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Our thoughts remain with those affected by last week's terrorist attacks. Adam writes briefly about the events and Mac companies who are helping out. Elsewhere, Geoff Bronner tests wireless Ethernet on a Palm handheld, and Adam examines how iRemember provides a travelogue of your Web browsing. In the news, Apple cancels Apple Expo Paris, Handspring ships new Visors, and CS Odessa releases ConceptDraw Professional.
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Apple Expo Paris 2001 Cancelled, Seybold Continues -- In a brief announcement today, Apple cancelled Apple Expo 2001, scheduled for 26-Sep-01 through 30-Sep-01 in Paris, France. "We're canceling Apple Expo in the wake of last week's devastating and tragic events," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We're sorry to disappoint our users and developers, but their safety is our primary concern." In contrast, Seybold Seminars announced that it was continuing ahead with plans to hold Seybold San Francisco on 24-Sep-01 through 28-Sep-01. Explaining the decision, Seybold Seminars president Gene Gable said, "We believe that the proper response from the Seybold community is to once again demonstrate the vitality of our industry and the contribution it makes to the global economy." [ACE]
Handspring Introduces Pro and Neo Visors -- Handspring today released two new Visor devices, adding speed and more memory to the Palm OS-based handhelds. The entry-level Visor Neo, priced at $200, features 8 MB of memory and is now 50 percent faster than the Visor Deluxe, thanks to its 33 MHz Dragonball VZ processor. The Visor Pro, at $300, uses the same processor but includes 16 MB of memory, the most built-in RAM of any current Palm device, and is powered by an internal rechargeable battery. Both devices feature grayscale screens, Springboard expansion slots, and the same form factor as the Visor Deluxe, albeit in different colors: the Pro is silver, while the Neo comes in translucent red, blue, and "smoke." Both Visors qualify for Handspring's current promotion that offers a free VisorPhone Springboard module with any Handspring Visor and service activation. (See "Diving Into Visor Springboard Modules" in TidBITS-586 for more about the VisorPhone.) [JLC]
CS Odessa Takes ConceptDraw Professional -- CS Odessa today released ConceptDraw Professional, a beefed-up version of the company's powerful and flexible graphics application (for a full review, see "Make the Connection with ConceptDraw" in TidBITS-553). New features in ConceptDraw Professional include over 25 additional libraries of specialized images and symbols, compatibility with CAD applications via DXF import/export support, bidirectional support for importing from and exporting to PowerPoint presentations, improved data exchange with Microsoft Visio, and outline support for converting drawings to and from textual format. Available for the classic Mac OS, Mac OS X, and Windows, ConceptDraw Professional costs $250; upgrades from ConceptDraw are $125 and academic discounts are available. ConceptDraw Professional requires Mac OS 8.6 or higher running on a PowerPC 603e-based Mac (PowerPC G3 recommended) with 32 MB of available RAM. [ACE]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
I have no special knowledge of international affairs, nor do I pretend to speak from such a position. But as I've sat, shocked, sick, and numb, over the last few days, I believe that some acknowledgment in TidBITS of last Tuesday's horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is appropriate.
My reasoning is simple. Any community - even to the level of our global society - is only as strong as the individual ties that we build and maintain every day. The enormity of the loss of life in the attack overwhelmed me - I simply cannot (nor do I wish to) comprehend what it means for thousands of people to have died in this single, fatally intentional, and highly publicized event. But my thoughts went immediately to those members of my online communities - TidBITS, TidBITS Talk, XNSORG - who I know live, work, or were travelling in New York. Within a day or so, I'd heard from those with whom I'm closest, and all of them are fine.
And yet, there are members of our community who were injured or killed, and who had friends, colleagues, and relatives injured or killed. For them we can but mourn and work to create a free and open society that has no place for the practice of terrorism. We cannot live in fear, we cannot turn our lives inward, and we must resist the temptation to subject ourselves to a self-imposed police state in the name of increased safety.
Tonya commented to me recently that the United States is an ongoing experiment in freedom, and she's absolutely correct. Many of our past and present conflicts - ranging from the Civil War to abortion rights arguments - center around questions of freedom because there are no easy answers. Freedom is never without risk, and although those risks come in many forms, the threat that lurks behind all of them is the loss of freedom itself. That, and that alone, would end the experiment, and end it in the worst possible way.
