one would write ordinarily, it takes time to get used to entering the variables and symbols in the correct manner, or the program will not work properly. This is not a big ordeal that one must overcome, it just takes patience. For example, one has to get used to the idea if one wants to multiply two variables x and y together, one can not just write them as xy. The symbol xy is taken by Mathcad as one variable, namely xy, and not x times y. In order to have x multiplied by y, one must use the multiplication operator between them, namely "*" (the asterisk). Therefore, to multiply x times y, one should type x*y, and Mathcad will change the asterisk to a dot. A similar procedure is used with all the other operators, such as division, addition, subtraction, etc.Mathcad would appeal especially to mathematicians, scientists, physicists, and engineers. To those who are in these fields, Mathcad is an absolute must. It could be of general interest to just about everyone else, if they enjoy tinkering around with mathematics. It is not too difficult to learn the concepts of Mathcad, but one does have to know a little bit about algebra, geometry, calculus, etc., or the solutions that one gets will not mean anything. In other words, the book does not teach one mathematics, physics, engineering, etc.The book that comes with the program is excellent. For a change, this is one developer who hasn't put the entire book into the computer, where it takes up eons of space on the hard drive and it's close to impossible to learn anything. The program has a Tutorial and help files, much of which is repeated in the book I sincerely hope that MathSoft will continue this practice in all future versions.One of the nicest features that Mathcad has is that one can write text anywhere around any of the Mathcad equations or graphs in order to document one's work. This a powerful tool that can be used by engineers, and probably several other professions. Instead of writing out calculations sheets by hand, an engineer can now do all his calculations on the screen of a computer. Then print them out, whenever it is necessary for review, checking, or when it is finished. It is an easy manner now to make any corrections, by just changing the properties or dimensions of one definition, will change that value throughout the entire set of calculation sheets without one having to check every sheet one at a time to see where this value was used. The end result of all this is a neat set of calculations with no eraser marks or crossed out sections. Unfortunately, there are several limitations and restrictions in Mathcad that prevent such an ideal condition from becoming a reality at this time. MathSoft needs to give these problems their fullest attention, because this program has all kinds of potential.However, as brilliant a piece of work the mathematics of Mathcad is, as a word processor it needs some improvement. In order for engineers to have Mathcad replace their calculation sheets, MathSoft needs to do a little more work on the word processing abilities of Mathcad in order that Mathcad becomes an irresistible means for the use of writing calculations. One may change the font size and style of the text to just about anything one would like. In order to change the font size and style of any portion of the text, one must highlight that portion of the text that one wants to change. It is not clearly stated in the book how one highlights the text, which is different than the normal manner in word processors. The fonts for the mathematical characters part of the document in the calculation area, cannot be changed or adjusted at all. However, this is not a serious a problem. In the process of writing calculation sheets, almost every company would like to have a particular type of header at the top of each sheet. Mathcad has a three-frame header which one can apply to the top of each sheet, which is a good idea, but it is quite limited. All the text in the left frame is left adjusted, which is fine, all the text in the center frame is center adjusted, which is also fine, and all the text in the right frame is right adjusted, which is not so fine. One would like the left side of the text to line up when it is finally printed, and it is difficult to have this feature, especially if there is page numbers, dates, etc., that are added to the right of this text during the printing process. It would be better to have the right frame left adjusted, which should take care of this problem. If this were done, I would think that the three frames would be most acceptable for an engineering calculations sheet. Some companies however, would like to be able to place their logo in one of these frames, and this is not possible in Mathcad. For most companies, the three frame header is not quite enough to complete what they would like to have as a header. It would be most desirable if one could have a sub header that would go underneath the three-frame header, that would stretch across the entire width of the page, and where one can draw straight lines across the top of the page in order to separate the header from the calculations and text below, and also place the title of the project and the project number that the calculation sheet refers to. This is not possible with Mathcad at this time. In the process of setting up the Page Setup, it takes quite a lot of tinkering with numbers before one can get the text to come out right. There are adjustments for margins for the main text, but there are essential minimal adjustments for the headers and footers. If one is lucky, it will fit. It hardly ever fits the first time, which means there is a lot of tinkering that must be done. Mathcad does have a page numbering and date feature for the header or footer, which is an important feature. There is no zoom feature in the Print Preview on one's work, so one can not really tell how the work looks in these areas before one prints it. One's work on the Print Preview is just too blurred, so one must waste paper by actually printing the document in order to see what it looks like, and then keep printing it until one has it in the manner that he or she wants it...very wasteful.. Mathcad has the ability of solving an equation for a range of values that are used for the variables in the equation. From these solutions Mathcad can construct a graph of the equation. This is an extremely useful feature. In the process of solving the equation for the range of values, Mathcad constructs a table depicting all the solutions of the equation for each variable, which is invaluable. However, what