Two new PowerBooks and some volume software pricing deals blossom a week early on the Apple tree, followed by an excellent article on those pesky hardware handshaking cables that you need for fast modems. We also review Peirce Software’s Smoothie, and provide bits about Retrospect A/UX, MacIntercomm, QuickTime 1.6 bugs, and phone line oddities. Finally, an announcement of the book I’m working on about connecting to the Internet from a Macintosh.
Sigh. It turns out that the Post Office added another ZIP code to our area shortly before we moved. Of course, no one told us about this, and we didn’t notice right away. If you have our address in a database, the correct ZIP code is 98056. Sorry for the trouble.
Retrospect A/UX, which is almost identical to Retrospect 2.0 but includes full support for both Unix and Macintosh file systems, was announced recently by Dantz Development. Retrospect A/UX requires Apple’s A/UX 3.0.1 and should be available in early June.
Dantz Development — 510/849-0293 — 510/849-1708 (fax) — [email protected]
The highlight of the annual Computer Bowl occurred when Bill Gates, who was a judge, posed the following question to the contestants:
"What contest, held via Usenet, is dedicated to examples of weird, obscure, bizarre, and really bad programming?"
After a moment of silence, Jean-Louis Gassee (ex-honcho at Apple) hit his buzzer and answered "Windows."
Mr. Bill’s expression was, in the words of one who was there, "classic."
Modem Follies — A number of people wrote in about Mark Anbinder’s article in TidBITS #176 concerning a strange line noise problem. It seems that this problem was big news in Australia some time back, as Ian MacColl <[email protected]> reported, and some of the theories there included some phones drawing too much power from the line, a capacitor charging to maintain stored numbers, or the affected phones reporting to their superiors at Telecom Australia Headquarters (a popular choice, since the problem was cyclical).
Ed Segall <[email protected]> proposed an alternate theory based on a problem he had and solved. Apparently, if the phone creates Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), the RFI can wreak havoc on modem connections. Ed said the simplest solution (short of buying a new phone) is a $20 AT&T Radio Frequency filter.
John Harkin <[email protected]> had the best sounding theory, suggesting that the problem is caused by "the nonlinearities of the input impedances caused by cheap transformers." I don’t know what it means, but I like the sound of it.
MacIntercomm and MacIntercomm Lite, originally developed by Mercury Computing, have been acquired by New World Computing (NWC). MacIntercomm is best known for its ability to transfer files at full speed in the background no matter what the foreground process.
QuickTime 1.6 bugs are popping up all over. Jon Pugh <[email protected]> reported on Info-Mac that he isolated a conflict between QuickTime 1.6 and Now Toolbox 4.0.1p that caused problems when resolving an alias that mounts a network volume. In addition, two companies that I beta test for have mentioned that QuickTime 1.6 conflicts with the latest betas of their software (and no, I’m not going to say who since it’s not shipping software). Beware.
It’s time to let the electronic cat out of the proverbial bag. I’m writing my first book, although after 4.3 MB of TidBITS I suppose it’s not quite a novel concept. As you may have guessed from the title above, the book is specifically aimed at providing information on how to find, set up, and use an Internet connection from a Macintosh without bogging down in Unix details or network protocols. To that end, the book will come with a free disk of informational files and the free and shareware Mac software that you need on the net. Along the way I hope to answer all those nagging questions about sending email to and from the commercial services, where to get what sort of feeds, and that kind of thing. And, of course, I want to write about the neatest Internet services (making sure to cover all the Macintosh services especially), and that’s where I could use some help. If you come across something truly neat or weird, like an Internet horoscope server, or a way of telnetting to your inner child, please drop me a line.
However, I ask that you please don’t send me email asking questions like where you can get a feed in Cleveland (well, probably the FreeNet there) or how to set up MacTCP. As time permits, I do try to answer questions in public forums like Info-Mac or comp.sys.mac.comm on Usenet if more qualified people don’t step forward.
