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Adam Engst No comments

VDT Law in San Francisco

By now most people are aware of the controversy surrounding extended use of video display terminals. Some people, most notably author Paul Brodeur, claim that VDTs emit harmful levels of extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic radiation. Others, led by the companies that have much to lose, claim that no health risks are associated with VDT usage (Yeah, right. I wonder how many of them have used a computer for six or seven hours and not felt tired and dry-eyed). The truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle. Sigma Designs has reacted to the controversy by offering shielded versions of its monitors, and Fairfield Engineering has come up with a device that fits over the neck of the cathode ray tube of 9" Macintosh monitors ($80) or 13" color monitors ($90), thus limiting the ELF radiation. Nanao also just released 16" and 20" Flexscan monitors that are supposedly low radiation displays.

That’s all fine and nice on the technological front, but recently a battle was won on the far more bloody political front. Mayor Art Agnos of San Francisco recently signed a law requiring employers with more than 15 employees to provide those who perform repetitive keyboard work for more than four hours at time with adjustable workstations and seating, anti-glare lighting, 15-minute breaks every two hours, and other safety products such as screen guards, wrist rests, and copy holders. I gather that the legislation was fought tooth and nail the entire way because of the expense involved, if nothing else.

The law calls for the creation of a seven-member committee to keep track of the controversy and inform the government of developments and issues in the field, including not just the health problems mentioned by Brodeur, such as an increased rate of miscarriages, but also problems such as muscular and skeletal damage (including the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome) and vision impairment.

In my opinion, it’s about time that such legislation became widespread. Many people would happily pay another $80 for a shielded Macintosh screen, and in the volume that Apple would sell them, that price would rapidly drop. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has finally entered the fray with a study suggesting that the 60-Hz magnetic fields from electrical devices and power lines might cause cancer (ever notice how laboratory studies cause wishy-washyness in scientists?). The EPA will even send you a copy of a draft of the study – check the phone number below. Of course, the EPA could be more effective, but ex-President Reagan cut all its funding for electromagnetic radiation in 1986. (His opinion was that he had watched television for a long time and even been on it, and he hadn’t been affected by no electro-whatever-it’s-called radiation :-)).

Fairfield Engineering — 515/472-5551
EPA ORD Publications Office — 513/569-7562
513/569-7566 (fax)
Nanao USA — 213/325-5202

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 21-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #3, pg. 19
MacWEEK — 08-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #1, pg. 173
PC WEEK — 07-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #1, pg. 137
InfoWorld — 24-Dec-90, Vol. 12, #52, pg. 5

Adam Engst No comments

CE Tiles

Last week I wrote about ThoughtPattern, a free-form database that helps you organize files. CE has taken a different approach to the organization problem with its new utility ,Tiles, which can be thought of a graphical desktop organizer for documents, programs, and actions. In some ways, Tiles is similar to the aliases that will become popular in System 7.0 – that’s mainly conjecture – I personally love the aliasing power of System 7.0 – in that it creates an icon for any file that opens that file no matter where it is stored. In other ways, Tiles mimics zeta soft’s Super Boomerang by automatically keeping track of all the applications and documents that you use in an Open… Tile palette. But these two comparisons don’t do justice to the elegance of Tiles. A System 7.0 alias is merely a pointer to another file – extremely handy, to be sure, but limited. A Project Tile can hold a number of other tiles, each representing a different document or application or even a QuicKey macro. So while you can have an alias to your favorite program sitting on your desktop, that’s not nearly as powerful as a Tile that can open your favorite application and several documents and run a QuicKey macro that mounts an AppleShare volume all at once.

I also said that Tiles works like Super Boomerang. You can set Tiles up to replace the Open… dialog box with a Tile palette that holds a user-specified number of Tiles. Double-clicking on a Tile opens a document, exactly as double-clicking on a file name in the standard file dialog box does. Tiles could be set up by a system administrator for less knowledgeable users to perform some basic repetitive actions. The administrator can customize the look of the Tiles extensively, because there are large and small tiles, and large tile can show a name and a picture, while small tiles can show a name or a picture. The pictures can come from icons or PICTs and can be either color or black and white.

