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Adam Engst No comments


I just had a nice experience that I thought I’d share. For the last month or so, my QMS-PS 410 laser printer has been making these groaning sounds at two separate spots in the paper path. Nothing seemed to be wrong, but I found the noises rather alarming, so I finally called QMS tech support. They weren’t in, but Joseph from QMS called back shortly and said that QMS had noticed similar problems with Hammermill paper, and what sort of paper did I use? I told him about the Finch Laser Opaque (24 lb) that I’d been using for the last few months, and he suggested trying some plain old copier paper to see if the sounds went away. I tried some different paper, the sounds stopped, and I thought the case was closed. Much to my surprise, Joseph called me back today to see if the different paper had worked or if QMS should ship me a little cork piece that he said was probably the cause of the noise. Now that’s what I call customer service!

For those of you with similar printers using that Canon engine (the HP IIP and IIIP and the Apple Personal LaserWriter NT, SC, and LS), keep the solution in mind. I have the impression that the problem is engine-specific, and didn’t just affect the QMS-PS 410 (an otherwise very nice printer that I’m quite fond of).

Adam Engst No comments

Claris Upgrades

As expected, Claris recently announced Resolve, its spreadsheet based on Wingz technology, and upgrades to MacWrite, MacProject, and HyperCard. All designed for System 7, Resolve, MacWrite Pro, MacProject II 2.6, and HyperCard 2.1 share a number of key features such as help, spell checking, and a number of interface controls. They all support the standard System 7 features such as Publish and Subscribe and Apple Events, and HyperCard 2.1 will be able to control a fair amount of the traffic between them with System 7-specific messages.

I saw a demo of Resolve and MacWrite Pro recently, and I was quite impressed. Resolve looks like a solid spreadsheet contender with a better interface than Wingz, its immediate ancestor. Resolve will not put Excel 3.0 out in the street, but it should combine well with the other Claris products for a powerful suite, although it may be a little confusing deciding whether to automate System 7 stuff with Resolve’s scripting language or with HyperTalk. MacWrite Pro should also do quite well for itself in the low-end word processor market with the addition of nicer interface features such as dockable palettes for styles and tools and whatnot (a dockable palette is one that shrinks to just the title bar and sticks itself out of the way in the upper right corner). Most interesting were the Add-Its, which are Claris’s modules for MacWrite Pro (and eventually for all the Claris products). The Claris rep showed two useful Add-Its, a Post-It Note one that allowed you to stick a note anywhere in your document, and a Table Editor that added table creation and editing functions. Also planned is an Equation Editor, although I personally would use MathWriter 2.0 if I ever wrote equations, which I don’t. 🙂

There’s nothing new in the Claris announcement. What’s more interesting is what’s left out. For instance, we know that MacDraw is moving to MacDraw Pro with the upgrade for System 7, and even though FileMaker Pro already exists, Claris used the ‘Pro’ designation too early since it’s not System 7-studly. There’s no doubt that Claris will make FileMaker Pro System 7-studly at some point, but they may be putting it on the back burner (perhaps until the first quarter of 1992) for a while to finish up the Windows version of FileMaker Pro. Since the Windows database market is wide open, Claris would do well to put FileMaker out to users as quickly as possible, especially since people would be more likely to buy MacWrite and Resolve and MacDraw for Windows if they already had FileMaker and if the Windows versions had the same level of interoperability as the Mac versions. Still, Claris shouldn’t wait on FileMaker Pro for the Mac too long, or it will risk losing out if Panorama or another competitor comes out with a truly System 7-studly version that works with other programs, including the Claris suite. Do note also that these were announcements, not releases, so it may be a while yet before these programs are all available. HyperCard 2.1 is available, since it’s included in the Apple Personal Upgrade Kit, but the full Claris upgrade will be a little longer in arriving, perhaps in mid-June. MacWrite Pro will reportedly show up sometime in the fall, Resolve sometime in mid-summer, and no word on the others.

