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TidBITS#100/06-Jan-92

To kick off our new format and the new year we've included reviews of some hot new products, Word 5 (with important installation tips!) and the PowerBook 170. Find out about chord keyboards that might help with carpal tunnel syndrome and about computers you can wear. Also this week: a bug with some RasterOps video cards, an incorrect illustration in the PowerBook manual, a superstore rumor, and how to get that ResEdit template we promised last issue but forgot. Enjoy!

Topics:

Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


TidBITS in new format

Welcome to TidBITS-100 and our new setext format! The term "setext" stands for "structure-enhanced text" and we have designed and optimized the format for use primarily by online publications such as TidBITS (i.e., 7-bit text only). We'll be publishing more about the format itself as time goes by, but for now suffice it to say that there are vast advantages of using a consistently-defined text format, both for you that read us online and offline and for ourselves, the publishers. At the very least, our weekly issues should be easier to read and peruse directly online without having to download first.

This week we have a number of excellent articles, so please bear with some administrivia first. Those of you that have not seen TidBITS before ought to know that we're a FREE weekly electronic newsletter, with a full 100 issues since April of 1990 to our credit. The first 99 were written and distributed in the HyperCard stack format. We're now switching to the setext format to widen our accessibility on all computer platforms. Those of you on the Internet, AppleLink, or CompuServe (i.e. who can send electronic mail to the Internet) can receive more information about TidBITS through our fileserver. Address the email to:

fileserver@tidbits.halcyon.com - or - fileserver@tidbits.uucp

The fileserver, which is an automatic program that understands commands sent to it via email, will send you back any file whose name you specify in the Subject: line. For help and an abbreviated listing of what is currently available, send a message with the single word "help" (without the quotes) in the Subject: line. Any text in the body of the letter or other words on the Subject: line will be ignored.

More about setext -- From now on all issues of TidBITS will be readable directly online (for those of you whose systems support this anyway). Those of you wishing to download/ read/ archive them at home may read the files with any computer program that is able to open TEXT documents. In time - not too distant, we promise - there will be special setext browsers to automate the task of searching, archiving and transforming bits of the encoded material into WYSIMOLWYG ("What You See Is More Or Less What You Get"), to permit navigation in large archived mass of data, and more. At least two people are currently writing setext browsers, and they will not be specific to TidBITS but to any setext publication that conforms to the format. We also hope to have browsers for direct online use (attachments to rn etc., so if you're interested in writing one, please contact us). For now any word processor or even TeachText (for issues under 30K, as most will be) will do the job just fine. Incidentally, setext issues submitted to the Info-Mac archives and other archives will have an ".etx" suffix ("enhanced/ e-mailable text"), to distinguish them from plain ".txt" files, but they'll contain nothing but pure, undiluted, structure-enhanced text. So look for "tidbits-###.etx" documents.

Introducing: The Delimiters! -- Another of the new enhancements is a special article-end-delimiter, expressed as "end" sandwiched between the "<>" characters at the very end of each article. You'll see it. This should allow importing of the issues into any text database programs (like Storyspace from Eastgate Systems or ThoughtPattern from Bananafish Software) that can break text into chunks based on specific text patterns. Small items within "compound" articles may also be delimited with four offset hyphens on a line by itself or with short sub-subheads.

Finally, among the most noticeable changes in the structure of TidBITS is the placement of the review listings at the end of each issue. From now on, this is where they're going to be found. Quite frankly, they are boring to read but are useful to many. Those of you downloading and archiving the issues may still want them for occasional searches but the majority of (online) readers won't have to scroll or page first in order to start reading. We'll have more on the setext format in future issues as well.

Information from:
Ian Feldman -- ianf@random.se
chief designer, demon encoder-coder and the current Setext
Oracle, hard at work on a browser & the setext format release
Adam C. Engst -- ace@tidbits.halcyon.com


MailBITS/06-Jan-92

I thought that the 13-Jan-92 issue might never happen because I'm planning to attend the Macworld expo in San Francisco. It turns out that we have enough articles built up to do that issue a few days early, so I'll be sending it out before I head off to collect lots of news and information for future issues and generally enjoy myself. I've already got an invitation to a Claris press reception and a couple of others, and I should be at the netters' dinner on Sunday night as well. I'm sure I'll see some of you there, and the rest of you will hear about it in the 20-Jan-92 issue.

