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Gift Suggestions

Mac-related gifts are appropriate any time, but we figure that this is the best time for those benumbed by the consumer feeding frenzy. I won’t include contact information for each item, but computer stores, mail order vendors, and bookstores should carry the items listed below.

Games — Randy J. Rightmire recommends a game called Oxyd, where you control a marble in order to solve puzzles. There’s no time limit, and it combines thinking with some coordination. You can download the game from online services and play the first 10 levels; to unlock the next 90 levels you must buy the $40 code book.

A small company called Callisto has three games, the first an enhanced Minesweeper called Super Mines, the second, called Super Maze Wars, a Spectre-like game that pits you against up to eight human (via a network) or robot tanks in a number of different mazes, and a third, called Spin Doctor. I’m lousy at fast tank games but Super Maze Wars seems like a excellent contender in that arena. The graphics were solid 3-D, and although the game requires strategy, the speed is plenty fast. Definitely worth checking out.

The neatest of Callisto’s games, though, is Spin Doctor. Think of Spin Doctor as an abstractionist view of early primate jungle life. You control a rod that spins around dots, and you can swing or flip among the dots, collecting bonus points and avoiding various dangers such as other rods, acid droplets, and sparks. My metaphor may fail, since Spin Doctor is a deucedly difficult game to describe. Luckily, it’s fun, and definitely my favorite thinking game of the year. It requires some coordination, but doesn’t force you into a fast pace. Highly recommended.

Callisto — 508/655-0707 — [email protected]

Inline Design’s Cogito is solely a thinking game with a timed element but no worry about finishing quickly. You see a grid that holds a scrambled pattern and must recreate the pattern by sliding rows or columns in the pattern. Unfortunately, after the first few levels, clicking to move a row may move it backwards, may move a column, or may move a row and a column. Since rows and columns intersect, you can imagine the consternation (I never completed level eight). If you relish a challenge and are good at spatial relationships, try Cogito.

CD-ROM — Donald Glockzin placed an AppleCD 300 CD-ROM player on the top of his list, and adds the CD game Myst, since you’ll need something to play. Also consider The Journeyman Project from Presto Studios, which is slow, but the stunning graphics make the journey worth the wait. I’m fond of its non-violent approach to gaming – violence works but isn’t rewarded as you travel through time, solving puzzles and closing rifts in history that threaten your future.

Those who require more interactive speed would do well to check out Iron Helix on CD from Spectrum HoloByte. Although its graphics aren’t as impressive as those in The Journeyman Project, they’re good, and the game play moves faster. You control a scientific probe that must find DNA samples of the dead crew of a deadly spaceship run amok, and with the DNA samples discover clues that will help you destroy the Defender robot and stop the ship from delivering its deadly payload. Despite the threat of failure, this is purely a non-violent adventure.

Joe Dulak suggests that HyperCard enthusiasts might enjoy the MACnificent 7.1 Games and Education CD-ROM from the National Home & School Macintosh User Group and Digital Diversions Software. It contains over 7,000 files, including 1,000 games, 280 MB of HyperCard stacks, 650 educational files, 70 commercial demos, and over 2,500 game support files. It retails for $59 from MacWarehouse.

PowerBook Goodies — Larry Wink points us at the PowerBook DOS Companion from Apple for about $240 because it’s still, unfortunately, a PC world. The package includes Macintosh PC Exchange, MacLinkPlus/PC, PowerPrint, a MacVGA cable, and the MacLinkPlus/PC cable. Apple’s bundle price is lower than the combined street prices of the individual pieces. Larry is also looking at On the Road from Connectix (see TidBITS #203).

Rich Wolfson and Sharon Aker’s PowerBook Companion (ISBN 0-201-62621-7) ranks on my list for PowerBook owners because it answers all the common questions. PowerBook owners who don’t like being forced to take a break by Apple’s two-hour batteries might want a VST ThinPack, an 1.5 pound, .25 inch thick external battery that, in conjunction with the internal battery, provides five to nine hours of battery life. VST — 508/287-4600 — 508/287-4068 (fax) Technoggin offers the PowerPlate batteries that can provide more battery life, but at a greater weight (2.5 and 4.0 pounds for the PowerPlate 3x and 5x, which provide three and five times normal battery life).

Technoggin — 800/305-7936 — 513/321-1777 — 513/321-2348 — [email protected]

Also, check out the APS PowerBalls, colorful replacement balls for your PowerBook trackball. They’re about $10 for one, or $20 for a set of all four colors and are available for all PowerBooks.

Books and Publications — <[email protected]> recommends a subscription to WIRED for $39.95 per 12-issue year. Call 800/SO-WIRED or email credit card info to <[email protected]>.

Steven Nygard recommends Defying Gravity, a photo-heavy book that details the efforts of bringing the Newton to market and the trials faced along the way. You can order the book for $19.95 (add $7 for overnight shipping, otherwise expect it in three weeks) via email to <[email protected]>. In one message, ask for the book and include a Visa number. Then, in a second message, include the expiration date, name, and shipping address.

