Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
Wondering about expanding a PowerBook's hard drive space? Want to do some visual programming? Interested in hearing some great music from your Mac? Curious about how you can go to jail by using your color scanner and DeskJet C? Still wondering whether you should buy Word 5.0 or Nisus 3.06? Answers to these questions, and maybe even a few more, inside. There is, however, no little plastic toy. Sorry.
Copyright 1992 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Comments: <email@example.com>
This issue has reached you extremely early because we're going to be enjoying ourselves on vacation back in New York State. Luckily, we've had a lot of excellent submissions from around the world, so I didn't have to kill myself to put this issue out. You can thank Murph Sewall, Mark H. Anbinder, Ken Linger, and Matt Neuburg for this issue.
Please feel free to send me mail this week if you wish, but since I will not be dialing in to check it, I won't see it until the 5th of July when we return. Incidentally, that means that we probably won't send out the 06-Jul-92 issue quite on time. It also means that submissions for that issue will be especially welcome. :-)
by Murph Sewall -- SEWALL@UCONNVM.BITNET
Ah, the choices one must make. I find it so hard to pick up the PowerBook and leave home without stuffing it with every conceivable application I just might have a use for, even ones I haven't used for months. So, I love AutoDoubler's (or one of the other transparent compressor's) ability to cram more stuff on the drive.
Unfortunately, the PowerBook only has 4 MB of RAM. Funny how 4 MB of RAM no longer seems like enough. It can be difficult to use Apple's DiskCopy, which needs 1792K of RAM, to duplicate a 1.44 MB disk, for example. The problem is that AutoDoubler uses 363K of System heap (you can reduce this by shrinking AutoDoubler's cache) and the DiskDoubler INIT wants another 163K. ATM 2.0.3 wants 111K plus whatever the font cache size, typically 128K, is set to, an argument for using TrueType instead on a PowerBook.
The terrible choices become: (a) expand the awfully expensive PowerBook RAM, (b) dump enough stuff to backup so that compression isn't necessary, or (c) buy a bigger hard drive, which is also expensive, but not as expensive as RAM. Using virtual memory isn't practical because it requires at least 5 MB of free space on the hard disk and it runs the hard drive all the time, draining the battery so fast that the PowerBook requires household current.
My solution was to order a Quantum GO 80 hard drive from APS for $439 and pay $40 for my local "authorized Apple technician" to install it. That turns out to be about $100 less expensive than our campus store probably will offer the Apple upgrade for (they haven't received a price sheet yet, but they usually charge about 80% of list). Although expected by the end of the month, the GO 120 isn't shipping yet and at $699, it costs more per MB than the GO 80. Because my PowerBook is my "backup" Mac, I figured I could live with 80 MB. After all, I'd been squeezing stuff into the 40 MB drive, which equalled an uncompressed 50.5 MB.
The GO 80 (82K capacity actually, and APS PowerTools makes 80.8K actually usable) was installed yesterday. The extra space is wonderful, but wow is it NOISY (compared to the Connor which simply "whirred" some - colleagues say even the Connor is noisier than the drives that ship with many DOS laptops). The only drive test I've run is Speedometer's; it claims the GO 80 is 60% faster than the Connor (the price one pays for sounding like a coffee grinder?). Sure enough, expanding all the files and not using AutoDoubler and DiskDoubler have given me 526K more RAM to run applications. Adding a few things I didn't have room for on the 40 MB drive has left me at 59K on the drive. After one day, I'm happy but I keep finding neat new programs I'd like to have at my fingertips. I may yet regret not having gone for the GO 120 ;-). I still have the Connor as a backup in case the machine shop sound of the GO 80 turns out to be a symptom of trouble. I've thought about looking for one of the cases that could make the Connor an external drive, but I don't really expect I'd use it much that way. If anything interesting (unusual) happens with the GO 80, I'll report it here.
Has anyone else installed a GO 80? Did I mention that mine is loud enough to hear across the room? Is yours?
We've been hearing more griping about the number of pixels that are either dead or void on the PowerBook 170 active matrix screens. Dead pixels don't make anybody happy, but given the low manufacturing yields, they seem to be an unfortunate reality. Prices would certainly be higher if Apple guaranteed that all screens had no defects.
