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2.3 and Counting

Well, it happened again. A new virus showed up and Disinfectant was promptly updated by its erstwhile author, John Norstad (who at this point might well be elected King if the Macintosh community was voting). Disinfectant 2.3 has a few minor changes from the previous version. Most notable is support for finding and eradicating yet another version of MDEF, called MDEF C. Like the others, it appeared first in Ithaca. The only other change to Disinfectant is a fix that enables the program to detect a variant of the ANTI A virus that version 2.2 did not detect correctly.

One quick note - if viruses appear near you before the virus tools are updated to deal with them, we recommend using a combination of the latest versions of GateKeeper and GateKeeper Aid. Both are free and available from many online sources. Some of the commercial utilities detect unknown viruses as well, but we don't recommend them as wholeheartedly.

Information from:
John Norstad --
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor


If someone asked you to name some computer languages, any computer languages, chances are good that Pascal would be among them. It's a popular, powerful language (most of the Macintosh Toolbox is written in Pascal) and it's been around for a while. The inventor of Pascal, Dr. Niklaus Wirth, has not been sitting around smirking however, but has come up first with Modula-2 and now with Oberon.

Oberon is more than just a programming language, it's a full operating system as well. Wirth originally designed it for the Ceres workstation (never heard of it personally), but has been ported to other platforms, such as (you guessed it) the Macintosh. It is genuinely extensible in that it works directly with procedures, abandoning the concept of the program. A set of basic procedures comes with the operating system with added functionality coming from modules written and compiled by users. New procedures can be used as soon as they are compiled since Oberon allows modules to be dynamically added at run-time. The blurb from the Oberon people claims that the system is approximately as fast as interpreted (as in BASIC) because the compiler is quick and no linking is required.

The Macintosh version, appropriately called MacOberon, runs on top of the standard MacOS as a single application under MultiFinder. All the standard Oberon modules are included, so existing Oberon software can be ported to the Mac by re-compiling. I wonder if any re-coding is necessary along with the re-compiling since C is theoretically easily portable between platforms in the same way but C programs often need tweaking to work correctly. One interesting part of the MacOberon port is that it includes "a flexible interface allowing access to the Macintosh operating system and Toolbox routines." We haven't seen MacOberon yet, but we're curious to check out how complete a job it does in providing access to the MacOS and Toolbox routines. In theory, MacOberon applications could run outside of the MacOberon environment eventually, but that would require the MacOberon compiler to link the various modules together into a single Macintosh application. I suppose it could keep the modules as resources, which might be a bit easier.

For those of you who are champing at the bit to get MacOberon, I've got some good news and some bad news. Which would you like first? I thought so. The good news is that MacOberon 1.2 is free and in the public domain. You can get it in Binhexed StuffIt format through anonymous FTP at:
Internet Address:
Login Name: anonymous
Password: <your e-mail address>
Directory: Oberon/MacII

Make sure to check out the "readme" file that contains the rest of the instructions. If you aren't lucky enough to have FTP access, they will send you MacOberon if you send an empty floppy disk and an address label with your return address on it to:

Michael Franz
Institut fur Computersysteme
ETH Zentrum IFW E48.2
8092 Zurich

Don't worry about sending stamps (unless they're Swiss stamps) or envelopes - they'll take care of stamps and envelopes and will return disks via air mail. The MacOberon people want you to register with them if you are using MacOberon so they can inform you of updates and changes to the program. Send a short message to to register yourself. Bug reports are welcome at the same address. We presume that if you don't have net access that you can send snail mail to the above postal address to register yourself as well.

Oh yeah, the bad news. MacOberon requires at least a 68020 (the Mac II or LC) and thus will not run on a Plus, SE, or Classic. A large screen is recommended.

MacOberon comes with a disclaimer. It is not a commercial product and is still being developed. The system seems to be quite reliable, but may still have errors. For the price, not surprisingly, there is no user support.

References to Oberon:

    N. Wirth.
     - Type Extensions.
       ACM Trans. on Prog. Languages and Systems, 10, 2 (April
         1988), 204-214.
     - From Modula to Oberon.
       Software - Practice and Experience, 18, 7, (July 1988),
     - The Programming Language Oberon.
       Software - Practice and Experience, 18, 7, (July 1988),
     - Designing a System from Scratch.
       Structured Programming, 10, 1 (Jan. 1989), 10-18.
    N. Wirth and J. Gutknecht.
     - The Oberon System.
       Software - Practice and Experience, 19 , 9 (Sept. 1989),

Information from:
Michael Franz --
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor

Holy BatKeyboards!

We've run a couple of articles in the past about various neat new methods of interfacing with the computer (in this case a legitimate use of the pseudo-verb "to interface" - unlike the usage "Wanna go interface with me?"). Most of the new controllers are coming out for the PC-clones first, possibly because they're easier to program for but more likely because it's a larger market. The newest controller is a chord keyboard called the Bat. It's designed so that you can use two of them (Bat wings) on either side of your normal keyboard to provide additional macro keys without disabling your current keyboard. However, each Bat wing can function as a complete 101-key keyboard through its chording system. For those who haven't heard of chord keyboards, you essentially form letters through key combinations, like chords on a piano. They're generally accepted as a good way of inputting information, but have never made it in the popular marketplace.

