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CD-ROM Superstar

They aren’t fast, they aren’t pretty, and they seldom connect to your stereo as nicely as you would like, but CD-ROMs are here to stay. They have found a niche in the market despite their many limitations because they provide an excellent way to disseminate lots of information cheaply. Someone at Macworld Expo in Boston was advertising a monthly CD-ROM disk, much like a monthly magazine (you thought wading through several hundred pages of Macworld or MacUser was hard, try making it through 650 megs of a CD-ROM). More reasonable uses of CD-ROMs are massive publishing projects for static information, such as parts lists and the like.

The news is that Apple is going to step up the incentive to buy a CD-ROM player sometime next year by introducing a new, cheaper model and lowering the price on the current CD-ROM player. The cheaper model might even be included internally in future Macintosh models. That’s kind of cool, but not all that impressive, other than that you might have a use for the $500 that’s burning a small hole in your checking account. No, the real scoop – and we hope that it is true – is that Apple will introduce at some point next year (note the ambiguous date) a CD-ROM player (oh boy, another one) having an access time of 28 milliseconds. "Big deal," you say, "my Quantum 105 is 19 milliseconds." Yes, but can your Quantum 105 read any CD-ROM disk, all 650 megabytes of it? Didn’t think so. The fastest of the CD-ROM drives these days have around a 350 millisecond access time, which is pretty poky.

This drive would be impressive if it were to happen, so I asked a knowledgeable friend if it could be done. He’s not a CD-ROM expert, but he thought that the main problem was in the stepper motor and its control circuitry. Essentially, stepper motors work slowly in audio CD-ROM drives because there is no reason for them to step quickly. However, if a faster, more powerful stepper motor was used in conjunction with a well-designed microcontroller, a 28 millisecond speed would be theoretically possible.

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Adam Engst No comments

Electronet, Yet Again

Yes, folks, it’s passed into the trend phase. Wireless networks are all the rage these days, though none have made their way to my door yet. I heard the latest news from the strangest source, the evening news on the radio. Evidently, Motorola is introducing a new network technology called WIN, which stands for Wireless In-building Network. Unlike most of the competing wireless network technologies, Motorola claims that WIN will be capable (eventually) of speeds around 100 megabits per second. In comparison, LocalTalk – got it right this time, LocalTalk is the network hardware and software built into every Mac, AppleTalk is the overall network scheme and includes EtherTalk, LocalTalk, and TokenTalk – runs at about 230 kilobits per second.

Motorola doesn’t have a specific product ready, but they claim to have tested the technology at 50 megabits/second, though 15 megabits/second will be the first speed at which products will run. For those of you who know what’s where in the radio frequencies, Motorola has applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for licenses in the 18 to 19 gigahertz range, which is most commonly used by microwave transmitters. Interference would likely be a problem, except for the limited range (within a building) of WIN and the fact that Motorola’s licenses would be the only ones within a 35 mile radius.

While Motorola looks high in the radio frequencies, Apple is looking lower. Apple has asked the FCC to allocate the 1.7 to 2.3 gigahertz range for high-speed data transmissions. We haven’t heard anything about any Apple radio network products, but you can rest assured that the people who brought you AppleTalk, that "insanely great networking system," (to quote the Apple engineer who chided me on saying AppleTalk when I meant LocalTalk in a previous issue), are working on something interesting along those lines. I wouldn’t be too surprised if General Magic’s "Personal Intelligent Communicator" work was somewhat related.

We expected to hear more about GEC-Marconi’s Verran AC DataLink. It’s the only electrical-line networking device that we’ve heard of that supports the Mac as well as the multitudes of PC-clones. It’s not much as far as a network goes, as the company only recommends the 16 kilobits per second speed for sharing printers and the like, but in theory it could be used to share files. Even still, using the power lines is an efficient use of preinstalled wiring if you don’t want to install network wiring all over the place as well. One way or another, the Verran AC DataLink is a start, though it could use a better name, but it would be nice if more of the innovative networking products showed up for the Mac.

GEC-Marconi — 703-6488-1551

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 30-Oct-90, Vol. 4, #37, pg. 9
InfoWorld — 22-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #43, pg. 1
InfoWorld — 22-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #43, pg. 8
MacWEEK — 25-Sep-90, Vol. 4, #32, pg. 10

Adam Engst No comments

Faxing Printers

We’ve long lamented the wastefulness of stand-alone fax machines when most of the components of them could be used with a computer to further increase productivity. After all, a fax machine is little more than a bad scanner, a poor printer, and a one-way modem in a single box.

Fax modems have helped somewhat by providing a data modem and send fax capabilities in one unit, but the printer and the scanner are still left out. A couple of new products for the popular Hewlett-Packard LaserJet II line of laser printers may help change that, even for Mac users. The first of them, FaxConnection from Extended Systems, comes in two flavors, a $595 plug-in board for the printer and a $695 external box that attaches via parallel cable. Both products sit between the printer and the computer and connect to the phone line to receive faxes. A 256K buffer will store about 12 pages of standard Group III text (though be warned that the standard page of text used in these figures is ridiculously empty of text – we’ve seen it).

The second product, Tall Tree’s Fax-O-Matic, is like the external version of the FaxConnection in that it is an external device that connects in the same manner. The main differences between the two devices are that the Fax-O-Matic has a 512K buffer and an automatic scaling feature that will take a legal sized fax and shrink it to fit on a letter size piece of paper. Fax-O-Matic costs only $399.

