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Copyright 1990 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
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Electromagnetic Controversy

Macworld devoted much of its July, 1990 issue to the health hazards of computers. Most of the articles actually focussed on the side-effects of working at video display terminals (i.e. monitors for the rest of us) for a long period of time. A number of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to VLF (very low frequency) and ELF (extremely low frequency) magnetic fields can cause cancer and harm fetuses. Unfortunately, none of the studies have been conclusive and many scientists refuse to accept the current evidence as valid.

The article was written by a journalist named Paul Brodeur, who also wrote a three-part series of articles for The New Yorker and a book on the subject. His research uncovered not only the evidence for health problems such as cancer, but also what appears to be an industry-wide cover-up of the entire problem. That is a nasty way of saying that the industry doesn't see electromagnetic radiation from monitors as a problem. IBM and The New York Times both denied that there could be a problem with monitors, perhaps in part because of the number of monitors already present in the workplace. A recall would seriously hurt business for computer manufacturers and admitting there could be a problem would open many companies up for lawsuits. Similarly, no manufacturers have admitted that working on a standard keyboard can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve disorder that can render one's hands almost useless.

We cannot begin to summarize the extensive research done by Brodeur for these articles, but the Macworld article marks the first time a major publication has publicized the issue and actually tested some popular monitors. In response, MacWEEK devoted an editorial section to electromagnetic radiation, and National Public Radio's All Things Considered program did a piece on the article as well. Our feeling is that if you spend a significant amount of time in front of a monitor, you owe it to yourself to read the articles listed below and make an educated decision. The reality likely falls somewhere between the two poles. And remember, when researchers were first working with radioactive substances, some even tried fertilizing crops with them.

Information from:
Adam Engst -- TidBITS editor

Related articles:
Macworld -- Jul-90, pgs. 23, 71,136
MacWEEK -- 26-Jun-90, Vol. 4 #24, pg. 16
Discover -- Dec-89, Vol. 10, #12, pg. 62
The New Yorker -- 12-Sep-89, pg. 51
The New Yorker -- 19-Sep-89, pg. 47
The New Yorker -- 26-Sep-89, pg. 39

HyperCard 2.0, Finally

After what seemed like forever to those of us who use HyperCard, Apple released version 2.0. We'll assume that if you are reading TidBITS, you understand more or less what HyperCard can do and how hard it is to pin down its abilities. Apparently, most 1.2.x stacks should convert to 2.0 without a hitch, although some externals may have problems.

The feature list, which is what you've all been waiting for, includes the following:

HyperCard 2.0 should be available in early July. The software alone is free and is available from the usual places such as user groups and dealers. If you want the manuals, it costs $49.95.

Information from:
Apple Press Release

Related article:
MacWEEK -- 08-May-90, Vol. 4 #18, pg. 1

C Shells by the C Shore

Last week's article on Ostrakon, an application shell for THINK C, garnered a response that we feel worth mentioning this week. We said then that compiler packages often came with skeleton applications for people to flesh out, but that Ostrakon took this idea one step farther by providing extensive documentation and commented code. For those who would prefer less external support and a non-existent price tag, there is public domain MPW and THINK C source code for Macintosh applications called TransSkel. TransSkel has been around for some time, and several other modules are available for added functionality. These are TransDisplay and TransEdit, for display windows and standard editing windows. According to Steve Hite, who informed us of our oversight, the TransSkel code is well thought out and structured enough to provide the base for a professional application.

It is available via anonymous FTP from (see your system administrator if you are unsure if you have FTP or don't know how to use it). Ostrakon undoubtedly has some benefits, but you can't beat the price for TransSkel.

Information from:
Steve Hite -- ...gatech!uflorida!unf7!shite


Some of you may remember reading about an ambitious and generous project to create an inexpensive sound digitizer from plans and software donated to the Mac community by a group calling themselves The SID Trio. We can't find the original article in MacWEEK because it was well before TidBITS and searching through those magazines can be a lot of work. However, the rest of the SID story has been played out over the networks. It seems that the SID included some parts that were almost impossible to find, so few people ever managed to build one (we heard the best way to get some of the hard-to-find parts was to call and ask for a sample because you were thinking of making a big order). A number of people on Usenet were even planning on pooling their resources so they could purchase the minimum number of a certain elusive part, although we don't know how they fared.