Christopher Bohling and several others noted that my book, the Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh (ISBN 1-56830-064-6), is high on their lists. Thank you all.

If you’re looking for a great general Macintosh tome, check out David Pogue’s and Joseph Schorr’s massive 1,020 page Macworld Macintosh Secrets (ISBN 1-56884-025-X). Normally I’m dubious about all-in-one books, but David and Joseph did wonders, ferreting out an incredible amount of hitherto obscured information. Tonya was impressed with the section on Microsoft Word, and she’s picky about that sort of thing. The book comes with three high-density disks packed with commercial and shareware applications.

Game players will enjoy MacArcade (ISBN 1-56604-038-8), the top 40 shareware and freeware games according to MUG News Service founder Don Rittner. Don provides all the details about each game, including such useful bits of information as where you can find the game online, download time at 2,400 bps, compatibility information, a description of each game, a profile of the programmer, and tips on playing. Perhaps the best part of this book for the impatient reader is the two disk set that contains the top 10 games, including such favorites as Diamonds, Solarian II, Continuum, and Spacestation Pheta.

Robin Williams has once again graced the computer world with a wonderful book, a dictionary called Jargon (ISBN 1-938151-84-3). Unlike your typical stuffy dictionary, Jargon provides hefty definitions that actually tell you something along with pronunciations and etymologies of words. Jargon sports a massive index with cross-references to over 7,000 terms, making it easier to find something when you don’t quite know what the word is.

Peachpit Press has two new books for hardware fiends. The Underground Guide to Laser Printers (ISBN 1-56609-045-8) collects the best articles from four years of Flash Magazine, a periodical issued by Black Lightning, a toner cartridge remanufacturer in Vermont. Larry Pina’s Macintosh Classic and SE Repair and Upgrade Secrets (ISBN 1-56609-022-9) is essential for anyone who’s handy with hardware and who wants to keep an aging Classic, Classic II, SE, or SE/30 alive and well.

Eastgate Systems, publisher of Storyspace, the preeminent hypertext editor on the Mac, also sells a line of hypertexts, some written in Storyspace, some in HyperCard. Michael Joyce’s Afternoon, A Story is the seminal hypertext, and John McDaid’s multiple (and I mean multiple) media work Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse is a quest for meaning while searching through the literary remains (embodied in email, screenplays, galley proofs, and audio tapes) of the late Buddy Newkirk. Anyone who enjoys exploring the very experience of reading should encounter Eastgate’s hyperfictions.

Eastgate — 800/562-1638 — 617/924-9044 — [email protected]

Utilities — Mike McLane recommends StuffIt SpaceSaver if you can’t afford new hard disks for people on your list. Mike was sold on SpaceSaver because of the ability of Norton Utilities to recover all the files SpaceSaver compressed, as tested for an article in the Jan-94 MacUser. [Although frankly, I don’t understand why different sorts of file compression should make any difference. -Adam]

I’m a word person, and I’ve come across an online dictionary that I like. The $99 Random House Webster’s Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus takes about 8 MB on disk for its 180,000 definition dictionary and 275,000 synonym thesaurus. An included extension enables you to highlight a word in any program and hit a hotkey to look up definitions or synonyms. It offers a definition search, wildcard search, anagram search, and a history of words you’ve looked up that session, making for an enjoyable word browsing environment. I’m also fond of the pronunciation and etymology details. The interface isn’t perfect, but it’s decent, and I like being able to happen across great words like deuteragonist, one that I’m going to work into an issue some day.

Desktop pattern fiends who prefer applications to extensions will like Screenscapes from Kiwi Software. It offers square and rectangular patterns in sizes up 256 x 256 pixels, includes gobs of patterns, and can read pattern formats from Wallpaper, Chameleon, and ppat resources. My favorite feature is the Catalog Folder feature, which opens a window displaying thumbnails of patterns in that folder. Although you can’t delete patterns from that window, it’s easy to leave the window open and trim your collection manually in the Finder. Screenscapes includes an Auto-Changer application which installs a random pattern at startup, but it can’t randomize within a session. I won’t say that a pattern changing application is essential, but Screenscapes is solid and well-implemented utility that makes the Mac more fun.

Other — Lars Bertelsen writes: "I have a friend who is becoming disenchanted with his SE running System 6.0.5. He thinks it is slow and lacks "OOMPF". I plan to dig up an old 80286, equip it with Windows and give it to him. That should make him happy with his beast." [Talk about an electronic lump of coal… -Adam]

Chuck Kuske writes: "I plan on giving the Newt Boot, a handy green, burgundy, or black cordura case to hold Newton essentials: the MessagePad, modem, AC adapter, RJ-11 cord, extra batteries, PCMCIA cards, and extra pens. It features a handle, a shoulder strap, and quick access to the MessagePad for $49 plus $4.50 shipping. To order email to [email protected] or fax to 307/739-1716."

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