is desperately needed is an additional column along side of the solutions column indicating which variable was used for each of the solutions. Without this extra column, it is very difficult to tell what variable belongs to what solution, which could be of extreme importance, such as when one was attempting to determine a maximum or minimum value of something, and what variable caused it. It would also be most desirable to have the top of the columns labeled with the appropriate variable. All of this would reflect upon a neat and orderly calculation sheet. These type of tables are essential to an engineer.Mathcad Plus comes with a drawing program called Visio Express, which one can construct different shapes of drawings and which can then be added to one's worksheets. This program is restricted to shapes of squares, circles, triangles, and slightly distorted shapes which can be connected together by connector lines. This program is limited to designs such as flow diagrams, organization charts, and similar types of diagrams. MathSoft has a supplemental program that can be added onto Mathcad called Visio Technical 4, which has over 2000 technical templates , called Smartshapes. These templates can be used to produce many architectural and engineering shapes. Without this supplemental program, the Visio Express would unfortunately be of not much use to an architect or engineer. Also, if one does not have the capability of easily drawing pictures onto his calculations, then Mathcad would also not be too much use to an architect or engineer. Being able to draw simple drawings on a calculation sheet is absolutely essential to an engineer.There are some features in Mathcad that could be modified in order to have a more useful program. One of these features is the solution of an algebraic equation. Mathcad gives only one solution, which could be confusing to the user if he knows better. All equations of the second degree or higher have more than one root as a solution. In order to obtain the roots of equations of the second degree or higher, one must make a guess at about what the value for the roots might be, and then Mathcad takes over and comes up with a solution for one of the roots. There may be three or more roots to this equation, but Mathcad doesn't tell you what they are, or how many there are. It is up to the user to adjust his initial guesses for the variables until Mathcad comes up with another solution. To an engineer, this could be disastrous if the user didn't know that there was more than one solution to a particular problem. This same problem occurs in a series of equations with several variables.It would be extremely useful and important to the user, if Mathcad could first come forth and state how many roots to any particular equation there are, both real and imaginary. This information can be obtained by means of the Theory of Equations which could be coded into Mathcad. After Mathcad tells the user how many roots there are, it proceeds to solve for all the roots of the equation by means of some random guessing of its own. I would presume that Mathcad can make as good a guess as a human being can, probably better. Once the user sees what all the roots are, than he or she can be assured that all of them have been solved for and are displayed. Then one can decide which ones of these roots are superfluous.Another feature that is sometimes annoying, is that the square root of any value is always a positive value, which is a default requirement for Mathcad. This may be all right in some cases, but in most of the practical cases it could be a disaster. For example, the solution to a quadratic equation, which is shown in the introductory to Mathcad, has two solutions: One when the positive value of the square root is taken, and one when the negative value of the square root is taken. The one that is shown in Mathcad has only one solution. This definitely should be taken care of, because someone may make a terrible mistake by using the wrong value as a solution, such as in the design of a bridge. Suppose, as an example in an extremely hypothetical case, that the two solutions to this quadratic equation were 2 and 4, for the design of a main member of a bridge. Now if the engineer who was designing this bridge used 2 instead of 4, which say was the correct solution that should of been used, the member on the bridge would end up being over stressed by a factor of 2, which would cause the entire bridge to collapse. Granted that this is an extremely hypothetical case, but something like this could very likely happen. For this example, one could use the operator "±" on the left of the square-root symbol to signify that both the positive and negative square roots shall be taken as a solution. The solution for this equation should therefore be shown as two values and not just one. Likewise the cube root of something should also be designated that there are three roots as a solution, two of which of course are imaginary. They should however be noted, because they may be important. If one expresses the equation of a circle in terms of one variable equal to the square root of the function of another variable, Mathcad will only produce the graph of only half of the circle at the most. The reason for this is that Mathcad will only use the positive root of the square root for plotting the graph. If one would rewrite the equation putting a negative sign in front of the square root symbol, Mathcad will then produce the other half of the circle. One cannot join the two partial circles together. This could be an annoying problem.The primary reason that most of the examples in this review have been centered around engineering is because I think that engineers would benefit the most from Mathcad. There is a huge marketing potential for MathSoft to address itself to in the field of Engineering, and if MathSoft could bring Mathcad to a point that would make work easier and more productive for engineers, this could be an impressive opportunity. As it stands now, it is on the threshold of not only being most successful mathematical program, but it would also be a powerful tool for engineers to use for the design of structures, machines, electric circuits, etc., world wide.Unfortunately, a complete review of Mathcad could not be performed because Visio Technical 4 was not included with Mathcad Plus. For architects and engineers, I feel that Visio Technical 4 is an essential part of Mathcad, and without it, it would be difficult for an architect or engineer to effectively use the program to its full potential.


