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This week we have a review of the just-released MacWeb WWW browser, the real story on using America Online over the Internet, and a review of a high tech joke book. Mark Anbinder writes about Connectix's new RAM-doubling version of their Maxima RAM disk software, and Mel Park passes on some great stories about the original Colossal Cave - remember ADVENTURE?
Copyright 1994 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Comments: <email@example.com>
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
The URL for the TidBITS World-Wide Web home page has changed slightly due to some changes on the server. It is now:
Internet Providers! -- In an attempt to provide more complete information about Internet providers in the second edition of Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, I'm seeking information about providers around the world who are not listed in Peter Kaminski's excellent PDIAL list. (To request a copy of the PDIAL list, send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org> with "Send PDIAL" in the Subject line.)
I'll post the results to the net as well, and feel free to forward this to providers who might not otherwise see it. Please send me <email@example.com> four (and only four) pieces of information:
Your <firstname.lastname@example.org> address for additional information
Your voice phone number
A list of the area codes you cover for local access (and the country if outside the U.S.) [ACE]
Pythaeus notes in relation to our question about what happens to the LC line now that Performas can be sold into the higher education channel that the LC line (including a new one numbered 636, so they're not ditching the line entirely) will stick around only in the K-12 market. Curious. [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
Thanks to Art Sanderson <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Sunil Paul <email@example.com> at America Online, we finally have the real details on accessing America Online via the Internet. From what they tell us, the information about the beta program provided over the phone and then reported to us is almost completely wrong. The telephone tech support folks know nothing about this (or any other) beta program and ideally shouldn't answer questions about it at all. Once the software is released, the telephone support folks should be trained on it.
If you have problems accessing America Online over the Internet, send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or if you use the Windows TCP software, <email@example.com>. Even if you haven't been accepted into the beta program, you can report bugs and other problems.
The first thing to note is that you will not be expelled for using the beta software. However, America Online asks that you sign up online (keyword = Internet Apply) so they can keep track of how many people use the system, inform testers of any major bugs, give them access to the beta discussion areas on America Online, and so on.
Second, although America Online has not yet finalized pricing for TCP/IP users, it's likely that it will be the same as for a local call - $9.95 for the first five hours and $3.50 each hour after that. Those who pay additional surcharges for connecting from overseas or Hawaii, for instance, should not face those surcharges over the Internet. However, international users, while welcome on America Online, must use America Online's billing, which requires a major credit card or U.S. bank account.
by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
Last month, Connectix introduced a new version of Maxima, its popular RAM disk management software. Maxima 3.0 supports all Power Macintoshes, in addition to all 68030 and 68040 Mac models, and incorporates Connectix's proprietary RAM doubling technology (as seen in RAM Doubler) to create a RAM disk twice the size of the physical memory allocated.
Speaking of RAM Doubler, Connectix says the two products can be used together seamlessly; a Mac with 32 MB of physical RAM, for example, could be set up with a 16 MB RAM disk and still have 48 MB left for system and application memory.
Maxima provides a "non-volatile" RAM disk, a Macintosh volume that acts like a hard disk on the Mac desktop but works at the far-higher speed of memory. The contents of the RAM disk stick around through shutdowns, restarts, and even system crashes. Only a power failure will result in the loss of data from a RAM disk. (If this sounds like a bad idea to you, we suggest you add a UPS, or uninterruptible power supply, to your setup - and avoid tripping over power cords.)
Using a RAM disk to store active system software, applications, and even documents can dramatically improve performance by replacing relatively slow disk accesses with much quicker memory accesses. Maxima enables you to copy your active System Folder to the RAM disk and then reboot from that; subsequent restarts are lightning-fast, and the Mac runs much faster with its system software in memory. You can balance between speed and memory requirements by keeping some, but not all, of your extensions and fonts in the RAM disk. (The rest can still be accessed via a clever alias arrangements.)
On a PowerBook, running from the RAM disk has the further advantage of keeping the hard drive spun down, to lesson the annoyance of having it spin up and conserve battery power. Connectix says Maxima is particularly useful to software developers, who can benefit from dramatically shortened compile times on large programming projects.
