This week we welcome our latest sponsor, APS, and tell you how to find the most recent deals on APS offerings. We also examine volume II of Pacific HiTech’s Info-Mac CD-ROM, which has grown significantly in size and features. Other articles include more details on the upcoming PowerPCs, a solution to a thoroughly confusing PowerBook problem, and a look at Abbate’s VideoToolkit, which provides some interesting capabilities with a Mac and video hardware.
This issue comes a day late, and for those of you who live in other countries, my apologies. July 4th is Independence Day in the U.S., and it is celebrated in a truly American way by blowing things up and taking a day off from work. We went to the six mile-long Dungeness Spit, which claims to be the world’s longest sand spit. Upon seeing it, I of course had to run to the end and, back, ignoring the fact that I was running on sand, hadn’t run 10 miles in months, and wearing old running shoes, jeans, and a long sleeved shirt. I’m surprised I can walk today.
Quadra 950 price drops go into effect 06-Jul-93. The changes in the suggested retail prices range from $1,500 to $1,710 on the Quadra 950, and from $1,200 to $1,500 on the Apple Workgroup Server 95. If you’ve been tempted by a Quadra 950 recently give your friendly local dealer a call. The cheapest machine, a 950 with 8 MB and a floppy, now lists for $3,999, down from $5,609, and thus comes into the price range of mere mortals.
CopyDoubler details were lousy in last week’s review. We gave the wrong AOL address and upgrade price. Sigh, that’s what happens when you believe a database. The real AOL address is [email protected] and the upgrade price should be $19.95. If you snag the demo copy, which only works for three weeks, it includes an offer for $19.95 that’s good until 31-Dec-93, which is the cheapest way to get CopyDoubler if you can’t upgrade.
CD-ROM Toolkit Redux — Russell Finn <[email protected]> noted in response to our article on FWB’s CD-ROM Toolkit that a recent MacWEEK report found no performance gain when using CD-ROM Toolkit with the AppleCD 300 drive, perhaps due to that drive’s onboard caching. John Baxter used a AppleCD 150 in his tests, and the MacWEEK article did find speed increases with older single speed drives and slower double speed drives. So once again, make sure you can return CD-ROM Toolkit if it doesn’t help you.
We are pleased to welcome our latest corporate sponsor, APS Technologies. APS has sold hard drives and other storage devices for years now, and has accumulated numerous commendations from industry publications for producing high-quality hardware and providing excellent technical support. In an industry where everyone uses the same mechanisms, things like cases, power supplies, cables, software, and technical support, not to mention prices, become the distinguishing factors. In recent years, APS has expanded their hardware and software offerings significantly and even has a catalog offering useful information about their products. Send them email or call to receive a copy of their catalog. In another unique move, APS’s catalog carries only products that they use and recommend, not necessarily the best-selling lemming choices whose companies paid to appear, as in most mail order catalogs. Needless to say, Nisus is included. How could I not like these folks?
I’m especially pleased to have APS sponsoring TidBITS because I’ve always felt that they made solid drives and were in general a class act. I’ve put my money where my mouth is as well, purchasing two 105 MB hard drives, a 44 MB SyQuest, a DAT drive and soon, a 1.2 GB drive. And although five drives is a small sample, I’ve seen many reports on the nets that back up my consistently good experiences. Should you not have a good experience with APS’s support, please, send them email so they can figure out what they did wrong and work to correct it.
As part of their long-term sponsorship of TidBITS, we will make APS’s price list available on our fileserver for anyone to request. "Piffle," you say. "I could look in the latest MacSolarSystem." Well, you could, but if you did, you might miss out on good deals. Companies place ads in magazines well ahead of the time the magazine appears in your hands, so the prices are often out of date. In addition, if APS has only a few of a certain drive left, they won’t include it in a magazine ad in favor of a drive that they have lots of, since there’s nothing worse than telling customers that you’re out of what they want.
The price list on our fileserver won’t suffer these problems. APS will update it frequently, so you can always get the latest and cheapest prices, since hard drive prices never go anywhere but down. In addition, if they have only a few units left of a mechanism that some manufacturer is discontinuing, they will appear clearly marked, often at a special price.
