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Optical disks help keep spices kosherSo what...


Optical disks help keep spices kosher

So what do imaging technology and kosher food have in common?

A lot if you happen to be Hunt Valley-based McCormick Spice Co., which regularly is asked to certify that its flavorings and spices are kosher.

For years, the company kept files full of letters from rabbis certifying that individual spices and flavorings met the kosher criteria. That meant a lot of rooting around in files when manufacturers called in for verification.

Given that McCormick provides spices and flavorings to 80 of the top 100 food manufacturers in the United States, that task could be time-consuming, says John P. "Jack" Thompson, McCormick's vice president of management information systems and chief information officer.

"When we'd go to the files, letters were missing because they'd been filed in the wrong place or whatever. It got to be a problem," Mr. Thompson says.

But no more. Those letters are now stored on optical disks, condensing all those bulging files into one neat place.

Optical imaging systems take "pictures" of paper documents, then store the images -- as many as 186,000 on one disk -- in a digital format. Once stored, those images can be retrieved and printed out.

Conventional computer systems, by comparison, can't efficiently index large volumes of documents.

The optical imaging technology allows businesses to get a handle on paper buildup, and make sure critical documents don't get lost in the shuffle.

When calls come in to McCormick now, those critical letters from rabbis can be quickly located and sent to a computer printer for fast duplication.

"No more file cabinets," Mr. Thompson says.

Cellular mini-phone comes to the rescue

Robert O'Konoski of Federal Hill was walking his dog with a friend one evening when he saw a very upset waiter chasing a man out of a restaurant in the Inner Harbor. What to do? Call 911, of course.

Which is exactly what Mr. O'Konoski did -- using his palm-sized "personal communicator," a cellular telephone that looks a lot like the communicator Captain Kirk used to whip out with regularity on "Star Trek." The police, reports Al Grimes, president of American Personal Communications, the Baltimore-based company that distributes the phones, showed up a short time later to help track down the fleet-footed diner.

Mr. O'Konoski is one of about 75 people in Baltimore participating in twin-city trials of personal communication network (PCN) technologies in Baltimore and Washington. Those tests are being conducted by APC and the Washington Post Co., publisher of the Washington Post, the same team that successfully launched the first cellular system in the mid-1980s.

As part of that test, APC has wired the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and the K Street corridor in Northwest Washington. Within that limited range, the tiny phones can be used virtually anywhere -- inside a building, tableside at a restaurant, or curbside with a dog. About 200 users are using the phones and reporting results back to APC.

Early feedback suggests that people, once they get used it, like the idea of having a phone with them all the time, Mr. Grimes of APC says.

Software company is a family affair

There's a new kid on the software block, Thinx Software Inc. of Columbia. Thinx software, which operates on Microsoft's Windows program, is basically a beefed-up spreadsheet program that allows users to manipulate images as well as raw data.

Want to lay out on office? Using Thinx, designers can assemble the office on a grid, then figure out what it would cost to furnish it and maintain it over a period of years.

Thinx was created by Jack Coppley, a former Bell Atlantic engineer. When his old employer decided it no longer wanted to pursue Thinx, it offered Mr. Coppley, 43, a chance to buy the software line outright and spin off his own company.

So now he's out on his own and learning for the first time what it's like to plow the software road without the red tape -- or deep pockets -- of a Bell Atlantic.

Mr. Coppley's wife, Linda, 45, is serving as corporate secretary and treasurer. The Coppleys' teen-age children are helping out this summer.

Can't get enough sports stats?

If you're one of those people who just can't get sports scores fast enough, read on.

The Sporting News, the dean of sports tabloids, is launching a sports news and information service that will offer up-to-the-minute scores, statistics, pre-game injury reports, odds and game weather conditions over a palm-sized device dubbed "The Sporting News SporTrax."

The SporTrax, which resembles a television remote controller (a familiar device to any sports fan) has a screen (10 characters wide and four lines high), a keypad and a special FM receiver. Scores and sports news briefs are updated 24 hours a day. The units are programmed to update and store information on all major professional sports teams (Orioles and Redskins included) as well as 400 college and university teams.

Users can also program in a "hot list" of favorite teams. The unit will constantly scan for information on those teams, and beep to let users know when a sporting tidbit on a hot-list team has arrived.

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