The book should be available this fall from Hayden, although I hope to excerpt parts of it in TidBITS before then. I’ll let you all know when it’s available, and we should of course have special pricing for TidBITS readers. In addition, I’m looking into different ways that the book can become an electronic resource for the Internet community.
In the meantime, if you can’t wait to buy a book about the Internet, I recommend Ed Krol’s "The Whole Internet Users’s Guide and Catalog" from O’Reilly & Associates (ISBN: 1-56592-025-2). Ed covers the technical details of how the Internet works and explores the necessary Unix programs like mail, nn, telnet, and FTP in great detail, all while retaining a light and readable style. I discovered much good information in those sections because I learned Unix by osmosis, which seldom provides a complete education. Ed also lists a whole slew of Internet services toward the end of the book – there’s certain to be something of interest to everyone. However, the book’s strength is also its weakness – because "The Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog" is an unparalleled guide to the Unix programs in use on the Internet, it fails to provide the platform-specific information a Macintosh user would want, both in terms of software to use and resources to check out (it doesn’t even mention TidBITS!). There’s nothing that says if you use the Internet you have to use Unix when a Mac serves as well, if not better, for many people. So that’s my bias, and I’m writing a book about it. 🙂 "The Whole Internet User’s Guide and Catalog" lists for $24.95 and should be readily available from your local bookstore. You can also send email to <[email protected]> for comments or suggestions on Ed’s book.
Technical Support Coordinator, BAKA Computers
Apple today surprised the world by introducing two PowerBook models a full week earlier than had been expected (see TidBITS #174). The new models mark the low and the high end, with a budget-priced PowerBook 145B and an active-matrix-color PowerBook 180c.
As we described in past issues (TidBITS #167, #168, and #174), even though we had the name wrong early on, the PowerBook 180c is an active-matrix color version of the PowerBook 180. The active matrix LCD panel on the 180c stands out dramatically when viewed next to a 165c (Apple’s previous color offering) and lives up to the expectations of brighter images and wider viewing angles. In addition, the 180c’s display is a 640 x 480 pixel unit, making it 80 pixels taller than the displays on previous PowerBooks. The 180c comes in three configurations ranging in price from $4,159 to $4,769.
The cost-conscious crowd will prefer the PowerBook 145B, a lower-price ($1,649-$1,899 retail – watch those street prices!) version of the PowerBook 145. This reduces the entry-level price for a PowerBook by about 25 percent, thanks to economizing measures taken by Apple’s engineers and marketing folks. As we reported in TidBITS #174, the 145B ships without system disks (which can be requested from Apple should they be needed) and without a microphone (though the sound input port is there, and you can add a microphone). The engineers also crammed 4 MB onto the logic board instead of the previous 2 MB, so the standard 4 MB version no longer requires them to ship a 2 MB expansion card in each unit.
We’re not sure we like the idea of a Macintosh shipping without system disks, but that has been the case with the Performas for almost a year, and apparently it works for most users. Since the vast majority of purchasers will never request a set of system disks, Apple will undoubtedly save quite a bit of money, thereby making the low purchase price of the 145B possible.
More news for PowerBook owners — Apple today introduced PowerBook File Assistant, a collection of features (sort of a little cousin for Connectix PowerBook Utilities) that includes file synchronization, deferred printing, and backlight dimming, among other things. The software will ship later this summer for $79. We’ll have more information on PowerBook File Assistant once we’ve seen it.
— Information from:
Even more exciting (to some) than today’s hardware introductions is Apple’s announcement of the long-awaited Software Volume Licensing Program, enabling companies and other organizations needing multiple copies of Apple software to purchase them economically and efficiently.
Starting today, products available for volume licensing are System 7.1 upgrades, Macintosh PC Exchange, At Ease, Apple Font Pack, AppleTalk Remote Access (ARA) Client, Data Access Language (DAL) Client, TCP/IP Connection for Macintosh, MacX, SNA-ps 3270, and SNA-ps 3270 GC. Apple says that they plan to add more products to the list over time.
