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This week's bug comes from the PowerBook serial ports. Far-out technology comes from Apple's Casper voice recognition work, closer-in technology comes from Australian firm Codex's XEvents which allow AppleEvents to move between Macs, Unix machines, and Windows machines, and the here-and-now technologies come from Pacer Software for the updated PacerTerm, Aldus for Additions, and UserLand for the Frontier link to PageMaker. Neat stuff!
Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
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Survey happenings -- Thanks to all those who have returned the survey! We've decided to stop considering survey entries for buttons as of 17-Mar-92, which is one month after we sent it out, so please get your survey in if you wish to be in the running for a button. The survey is available from our Internet fileserver and is in TidBITS-107, and you can return via email to any of our addresses or via snail mail to the address above. For those of you who are redistributing TidBITS to a local mailing list or network, I'd appreciate it a lot if you could send me a note telling me where you are redistributing and approximately how many people are reading each issue if you can tell. Thanks!
QuickMail comment -- Mark H. Anbinder writes in response to our comment last week that it would be silly to run a QuickMail client on an AppleShare Server 3.0 server machine:
Nothing at all silly about it. AppleShare 3.0 is designed to run as one of any number of applications under System 7, so there's no reason that an AppleShare 3.0 server machine couldn't be used as a QuickMail workstation. Obviously the more activity local to a workstation running AppleShare 3.0 in the background, the worse the server performance, and the more server activity, the worse the jerkiness on the workstation. Same as any other background activity. :-)
AppleShare server software and QuickMail client software get along fine, by the way. All permutations except AppleShare Server 3.0 and QuickMail server work fine.
Mark H. Anbinder -- email@example.com
by Nick Rothwell -- firstname.lastname@example.org
There may be problems with the PowerBook serial ports, related to the ROM power saving code. I've had direct comments from software houses about this, and although I don't want to name them publicly without their consent, I do think there are some serious problems. I should add here that I don't own a PowerBook; I was preparing to buy one before these problems came to light.
My main application is MIDI (high-speed serial communications to drive synthesisers, other electronic musical instruments, and outboard effects). Macintoshes have a good deal of high-quality software for working with MIDI data in a number of ways, as well as a good environment for such software to run in (such as Opcode's OMS and Apple's MIDI Management Tools, which allow several applications to address instruments through various hardware interfaces attached to a Mac's serial ports, or to address each other, simultaneously).
I use an SE/30 for my MIDI work, and was seriously contemplating a PowerBook 140 as a second machine. The PowerBooks are perfectly suited to live performance, being small, relatively solid, and extremely powerful as MIDI storage and control devices.
I started hearing rumours about problems doing MIDI with the PowerBooks, and started chasing these up. The situation seems to be as follows (with some conjecture): the power-saving routines in the PowerBook ROM's occasionally kick in and disable interrupts for one millisecond or so, regardless of whether any of the power saving options are enabled or not. One millisecond is enough time for an overrun to occur on the input to the SCC at high serial speeds. The upshot is that characters are lost on input. I suspect that there's no problem at low speeds (such as 2400 bps modems). (Question: is AppleTalk a problem?) But MIDI runs at 31.25 kbps and is not at all fault-tolerant. Lose one byte in a large data dump and it can't be recovered.
The "official" word is that the PowerBooks are fine for sequencing, which involves fast but sparse traffic of two- or three-byte messages (notes, controllers, and so on), but they're unusable for MIDI archiving and librarian use. My personal opinion given the above diagnosis is that the PowerBooks are not even reliable for sequencing: I suspect that even short messages can get corrupted on occasion, which is bad if we're dealing with important instrument configuration messages in live performance.
I've spent a little time doing MIDI on a PowerBook 100, without any problems. This could be because I was using Apple's MIDI Management Tools (which may, or may not, work around the problem; I suspect not from what I've been told), or it could be because I was using a PowerBook 100 whose ROM's are based on those in the old Portable. Perhaps the problems only occur in the 140 and 170. Or maybe I was lucky: MIDI data is sufficiently sparse that the interrupt disabling will rarely come when data is hitting the ports, and the odd dropped byte can probably go unnoticed - unless it happens to be an important one. My understanding is that this problem affects input only; transmission from the PowerBooks is fine, and my own experiments suggest this to be the case.
