Self-help software that cooks, builds, heals They are the very thing to convert those who hate, or barely tolerate, PCs

Your computer

December 15, 1996|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

IF YOUR household is like ours, it consists of one primary PC user and one primary PC hater (or at best a PC tolerator).

If you're in the first category, this is a good time to shop for some gift software that might turn that PC hater into tolerator or even a user.

If you're a hater or tolerator, consider a gift of software that will get that bum to do something useful with the PC for a change instead of flying that F-14 simulator and shouting "Kill" every time he fires a missile.

I'm not talking about software that involves real work, but programs that help you do something useful around the home -- or at least look like you're doing something useful.

For example, if you're serious about cuisine and that old file of recipes on mustard-stained 3x5 cards is overflowing a half dozen boxes, check out the shelves of your computer store.

You'll find a dozen programs that will store your recipes, teach you how to slice and dice, prepare shopping lists, unveil the secrets of the world's great chefs and tell you exactly how nutritious your meals are.

For sheer volume, it's hard to beat the venerable "Micro Cookbook" from Pinpoint Publishing, which contains more than 10,000 recipes on its CD-ROM. Sierra On-Line's "MasterCook" will print out an entire cookbook with the recipes of your choice, and like many of its brethren, has converters that will allow you to import recipes files generated by other recipe programs (the World Wide Web is a wonderful repository of cooking treasures).

For specialty recipes, check out one of the CDs from Multicom's Better Homes and Gardens series. If you want to see what your food should look like (and learn a bit about preparation), "Compton's Complete Interactive Cookbook" has more than 8,000 photos and 50 video demonstrations.

Some hints for cookbook software customers.

First, if you're bored with what you're eating, get a program that will come up with recipes for whatever ingredients you have on hand (say, half a leftover chicken, a cantaloupe and a jar of martini olives). Second, if you're buying a new computer, avoid the temptation to set it up in the kitchen. It's hard to get tarragon mayonnaise out of a keyboard. Third (courtesy of my friend Dudley), get a cookbook with a spelling checker if you're going to share recipes and can't remember how many n's there are in mayonnaise. Finally, never, under any circumstances, run a recipe for carrot cake through a nutrition analyzer. You'll feel guilty for weeks.

If there's a do-it-yourselfer in the house, you'll find plenty of titles to while away the winter hours with plans for springtime projects.

By far the best of the general home repair programs is the "Reader's Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Guide," a Windows 95 title from Microsoft Home. Based on the perennial best-selling Reader's Digest book (a longtime favorite in our house), this program is well organized and beautifully illustrated. It also shows how far the computer can extend the printed word with scores of animations and video demonstrations of everything from mixing concrete to cutting a board without sawing off your fingers.

Windows 3.1 and Mac users can try "Home Depot's Home Improvements," a close second that's available with and without a well-illustrated companion book. Hint: If you're serious about getting your projects done right the first time, buy the book, too. Computers are great, but it's hard to take the PC out on the job with you.

Thinking about a new house, an addition, or a new kitchen, bathroom or deck?

You can visualize it, draw it, furnish it and tour it in three dimensions with a home design program. These are light years beyond the clunky old computer-aided design programs that home-planning visionaries suffered through years ago. The new titles are easy to use and just plain fun to fool around with. They'll generate complete floor plans, check to make sure you haven't made any mistakes, build lists of materials, too.

For general home design, Broderbund's "3D Home Architect" is still a top choice, with "smart" walls that always join together the way you want them to and a host of other intelligent drawing and viewing features. For sheer visualizing power, check out DesignWare's "My House," which includes 2,000 sample floor plans, a wide variety of textures for walls, roofs and floors, and a 3-D rendering feature that will display your dream home against the backdrop you choose.

Have a smaller project in mind? Look at "3D Kitchen" and "3D Deck" from Books that Work. They're full of specific information and design and building tips for these popular projects.

In our neck of the woods, the winter months are difficult for avid gardeners, but with the right software, your favorite green thumb can build a virtual garden on the screen and enjoy everything but the actual digging .

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