Fit the First

Cyber Networks, Inc., offers the ultimate Reference Tool to the individual user and business community of the Web, a Meta-Search Engine with a Dictionary and Thesaurus called Brainstorm.

Two versions of Brainstorm are being released. A Frames version, to run with Windows 3.1 using Netscape and a Java version to run within Windows 95, utilizing all browsers that support Java.

The Java version of Brainstorm can be used a s permanent fixture to your existing browser, being minimized when it is not in use, and maximized when needed with one click of the mouse.

The most important feature to remember is that it is FREE to the user which makes it the perfect Marketspace Platform for the advertiser.

From the Promotional Liturature for Brainstorm,
The Ultimate Billboard On The Information Superhighway
(I am not making any of this up)

This began back in late '95, when one of our customers, Cyber Networks, Inc. approached us to do a metasearch engine. Being the Vice President of Research and Development for Armigeron Information Services, Inc. I jumped at the chance to do this in the then hot new language Java.

I originally asked for four months to develop the program, but the customer wanted it sooner, so a two month (actually 65 days) schedule was developed, which was fairly tight, given that I had to actually learn Java at the same time. Due to contract negotiations took longer than expected, and when I started on March 1 of 1996, I was faced with a 56 day deadline in order to meet a computer expo in late May.

The idea was to download the processing to the client side, to avoid strain on our server. Well, as it turned out, the remaining bugs in Brainstorm were all implementation bugs of Java under Windows 95 (if you aren't technical, or aren't interested in the numerous bugs I encountered in the Java implementation under Windows 95, you can skip this section):

Hamster pondering
Netscape, Java, 95
Shotgun is nearby

Haiku in Easter Egg. Brainstorm, Java Version

It's an exausting list of bugs to work around. And even then there were bugs I couldn't work around. And some of the workarounds (for instance, the network congestion problem) influenced the design for the later versions, but I'm getting ahead of myself there.

I just love the whooshing sound of deadlines as they fly overhead

As it was, D-Day came, and D-Day went and I was still no closer to finishing the program, as it often the case in software development. Most of the functionality existed, but the most important part, the actual metasearch part, I was still franctically working on, even as the expo was in full swing out in California.

The program did make a big hit out there, crippled as it was. The marketing aspect, the rotating banners updated every minute, worked, as well as the dictionary and thesaurus so there was something to show the throngs of people out there, although sad to say, no one actually saw it working, although if you feel brave enough, you can try it yourself. If you can't, or won't try it, you can get a feel for what it looks like by viewing this “screen shot“ of it running, as it was shown in the brochure given out at the Expo. Note that even though the version I wrote ran under Windows 95, and the version being demoed was being run under Windows 95, the version in the brochure was a mockup done on a Macintosh. It's close enough.

The program was finally finished 69 days after I started—four days late according to my original estimate, but about a week after the expo. Such as life in the computer industry.

In fact, I think only a handful of people actually saw the finished project working (well, just barely). Shame really, as Java is a nice concept, just poorly executed. And because of this poor execution of Java, my partner Chuck consoled the customer, telling them we would work on a version that would work with any browser using the Web standard Forms interface.

I should note that the last time I actually ran the Java version of Brainstorm in early '97, using the then latest version of Netscape, it still had the same problems. I've yet (mid '97) to try it again, using Netscape 4.0.

June 17, 1998 Update: But not anymore it seems. It looks like Cyber 411 has removed the Java version from their server and it is dead. The other version I wrote for them is no longer is use either. Check out Fit the Fourth for more information.