If you wish to order from APS, please use the phone numbers (toll free for the U.S., U.K., and Australia) in the price list itself and tell them about TidBITS so that they know that making the price list available via email is useful. As usual, I recommend that you shop around before making any large purchase; that was how I first settled on APS, since they were the only price competitive vendor several years ago whose salespeople could answer my questions about SCSI partitioning.
In the future we hope to provide other files from APS that will share some of the knowledge they’ve accumulated from years of helping users with hard drives. I’ll note when those files become available, and I’ll also indicate when the price list changes so you can send for the latest one if you need it. You can request APS’s price list by sending email to:
No special subject or body are necessary. Occasionally email responses bounce, and although I try to manually reroute them, sometimes there’s nothing I can do, so if you don’t get the price list within a day or so, try again from another address if possible.
As with many of our articles, the article on the PowerPC itself prompted comments from people who know more than I, so here are some quick notes that should help clarify the situation a bit more. First, it appears that Apple reps at PC Expo predicted that the release date of the first PowerPC machines will be in the spring of 1994, not January of 1994 as previously thought.
Wade Williams <[email protected]> paraphrased some comments from Jordan Mattson, the Marketing Manager for PowerPC Development Tools, in a recent developers’ conference on America Online.
- The emulation mode is "rock solid." Apple has not found an application that will break it with the exception of TMON, but since it’s a low-level debugger and not an application, it doesn’t really count. Since the emulation is complete at the Toolbox level, Control Panels and extensions should work as well.
- The emulation will not include an FPU or MMU, as both would be incredibly slow. Someone asked about 3D-rendering packages that need an FPU, and Jordan felt convinced that they would be some of the first to go native since they need the extra speed.
So again, any application that requires an FPU won’t work in emulation, just as they don’t work on the Centris 610 sans FPU. Presumably, the lack of an MMU means that applications that have their own virtual memory scheme, such as Photoshop, may not work. I can only assume that the system software’s VM will be supported for applications in native mode, but possibly not for those in emulation. However, he did not speak on this subject, so it is just my conjecture. Luckily, most applications that have their own virtual memory scheme will likely be ported to native mode quickly.
- This is the most important point he made: the PowerPC computer, whatever it may be called, will run the Macintosh OS. Specifically, System 7.1 or whatever happens to be current. Some of it will run native, some in emulation. However, it will be the same system software (well, there will probably be a special "System 7.1 for PowerPC," but it will work the same).
At first I thought of titling this "Info-Mac CD-ROM II: Economy Size," or even "Family Size" but I realized that those terms don’t mean anything, and you only know that "Economy Size" is bigger if the bottle of ketchup so labeled is bigger than the one labeled merely "Super Big Bottle O’ Ketchup." One way or another, the latest issue of the Info-Mac CD-ROM from Pacific HiTech is big, really big, and a lot bigger than the previous edition. This is good, of course, and it was helped by the fact that during the interim between the two issues, sumex-aim acquired (and immediately started to fill) a much larger disk drive to replace its old economy-sized 200 MB drive. This CD holds 576 MB of data, uncompressed and nicely named, whereas the first issue held a mere 112 MB.
So what’s on volume two? All sorts of good stuff that lives on sumex normally, as of May of 1993, and for those of you who have access to sumex via FTP or mirror mailserver, the file
contains a list of the files on the disk with one-line descriptions. (See TidBITS #130 for mailserver instructions for sumex, but the basic idea is to send email to [email protected] with one or more lines like this in the body of the message: $MAC GET info-mac-cdrom-2.txt)
Unfortunately, the starving graduate students who started Pacific HiTech as a way to reduce their dependence on taxpayer dollars were unable to put every item from sumex on the CD-ROM because not all authors wished to have their programs distributed in such a way. That’s the authors’ right, and I respect Pacific HiTech for abiding by those wishes. Pacific HiTech gives free copies to authors of new programs or major upgrades on the CD-ROM, but since it would be too much work for them to determine who gets a copy, if you feel you deserve one for your shareware contribution to the disk, drop them a line.