ResEdit Template Goof -- In our last issue, which was the last HyperCard stack, I had planned to include a ResEdit fmnu template to aid in editing the System 7 Finder (for those of you who didn't see that issue, it included a number of ways to modify your Finder to make it faster, more useful, or merely different). But in the flurry of the season, I forgot. So, I've put the template up on our fileserver (it's only 714 bytes) for anyone to request. It is Binhexed, so you will need to deBinhex it after downloading. Then you can install it in your ResEdit Preferences file as I outlined in TidBITS-099/Finder_Fun. To receive this file, send email to fileserver@tidbits.halcyon.com or fileserver@tidbits.uucp with the single word (no quotes) "template" in the Subject: line.

RasterOps 364 Video Bug -- Mark H. Anbinder writes:

Owners of the RasterOps 364 video card for the SE/30 who have tried using System 7 may find that they get occasional, unexplainable system errors (usually reported by the Mac as bus errors). Since the crashes don't happen at predictable times, they are tough to track down. Apparently, this is due to an incompatibility in the older ROMs on some 364 cards. RasterOps has said they will send a replacement ROM free of charge to affected users. I recommend that most users have this ROM installed at their local Apple authorized service center. While some people may be comfortable with and familiar with opening the SE/30 and fiddling around inside, it's not generally something I recommend to the average user; it's too easy to injure yourself or the computer.

Thanks to Tory Yaphe of BAKA Computers for providing this information, after he laboriously tracked down the cause of the problem in his own computer. :-)

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder -- mha@baka.ithaca.ny.us
Tory Yaphe -- BAKA Computers


NewsBITS/06-Jan-92

Again, from Mark H. Anbinder.

On page 97 of the Macintosh User's Guide for PowerBook computers, there is an illustration showing how to insert a battery into the PowerBook 140/170 recharger. The illustration is incorrect. The battery should be turned around so that the brass contacts on the battery meet with the brass contacts inside of the recharger unit.

When the battery is inserted according to the illustration, the charge light will not come on, indicating a defective battery or the charger not plugged in. When the battery is plugged in correctly, there should be either a yellow light indicating that the battery is charging or a green light indicating that the battery is charged and ready for use.

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder -- mha@baka.ithaca.ny.us

J&R Superstore Rumor -- We've heard from a usually well-connected source that New York City's J&R Music World, one of the biggest consumer electronics discounters, has just "acquired" the entire Macintosh-oriented staff of the Mac Emporium, one of the big Apple dealers in NYC. Apparently J&R plans to offer Macs at superstore pricing and still provide a competent level of support, unlike many of the businesses trying the superstore approach. It will be interesting to see if indeed this is true, and if J&R will manage to combine the benefits of dealer service with the superstore pricing structure.

Information from:
Pythaeus


Word 5 Impressions

by Pythaeus

Microsoft has begun shipping Word 5 for the Macintosh, and everyone seems to have questions about the it. Is it any good? Is it worth $129 upgrade? Will it work with my computer? Should I run right out and buy Nisus? I won't attempt to even begin to answer all these questions, but I can give a couple of my early impressions, some interesting and hopefully useful information, and some important installation tips. Stay tuned for more (yes, "Word 5, The Sequel") coming to an issue of TidBITS near you next week. In that article I'll look at all the external parts of Word, the import filters, the modules, the manual, and those sorts of things.

Quite frankly, when I first started using Word 5, I was less than impressed. It seemed as though Microsoft had upgraded Word 4 for System 7-savviness, slapped on a new interface, a thesaurus that did not require the Font/DA Mover to install (as Word 4's did even under System 7), a Grammar Checker (for people with no linguistic confidence), an Equation Editor (which is actually pretty powerful) and a drawing section. Since I'm not much of an equation person, I mainly liked the drawing section's text rotation tool, which rotates text to any angle that you wish (something that PageMaker still doesn't do).