Claris’s announcement of HyperCard 2.1 has prompted the same level of fear and confusion as did the release of 2.0. Basically, if you buy the Personal Upgrade or the Group Upgrade from Apple, you get a fully-functional version of HyperCard 2.1. In addition, Claris says that if you’ve purchased HyperCard 2.0v2, you’ll get a free upgrade (although I suspect that rests on you having sent in your registration card, so check on that). If you want the upgrade sent directly to you, call Claris now, and put in your name so they know to send it out to you as soon as possible.

Like the version of HyperCard 2.0 that comes with Macs now, HyperCard 2.1 in the System 7 upgrade is set to a low user level and includes only a few stacks and little documentation. It is, and I repeat with emphasis to quiet the continual whining about a crippled HyperCard, a fully functional version. You can either type "magic" in the user level setting card of the Home stack or manually go in and set your user level to five. The word from Kevin Calhoun at Apple is that HyperCard 2.1 can of course use 2.0 stacks, and HyperCard 2.0 can use 2.1 stacks. If you rely on any of the 2.1-specific features in your stacks, there’s no guarantee what will happen if they are used in HyperCard 2.0. The best way to ensure that you won’t have any problems is to check for the HyperCard version number in your scripts and exit the 2.1-specific scripts gracefully with a dialog that informs the user that the script requires 2.1.

Of course, Kevin said, "it should be sufficient to say that I recommend 2.1 over 2.0 or 2.0v2 on System 6.0.5 and 6.0.7 as well as 7.0." Bug fixes (yes, Virginia, there is a bug fix) and enhancements (short of the System 7 enhancements) include the ability to print at any standard size to any printer (including the DeskWriter), the eradication of a rare memory leak bug, the ability to tell HyperCard what character to use in parsing lists (the itemDelimiter), the ability to override "start using," "stop using," and "set," and finally, the ability to tell the Picture XCMD whether or not the window should float, no matter what type it is. Thanks for sending that information along, Kevin.

Claris — 800/628-2100.

Information from:
Jim Lester — [email protected]
Steve Goldfield — [email protected]
Alan Coopersmith — [email protected]
John O’Malley — [email protected]
Jim Gaynor — [email protected]
Kevin Calhoun — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Wireless Network News

Lots of little bits on the wireless front. People often say that a technology won’t really catch on until IBM gives it the OK. If so, it’s looking good for wireless networking. IBM recently tested a couple of wireless networking schemes, one a radio frequency method that uses an unlicensed band at 920 MHz, the other an infrared system. True to form, IBM has not said whether or not it will use this technology in any products, but it’s fairly likely that something will show up in the portables that IBM is surely working on to run GO’s PenPoint OS. Handheld tablet computers need network connections to make up for equipment often left out of the machine (like mass storage and various different types of communication ports), and nothing fits the bill better than a wireless network.

Connecting physically distant networks is usually difficult and expensive. However, Persoft Inc. has put together some (unnamed?) third-party hardware along with some custom software to allow two Ethernets to communicate via spread-spectrum radio waves up to 800 feet apart (so it’s not all that far, it’s a start anyway). Apparently the bridge supports data throughput at rates up to 2 Mbips, which isn’t quite up to wired Ethernet’s 10 Mbips, but it’s still quite speedy. The package is a tad expensive at about $5000, but it’s certainly cheaper than other sorts of wireless bridges that require licenses (such as microwaves) or line of sight access (like infrared).

Infrared communication may be line of sight, but it can be fast. Like the existing PhotoLink infrared networking scheme, BICC Communications’ InfraLAN uses transceivers mounted high on walls or on the ceiling to transmit and receive the infrared signals. Unlike PhotoLink, InfraLAN is fast. BICC claims 4 and 16 Mbips token ring rates, which is a good speed. I don’t know enough about the pros and cons of token ring versus Ethernet to make any judgements there, but BICC will be releasing an Ethernet version sometime soon.

