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Adam Engst No comments


This falls into the category of maybe-news for many of you, but this week CE and Claris both shipped their long-awaited programs, Tiles and ClarisWorks respectively. I’ve written a little bit about both programs in the past, so suffice it to say that Tiles is a unique organizing utility and ClarisWorks is Claris’s entry into the integrated software market. Sue Nail of CE promised to send me a copy of Tiles when CE announced it months ago, so I hope to report on it more fully in the future. Also shipping this week is the Macintosh version of The Far Side Computer Calendar from Amaze. See below for a more detailed look at what it could be. On to the definite-news!

JR Wolf from AOL sends along this extremely useful bit of information.

The cache control panel on the Quadra does not require you to restart. The catch is you must hold down the option key [presumably when turning the cache control on or off]. The change takes place immediately with no restart required. The string in the STR# resource that follows the string that says you must restart for changes to take effect is "Wink, wink," which kinda led me to believe that all was not as they tell. I found all this out on my own, no need to give anyone else credit, wink, wink… By the by, I hacked the cache control panel for the Quadra, they do indeed kill both the copyback cache and the Data/Instruction caches. I modified it to turn of just one or the other, but it doesn’t seem to help any programs. Speedometer 3.0 does confirm the speed difference though.

Processor Test:

2.4 – Caches off
5.96 – Hmm, can’t remember the cache combination.
12.34 – Copyback cache off
14.11 – Caches on

Our ever-helpful Mark H. Anbinder writes, "For those who are curious, here is information from Apple on the possible memory configurations of the new LaserWriter IIf and IIg printers. The LaserWriter IIg and IIf have 8 SIMM sockets configured as 2 banks (4 SIMMs each). When using a bank, it must be completely filled. The printers can use 256K, 1 MB, and 4 MB SIMMs. The SIMMs are 80ns (same as Mac IIci, which is a relief after the special – and expensive – Mac IIfx SIMMs that the IINT and IINTX used). The IIf supports from 2 to 32 MB. The IIg supports from 5 to 32 MB."

And for an encore, Mark writes, "Some people have had an experience where their Macintosh Portables are no longer working. They had let them sit for a month or longer, at which point the battery sulfated. When this happens, the battery is rendered useless. Sulfation exhibits the same symptoms as the cracked cell problem, but it has a different cause. Because the batteries are sealed lead batteries, they cannot be stored in a discharged state. Generally, if the unit has been in storage for about a month without use and without either (a) the power adapter plugged in, (b) the mylar sheet installed or (c) the battery removed, the battery will sulfate and will no longer be re-chargeable. In general, you must charge the battery within a few days of discharging it. The only fix is to replace the battery and learn how to store the Portable correctly. The old Macintosh Portable and the PowerBook 100 both use sealed lead batteries and can suffer from sulfation. The PowerBook 140 and 170 use nicad batteries so sulfation is not an issue for them. Hope this clears up the sulfation issue."

Murph Sewall expands on the troubles he reported earlier with his new Quadra. "Someone sent me a message that there is an option in Alliance Power Tools which will permit volumes to be used for virtual. I called APS and found out that, yes, hidden within the Volumes item is a Configure option and checking "Disable Finder Eject" will enable the volume for virtual (even if it’s a cartridge – I may have to put the virtual file on an otherwise unused cartridge just to see how often there’s virtual i/o by watching the light). The really good news is the change can be made with a click which does not delete any files on the volume (tah, dah, no need to reformat or repartition). It only took a couple of seconds and now I am running 4 MB built in and 6 MB total with virtual! Also, I mentioned that the PowerTools 2.0.7 which shipped with the cartridge drive only two weeks ago isn’t compatible with the Quadra’s cache mode, and was told there’s a new version (2.3) which will be mailed to me forthwith (fifthwith, even 🙂 I’ll report on it when it shows up. [See Compression Corrections below for information on the latest version of DiskDoubler, which also caused trouble for Murph temporarily.]

This note appeared in our electronic mailbox from [email protected], who we’ll call "Anonymouse" for lack of a better name.

Like many others in netland, I have been anxiously waiting for the "free" version of ATM to be posted either to or to one of the binaries groups (mainly because I don’t want to wait 6 to 8 weeks!). I had previously sent mail to Mark Johnson at Apple, and he said that he’d be perfectly willing to make ATM available on once the appropriate product manager made it available to him.

So I called Adobe’s Customer Service Center and spoke to a gentleman who sounded very interested in the idea. I explained to him what the Internet was and about Apple’s FTP site. He said that he was in fact working on something very similar, although he wouldn’t elaborate. I can only assume he was referring to electronic distribution on something like CompuServe In fact, when I was explaining the Internet to him, he asked if it was anything like CompuServe. Overall, he sounded very positive about the idea, and thanked me for bringing it to his attention. However, he also said that even if the decision was made to go ahead with the electronic distribution, it would take several weeks to implement, maybe taking until January! He said that things just move slowly in a large company. [Unfortunately, he’s right.]

