Get Organized and Take Off Weight

RICHARD O'REILLY designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Over the years I've noticed an inexorable tendency for a couple of things to grow. One is the number of files on my hard disk and the other is the number of pounds displayed on my bathroom scale.

Fortunately, there are software solutions for both problems.

Disc Director, which carries a list price of $59, is a new hard-disk management program that adds some useful features to this rather overcrowded genre. The Diet Balancer, $60, turns your computer into a smart calorie counter, nutrition adviser and meal planner.

A hard disk is harder to manage than the hall closet. Things fall out of an overstuffed closet when you open it, giving you a chance to see what you've got. But hard disks tend to hide everything you put on them, displaying at most a list of short, cryptic names that defy understanding a week after they are created.

Disc Director, published by Athena Software of Boulder, Colo., makes life easier. For starters, you can assign a description label of up to 78 characters and spaces to every file and every directory on your hard disk. For instance, I named the file in which I wrote this column "RVUDD-DB." In its Disc Director listing, I added an explanatory comment: "Review of Disc Director and Diet Balancer, due 9/8."

Files can be looked up in many ways. I could ask to see all files with the word "review" in the comments, or all that said "due 10/" to see what is in progress for October. Months from now, I won't have any trouble finding these reviews.

Another intriguing feature is the ability to easily reorganize directories and groups of directories, and even move them from one hard drive to another.

Although the MS-DOS operating system allows disks to be organized in multiple directories, the way to do it isn't well explained in most manuals, and few people make use of the capacity. Instead, hard disks get used the way a file cabinet would if none of the papers inside were organized into category and subject folders.

Disc Director lets you easily display the names of your directories and files and reorganize them into a logical structure. Your word processing program could be placed in a directory called "words." There also could be subdirectories for "letters," "reports" and "memos" in an outline-like format that Disc Director calls a "branch structure."

Creating a branch structure with existing directories is as easy as pointing at the name on the Disc Director screen with the cursor, making a selection with a keystroke and moving the name to another location with the arrow keys. You can also copy a directory or an entire branch of related directories to another disk easily.

You can even create something called "phantom directories" to group files together logically, but not physically. For instance, you may want to see the names of all the program files on your disk, usually files that end with the three letters "EXE." Typically, each program is installed in a separate directory, but using Disc Director you can create a phantom directory called "programs" that contains every file ending in "EXE." Then you could attach a comment to each so that you could quickly see a description of all the programs available in your computer.

Good disk organization helps you find and erase files that are no longer needed, but Disc Director goes beyond that. A "whereis" feature searches for duplicate file names across all directories.

If the number of files in a directory gets too large, system performance can be hampered. Disc Director helps you guard against that by displaying a horizontal bar graph indicating the relative size of your directories. Another feature shows you the unusable "slack size" of the directory, which increases when you have lots of very small files. Unfortunately, it offers no cure except to help you get rid of the ones that aren't needed.

The Diet Balancer, published by Nutridata Software Corp. of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., is a program that turns your computer into a helpful partner in following any sort of diet.

Prepared with the assistance of an advisory board of nutritionists, whose names and credentials are listed in an appendix, the Diet Balancer will keep track of all the members of a household. It even lets each user keep the results confidential with a password.

You start by setting up a profile, specifying sex, age, height, weight, exercise level and weight change desired. Users under age 19 and women who say they are pregnant are not given the weight loss option.

A list of 1,600 foods comes with the program, including those on the menus of popular fast-food restaurants. Each is categorized by calories, protein, carbohydrate, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, caffeine and 16 vitamins and minerals.

You can use the program two ways. One is to enter daily the foods and quantities you have eaten. A report showing excesses and deficiencies in each category will be displayed, based on your profile and goal.

The other mode of the program helps you set up a meal plan. You don't have to plan the whole meal if you don't want. For instance, you can plan the meats and starches and ignore the vegetables if you want to save a little effort.

Daily progress can be measured in several ways. You can gauge what you eat as a percent of recommended daily allowance by nutrient category, by the actual amounts of nutrients consumed, or visually as a bar chart showing where you are under or over the desired amount.

Weekly progress can be averaged and graphed, nutrient by nutrient, for up to 12 weeks at a time.

You can add new foods to the list whenever you choose, up to a maximum of 2,500 on a hard-disk computer.

I found the program easy and fast to use. And I also found that it relentlessly told me I was eating too many calories for the weight loss I wanted at the amount of exercise I was getting.

My bathroom scale told me that computers never lie.

THE PRODUCTS

Disc Director

A hard-disk management program that makes it easy to organize and move files and directories.

Features: Allows explanatory labels on all files and directories; provides graphics that indicate disk utilization and efficiency and that show how to reorganize directories. (Free demonstration disk available.)

Requirements: IBM PC or compatible with hard disk and at least 512 kilobytes of RAM memory.

Publisher: Athena Software; 4915 Twin Lakes Road, Suite 19; Boulder, Colo. 80301. Phone: (303) 666-9569. Cost: $59.

Diet Balancer

A diet and nutrition management program.

Features: Can be used by multiple users and provides each with password-protected confidentiality; nutrition data includes fast foods; computes effects of many exercise methods; gives daily, weekly and quarterly progress reports and graphs; 1,600 foods are included in the software, other foods can be added to list.

Requirements: IBM PC or compatible with 512 kilobytes of RAM and a floppy- or hard-disk drive.

Publisher: Nutridata Software Corporation, P.O. Box 769, Wappingers Falls, N.Y. 12590. Phone: (800) 922-2988. Cost: $60.

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