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First, the mundane but useful, with an important tip for Excel users, a clarification about Conflict Catcher, a new 32-user license for A/UX, and a report of the imminent demise of the Portable battery supply. Following that comes the cool stuff, a neat in-ear speaker and microphone (i.e. telephone) that works via bone conduction, some MacDraw Pro 1.5 speed benchmarks, and Microsoft and Tandy’s answer to Commodore’s CDTV.

Adam Engst No comments


Mark H. Anbinder writes, "It tells you a little bit about the pervasiveness of Microsoft’s products in the industry that one of the top-level options on their phone menu system is, "If you are a hardware manufacturer and would like to bundle Microsoft software products with your product, please press 4.""

Information from:
Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor

Adam Engst No comments

Excel Workbook Backup Tip

In TidBITS-133 Andy Williams passed on a warning about a potentially dangerous bug in Excel 4.0 that could cause you to lose data bound into a workbook. The problem arises if your computer crashes while saving, because Excel will have overwritten the old, complete version with the newer, incomplete version, and you then can start on the hair-pulling. At the end of Andy’s note, I mentioned that a clever macro programmer could probably script an automatic backup to ensure that you always had two copies of the workbook when you were working on it. Luckily for the Excel community, our local Seattle Excel guru Howard Hansen has come up with a workaround that doesn’t even require a macro and will create a backup of the workbook every time you save. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Activate the workbook’s contents page.
  • Choose Save As… from the File menu.
  • Click the Options button. Excel will bring up its Options dialog box.
  • Check the Create Backup File checkbox, then click the OK button to close the Options dialog box.
  • Click the Save button to save the file to disk (and make a backup).

Excel will now take the old workbook file and rename it "Backup of" and the name. If anything evil happens during a save, you will always have the backup.

Information from:
Howard Hansen — [email protected]

Jeff Robin No comments

Conflict Catcher Article Conflicts

I want to correct some misinformation in TidBITS-139 about Conflict Catcher. The article claims that Conflict Catcher automates the process of loading startup documents one-by-one to identify conflicts. Conflict Catcher does not load INITs one-by-one, but instead loads half of the startup extensions at a time to minimize the number of restarts it takes to locate an INIT conflict. Here’s how Conflict Catcher begins to tackle a problem. After you start Conflict Catcher, it loads the extensions that it wants while restarting the computer. When the Finder comes up, you check to see if the problem exists (and that includes opening an application if that’s where the problem shows up), and restart the computer. Conflict Catcher will then ask you if the problem exists or has gone away and enables or disables extensions as needed. It usually takes about four or five restarts to pin down a conflict, although that of course varies with the number of INITs you use.

Conflict Catcher is always the first INIT to load, so if the conflict is between two INITs and causes a crash during startup, you can inform Conflict Catcher that the problem exists when you restart the machine. If the problem is more subtle (i.e. the Finder has a corrupt display), then you tell Conflict Catcher when you restart.

Also, Conflict Catcher is able to isolate conflicts between multiple INITs. The article also mentioned incorrectly that Conflict Catcher somehow traces code after startup. Actually, Conflict Catcher only patches a few traps to perform the startup file reordering and to do the ICON wrapping. Both of these features can be disabled so that Conflict Catcher is guaranteed not cause any problems.

[Thanks for the explanation, Jeff. It sounds as though Conflict Catcher will help the user identify and solve conflicts, which is even better than it doing it automatically because then the user will learn from the process as well. -Adam]

Mark H. Anbinder No comments

A/UX… More Is Better?

Apple recently announced to dealers a license upgrade option for owners of the 16-user license of A/UX 3.0, Apple’s Unix operating system, bringing the maximum number of users to 32. Until now, each A/UX workstation was limited to 16 users, but Apple is providing this expanded user license option for customers with "growing enterprise-wide systems."

For $2,500, users will be able to order the license kit, which enables a single A/UX installation to support up to 32 users. We suspect that most designers of "enterprise-wide systems" would have selected either individual Macintosh workstations, or some other time-sharing system, but for those who felt a 16-user A/UX system would suffice and are now discovering they just can’t get enough A/UX, this license upgrade should fit the bill.

The license kit (item number M8099LL/A) is available directly from Apple Software Licensing, but the required form is on AppleLink under the path Apple Products -> A/UX -> Ordering & Licensing -> Licensing -> A/UX 32 User License & Instructions. Users without direct access to AppleLink will need to acquire the form from their dealers, who may be miffed that Apple is handling all these sales directly.