Maxima requires at least 8 MB of real memory in order to run on Macintosh computers that support RAM disks already. (Of course, the more memory the better.) On Macs that don't support a RAM disk in the system software, you must have more than 8 MB of RAM. Memory "created" by RAM Doubler doesn't count! The software runs on any 68030, 68040, or PowerPC Macintosh, or on an 68020 Mac that has a PMMU added. This means almost every Mac introduced since 1990, including every PowerBook save the 100, can use Maxima. (And the PowerBook 100 already has a completely non-volatile RAM disk built in.)
Maxima is the first member of the Connectix product line to take full advantage of the PowerPC performance of the new Power Macintosh line. The "overweight software" (in Connectix's words) contains both 680x0 and PowerPC code. All of Maxima's time-critical sections have been rewritten in native PowerPC code for optimal performance.
Registered owners of previous Maxima versions may obtain a $19.95 upgrade by telephone, fax, email, carrier pigeon (NoDropping protocol only, please), smoke signal, or message in a bottle (allow 4-128 weeks for return bottle delivery). Connectix accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover for upgrade orders.
Connectix -- 800/950-5880 -- 415/571-5100 -- 415/571-5195 (fax)
-- Information from:
Roy McDonald, Connectix CEO
by Mel Park <email@example.com>
I just received my copy of Apprentice, the CD of source code put out by Celestin Company (mentioned in TidBITS #228). My CD came so soon because I am one of the hundreds of authors whose work is contained within.
Looking through the CD's contents, I was pleased to see that the source code for Advent is on the disk. Advent is the successor to the game of ADVENTURE, which in one form or another has been known to the computing community for 30 years. On one hand, having ADVENTURE still distributed in 1994 pays homage to the tradition of this first of all the text-based computer games. On the other hand, I am pleased even more to see it because of my close association with the real cave on which the game is based and because of the tradition within the caving (call it spelunking if you must) community that the game ADVENTURE represents. How many know that the world you explore in ADVENTURE is a real place? The online help for Advent gives this brief description:
* THE HISTORY OF ADVENTURE (ABRIDGED) * By Ima Wimp ADVENTURE was originally developed by William Crowther, and later substantially rewritten and expanded by Don Woods at Stanford Univ. According to legend, Crowther's original version was modeled on an a real cavern, called Colossal Cave, which is a part of Kentucky's Mammoth Caverns. That version of the game included the main maze and a portion of the third-level (Complex Junction - Bedquilt - Swiss Cheese rooms, etc.), but not much more....
"According to legend" - Hah! ADVENTURE is based on a real cave, one that is, indeed, now part of the Mammoth Cave System in Kentucky. The cave is not Colossal, however, but Bedquilt Cave. In our small circle, Willie Crowther is a famous, as was his wife then, cave explorer of the 60's and 70's when Colossal, Bedquilt, Salts, Crystal and the other caves under Flint Ridge, Kentucky were mapped together to become the longest cave in the world. In 1972 the Flint Ridge caves were joined to Mammoth Cave, over on the next ridge, in a series of difficult trips in low, half-water-filled passages under Houchin's Valley. That connection is still called the Everest of speleology. The total known length of the Mammoth Cave System exceeds 350 miles and exploration is still going on.
Bedquilt was Willie's favorite part of the cave system. I still have a copy of his map of it. Computer types who grew up exploring ADVENTURE don't realize how accurately the game represents passages in Bedquilt Cave. Yes, there is a Hall of the Mountain King and a Two-Pit Room. The entrance is indeed a strong steel grate at the bottom of a twenty-foot depression.
On a survey trip to Bedquilt, a member of my party mentioned she would one day like to go on trip to Colossal Cave, where she understood the game ADVENTURE was set. No, I said, the game is based on Bedquilt Cave and we are going there now. Excitement! Throughout the cave, she kept up a constant narrative, based on her encyclopedic knowledge of the game. In the Complex Room (renamed Swiss Cheese Room in Advent) she scrambled off in a direction I had never been. "I just had to see Witt's End," she said upon returning. "It was exactly as I expected." When we finished with our work, I let her lead out, which she did flawlessly, again because she had memorized every move in the game. Believe me, the cave is a real maze, and this was an impressive accomplishment for a first-time visitor.
