Columbia firm helps charity create data baseThe appeals by...


December 21, 1992|By Steve Auerweck

Columbia firm helps charity create data base

The appeals by actress Sally Struthers for the Christian Children's Fund, seeking sponsors for Third World children, inspire old-fashioned feelings of charity in the holiday season. But behind that traditional plea is a futuristic technology project run by a company in Columbia.

Sequoia Imaging, a company formed to work with medical records imaging, is helping the fund create a computer data base that holds photos and information about hundreds of thousands of children around the world.

Mark Wesker of Sequoia said the company has developed a system to allow the children's fund to scan all of its files into a massive data base, using the Sybase Inc. data base management system and Sun Microsystems Inc. workstations.

"It used to take three weeks to turn around files" for a prospective sponsor, Mr. Wesker said. Now the information is available to a caller in just a few minutes.

Sequoia's Anil Sethi said one problem was the time lost in scanning photographs with a traditional flatbed scanner, which takes up to three minutes. The company turned to JVC of Japan for a new digital camera that can record a child's picture in just four seconds.

Say, for example, a caller to the Richmond, Va.-based fund is interested in sponsoring "a 3-year-old child from South America." In just a few moments, Mr. Sethi said, a worker at a Windows-based PC can be viewing information on all likely candidates.

Sequoia developed the custom software to allow rapid searching through the text files.

The information, which is expected to grow beyond 50 gigabytes of text and photos, is being held in an optical storage "jukebox" provided by Reflections Systems of San Jose, Calif.

Noting that Sybase has reserved judgment on how well the system will work when it reaches such gargantuan proportions, Mr. Sethi remarked, "You've got to test these waters if you want to live on the leading edge."

Optex is awarded $1.43 million grant

Optex Corp. of Rockville won a $1.43 million grant last week from the Commerce Department to further its work on a technique for recording digital video on optical disks.

The company is working on "electron-trapping optical memory" to create an erasable drive that would yield substantially higher speeds and greater capacity than existing optical storage media, a Commerce Department announcement said.

The grant, one of 21 announced last week, is part of the Advanced Technology Program, which "provides partial funding to develop cutting-edge technologies where high risks are matched with a potential for commercially important advances."

The program is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.

Would-be buyers can't get Access

Hopeful buyers of Microsoft Corp.'s new powerhouse entry in the PC data base market have found themselves denied Access, and the industry is gossiping over whether the problem stems from overwhelming demand or underwhelming performance.

A recent shopper at the Towson Egghead Discount Software store found himself 104th on a waiting list for the Access package, for example. Mark Burnett, a product engineer with Application Programming and Development Inc., a programming house in Camp Springs, thinks that's because Microsoft stalled shipments while problems were being stamped out.

"It's a little buggy. It does weird stuff," Mr. Burnett said. Not only have systems with an early version of Access been known to crash, he said, but sometimes the source code -- the program being entered -- winds up scrambled as well.

Mr. Burnett voiced the opinion of many observers in believing that Microsoft scrambled to beat the introduction by Borland International Inc. of a head-on competitor, a new Windows version of Paradox.

However, the Seattle Times reported that Microsoft's Charles Stevens, general manager of the company's data base and software tools products, bristled at suggestions that the program was bug-ridden.

"There are no data-corruption bugs reported and confirmed at this point," Mr. Stevens said. The paper quoted him as saying that sales were triple the company's expectations, and that "our whole problem is finding raw materials to fill the backlog."

At another Baltimore-area store, Computer Station in Timonium, salesman Steve Sears said the supply has kept pace; the store was completing about six orders last week.

The popularity of the program is being fueled in part by a door-busting introductory price of $99. The list price is scheduled to rise to $495 on Feb. 1.

Electronics jobs are disappearing

Consumer electronics and computer programming are strong, but jobs in the overall U.S. electronics industry are disappearing, the American Electronics Association said last week.

The AEA said a decline of 24,000 industry jobs in the third quarter brought total losses so far this year to 79,000. The total employment level in the industry was 2.31 million in September, down 99,000 from a year before.

The consumer and programming sectors grew in both the most-recent three-month period and the full year. The data are estimates based on information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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