California Microwave has a wireless LAN that does work with LocalTalk as well as Ethernet and any device that has an RS-232, RS-449/422, RS-485, or V.35 (whatever that is) port. It uses spread-spectrum technology, which allows it to broadcast omnidirectionally, unlike the infrared schemes, which are limited to line of sight transmission. Unfortunately, The Radio Link runs bit slowly, at 250 Kbips and a costs a fair amount at either $3450 (for one port at a lower frequency) to $5280 (for eight ports at a higher frequency). Still, it’s a step in the right direction, since it transmits within a 500 foot radius inside, and supposedly up to 5 miles if nothing blocks the transmission.

No news yet on Apple’s Data-PCS petition, but a couple of signs point toward an increase in wireless networking options. First, the FCC decided that when it gives out licenses for various parts of the radio spectrum it will give special treatment to applicants who want to do something innovative with the radio band. Personal communications certainly falls in that category, so I hope that something comes of it soon. The FCC has been busy, because it finally got around to creating the Technician class license for amateur radio use. The Technician class is limited to VHF and UHF frequencies above 30 MHz, but you do not have to learn Morse code to qualify for the license. So why is all this even mildly interesting? Many of the people who will fall into the Technician class want to use their computers to communicate with others over a packet radio network. I looked into the packet radio network a couple of years ago when the Technician class was first a proposal and decided that it was pretty neat, but that I just didn’t have the background to get started with it for some time. If anyone who reads TidBITS knows about packet radio and would like to write an article, please let me know – I’d love to publish one.

Persoft — 608/273-6000
BICC Communications — 508/832-8650
California Microwave — 408/732-4000

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 06-May-91, Vol. 8, #18, pg. 1
PC WEEK — 04-Mar-91, Vol. 8, #9, pg. 43
InfoWorld — 08-Apr-91, Vol. 13, #14, pg. 1
InfoWorld — 04-Mar-91, Vol. 13, #9, pg. 32
InfoWorld — 21-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #3, pg. 6
COMMUNICATION WEEK — 15-Apr-91, #347, pg. 29
BYTE — May-91, pg. 92NE-2

Adam Engst No comments

More from the Mine

Way back when in September of 1990 (i.e. the good old days :-)), I wrote about a controller interface device called the Gold Brick. The Gold Brick is an interesting idea – it acts as an interface between the Mac’s ADB and a variety of 2-D and 3-D controllers made for Nintendo games. Back then, the Gold Brick was relative vapor, but it now appears that Transfinite Systems is shipping an upgraded version of the Gold Brick along with a cheaper interface for users, called the Nugget. The Gold Brick sells for $245 and the Nugget for $169, and although you could buy the Nintendo controllers from the company, they encourage users to look for cheaper prices in toy and electronics stores.

The main upgrade to the Gold Brick is the ability to accept more in the way of 3-D input, so the device can now accept 3-D forward and backward signals, as well as roll controls. Needless to say, such ability greatly increases the controller’s utility for interactive use with simulated 3-D objects. The other upgrade to the Gold Brick is the ability to work with the Nintendo Power Pad, which I’ve never seen, but which I gather is kind of like a game of Twister with electronic sensors built in. Such a device would be extremely useful for architects and engineers working with programs like Virtus WalkThrough, although you might need a lot of processing power to take advantage of the combination. The main Nintendo device that I would like to try with the Gold Brick is the Power Glove. It’s a slightly scaled down version of the glove used by the virtual reality people, but is definitely a step in the right direction as far as computer controls go. I suspect that it wouldn’t even be all that hard to combine the Power Glove technology with the Infogrip’s chord keyboard technology so you could type on a virtual keyboard. I suppose that would produce a whole slew of hypochondriacs complaining of virtual repetitive strain injuries. 🙂

As much as the Gold Brick is impressive, Vivid Effects of Toronto has an even better idea. In Mandala, they’ve made the controller itself virtual by using a video camera attached to an Amiga and some custom hardware. The camera films you and can insert you into an animation from a paint program or into a laserdisc, at which point you can interact with the other entities in the reality to the extent the software allows. Currently, Vivid Effects has two versions, a high-end version that interfaces with a laserdisc and a low-end version that only requires a video camera and a digitizing board and is much cheaper, but can’t work with the laserdisc.