A second funny incident also reminded us of the game. About three years ago, a party was returning from a survey trip in Bedquilt. When suspended in space at the most awkward point in the climb out of the Hall of Mists, one party member, Roger, noticed to his horror a copperhead snake (was it THE SNAKE?) on the ledge next to his right hand. This climb is more difficult than just typing "up" or "down" on your computer terminal. At the top of it, you are stretched all the way out, pressing against one wall with hands behind you and against the other wall with outstretched legs, while fervently searching for place to put your butt or back in order to support your weight. You can't move anywhere quickly in that predicament. Confronted by the snake, Roger was so beside himself that all he could do was yell "strike, strike" as the copperhead proceeded to do just that. Tom, the party leader, had already made the climb up (and not seen the snake). Looking around for something to do, he found a stick (was it the MAGIC WAND?), in the Bird Chamber (the room with the rivers of orange stone, actually a beautiful column of orange travertine). Wand in hand, he moved the snake away. Fortunately, the snake lacked energy from having been in the 55-degree cave for a while, and Roger was wearing gloves and heavy caving attire. None of the snake bites penetrated.
An exciting and readable history of the modern exploration of Mammoth Cave, up to the 1972 connection, is in "The Longest Cave" by Roger Brucker and Richard Watson.
As a final irony, the Apprentice CD contains a small map of Bedquilt Cave and it happens to be from Willie Crowther's mapping data. It's in the About box for Vectors, my cave-mapping application that I hadn't planned to be on the CD because it is such an esoteric program (it's okay, Paul, you have my belated permission).
by Tonya Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A few months ago, my mother called to complain about not being able to find computer humor books. Mom doesn't have the advantage of living near bookstores made from (and completely filling) remodeled bowling alleys, but even so, people who write computer books don't often branch out into the humor department. In an effort to fill that gap, Oak Ridge Public Relations recently published the High Tech Joke Book (ISBN# 0-9640105-0-X), a compilation of jokes regarding engineering of all sorts, academia, red tape, and programming. The jokes were compiled by various Oak Ridge employees, and submitted by hundreds of people at the request of Oak Ridge.
If you've been on the nets for long, particularly if you've read rec.humor.funny or if you've been electronically befriended by someone who does, you've seen many of the jokes. The book includes lots of jokes that start along the lines of, "an engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician are asked to suggest an efficient method for changing a light bulb." The book ranges far and wide with sections on Murphy's Laws, other people's laws ("Shaw's Principle: Build a system that even a fool can use, and only a fool will want to use it"), if operating systems were cars, if operating systems were U.S. political candidates, wacky but real-life quotes from professors ("Now this is a totally brain-damaged algorithm. Gag me with a Smurfette"), various glossaries defining programming and engineering terms, and more. The book finishes with a section of high-tech poetry, which generally serves to demonstrate the lack of literary computer poetry, though I did like the last poem in the book, which starts, "Hubble, hubble, toil and trouble, NASA burn and Congress bubble / Twist of cable, too much slack, Mirror testing out of whack."
The Oak Ridge press release describes High Tech Joke Book as "compact, measuring 5.5" x 8.5" x .5." It is enclosed in a rugged multi-color paper chassis. The unit comes fully loaded with all features required for use, including backlit screen simulation using high resolution black type on a white background. No battery, cabling, or additional documentation is required."
I fully expect some people to find the book totally hilarious and others to be completely unimpressed. Such is life. Oak Ridge is offering TidBITS readers a 25 percent discount off of the $14.95 list price for direct orders. Since the book is only sold in a few bookstores in the San Francisco Bay area (Computer Literacy Bookstores and the Stanford University Bookstore), direct order would be the way to go for most people.
To direct order by email to Oak Ridge, send your name, address, phone number, credit card number, credit card expiration date, and how many books you want. Various reasonable prices apply for shipping to different areas and Californians pay state tax.
Oak Ridge Public Relations -- 408/253-5042 -- 408/253-0936 (fax)
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
[Excerpted from Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, 2nd edition.]
A few days ago, while browsing through comp.sys.mac.comm, I spotted an announcement for a new World-Wide Web browser called MacWeb, written by John Hardin for MCC's EINet group. The fact that there was only one stable Web browser available previously (NCSA Mosaic) made this announcement interesting, but the feature set, including the lusted-after forms support that Mosaic doesn't yet have (wait a few weeks for the beta of Mosaic 2.0 to appear), made MacWeb sound like a must. And, from first glance, it looks like MacWeb will be an essential program to have until Mosaic adds forms support, and then the competition will heat up.
