by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President,
Missed by a Week
The first "significant" snowfall of the year fell Jan. 28, the day of
the Pi's General Meeting. Most of the 4,000-odd members proved to be
weather wimps, refusing to brave the icy gusts, the blowing drifts, the
arctic conditions. But 146 people, according to those who like to count
people, fought through the horrendous weather (by nightfall, the ground
was covered with snow, almost) to see two very different
vendor presentations. It was a study in dramatic contrasts; as one wag put
it, the best and worst presentations of the year. Yet one of them was also
among the best user group demonstrations I've ever seen, and
I've been involved in user groups for 18 years.
Another highlight of the meeting, though we didn't know it at the
time: the first blizzard of the year hit seven days later. Timing isn't
everything, but it certainly doesn't hurt. The Best
Elaine Bailey, President of Applied Medical Informatics (AMI, 2681
Parley's Way, Suite 101, Salt Lake City, UT 84109-1630, 801-464-6210),
seemed at first glance to be the less impressive prospect. Her software
package, Medical House Call, is not that well known, and
computerized home health packages aren't a major software category. There
was also some concern about her even showing up; I'd told AMI's public
relations firm that the meeting was on the fourth Saturday of the month,
but then misread the date from an old calendar, bringing understandable
confusion to those on the other side of the continent.
Before her presentation, Elaine was quite nervous. She claimed to be
not that experienced at doing live demos, and also wasn't familiar with
her computer. This (ominous understatement) alarmed me. She explained that
at work she had a Quadra 840 AV, but that "they" had taken it away from
her a couple days before and given her a PowerBook 540c. She'd spent the
previous night getting familiar with the new machine in her hotel room,
but wasn't that comfortable with its unique software, and had doubts about
Once she took the stage, Elaine was in complete control. She was the
most serious presenter we've had in a long, long time, and also one of the
most personal and familiar. There were no canned jokes, no contrived
situations, but there was a great sense of caring and warmth. Her command
of the subject was total: she knew every feature of her software package,
every detail behind its development, and -- something we've never seen
before -- even offered keen insights into the medical, social and legal
implications of such software packages, and how these "large" concerns
affect the individual user.
She also had no trouble with her computer. Her PowerBook 540c did
exactly as she asked, quickly. I was disappointed, hoping she'd trade it
for the Pi's IIci.
Medical House Call, to some extent, is a home health
reference. It allows you to keep detailed health records on everyone in
the family, from the obvious (age, gender) to the legal (shot histories)
to the dynamic (records of clinic visits and appointments, drugs and
treatments prescribed, etc.). It contains an extensive database of over
1,000 diseases, indexed and referenced in a number of ways. Most
intriguing to me, it also has an extensive pharmacologic database, and can
not only provide detailed information about a particular drug, but also be
used to check for drug interactions.
The heart of the package, however, is an extensive computer-managed
health interview, backed up by a sophisticated expert system. If you
aren't feeling well, sit down, respond to the prompts regarding your
symptoms, and at the end Medical House Call will list the
diseases that match your symptoms, and display the suspects in decreasing
order of likelihood. Since the interview, and the results, can be printed,
a user can then present these to a physician when they are seen, making
the most of the physician's time as well as the user's time.
Elaine mentioned several times that, on average, a physician sees a
patient for only an average of eleven minutes. All the rest of the time
spent on a "doctor's appointment" is spent filling out forms, waiting in
the waiting room and such. Making the most of those eleven minutes is in
the patient's best interest, from both an economic and a health care
perspective. She illustrated this with a personal example: she has a rare
disease of the intestine with a simple treatment: avoid eating certain
grains. Unfortunately, it took time to discover these facts: two years of
clinic visits and medical tests. Medical House Call, in
contrast, quickly made an informed guess as to the condition, indicated
the most conclusive medical test, and the projected cost of the test: $31.
While the software package is not a replacement for a physician, it does
"empower" the user to be better informed about their health, and has the
potential to save much time and treasure.
The audience response to her presentation was amazing: people were
impressed. The usual cynical crowd that likes to torment
vendors either didn't show up, or failed to rattle Elaine as she deftly,
carefully, and fully answered any and all questions. It was a struggle to
stop the questions and begin the next presentation. Questions, and
comments, continued well after the meeting on the TCS (the Pi's bulletin
board). The most memorable comment was a bulletin board message from a
user who took advantage of the half-price offer at the meeting ($45,
instead of the usual $89.95) and received the package via Federal Express
just a few days later. A great presentation, a great software package,
and great service.
My one criticism: Elaine did not provide me with an E-mail address. A
telephone number is fine, but an E-mail address is divine. Not the Best
Richard Katz, a software evangelist for Intuit, did provide an E-mail
address: firstname.lastname@example.org. He also
provided a quick wit. What he did not provide was a demonstration of
Quicken 5.0 or MacInTax 1994.
I strongly suggest to all vendors that they either pre-install their
software on a computer, and bring the computer, or pre-install the
software on a hard drive that can be booted on the Pi's Macintosh IIci.
Richard did neither, stating that he didn't have a Mac and Intuit didn't
provide a drive.