We'd like to see Apple sell machines having a few defective pixels at a slightly lower price. That would allow them to continue using the slightly defective screens and would enable more people to buy into active matrix who would otherwise be unable to afford it. Heck, at the right price I'd like a factory-second 170.
Of course, the best factory seconds are in Vermont, where you can buy factory seconds of Ben & Jerry's ice cream that has failed the stringent controls so that the chocolate chips are too big, for instance. Horrors!
by Mark H. Anbinder -- TidBITS Contributing Editor
TGS Systems, Ltd, the publisher of the Prograph visual, object-oriented programming environment, recently announced that they have extended the capabilities of the environment through a family of six extensions. Prograph is an innovative development environment that allows programmers to work in a visual manner. Unlike prototyping utilities such as MacApp or AppMaker, which allow a programmer to create a visual interface that can then have program code added, Prograph actually generates final applications.
The extensions, which work with Prograph 2.5, are the first offerings in a series of extension products in two categories, Connectivity Tools and Object Tools. The C Interface and Pascal Interface allow the use of C and Pascal libraries from within the Prograph environment. The Comm Toolbox is a Prograph API (application programming interface) for Apple's Communications Toolbox (CTB). SQL Interface/DAL and ORACLE Interface enable creation of networked SQL (pronounced "sequel" and stands for Structured Query Language - don't you love all these acronyms?) client applications in Prograph. The Visual Effects Manager adds presentation-style color transitions and ramps, as well as three-dimensional color text, to Prograph applications.
While most of these libraries appear intended to allow Prograph developers to take advantage of a fuller range of Macintosh system software technology, the real advance for seasoned programmers appears to be the availability of the C Interface and Pascal Interface. These allow the use of THINK C (versions 4 or 5) and MPW C libraries, or THINK Pascal (version 4) or MPW Pascal libraries. These libraries of pre-prepared routines can be used unmodified within the Prograph interpreter and with compiled Prograph applications. As a result, developers using Prograph will be able to make use of Macintosh toolbox and manager routines, such as QuickTime, that are included in libraries provided by other vendors whose products the developers have purchased.
Each of the extensions will be individually priced, and are now available directly from TGS Systems.
TGS Systems -- 902/455-4446 -- FAX 902/455-2246
TGS propaganda -- firstname.lastname@example.org
by Ken Linger -- email@example.com
Something new has begun to sweep the Macintosh free-software scene. Sure, we all enjoy the freeware and shareware programs available from numerous electronic repositories, but they are usually modifications to already existing programs, free or otherwise, with only a few changes to differentiate them. Every once in a while, however, something comes around that really impresses people - a program that you can use to shock non-Mac users, such as parents, friends, or co-workers, prompting them to ask, "How does it do that?" This time, that program is Sound Tracker.
Sound Tracker came out several months ago as a freeware beta program uploaded to several Internet sites, and then to online services like America Online. Now, Sound Tracker has been released as a $30 shareware program in its "final" form, complete with source code.
Sound Tracker is a bare bones music player. You can't record songs in it. You can't sample songs with it. You can't edit and re-save songs. All you can do with program is modify the volume, tone, and tempo. Despite this apparent lack of power, Sound Tracker can produce some amazing results.
Until recently, programs that included music would either plunk out tones on the Mac speaker or include a small sample. Plunking out tones wastes little disk space since a song is composed of compact instructions telling the speaker when to turn on and when to shut up and what tone and volume you want. These sort of songs sound as unimpressive as you would expect. Sampled songs sound great, but for a good sample, a couple of seconds will run you over 100K and an entire song, if you even had the space, just isn't feasible.
Sound Tracker gives you the best of both worlds by combining sampling and programming. The end result is sampled music sound without the heavy disk or memory space requirements sampled sound files generally need. For instance, most of what a Sound Tracker file might contain are some keyboard samples, a bass, guitar, and several drums. The remainder of the file is code telling Sound Tracker when to play the bass, at which pitch and volume and so on, and before you know it, you've got a song. It's basically the computer's equivalent of sheet music, though you never see any of this going on behind the scenes. You just load the song and listen.