Installation and Setup -- There's no installation or setup worth mentioning for MacWeb; essentially you connect to the Internet and then launch MacWeb. Since MacWeb comes preset to open a local home page that lives on your hard disk in MacWeb's Documentation folder, if you launch MacWeb without connecting to the Internet first via SLIP or PPP, MacWeb won't open MacTCP and try to dial.
MacWeb has a few preferences, which you get to by going to the File menu and selecting Preferences. You can change the home page that MacWeb automatically accesses on launch to any valid URL; you can have MacWeb automatically open a specific hotlist of stored URLs at startup; and you can set little options, such as the window background color and Autoload Images (turn it off for faster performance over a SLIP or PPP connection). Despite MacWeb's Load Images This Page menu item, I'd prefer that MacWeb kept the option for autoloading images in the menus because I find that I often want to toggle that setting.
If you don't like the way MacWeb assigns fonts to the HTML styles, you can change the fonts via the Edit menu in Styles dialog box. The Element pop-up menu and its sub-menus enable to you pick a style to edit, and since the styles are hierarchical, it's easy to set all heading styles to Helvetica, say, and then vary the font size for the different heading sizes. You can also modify colors as well, but I'd recommend restraint on the colors - colored text (and too many colors in text especially) can be difficult to read.
Basic Usage -- I always feel funny telling people how to use a Web browser, because it seems obvious. MacWeb is no exception, and in fact the basic window design looks much like Mosaic, as does the menu layout and features such as the Hotlist interface.
MacWeb offers buttons for moving back and forth between places you've visited, a home button for bouncing back to your home page; a question mark button for Web search items; an editable URL field for copying URLs; and a status field that indicates what MacWeb is doing, along with a preview of what URL goes with any given link. My favorite part of the status line is that it often tells the size of the file MacWeb is accessing, and counts up as it retrieves the file.
When you click on an underlined link, MacWeb promptly takes you to the appropriate page, and as it fills the page, you can scroll down. However, if MacWeb brings in a graphic, it pops back to the top of the page when it draws the graphic, which can make for a confusing jump. The Find command (from the Edit menu) helps if you hit a large page and want to jump directly to a certain part.
If you find a Web resource that you wish to visit again, add it to your Hotlist with the Add This Document item in the Hotlist menu. The Hotlist menu also has a Hotlist Interface sub-menu with options for creating new hotlists, opening old ones, editing them, saving them, and so on.
Of course, if you have a URL from a newsgroup or TidBITS, you can enter it manually into MacWeb by choosing Open URL from the File menu and typing or pasting the URL. MacWeb can also open local documents and can reload the page if it isn't up to date for some reason.
Problems -- You cannot select text in the main window, which means that you cannot copy it for use anywhere else. I do this all the time when I want to tell someone about a neat Web site or to send email to an address I see on a Web site. Copy & paste is essential for these tasks, and any Macintosh application should allow you to copy text from a text display window. This is the most requested feature and should be fixed soon.
If you're used to the way Macintosh applications accept mouse clicks, MacWeb may confuse you. If you click on a link, the link activates when the mouse button goes down, not when it comes up, as is standard in Mac applications. John also noted that he plans to fix this problem quickly as well.
Other minor irritations exist. Although MacWeb allows you to resize its window to any size you like, it doesn't remember the size; you must resize it each time if you don't like the default size.
MacWeb doesn't always like being interrupted (although reports indicate that it's better than Mosaic 1.0.3) - if you press Command-Period to stop the transfer of data, the data transfer stops, sometimes along with your Mac, after which you must restart.
Finally, there are many different types of data on the Web, and Mosaic handles them through a set of helper applications. MacWeb wants to do the same, but currently provides no interface for choosing helper applications. If you don't have the proper helper application, MacWeb claims it can't find the viewing application and asks if you'd like to launch one manually. Nice idea, but opening one in the a Standard File dialog box doesn't currently work (but will be fixed). If MacWeb doesn't open helper applications at all, but does work if they're already running (experiment with a GIF and JPEGView), try rebuilding your desktop to update the desktop database.