I've had some time to work with Word 5 now, and though it still holds numerous puzzles and some features that I have not explored, I'm liking it quite a bit more than I did before. I've also had a chance to look over the manual, which is a vast improvement over the Word 4 manual, not that that would be difficult. But more about all that next week. Here's a rundown of some of the features that I have used.

Before I started using Word, I mainly wrote with WriteNow, which uses the standard Macintosh keyboard shortcuts for Bold, Italic, Select All, and a few others. Try some of these shortcuts in Word 4, and - hold on to your mouse - wacky stuff happens. Word 5 returns Word users to the standards with Command-A for Select All, Command-B for Bold, and so on, although you can completely customize the keyboard shortcuts in both programs. Word 5 ships with an optional Word Settings file having Word 4's eccentric shortcuts, so Word 4 users won't have to relearn any commands.

The menus have changed a lot too. There's now an Insert menu for inserting all sorts of stuff, and the Font menu contains "Up," "Down," and "Other" commands. It isn't obvious from the structure of the menu, but Up and Down actually increase or decrease the font size by one point, and Other appears to merely bring up the Character Formatting dialog box, probably so you can select a different font size. Even stranger, Other was in Outline style, indicating that other font sizes are available, I suspect. As a boon to humanity, Microsoft removed the old Short Menus feature (or bug, as someone I knew once called it) in favor of shipping a special Word Settings file for folks who liked not being able to do much of anything.

One obvious new part of the interface is the ribbon, a bar that appears just above the ruler and contains some of the more common formatting commands. In fact, the pop-down menus on the ribbon almost completely duplicate the contents of the Font menu. Microsoft also included the more common style commands like Bold, Italic, and Underline, which are duplicated in the Format menu, but included Superscript and Subscript, which are otherwise only available in the Character Formatting dialog box. Other buttons on the ribbon include a button to switch to the graphics section, a button to display the paragraph markers, and buttons to change between one, two, and three columns, which ought to be especially handy.

The extensive Preferences dialog box has an interface much like the System 6 Control Panel. Some new and notable preferences include a Save reminder (you specify how often, but then you have to be willing to be beeped at that time interval for the rest of your writing life, unlike most other programs which can save automatically without bothering you), Short Menu Names (this means that the menu titles in the menu bar are abbreviated so they fit on the 9" screen better), and an extremely straightforward way to set the default font (one of the major bug-a-boos in Word 4 for people who didn't realize it was the result of the Normal style).

Here's a new idea - drag and drop text. Basically, you select some text, and then you click on it and drag it some place else. Within the same screen of text, this is easier than cut and paste, but I've found myself accidently dragging things around. Luckily, this option can be turned off, so if I don't improve at it, I won't have to use it. It's also only practical within the screen since once you've started to drag, you can't use the mouse or keyboard to jump around in the document, although the window will scroll with you as you drag.

The Find and Replace command lets you do a bit more than Word 4 allowed. For example, you can look for a particular bold word and replace it with that same word in italic. But you still cannot look for all bold words and replace them with italic words. (You actually can do this in Word 4 and Word 5 with the file saved in RTF format, but this is not for the timid). The Find and Replace box is a bit awkward, with menus popping up and down all over the place. You can also search for a pattern of numbers, but the pattern matching stops there and doesn't come close to matching the raw power of Nisus's PowerSearch+ (essentially a Unix-like grep, which stands for Global Regular Expression Parser. Glad you asked?).

Still no macro language, though Microsoft claims that WordBASIC from Word for Windows will be in Word 5.1.

Still only one undo, grrr, unlike Nisus's unlimited undo's.

Before you can play with some of this stuff you (of course) have to install Word 5 on your machine. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

Well that's enough words about Word for now. Remember, if it seems like I didn't talk about a lot of the cool features that you've been hearing about, that's because they are external to the program. So tune in next week, same bat-channel...