Anyway, before hanging up I asked for his name so I could follow up with him sometime later, and he said his name was Christopher Warnock. Hmm, "Warnock". Why does that last name sound so familiar? 🙂 Perhaps Mr. Warnock has a good deal of influence over what goes on at Adobe. [For those who don’t know, John Warnock is the founder of and head honcho at Adobe.]

Anyway, the bottom line seems to be that even if ATM gets posted to, it will probably be a while. Though maybe if some other interested parties would express their interest in the idea to Adobe’s Customer Service Center (800/833-6687, option 5), the process might be expedited. I personally can’t see how it can take so long to accomplish something so simple! [You’ve obviously never tried to get a driver’s license. A 20 question test, a couple of forms, and an instantly developed and laminated card should not take 3 hours. Sheesh. :-)]

Information from:
JR Wolf on AOL
Mark H. Anbinder, Contributing Editor — [email protected]
Murph Sewall — [email protected]
Anonymouse — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Compression Corrections

First, I asked Lloyd Chambers, DiskDoubler’s author, about the conflict Murph had between the Quadra caches and DiskDoubler. Lloyd replied that there is indeed a problem that causes DiskDoubler INIT to crash in those circumstances. It was originally due to a bug in THINK C 4.0, apparently, and Salient has a fixed version (3.7.1) which they will send for free to anyone who is having trouble on the Quadra. There are no other changes in it.

Second, we inadvertently made some misleading statements in TidBITS-088/Compression II, and our apologies to Alysis (we already corrected the mistake we made about DiskDoubler and modification dates). We said, "DiskDoubler has safeguards (including working on a copy of the file and verifying the copy before deleting the original) against data-loss due to system crashes while compressing files. SuperDisk! does not have these safeguards for speed reasons, so if you regularly lose power, you should keep that in mind, or, if you’re rich, buy an uninterruptable power supply."

After discussing this issue with Farokh Lam of Alysis Technical Support we can clarify the issue. SuperDisk! does keep temporary files in the System Folder for any files that it has open, so if you crash or lose power while opening or closing a compressed file, your file will be fine after you reboot. The important step here is rebooting. If you use MacsBug or the command-option-shift-escape trick to recover from a crash without rebooting, your file will appear to be corrupted if you look at it again immediately. Don’t do it, just reboot, and SuperDisk! will do its magic with the temporary files and fix your file. Believe me, it works. I couldn’t corrupt a file even with a fair amount of effort, which is testament to the efficacy of those temporary files.

There is a second situation which is more serious, but much less likely. If you lose power (a crash is extremely unlikely at this point) while SuperDisk! is compressing a file after you’ve renamed the file with a ".s" extension in the Finder, that file will be corrupted. The temporary files will not save you in this instance, but as Farokh rightly points out, the probability of losing power while compressing a file (especially since SuperDisk! is so fast) is very low. Murphy’s Law of Lightning Strikes does apply, though. 🙂 Farokh also pointed out that if you regularly lose power, files corrupted by this unlikely occurrence will be the least of your problems and you should definitely buy an UPS. To quote from my favorite episode of Star Trek (and no, I’m not a junkie), "Right, Spocko."

Farokh was also kind enough to give me some glimpses into the features that Alysis has planned for SuperDisk! 2.0, which they hope to ship December 1st. Many of these additions address complaints we had in our review, so it will interesting to see how SuperDisk! 2.0 stacks up, especially since AutoDoubler and Aladdin’s SpaceMaker should be coming soon too. Alysis has enhanced SuperDisk! so you can just add ".x" to a file to create a an auto-expanding file, which is good. They’ve tightened the compression, added checksums (which help ensure data integrity), and speeded up Finder file copies. The interface has been improved with the addition of menus, hot-keys, user-defined filename extensions (if you don’t like ".s"), and new alerts. The animation is also gone, but they’ve added MS-DOS compatibility (in what form, I wonder?) and compatibility with DiskDoubler and StuffIt files. Farokh also assured me that Alysis is continuing to enhance the program all the time and upgrades past 2.0 will add even more impressive capabilities. Nothing like a little healthy competition to foster innovation. 🙂

Information from:
Lloyd Chambers — [email protected]
Farokh Lam — Alysis on AOL — [email protected]

Mike Godwin No comments

Prodigy Stumbles… Again

On some days, Prodigy representatives tell us they’re running "the Disney Channel of online services." On other days the service is touted as a forum for "the free expression of ideas." But management has missed the conflict between these two missions. And it is just this unperceived conflict that has led the B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation League to launch a protest against the online service..