What’s not on volume II? Some of the early copies of the CD-ROM were accidentally mastered without a System 6 desktop file, so if you use System 6, make sure to ask so that they can definitely send you a disk from the second mastering run. Ah, how soon we forget. I certainly would have.
Volume II adds a number of nice touches that didn’t exist in volume I. Pacific HiTech created an On Location index for the entire disk, so those of you with On Location should like that. Everything is uncompressed, so accessing files is easy and hassle-free, and more importantly you can easily search the text of files on the CD-ROM even if you don’t have On Location. Tonya and I came up with an interesting use that we haven’t quite implemented yet. Everyone always complains about how Microsoft Word conflicts with many third-party utilities because Microsoft ignores Apple’s programming guidelines. However, since Microsoft isn’t aware of many conflicts, Tonya wondered if this might be a computer legend. I, of course, thought not and suggested we search the Info-Mac CD for instances of "Microsoft Word" to see how often shareware authors mentioned it in documentation as causing problems. I tried this first with Super Boomerang, which worked fine, except that Super Boomerang doesn’t show much of the surrounding text and doesn’t let you work with the group of found files in any way. Then a friend lent me On Location, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it search for the phrase "Microsoft Word" instead of the words "Microsoft" and "Word" in the same document, which is a different and less useful search. An interesting experiment, nonetheless, and one which I’ll also try with Mark Zimmerman’s Free Text Browser, for which there is also an index.
In addition to the On Location index, Pacific HiTech created views of many of the collections of text files in Akif Eyler’s excellent Easy View, which lets you browse through old issues of TidBITS, Info-Mac Digest, and Murph Sewall’s recently deceased Vaporware. Easy View may not be as fast as the WAIS, and it may not provide weighted searching, but for a quick scan through a bunch of TidBITS issues, it’s unparalleled. And besides, the more people who scan back issues on their own, the fewer people who send me mail asking if we ever did an article on using Macs in weasel research.
Yesterday I had my annual hour-long argument with a friend about whether or not CD-ROMs are evil. He feels that the technology is too slow and limited, being read-only, and that Apple should put 256 MB magneto-optical (MO) drives in every Mac this fall instead of a CD-ROM drive, as they supposedly plan to do. CD-ROM technology doesn’t impress me, but I do feel that its pricing makes up for a lot (especially in comparison to $2,000 to $3,000 MO drives and media ranging from $50 to $150), considering that the AppleCD 300 drive should now be available for under $400 street price and that vendors can cheaply master CD-ROMs in quantity. The current price structure surrounding CD-ROM disks and drives makes them attractive, especially when they provide data like the Info-Mac CD-ROM, which reduces unnecessary network use and makes it easier for people to connect to sumex for the latest and greatest software.
The Info-Mac CD-ROM II costs $49.95, and upgrades for owners of volume I are $29.95. U.S. users should add $5 for shipping and handling, whereas international users should add $9. Pacific HiTech can handle checks, money orders, or credit cards.
Pacific HiTech — 800/765-8369 — 801/278-2042
801/278-2666 (fax) — [email protected]
I was having some trouble with my Duo.
Now, this was no ordinary trouble. This wasn’t some problem with somebody’s machine crashing now and then, or constant unjustified out of memory errors, or anything trivial like that. No, this was a problem with my machine, and hence it was a matter of critical, nay, near national, importance.
The problem manifested itself in two ways. The most common was when the machine was undocked, running on battery power. It would start to boot up happily, and then suddenly shut down in a manner best described, as Dave Barry would put it, as "suddenly and without warning." This usually happened during boot, but sometimes it happened a minute or two after the Finder appeared, and occasionally it happened any old time at all. If it hadn’t been a complete shut down, I would have attributed it to computer narcolepsy.
The second manifestation seemed to be modem-related, and led me to believe that it was a separate problem altogether. Whether on battery, power adaptor, or dock power, the whole machine would shut down the instant the Express Modem connected. This problem was not nearly so common, which was good, because otherwise I would have been prone to screaming fits long before now.
I started by calling around for service and learned, to my dismay, that the minimum wait in this town (we’re talking Seattle here, not some burg where they’re still impressed by digital watches) for any kind of service is a week. I have no proof, but I strongly suspect that I would shrivel up and turn to dust if I was without my machine for a week. So I asked on the net rather than calling Apple and figuring out how to send my PowerBook into the wilds of Texas, or wherever Apple fixes things these days. Seattle PowerBooks don’t like dry weather anyway.
