Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

January General Meeting

by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh

Missed by a Week
The first "significant" snowfall of the year fell Jan. 28, the day of the Pi's General Meeting. Most of the 4,000-odd members proved to be weather wimps, refusing to brave the icy gusts, the blowing drifts, the arctic conditions. But 146 people, according to those who like to count people, fought through the horrendous weather (by nightfall, the ground was covered with snow, almost) to see two very different vendor presentations. It was a study in dramatic contrasts; as one wag put it, the best and worst presentations of the year. Yet one of them was also among the best user group demonstrations I've ever seen, and I've been involved in user groups for 18 years.
Another highlight of the meeting, though we didn't know it at the time: the first blizzard of the year hit seven days later. Timing isn't everything, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
The Best
Elaine Bailey, President of Applied Medical Informatics (AMI, 2681 Parley's Way, Suite 101, Salt Lake City, UT 84109-1630, 801-464-6210), seemed at first glance to be the less impressive prospect. Her software package, Medical House Call, is not that well known, and computerized home health packages aren't a major software category. There was also some concern about her even showing up; I'd told AMI's public relations firm that the meeting was on the fourth Saturday of the month, but then misread the date from an old calendar, bringing understandable confusion to those on the other side of the continent.
Before her presentation, Elaine was quite nervous. She claimed to be not that experienced at doing live demos, and also wasn't familiar with her computer. This (ominous understatement) alarmed me. She explained that at work she had a Quadra 840 AV, but that "they" had taken it away from her a couple days before and given her a PowerBook 540c. She'd spent the previous night getting familiar with the new machine in her hotel room, but wasn't that comfortable with its unique software, and had doubts about the trackpad.
Once she took the stage, Elaine was in complete control. She was the most serious presenter we've had in a long, long time, and also one of the most personal and familiar. There were no canned jokes, no contrived situations, but there was a great sense of caring and warmth. Her command of the subject was total: she knew every feature of her software package, every detail behind its development, and -- something we've never seen before -- even offered keen insights into the medical, social and legal implications of such software packages, and how these "large" concerns affect the individual user.
She also had no trouble with her computer. Her PowerBook 540c did exactly as she asked, quickly. I was disappointed, hoping she'd trade it for the Pi's IIci.
Medical House Call, to some extent, is a home health reference. It allows you to keep detailed health records on everyone in the family, from the obvious (age, gender) to the legal (shot histories) to the dynamic (records of clinic visits and appointments, drugs and treatments prescribed, etc.). It contains an extensive database of over 1,000 diseases, indexed and referenced in a number of ways. Most intriguing to me, it also has an extensive pharmacologic database, and can not only provide detailed information about a particular drug, but also be used to check for drug interactions.
The heart of the package, however, is an extensive computer-managed health interview, backed up by a sophisticated expert system. If you aren't feeling well, sit down, respond to the prompts regarding your symptoms, and at the end Medical House Call will list the diseases that match your symptoms, and display the suspects in decreasing order of likelihood. Since the interview, and the results, can be printed, a user can then present these to a physician when they are seen, making the most of the physician's time as well as the user's time.
Elaine mentioned several times that, on average, a physician sees a patient for only an average of eleven minutes. All the rest of the time spent on a "doctor's appointment" is spent filling out forms, waiting in the waiting room and such. Making the most of those eleven minutes is in the patient's best interest, from both an economic and a health care perspective. She illustrated this with a personal example: she has a rare disease of the intestine with a simple treatment: avoid eating certain grains. Unfortunately, it took time to discover these facts: two years of clinic visits and medical tests. Medical House Call, in contrast, quickly made an informed guess as to the condition, indicated the most conclusive medical test, and the projected cost of the test: $31. While the software package is not a replacement for a physician, it does "empower" the user to be better informed about their health, and has the potential to save much time and treasure.
The audience response to her presentation was amazing: people were impressed. The usual cynical crowd that likes to torment vendors either didn't show up, or failed to rattle Elaine as she deftly, carefully, and fully answered any and all questions. It was a struggle to stop the questions and begin the next presentation. Questions, and comments, continued well after the meeting on the TCS (the Pi's bulletin board). The most memorable comment was a bulletin board message from a user who took advantage of the half-price offer at the meeting ($45, instead of the usual $89.95) and received the package via Federal Express just a few days later. A great presentation, a great software package, and great service.
My one criticism: Elaine did not provide me with an E-mail address. A telephone number is fine, but an E-mail address is divine.
Not the Best
Richard Katz, a software evangelist for Intuit, did provide an E-mail address: rkatz@aol.com. He also provided a quick wit. What he did not provide was a demonstration of Quicken 5.0 or MacInTax 1994.
