by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President,
Good Ole Days
In the old days, back when the world was young and microcomputers were
new, user groups met around someone's kitchen table. Someone would bring a
computer and the meeting would be spent trying to put it together and
making it work, and maybe running a program that someone had written, or
(a momentous event!) perhaps even demonstrating the rare
commerciallyproduced program. (Most of these were probably written on a
computer sitting on someone else's kitchen table.)
For the February 1995 meeting, Washington Apple Pi had a modern-day
version of these ancient rites: the First Annual Washington Apple
Pi QuickTime Festival. Instead of a kitchen table in someone's
home, we had a modern auditorium at Northern Virginia Community College in
Annandale, a big stage, a professional sound system, and two different
kinds of video projection equipment. Instead of an Apple II with maybe 16K
of RAM, loading a program off a cassette tape, we two Macs, one a Centris
660AV with 40 megabytes of RAM and a billion byte hard drive (not to
mention several highcapacity data cartridges).
Yes, there have been changes since the first user group meetings, but
February was a delightful reminder of how it used to be with
demonstrations by Pi members, and mini-demos by Iomega and a local firm,
Praxisoft. About the only significant change from the
kitchen-table days was the distinct shortage of Coke, pizza, pretzels and
Did It In House
In the headlines, Apple was busy suing Intel and Microsoft for
pirating QuickTime. At the Pi, we were demonstrating some home-grown
To set the theme, we started with a QuickTime clip of an Apple
commercial, captured straight off TV, showing your typical modern
housewife, taking care of her family (children running, phones ringing)
while juggling a few precious minutes working with video clips on her
Quadra 630. In the last scene, you see her dressed in crisp business
attire, showing a slick video presentation on another Mac. "Who'd you
hire to do this?" she's asked. "I did it in house," she
I played a few of my own clips, not because they were great works of
art, but to demonstrate how you can do something unique without really
knowing what you are doing. One clip was composed of still pictures of my
daughter, dating back to when she was a few months old. The oldest image
was a black and white photo captured on a 512K Macintosh with a
ThunderScan, a Rube Goldberg-like device that allowed you to scan images
by rolling photo prints through an ImageWriter printer. (No, I'm not
making that up.) More recent, colorful images were scanned in a more
sensible fashion using slide and flatbed scanners. All the clips were then
assembled into a QuickTime movie using some free utilities.
Another clip consisted of roughly 50 color drawings created in the
style of the late Patrick Nagel, a graphic artist known for his very
Spartan, gently erotic watercolors and pen and ink works. These drawings
were collected over a period of roughly 10 years from bulletin boards
around the world, edited slightly to make them a consistent size, then
assembled into a QuickTime movie using some publicly-distributed
These utilities are conveniently collected in a Disketeria set,
Dimick's Double Dozen (28 programs, actually), for sale at
General Meetings or through the Pi office. The Nagel movie is available on
the TCS, the Pi's computer bulletin board, in Area 35, file 185.
Sound of Music
Turning from video to sound, several short music pieces were played.
Thanks to the QuickTime Musical Instruments extension included with
QuickTime 2.0, you can now take a Standard MIDI File (these files are
often found on bulletin boards with .smf suffixed to the name) created on
any computer, suck it up into Apple's MoviePlayer, and create "MIDI
movies." Or you can do what I did, and use ConcertWare
Pro (formerly sold by Great Wave, now marketed by Jump! software),
along with no musical talent whatsoever, to create your own Standard MIDI
The sound library, licensed by Apple from Roland, is nice, but the key
draw is the small size of the files: Gioacchino Antonio Rossini's
William Tell Overture takes up just 33K as a QuickTime MIDI
movie, but plays for 3 minutes, 26 seconds (available on the TCS in Area
35, file 795). Scott Joplin's The Entertainer (made famous by
the Newman and Redford hit movie The Sting) is just 11K,
but plays for 2 minutes, 5 seconds. George Gershwin's Rhapsody In
Blue is 71K, but plays for an astonishing 16 minutes, 39
Pi member Craig Shoemaker is not as enamored of the QuickTime MIDI
capabilities. The instrument library has a limited number of instruments,
and many of the sounds, such as French horns, are pathetic (to be
generous). He wanted to turn some of his own original compositions into
QuickTime clips, and constantly ran into hardware limitations (his 1987
vintage Mac II cannot play as many voices simultaneously as an AV Mac or a
Power Mac) or, more often, software limitations. QuickTime 2.0, when
converting a Standard MIDI File, frequently ignores entire voices, leaving
silent spots in the clip, or converts a series of notes to an
approximation of an equivalent-sounding instrument, usually with poor
So Craig tried another way: he recorded his own performances on audio,
and inserted the audio into a QuickTime clip. The resulting files are
huge: one clip played at the meeting lasts 10 minutes, but consumes 12
megabytes of disk space.