On one level, the controversy stems from Prodigy’s decision to censor messages responding to claims that, among other things, the Holocaust never took place. These messages – which included such statements as "Hitler had some valid points" and that "wherever Jews exercise influence and power, misery, warfare and economic exploitation … follow" – were the sort likely to stir up indignant responses among Jews and non-Jews alike. But some Prodigy members have complained to the ADL that when they tried to respond to both the overt content of these messages and their implicit anti-Semitism, their responses were rejected by Prodigy’s staff of censors.

The rationale for the censorship? Prodigy has a policy of barring messages directed at other members, but allows messages that condemn a group. The result of this policy, mechanically applied, is that one member can post a message saying that "pogroms, ‘persecutions,’ and the mythical holocaust" are things that Jews "so very richly deserve." But another member might be barred from posting something like "Member A’s comments are viciously anti-Semitic." It is no wonder that the Anti-Defamation League is upset at what looks very much like unequal treatment.

But the problem exposed by this controversy is broader than simply a badly crafted policy. The problem is that Prodigy, while insisting on its Disney Channel metaphor, also gives lip service to the notion of a public forum. Henry Heilbrunn, a senior vice president of Prodigy, refers in the Wall Street Journal to the service’s "policy of free expression," while Bruce Thurlby, Prodigy’s manager of editorial business and operations, invokes in a letter to ADL "the right of individuals to express opinions that are contrary to personal standards or individual beliefs."

Yet it is impossible in any free-expression policy to explain both the allowing of those anti-Semitic postings and the barring of responses to those postings from outraged and offended members. Historically, this country has embraced the principle that best cure for offensive or disturbing speech is more speech. No regime of censorship – even of the most neutral and well-meaning kind – can avoid the kind of result that appears in this case: some people get to speak while others get no chance to reply. So long as a board of censors is in place, Prodigy is no public forum.

Thus, the service is left in a double bind. If Prodigy really means to be taken as a computer-network version of "the Disney Channel" – with all the content control that this metaphor implies – then it’s taking responsibility for (and, to some members, even seeming to endorse) the anti-Semitic messages that were posted. On the other hand, if Prodigy really regards itself as a forum for free expression, it has no business refusing to allow members to respond to what they saw as lies, distortions, and hate.

So, what’s the fix for Prodigy? Rather than choosing to refine and tighten its censorship policy, as Prodigy management has recently done in response to the ADL complaints, a better answer may lie in replacing the service’s censors with a system of "conference hosts" of the sort one sees on CompuServe or on the WELL. As WELL manager Cliff Figallo conceives of his service, the management is like an apartment manager who normally allows tenants to do what they want, but who steps in if they do something outrageously disruptive. Hosts on the WELL normally steer discussions rather than censoring them.

But even if Prodigy doesn’t adopt a "conference host" system, it ultimately will satisfy its members better if it does allow a true forum for free expression. And the service may be moving in that direction already: Heilbrunn is quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that Prodigy has been loosening its content restrictions over the past month. Good news, but not good enough – merely easing some content restrictions is likely to be no more successful at solving Prodigy’s problems than Gorbachev’s easing market restrictions was at solving the Soviet Union’s problems. The best solution is to allow what Oliver Wendell Holmes called "the marketplace of ideas" to flourish – to get out of the censorship business.

Mike Godwin is the staff counsel for The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF has been established to help civilize the electronic frontier; to make it truly useful and beneficial to everyone, not just an elite; and to do this in a way that is in keeping with our society’s highest traditions of the free and open flow of information and communication. A recent graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Mike coordinates the ongoing legal work of the EFF. Previously he served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan student newspaper. He has been a frequent contributor to the discussions of computing and civil liberties on the net.

Information from:
Mike Godwin — [email protected]

Adam Engst No comments

Far Side Calendar

Like thousands of other people, one of my first actions every morning is to tear off the page on my Far Side Daily Calendar for a bracing dose of Gary Larson’s inspired lunacy. Unlike hardly anyone else, my next action is to go check my Mac for email and to see if Remember? claims I have to do anything that day. Thanks to amaze!nc (should be pronounced with a fake Russian accent, as in Natasha’s "Dat iss amazink, darlink."), I may soon be able to combine my morning chores by reading my daily dementia on the Mac. Amaze, Inc (the legal version) has just come out with The Far Side Computer Calendar, a program that combines Gary Larson’s cartoons with an extremely capable calendar program. I’ve seen the Windows version, but the Macintosh version won’t be out for about another week, so there may be some differences. I hope to do a comparison of calendar programs on the Mac soon, so I should be able to report on any differences then.

