An intro to NameNet

[NameNet Address Manager]

<I>In AtariPhile #1 we mentioned a couple of problems we were having with using NameNet with MagiC 4. We are pleased to say that
these have been rectified with the release of NameNet v4.1 - FFF</I>

Roger Derry first thrust his NameNet Address Manager program onto an unsuspecting world in 1991. It has been available as shareware ever since. It is also the engine for our Falcon FacTT File membership listing. With version 4.1 upon us, we thought it was about time he explained himself as to what is different about the program.

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Names, Networks and Numbers

<I>By Roger Derry...</I><BR><BR>

<B>I started with computers in 1979 when I built my own from a kit. I paid œ50 extra to double the available RAM from 4K to 8K (yes that is "K" not "M"). I wrote a program for it that would store addresses and telephone numbers so that I could print them out to stick into the back of each new year's diary. Called a UK101, the machine expanded its facilities and memory until the day I had use of a BBC Micro. This itself sprouted an address program which could be cleverer, as the BBC Micro had disk drives and a filing system, something my UK101 did not. Soon the BBC Micro was superseded by the Atari ST. Now, at last, I could write a program that could fly.

It was 1989. I had just been told that I was to be made redundant. Rather than sit and lick my wounds, I sat down and started programming: a freelance really needs to keep track of contacts!

More than a simple card index approach is needed. The program needs constantly to jog my memory with connected entries. How many times have you found that your brain just will not release the name of that person who you met 6 months before? I wanted to look at the entry for a company and, at the same time, see a list of contacts who work there; look at an individual, see their company along with its address and telephone numbers. If I knew it, I wanted to see their home address as well. I did not want any limit on the number of telephone numbers. Above all I did not want to have to change any address or phone number more than once when someone moved. Yet here I was wanting BloggsCo's address to appear in, perhaps, twenty individual's records.

Address Manager programs were not common in those days and the database programs available would not do what I wanted. Something to assist what management courses call "networking" was required; a program linking entries together, in any combination, forming a network of associations. From this came the name of the program "NameNet". Decisions were made: gain speed by taking advantage of the Atari's memory capacity and put all data in memory; the file format to be self indexing to avoid having to keep groups of files together.

<BR><H4>Standard Fields</H4> The fields would be preset. There is a definite despair at buying a database program and finding that you have to learn a programming language first. With one exception, I eschewed icons which involve a learning process themselves; I have always found them profoundly opaque in their meaning. Colin Fisher-McAllum has improved my original design and I think the "type" icons are pretty unambiguous even to an "icon-blind" person like myself.

I continued a feature that I incorporated on previous machines: auto-capitalization. It is so easy for my two lonely keyboard-aware fingers to get the formatting wrong so that "Smith" and "smith" end up twenty entries apart. Each field has its own option parameter as to how this is done (if at all).

The actual name is split into five; title, first name, preferred name, surname and initials (BSc., MA. etc.). This allows intelligent mail merge documents easily to be written using NameNet's Merge file output. Most mail merge programs allow some form of conditional testing on the line of writing "Dear Mr Beardsworth" or "Dear Kevin" depending on whether there is text in the title field. "Preferred name" allows Kevin to be addressed as "Kev" or the Sysop of the 42BBS as "Oh great and powerful one".

A short remark allows me to include a job title or other memory jog. Another field "Family" can log family names; helping the social lubrication of <I>"So how is your husband Dan... and John and Sally?"</I> Of course you know their names, but it is so very embarrassing when their names shoot out of your brain mid-conversation, turning lubrication into solidifying concrete.

The address allows up to seven lines, including a separately identified post code (or country for overseas). When displayed, NameNet will automatically put commas and the full stop in the right place (if you still use them). I took advantage of access to a large membership database to make sure it could handle the longest address I could find. So many programs are so parsimonious about this. I think it's because overseas addresses are much shorter than ours.

Another problem with many databases is that you have to decide at the very beginning how many telephone numbers, or how big a comment text, you can have. Set the limit high and you waste a lot of space. Set the limit low and your computer learns your vocabulary of expletives! So I made the telephone and comment fields dynamic and have no programmed limit.<BR><BR>


Mono High Rez screenshot of the main display

<BR><H4>Screen Display</H4> The screen display has remained constant since the first version. Four windows are opened that fill a standard screen. These days, they are sizable, and will take advantage of larger screens automatically. The two windows you would expect are the small window for the input of search text and the large window that shows the actual information. The two other windows show what I call "up" and "down" links. Some people prefer to think of these as "from" and "to" or even "father" and "son". It's important to realise that each individual link has two ends. If NameNet were a card index they would be roughly equivalent to "soft paper clips" clipping groups of cards together in an overlapping way that would be physically impossible with real cards and metal clips.

