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Doug McLean

 
 

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As many of you who have been reading TidBITS for some time know, we've been working on some heavy-duty vaporware - the promised new format. I hate making the same excuses over and over again, so I've decided to set the record straight.

TidBITS-100, which will be the first issue of 1992, will be issued in the new structure enhanced text format (called "setext," but if anyone has a better suggestion let us know). If everything works out as I hope, that will be a special issue covering the new format, and it will include an extremely cool application designed by myself and Doug Davenport of SNAP Technologies in Ithaca, NY (Doug is doing 99% of the programming - I just did some of the ResEdit stuff). That browser will take over for the current brain-damaged stack and will provide far more power in terms of searching and selecting articles of interest. The TidBITS issues will be much smaller, needless to say, and will be easier to break up. In a truly ideal world, we would also include a HyperCard utility for converting your current TidBITS Archive into a text format that the browser will import, along with a utility for creating your own setexts and a new HyperCard stack for those people who wish to continue using HyperCard. In the issue would be specs on the new format (which will be completely and totally open) so anyone can write an application or macro on any computer platform to import and export files in the setext format.

You may have noticed a certain amount of waffling in the above grandiose promises. That's because like the text in TidBITS each week, all of this comes to you courtesy of several volunteers, one of whom is currently in the throes of massive hardware failures. These programs and utilities have been star-crossed from the very start, it seems, running afoul of two or three complete and utter hard drive crashes (one without a backup of the last few days of important work), a dead Mac that has yet to be replaced, and a nasty illness. But despite all of this bad luck, the new format has been far too long in the making, so TidBITS-100 will be a text file if I have to hand-code it myself. I hope to have some complex Nisus macros do the job for me instead, but if not, too bad on me.

The practical upshot of this message is that you can depend on TidBITS-100 appearing in text format, but I may not be able to ship the associated utilities and programs along with it. They will follow as soon as possible if they miss the initial ship date. However, since our the setext format is completely human-readable while still retaining internal structure and typography, unlike Microsoft's RTF format, which is almost completely unreadable, you will be able to read TidBITS in whatever program you desire. I suspect many people will scan through the issue in a newsreader or in their email program on whatever platform they use to connect to the nets. For those of you who wish to keep the issues for later reference (about half, if the numbers from last year's survey are any indication), I'd recommend downloading the file and reading it in Nisus or TeachText or any other program that can open a TEXT file. If you wish to create your own database, try either Eastgate Systems's excellent hypertext editor, Storyspace, or the textbase ThoughtPattern from Bananafish Software. Both should be able to import and split up the issues into their component articles. I'm sure most normal database programs could do the job too.

I'm sure that many of you will wish to create your own special programs, stacks, and shells to read and store TidBITS as you specifically want. I've received tons of suggestions and numerous enhanced versions of the current stack over the last year and a half, and I doubt that tide will slow down. This time, however, I'd like to ask that you do not send me a copy of your program until you've seen and included support for the setext format (which will take care of special character substitution, word wrapping, typographical styles, multiple user-defined fonts, etc.). At that point, I'd love to see anything you've got, no matter what platform it runs on, be it Macintosh, DOS PC, Windows PC, Unix, Emacs, NeXT, or whatnot. As a matter of fact, I hope to see lots of different readers popping up as the boundless creativity and energy of the network community comes into play. If space and bandwidth permit, I will also make all of the good readers available on the fileserver for anyone to request.

Speaking of the fileserver at fileserver@tidbits.halcyon.com, thanks to all of you who've sent in listings of local bulletin boards that carry TidBITS. The file is now up on the server with the Subject: line keyword "bbs" (without the quotes, of course). So far we've got six boards listed, and I hear about more every day. That file will continue to change as I add listings, so I've created a new file, called "news" that notes any changes on the fileserver (along with the effective date) and includes the latest news about TidBITS in general. Do remember that those of you on CompuServe can send mail to the fileserver using the following address format:

>INTERNET:fileserver@tidbits.uucp

and people on AppleLink can try this address format:

fileserver@tidbits.uucp@internet#

Those of you on America Online, GEnie, Delphi, and stand-alone bulletin board systems will have to lobby with the administrators of those services for a gateway to the Internet. I doubt Prodigy would even want TidBITS anywhere near it.

The more astute among you will have noticed that this is TidBITS-096, and I've promised that TidBITS-100 will be the first issue in 1992. That means that I will be taking a couple of weeks off here and there in what is left of 1991 to make the numbers work out. For starters, there will be no issue for 02-Dec-91 since it closely follows the US holiday of Thanksgiving and I have some serious cooking to do. 09-Dec-91 and 16-Dec-91 will probably come out as usual, and I'm working on a special issue that covers tips, tricks, trivia, and heavy duty power user hacks relating to System 7. After those two weekly issues and that special issue, I'll be taking some time off for Christmas and to rest up. Oh, if you're counting, we would have to hit 104 issues by the first week in April of 1992 to average one issue per week over the last two years. At the rate we're going now, we should make that number in mid-January, well ahead of that schedule.

As always, thank you for your continued enthusiasm and moral support.

Cheers... Adam C. Engst, TidBITS Editor

 

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