TidBytes

Some of us probably have favorite web sites. We would like to publish your favorites in the newsletters. Send an e-mail to one or the other of our newsletter editors, depending on who's doing the next issue. The editor alternates every issue between Larry Welling and Bob Wallace. E-mail addresses for most board members are now shown on the back page. Indicate your name, the web site address, and a brief description of its contents and why you like it. Simple?

To start things off I would like to suggest http://www.cnet.comThis is a very entertaining site to explore with a huge number of features. You'll have to look at it yourself to see the many goodies. A new branch of the site can be reached at http://www.browsers.com. Its purpose is to bring together in one spot all the latest upgrades to the popular Internet browsers and their plug-ins (feature enhancements). You can subscribe to a browser alert newsletter if you want.

MEETING CALENDAR

We make great effort to fulfill the calendar, but a meeting topic may sometimes change without notice. Call Susan Faulk at (415) 591-4021 if you need late information. The club meets the second Thursday of every month. The door opens at 7:00 p.m. and meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. at 222 Laurel St., San Carlos. Cross streets are Oak and Hull. Signs out front will direct you to the room. Anyone is welcome; membership is not required. Please park in the lot behind Color Tile at the corner of Oak and Laurel...a short distance.

May 8: Adaptec CD-ROM Writer. Perhaps this new technology may eventually replace floppy disks. Mike, from Adaptec will explain what this new gadget does and how it may be practical for you now or in the future. CD-ROM's up to recently have been read only, and writing to this media is a breakthrough. It allows you to carry around 650 megs+ of your data files in a very compact form! Perhaps you need to transfer files from a desktop to your laptop and hate carrying around a box of disks?

May 17: Field trip to Hank Skawinski's Datawise. Rendevous 10:15 a.m.

May 29: Executive Board meeting, 7:30 p.m. in the club meeting room, (a week "late"). All members welcome.

Jun 12: The Netscape browser for the Internet. A club member, Jerry Havnar, will present the features of this fine browser that was the first standard. Many web sites are designed specifically to work best with Netscape so that all web site features work properly. By learning some of the browser's features, you will gain insight into what is out there on the Internet.

Jun 27: Pizza Night at the Round Table. Enjoy this social occasion between regular meetings. Call ahead to order at (415) 591-1998. Address: 240 El Camino, San Carlos near our meeting room.

Jul 10: The features of Word Perfect. Our Program Chairperson, Susan Faulk, will discuss the features of this pioneer word processing program which is now owned by Corel. You can likely apply some of its features to your own word processor too!

Jul 24: Executive Board meeting, 7:30 p.m. in the club meeting room. All members welcome


Return to Home page
Return to Newsletter page