Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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October 2005, Week 1 -- The Ringing Sound of Mathematics


   If you go to the Stephen Wolfram Web site,  you can download cell phone ring tones created by mathematical formulas.

 Wolfram tones    Wolfram is the creator of the super computational program Mathematica, used by many scientists and university math professors. Here not only is the music generated by formulas, but changing the coefficients produces variations. You can also just listen to examples at the Web site; they're quite interesting. This is not completely new; half a century ago the University of Illinois produced computer compositions and has since created computer symphonies.
     All of which reminds Bob of an anecdote about a meeting between the famous composer Felix Mendelssohn and Carl Gauss, the founder of statistical analysis. Mendelssohn attempted to put Gauss at ease by saying, "You know, Carl, music is very mathematical." Gauss was shocked. "How can you say that?" he replied. "Mathematics is beautiful."
  Filemaker Pro On the Rack
 FileMaker 8


   FileMaker Pro, version 8, is a major upgrade to one of the best database programs you can get for a desktop computer. We've always been a big fan of this database, but we were less than impressed with this upgrade.
   A major strength of FileMaker Pro is that it comes in versions for Mac and PC, and the files are compatible with both. That still holds. The new version adds a lot of features, some of which, like auto complete, internal e-mail, mouse wheel support and visual spell checker, have been in other programs for many years.


  On the plus side: Posting to the Web is easier. You can send records as a PDF file, so the recipient will see the information just as it looks in FileMaker. You can convert FileMaker data into Excel data, and you can automatically attach the contents of a database field to an e-mail message. You can find all matching records with one click. And finally, FileMaker is much easier to use than the Microsoft Access database. On the other hand, what isn't?  

     On the minus side: Whatever happened to "undo"? If you make a mistake, you can only undo that mistake while your cursor is still in that field. Move to another field and realize, oops, I made a mistake in that last entry, it's tough luck. Using the keyboard shortcut "control-z," which is a nearly universal undo command, has no effect here.
     On top of all that, you can only undo once. Whatever happened to multiple undos? What is the likelihood that someone typing information into a database will never make a mistake? Or will only make one mistake and realize it immediately? Are you kidding?
     Joy called tech support and learned that in order to undo more than one error she had to write a script. She could then go back and activate that script.
     Someone could raise the defense that FileMaker is a complex program, and it's difficult to have multiple undo levels. On the other hand, Adobe Photoshop has unlimited undo levels, and no one can say that's not a complex program.

PopCap Looking for something to do? PopCap has 24 free games you can play online as long as you like. If you download them, including some for the Palm and Pocket PCs, you can play for only an hour and then have to buy to keep playing. Student hostels in big cities and popular destinations. The Sin City Hostel in Las Vegas charges $18.50 per person per night, for double occupancy. Or $16 a night for a hostel with a swimming pool.

  The Numbers Report


  The National Safety Council estimates that 50 million computers become obsolete every year, and many end up in landfills. Some of the parts are toxic: Older monitors may each contain as much as 5 pounds of lead. Consumer electronics account for less than 4 percent of municipal solid waste, but 40 percent of the lead content.



  A Harris Poll to determine consumer understanding of VoIP, the technology for making phone calls over the Internet, found that 20 percent of those surveyed thought VoIP was a hybrid car imported from Europe. Ten percent thought it was a low-carb vodka. Only 13 percent knew what it was.

     This reminds Bob of his all-time favorite survey finding, from a poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. It found that 8 percent "don't know," no matter what the question. Say good night, Gracie.
  A Little Consumer Caution, Please
     1. Do not download any file with an ".exe" ending unless you have specifically requested that file and know what it is. Those three letters at the end of the file name mean the file is "executable"; it can load a program into your computer. Do you want that program?
    2. Don't answer any e-mail asking you to "confirm" an order. We get e-mails from legitimate companies confirming that they received our order, but they never ask us to confirm that we want to make an order.

 Web Mapping Illustrated



  "Web Mapping Illustrated" by Tyler Mitchell; $40 from

   This is not about finding maps on the Web but how to create them. The author tells you where to collect mapping data, some for free, some not. He then tells you how to convert the data to make your own maps and how to make those interactive for the user. He also covers ready-made maps from the Web, like maps that can cover a whole wall.



NOTE: Readers can search several years of columns at the "On Computers" Web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at and Joy Schwabach at