So, here I was, wondering why this problem had materialised with respect to MIDI and not ordinary high-speed serial communications such as 9600 bps modems. Then, this morning I received a mail message about reports of PowerBooks dropping characters when using Global Village's fast internal modems; the problems have been tracked down to straight RS-422 serial connections as well.
The developers I mentioned earlier are pressuring Apple to explain and fix the situation. I don't know what form such a solution would take: perhaps new ROMs or an OS patch? Certainly, I'll be pressuring Apple as well, since this problem makes a PowerBook useless for my purposes, and so a purchase hangs in the balance. I can't phone 800/SOS-APPL from this side of the pond (Apple UK doesn't offer such customer-friendly services at all), but if this problem concerns you, you might want to pick up the phone and say hello to them.
Quark XPress has had its XTensions out for a while, and Aldus is trying hard to catch up with Additions for PageMaker. Based on some of the ones we've seen, used, or heard about, PageMaker is well on its way in the race.
A number of Additions ship with PageMaker, ranging from fairly simple ones to an Addition that takes a multiple page publication and rearranges all the items and pages so that it will print correctly so that it can easily be folded to create a booklet. This is a tedious and mentally-taxing job to do by hand, and the Addition is most welcome. Perhaps the most powerful and useful of the Additions that ships with PageMaker is Sort Pages, which shows you thumbnails of the pages in your document, (excuse me, publication - Aldus is picky about that) and allows you to move objects from one page to another or even move whole pages around. It's wonderful for quickly importing text and graphics and roughing out an overall arrangement for a publication.
Equally as interesting are some of the third party Additions that have recently been announced or shipped. For those of you lucky enough to have a Voice Navigator from Articulate Systems, you can get a free Addition that will allow you to execute any function normally performed with the keyboard or mouse with a spoken command. EDCO Services has the $149 PMproKit, a collection of Additions including such useful ones as Type Distortion, LetterTalk (for viewing and modifying kerning pairs), Pica Gauge, Rotation and Merge (which was originally supposed to allow text rotation to any degree, but was cut back to merely scaling type to match a specific line length), and Set Up Columns. Scitex has a set of Additions that let you create color blends with up to 12 different colors in linear or radial orientations, although I'd think that most people would do that sort of thing in an illustration program.
For those who are frustrated with PageMaker's limited graphics import filters, Equilibrium has Import That!, a product name that makes more sense when paired with their other product, Rotate This! Import That! can import a variety of non-Macintosh graphics file formats, and Rotate This! can rotate bitmapped graphics to any degree, a trick which it actually achieves by taking a copy of the graphic out of PageMaker, rotating it, and then placing it back in. It's all done with smoke and mirrors, I'm sure. No one has done full text or rotation in an Addition yet, but I've heard that someone is working on a clever method for getting around a similarly glaring omission in PageMaker, grouping.
Among all the Additions, I especially like the idea of Zephyr Design's $79 Zephyr Palettes for PageMaker since they provide seven customizable floating palettes that you can select from a menu at the end of PageMaker's menu bar. The palettes include font, font size, font style, leading, tracking, and alignment, and they sport some truly neat features. The font palette will group font families and let you create custom palettes so you only have to look at a few of your fonts at a time (a problem for many desktop publishers). The font style, leading, and tracking palettes all feature dynamic on-the-fly changes, so as you run the mouse up and down the choices, the selection will change in front of your eyes. For those of you without two monitors or a lot of screen space, all the palettes have a large mode, which shows all the choices, or a small mode, which uses a pop-up menu. Even if you do have a lot of screen space, you'll appreciate the fact that the palettes can either remember their last positions (even on second monitors) or always pop up in a default position. Finally, if you want the palettes to always be present when you start up PageMaker (without having to select it from the Additions menu), they come as a Control Panel too.