Mark H. Anbinder No comments

Portable Battery Bye-Bye

Owners of the discontinued Macintosh Portable will feel even more left out this fall, when Apple plans to remove the Macintosh Portable Battery from all of its price lists. The separate battery was intended for users who wanted the convenience of having an extra battery on hand for those long computing sessions away from any AC outlets. Of course, most users have found the single battery that came with their Portables to be sufficient for working several-hour stretches so long as they recharged the battery between work sessions.

If you have a Portable, and you’ve thought about investing in a spare battery, now is certainly the time; the 19-Oct-92 price lists will no longer include the item, dealers may be unable to get the batteries, and we have not yet run across a third party supplier of the batteries. We suspect that limited quantities will be made available to dealer service departments, in case a customer’s battery needs to be replaced someday, but you may want to get yourself a spare just in case.

Adam Engst No comments

Norris Ear PHONE

One of the most interesting technologies I saw at Macworld had little to do with the Mac. So why did this company come to Macworld? The technology enhances various communications applications, and lots of Macintosh companies are working on improving communications using the Mac.

The product in question comes from Norris Communications, and they call it, appropriately enough, the Norris Ear PHONE[tm]. The Ear PHONE is this little item that you put in your ear, much as someone might wear a hearing aid or old radio earplug speakers. Unlike a hearing aid or radio speaker, the Norris Ear PHONE acts as both a speaker and a microphone. At the moment it uses a unidirectional microphone that works wonderfully, although I found it disconcerting to talk to someone on the phone without holding anything. (Norris kindly gave Mark Anbinder and me a private demonstration so we could try it.)

As neat as the unidirectional model was, Norris has an even more theoretically impressive version in the works. They only brought two prototypes to the show, and other people had them when we were checking out the unidirectional model, but the prototypes work on the principle of bone conduction. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the principle, when you talk, you set up vibrations not only in the air surrounding you (causing the sound) but also in the tiny bones in your ear. Bone conduction microphones do not pick up any background noise, because that noise doesn’t cause the bones in your ear to vibrate. You can also speak in a low voice, because all you have to vibrate are those bones, not the air around you.

I don’t have a sense of how sensitive the bone conduction microphone will be yet, but I suspect that you won’t have to talk as loudly. As Mitch Ratcliffe of MacWEEK commented, however, it will be hilarious to see gray-suited executives walking aimlessly around the streets, apparently mumbling to themselves like unstable street people.

The first model of the bone conduction microphone will hook to the phone via a cord, but Norris has a wireless 900 Hz spread spectrum model in the works as well, so eventually your phone won’t hold you hostage at all. You may not have to slap your chest as do the actors in Star Trek: The Next Generation because Norris hopes to have the Ear PHONE be voice-activated, but one way or another, your personal connectedness will increase radically. Of course, you will then have to decide all the more whether or not you wish to accept incoming calls, but technology seldom comes without some philosophical involvement. I know people who still refuse to have a telephone, and when forced to use one are uncharacteristically rude.

As far as applications of the Ear PHONE go, Norris showed some relatively simple ones and a few more impressive ones. Many of us keep our phone and address information on the Mac now, and some people even use their modems (or a little hardware device from Sophisticated Circuits) to dial the phone. Eventually Norris wants the Ear PHONE to work as both a telephone speaker and microphone and also as a voice command microphone for the Mac. Once we have Casper voice-recognition technology (about the same time we all have Cyclone Macs and a chicken in every pot), I could have the Mac dial the phone with a voice command, and without doing anything else, suddenly be talking to someone, all without fiddling with handsets and keypads and all that. I gather that Apple will also better integrate telephony into the Mac via the Comm Toolbox and OCE, so that applications will have an easier time working with telephone applications.

The more interesting uses of the Norris Ear PHONE include using it as the microphone and speaker in a system from Applied Engineering that will replace the floppy drive in a PowerBook with a communications bay (this is cool stuff, more on CommPort in the future) or in a ShareVision system (incidentally, I received some incorrect information that I used in the ShareVision article in TidBITS-138. Dean Tucker of ShareVision alerted me to the problem and offered to clarify and expand on some of what I said, so look for another article with better information in the next week or so).

One added benefit of the Norris Ear PHONE: those of us with hand and wrist injuries from typing too much will not have to hold a handset. If you haven’t experienced any pain in your hands you won’t know what I’m talking about, but I find that a long telephone conversation can cause me a lot of discomfort. I could, of course, get a headset, but they are expensive and not always that comfortable either from what Tonya and other tech support people have said. A speakerphone would work too, but you can’t have a private conversation on a speakerphone.

You can’t buy the Ear PHONE just yet since Norris hasn’t started full production runs, but they do have a Partner program that will provide you with an Ear PHONE, technical information from the company, and both phone and CompuServe tech support. It costs $99, and if you’re interested, give Norris a call.