Help Out -- In the immediate situation, there are numerous relief efforts and organizations who need financial support. I encourage you to aid their efforts - you can find any number of them easily on the Internet, although it's worth exercising care since scams have appeared that purport to solicit donations for relief organizations. A few suggestions from the Coalition Against Unsolicited Email (CAUCE) and the SpamCon Foundation:
If you don't know the organization or person who sent the request, it's probably fraudulent.
Virtually no bona-fide relief agencies request funds by sending email to people who are not already involved in that agency. Solicitations made in this way may also violate laws in the United States and Europe.
If you click a link to donate, examine the page's URL shown in your browser. If the domain name of the URL is hidden, unfamiliar, or doesn't match the link's text, the request is probably fraudulent.
Verify the solicitor's identity through another medium (such as the telephone) before giving money. Spammers frequently forge the identities and imitate the styles of well-known entities to gain credibility.
A safe donation is to the National Disaster Relief Fund of the American Red Cross. You can donate directly via credit card on the Red Cross site, plus Amazon and PayPal both set up simpler methods of donating when the Red Cross site was overwhelmed after the attack. Both companies are waiving their normal fees so 100 percent of donations go to the relief effort; as of this writing, more than 200,000 individuals and organizations (including TidBITS) have donated more than $7.3 million. Donations to the Red Cross can be made by telephone at 800-HELP-NOW.
Information about blood donations to the Red Cross can be found at 800-GIVE-LIFE. Although the immediate need for blood has passed, the nation's blood supply does need constant replenishment due to the 42-day lifespan of donated blood, so consider giving blood in a few weeks and again on a regular schedule.
Companies Helping Out -- A number of Macintosh-related companies have temporarily pledged proceeds from their sales to help the relief efforts, and for that they deserve praise. Companies donating in this fashion include Aladdin ($1 per online sale through 30-Sep-01), Intelli Innovations ($10 per purchase through 21-Sep-01), MCF Software (100 percent of ListSTAR sales and 50 percent of MacRadius sales through 30-Sep-01), PagePlanet Software (50 percent of gross sales through 30-Sep-01), RadGad (all profits through 30-Sep-01), Small Dog Electronics (matching charitable gifts and donating $10 per order during the week of 17-Sep-01), and Thursby Systems (all online sales through 21-Sep-01).
If you know of other companies offering similar pledges, please send a note to TidBITS Talk, where I'll expand the list.
Move Forward -- All of this said, I do not wish TidBITS to be a forum for coverage of this tragic event, nor do I wish TidBITS Talk to host discussions of the attack that fall outside the TidBITS Talk charter. Beside the fact that there are far more appropriate forums for both coverage and discussion, the process of healing must include a return to normalcy while at the same time acknowledging the magnitude of what has happened. Although I'm sure the level of shock varies widely, the electronic connections we've formed with one another ensure that repercussions from the attack affect all of us. And from that point, we must all continue to move forward together, for that is what life is all about.
by Geoffrey V. Bronner <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The one portable device I carry that still needs wires is the smallest, a Palm Vx. Until recently, any mention of a Palm OS device and wireless technology involved getting a Palm VII, with its built-in wireless modem, or using a cellular modem. But what I needed was a way to connect a Palm device to the 802.11b wireless network that I use every day at work and the AirPort base station in my home.
The wireless network at work (a college campus with a few hundred Cisco Aironet access points) began as a bonus for laptop users, but now that smaller portable devices like the Compaq iPaq are gaining popularity, I was eager to add a Palm OS device to the mix. Earlier this year Xircom (now owned by Intel) announced that it would be releasing wireless LAN modules for the Handspring Visor and Palm m500 handhelds. The SpringPort Wireless Ethernet Module (SWE) was released in June and the Palm Wireless Ethernet Module (PWE) followed in August. Both cost $300 from Xircom.
The one notable difference between the two Xircom modules, aside from their appearances, is the bundled software. The SWE comes with a copy of MultiMail SE and the Handspring Blazer Web browser. The PWE does not include either product, though Palm m500s and m505s come with MultiMail SE and Palm's Web clipping applications.
I volunteered to trade in my Palm Vx and start testing the wireless module with a Palm m500 as soon as it was available. My boss carries a Compaq iPaq, but with its expansion case and wireless card attached, it becomes bulky and unbalanced. In comparison, the module for the Palm m500 clips onto the back of the handheld, adding thickness, but still enabling you to fit it into a shirt pocket. Without the module attached, the m500 is much smaller and lighter than the iPaq - an advantage for evenings and weekends.
