Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

May General Meeting

by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh

Memorial Day weekend saw the Pi gathered at the Holiday Inn in Bethesda, not our favorite haunt. On the other hand, the room was actually set up properly this time, the microphone worked, and we eventually figured out how to dim the lights. My goal, however, is to hold a Pi meeting in the Old Senate Chamber at the Capitol.

Specular Fantasies

While I'm waiting for my fantasy, you can construct your own using some of Specular International's superb graphics tools. Michael Nibeck, a programmer/analyst for a government contractor, displayed Specular's products in a demo that attracted lots of compliments. Nibeck is not a Specular employee, but is a Specular "evangelist," which is a combination we haven't seen before.

Among other things, Michael offered not a word of marketing hype, but displayed an intimate knowledge of high-end graphics. He talked about, but did not demonstrate, Collage, a graphics composition tool (the graphics equivalent of a page layout package). After some initial technical problems, he gave quick, but impressive, demonstrations of TextureScape, Infini-D, and LogoMotion. The problems were as interesting as the demos.

Let's face it: most people fall apart when their presentation doesn't go right. Michael had ample opportunity for a nervous breakdown: he prepared an external disk drive with all his applications in advance, only to learn they didn't work with the Pi's Power Macintosh 7100. Specular uses a "smart" installer, and it correctly guessed he had a Quadra 700, and installed a non-Power Mac version on his drive the night before. When he tried to launch these the next morning, all he got was an error saying he was using the wrong version.

Instead of panicking, Michael continued talking without pause, discussing the uses of the various packages. Among other things, we learned that he hadn't used any high-end graphics packages at all until two years ago. Meanwhile, he calmly installed fresh copies of the software. All this was done so smoothly and nonchalantly that at least one person wondered if he'd done this deliberately, just to show how easy it was to install the software.

TextureScape proved to be worth the wait. This is a texture creation and editing utility, designed to create textures for use in other artwork from simple (or complex) PostScript outlines. Michael claimed that he spent hours just playing with it, with no particular goal in mind, when he first got it, and I believe him. The power, flexibility and ease of use of the program are addictive.

LogoMotion looks just as easy to use, and probably even more fun. Designed for creating animated logos, it is an impressive animation package even if you aren't interested in logos, with the ability to move objects around a virtual stage, add complex textured objects (from TextureScape, if you wish), and render highly detailed QuickTime movies, frame by frame, as output.

Infini-D, Specular's flagship package, is a powerful 3D package. You can create extremely complex three-dimensional objects, map them with various textures, adjust the lighting (from one or multiple sources), and adjust the point of view with great ease. Michael admitted that Infini-D and LogoMotion were both packages that almost demanded a Power Macintosh to render final output; on Centris/Quadra class machines, the speed is OK, but the Power Mac's unmatched floating point math capabilities really let these programs shine.

Michael distributed some fliers with special user group pricing for all four packages. The fliers did not have an expiration date, so you may wish to call Specular at 1-800-433-7732 (info) or 1-800-213-3314 (orders) if you'd like to see if the offer is still available.

No Wine for Microsoft

Reed Probst, one of the local Microsoft representatives (reedp@microsoft.com), asked several weeks ago if the Pi would be interested in seeing Microsoft Wine Cellar, a computerized guide to wines. Reed doesn't drink, and neither do I, so I said, "Sure!" This sounded like it had real possibilities!

Pi members apparently don't have quite the same sense of irony, however, and indicated they'd rather see some other new titles, so Reed demonstrated Microsoft Dangerous Creatures, Microsoft Cinemania '95, and AutoMap.

Microsoft Dangerous Creatures is a CD-ROM-based interactive encyclopedia of more than 250 different creatures, from man (the most dangerous creature) to tigers to snakes. It makes excellent use of color graphics, sound and QuickTime video clips to present the material, much of it drawn from information collected by the World Wildlife Fund. The World Wildlife Fund, in fact, gets a portion of all sales of the package.

Less impressive, to many of us, was a new offering, AutoMap. This is an automated trip planner, showing major highways plus connecting roads for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Built-in databases allow you to highlight parks and other attractions along the way, and the scalable maps allow you to zoom in for more, or less, detail. A year ago, this would have been quite impressive, but the computerized highway map market has become crowded since then, and AutoMap didn't look exceptional.

