From Mac Monthly, September 26, 1994

Newton Notes:

Help is at hand: Newton software to speak a foreign language, pick a restaurant, and find a movie

©Copyright 1994 David MacNeill

All you Newton owners who travel, eat, sleep, or watch movies, prepare to rejoice. StarCore is releasing three new guides to help you say the right thing and make informed choices that save you time and money.

Berlitz Interpreter
Traveling in a country where English is not the common tongue can quickly humble an otherwise arrogant American tourist. Ever notice how people get so frustrated that the actually believe that TALKING LOUDER WILL MAKE THE LOCALS UNDERSTAND ENGLISH? It doesn’t work. In situations like these you have two choices: (1) learn the language, or (2) buy Berlitz Interpreter for Newton, a new card-based application published by StarCore.

The Berlitz Interpreter translates to and from English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. Using the software is extremely simple and obvious. After the obligatory splash screen, you see a screen with a pop-list for choosing to translate words, phrases, or to take a quiz to build your language skills. To look up a word you can either write it with your stylus in the entry box, or tap the Word Browser button for an rolodex-style alphabetical list of all supported words in the dictionary of your source language. I tried some oddball words like "vegetarian" and "asylum" which were translated instantly. The speed of this program is very satisfying, and is much faster than using my familiar, well-thumbed English-Spanish dictionary I bought for my first trip to Mexico. (I remember "cerveza" and "baño" being muy importante at the time.)

Translating words in five languages is cool, but I found that the real fun is in translating phrases. The phrase categories are Basics, Traveling, Accommodation, Eating Out, Shopping, Relaxing, and Emergencies. Each of these categories are further broken down into sub-categories. Under Dating, for example, I found the ever-popular "May I sit here?" and "Why are you laughing?" situated perilously close to each other. The Basics section contains a very handy It Is/There Are section for translating toughies like "There aren’t any margaritas!" and similar phrases. I like the first entry under Eating Out: "That’s not what I ordered". I could get used to bawling out waiters in Italian!

Berlitz Interpreter is one of the first software titles for Newton to ship on a 4 megabyte PCMCIA (People Can’t Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms) flash memory card. Interpreter’s 25,000-plus words and phrases in five languages take up a lot of space, and Berlitz used all but 12K of the 4MB card.

ZagatSurvey 1994
Business travelers who frequent the top 26 US cities will find a lot to like about ZagatSurvey 1994, another new title from StarCore. Unlike the more general city information you get from StarCore’s other business travel title Fodor’s Travel Manager, ZagatSurvey provides only in-depth information about hotels and restaurants.

ZagatSurvey is modular so you only have to install information for the cities you intend to travel. Each of the cities stand alone as an application. Ranging in size from a modest 116K Milwaukee to 270K of Los Angeles, a few cities could quickly eat up a 1 megabyte memory card. There is a separate 56K help application that you can dump after you get used to the interface.

Zagat’s ranking system is quite good, giving you lots of solid information about an establishment. Restaurants, for example, are rated on food, decor, service, and price. The first three categories use a 30 point scale, which allows more than adequate resolution for comparisons. Prices are listed as Inexpensive, Medium, Expensive, and Very Expensive. When searching, you choose from the above categories as well as cuisine type, credit cards accepted, and areas of town. I found the program’s performance to be typical of this type of application; speed is not exactly mission critical when choosing a hotel or restaurant.

Personally, I find both Fodor’s and Zagat’s unsuitable for the kind of off-the-beaten-track traveling I prefer. For example, when in San Francisco I always stay at the King George, a very cool restored Victorian hotel a few blocks from Moscone Center. It is not listed in either of the guides, nor is my favorite restaurant in the world, Tomasso’s in North Beach. Perhaps these establishments are not considered flashy enough for the business traveler. Other gripes are the lack of cool cities like Portland, Nashville, and Austin. I’ll have to see a bit more variety in these guides before I will buy them.

Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide
I hate going to the video store. I want them to be like libraries, but they are more like fast-food joints, full of unhappy brats, content-free products, and bored, clueless clerks. That’s why I like Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide. Now I can walk in, Newton MessagePad 110 in hand, totally self-contained. Unless you only want to rent the latest pap from Hollywood, you probably could use some expert help when selecting a movie. The thing about reviewers is that you either love ’em or hate ’em, depending on how they rated your favorite movie. If you like Leonard Maltin’s viewpoint, this is the program for you.

Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide contains detailed reviews for over 3000 top movies released up through Christmas 1993. Search categories include actors, director, rating, Maltin’s rating, genre/style, year, and awards. You can also indicate whether or not you have seen a movie, then add that criteria to your search. Once you have a movie selected, you can tap on items such the director’s name to find more films she made, for example. Searching through Maltin’s guide is good, clean fun, but be careful: if you learn too much the video store manager will put you to work at $5.25 an hour.

Berlitz Interpreter will ship November 21 for US$139. ZagatSurvey 1994 ships the week of October 23 for US$69.95. Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide’s ship date was unavailable at press time, but expect it by December for US$69.95. All titles will be available wherever Newtons are sold. Contact StarCore at 800-708-STAR for more information.

Dave MacNeill is a teacher and Internet consultant for the IconoClass, a Macintosh, Windows, Internet, and Newton training center in Sacramento, 916-565-3535. He can be reached on eWorld/NewtonMail at DaveMacNeill, or on the Internet at