Special Features -- Although relatively simple, MacWeb has a number of special features that complement its sparse interface. Although it has a History sub-menu under its Navigate menu, MacWeb also provides a shortcut for navigating to the sites you've previously visited - just click and hold on either the forward or back buttons. After a second or two, a pop-up menu appears, listing the history.
When you choose Open URL to type or paste in a new URL, MacWeb provides a pop-up menu of hotlist items; selecting an item from that list pastes its URL into the URL field for you to edit if you so choose. It also remembers the last URL you've typed in that session, which is thoughtful. You can also type, paste, or edit a URL in the editable URL field in the main window. Once you do that, pressing Return or Enter opens that URL.
In a nod to NCSA Mosaic, MacWeb can import hotlists generated by Mosaic. This simplifies switching to MacWeb if you have a large hotlist in Mosaic.
If you decide to run with images turned off by default, you can load selected ones by clicking on them, as you would expect, but if you want to get all of the images on a page, the Options menu offers a Load Images This Page command, which does just what it says.
MacWeb enables you to save a document as straight text (often strikingly ugly without the formatting you see onscreen) or as HTML, (useful for seeing how a certain effect has been achieved). If you want to view the HTML quickly, from the Options menu choose View Source and MacWeb generates an HTML file and opens it in BBEdit, TeachText, or SimpleText. Holding down the Shift key retrieves the page again and displays the original HTML (a subtle difference). Holding down the Shift and Control keys while selecting View Source retrieves the original HTML file and also retains any MIME headers sent from the server. These modifiers apply to all document retrieval actions, so you can load a document to disk, merely by Shift-clicking on a link or Shift-entering a URL.
In its Navigate menu, MacWeb lists a few places that you might want to visit, and one of them is the EINet Galaxy, which I'm finding a useful launch point for finding information. EINet has done some interesting things, such as building a search into many of the navigational links, so when you see the results, not only do you have the few hard-coded links, but also many dynamic links created from the search. EINet searches a Veronica database, the HYTELNET database, and many places on the Web itself, so it does pretty well. I'd like a hard-coded link to the NCSA What's New page, but you can hack this one in for yourself. Edit MacWeb with ResEdit, and in the STR# resource, add two new fields at the end of the "NavigateM" resource. Call the first "NCSA What's New Page" and for the other, enter:
MacWeb supports two Apple events, one of which is OpenURL (OURL). In theory, AppleScript or another application (such as Eudora or NewsWatcher - plans are already in the making) could send MacWeb an OURL event to have it access a particular URL or respond to an OURL event sent from MacWeb from a mailto or news URL. EINet's shareware MacWAIS client supports the OURL event too, and can thus take special advantage of this, by handling direct WAIS connections for MacWeb, with the documents being sent back to MacWeb for viewing. You can get the necessary version of MacWAIS at:
Last, and perhaps most important at this time, is MacWeb's forms support. Mosaic is slated to have forms support in version 2.0, due out soon, but if you're impatient, you simply must get MacWeb and try it out. Once you run into a site with forms, you get fields and buttons and menus onscreen, and you can work with them just as though they were part of a Macintosh dialog box. For a sample, try searching through TidBITS with this forms-based interface to WAIS.
Overall Evaluation -- MacWeb is a excellent program in its early releases, and I anticipate most of the rough edges to be worked out in the near future. I would like to see it stray a little from the Mosaic model - just because Mosaic is the most popular Web browser out there doesn't mean that it has a lock on how a Web browser should look and act. In particular, the Hotlist feature could be improved and differentiated.
Until the Macintosh version of Mosaic gets forms support, I expect MacWeb to garner a significant mindshare of the Macintosh Internet community. All too often I've ended up at an interesting-sounding Web site and then had to leave without trying it due to the lack of forms support in Mosaic.
MacWeb has a surprisingly small footprint at 374K on disk, a welcome size given some of today's bloated applications. It requires less memory than many, and can run in a 700K memory partition (don't believe the 2,048K number in the Get Info dialog box). Perhaps because of its small size, it feels faster and more responsive than Mosaic.
Administrative Details -- MacWeb was written by John Hardin of the EINet group of MCC, the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (and no, I don't know how they get that acronym to work). MCC has released MacWeb as freeware for academic, research, or personal use; companies should contact MCC for licensing information. To report problems with or make suggestions about MacWeb, send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You can retrieve the current version of MacWeb on the Internet at:
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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