Although Sound Tracker doesn't come with a sample file, songs can be downloaded from most of your favorite locations. Be sure to grab at least one when you take Sound Tracker. Quality varies of course, so you might have to snag a couple before you find the perfect one to impress your friends.
Sound Tracker gives you four tracks to which you can vary the volume, so you can turn down the bass, remove the melody, or whatever you want. There is also a master volume. The tone and tempo controls are also interesting because you can speed up a song without it sounding like the Chipmunks. Sound Tracker plays all the instruments in a shorter amount of time, giving you a fast-paced song without the high pitches. Likewise, you can raise or lower the pitches without losing any beats-per-minute.
The program also comes with a spectrum display and oscilloscope. I'd stay away from these. It seems like they update only a few times per second so it seems that Sound Tracker is always catching up. You really don't need these features to enjoy Sound Tracker, so it's no great loss.
Sound Tracker has a good interface, as well as a few neat features that take advantage of System 7. The controls look a bit like a CD player's controls, and you can load songs by dropping them on Sound Tracker's icon or by simply using Open. What's more, you can queue up a list of songs by dropping a group on Sound Tracker's icon and it will play through that list, optionally repeating at the end. You also have a fast forward button (no rewind) and a pause. If you change songs in the middle of a song, instead of an abrupt change, the previous song fades out first. You can now also shuffle the songs to play them in a random order.
Sound Tracker can play asynchronously in the background. Once you start playing a song, try going back to the Finder and launch an application. Start a download, type a letter, whatever. The song plays on uninterrupted. You can also load your next song while one is already playing. This backgrounding ability isn't perfect, though. Sound Tracker has three different sampling rates for playback. While the lowest setting doesn't sound absolutely great, you will have more control of your Mac which Sound Tracker is playing in the background. The better the playback, the slower your Mac will respond to keyclicks and incoming data (while on-line with a song playing in the background with the best sampling rate, the text comes in spurts at times). You decide what level of response you can live with.
The latest version of Sound Tracker also lets you save your settings and test how much your Mac is being slowed down by a song in the background. This may help you decide which sampling rate is the best for playing something behind Excel.
Songs -- What about the songs? Sound Tracker has been available for the PC and Amiga for some time now, so there are many songs in those formats. Any song for these computers will usually have the extension .MOD. However, they will take some converting to get them into the proper format for Mac Sound Tracker. In all likelihood, you'll have to find a Mac decompressor for either format and you will have to use ResEdit, DiskTop, or a similar utility to change each file's creator and type to STrk.
[StuffIt Deluxe has translators for the common PC compression formats, and my limited experience with the Amiga leads me to believe that there will be tools for defunking Amiga compressed files under Unix, for those of you with access to Unix boxes. As far as changing the file creators and types, there are freeware or shareware programs that will make this a simple process for multiple files. -Adam]
Fortunately, you shouldn't have to mess with such conversions. Many songs have already been converted and are being uploaded to the Internet and online services. America Online, for example, has about 100 songs already, with more coming all the time. This should keep you occupied for some time. Songs vary in size from 25K to 200K. The lengths, though, can be as short as few seconds of a drum solo to (as far as I've seen) over 5 minutes. An average download at 2400 baud will take perhaps 10 minutes.
Many of the songs I've seen tend to be pop/alternative. There are a couple of oldies floating around, as well as some Top 40, but the majority aren't. [I've recently seem some classical music come through on the nets as well. -Adam] Some songs even have the lyrics included on one of the four tracks! When you plug your Mac into the stereo (Sound Tracker provides for this by using two tracks per channel) you can really perform some impressive things!
Be aware that some "cheaply" made songs may not sound all that good. You can put anything on a track. Some songs may have all the percussion on track one, guitars on track two, etc., and the track assignments may vary from song to song. This isn't Sound Tracker's fault but is merely a design decision left to the people programming in the songs. Maybe in a Mac recording version, a standard will be set.
In the future... -- What about the future of Sound Tracker and the Mac? For one thing, the Amiga can record songs with various programs. The Mac should be able to, especially the newer Macs with the more sophisticated sound input circuitry, but so far can't. All the songs you hear played through Sound Tracker were most likely created on an Amiga. It should be just a matter of time before there is another program like Sound Tracker which provides better options and recording and MIDI ability.