Glossing over the installation on a PC running Windows (it actually went pretty well, although it did require starting from DOS and fixing the AUTOEXEC.BAT file after the installer mucked up the PATH statement), we were quite impressed with the display, especially the cartoon for the day which depicted a nerd cowboy with toilet paper stuck to his shoe as he exited an outhouse. The calendar opens to a "Theme" view which shows the cartoon and the date in basically the same format as a tear-off daily calendar. At the bottom are five buttons and two forward/backward arrows that allow you to cheat and look both back and ahead. In our house you are only allowed to look at the cartoon on your birthday – all others have to be a surprise on that day. If you want to see a lot at once, buy a book. The five buttons correspond to the cartoon view, a Day view (which actually shows two days, a Week view that shows an entire week, a Month view, and a Year view, the last two of which do exactly what you would think.

Overall I was quite impressed with the ease with which I navigated the dates. Double-clicking a month in the Year view took me to the Month view of that month, double-clicking a day in the Month view took me to a Day view of that day, etc. Double-clicking on the blank part of the Day view (or selecting the menu option) brought up the Event Editor, as one would expect, and if you clicked on an event, that event would be the selected one in the Event Editor. I was slightly distressed to see how sluggishly the Event Editor appeared on a 20 MHz 386 – I certainly hope that the speed is due to Windows being slow and that the Mac version will be snappier. In the Event Editor you could define events extremely flexibly (every third Tuesday of months in which someone I know has a birthday – OK, not quite that flexibly) with options such as every three days, all second Fridays, etc. I haven’t seen anything which offers so many options for repeating events, although I’m still waiting for a calendar program that is slightly programmable so it can handle things like Tonya’s paychecks, which come on the 15th of the month and the last day of the month unless either of those days falls on a weekend or holiday, at which point the check comes on the first work day beforehand. The rules are simple, but no program has been able to handle them yet.

Defining an event is easy, just select the time and date (it defaults to today’s date, but the time defaults to 8:00 AM), the event type (or you can type your own), notes about the event if you wish, an alarm, an icon, and then click Add. The icons are animated and are to use the vernacular, "way cool." We especially liked the board room meeting icon that had different charts flashing on the blackboard behind the participants. You may even be able to create your own animated icons in the next version of the program, at least on the Mac side of things. The alarms, in contrast, are truly lame. This is no fault of Amaze, but simply the result of running on a PC. The only good one was the sound that imitated a digital watch beeping (not too difficult), but Vivaldi played in beep and boops was awful. Luckily, the Macintosh version will allow you to pick any installed system beep sound, and you can create your own with a MacRecorder or with a microphone on any of the newer machines. After you’ve defined an event, it shows up in your Day view with the notes and the animated icon, in your Week view with just the name, and optionally in the Month view as a straight line (a form of greeked text) corresponding to the approximate time of day (farther down for later in the day). The only problem we had with the display in general is that it is a large window that covers the minimized icons Windows places at the bottom of your screen (at least on a normal-size VGA screen). This will annoy people who wish to keep the calendar up all the time and switch in and out of other applications too, but was apparently a licensing issue related to the aesthetics of the cartoons. (There are a couple of workarounds for people wanting to keep the calendar open at all times and switch in and out of other applications, but they involve offensively non-intuitive keyboard shortcuts.)

What really sets The Far Side Computer Calendar apart, other than the nice animated icons and daily cartoon, is the animations. Whenever the program starts up, there is a random chance that you will see an animation. It might be a version of a six panel Larson cartoon like the caveman who sees a bird flying, tries to fly, gets disgusted, makes a bow and arrow, and smugly shoots the bird. Even better was the animation of a meteor crashing into the screen and leaving a temporary crater. I gather there is a window washer who comes along and cleans the screen too, but I haven’t seen him yet, although we did quit the program and start it up over and over again to try to get a few more animations to show up. To keep you interested in running the program at all times, there are secondary animations which run at random times throughout the day. It’s hard to tell right now after having just played with the Windows version, but if the Macintosh version solves the problems that are inherent to the PC and Windows, it could be killer program.

Oh, if you’re wondering, you get one year of cartoons from the day you install the program (or another day if you wish). I assume that at that point Amaze will have an electronic refill pack ready to sell to you at a hopefully reasonable price. Given the "Theme" menu, which goes unexplained in the manual, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amaze came out with refill packs from other cartoonists as well – the calendar engine can certainly handle it. One nice touch is the card labeled "Open this and get mugged." It’s the registration card, and to ensure a high return rate, Amaze will send you a Far Side mug if you send them the card with your name and address on it. It’s a good bribe – I will do it. The Far Side Computer Calendar should be available from all major dealers, mail order houses, and normal stores as well for about $50.

Amaze — 206/820-7007

Information from:
Amaze propaganda
The Far Side Computer Calendar manual