Aside from the two minor drawbacks of executive zombies and figuring out to deal with always being available, the only remaining question has to do with RF emissions. I doubt the speaker would cause a problem since hearing aid companies would have tested that, but few other companies have put a radio transmitter in the ear itself, and even the slight distance of a headset radio could reduce the RF emissions enough to eliminate potential health problems whereas an in-ear transmitter might be too close. And of course, it may seriously impact the career opportunities of telephone sanitizers. For that matter, you may not want to share Ear PHONEs with other people all that often… (Norris actually will provide a number of pads to address the cleanliness issue and so people with different size ears can find the most comfortable fit.)

These real and humorous concerns aside, I have high hopes for the Ear PHONE. Norris has to make sure the voice quality of the bone conduction version equals the quality of the unidirectional version, and they also have to ensure that the price at least competes with traditional headsets. If Norris can meet those design goals, everyone will want an Ear PHONE. If not, it will go the way of other niche market electronic devices, including a few that have used bone conduction unsuccessfully even when you inserted the device deep in your ear. I think I’d rather have a Babel fish, but barring that, I’ll take an Ear PHONE.

Norris Communications — 619/679-1504 — 619/486-3471 (fax)
[email protected]

Information from:
Jennifer Blome & Randy Granovetter, Norris Communications
Norris propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 18-May-92, Vol. 6, #20, pg. 4

Nigel Stanger No comments

MacDraw Pro Speed Comparisons

I just got my upgrade to MacDraw Pro 1.5 and since lots of people on the nets wondered how fast it was compared to previous versions, I decided to try a few rough and ready benchmarks on the two versions. All tests were run on an LC (original, not II). The tests I tried were:

  • "Cold start" – launch to a new blank document
  • Open four of the sample documents which came with it:

"GeoMosaic" – a fairly simple straight-line geometric
pattern with gradient fills.

"Rossini" – similar to GeoMosaic but with more curves
and slightly more complex gradients.

"Dance of Spheres" – I think this was originally an Escher
print. It certainly looks very familiar. Lots of spheres
hovering over nested, rotated squares and lots of gradients.

"4 Cylinder Engine" – a rather spectacular cutaway of a four
cylinder engine. Definitely the most complex.

  • Scroll "4 Cylinder Engine" one "step" of the scroll bar.
  • Open a new document (command-N).
  • Type in some text. The idea here was not so much to get a time, but to see how well it kept up with my typing.

It appears that 1.5 gains most of its speed increases from its new display options – you can opt for either "best" display of gradient fills, or "fast" display (which appears to mean dithering as far as I can tell). You can also greek imported images, and text below a certain point size. This is basically the same as the "picture placeholders" command in Word, where Word substitutes a solid box for the actual graphic in order to increase scrolling speed.

The default setting for text greeking is six point – anything smaller is drawn as a placeholder, which saves a lot on TrueType rendering. If you’ve ever used Print Preview in Word 4.0 with TrueType fonts, you’ll know how bad it can get.

The test results are below. Times are in seconds, rounded to the nearest half second. The degree of error is plus or minus about one second depending on my reaction time :-).

                           1.0v1       1.5 (fast      1.5 (normal
     Test                              gradients)      gradients)

     Cold start             19.5         17.5              --

     Open GeoMosaic         12.5         14.0             14.5

     Open Rossini           29.5         16.0             30.0

     Open Dance of Spheres  29.5         17.5             30.0

     Open 4-Cyl. Engine     69.0         62.0             72.0

     Scroll 4-Cyl. Engine    6.5          7.5              8.5

     New document            6.5          7.5              --

The most spectacular results seem to be in the moderately complex (i.e. more or less average) documents. Simple documents and highly-complex documents don’t seem to be much different than from 1.0. The overall feel does seem slightly faster though. Text entry has improved – I managed to leave 1.0 behind quite easily, whereas 1.5 kept up fairly well.

Other new features: Publish & Subscribe, QuickTime support, Apple Event support (including a HyperCard stack for driving a slide show via Apple Events), Balloon Help, and improved text alignment (which I haven’t had a chance to look at yet). Personally, I think Publish & Subscribe is justification enough for upgrading – I’ve been drooling ever since I heard 1.5 had it.

On the downside, MacDraw Pro 1.5 is still significantly slower than MacDraw II, but I expected that. The program also checks in about 200K larger than 1.0 (which was already 1 MB), but the RAM consumption has not changed. The package comes on only four 800K floppies as opposed to six for 1.0 because half the stuff is compressed, which I consider a good idea. I have enough floppies sitting around already. The Installer was up to its usual mediocre standards – I installed MacDraw Pro on a partition without a System Folder on it, and the Installer went and created a System Folder to put all the extra bits and pieces into, which meant moving some stuff around by hand.