Microsoft Customer Service -- 800/426-9400
Microsoft Mac Word Technical Support -- 206/635-7200

Information from:
Pythaeus
Word 5 Installer Read Me
Word 5 manual


PowerBook 170 Review

by Murph Sewall

My initial reaction to the PowerBook 170 was WOW! So, I thought I might use it for a couple of weeks before writing down my impressions. Now that I've used the PowerBook 170 long enough for the initial dazzle to wear off, my considered impression is WOW!

One of the first things I did was run a Speedometer comparison of the PowerBook 170 and the IIci (with cache card). The statistics are nearly dead even. The PowerBook 170 also has a 16 MHz "power saver" mode for lengthening the usable life of a battery charge. The statistics for power saver mode are a close approximation to those recorded for an SE/30 (16 MHz with FPU and black and white display).

I've taken the opportunity to cycle (full charge to "I'm going to sleep, ready or not") the battery several times in both 25 MHz and 16 MHz modes. A battery life of about 2.5 hours in normal use at power saver speed seems a realistic expectation. Using the modem which the manual says consumes extra power) even without power saving, the battery delivers the low end of the promised "2 to 3 hours." At 16 MHz, the battery lasts longer, but not an hour longer (at least not the way I use the PowerBook). Word processing sessions, with infrequent saves, permit the hard drive to power down and prolong the usable battery life. Sticking to tasks which rarely access the hard drive may provide close to three hours of computing before recharging. Even though the internal floppy drive gobbles power, I have been able to duplicate floppy disks at user group meetings for more than 1.5 hours without depleting the battery.

The PowerBook provides ample warning when the battery charge gets low. There's roughly a half-hour left after the first warning, and perhaps ten minutes after the second. The third warning occurs only 10 seconds before the PowerBook drops into sleep mode. Fortunately, memory contents are preserved (at least for awhile). Plugging into an AC outlet restores programs to where they were when the system went to sleep.

Commands which activate the drive once it has fallen asleep take a little getting used to. The delay while the drive comes up to speed is a clever imitation of a system freeze. The Portable Control Panel has an option that keeps the drive active while plugged into an AC outlet.

Galen Gruman's review in the February Macworld (pg. 258) complains a great deal about the PowerBook keyboard. While I too prefer the Apple Extended keyboard to the PowerBook's built-in keyboard, I find the Macworld review overly critical. In my opinion, the "wrist rest" design is more comfortable than the keyboards of other (MS-DOS) notebooks. Possibly, my more positive view is affected by my hand size (not large), and the fact that I'm not a flash typist (I do touch type, but at something on the order of 40 words per minute). I've also used a lot of keyboards, so I'm not habituated to a particular feel (the PowerBook has it all over a 33 KSR teletype :-)).

The review expresses a lot of frustration about trying to find a comfortable placement of the keyboard. I've also found the average table or desk too high. Tables and desktops also place other computer keyboards at a greater height than a typewriter (or computer) table. Even at typing stand height, the PowerBook keyboard feels odd. It's likely I haven't adapted to using a PowerBook on a fixed surface because I rarely do so. The real reason for a notebook computer is portability. The PowerBook's wrist rest design is the best literally "in-my-lap" keyboard I've ever used. My preferred PowerBook typing position is in a recliner. I've tried putting an Apple Extended Keyboard in my lap; in that position, I prefer the PowerBook.

Unlike Gruman, who doesn't like trackballs, I prefer them. Hence, I adapted to the PowerBook's "thumb ball" rather quickly. Gruman had trouble pointing accurately on a subway. I experienced similar difficulty riding home over two lane roads as a passenger in a pickup truck. However, I generally was able to keep on computing (and typing) in the truck, in the dark. I'm sure using a PowerBook on a commercial airline will not be a problem.