These would seem to be limited to the PC-clone users who also have HP LaserJets, but since both the external version of FaxConnection and the Fax-O-Matic device are external devices that connect via a parallel cable to any PCL (Hewlett-Packard’s Printer Control Language) printer, other printers might work as well. We’d like to see one of those devices working with the QMS-PS 410, which can automatically switch between AppleTalk and parallel ports and related emulations without user intervention.

We would also like to see fax machines so integrated into computer setups that the fax would only print on paper if no RAM or disk space was available to hold it. Sending and receiving online makes more sense in terms of paper waste (thermal fax paper cannot be recycled) and usability – often a faxed form would be more useful in machine readable form. The most advanced form of this now is Steve Jobs’s NeXTstep 2.0, which includes full fax support in the operating system. Now if only the NeXT fax modems could be smart about keeping files in machine readable form if another NeXT is on the other end…

Extended Systems — 208/322-7575
Tall Tree Systems — 415/493-1980

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
InfoWorld — 17-Sep-90, Vol. 12, #37, pg. 24
InfoWorld — 08-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #41, pg. 28

Adam Engst No comments


[Editor’s note: We’re including this notice on the hypertext conference not because it is big news, but because we believe that the future of information dissemination lies in electronic systems. Once information (of any sort, from TidBITS articles to baseball statistics to avant garde fiction) is stored electronically, we must have some method to organize and explore the world of our information. Despite what critics say, hypertext (in some general form) may well be the only answer to the information glut. More specifically, the top contender for hypertext information management is Ted Nelson’s Xanadu system, which is also the subject of the first TidBITS Special Issue, coming soon to the electronic newsstands of the world. In any event, if you are interested in hypertext, this the conference to attend to see the latest and greatest. We hope to be there if at all financially possible.]

Preliminary Call for Participation

Third ACM Conference on Hypertext
San Antonio, Texas, USA
December 15-18, 1991

Hypertext ’91 is an international research conference on hypertext. The ACM Hypertext Conference occurs in the United States every second year in alternation with ECHT, the European Conference on Hypertext.

Hypertext systems provide computer support for locating, gathering, annotating, and organizing information. Hypertext systems are being designed for information collections of diverse material in heterogeneous media, hence the alternate name, hypermedia.

Hypertext is by nature multi-disciplinary, involving researchers in many fields, including computer science, cognitive science, rhetoric, and education, as well as many application domains. This conference will interest a broad spectrum of professionals in these fields ranging from theoreticians through behavioral researchers to systems researchers and applications developers. The conference will offer technical events in a variety of formats as well as guest speakers and opportunities for informal special interest groups.

Suggested Formats and Topics — We are inviting you to participate in HT’91 in one of seven different areas of the technical program: papers, panels, courses, videos, technical briefings, posters, or demos. Submitters may be invited to participate in the technical program in a different category from that in which they submitted their work.

Submissions in all areas of hypertext research are encouraged. Topics of interest would include the following:

Paradigms for information access
Information design
Theories, models, and frameworks
Experimental or observational studies of use
Workplace deployment issues
Structuring hypertext documents for reading and retrieval
Underlying technologies (persistent object stores, link
services, databases, information retrieval, access control)

For More Information:

Hypertext ’91 Conference email: [email protected]
John J. Leggett, General Chair
Hypertext ’91 Conference
Hypertext Research Lab
Department of Computer Science
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843 USA
Voice: 409/845-0298
Fax: 409/847-8578
email: [email protected]

Janet H. Walker, Program Chair
Hypertext ’91 Conference
Digital Equipment Corporation
Cambridge Research Lab
One Kendall Square, Bldg 700
Cambridge, MA 02139 USA
Voice: 617/621-6618
Fax: 617/621-6650
email: [email protected]

Information from:
James H. Coombs — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Cool Technologies

We’ve already talked about the latest networking technologies from Motorola and possibly Apple, but other truly neat technologies have recently shown up.

Storage-wise, we haven’t heard anything more about Canon’s optical card, but Intel should be shipping new Flash Memory Cards in a month or so. These cards are non-volatile, memory IC cards and come in 1 and 4 meg models. In theory, the cards are DOS-compatible storage devices, but currently there isn’t any way to alter data at the file level, so they are limited to storing programs and read-only documents. Eventually, there should be no difference between a Flash Memory Card and any other storage device, at which point they might even show up in a future Macintosh laptop.

We also heard a bit about something called optical paper, which is a flexible mylar film that can have data written onto it with a laser. The laser makes permanent holes in the film, so the optical paper is a new example of WORM technology. It sounds like it could replace magnetic tape archives for mainframe type computers, but we suspect that microcomputer applications of the technology would not be far behind.

Another new technology isn’t being used to store data (though that’s not an impossibility), but can be used for numerous other applications. A new class of plastic-like polymers can conduct electricity when properly doped with certain chemicals. One initial use for the polymers has been in rechargeable batteries, but the polymers have a host of other abilities, including the ability to shrink and grow, to change colors, and to emit light. That last ability has prompted some people to look into ways of using the polymers in computer screens, though researchers haven’t yet found a way to prevent the electrical features of the polymers from disappearing over time, especially in the presence of heat or air. One IBM research scientist said in the Wall Street Journal that IBM is looking into ways to use the polymers in conventional computer chips.

Intel — 800/548-4725

Information from:
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

Related articles:
InfoWorld — 08-Oct-90, Vol. 12, #41, pg. 25
Wall Street Journal — 11-Oct-90, pg. B1