Time Table of History: Science and Innovation

By Beiser, Karl | Computers in Libraries, April 1992 | Go to article overview

Time Table of History: Science and Innovation


Beiser, Karl, Computers in Libraries


Time Table of History: Science and Innovation from Software Toolworks is an engaging general interest CD-ROM. Characterized by the publisher as "the most complete collection of scientific and technical achievements ever compiled for CD-ROM," it includes six thousand topical entries. Most are just a paragraph or two. Digitized photos and other artwork, a few motion sequences, and a handful of sound clips add variety and interest.

The disc runs on IBM-compatible systems with 640K of random access memory, a VGA graphics adapter, DOS 3.3 or higher, and Microsoft Extensions 2.1 or higher. A mouse is highly desirable. A Sound Blaster card is officially optional, although the sound sequences are unavailable without it.

The opening menu offers three methods of looking up information in the time table: Keyword, Time Table, and Time Line.

Keyword searches are based on selection of terms from a far from small, static list of terms and concepts. Unfortunately, it is not possible to enter a random search term of one's choosing, although one may initiate a search on any term in an entry one is viewing on the screen.

To find out about the German scientist Leibniz, for instance, one must first search the established search term "calculus," then find his name in the article and highlight it and press enter to locate the Leibniz entry.

This is a good news/bad news situation. I like being able to initiate a search on any word in an article by highlighting it and pressing the mouse button. Yet, the lack of a simple facility for user entry of an ad hoc term is incredible.

Choosing the Time Table approach positions the user at the first article. While the Big Bang is interesting in and of itself, scrolling forward to the invention of the laser, let's say, will take a while. Movement among articles is controlled by clicking the mouse on the directional arrows. There is unfortunately no way to leap over epochs in which one is not interested.

If one wishes to approach the subject matter chronologically, the Time Line option from the main menu is far more practical. One may use the mouse to select progressively narrower ranges of years until one is viewing a manageably short list of entry titles. The screen display from which one selects an historical period of interest also offers selectable buttons relating to major events of the era. Choosing the button presents a visual connected with the event.

Performance is a problem. On a 16 megahertz 386SX system with Hitachi 3600 drives, it sometimes takes as long as fifteen seconds to fill the screen after making a menu selection or initiating a search. Even the simple act of backing up from one screen to that which preceded it can take seven or eight seconds.

The cumulative impression derived from exploration of a variety of topics is one attempting to dance in lead shoes. While a delay in putting up a high-resolution illustration is understandable, the slowness of back-stepping through previous screens is harder to understand. …

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