Washington Apple Pi

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March 1997 General Meeting Report

by Lawrence I. Charters

Meeting just a couple days after a snowy start to spring, bleary-eyed Pi members arose early to find a warm, sunny, and extremely windy day for the March General Meeting. From the sleepy looks evident during most of the meeting, it seemed early morning sunlight and cherry blossoms were not as high on everyone's list of things to experience as a few more minutes of hibernation.

Tom Witte, filling in for absent Mac Vice President Don Essick (Don claimed he had to work, of all things), served as master of ceremonies for the meeting. Tom had all the equipment set up in near record time, aided in no small part by the fact that both the vendors, Aladdin Systems and Metricom, came prepared with fully pre-configured PowerBooks. Metricom had one of the new PowerBook 3400c laptops, which drew several admiring looks. One interesting discovery: the PowerBook 3400c does not have the unusual, flat Video Out port used in previous PowerBooks. Instead, it uses a small, SVGA-style D-shell Video Out connector. Attempts to make other discoveries, including some requiring screwdrivers, were gently thwarted by Metricom's Nicole Hajj.

Questions, Questions

Over the past several months, the opening Question and Answer session has featured a recurring theme: how and what to upgrade. Generally speaking, the answer has been: if you have any kind of Power Mac, you really should invest in MacOS 7.6. And if you have a Power Mac, you really need to have at least 24 megabytes (or more) of memory to exploit the capabilities of the computer. Given the very low cost of RAM, Power Macs have essentially no limits: upgrade to the latest, and blaze into the future.

But a new theme is emerging: if you don't have a Centris, Quadra or Power Mac, you should also think about upgrading (replacing) your computer. While the Pi still supports all Apple computers, the tidal wave of new software and hardware is all but washing away commercial support for anything that doesn't have at least a 68040 processor (used in Centris and Quadra machines) or PowerPC processor (used in Power Macs). Even something as simple as a "cheap printer" now requires plenty of RAM and MacOS 7.5 or better, since the "cheap" printers (DeskWriters, StyleWriters) usually are inkjet machines with RAM-based printer drivers that require System 7.5 or better. Usually reliable rumors indicate MacOS 8.0 will require at least a 68040 processor.

On the bright side: a Power Macintosh (or equivalent machines from SuperMac, Power Computing, APS, Motorola, etc.) is one of the most powerful computers ever built, yet most models costs less than the original Macintosh in 1984. Brand-new models are now available for less than a thousand dollars, so the cost-effective way of upgrading your old machine may be to buy a new one, and use the old one as a backup.

Cleaning Up With Spring Cleaning

Peter Thomas of Aladdin Systems (dev.support@aladdinsys.com) demonstrated several of his company's utilities, starting with Spring Cleaning. Originally released by another company as LaundroMac, Spring Cleaning is a comprehensive set of utilities for: uninstalling applications; resolving aliases; trimming unnecessary code from FAT (combination regular and Power Mac) programs; removing empty folders; removing unused fonts; removing Help files; matching orphan files with programs that can manipulate them; and cleaning up Preferences.

Peter phrased Spring Cleaning's utility in terms of the increasing complexity of the Macintosh operating environment, but this probably isn't accurate. While MacOS has become more complex over the years, it still has a very simple, elegant look, and is still very easy to use. What has become more complex: the kinds of things people try to do with their Macs. Users of other computers may only do a couple things with their machines; in contrast, Mac users may have purchased their computers for simple uses (writing letters, automating their checkbooks) but soon branch out into a huge range of activities, from MIDI music and sophisticated drawing to desktop publishing (one of the most complex tasks any computer can do) and Internet communications (another complex task, made all the more complex by the rich variety of things that Macs can do on the Internet). Mac users experiment, and coping with the residue of experimentation is where Spring Cleaning comes in handy.

The MacUninstaller option, for example, examines all your connected volumes, lists all applications, and allows you to select those you wish to "uninstall." Once selected, Spring Cleaning not only removes the application, but also all preferences and support files associated with the application. One wag suggested Aladdin add a special "Remove Microsoft" button, to delete everything written by that company (Microsoft is famous for scattering files everywhere during installation), but Peter diplomatically pretended not to hear.

Peter admitted one portion of the program, the Font Remover, wasn't too useful. It really wasn't intelligent enough to properly analyze font types (PostScript, TrueType, bitmap) and determine which were naughty and which were nice, but he said this would be corrected in version 2.0, which would be free to all registered users. Peter also said a free patch to bring Spring Cleaning up to version 1.0.1 was available on Aladdin's Web site (http://www.aladdinsys.com), but as of this writing that wasn't the case. The update, however, is available in File Transfer Area 31 of the Pi's bulletin board, the TCS.