Recently though, an enterprising person named Mike E. Ciholas decided to do something about the problems with the SID design. He claims that he has improved the design and reduced the overall cost at the same time with his version, called the SID-II. In keeping with the original philosophy of The SID Trio, Mike has released the plans to his SID-II to the public (the original SID software still works), but he is also selling circuit boards and complete kits for those would prefer not to hunt down the parts. The plans include a schematic, a parts layout diagram, a circuit description, a parts list, a section on stereo operation, and a section on using various crystals.

Here's the specs for those who are interested. The SID-II samples sound at up to 22254 samples per second, plugs into one of the serial ports, and requires no external power source or batteries. Two SID-IIs can be wired together so that they record in stereo. You can use the built in microphone, an external microphone, or a line level source (like a tape deck or CD player) as the input for the SID-II. The SID-II is compatible with the Farallon's MacRecorder and SoundEdit software, although the SoundEdit software is available only in a package with the MacRecorder and not separately.

The plans are available via anonymous FTP from as info-mac/sound/program/sid-ii.hqx (see above for where to look for information on FTP). If you cannot use FTP, you can send mail to Mike directly at his email address or snail mail to the address below. Contact him at CEDAR Technologies for information on purchasing the SID-II since we unfortunately have no further details.

CEDAR Technologies
P.O. Box 224
Dublin, NH 03444

Information from:
Mike E. Ciholas --

Reverse Engineers

Faced with the contradictory news of the new low-cost Mac (MacCheap?), a number of people on Usenet have started talking about the possibilities of reverse engineering the Mac ROMs along with the rest of the Mac hardware. That way a company could compete with Apple by lowering prices significantly. Unfortunately, reverse engineering is fraught with legal problems and even more importantly, is a huge amount of work. Most people on the net felt that it could not be done economically or within a reasonable time span, although a number of other options and related issues were raised.

Someone mentioned the MCP (Macintosh Compatibility Package) from Screenplay Systems. MCP is not exactly a case of reverse engineering, but it is a set of libraries that allow Mac source code to be ported relatively easily to a PC-clone.

Another more attractive option is to try to persuade Apple to license out the MacOS and the ROM chips from the Mac Plus and SE, both of which are essentially obsolete but functional. Apple would gain revenue that could be significant (as Adobe did with licensing PostScript) and would not have to continue manufacturing the Plus and SE. Third parties could then take the legally licensed ROMs and MacOS and manufacture extremely cheap Mac-clones that would by definition (i.e. built into the license agreement) be completely Mac-compatible. Users would benefit from having a cheap Mac to start with that would compete with the low-priced PC-clones. Additionally, those of us looking for a cheap Macintosh portable might find a few more options. Apple would benefit from increased popularity as people wanted to move up to the newer and faster machines that would only be available from Apple. And Steve Jobs would come back to Apple to design the nExt Macintosh. OK, so it's all a tad farfetched.

On the dark side, Apple might feel that it would be losing control of the Mac line and would be losing profits to be made from the Plus and SE, especially considering the automated production lines for those two machines presumably require little financial input at this point. If the clone manufacturers broke the license agreement, Apple could be faced with the same sort of pseudo-compatible mess they had with the Apple II and that IBM faced at first with the PC.

Information from:
Ken MacLeod -- ken@hotlips.COM
Anton Rang --
Cy Shuster -- cy@dbase.A-T.COM
Derek L. / MacLover -- derek@leah.Albany.Edu

Related articles:
InfoWorld -- 18-Jun-90, Vol. 12, #25, pg. 18

Wanted: Color SE

This is yet another article inspired by discussions of the low-cost Mac and what it should be. We may even write an article on the low-cost Mac itself one of these days, although a few more facts and a bit less rumor will be necessary first. In any event, this latest discussion centers on the possibilities surrounding a color screen in the SE case. The size is somewhat important because Apple has less to re-tool on its automated assembly line if most everything stays the same size. In addition, many people are quite fond of the size of the compact Mac-they are easy to move and less fuss than the modular Macs. One suggestion was to increase the screen size vertically several inches, although we would like to see a full page display in such a machine, as long as we are making our wish list.