The module comes with only a small instruction booklet, which was fine for my needs, but might be too brief for someone who is not already familiar with 802.11b networking. Clipping the module to the m500 automatically copies the XircomPWE setup software to the handheld's memory. After charging the battery (with the same AC adapter that came with the Palm m500), I entered the college's network settings - I had the device configured after only a few minutes. If you connect to multiple networks (such as work and home), you'll need to set up separate profiles for each. In my case, I've set up my network at home with the same name as the college, with both supplying IP numbers using DHCP, so I can use one profile for both.
Field Test -- Once the module is configured you can ignore the XircomPWE program forever, but the application also includes a status screen that lets you see the wireless access point you're using, the signal strength, the battery charge of the module, and all your IP address information.
The reception of the wireless module is good, comparable to a laptop with a wireless PC card at extreme range. It selects the nearest/strongest access point consistently, though reception tends to drop off quickly the further you move away from the access point; I'm guessing this is due to the module's lower power requirements. However, active roaming between access points is not reliable, so moving a distance while something is downloading may interrupt the transaction.
The battery holds up well over the course of a busy work day, and if you plug the module into the AC adapter with the Palm attached, both batteries are recharged. Using the module doesn't seem to drain the battery in the Palm faster than normal use.
Putting It to Work -- The Xircom setup instructions say nothing about using applications with the module except for a section on using Network HotSync, which gives you the capability to synchronize a Palm device to a single computer from any other computer on the network. Being able to HotSync anywhere on campus would be a boon, but unfortunately, Network HotSync is not supported in Palm Desktop 2.6.3 for Macintosh. Instead, I tested this feature with an IBM ThinkPad laptop running Windows 98 SE, Outlook 2000, and Palm Desktop 4.0. It works great; I just wish it could do the same with my Macintosh. Palm's continued lack of support for Network HotSync on a Macintosh is a disappointment and reduces the value of this fairly expensive accessory for Mac users.
Even without Network HotSync, however, the module had an immediate impact on how I use a Palm device. I still carry it all the time but it gets a lot more use, and my AirPort-equipped PowerBook probably feels a little neglected.
Having a wireless network can make it too easy to bring a laptop into a meeting where the computer can be disruptive. Grabbing a PowerBook every time you step away from a desk is also not practical. I only carry a laptop around with me now if I know for certain that I will need it.
In terms of applications, what makes the most difference? The answer, of course, is email, the original killer app. A well-configured copy of MultiMail SE and an IMAP mail server allow me to keep tabs on my incoming email with a subtlety not possible with a laptop. This alone has doubled or tripled my use of the Palm device. In particular, I've found this increased connectivity critical in the immediate wake of last week's World Trade Center attack, since I grew up in Manhattan and there are many Dartmouth alumni in the World Trade Center area.
Since the Xircom module works with the Palm like a modem, any application that can use a modem will work with the module. For example, I can use AvantGo's Modem Sync feature to update my AvantGo channels at home over the weekend while my cradle is back at the office. I can also access the Web using EudoraWeb, a text-only browser that I use to check on my Web servers (or read the TidBITS Handheld Edition). EudoraWeb is part of the Eudora Internet Suite, which also includes a Eudora email application for the Palm OS and a Windows-only email conduit. EudoraWeb is great because it can handle cookies and SSL, and needs no proxy server like Handspring's Blazer browser. It's a bare-bones Web implementation, but I prefer this approach for the types of information I need when I'm on the go.
Looking Forward -- Many conferences and trade shows now have wireless networks available for attendees to use, and I have taken advantage of them with my PowerBook in the past. In the future I'll bring along the PWE with my Palm m500 so I can update Vindigo and AvantGo more easily on the road.
Back at the office, we have seen enough to know that the module is easy to use and adds value to the Palm. Even without Network HotSync, the PWE makes the Palm an independent network device with more useful applications for an entirely different type of user. Applications like MultiMail that previously benefited traveling executives are now an asset for technical support staff, on-site managers, and other users moving about a corporate or academic campus.
We're already discussing a handheld-friendly version of the Web-based call tracking system used by our technical support staff. Other ideas are being tossed around, but some of them will need to wait until the module drops in price. If you have the wireless infrastructure and the budget, you'll enjoy making your Palm and Handspring handhelds into full-fledged network citizens.