Microsoft Cinemania '95, on the other hand, was a surprise. If you can buy a paperback movie guide for $10, why would you want a CD-ROMbased guide for (list) $59.95? After seeing the extensive, interactive indices covering 20,000 movies and 4,000 actors and other movie personalities, and viewing some of the 2,000 still photographs and video clips, a better question might be: why would you buy a printed guide to motion pictures? The ability to search by title, category, director and actor makes Cinemania almost irresistible for movie fanatics. For Those Without A Purpose In Life, there is a roulette-style wheel you can spin that will pick a movie at random -- silly, but a fun touch.

My one somewhat negative comment: consumers shouldn't have to buy Cinemania. Blockbuster Video should buy a million copies or so, and give them away to select customers (meaning anyone in the U.S. with a VCR). Blockbuster would boost sales, and Microsoft wouldn't lose any money, either.

Reed's demonstrations also garnered much praise, even if he didn't talk about wine.

Coming Events

July 29, 1995: the General Meeting will be at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, but on the fifth Saturday of the month instead of the fourth. Fractal Designs Corp. will demonstrate Painter 3.1, an incredible paint package designed to produce artwork that looks like it came off a canvas, rather than a computer; Poser 1.0, a new package for creating and posing 3D human figures; and Dabbler 2, a drawing package for those who don't think they know how to draw. The demos will be performed with the aid of a Wacom graphics tablet, the top-rated graphics tablet for freehand art.

If this doesn't excite you (and it should), then stick around for Interpress Technology's demonstration of VivaPress Pro, a page layout package with European roots intended as a challenger to Quark XPress and PageMaker.

August 26, 1995 will feature a double program: in the lobby, Pi members will show off their favorite games. In the auditorium, we will present the first-ever Mac Maintenance Workshop, covering routine care and keeping for your rodentinfested computers.

September 23, 1995 is currently scheduled as an Education month, featuring education vendors.

October 28, 1995 will feature Cyberflix, a high-end multimedia firm specializing in exotic CD-ROM games and simulations. They plan on showing Skull Cracker, which normally wouldn't appeal to me except that they describe it as "not for senators or other weak-willed weenies." Senators? I'm also looking forward to Dust: A Tale of the Wired West, which has such a great title I'll probably buy it even without a demo.

November's General Meeting will be held on the 18th, a week early, to avoid conflicts with Thanksgiving. Lots of people want to come, but they are all hoping someone else cancels out earlier in the year, so nobody has committed yet.

The 1995 Winter Garage Sale will probably be held Dec. 2 or 9, which is so far in the future that it should attract several Windows 95 users wishing to step up to something that works.

Drawing Winners

The Trail Guide to Prodigy (Addison-Wesley): Alvin Auerbach
Computer Privacy Handbook (Peachpit Press): Harold Bullis
Irc Survival Guide (Addison-Wesley): Allen Kent
Silicon Mirage (Peachpit Press): Morris Pelham
Internet White Pages (IDG Books): Dave Weikert
Macintosh Bible (Peachpit Press): Ron Ostrow
LogoMotion (Specular): Clifton Bailey
Collage (Specular): Jennifer Elsea
TextureScape (Specular): Jan Bailey
Infini-D (Specular): Harold Hopkins
Type On-Call CD-ROM (Adobe): W. Romanek
Microsoft Works 4.0 (Microsoft): Dave Harvey, Prince Williams, Bill Geiger, Bill Krieger, Attila Horvath
Microsoft T-shirt (Microsoft): Dave Meixner, Ralph Lingeman, Donald Fortnum, John Barnes, Caroline Quandt, Hal Crumly, Ron Green, Roger Firestone, Charles Frohlich

Apple Power Mac 7100AV ("MacBeth"): courtesy Pi office
Second Power Macintosh 7100: supplied by Microsoft for their demo (let's give a big cheer: they're finally giving their representative decent tools!)
Proxima Ovation LCD projector: courtesy Proxima Corporation
PowerPoint 3.0 (R.I.P.): courtesy Microsoft Corporation (yes, yes, Microsoft has given the Pi a copy of 4.0, and I own a copy of 4.0, and the Pi owns a Power Mac, but I don't, so stop bugging me)
Silver Spring Metro Center penguins: courtesy Dennis Dimick
TCS Lounging Penguin: courtesy Nancy Seferian
Setup and worrying: Bill Wydro, Tom Witte
Question & Answer Help: Tom Witte

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

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