Interestingly enough, much of the Usenet discussion was based on whether color was even desirable. One person felt that black and white is perfectly appropriate in many situations, to which another pundit replied, "Who needs FM radio? AM is perfectly appropriate in many situations. I don't see the correlation between quality output and satisfaction." The majority of responses said that color was a good thing, particularly in educational settings where it helped to capture interest and to clarify subtle points such as the innards of a frog. (And believe us, those frogs they give you in freshman Biology can indeed have subtle innards!) At least one person mentioned a number of uses for color even in word processing, such as keeping quotes from different people straight or making personal notes for deleting later. Of course if you are going to use color in a word processing document, get Nisus, which can search on colors and most everything else as well.

Another issue in color for educational Macs is that children are used to the vibrant colors on television and are often disappointed in computers that cannot perform up to the level of display that they are used to. One possibility is the color LCD screens that have started to appear on some laptop machines. If those screens could be made fast enough, they would be ideal for compact (as well as portable) computers. Another different monitor technology that would be possible in the SE form factor are new indexed color CRTs (cathode ray tubes) that do not use a shadow mask. They only have a single electron gun, but they have four vertical phosphor stripes: the normal red, green, and blue, plus an extra (non-visible to the eye) one along with a photodetector that keeps everything in sync. These tubes supposedly produce beautiful bright color (because of not using the shadow mask), take little power, and have no convergence problems. They are no larger or heavier than the standard black and white tubes because they don't have three electron guns like standard color monitors. The electronics are somewhat more expensive, but if they were used more commonly the prices would drop.

Information from:
Don Gillies --
Wm Leler --
David Sumner -- sumner@usceast.UUCP
Ingemar Ragnemalm --
Philip Machanick -- philip@pescadero.Stanford.EDU
Johan van Zanten --
Jason Gross --

Related articles:
InfoWorld -- 18-Jun-90, Vol. 12, #25, pg. 18

Yet More Compression

Compression is an excellent way to save space and is more elegant than using larger and larger hard disks or faster methods of data transmission. MIT's Media Lab does a great deal of work on newer and more efficient methods of compression for this very reason. We've run several articles on compression in the past, most notably DiskDoubler for the Mac and Expanz! for PC-clones. Another program has appeared on the PC that helps compress files, executable programs in this case. Called LZEXE.EXE, the program removes extraneous space from programs, thus shrinking them somewhat and allowing them to load faster. The rest of the program execution speed is of course unaffected. LZEXE.EXE is available from BBS's near you or from the main PC file archive at via anonymous FTP.

We have not yet had a chance to try this particular package, but several similar ones exist for the Atari ST, which has an operating system relatively like MS-DOS. We found that these programs worked in all but one instance, and none of the programs which were compressed have ever given problems after the fact. So it seems that if a program works at all after being compressed like this, it will likely be fine. Some programs will undoubtedly resist being compressed however.

Interestingly enough, nothing like this program has shown up for the Mac. Even if individual users didn't use it, companies like Aldus could shrink PageMaker significantly before shipping it. Microsoft may in fact do something like this since StuffIt is unable to compress Word 4.0 by more than a few percent, whereas it can usually compress programs up to about 30%. One possibility is that the Mac file format with data and resource forks does not lend itself to compression as well as the simpler PC and Atari file formats.

Information from:
John "Frotz" Fa'atuai -- frotz@drivax.UUCP
Russ Nelson --
Jim Reisert --
Brian King -- brian@leah.Albany.Edu

Related articles:
InfoWorld -- 25-Jun-90, Vol. 12, #26, pg. 90



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