Even more useful to some than the Additions already shipping is a free install file that allows PageMaker users to control PageMaker with scripts from UserLand's Frontier application. Frontier is the first scripting application for the Mac and can control the operating system, the file system, networks, and most importantly, AppleEvent-aware applications. Macintosh consultant Tom Petaccia wrote the PageMaker install file, which takes advantage of PageMaker's support of the standard DOSC "DoScript" and EVAL "Evaluate" events. By using Frontier with PageMaker, script writers can supposedly control over 230 PageMaker operations. The demos that ship with the install file mostly ask a few questions and then assemble a document with the results, something which I think could be scripted from inside PageMaker as well. I think the sort of thing that will make the Frontier link truly useful is that PageMaker's current scripting language isn't nearly as powerful or flexible as Frontier's language, and Frontier can also automate interaction with other AppleEvent-aware programs. For the moment, the number of those programs is limited, but it is growing every day. One potential use I see is grabbing information from Microphone II 4.0 (or AppleLink now that UserLand is working on a scriptable version of AppleLink for Frontier), and bringing that information over to PageMaker to flow into a document also created under script control. Pretty cool stuff eventually.
Aldus -- 206/622-5500
Articulate Systems -- 617/935-5656
EDCO Services -- 800/523-TYPE
Equilibrium -- 800/524-8651 Dept. EP1
Fast Electronic -- 604/669-5525
Scitex America -- 617/275-5150
UserLand Software -- 415/325-5700
Zephyr Design -- 206/324-0292 -- ZephyrDsgn on AOL
Boyd Multerer of Zephyr Design -- ZephyrDsgn on AOL
UserLand propaganda and demo files
by Mark H. Anbinder -- email@example.com
Good afternoon. I am a Macintosh technical consultant in Ithaca, New York, where two Cornell University students were arrested last month for allegedly creating and releasing the MBDF virus. I've been asked to assist in collecting some information for an ongoing investigation being conducted by Investigator Scott Hamilton of Cornell's Department of Public Safety.
IF YOU WERE DIRECTLY AFFECTED by the MBDF virus, please send me a detailed description of the damages and expenses incurred. See below for details of what I need to know.
IF YOU WERE NOT DIRECTLY AFFECTED by the MBDF virus, please don't reply to this message. If you have been affected by other viruses, but not MBDF, please don't reply to this message. If you are not sure whether your computer was infected with MBDF, please obtain a current Macintosh anti-virus utility (such as Disinfectant 2.6 or Virus Detective 5.0.2) and check carefully.
Investigator Hamilton needs concrete information about damages and expenses that were incurred as a direct result of the MBDF virus. He needs:
Monetary expenses resulting from lost time expressed in DOLLAR VALUE (or other currency if not US) of the time or lost business expressed in value of the lost business, that is directly due to MBDF;
The monetary value of YOUR TIME required to remove an MBDF infection or repair damage caused by MBDF;
Monetary expenses incurred having a paid consultant or dealer remove an MBDF infection or repair damage caused by MBDF;
Monetary expenses incurred obtaining new anti-virus utilities (buying commercial ones, paying to update commercial ones, paying shareware fees, or downloading freeware or shareware utilities from a pay service) for the express purpose of removing an MBDF infection, NOT for protection "just in case";
Monetary expenses resulting from time needed to recreate data lost due to MBDF;
Other damages that can be documented.
He can NOT consider expenses resulting from efforts to protect your computer or computers from the virus if an infection was not present. Please do not write unless you were actually directly affected by MBDF.
In addition to the above, we need:
Your name and company name (if applicable)
Your e-mail address
Your complete postal address
Your telephone number
Investigator Hamilton may need to get in touch with you for additional information, so please be sure to provide all of the above.
Please send this information to me (Mark H. Anbinder) via Internet email. If that is not feasible, please send it to me via postal mail at the below address, or to:
Investigator Scott Hamilton
Department of Public Safety
Ithaca, New York 14853 USA
If you know of anyone who was affected by the MBDF virus, please pass this message along to them.
I will do my best to reply to all messages I receive, but please understand if I don't do so right away. :-) Thanks for your assistance!
Mark H. Anbinder
BAKA Computers, Inc.
200 Pleasant Grove Road
Ithaca, NY 14850
Almost everyone believes AppleEvents will be cool when applications start seriously using them. I think that's the appropriate belief; I just wish that AppleEvent-savvy applications would start saturating the market. Part of the problem might be that the whole point of AppleEvents is that applications can use them to communicate with other applications. If no other applications are supporting AppleEvents, these companies think, why should we push to do so with our programs? Yet another application of the chicken and egg conundrum.