Gruman evidently runs a very spare System. The claim that 7.0.1 requires a megabyte less memory than 7.0 isn't borne out by my experience. With all extensions off, 7.0.1 only squeezes down to 1.3 megabytes. The addition of a modest number (for me that's about a dozen) of utilitarian extensions (Apollo, ShortCut, BeHierarchic, a printer driver, and so forth) results in a System of 1.75 MB. With 4 MB of RAM, I have room to run an application which requires 2 MB (SPSS), but I have to quit before PrintMonitor has room enough to print the application's output.

It's difficult for most users to justify the expense of a PowerBook as a second Macintosh. Hence, a reasonable question is how capable is the PowerBook as a primary computer? First, I would recommend purchasing a separate keyboard to plug into the ADB port for regular desktop use. Placing the display in a comfortable location relative to an external keyboard probably will make the built-in trackball difficult to reach. An extra trackball or mouse could prove handy. For many of us, a 40 MB hard drive also is limiting. The PowerBook on a desktop works very nicely with an external drive, and 40 MB or even larger external drives have dropped to quite reasonable prices. One doesn't really need to take every application and document on the road.

The active matrix display is at least as nice as the venerable 9" screen of the compact Macs. In fact, the PowerBook screen is wider than that long-time Macintosh standard. If color really is essential, there are third party devices that permit attaching a PowerBook to a color display.

The PowerBook 170's price is slightly less than for a 5 MB IIci with 80 MB hard drive (without keyboard and monitor). The PowerBook 140 and IIsi are likewise comparably priced. Anyone in the market for a IIsi or IIci might find a PowerBook with external keyboard and third party external hard disk worth considering. I believe the PowerBook 170 is worth every penny of the premium over the model 140. The most valuable differences are the internal fax/modem (about one-third of the price difference if purchased separately) and the FPU (floating point unit). Many people don't realize the extent to which the math coprocessor accelerates calculation and display of graphics. An FPU is a worthwhile addition even for users who don't crunch a lot of numbers. The other noticeable difference between the 170 and the 140 is the active matrix display. I find the 140's passive LCD quite satisfactory, but the active matrix looks and acts a lot more like a CRT. LCD displays have a relatively narrow viewing angle that makes it difficult for more than one person to have a clear look at the screen. The active matrix display has a viewing angle the equal of a CRT.

In short, if buying a IIsi seems sensible, buying a PowerBook 140 should seem sensible. If a PowerBook 140 seems sensible, then finding the extra dollars for a 170 is not a farfetched notion.

Information from:
Murph Sewall -- SEWALL@UCONNVM.BITNET


BAT Updates

I've written in the past about the cute personal organizer (nanocomputer?) from Infogrip called the miniBAT. I've used one since early August when Ward Bond, Infogrip's president, sent me one to try. After a fair amount of use, I've come to several conclusions. First, the miniBAT works well as a small note-taking machine, and its other features add a bit to its overall utility. Second, and more importantly, I think chord keyboards stand a chance in the fight against carpal tunnel syndrome-causing QWERTY keyboards, although the fight will be an uphill one even now that Infogrip has come out with the BAT, a pair of seven key chord keyboards that supplement or replace your standard keyboard. The BAT comes in models for the Macintosh and PC clones, and several other options are on the way. For those of you who haven't heard of a chord keyboard until now, it works in the same way a piano does; you simply hit two or more keys together to create a unique keystroke. For instance, the single index finger might be the letter "e" and the index finger and the middle finger together might be the letter "a." Believe me, it works, and surprisingly well.

The miniBAT measures about 3.5" x 7" x .75" and weighs approximately eleven ounces - and that's with a full 37K of data in it. :-) It comes with a sturdy plastic slipcase and fits into roomy pockets. The current incarnation of the miniBAT sports a tiny twenty character by four line LCD display that isn't lit in any way. Its has a terribly laid-out alphabetical keyboard (laid out in alphabetical order), number keys, and 19 function/ navigation keys. Both the screen and the keys would seem to be major drawbacks to using the miniBAT, but they're not. I'll explain in a bit. The rest of the surface of the miniBAT is taken up by seven large keys placed to correspond with the natural positions of the fingers on the right hand (lefties can learn to use their right hands pretty easily I suspect, since the motions aren't significantly different from normal typing, which uses both hands). The right side of the miniBAT contains the rest of the items the user will care about, the ON/OFF switch, the power plug for charging, an indicator light that goes on when the miniBAT is plugged in, and a small serial port covered by a sliding panel. The miniBAT supposedly lasts about 40 hours on a charge, but I've never tried to run it down all the way.