[Geoff Bronner is webmaster for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, buys too many DVDs, and is an avid Lego collector.]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
The evolution of the computer is a tale of continually added capability, marked by the same fits and starts that are the hallmark of biological evolution. Start with the computer as a calculator programmed by physical wires and switches and punch cards, jump past the age of massive mainframes interfaced to dumb terminals, swish by the early Apple II and PC era of command line interfaces, and look back at the recent past in which the computer became a truly personal device through the graphical interface with which we've grown so familiar.
Throughout this whirlwind tour, you can see the evolution of uses to which computers have been put. Early machines were nothing but number crunchers, after which they added management of vast quantities of data to their repertoire. The concept of the interactive application came next, followed by the ascendence of the document as the focus of all computing (remember OpenDoc?). With the rise of the Internet, though, possibly the most important function yet was added to the mix - communication. Some research that Microsoft's Macintosh group did a few years back showed email and Web browsing joining word processing as the most common tasks performed by iMac users. And although instant messaging doesn't have the infiltration as the other two, it has certainly become a major activity on the Internet as well.
Despite this significant switch in the primary uses for computers, the efforts put toward software in these categories has been relatively superficial, and there's been little acknowledgment of the importance of the data that stream into one's computer from the Internet. Until recently, Netscape limited its historical record of Web sites you'd visited to those loaded in a single window. Close that window and poof, your trail was gone. Internet Explorer didn't share that unnecessary limitation, but set its own by remembering only the last 999 pages you've visited (that seldom lasts more than a week or two for me and I'd prefer a longer term memory). Internet Explorer also added the extremely useful auto-complete mechanism when typing URLs, so when I was researching 2.4 GHz antennas, the trivial fact that the URL had the string "2400" in it was all I needed to remember to return to the desired page with minimal fuss. Netscape now has a similar feature, and both browsers have in recent years added features that start to make intelligent use of the data coming in from the Web. For instance, both have links to Alexa for a Related Sites feature (Show Related Links under the Tools menu in Internet Explorer 5.1 and the What's Related sidebar in Netscape 6.1) that's useful if you've found a company in an area that interests you and you want to find others in that field. And Internet Explorer's Auction Manager feature, brittle though it is, points toward the kind of intelligence that can be layered on top of the stream of Web data flowing into your computer (I'm not a big auction participant, but I gather there are much more powerful utilities dedicated to tracking auctions).
Enhancing Memory -- That's a long preamble, especially because I'm going to tell you about a program that I've decided not to use. But the more I think about it, the more I believe that a small shareware utility called iRemember, from Serac Software, is an example of how we can move computing forward in the age of communication.
The concept behind iRemember is deceptively simple. It installs a pair of extensions, an Open Transport module, and an application that is launched whenever a Web browser is running. The main iRemember extension and the Open Transport module work together to capture all Web traffic that streams into your computer. The application then uses the Apple Information Access Toolkit, the indexing and searching technology behind Sherlock, to index the full text of every Web page you view. The indexing itself happens unobtrusively in the background, so you won't notice it happening; the only minor negative to this approach is that pages you've just visited won't be found by searches until they've been added to the index.
After you've browsed the Web with iRemember running for a while, you can start to see its utility. iRemember's signature feature is that you can search for words that appear in the pages you've visited, double-click a result, and iRemember loads that URL in a new window in your Web browser. It's worth noting that iRemember is not retaining the full text of every Web page after it adds the text to its index; you must still go out to the Web to see the page.
This simple function proves to be remarkably useful. All too often, I know I've read something on a topic, but I can't remember where. It might have been at any one of a dozen Web-based publications, most of which have miserable internal search engines, and many of which aren't accessible to the external search engines like Google. In the past when I've tried to revisit pages using traditional search engines, it's proved frustrating since those tools generally miss news articles, Web-based discussion forums, and other database-driven content. Also problematic is the fact that search engines like Google know nothing of my browsing history - in many cases, I'm more interested in finding the Web pages I've read already than those I haven't, and Google can't differentiate between the two.