The program includes tiered volume pricing based on the number of computers licensed per product, with a flat price within each tier. Apple’s "up and running" toll-free technical support (within the U.S.) is included with each license acquisition, and special introductory pricing will be available as a promotional kick-off for the program.
To make updates easier, Apple is offering the Apple Software Maintenance Program to licensees with fifty or more computers. This yearly subscription "will provide updates, upgrades, bug fixes, modifications, and/or software enhancements," and will be available for all above products except the Apple Font Pack.
All authorized Apple resellers may participate, so contact yours for information. Education and state and local government purchasers should contact their Apple sales rep directly. As an interesting twist, U.S. customers may acquire volume licenses for site locations outside the U.S., though we suspect that certain export restrictions, mandated by the State Department, will still apply.
— Information from:
I draw attention to the article on high speed modems in TidBITS #163.
Incidentally, you need a special hardware handshaking cable for these modems to reach their true potential. This is something of a non-issue, since both companies bundle hardware handshaking cables with their Mac packages, but if your modem comes without one of those cables, you’ll have to buy one separately (from the modem companies or from MacConnection) for about $15.
Although it is true that both of these modems (the Practical Peripherals PM14400FXSA and Supra’s SupraFAXModem v.32bis) ship with a hardware handshaking cable, we’ve found that these cables and the vast majority of "hardware handshaking" cables shipped for Mac owners are missing a single – but perhaps critical – pin. The pin I refer to is the infamous "GPi" pin, or "Pin 7," on your Macintosh. Apple defined this pin as a general purpose input (hence the name) but left it disconnected on a variety of low-end machines. The list of Macs that support this pin is, as far as I know, the SE, SE/30, II, IIx, IIcx, IIci, Quadra 700, 800, 900, 950, and importantly, the LC III. None of the low-end Macs like the Plus, Classic, Classic II, Color Classic, LC, or LC II support GPi, and some models of the IIsi support the pin, whereas others don’t, seemingly at random. I don’t know about the IIvi, IIvx, or Centris machines yet.
The problem originates because the Mac serial port has too few pins for a full RS-232C implementation. Of the 25 pins defined for the RS-232C standard, only the following are needed when talking to smart devices like modems.
Input RD Output TD Input Handshake CTS Output Handshake RTS Hang up DTR Carrier Detect CD Ring Detect RI optional, you can do this in software Ground Note especially the Handshaking and Carrier Detect requirements.
It looks like you need only seven pins for a fairly good port, so the Mac should work fine, right? Well, keep in mind that Mac serial ports double as super high-speed RS-422 ports, and some of the pins are used to support this.
In fact, the average Mac only guarantees five pins (perhaps six) that can be used, so in order to support RS-232, the modem cable has to shoehorn the required RS-232C pins into the smaller Mac connector. Here’s a list of the available pins and their functions, along with their expanded names in case you weren’t sure what HSKi, HSKo, etc. stand for.
Mac function Mac name RS RS name ------------ --------- -- ------- RxD receive data RD receive data TxD transmit data TD transmit data Ground ground ground HSKi handshake in CTS clear to send HSKo handshake out RTS request to send GPi gen purpose CD carrier detect
In the past, it was easy to make a cable. Input and Output handshaking were not required for 2,400 bps operation, and Carrier Detect (CD) and Ring (RI) were rarely connected. The resulting cable looked like this.
Mac function RS-232 function Mac pin DB-25 pin ------------ --------------- ------- --------- RxD (receive) Receive Data 5 3 TxD (transmit) Transmit Data 3 2 Ground Ground 4 & 8 7 HSKo DTR 1 20
This works well for most 2,400 bps applications. However, a few systems required Carrier Detect support in the cable as well, since there is no easy way to support Carrier Detect through software. Users have no major trouble, if the modem fails to hang up the phone, you just turn it off, but a BBS or ARA server has no such ability. You can look for RING in software (because RING can only come in when there is no one on the modem) but you can’t look for NO CARRIER in software (because it could appear at any time in the serial stream). A number of programs required another cable with a slight modification for Carrier Detect.
