Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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September 2003, Week 4-- Read Em and Reap


   The new "Fine Reader" is every bit of that, improving on a program that was already head of the class.

   Abbyy Fine Reader version 7.0 is an OCR program -- optical character recognition. It is what almost every business, government agency and school wants: a program that will read documents and recognize the text. The text can then be edited, and above all ... searched by key word. You might have a thousand documents on some subject, or related to some law suit, but if you can't readily search them for a specific item, you have some heavy work ahead.


   Fine Reader started life as a Russian program and then readily overtook and passed the other OCR leader, OmniPage. That one is still well and alive, however, and we're looking forward to a return bout when it releases a new version in a couple of months. Meanwhile, the field belongs to the Russians.


   Abbyy Fine Reader can scan, read and understand 177 languages. It can check 34 of them for spelling errors. It recognizes bar codes and can recognize text even when it is placed within graphics, a particularly important issue when dealing with engineering drawings.


   A problem that confounds most OCR programs is preserving the formatting of a page -- its look. And it is here that Fine Reader first caught our attention when we reviewed an earlier version over a year ago. Our test pattern for this trick is Time Magazine, any issue. Time has some of the most complex page formatting you'll ever see, including doing boxes, sidebars and call-outs in different shapes and different colors. Whew! If you can scan and read that, you can handle any page.


   Fine Reader was able to handle most Time pages, but not all. But there is a way, as they say. The program allows you to scan a page as a PDF file. PDF is Adobe's "portable document format," a worldwide standard for preserving an exact digital copy of any page. The trick here is when you create a PDF file with this version of Fine Reader, the file can be edited.


   All document scans can be saved or sent out as emails, including those scanned and saved as PDF files. But a PDF file is many times larger than a straight text file and viewing a lot of them can be very time consuming. Fine Reader deals with this problem by saving the files in a linear form that allows the first page to transmit quickly; then while the receiver is perusing that, the rest of the pages start coming in.


   Abbyy Fine Reader 7.0 is $300 in the standard edition and $500 in the corporate version. It is available for both Windows and Macintosh. Web info:




   "SnagIt" is one of my all-time favorite programs. Every new version adds another feature and all the versions are four stars.

   The new version 6.2 adds text capture to its better known features. For instance: you can capture all or any part of any computer screen, including frames from streaming video and even DOS screens. They can be saved in square or circular frames, as torn pages, or you can hand draw your own shape.


   Those captured screens can be strung together and annotated to make a slide show, which is a quick and easy way to put together an instructional program or service manual. Text can be captured or you can add your own notes. Any text you capture can be edited.


   This is the most expensive screen capture program you can buy, but it's less than $40 and well worth it. More info on a ton of feaures at



--  The home site for the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. They have online exhibits on the construction and preservation of historic buildings as well ordinary ones, business and residential. Special exhibits on elevators, escalators and moving sidewalks; windows; entrances; student projects, etc. Some have pictures, some just descriptions.


--  Architectural heritage of New York. Has an interesting timeline of skyscrapers showing the world's tallest buildings from 1890 to the present record holder, Sears Tower. You can take a downtown "web walk" along many streets and stop at any building, which then brings up a picture and history of the place, past and present.


--  Main site for the museum founded by best-selling author James Michener. Has permanent exhibit of the furniture of George Nakashima, Japanese prints, Levitown houses, stylish hats, paintings, etc.


--  A site devoted to the work of the late master craftsman Wharton Esherick; furniture and interiors.


Kid Stuff?



   Two games of musical magic are aimed primarily at children but we found them fun too, and we're all grown up (really). The two programs are "Mozart's Magic Flute" and Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker," both for Windows, from Music Games International

   The music is beautiful, of course, and while you listen you are led through magic gardens full of musical puzzles and games. These can be simple or quite sophisticated, the level chosen to match the age and experience of the player. At the harder levels you have to be able to discriminate between a theme or passage played by a viola as opposed to a violin, or by an oboe compared with a clarinet. Coming soon: Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," starring an animated Alice in Wonderland. Programs cost $20 each.


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