Codex Software, an independent company from Australia, may help to break up this dilemma with its new product, XEvents. Originally called CodexEvents, XEvents consists of a set of libraries that allow AppleEvent-style events (XEvents are intentionally very similar to AppleEvents) to be passed between programs running on Macs, Suns, and NeXTs linked via a TCP/IP network. This may sound a tad technical for many of you, but that's OK, it's supposed to. Codex is shipping the XEvents Software Development Kit (SDK) for the Mac, Sun, and NeXT platforms for about $345 US, so only developers can really get in on the fun for the moment.
Codex has initially released XEvents for the Mac, Sun, and NeXT, but they are working on a version of XEvents that runs under Windows as well. Codex is also considering porting XEvents to the RS/6000 workstations from IBM, Apple's A/UX, and in the future, Windows NT, but supporting the Mac, Sun, NeXT, and Windows will cover most people.
Nevertheless, the long range results of XEvent support in different applications running on different platforms should be obvious. It was a big deal when some companies came out with versions of their software that could share files between different platforms. I think it's an even bigger deal that you can pick and choose what software you want to use on whatever platform, and merely have the applications on the different platforms communicate. For instance, I could envision a situation where someone might want to use Nisus on the Mac to create text for a publication that had to be laid out in FrameMaker on the NeXT along with data from a Windows spreadsheet. If everyone supported XEvents, that should be a piece of cake, or at least less of a pain that it would be now.
Codex has a couple of demos of XEvents, including a simple command line tool for Unix that allows a Unix host to send core suite events to the Finder on networked Macs. There is also a NeXTstep-based version of this tool that allows a NeXT to query and control (at a basic level of Open, Print, Quit, etc.) applications running on a Mac over the network. For applications that support AppleEvents but not XEvents, Codex has a background application that receives XEvents from non-Macintosh machines and converts them to AppleEvents before sending them off to the original recipient.
One interesting little feature of XEvents on the Macintosh is that because it does not use the Event Manager under System 7, applications can be written with inter-application messaging facilities even under System 6.0.5. That might be useful for companies who want to keep a feature set stable but want to support both System 6 and System 7. If you're interested in learning more about XEvents, contact Brett Adam via one of the ways below.
Codex Software Development Pty. Ltd.
15A Merton Street
Albert Park, 3206 AUSTRALIA
Phone: + 61 3 696 2490
Fax: + 61 3 696 6757
Email: AUST0335@applelink.apple.com -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett Adam -- email@example.com
by Mark H. Anbinder, TidBITS Contributing Editor
Patience is a virtue, right? Well, Pacer Software Inc. has just rewarded its loyal PacerTerm customers for being so virtuous, by sending out a two-diskette update for this high-end Communications Toolbox (CTB)-compatible communications package. The update includes Pacer's long-awaited ZMODEM file transfer tool, which was promised to purchasers last summer.
In addition to the ZMODEM tool, the update package includes PacerTerm 1.0.2, the MacTCP 1.1 update, the Hayes Modem Tool for use with the CTB, and an assortment of updated Pacer CTB tools. The Hayes Modem Tool is a nice addition; this tool is intended to replace the Apple Modem Tool, which is widely held to be the weakest link in the CTB chain.
Of course, the weakness of the Apple Modem Tool simply reflects the fact that Apple's intention was for third-party developers to provide the REAL functionality for the Communications Toolbox, and Pacer and Hayes have clearly answered the call. The Hayes tool offers numerous improvements over the Apple tool that it replaces (among other things, it's vastly more configurable), and Pacer's ZMODEM tool is, as far as I know, the first one available for the CTB.
With the number of users clamoring for a ZMODEM file transfer tool for use with Communications Toolbox applications, we suggest that Pacer offer their ZMODEM tool for sale as a stand-alone product. [Adam: I suggested to this to Pacer at Macworld, and they said that although they would like to do just that, they just can't afford the costs of bringing out a commercial package that they couldn't sell for much money.] A reminder, though... Pacer's ZMODEM tool is not freeware, and should not be distributed or copied. At first glance it looks like one of Apple's free tools, but it's not one of them. PacerTerm is $249 retail, which is bit steep just to get a ZMODEM tool, but it's an excellent package overall.
[Adam: Also note that Seaquest Software will supposedly ship in April an extension to the Communications Toolbox to support ZMODEM transfers. It will be bundled with Seaquest's XMODEM and YMODEM tools for $69.]