Mac function RS-232 function Mac pin DB-25 pin ------------ --------------- ------- --------- RxD (receive) Receive Data 5 3 TxD (transmit) Transmit Data 3 2 Ground Ground 4 & 8 7 HSKo DTR 1 20 HSKi CD 2 8
You can see the problem – both of the Mac handshaking pins (HSKo and HSKi) are already used, for DTR hang-up and Carrier Detect! These cables prevent using high speed modems at their full potential, something that the manufacturers didn’t have to worry about at that time, because the handshaking pins are not needed for low speed. After a few years of this, the most common type of cable is the first of the two listed above, cables that are guaranteed to lead to confusion if you attempt to use them with any high speed modem! Worse, a number of these cables, the ones built for a BBS (the second of the two listed above), simply will NOT work with high speed modems because of a conflict between the need for handshaking and for Carrier Detect.
In these days of high speed modems, the problems for the BBS operator are compounded. Older cables supporting Carrier Detect no longer work with faster modems. The solution for these high speed modems was a new "standard" cable layout.
Mac function RS-232 function Mac pin DB-25 pin ------------ --------------- ------- --------- RxD (receive) Receive Data 5 3 TxD (transmit) Transmit Data 3 2 Ground Ground 4 & 8 7 HSKi CTS 1 5 HSKo RTS & DTR 2 4 & 20 GPi CD 7 8
The above layout sports all the same functions as the older cables, and also supports Carrier Detect. The problem is that only the upscale Macs support the GPi pin, so the vast majority of cable manufacturers simply leave off pin 7, and this includes both modems described in the TidBITS review, the PPI and the Supra (at least when we tested them a few months back). Once again all the BBS and ARA operators have been left out in the cold because Carrier Detect is on the GPi pin. Oddly enough, the above cable works with all modems, high or "low" speed, but many modem manufacturers still produce the two varieties of cables, muddying the waters further when they end up at stores where the salesthings seldom know the difference. Recently a friend of mine attempted to buy a "high speed Mac modem cable" from a local computer store and was given the old 2,400 bps pin-out cable. Be warned. [Cables from Celestin Company do support the GPi pin properly -Adam]
800/835-5514 — 206/385-3767 — 206/385-3586 (fax) — [email protected]
As I see it, any effort on the part of us Mac users may help in the long run. A simple email or fax to the manufacturers of improper cables goes a long way. If the majority of the modem makers switched to the newer cables, perhaps the problem would disappear in time. If you run a BBS, or are thinking about it, check your cables carefully; odds are they don’t support Carrier Detect, leaving you hunting around for a cable that does.
The problem is so bad that late last year we at SoftArc simply started to give out correct cables with all purchases of FirstClass. Believe it or not, it costs us a lot less to give away the cable with our program than it is to support the problems that arise when they attempt to use the cables they have. One common support question here can be solved almost instantly…
"My modem doesn’t hang up when someone with the VT-100 interface hangs up the phone," states the customer,
"Switch over to the cable you found in the box and all with be fine," is my programmed reply.
One sad fact remains, even the cable outlined above still doesn’t have enough pins. The DTR pin in RS-232C is typically used to quickly hang up the phone, saving you some small amount on a long distance call. In order to support DTR it is cross-wired over to the Output Handshake pin on the Mac, the HSKo. The Mac pulls this pin when the modem is going too fast for the Mac, something that rarely happens with current modems. Unfortunately, v.fast (v.34) looms on the horizon, and some Macs can’t run over 9,600 bps, so some setups may require this pin. If this is the case, you’ll have to turn off DTR hang-up in your modem (typically by adding &D0 to your modem initialization string) and use it for handshaking instead. You’ll note that the wiring above allows this single cable to support either function from the same pin.