Oh yes, one nit which I almost forgot – MacDraw Pro doesn’t seem to understand foreign script systems! I have the Russian script system installed (long story), and if you run Key Caps, all the Russian fonts appear in the Font menu in Cyrillic – very nice. However, both Word 4.0 (surprise) and MacDraw Pro don’t do this – the fonts appear as gibberish (characters in the >127 ASCII range). A bit disappointing, given the quality of the interface otherwise.

Adam Engst No comments

Windows Does CDs

Apple certainly has the head start on the potentially lucrative (at the price of this hardware and software, someone had better make some money at it) multimedia market, but as Mark H. Anbinder pointed out last week, IBM wants in on the action too. Although it turns out that IBM’s snazzy full-screen full motion video demonstration had some special hardware behind it (more next week when we find out all the details), other companies want some of the pie too, and where there’s a pie, could Microsoft be far away? No.

Remember the $800 CDTV, Commodore’s primarily unnoticed attempt to enter the consumer multimedia market? If not, don’t worry, despite the fact that CDTV was actually an Amiga in sheep’s clothing (see TidBITS-062/20-May-91 for the details at the time), CDTV hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm, due in part, I’m sure, to Commodore’s inability to sign up enough third party content providers. Microsoft and Tandy hope to do just that, although I doubt they’ll equal Hurricane Andrew in importance.

The hardware comes from Tandy, and they call it the Video Information System, or VIS, and hope to sell it for about $700. The software, as usual, comes from Microsoft in the form of Modular Windows, which Microsoft optimized for use with a television as a display device. Microsoft obviously wants certain developers already working on Windows products to scale them down for use with Tandy’s VIS, and since Modular Windows for VIS is based on Windows 3.1, developers shouldn’t have too much trouble, assuming they have already mastered programming Windows, something which various programmers of my acquaintance have likened to eating okra (that ought to get both okra aficionados and Windows programmers, all in one sentence :-)).

Of course, the software interface concerns us the most. Modular Windows, being Windows at heart, relies on DOS, and yes, Tandy’s VIS includes both MS-DOS and Modular Windows in ROM (warning, acronym level rising!). So you have no choice about the underlying operating system, but the interface? Microsoft claims that they have tested the interface with hundreds of users (I wonder who?) to ensure that users can see and use the software easily from ten feet away. According to Microsoft, multimedia titles will feature large, three-dimensional buttons and colorful icons and support a simple point-and-shoot operation with a remote control. In theory, users won’t have to know that VIS uses DOS and Windows at all, but frankly, given Microsoft’s interface "successes" with computer users who are theoretically slightly brighter than the average bear, I’d advise average bears to stay in hibernation.

At first, VIS players will look and act much like CD players that sit on top of and attach to television sets. Later on the VIS player will support alternate methods of delivering information, most likely through cable television channels. All of this sounds like Commodore’s CDTV, although Commodore was a mere rhesus monkey to Microsoft and Tandy’s 2000 pound gorilla. Supposedly Tandy and Microsoft have over 50 developers committed to over 100 VIS titles, including a number of children’s reading development and classic literature titles. Joy and rapture! Can you imagine reading the complete works of Shakespeare on TV? My copy of Shakespeare’s complete works numbers almost 1000 pages of small print, not something I’d care to experience in large letters and short lines, even if I can switch to clips of various productions of Hamlet while perusing the text. Of course, I’m being negative here, not having seen what they propose in terms of "classic literature titles," but unless they can equal at least what Voyager has done with the neat Expanded Books, I’ll stick to my awkward thousand page book or the free ASCII texts from Project Gutenberg.

Even though Tandy will sell the VIS system in consumer electronics and department stores, it seems that they plan to market the titles as software. I can’t imagine that the sort of people who buy software will evince all that much interest in VIS – why bother when you have a computer that can do as much and more? If VIS is to succeed then, it will have to break consumer molds and not just try to slip another sheepskin-covered computer into consumer electronics stores.

As it stands, the hardware specs sound pretty good, including VGA/MCGA compatible video modes on a television; new video modes that support up to 16 million colors; hardware-assisted animation processing; three types of high-quality audio (CD-Audio, synthesized MIDI, and wave-form) played simultaneously for cool effects; and DOS, Windows and multimedia PC (MPC) software and content capability (what the heck would anyone do with that?). In the end, you’ve got hardware that might approach an Amiga, which most people consider the best multimedia machine commonly available. But does the Microsoft and Tandy gorilla have enough weight to muscle a $700 VIS into the hearts and homes of consumers? Not this one.

Microsoft VIS Program — 206/936-1505
Tandy — 817/878-4852

Information from:
Microsoft & Tandy propaganda