Using the virtual controller gives Mandala a number of advantages over current controller schemes. You don’t have to wear goggles or a body suit or a glove or anything like that, and other people can join in the same reality with ease. In addition, the Mandala technology makes it easier to mix virtual controls with real ones, if for instance, you were in a cockpit simulation. Vivid Effects said that Mandala is quite popular, especially with science museums and the like because they could set up a virtual reality and let lots of visitors play with it. They expect a significant increase in popularity when they port the hardware to the Mac and the PC, since the Amiga, for all its features, is still a fairly limited market.

Transfinite Systems — 617/969-9570
Vivid Effects — 416/340-9290

Information from:
Transfinite System propaganda
Vivid Effects representative

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 07-May-91, Vol. 5, #18, pg. 11
Macworld — Feb-91, pg. 127

Adam Engst No comments

Help Systems

Most people have standard methods of figuring out what’s wrong with their Macs. For some, it involves painstaking testing to test numerous INITs and applications in tandem; for others, like my parents and clients, it involves calling me. Most of the time when people call, I go through exactly the same process of eliminating as many variables as possible and then trying to remember if I’ve heard of any specific conflicts. With the amount of time I spend reading the nets and the magazines, I’m pretty good at it, but it’s a pain to repeat the same process over and over again.

Technosys, the people who created HyperBasic for programming XCMDs and XFCNs in BASIC, now have a tool that might help users eliminate many problems on their own, and possibly even before the problems crop up. Appropriately named Help!, the application creates a profile of your Mac, much like Now Software’s Profiler, and then compares the results to a list of rules in its knowledge base. It then notifies the user of the problem and offers information on how to fix it, although it does no fixing on its own.

I talked to Brian, the tech support manager at Technosys, and he said that they’re looking at a late July/early August release. The program itself will probably be priced at around $149 retail, and a yearly subscription for updates to the program and to the knowledge base will be an addition $75 per year, which is extremely reasonable. In the initial versions of the program, you won’t be able to add your own information because of the complexity of the knowledge base language, although the company is considering adding that ability later on. One of the problems with allowing users to modify the knowledge base is that putting incorrect information into the knowledge base renders it unreliable. Perhaps a system in which Technosys gathers suggestions from users and tests them would be safer?

Help! will not attempt to fix any problems on its own, although that’s something which Technosys certainly could build in. Ideally, using Apple Events, Help! could communicate with disk and file utilities such as Norton (once Norton 2.0 is out) and Disinfectant. Brian emphasized that they tried to avoid any favoritism in the recommendations, so if there are several competing products that can all fix a problem, they try to mention all of them. Of course, Help! will not help with any problems people have with completing tasks, although future versions will have application specific information. The problems that Help! can find and report include INIT conflicts, System 7 hardware and software problems, inappropriate hardware for certain applications, files in the wrong places due to incorrect installations, duplicate files (and importantly, multiple System folders, which can cause the strangest crashes), insufficient memory, and damaged files.

Although Help! is perfect for most users, some people will still not want to mess with fixing anything themselves. Those people can run the application to create a profile of their Macs and send the profiles to the system administrator or consultant, who will then run them through the knowledge base and act on the recommendations. For large organizations, Technosys will have a site license available, although they haven’t decided on the price.

Help! sounds good to me – I just wish my parents had a Mac instead of a PC clone so I could give them Help!. I suppose I’m doomed to another few years of modifying CONFIG.SYS files and AUTOEXEC.BATs until I can convince them to buy a nice Macintosh. If Technosys really wanted to make a mint, they should port Help! over the PC world. I just got a call from someone having speed troubles with PageMaker 3.01 under Windows 3.0 running on a 4 MB 386 machine that also operates as a non-dedicated Novell server. That’s the sort of thing for which Help! for the PC would be great (and no, I couldn’t solve that problem over the phone :-)).

Technosys — 813/620-3494

Information from:
Brian, Tech Support Manager — [email protected]
[email protected]

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 07-May-91, Vol. 5, #18, pg. 12