I haven’t had a chance to test Tiles yet, but it strikes me as an excellent idea. In keeping with CE’s other products, it is simple and elegant and doesn’t strive to be the ultimate in file organization utilities. Tiles is an "immediate" utility, in that it works in the present, unlike other utilities, which require setting up in the present so that they will work in the future. While there is room for both varieties, I can only think of a few other programs, most notably Super Boomerang, that provide the same level of immediate benefit without forethought. Kudos to CE, and I hope that we will get a chance to test Tiles and report back on it and more potential applications for it at a later date.

CE Software — 515/224-1953

Information from:
CE propaganda

Related articles:
InfoWorld — 01-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #1, pg. 35

Adam Engst No comments

Death of the MarketPlace!

It’s nowhere nearly as tragic as "Death of a Salesman," but Lotus announced on the 23rd of January that it has canceled Lotus MarketPlace:Households. From what we’ve heard, Lotus has received a tremendous number of complaining calls and letters. Lotus chairman Jim Manzi said, "At last count we had received more than 30,000 calls to our name removal service, including calls from customers, vendors and others in the industry." In addition, Manzi canceled MarketPlace:Business because the two products were complementary and he didn’t feel that MarketPlace:Business could succeed without MarketPlace:Households.

In its press release, Lotus said the cost of addressing consumer privacy issues would be prohibitive, as we suggested last week. Manzi said "the product is not part of our core business, and Lotus would be ill-served by a prolonged battle over consumer privacy." It’s nice to see that some of the issues we and others on the networks raised also occurred to the people in charge of this project. In this case, it goes to show that the people in the computer industry can influence issues rooted in technology, but having far reaching implications. Congratulations to everyone who voiced an opinion to Lotus and Equifax.

We applaud Lotus’s courage in leaving a bad situation before its reputation hit an all-time low. Of course, Manzi said in the press release and letter to the Lotus employees that Lotus still felt that its safeguards would have prevented any abuse of the product. Interestingly enough, Lotus claimed these safeguards were more stringent than any currently existing in the direct marketing industry. Unfortunately, while this may indeed be true, it does not imply (a) that the safeguards currently in use in the industry are anywhere near stringent enough – which they’re not, as evidenced by the ease with which a writer for McGraw-Hill managed to get Vice-President Dan Quayle’s credit rating from TRW – or (b) that Lotus’s safeguards were stringent enough to offset the increased potential for abuse brought about by MarketPlace’s large audience (i.e. anybody with a Mac and CD-ROM player). We and 30,000 others disagreed with Lotus about the stringency of the safeguards, and we’re the ones who would have been affected. And unlike Lotus, none of us would have been making money on the whole deal. 🙂

Information from:
Lotus propaganda
Mark H. Anbinder — [email protected]
Scott McGuire — [email protected]
Peter G. Neumann — [email protected]
Rick Russell — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

DeskWriter & HyperCard

Among the mini-debates currently raging (if that is the word ;-)) in the comp.sys.mac.hypercard group on Usenet is one concerning the Hewlett- Packard DeskWriter printer’s inability to print half-and quarter-size HyperCard cards. For those unfamiliar with the DeskWriter, it is an ink-jet, QuickDraw printer that HP converted for the Macintosh (it looks suspiciously like a DeskJet), which works at a lower resolution with normal Macintosh screen fonts, or at the same 300 dpi as most laser printers with graphics as well as with its own scalable fonts and with ATM-ized ones.

The debate started when someone complained on the net that HyperCard wouldn’t let him print anything but full-size cards on a DeskWriter. Martin Gannholm of the HyperCard development team soon replied, explaining that the printer was at fault. Another user called Hewlett-Packard’s tech support and was told by a spokesperson, Vicki, who, "reading from a comments sheet," said that HyperCard’s reduced card-size printing options only work with PostScript devices, in effect laying the blame completely on HyperCard. Soon someone else called the problem "a bug," one still present in the latest version 2.1 of the DeskWriter driver, also suggesting that DeskWriter owners start pressuring HP to do something about it.

Alas, much as I hate to dispel anybody’s doubts, the DeskWriter driver’s inability to print at other than full scale resolution (because that’s what it amounts to) is not merely a software bug, but a direct result of HP basing it on a specific internal imagining model. Indeed, from the "DeskWriter Printer Information Update," a pink sheet that came with version 1.00 of the software, we learn that "the printer resource was developed by Hewlett-Packard Company and is based on the imagining kernel from Palomar Software, Inc."