On the other hand, it does offer some unique possibilities. Craig
created a tribute to Bolo, the multi-user tank game,
featuring his own original music illustrated with screen animations taken
directly from the game. It gives a whole new meaning to the term
"orchestrating a battle."
Labors of Love
Stuart Bonwit showed a couple of his clips, and detailed how he
created them using QuickFlix, Adobe Premiere,
and Swivel 3D. Stuart, who came into the Mac world after
years as an Atari user, chose an ambitious first project: the animation of
a piece by Claude Debussy.
"Animation" in this case means classic cel-by-cel animation,
only using modern tools. Stuart created a large collection of 3D objects
and then assembled them into a 3D figure of an overdressed 19th century
military officer. He then painstakingly matched 1100 frames of animation
to the music of Debussy's tone poem, General Lavine. Except
for the music, everything was Stuart's work: he started with a blank
screen, and created everything. An early version of General
Lavine is on the TCS, Area 35, file 807.
His next project is even more ambitious: an animation of Peter
Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. He demonstrated the ballerina
created for the clip, composed entirely of three dimensional objects, and
she is a charmer.
Almost as interesting as the clips was the method of presentation.
Video was "printed" directly from Pi member Tom Witte's Centris
660AV to a video projection unit mounted in the ceiling of the auditorium,
then blasted up onto a movie screen on the stage. Tom forgot to bring a
keyboard cable, and substituted (as I recall) a Super-8 video cable. This
worked, much to my amazement, but Stuart frequently lost track of the
mouse; when you're used to working with a 1.5 foot square screen, things
seem a bit odd on a 300-foot square screen.
Desktop Video to Tape
Most users are interested in getting animation and video pumped into a
Mac, but Pi member Dennis Dimick (firstname.lastname@example.org) is interested in using the
Mac as a video editing tool, and then sending the results to videotape.
This presents several technical challenges, and Dennis heartily recommends
a new book published by Hayden, QuickTime: The Official Guide for
Macintosh Users, as a good starting point to appreciating both the
difficulties and the solutions. The book includes a CD-ROM disc with
several commercial applications, shareware utilities, and some great
Dennis showed one such clip, a lengthy inside joke involving Coke and
DogCows by Apple's QuickTime development team. While it lacked much of a
plot (or point), it did have one astonishing feature: it was recorded as a
fullscreen, 30 frame per second clip using QuickTime 2.0. Getting industry
standard video rates from QuickTime demonstrates amazing progress
(especially compared to some of the tiny, slow clips shown at the start of
Another clip, Hellcasters, was a classic rock video with
loud music, complex graphics and bright colors. It was also another great
technology demonstration: the entire clip was recorded to tape directly
from CD-ROM, then the tape was played at the meeting.
The First Washington Apple Pi QuickTime Festival
ended with two of Dennis' clips. One, En Route, is composed
entirely of still photos of people arriving, departing, or just preparing
to travel. Nicely synched to a New Age score, it vividly captures the odd
mixture of emotions experienced during travel; a impressive effort.
The second piece, Boat Ride, was essentially a home video
of a boat ride on the Chesapeake featuring his infant child. It was easily
the best-done home movie most of us had ever seen, and a quantum leap in
quality above Apple's Coke and Dogcow effort. (Apple, take note.)