I strongly suggest to all vendors that they either pre-install their software on a computer, and bring the computer, or pre-install the software on a hard drive that can be booted on the Pi's Macintosh IIci. Richard did neither, stating that he didn't have a Mac and Intuit didn't provide a drive.
Not having a Mac should have set off alarms, but I didn't give it any thought until Richard attempted to install MacInTax and Quicken before the meeting. He confessed he wasn't that familiar with the Macintosh, a fact made obvious after demonstrating that he didn't know how to install the programs (double-click on the Installer and do what you are told).
At the start of his presentation, Richard offered an oversized Intuit beach towel to anyone who would come up on the stage and help him with his presentation. Everyone laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn't joking.
After launching Quicken, he appeared stumped, not knowing to what to do next. He quickly got so far off track that he never managed to clearly explain what Quicken was: the most popular personal finance package ever created. He claimed to be intimately familiar with Quicken on "the other platform," but didn't know how the menu commands were arranged in the Mac version, didn't know the keyboard shortcuts, and was baffled by how the Mac arranges windows.
A technical aside: in the Mac world, you make a window active by clicking on it. You can have as many windows open as you want at one time, and as many programs running as you want at one time, subject only to memory constraints. Click on any part of any window in any program, and that window -- and program -- comes to the front.
In the Windows 3.1 world, things are quite different. Users rarely have more than one program running at once, not all windows are equal, and you must click on a specific portion of a window to make it active.
Richard, familiar with Windows 3.1, the pretender, and not Finder 7.5, the champion, kept accidentally clicking outside the active window, bringing the Finder to the front. When this happened, all the Quicken menu commands seemed to disappear, the keyboard appeared to stop working, and he was lost in what he described as "Finder hell."
Guided by several Quicken users in the audience, he usually found his way back, but the presentation lost direction or focus. A Great Irony unfolded: there were a number of Quicken users in the audience. They were generally familiar, and happy, with the program. They were undoubtedly more familiar with it than Intuit's own evangelist. The result? Pi members guiding someone who wasn't quite up to Mac Novice status in the use of a program that the Mac Novice was supposed to be pitching to those very same members.
Pi members often provide help to new users -- that's why user groups were formed -- but this was unique.
The demonstration of MacInTax was even less informative. Because of the way MacInTax works, a good demonstration would involve an almost completed Form 1040. Using this as a baseline, the presenter would then try a few "what if" possibilities ("what if we use the standard deduction instead of itemized deductions?") and fill in a couple empty boxes ("oh, yeah, I forgot I had another son, so let's add another deduction") and watch the package automatically crank out new numbers.
Lacking a completed form, lacking time, and lacking familiarity with the Mac version of MacInTax (a paramount irony), audience members were left with little more than reassurances from other audience members that the package did, in fact, work, and was, in fact, fairly easy to use. Several people mentioned problems with last year's package, including a glitch in the form for Maryland income tax; none of these issues were addressed.
Amazingly enough, a number of people were impressed with both Quicken and MacInTax. After the meeting, I stopped at Micro Center, in Fairfax, to get a lithium battery for my daughter's Mac LC, and found one couple there buying a Macintosh, Quicken and MacInTax on the strength of the presentation. When I left, they were busy asking a Micro Center employee if they had a copy of Medical House Call.
1995 Meeting Dates
General Meetings for 1995 are scheduled for the following dates (all the fourth Saturday of the month). Mark your electric calendars.
Feb. 25, 1995: First Annual Washington Apple Pi QuickTime Festival and Show and Tell.
Praxisoft will demonstrate Color Compass, a unique color palette utility.
Mar. 25, 1995: Global Village will demonstrate their telecommunications hardware and software.
In keeping with the theme, Washington Apple Pi will have a quick overview of the TCS, the Pi's computer bulletin board, and a preview of the planned Internet version of the TCS.
Apr. 22, 1995: Now Software will present Now Up-To-Date, Now Contacts, and Now Utilities.
Main Event will show their AppleScript editor.
May 27, 1995: vendor to be named later, plus three first-round draft picks (barring a strike, of course).
Drawing winners
Special Libraries Association T-shirt: Alan Day
Software.net T-shirt: Walter Forlini
Quicken 5.0 (Intuit): Ralph Lingeman, Jerome Williams, Bob Klothe
MacInTax 1994 (Intuit): Pat Garvey, Michael Finn, John Christensen
Medical House Call (AMI): Steve Pope, Dennis Kruse, Glenn Paterson, Grady Houseknecht
QuickBooks (Intuit): Ed Houser
Apple Macintosh IIci computer: courtesy Falcon Microsystems (RIP)
Apple Macintosh 540c: courtesy Applied Medical Informatics
PowerPoint 3.0 (RIP): courtesy Microsoft Corporation
Proxima Ovation LCD projector: courtesy Proxima Corporation
Bernoulli 150 drive: courtesy Iomega Corp.
Lounging TCS Penguin: drawing by Nancy Seferian
Silver Spring Metro Penguins: photo by Dennis Dimick
Newt's giraffe: photo by Daniel E. Slaven
Dilbert cartoon: Scott Adams, via the Internet
Setup and worrying: Bill Wydro, Beth Medlin
Question & Answer Help: Tom Witte

Send meeting comments to: lcharters@tcs.wap.org.

Return to Pi Meeting Summary Index