Joel West of Palomar Software and Earle R. Horthon each contributed to a series of articles in MacTutor describing development of a general QuickDraw printer driver with variable-resolution and few other facilities. The code wasn’t geared towards any specific hardware but was meant to be adaptable to different printers’ requirements. Therefore it never particularly touched upon sophisticated features like multiple scales, output rotation, and smoothing. Nor did it concern itself with the more mundane (but no less important!) questions of memory management that HP faced when bringing its 300 dpi printer to the Mac – chiefly of what to do when there’s not enough memory to print a full 300 dpi page.

I may be wrong but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if this was the kernel that HP bought and then wrapped in an RDEV shell of its own. After all, it seems to me that HP is not primarily in the printer driver business, and few people make Macintosh drivers anyway. HP’s chief objective was not to produce a printer driver that would satisfy everybody’s needs and offer 100% compatibility with all major features of all major Mac programs, but an acceptable product that would perform 90% of all operations well and make a profit. In that HP has certainly succeeded.

The DeskWriter driver clearly suffers from the generality of its original design and from the consequences of the decision to permit it to function with 1 MB RAM machines (and the choice of method for dealing with it). In such unfavourable memory conditions the driver uses a technique called "banding" to image (draw in memory) a part of the page, print that out, and then proceed with the next band and so on. That turns printing at any scale other than the full 1:1 representation of a QuickDraw page into a nightmare. Therefore one shouldn’t expect it to be patched or adapted for printing HyperCard’s downscaled overview cards anytime soon, if ever.

In fact, short of HP suddenly switching to a new imaging model for the driver, in effect redoing the development effort all over again, I don’t see any solution to this problem. A late-comer to the Mac printer scene already, Hewlett-Packard may not have understood the importance of HyperCard (including its printout requirements) for many Mac users – after all, until recently there has been nothing like it for the MS-DOS line, therefore it couldn’t be worth paying attention to (irony!).

From a Mac user’s point of view, it is insulting to hear that an inquiry about this printing "disability" was met by HP’s spokesperson with a corporate passing of the buck. What is worse, the problem (problem, what problem?) isn’t mentioned in the DeskWriter User’s Manual either, which is beginning to resemble yet another instance of a "let the users find out the limitations the hard way and then forever hope for an upgrade" model of business decision making. Unfortunately for the individual DeskWriter owners that bought it right away and hoped to use it with HyperCard, neither the Macintosh user community nor the trade press sounded warnings in regard to this major (at least to HyperCard users) absence of a feature.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in all of this, or at least a reminder that we live in a world where little approaches perfection. Our best bet, strange as it may sound, would be to appeal to knowledgeable independent "grassroots" programmers, like Ari Mujunen and Olli Arnberg, two Finns who wrote the freeware HPDJ driver for the DeskJet, to write a HyperCard-optimized version for the DeskWriter.

Opinion by Ian Feldman, [email protected]
c.s.m.h submissions by:
Bob Soron, [email protected]
Martin Gannholm, [email protected]
Ralph Lombreglia, [email protected]
[‘Vicki’ at Hewlett-Packard, 208/323-2551]
Russel S. Finn, [email protected]
Ari Mujunen
Olli Arnberg

authors of the HPDJ driver for the DeskJet printer, published April of 1989, available from sumex, reachable via [email protected], also (perhaps still) individually at [email protected] (Ari) and [email protected] (Olli).

MacTutor printer-driver-related articles:

Printer Sleuthing
by Joel West, Western Software Technology, March 1987

How to write a printer driver
by Earle R. Horton, Dartmouth College, Nov 1987
[describes development of the ‘Daisy’ printer driver, the
basis for Ari Mujunen’s and Olli Arnberg’s later work]

20 Steps to Printing Incompatibility
by Joel West, Palomar Software, Inc, June 1989
[also known for Colorizer DA and PICT Detective]

A Look at the PREC Resource
By Dave Kelly, August 1989

Dot Matrix Printer Driver
by Earle Horton, [now at Microsoft], Oct 1989