Information on the pin-outs, and speed limitations of the Mac serial ports can be found in the Knowledge Base area on our SoftArc Online BBS at 416/609-2250. If there is enough interest, I can post them as a FAQ as well.
I’m beginning to like one-trick ponies. I like Toner Tuner, which lets you reduce the amount of toner or ink or ribbon you use when printing, and although I personally don’t have much use for it, I think those of you who do presentations will like Smoothie, from Peirce Software. As its name implies, Smoothie has but one task in life – to smooth the edges of onscreen images. Smoothie accomplishes this with software anti-aliasing, the technique of filling in the steps in the jagged edges with intermediate colors so it appears smoother.
Needless to say, if you’re planning to print something out on a high-quality printer, you won’t want to use Smoothie since the printer will take care of smoothing for you. Also, if you’re working on a draft, there’s no need to waste time and disk space using Smoothie. But, if you want to give a presentation with class, you might think about using Smoothie to clean up the jagged edges.
Smoothie works only on object-oriented PICT images. You start a new Smoothie document, import a jagged graphic via the clipboard, the Import PICT command, or by subscribing to a PICT edition, check some settings, and then click the Go button. Once Smoothie has smoothed the image, you can switch back and forth between the original and the result to see how well Smoothie has done. At that point you can export the file as a bitmapped PICT, as a one-frame QuickTime movie (for inserting into a multiple-frame QuickTime movie as a title or other static graphic), or save it in Smoothie’s native format. You can also copy the image to the clipboard or publish it . It’s that simple.
Of course, there are a few settings to fool around with, so you can adjust the number of colors to save, the scaling of the image, the dithering, whether or not the image should be immediately updated (both subscribed and published editions, which makes working in several programs via Publish & Subscribe much easier), and if you wish to use QuickTime compression. It was all quite self-explanatory, and there is balloon help, although I always find balloon help extremely sluggish and prone to freezing my machine temporarily when I use it.
Now, if you’re being properly critical, you’d say that this is all fine and nice, but it sounds like a lot of work if you have a lot of images. That’s true, and to answer your objection I’d say that Smoothie has a batch processing feature that lets you import a Scrapbook file containing a bunch of images or a folder full of PICTs, convert them in order, and then save the results out to another Scrapbook file, a freely-redistributable Smoothie SlideShow, or a QuickTime movie. The first and last are self-explanatory, but a Smoothie SlideShow is just that, a self-running slideshow application that you can configure for automatic or manual advance and give to anyone.
Also, not having ever used a presentation program seriously, I didn’t realize this, but Smoothie creator Michael Peirce tells me that a lot of Smoothie users like to export an entire presentation from PowerPoint or Persuasion as a Scrapbook file and smooth it all in Smoothie, exporting a Smoothie SlideShow. An advantage of this method is that once you’ve smoothed the presentation, it’s all graphics, so you don’t have to have the proper fonts installed to get a nice-looking presentation. Presentations with major jaggies are always so painful to watch, and it seems that machines used for presentations never have the proper fonts installed.
Smoothie’s manual is clean, clear, and explains why certain options are useful rather than just mentioning that they exist, as so many manuals do. Should you need additional help, Peirce Software provides free technical support for registered users and even maintains an Internet account for ever-useful email support.
Smoothie requires a color-capable Macintosh, and you’d be a fool not to have a hard drive and a fair amount of RAM. It will run in as little as 1 MB, but prefers lots more if possible. Software-wise, you need System 7.0 or later (except for the Smoothie SlideShows, which only require 6.0.2 or later along with Color QuickDraw), and you need QuickTime if you wish to use it for compression.
Smoothie 1.02 lists for $149, but most people will probably go the mail order route, where it costs about $100 from MacZone and possibly others as well. You can order direct from Peirce Software for purchase orders and the like.
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