The fact that iRemember knows exactly what pages I've visited is what's important. Those pages automatically have a value to me that other pages don't and being able to search through them offers a notable level of functionality that simply hasn't been possible before. I even found that knowing that iRemember was recording everything I viewed changed the way I read Web pages. I do a lot of information filtering - reading things quickly in an attempt to jam the information into my brain in case I should need it later, rather than because of a specific desire to know what's being said in depth. That way I can synthesize a great deal of seemingly unrelated information when trying to explain a topic in TidBITS. As I've gotten older and the amount of information on the Internet has exploded, I've found it harder to keep up, and I found it comforting to know that even if I didn't remember the specific arguments made by Bill Gurley as to why Bluetooth wouldn't succeed, for instance, I could easily find the page later should it become relevant.
iRemember provides several additional ways to use your browsing history, no matter which browsers you've used. You can access a straight chronological list, and there's also a version that's organized by Web site. In both cases, entries include some metadata, such as date viewed and a few keywords that are likely to identify the contents of the page to you (the keywords are basically the reverse of a search). You can select a page and find similar pages within the set of those that iRemember has indexed, or even try to find similar pages on the Internet via Sherlock. Double-clicking an entry in one of these lists opens the page in your Web browser.
Of course, pages disappear from the Web, and iRemember can scan for missing pages and delete them from your index (though I could see the utility of leaving them, even if the original is gone). You can also delete pages older than a certain date, delete specific pages (perhaps to prevent someone else from seeing that you visited certain sites), and compress the index to recover space left over from deleted pages. You can also check the index for corruption and import index files (useful for recovering from a backup after a damaged index, or for merging index files from multiple computers).
Inconvenient Lapses -- iRemember isn't new, but somehow the first I heard of it was a few months ago at MacHack when a friend recommended it to me. I downloaded it, installed it, and used it throughout most of its 30-day trial period before finally shutting it off. As much as I love what it did for me in remembering the pages I'd visited, it simply crashed too frequently on my Power Mac G4 running Mac OS 9.1. iRemember 2.0 hasn't been updated since May of 2000, and it's possible that it needs an update to retain compatibility with some change Apple's made in that time.
Most of the crashes were annoying, but not actually fatal, in that I was able to escape the crash in MacsBug and either keep working or restart gracefully. However, the day I finally gave up on iRemember, it would crash and take down a few other applications before finally freezing the Mac. That was the final straw, but even the non-fatal crashes were problematic. Even in the 25 days or so that I used iRemember, I grew to assume that it would remember every page I visited. But if it had crashed and I'd kept working, it wouldn't notice anything I'd visited until the next restart, causing me to doubt my memory when iRemember couldn't pull up the pages I was sure I'd visited.
I also faced the confusion of not remembering whether I'd read something in my email or on the Web. All too often, I visit Web sites by clicking URLs in email messages, so the two are intertwined in my mind. Since iRemember watches only Web traffic, there were times I need to perform an iRemember search and then ask Eudora to search through email before finding what I needed.
Remembering the Future -- Perhaps what I liked most about iRemember is the way it improved my interactions with the Web in ways that made sense for me alone - it's offering a user-aware interface. It's the same reason that Super Boomerang, which simplified opening recently used files and folders, was such an amazing tool back when documents ruled the earth (Power On Software's Action Files carries on the Super Boomerang tradition - see "Get a Piece of the ACTION Files" in TidBITS-434).
The take-home lesson for developers is to look at ways of spending CPU cycles and disk space analyzing the user's communications history to facilitate future actions. A Web browser could notice that the user visits a certain set of pages every weekday morning and simplify the interface to that function, prefetch the pages to speed access, or suggest further readings. An email program could automatically categorize messages based on content (or even on user action) and offer the user those categories as an optional way of viewing mail.
Also think about the way user-aware interfaces present information to the user. iRemember uses simple text listings, but other approaches might be possible, such as graphs or maps. Imagine using Eudora's History List, itself a user-aware interface that automatically records the names and email addresses of people with whom you exchange mail, in this fashion. One could create a user-aware shell interface that uses photorealistic (a technique more useful with faces than documents) representations of the people with whom you're having active email or instant messaging discussions, making it easy to see past communications with those people and initiate new ones. The group of people represented in this way would be unique to you and would shift constantly to reflect the nature of communications.
One note of caution about user-aware interfaces to communication technologies. Some marketers or developers may find it tempting to gather user data for purposes like better demographic targeting. Do not, under any circumstances, succumb to that temptation! An individual's communications may be innocuous, but they could also be intensely private, and it's just not worth the potential damage in today's privacy-charged atmosphere. Any gathering or processing of communications data must remain local to the user's machine, and if there's any concern about sensitive nature of that data, you must give tools to the user to protect and manage that data.
With careful design and appropriate caution, though, making computer interfaces modify themselves based on the actions and communications of their users could help computers further enhance communication rather than posing an obstacle as they so often do.
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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