An entry can consist entirely of links to make an instant list. "Bridge Society Committee" would just link to its members. To print out a list, merge file or labels, then the links are loaded and an instant alphabetical list of names and up-to-date addresses etc. is produced. (It can be sorted by one of the other fields if preferred). Link lists can be compared or merged when needed.

Later versions of NameNet fully implemented my wish for home and work addresses in one entry, with the introduction of a third type of link, which, with typical lack of imagination, I call a "cross link". This allows the entry to point at a master address. So the twenty entries for the people I know working at BloggsCo will show the BloggsCo address. Because of the master nature of this cross linked address; when BloggsCo move into a new building, all I have to do is change the one entry and all the other entries will update automatically. However the individual entry's address field still has a r“le as this can still separately be displayed as the home address. Optionally, the two addresses can be reversed in the display so that you can choose whether an address label, or merge file entry produced by NameNet uses the home or work address. A further sophistication allows the local and distant address field to be merged allowing the individual's address to have their job title and room number combined with BloggCo's postal address. Another nod towards the Society for the Reduction of Keyboard Presses is that the entry's telephone display will also pick up the telephone numbers from the master address so that they again can be written only once. (In fact the NameNet file can be constructed in such a way that telephone entries from a sequence of cross linked entries can be displayed in the entry).

<BR><H4>Telephone dialling</H4> At first, I was content merely to look at the screen and dial a telephone number; but then I got a modem and started a Mercury account with the option of "cost centre" codes. With these, you add a numerical code to the dialled telephone number. When you get your monthly bill, each call is separately itemised with a new sheet started for each new cost centre code; ideal for a freelance to charge calls. Soon NameNet could dial a number double-clicked on the screen. A separate field allocates the cost centre code used. NameNet can be given a list of dialling codes which are more expensive via Mercury or are of no advantage. This includes 0891-type Premium rate numbers, 0800-type free calls as well as local rate (including, of course, your own local STD code). NameNet then automatically does the biz and works like a Smart Box choosing between BT and Mercury. Each data file has its own default cost code so that you don't have to enter one for each entry.



Mono High Rez screenshot of the Modem setting dialog

<BR><H4>Security</H4> There are times when I want to consult my address database while a friend is visiting. Now I don't know about you, but I have all sorts of things that I don't particularly want popping up on the screen while they're looking. This ranges from the intriguing (mind your own business!) to the boring (PIN codes). While not exactly CIA-proof, there are various ways of tucking such things out of sight. Firstly each entry can have up to 15 lines of text encrypted using a password. This can be viewed on the screen or printed out on a per-entry basis (provided you have remembered the password which can, if you are unwise, be different for each entry!)

From the very beginning there have been two subsidiary data arrays within a NameNet file. Called "Wiped" and "Concealed". These have no Up or Down link options but can be looked at when needed. "Wiped" is a place to store old data. It is a specific alternative to deletion. My wiped array contains my previous addresses for example. Concealed is a place to store private information out of the way.

With version 4, I have introduced additional data arrays but, with these, you can still have links. You can run them as separate databases within the file or you can cross connect if you want. I also use them to reduce clutter when browsing ,tucking away old and little used entries into a separate array, and private info in another. This separation can be undone by entering "Flat" mode where all linkable arrays are treated the same.

<BR><H4>The NameNet Accessory</H4> Also introduced with version 4 is the first public appearance of The NameNet Accessory. With this you can dial telephone numbers while running any GEM application. Addresses etc. can be written to the clipboard or directly into the keyboard buffer and thus be written into a wordprocessor, comms program or DTP program.

No-one gets rich with shareware. I continue to develop NameNet solely because I use it myself daily. The joy of publishing it as shareware is that all "my" best ideas for enhancements have come from customers. The improvements since 1991 have been largely because of their suggestions and encouragement.

  NameNet costs œ15 for a registered key file which unlocks
                             many of its extra facilities.
Available from many PD libraries and BBSs or directly from:
Roger Derry, 38 Leopold Road, Bristol, BS6 5BS, UK, for £3 
        (credited against any subsequent registration fee)

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