Aladdin's most famous program, the Mac-standard compression utility Stuffit Deluxe 4.0, was only briefly demonstrated, but Peter managed to surprise many in the audience with what it can do. Most are only familiar with the freeware Stuffit Expander, or possibly with the shareware Stuffit Lite, and had never seen the full Stuffit Deluxe in action. Compressing a file by adding ".sit" to the file name was a surprise, as was decompressing a file by just removing this suffix. Opening a Stuffit archive in the Finder and viewing the contents, as if it were a folder, was another surprise. One thing he failed to mention: the full Stuffit Deluxe will compress and decompress virtually every kind of Internet archive a Macintosh user may care about, with the exception of MIME mail attachments. Every serious user of the Internet should invest in this versatile utility.

Though he lacked a live Internet connection, Peter gave a credible demo of CyberFinder, an interesting utility to "bring the Internet to the desktop." With CyberFinder installed, Internet users can create libraries of their favorite Internet sites, and connect to sites by just clicking on a link. Where CyberFinder differs from similar bookmark utilities is the ability to collect all the E-mail, FTP, Gopher and Web addresses associated with a topic in a single library. These libraries, in turn, can be shared with your customers, friends, or coworkers. This is a Very Neat Trick.

No Wires! No Signal!

Nicole Hajj of Metricom (nicole@metricom.com) gave one of the most extraordinary non-demonstrations ever seen at a General Meeting. What she wanted to show was Ricochet, a new type of wireless telecommunications service that directly connects users to the Internet, without telephones, for a flat-rate of $29.95 a month. After several days of flawlessly demonstrating Ricochet during FOSE '97 (Federal Office Systems Expo, at the Washington Convention Center), technical details thwarted plans to show this to the Pi: the Annandale, Virginia, region is "too far" from the nearest repeater sites for a connection.

All that will change over the next few months, said Nicole, as Metricom works out agreements with local utility companies to place their repeater boxes, one every third of a mile, at the top of streetlight poles throughout the Washington Metro region, including Maryland, DC and Virginia. (She mentioned specifically that Montgomery County and DC were already fully covered.) One of the repeater boxes, a sturdy white block about the size of a picnic basket, was on display in the lobby. With a single antenna protruding from the top, it lacked only a set of wheels to turn it into a cute little Star Wars-style robot. Nicole and an accompanying engineer attempted to raise the repeater high enough to snag a signal from the nearest station, without success.

Aside from the price ‹ $29.95 a month, for unlimited time ‹ the other thing that sets Ricochet apart is the speed. Virtually all other wireless computer links run over cellular phone links, with a top speed of 9,600 bps (and typically only 2,400 to 4,800 bps). Ricochet, by comparison, operates with a top speed of 28,800 bps, and Metricom engineers have experimented in the lab with speeds nearly four times faster.

What makes all this possible is the Ricochet "modem," a wireless transmitter about the size of a cell phone. Unlike other available options, the "modem" has nothing to do with the telephone system: it transmits and receives packets over the same unregulated radio bands used by wireless crib monitors and garage door openers. You can either rent the "modem" for $12.50 a month, or buy it for $299. Attach it to your PowerBook or Newton with Velcro, and you can spend all day on the Internet while riding Metro, or watching tourists on the Mall. For many users, a Ricochet account may be less expensive than a second phone line, a regular modem, and even the cheapest traditional ISP (Internet Service Provider).

The service includes: unlimited Internet usage, an Internet POP E-mail account, a licensed copy of Netscape Navigator, and access to Metricom's newsgroups, FTP services and other services. For more information, give Nicole a call at (703) 918-9729, or send her an E-mail, or visit Metricom's Web site, http://www.metricom.com.

Next Month

The allegedly working Don Essick (on a Spring day?) left word that next month's General Meeting guest will be Adobe. Early risers will learn about Photoshop, PageMill, PageMaker and Illustrator or, possibly, making sun-dried bricks.

Drawing Prizes:

As usual, there were drawing prizes. Winners dutifully filled out forms so we could mention which vendors contributed which prizes, but nature contributed something, too: wind. As Tom Witte was attempting to hand off the completed forms in the NOVA parking lot, a sudden gust blew the forms out of his hand, and many were last seen heading north at about 30 miles per hour. This is a reconstructed listing.

Stuffit Deluxe (Aladdin Systems): Jim Schroff
CyberFinder (Aladdin Systems): Jonathan Ross
Spring Cleaning (Aladdin Systems): Scott Robinson
Alone in the Dark (MacPlay): Pat Goddard
Illustrator 6 Wow! Book (Peachpit Press): Steven Thorpe
Mac Bible Book of Games (Peachpit Press): NOVA parking lot
Word 6 Step by Step (Microsoft Press): Susan Kayser
Software Engineering (Addison-Wesley): NOVA parking lot
Hard Disk Toolkit Personal Edition (FWB): Attila Horvath
What's On the Internet (Peachpit Press): Dana Howe
T-shirt (unknown): David Harris
Norton Utilities for Windows '95 (Clueless, Inc.): Dennis Kruse
Symantec Healthy PC (Clueless, Inc.): Don Libeau

Send meeting comments to: don.essick@tcs.wap.org.

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