Alarmingly, quite a few people responded, but mostly with requests for a solution. It appears that I had a common problem. Most of the responses came from Duo owners, but a couple came from owners of other model PowerBooks. Luckily, two responses held a simple answer.
If you slide the battery out of a Duo and look inside (the Duo, not the battery), you’ll see the contacts way in the back. They are partially supported by a small piece of foam which presses them firmly against the battery terminals. In some cases, this foam doesn’t do its job very well and you get poor, sporadic contact with the battery – the PowerBook disapproves of such treatment and responds by shutting off.
So I reached in with a dry, clean, non-metallic object (a Pilot BP-S medium ballpoint, back end first) and carefully bent the contacts toward the battery terminals. It took about five minutes, and I haven’t had either problem in nearly two weeks since – so apparently the Express Modem was also sensitive to the battery problem.
This may void your warranty if the Apple Thought Police ever find out, but it beats shrivelling up and turning to dust.
I had a dilemma. Philip Palombo from Abbate kept sending me email telling me that I should write about Abbate’s product, VideoToolkit. I’m always willing to consider suggestions from readers, even if they are trying to push their own products, as long as they can convince me that the product is neat. Unfortunately, I have no experience with video (well, I’m extremely good at setting VCR clocks), and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would give a hoot about VideoToolkit from Abbate’s press releases. Finally Philip called me and gave me the entire history of the product and the rationale for each feature, and now I agree – VideoToolkit is a cool idea. I’m going to follow the same basic outline that Philip gave me, since I think it’s the only way non-video people will understand this program, and at $279 list, it’s not out of the reach or ken of normal people.
History lesson — Back in the dark ages of video, people would go out in the field (left field, I imagine) and record events. They would then come home and immediately "log," or write copious notes about, each scene, so they could easily recall each distinct scene when they edited the tape in an editing studio that could cost hundreds of dollars per hour. This log, a series of scenes, becomes an "Edit Decision List" (EDL) since you could use it to make decisions like putting scene 25 before scene 19 in the final tape. Needless to say, this logging process was generally considered about as much fun as dropping an open-face peanut butter sandwich face down on the rug.
That’s where OnTrack/Mac, VideoToolkit’s predecessor, appeared, because Mark Abbate (later joined by Philip Palombo), realized this was a job for a dedicated database that could control a VCR or camcorder (with a little extra hardware, of course). The database could store the beginning and ending locations of each scene and provide text fields for identifying each scene. This was a major step up, because when you went into the editing studio, you had a nicely printed list of each scene’s description, along with the exact starting and ending points.
This was handy for professionals, but the main semi-sophisticated feature at the time was the capability to control the VCR or camcorder. That feature would increase in importance in the future. In addition, if a Mac was available in the editing studio then you could transfer the edit list to the high-end edit controller.
By this time inexpensive controllers had shown up on the market, so you could create drafts, essentially, by taking an edit list and recording from one VCR to another. Unfortunately these inexpensive controllers were RAM-based, so you could make only one edit at a time. If you showed your draft to your client, and she hated scene 19 before scene 25, you had to go away and fix it.
VideoToolkit soon filled this niche too, by automating the control of two source VCRs and a recorder at the same time. Now you could create your edit list in VideoToolkit from two logs, and then actually make a second-generation tape of your rough draft to show your client. When your client hated scene 19, all you had to do was change the order of your edit list in VideoToolkit and re-record the destination tape from the original. Because this was a database, you could store multiple logs and manipulate the edit list easily. At this point, VideoToolkit was a HyperCard stack, which made it easy to find specific scenes, and teachers and salespeople could link presentations to video scenes on another monitor, so when the teacher reached a certain point in a stack, clicking a button would play a specific scene from VCR. In addition, if you used a RasterOps video card with VideoToolkit, you could capture a snapshot of the beginning and end of each scene. This made it easier to remember how each scene looked, because you could visually identify the beginning and end.