Infogrip Systems has been working on the Bat for four years now and will introduce it at Comdex in Las Vegas in a few weeks. If you are at Comdex, be sure to check it out at booth C0322. I wish we could make it to Comdex but it isn't feasible now. Maybe next year.

In any event, the person who came up with the initial design was the head of human factors for the Israeli Air Force. Pilots have to use a lot of controls and he managed, using chording, to reduce the time it took to perform a certain sequence from 32 second to 12 seconds. In a fighter jet you could be outside of Israel in 20 seconds, which is why his work was so important. Using this research Infogrip figured out the most efficient chord combinations for the various letters and implemented it in a seven key keyboard, four keys for the fingers and three keys for the thumb. Be glad it's one of the opposable variety.

Infogrip's research shows that it takes about 45 minutes to learn the key combinations and about 45 hours to achieve a 45 words per minute typing speed. They haven't tested it on people who type professionally at over 80 words per minute, but they expect those people to go as fast or faster on the chord keyboard. It certainly isn't going to be the easiest thing in the world to switch to, but it sounds like it would be well worth the work.

The Bat's design should lessen the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome, which is incapacitating more and more office workers all the time. The Bat is tilted at a 25 degree angle, which is apparently a natural one for the hand, and includes a rest for the heel of the hand to sit on while typing. In addition, because your fingers all rest on the keys at all times, there isn't any lateral motion, (lateral motion increases nerve irritation). Even more useful may be an "Intelligent Chair" that Infogrip is designing with a major office furniture maker. This chair would be the usual ergonomic chair, but with a Bat wing at the end of each armrest. I brought up the problem of the mouse, and the Infogrip rep said that a pad for a mouse would also be designed into the chair and that you could easily type with one hand and use the mouse with the other since each Bat wing is a complete keyboard. Since the keyboards are attached to the chair, they can sit at the best height and angle for whoever is using the chair, thus cutting down on the repetitive strain injuries that can result from excessive computer use. My order is in for one of those chairs.

Infogrip is excited about the Bat, justifiably, and they even have a prototype of a keyboard that can provide tactile feedback to the user as well. It works by lowering the keys, which you can feel because your fingers are already on all the keys. They and NASA have worked with a blind person and were able to teach him to touch type in 45 minutes and in another hour he could understand words coming back through the keyboard from the computer, one letter at a time. "One letter at a time." you say, "That's ridiculous!" Well, yes, but Infogrip is working with the Navy on an experiment to attach words to key combinations so conversing through one's fingertips could be a little more fluid. After words, the next step would be to somehow attach a concept to a key combination, thus allowing large amounts of specific information to pass through the keyboard. If you can think of interesting ways to use this keyboard feedback, give Infogrip a call and let them know.

The Infogrip rep said that they had a programmer working on the device driver so a Mac could use the Bat. He didn't know when it would be introduced, but he was optimistic about a quick release date. If a Mac Bat sounds interesting to you, give Infogrip a call: they're interesting people to talk to and perhaps enough calls will hasten the introduction of the Bat for the Mac. Asking about the Intelligent Chair wouldn't hurt either, particularly if you're worried about repetitive strain injuries. And as usual, if you call Infogrip, please mention that you heard about them in TidBITS.

Infogrip -- 504/336-0033

Information from:
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor
Infogrip representative

Related articles:
InfoWorld -- 29-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #44, pg. 27


Desktop publishing is a wonderful thing for those who need to create paper publications (and some of our best friends are desktop publishers :-)). However, desktop publishing has had major troubles with color, partly because color is complicated and there are a number of ways of representing it. Color is hard to transfer to hard copy because you can either use a relatively poor quality color printer or produce separations (a sheet for each color that the printer can then work from). Additional problems creep in when you try to match Pantone colors (the standard in printing) with what you see on the screen while designing. Even color calibrators such as the ones Radius and SuperMac put out can't get around the fact that a luminescent screen inherently appears different than a flat piece of paper.

Much of the confusion may soon disappear, thanks to Kodak. The company has come out with a proposed standard for handling device-independent color, which an impressive lineup of companies support. The lineup includes industry leaders such as Apple, IBM, Adobe, Hewlett-Packard, Aldus, AutoDesk, NeXT, and Sun Microsystems. If nothing else, everyone seems to be supporting it, which goes a long way in standard-making.

The heart of the proposed standard is something called PhotoYCC (don't ask why, I don't know what it stands for). PhotoYCC is a set of specifications that determine how colors are interchanged and minimizing the amount of computation needed to manipulate color images. Adobe's support of PhotoYCC in PostScript Level 2 should speed its acceptance in the graphics world. Ideally, Kodak wants PhotoYCC to be the standard for color imaging across all sorts of devices, from color printers to electronic photographic equipment to high definition television.

It's too early to tell whether or not the massive backing Kodak is receiving from the computer industry will be enough to standardize PhotoYCC, but it certainly has a good shot. The only problem we foresee is that a lot of work is currently being done on video and image compression, and that work may not necessarily be compatible with what Kodak is proposing. Our friends in desktop publishing will be happy as clams if Kodak's claims are borne out - they've gotten used to tearing their collective hair out over accurate desktop color.

Information from:
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
InfoWorld -- 29-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #44, pg. 1
MacWEEK -- 30-Oct-90, Vol. 4, #37, pg. 1



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