For those who missed it, you can "talk" to Stuart and Dennis
on the QuickTime forum on the TCS.
Praxisoft, an Ashburn, Virginia company, did a real quick
demonstration of their Color Compass graphics utility. This
is a clever product that many will find essential, if hard to describe:
Color Compass is a utility for creating colors and creating
color palettes for other Macintosh applications. (A demo version is on the
TCS in Area 30, file 320).
Why, you might ask, do you need to create colors on a Mac? Can't it do
this on its own? Well, not really. To take an example, let's say you have
a drawing, done in Canvas, or PowerPoint, or Photoshop, or almost any
other Mac application, and you want to combine elements of that image with
another done in another application. And then you want the
combined image to look good with just a 256 color palette, so it can be
viewed correctly on inexpensive color Macs or on MS-DOS machines.
Color Compass can automatically generate color palettes of
the images, and allow you to create a common palette for use in the final
You can also use Color Compass to convert colors from one
standard to another. It allows you to dissect the color
palette used by an image, and display each color using RGB (Red, Green,
Blue), CYMK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK), or Pantone values. Colors can
then be blended, complimentary colors can be generated (automatically),
and tints and shades of a color created. Color Compass can
even automatically select the closest six Pantone colors of any selected
color, eliminating the need for swatch books.
Stephen Mace, Vice President of Sales, assured me that Color
Compass would run on virtually any color Mac, but he ran into
trouble with the Pi's Mac IIci. Aaron Alpher, the company President, was
running the IIci, and quickly discovered that, yes, Color
Compass worked fine, but the machine's 8 megabytes of RAM really
wasn't sufficient to simultaneously launch Color Compass,
Photoshop, and a bunch of other programs. They had planned to
illustrate the program's capabilities by rapidly switching between
programs, and were obviously used to using more generously equipped
machines. Everything still worked, but their chagrin was entertaining.
Color Compass retails for $129, but Praxisoft has a user
group special offer of just $79. Contact them by E-mail at email@example.com, via fax at (703)
729-6875, or call them at (800) 55-PRAXIS or (in VA) (703)
Jan Ruderman closed the meeting by talking briefly about Iomega's new
Zip drive. The drive has a number of distinguishing characteristics: it is
small, portable, cheap (street price of around $200), cheap (100 megabyte
removable cartridges are $15-20 each), reasonably fast (28 ms access time)
and purple. During most of the meeting Jan was in the hallway outside the
auditorium, showing the drive hooked up to a PowerBook. It must have been
a hit: the hordes walked away with all his promotional brochures.
Such an inexpensive storage device has some real possibilities, and
not just as infinitely-expandable storage (need more room? buy more
cartridges) and archival storage. Does someone at a remote location need
lots of data, in a hurry? FedEx them a cartridge. They don't
have a drive? FedEx them a Zip drive, too; it really is small. Need to
show something to a client, and don't want to cart around a lot of
equipment? A Zip drive and a PowerBook doesn't take up much space at
When Jan packed up to leave, this portability was obvious. In one arm
he was straining to hold a video monitor he'd attached to the PowerBook.
In the other arm, no strain at all, he held a case holding the PowerBook,
Zip drive, and a bunch of other stuff. Can you imagine what this
technology will do for presentations?
Jan will be back later this year showing a "revolutionary,"
in his words, high-capacity storage system. (Shall we run a pool? Will it
be purple, to?) Until then you can contact him about Iomega's existing
products at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1995 Meeting Dates
Mar. 25, 1995: Global Village will demonstrate their
telecommunications hardware and software, ranging from inexpensive
personal modems to enterprise fax servers and Internet nodes.
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 (the baseball strike is getting
old). At this writing, we also don't know where
we will meet, as our normal meeting site is booked during May.
There were no drawing winners; we never got around to a drawing. We were
Apple Macintosh IIci computer: courtesy Falcon Microsystems (RIP)
Apple Centris 660AV: courtesy Tom Witte
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
Setup and worrying: Bill Wydro, Beth Medlin, Tom Witte
Question & Answer Help: Tom Witte