Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

April General Meeting

Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh

User groups are communities. Sometimes they are communities of computers (they get together when we aren't looking and plot ways to make us look silly) and sometimes they are communities of people (General Meetings and the Pi's bulletin board, the TCS, are prime examples). And like all communities, they have odd, eerie events.

For example, at the April General meeting, I managed to acquire a U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons tablet of paper. Quite nice, complete with an entire 1996 calendar running down the left margin. I don't remember ever seeing it before, yet several pages are covered with my handwriting, with notes on the meeting. (Strange music starts to buildŠ)

I also managed to acquire a very nice letter from the U.S. Air Force thanking me for providing aid, over the telephone, while they were having severe network difficulties. Except I don't remember anyone giving me the letter, and I don't remember, specifically, any such event. (Strange music grows strongerŠ)

Finally, I arrived home from the meeting with a drawing prize I didn't take: a Windows 3.1 Bible. Normally, I take prizes to the meetings, and return without them; returning with one I didn't take was a new experience. Yet on the cover is a yellow sticky with what appears to be a Samurai Teddy Bear and a hand-written note, "Give away for drawing." A Washington Apple Pi drawing? (Strange music gets really out of handŠ) (And where are these parenthetical remarks coming from, anyway?)

The Vision Thing

One of the more challenging problems of the Microcomputer Revolution has been "how do you display things?" In the real early days, "displays" were either TeleType machines or modified IBM Selectrics, and you could have anything you wanted displayed as long as it consisted of upper-case-only characters printed 80 columns per line on cheap, usually yellow, paper. "Interactive displays" meant that you waved the printout around in the air while yelling and screaming.

Video monitors changed all that: you could display upper and lower case characters, plus graphics, and even color! But your audience was limited to those few who could crowd around a monitor. On the plus side, this often encouraged good personal hygiene.

About six or seven years ago Computer Accessories brought out something which changed all that: the Proxima Ovation LCD panel. This panel was hugely expensive -- $10,000 -- since it required the largest active-matrix color LCD panels ever made. Yet it revolutionized the computer field: when combined with a high-intensity overhead projector, you could project full-color, rapid motion computer video signals. The computer, the projector, and the panel could all be set up by a single individual in minutes.

These panels were so successful that Computer Accessories changed their name to Proxima (http://www.prxm.com), and under this new name they've dominated the market. The Pi has borrowed various Proxima panels and projectors over the years, and in April the Washington area sales manager, Bonnie Allen (301-565-9330), stopped by to demonstrate their latest, brightest projector, the Desktop Projector 5100.

An "all in one" design, the 5100 can be used with a Mac, an MS-DOS computer, and a video tape player -- all at the same time -- with "instantaneous" switching between the three sources. It also supports stereo sound input, and plays it back via a built-in amplifier and speaker. Since the display system is solid-state, you never have to spend time "converging" the image (as with traditional video projectors) and the image is crisp even in the corners. Because it is much brighter than using a separate overhead projector and display panel, you can operate the 5100 in something closer to "normal" conditions, meaning the lights can be left on -- a boon for note takers, and a way of keeping the droopy from falling asleep. Topping everything off is a motorized zoom lens: the perfect extra touch for push-button freaks.

Proxima still makes flat panel displays for use with overhead projectors, but they are now much more sophisticated, and much less expensive. The improved technology, steep decline in prices, and advent of laptop computers has made computer-based presentations an almost routine sight in education and training, business briefings and sales presentations.

Without Proxima's innovative projection systems, user group meetings would have to resort to hand puppets and imagination: "Now imagine that you see the screen in front of you, and at the top left corner you see an appleŠ"

The Other Monopoly

Microsoft gets all the press these days about being the Evil Empire, slowly sucking the entire computer world into a black hole. But in the Macintosh field, in particular, there is another near-monopoly: Adobe Systems.

Once known for little more than the PostScript language built-in to most Apple laser printers, Adobe has blossomed out to consume vast chunks of the desktop publishing and graphics world: Adobe Illustrator is the top professional drawing and illustrating package, Adobe Photoshop is the top professional image editing package, Adobe (formerly Aldus) PageMaker is the top page layout package, and Adobe Premiere is the top desktop video package. Adobe Type Manager (ATM) has even managed to carve a niche for itself as a critical part of Apple's System 7.5 (MacOS) operating system.