Why stop at being an application? Because of the non-choppy background ability, how about having a startup theme? We have pictures, sounds, movies playing at startup, why not have your Mac hammer out a song while the startup is going on? Throw this in with a song shuffling ability and your Mac may never shut up!
I love Sound Tracker and I'm hoping that it will be an inspiration to other software authors to make more programs like it. While it is an impressive program today, I suspect that someone can better it with a program that doesn't slow down the Mac as much, has a useful spectrum analyzer and oscilloscope, and more features we haven't even thought of yet. Still, Sound Tracker is very popular among those who have access to computer services, and songs are being traded almost like baseball cards.
Sorry Classic and older Mac owners - Sound Tracker requires a Mac with a 68020 or higher. It works under System 7, but I'm not sure about System 6. If it does work with System 6, you certainly won't have the drag & drop feature.
On the Internet, check out the Info-Mac archives at sumex-aim.stanford.edu via FTP. Songs are located in the info-mac/sounds/st directory. On America Online, search the Mac files with the keyword MOD or Sound Tracker and you'll get a sense of what's available.
So if you don't already have Sound Tracker, what are you waiting for? It's worth the $30 and sounds great! Maestro?
by Mark H. Anbinder -- TidBITS Contributing Editor
Hewlett-Packard included a bulletin in a recent mailing to dealers warning them that, when demonstrating the capabilities of HP scanners, they must avoid scanning money and other "sensitive documents." Anyone who does scan such documents risks "Constructive Seizure" of their computer equipment, up to $25,000 in fines, or up to fifteen years imprisonment.
Apparently HP has learned of an incident where U.S. Treasury agents seized an HP ScanJet IIc scanner, HP DeskJet 500C printer, and an HP Vectra personal computer. The dealer and HP sales representative involved spent a considerable amount of time retrieving the equipment.
HP provides this list of guidelines from the U.S. government.
We wish to add that, if you do scan photographs (or even text) from copyrighted publications, it's important to secure permission before using that material in any way.
Perhaps the government is concerned that computer input and output devices are becoming powerful enough that counterfeiting is (or will soon be) a real concern. We've seen the latest output technology, though, and we're skeptical that counterfeiting with multi-million-dollar technology would be cost-effective! Of course, until output quality catches up with the government's concerns, we'll be unable to avoid the image of a crook lugging along a 24-bit color 1152 x 870 monitor, trying to convince someone that the scanned image on it is legal tender!
[This article is being published simultaneously in TidBITS and Clicks!, the newsletter of the Ithaca Macintosh Users' Group.]
by Matt Neuburg -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's one more drop in the never-ending flow of One Person's Opinions comparing Nisus 3.06 and Word 5.0. Your mileage may vary, and this is certainly not the last word - pun intended, as I suspect that Word 6.0 (mid-1993 is the current fantasy prediction) will change things considerably, especially if it includes a macro language and automatic numbering of figures, cross-referencing, and so forth.
These comments adopt roughly the order and categories of my review of Nisus, published by TidBITS and living on sumex-aim.stanford.edu as /info-mac/digest/tb/tidbits-nisus.etx; see it for more detail if desired. Here I simply list categories and declare my personal winner in each.
Typing -- Word; there is much less delay in screen updating and use of the Delete key, and it uses fairly standard key-input coding, whereas Nisus uses its own system and doesn't work with input-modifying extensions like SmartKeys.
Text Selection -- Nisus. Any program with non-contiguous multiple selection beats everything else cold, and Nisus's selection methods generally are wonderfully easy and intuitive.
Moving Around the Document -- Word, where you can customize the keyboard commands and can jump back instantly to a previous location. However, Nisus gets points for letting you name and jump to locations in the document, and for its clever way of letting you know what page you're on during the middle of a thumb- scroll.
Windows -- Nisus. You can easily stack or tile multiple windows (though tiling is flawed), and you get more ways to move between windows; you can also do things to a window without bringing it to the front.