Pacer Software -- 619/454-0565
Seaquest Software -- 503/531-0252
by Ian Feldman -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Those of you that read the weekly issues using the "rn" program (under Unix) may now be able to browse, jumping directly from topic to topic with the help of a special rnmacro. Simply add the following 4 lines to the ".rnmac" file in your home directory (or, if there isn't one, create it first with "cat > .rnmac^M^D"):
# jump forward to next TidBITS.etx topic/ subhead/ subsubhead; # replace the ^M string last in the macro with an embedded carriage # return (control-V, control-M in the shell or C-q C-m in emacs) V %(%m=p?g\^[\^-= [(>]^M)
From now on typing an uppercase V (mnemonic for ARROW DOWN) will jump to next topic or subtopic in TidBITS. Subsequent jumps may be commanded either with G (repeat last-defined search pattern) or V. Sadly, it only works forward in the text, not backwards. Should there be a real rnmacro expert among you then you're welcome to enhance it further still. Also, in the process, make it use the "d" half-screen scroll option instead of current full-screen one (to speed things up).
Anyone who has been to a Macworld Expo has probably seen the Voice Navigator people demonstrating how easy it is to create their corporate logo with Voice Navigator even when speaking at the speed of a trained auctioneer. Despite that fact that most of us couldn't give a hoot about creating the Articulate Systems logo and few people even want to talk that fast, it's an impressive demo. Heck, I want to test one.
Apple may have just upped the ante in terms of demos with the demonstration of Casper, the listening Mac. (Sounds a bit like a cross between Casper the friendly ghost and Mr. Ed the talking horse, no?) Casper is essentially some very sophisticated software that allows a Mac to recognize vague commands from almost any speaker. From what I've heard from people who have seen the demos, it really does recognize continuous speech, and can even respond with voice output as well.
Casper must be doing quite a bit more extra processing on the incoming voice data than the Voice Navigator does because the Voice Navigator merely matches a voice waveform to an entry in a command dictionary, whereas Casper has several hundred words attached to each command, though I'm not entirely sure how that is set up (partly because Apple isn't saying). Several of the demos have asked Casper to do relatively complex things like looking up and dialing phone numbers, acting as a voice interface to a VCR, and paying bills electronically. Apparently, in development Casper was fed a large number of sentences spoken by many different people, which avoids the Voice Navigator's requirement of training the software to each individual. Of course, this is still a technology demo, which means that it might still be a couple of years before it becomes a commercial product, but it's still incredibly promising, especially for everyone who has been lusting after a Star Trek-style communicator and computer interface.
Casper does not require any special hardware, unlike all of the other speech-recognition products on the market for Macs and DOS machines, although the demo was done on a Quadra 900 with a digital signal processing (DSP) chip and a better microphone than currently comes with the Mac. I imagine that the technology could be made to work on a plain 68030, but it might be too slow to really use. Just another incentive to upgrade, I guess, and Apple very well may start building the necessary hardware into the upcoming Macs. One place that the speech recognition technology will almost certainly appear is in Apple's Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) which are reputed to use the RISC technology developed by Advanced RISC Machines Ltd., the British company Apple helped form a while back (See TidBITS-033). Anything with a 3" x 5" screen and no keyboard needs a better method of working with data than a stylus. Casper does not currently do dictation (or Windows, for that matter, but more on that next week!), which will limit its use for actually entering data, but merely being able to recognize commands should be quite useful.
I'm curious to see how Apple will handle the interface to Casper, because if it can recognize any voice, it will have to be able to block out surrounding voices. Data muggers could appear too - people who would make comments over your shoulder to your Mac or PDA running Casper. "Oh you mean I shouldn't have said "Erase the hard disk... yes, I'm sure I want to do that." to your Mac? I'm sorry." I'm sure that Apple will work out safeguards for that sort of thing, but it's certainly something to think about. In the meantime, we all have one more future to drool over.
Brian S. Kendig -- bskendig@phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Gary Stephens -- email@example.com
MacWEEK -- 03-Feb-92, Vol. 6, #5, pg. 1
MacWEEK -- 02-Mar-92, Vol. 6, #9, pg. 1
Wall Street Journal -- 24-Feb-92, pg. A3
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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