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The Slacker's Guide - Chris Versus the Pile: SBook5

by Chris Barylick
March 24th, 2006

Sitting across from me, on the mini-shelf provided by my computer desk and just below an old but beloved Monsoon flat panel speaker, is a pile of approximately 200-odd business cards. Thin, miniature and densely packed like vertebrae in an efficiently designed skeletal structure, these bits of paper contain enough information to create social and professional lifelines. They're the people I've met in the past four years, mostly while writing and consulting and I tend to get along fairly well with most of them.


The Pile, in all its glory.

It's the pile itself that I loathe.

And I don't think this feeling is completely irrational. The pile, which contains extremely useful information, must be dug through, sometimes when time is short, to find the vital tidbit of information that's necessary at that given moment. True, someone was nice enough to provide an attractive card with their contact information clearly presented to the viewer, but it's added to this ever-growing wad of paper that becomes like trying to dig through nine metric tons of peanut butter to locate your cars keys.

Under sane conditions, I'd have added the person's contact information the second I had obtained the card. This is almost never the case, and today the Pile reared its ugly head to demand to be entered in one fell swoop. While Apple's Address Book program is readily available, entering large amounts of data becomes cumbersome, especially when Address Book's contact information is designed to be entered in a given order (name, company, work phone, mobile phone, e-mail, etc.) - an order that almost never appears on the cards themselves, especially when entered in large quantities.

Enter SBook5, one of the weirdest, most useful freeware programs I've ever run across. The program, written by Simson Garfinkel of MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, pulls off the coolest trick available for a contact management program like Address Book - it allows the user to enter the information in any given order as it appears on the card, then moves it to its proper location when synched with Address Book.


Import and Export options in SBook5.

While this may not sound like the most impressive trick your Mac could pull off, it does allow a person to simply enter contact information as it appears on the card with only line breaks to space information out. An artificial intelligence subroutine built into the program categorizes the information as a person, business, type of contact, phone number, physical address, e-mail address or Web site and marks this information appropriately.

Once the information has been entered, the user can quickly export the entries to the Address Book, which synchs the contacts between the two programs. Users can also have full control over their contact information via included private and locked file tagging as well as encryption support. The program follows an extensible architecture and can be used for other functions such as envelope printing, phone dialing and address book printing.

Unfortunately, SBook5 is still something of a work in progress. Exporting to iPod, a cool bell and whistle, seemed to hang on its process while exporting contact information to a vCard format functioned as promised. Although a user can easily use iSync to port Address Book's contacts over to an iPod, this proved to be a little disappointing and I hope this feature is restored either in the next version of the program or Apple's Mac OS X 10.4.6 update.


Users can enter contact information in any order in SBook5.

SBook5 is a 2.1 megabyte download which expands to occupy 10.2 megabytes of hard drive space when installed. The program is available in both a Mac OS X 10.2-compatible version as well as a Mac OS X 10.3 or later-compatible version, the latest version requiring Mac OS X 10.3.8 or later to run.

No, this isn't the most exciting thing in the world, but it is clever and allows Mac users to enter contact information in the order it actually appears on the card without having to hunt for the right category, an excellent engine handling the placement. The end result is that the user works in their own way and an annoying task becomes that much easier.

The Pile may never be completely slain, but it can be managed, and that's almost as good as winning against the small deciduous forest worth of paper.

That wraps it up for this week. As always, if you see anything new, cool or useful in the Mac universe,

.

Chris Barylick covers games for The Mac Observer, and has written for Inside Mac Games, MacGamer, UPI, the Washington Post, and other publications.

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