I'm not really up on the personal organizer market since I'm not particularly impressed by what they can do for me. However, nanocomputers intrigue me, and I like to check out computers like the HP 95LX and the Poqet PC from the hit movie, "Honey I Shrunk The Keyboard." Those two have far better screens than the miniBAT, and their keyboards are at least laid out in the QWERTY layout, so you have a chance of being able to type on them, but when it comes right down to it, they're too small. It doesn't make sense to make a nanocomputer by merely shrinking the design of a desktop computer; they are different beasts and serve different purposes so they should be designed differently.

Later this week Infogrip will introduce the first in a line of InfoWear, computers that you actually wear. The Hip PC is a small PC clone that lives in a fanny pack worn around the waist. A miniBAT serves as a keyboard, and Reflection Technologies's Private Eye virtual display works as a monitor. I'm pleased to hear about InfoWear, and in fact as soon as I heard the name from Ward, I asked him to spell the last four letters for me, just to be sure. I have pushed for wearable computer equipment for some time now since makes so much more sense than an itty-bitty desktop-style palmtop. See TidBITS-023/01-Oct-90 for the article I wrote way back when on Portable Computer Clothing.

So anyway, yes, the miniBAT has a bad screen and yes, the miniBAT has a terrible alphabetic keyboard. But the chord keyboard makes up for it with a vengeance. As I've said, I use the miniBAT mainly for taking notes in meetings, although I'm considering starting to use it for taking notes while I talk on the phone since I hate trying to type on my keyboard with one hand. I even used the miniBAT to write a short letter to my mother while creeping along in a Seattle traffic jam. Ward told me that one miniBAT user is writing a novel while commuting to work; I'm too chicken to try that.

The beauty of the chord keyboard is that within an hour or so you can learn to touch type. If you can touch type, you don't have to use the alphabetic keyboard at all (or most of the function keys), and you no longer have to look at the screen. If you don't have to look at the screen, you can do lots of other things like pay attention in a meeting or interview, watch a presentation in a darkened room, drive your car (apparently), or who knows what else. As you grow more proficient with the chord keyboard, your speed will improve and you won't have to concentrate as much on remembering the chords. This is not to imply that the miniBAT's chord keyboard is ideal, because if it was, I would have retired my extended Mac keyboard by now and my wrists would thank me. Being so small, the miniBAT's chord keys don't have positive tactile feedback, which makes them worse than mushy. I find it difficult to tell when I've actually pressed a chord at times, although I'm improving now that I have figured out to create the pattern in mid-air, and then "thwack" the proper keys. I'm waiting on the full BAT keyboards before I put the effort into transferring all my typing to a chord keyboard, and I'll be sure to write about them once I've tried them.

The miniBAT accepts memory and program cards that expand its power, and can even take a fax modem or alphanumeric pager. However, it's too pricey at $595 for what it does right now, considering the price of the personal organizers and the DOS palmtops. The success of miniBAT will not come from sales, but from the experience that Infogrip has gained from it that will benefit future products. Given Infogrip's fast pace and innovative ideas, I'm sure that they will have even more original products out soon.

If you are going to Macworld San Francisco, you may be able to ask them yourself, since Infogrip will be there showing off the BAT for the Mac as well as other cool stuff for ergonomic computing. Check them out at Booth 5323 in Brooks Hall.

Infogrip Inc.
812 North Boulevard
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
504/336-0033
Reflection Technology -- 617/890-5905

Information from:
Ward Bond, Infogrip president
miniBAT documentation
Infogrip propaganda


Reviews/06-Jan-92

References:


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