Not having a Mac should have set off alarms, but I didn't give it any
thought until Richard attempted to install MacInTax and
Quicken before the meeting. He confessed he wasn't that
familiar with the Macintosh, a fact made obvious after demonstrating that
he didn't know how to install the programs (double-click on the Installer
and do what you are told).
At the start of his presentation, Richard offered an oversized Intuit
beach towel to anyone who would come up on the stage and help him with his
presentation. Everyone laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn't
After launching Quicken, he appeared stumped, not knowing
to what to do next. He quickly got so far off track that he never managed
to clearly explain what Quicken was: the most popular
personal finance package ever created. He claimed to be intimately
familiar with Quicken on "the other platform," but didn't
know how the menu commands were arranged in the Mac version, didn't know
the keyboard shortcuts, and was baffled by how the Mac arranges
A technical aside: in the Mac world, you make a window active by
clicking on it. You can have as many windows open as you want at one time,
and as many programs running as you want at one time, subject only to
memory constraints. Click on any part of any window in any program, and
that window -- and program -- comes to the front.
In the Windows 3.1 world, things are quite different. Users rarely
have more than one program running at once, not all windows are equal, and
you must click on a specific portion of a window to make it active.
Richard, familiar with Windows 3.1, the pretender, and not Finder 7.5,
the champion, kept accidentally clicking outside the active window,
bringing the Finder to the front. When this happened, all the
Quicken menu commands seemed to disappear, the keyboard
appeared to stop working, and he was lost in what he described as "Finder
Guided by several Quicken users in the
audience, he usually found his way back, but the presentation lost
direction or focus. A Great Irony unfolded: there were a number of
Quicken users in the audience. They were generally familiar,
and happy, with the program. They were undoubtedly more familiar with it
than Intuit's own evangelist. The result? Pi members guiding someone who
wasn't quite up to Mac Novice status in the use of a program that the Mac
Novice was supposed to be pitching to those very same members.
Pi members often provide help to new users -- that's why user groups
were formed -- but this was unique.
The demonstration of MacInTax was even less informative.
Because of the way MacInTax works, a good
demonstration would involve an almost completed Form 1040. Using this as a
baseline, the presenter would then try a few "what if" possibilities
("what if we use the standard deduction instead of itemized deductions?")
and fill in a couple empty boxes ("oh, yeah, I forgot I had another son,
so let's add another deduction") and watch the package automatically crank
out new numbers.
Lacking a completed form, lacking time, and lacking familiarity with
the Mac version of MacInTax (a paramount irony), audience
members were left with little more than reassurances from other audience
members that the package did, in fact, work, and was, in fact, fairly easy
to use. Several people mentioned problems with last year's package,
including a glitch in the form for Maryland income tax; none of these
issues were addressed.
Amazingly enough, a number of people were impressed with both
Quicken and MacInTax. After the meeting, I
stopped at Micro Center, in Fairfax, to get a lithium battery for my
daughter's Mac LC, and found one couple there buying a Macintosh,
Quicken and MacInTax on the strength of the
presentation. When I left, they were busy asking a Micro Center employee
if they had a copy of Medical House Call. 1995 Meeting Dates
General Meetings for 1995 are scheduled for the following dates (all
the fourth Saturday of the month). Mark your electric calendars.
Feb. 25, 1995: First Annual Washington Apple Pi QuickTime Festival and
Show and Tell.
Praxisoft will demonstrate Color Compass, a unique color
Mar. 25, 1995: Global Village will demonstrate their
telecommunications hardware and software.
In keeping with the theme, Washington Apple Pi will have a quick
overview of the TCS, the Pi's computer bulletin board, and a preview of
the planned Internet version of the TCS.
Apr. 22, 1995: Now Software will present Now Up-To-Date,
Now Contacts, and Now Utilities.
Main Event will show their AppleScript editor.
May 27, 1995: vendor to be named later, plus three first-round draft
picks (barring a strike, of course). Drawing winners
Special Libraries Association T-shirt: Alan Day
Software.net T-shirt: Walter Forlini
Quicken 5.0 (Intuit): Ralph Lingeman, Jerome Williams, Bob
MacInTax 1994 (Intuit): Pat Garvey, Michael Finn, John
Medical House Call (AMI): Steve Pope, Dennis Kruse, Glenn
Paterson, Grady Houseknecht
QuickBooks (Intuit): Ed Houser Credits
Apple Macintosh IIci computer: courtesy Falcon Microsystems (RIP)
Apple Macintosh 540c: courtesy Applied Medical Informatics
PowerPoint 3.0 (RIP): courtesy Microsoft Corporation
Proxima Ovation LCD projector: courtesy Proxima Corporation
Bernoulli 150 drive: courtesy Iomega Corp.
Lounging TCS Penguin: drawing by Nancy Seferian
Silver Spring Metro Penguins: photo by Dennis Dimick
Newt's giraffe: photo by Daniel E. Slaven
Dilbert cartoon: Scott Adams, via the Internet
Setup and worrying: Bill Wydro, Beth Medlin
Question & Answer Help: Tom Witte