Enter QuickTime, which initially provided device independence to VideoToolkit’s snapshot capability. That was a big help for the ever-finicky professionals, and Abbate also made it easier for professionals to create a standard edit list-format with VideoToolkit, again simplifying the edit process in the high-end editing studio.
But what about Jane Q. User? Many of these features were aimed at professionals, but Abbate turned it around in VideoToolkit 2.0 (which became a stand-alone application), since it’s easy for a normal person to buy a camcorder and a digitizing card, and many people have at least one VCR around. First, Abbate added support for all QuickTime digitizing cards so VideoToolkit can suck the original video in through the card and turn it into a QuickTime movie. However, VideoToolkit uses a different method than other video capture applications. Instead of trying to swallow the entire video stream in real-time (like trying to drink from a garden hose), VideoToolkit digitizes each frame individually, then merges them into the QuickTime movie. Think of this as turning the hose on briefly, taking a swallow, and then turning it off quickly, repeating as necessary.
This step-and-grab technique relies on VideoToolkit’s ability to control the VCR carefully and requires a quality VCR (since the end quality will only be as good as the still frame quality), but it provides two interesting benefits. First, you can create an edit list in VideoToolkit and then have VideoToolkit create a QuickTime movie from that list, which is more efficient than bringing everything into the Mac and doing the rough editing there. Secondly, because VideoToolkit uses this step-and-grab technique, it can effectively create true 30 frame-per-second (fps) QuickTime movies up to full-screen size. Of course, this isn’t currently realistic because of the amount of disk space and RAM, not to mention processing power, needed to compress such a large movie, since VideoToolkit can’t compress on-the-fly because of the step-and-grab technique.
So again, we’re talking pretty neat stuff here. You can make a tape of something, create an edit list in VideoToolkit, suck that edit list into a QuickTime movie at up to 30 fps, and… well what about the sound? That’s right, QuickTime does talkies. That’s the latest feature, because this step-and-grab technique can’t take a snapshot of audio, so VideoToolkit makes a second pass through the tape after stepping through digitizing the images. On this second pass, which goes in real-time, VideoToolkit grabs the sound track and lays it on top of the video track in the QuickTime movie, synchronizing it to match properly.
Great, so we’ve got a QuickTime movie now. But it’s a lot easier to find a VCR for a presentation than a QuickTime-capable Mac with a projector. VideoToolkit can also embed the timecode in first frame of the QuickTime movies text track. That gives you unique frame references. Now, if you take your QuickTime movie into Adobe Premiere, you have the advantages of digital editing, seeing where everything will go and moving more quickly than on an analog system. Because each movie has that unique frame reference number now, you can then export the edit list (technically, a CMX 3600 EDL) out of Premiere, import it back into VideoToolkit, and have VideoToolkit control two VCRs to create a tape with your edited movie. You would, of course, lose any fancy effects you used in Premiere, since VideoToolkit is taking just that edit list and recording original footage from one tape to another, bypassing the digital step aside from the edit list.
So, if you’re doing a presentation and don’t know if you’ll have access to a QuickTime-capable Mac, you can create both your QuickTime movie (adding effects if you like) and a videotape of the same scenes (minus effects) and take both. If you only have a VCR and television, you’ve got that videotape backup, and that tape is also easier to give to grandparent-types without access to QuickTime if you do personal videos. Of course, it is possible to record a QuickTime movie to tape, which would give you your special effects, but when using the high ratio of software-based compression necessary to get the movie small enough to play back smoothly on the Mac, the quality may not be good enough. You can solve this by using pricey hardware compression (such as Radius VideoVision, RasterOps MoviePak or SuperMac’s Digital Film) while creating the movie and recording it to videotape.
Keep in mind that I’m merely reporting how things are supposed to work here. I don’t have the hardware to play with VideoToolkit, and I don’t have the background to judge it in comparison to other products. However, I think I’ve explained how VideoToolkit is supposed to work above well enough that you will get a sense of whether or not it’s worth checking out for your purposes. That you can do by talking to Abbate more, either in email or in their America Online forum (keyword: Abbate).
— Information from:
Philip Palombo, Abbate Video Inc. — [email protected]
508/376-3712 — 508/376-3714 (fax)