This, however, isn't all. Jon Dellaria (jdellaria@adobe.com), an Adobe systems engineer working out of MacLean, VA, talked about the role of Adobe Acrobat as a cross-platform medium for exchanging information. With free Acrobat readers available for Macs (new Macs ship with them installed on the hard drive), Windows, and various flavors of UNIX, and even bundled with forthcoming versions of Netscape Navigator, virtually everything either can or will be able to read Acrobat files. Acrobat files look and print exactly like the original files, even if you don't happen to have copies of the applications or fonts which produced the document. All the fonts, text and design elements appear right where they were placed in the original document.

Unfortunately, Jon never said this. His talk seemed more of an unfocused brief on Adobe Acrobat 3.0 (which doesn't exist yet) and a philosophical overview of how Acrobat files can change both the Internet and organizations. Many people left with the impression that Acrobat was some sort of universal "viewer" capable of reading PICTs and JPEGs and GIFs and formatted text -- which it is not.

David Helmly (dhelmly@adobe.com), an Adobe account manager for the local area (and a Pi member?), gave much more complete -- yet succinct -- presentations on Adobe PageMill and SiteMill. PageMill, a surprise consumer hit (are there really that many Web editors?), is essentially a page layout package for Web pages, with a highly graphical interface and a built-in preview mode. Pages are constructed, for the most part, by just dragging desired elements to where you want them on the page. Save the page, and you're done. Linking pages is as difficult as dragging one page onto another -- not difficult at all. PageMill is also cheap: under $100.

SiteMill, a much more recent addition (and also more expensive), goes one step beyond PageMill, but it is a major step: site management. You can open an entire Web site with SiteMill, and it will then scan every link and report back which links are "broken." It will also allow you to massively restructure a site, moving entire directories of pages from one location to another, without breaking links. Instead, each link is automatically adjusted for the new location.

Another "consumer" goodie is Adobe Photo Deluxe. Designed to offer the most popular features of Photoshop at a greatly reduced price, Photo Deluxe adds a few new tricks, too. Rather than have the user guess at how to do certain things, or even guess what a certain function might be called, Photo Deluxe prompts for information and then guides the user, step by step, through whatever image editing task they have in mind. Very slick.

Adobe closed with a brief, and unsuccessful, demonstration of the tight links between the new PageMaker 6.0 and Phtotoshop. In theory, both packages now share information on color management, and an update of an image with one will be passed on to the other. But installation glitches caused the demo to fail. Just the same, there were many thoughtful looks as the page designers in the audience looked ahead to trying this for themselves.

Drawing Winners

Adobe brought an unknown number of CD-ROMs filled with sampler material. I'm not certain exactly what they brought since, by the time I discovered they were being given away, they were -- given away. "Oh, there were lots of them, didn't you get one?" was as much information as I was able to glean. Other prizes:

Adobe Photo Deluxe CD-ROM (Adobe): Robert Fetterhoff
Adobe PageMill (Adobe): Tom Bryan
Adobe Acrobat Exchange CD-ROM (Adobe): Darla Lee

In addition to the drawing prizes, Adobe donated several packages which the Pi will use for brochures, newsletters, signs, pretty pictures, tutorials, demonstrations and such.

Last Call

The April General Meeting was my last meeting as Vice President, Macintosh, for Washington Apple Pi. While my term extended through May, I was 3,000 miles away during the May meeting. Apple Remote Access is a great piece of software, but it doesn't allow you to run a large meeting from that distance.

Any successes I may have had over the past several years were not mine so much as those of Pi members who offered aid and assistance:

Hundreds of others have made substantial contributions to planning, organizing, setting up, and cleaning up General Meetings, as well as contacting vendors, sending out promotional material, and otherwise helping get our message across.

And what is our message? Individually, we are isolated computer users, lost in a rapidly accelerating technological plunge into the unknown.

Collectively, we are Washington Apple Pi, and we can do almost anything.

Send meeting comments to: lcharters@tcs.wap.org.

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