Menus -- Neck-and-neck. Word's menus are more customizable; you can completely rearrange them, and set nearly any key-code you like (in Nisus, every key-code must involve the command key). However, Nisus's use of multiple keystrokes in the key-codes is ingenious, and so is its use of menus which change as modifier-keys are held down.
Editing -- Nisus, by a mile. Unlimited multiple Undo rules! And every time I use Word I find myself hunting for the Append Copy and Swap Paste commands, and the multiple clipboards; but they're only in Nisus.
Footnotes, Creating and Modifying -- Word, by a mile. In Nisus you can't see the main text when creating or modifying the text of a footnote, which is stupid.
Footnotes, Numbering -- Nisus, which gives you lots of numbering formats (in brackets, in parentheses, raised, not raised) or you can make your own, and they can differ in text and footnote. In Word you get no choice.
Footnotes, Appearance -- Word, which knows the difference between a normal separator and a continuation separator, and lets you modify either one completely.
Find/Replace -- Nisus, of course; this is one of its major features. Sorry, Word, your new Find/Replace is cute, but since your only wild-card is a single character, it's not very useful even in a simple-minded search.
Macros and Programming Language -- Well, right now Word is completely out of it; but even when it brings its macro/programming language on line, it's going to have its work cut out for it if it wants to be in the same class with Nisus. This is Nisus's other major feature.
Styles -- Hmm, this is a toughie. I guess that although I have some lengthy complaints about the details, Nisus wins for letting you do really powerful, useful things like instantly cause all identically formatted (but un-styled) paragraphs to be brought under a single style, and for allowing you to apply multiple styles to a single piece of text but keep them separate (so that you can alter or remove just one of them later). Nisus also has character styles, unlike Word, which is limited to paragraph styles. But Word lets you designate styles as Based On other styles, and includes the Keep With Next Paragraph designation; it also has a more orderly, predictable way of importing styles. In addition, Word styles import into page layout programs well.
Tables and Side-by-side Paragraphs -- Word has 'em, and they're great, too. Nisus hasn't a thing.
Columnar Layout -- Word. In Nisus a document can only have one columnar layout (one column, or two, or whatever) without screwing around with Placed Pages; in Word you just insert a section break, press a button on the Ribbon, and voila, you've switched to a new columnization.
Cross-referencing -- Nisus. Nisus lets you mark locations in the text and refer to them by page number elsewhere in the document. Word has nothing here.
Table-of-Contents and Indexing -- Word, which has far more levels and far more options and better handling generally. However, shame on both programs for not letting you index material in footnotes!
Spell-checking and Thesaurus -- Both lousy in both programs.
Hyphenation -- Word, which shows you what it's doing and asks for your approval; Nisus just hyphenates, right or wrong. But neither program lets you set parameters.
Glossary -- Now virtually identical.
Mail Merge -- The Word 5.0 interface is undeniably easy and inviting. However, both programs have essentially the same actual capacities. And shame on both for causing character formatting to be lost from the data document during the merge! [This would need to be optional, since people using one data file for several main documents might strongly object to having to use the same formats in different main documents. -Tonya]
Drawing -- I don't think much of either program's built-in picture-making facilities, but Nisus better handles pictures created from within it. They run about even on handling pictures created by other programs; Word's linking and embedding technology may put it in the lead eventually. Nisus XS, the new Publish & Subscribe extension to Nisus, has unfortunately slipped to later in the year.
Big Documents -- Word, because you can chain documents together. Word has always been excellent at dealing with the possibility that the user may not have much memory. In Nisus, you have to be able to load your whole document at once to open it at all.
Manual -- Word. It has one of the best manuals, in fact, that I have ever read: I'm actually impressed. Nisus has one of the worst.
Learning Curve -- I think Word is much easier to use powerfully. Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make this true; hence the new ribbon, draggable text, draggable frames, Print Merge Helper, and TOC and Indexing help. I wouldn't recommend Nisus to any novice Mac user. On the other hand Word hasn't as much depth to learn about; I would certainly recommend Nisus to any programming-savvy user, and there are many uses for which it is simply the only choice.
I trust it is now obvious which one to buy... ;->
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.
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue