by Lawrence I. Charters, Vice President, Macintosh
Computers are communications devices. Many people use them as toys,
playing video games, and a few rare souls actually use them to "compute"
something, but for the vast majority, computers are used to write letters,
read and write E-mail, transfer files, and deforest the planet via
At the March General Meeting, TIAC (The Internet Access Company)
devoted its entire presentation to using Macs as communications tools on the
Internet. TIAC is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) with an enviable
reputation in New England, and it has recently moved into the Washington
Metro region to offer its communications services.
Enteractive, a computer "multimedia" company, devoted its
presentation to using Macintosh computers as tools for communicating
environmental information to junior high and high school students. Located
in both the Washington Metro region and New York City, even Enteractive's
name reflects their goal of allowing the user to become an integral part of
the communications process.
Meanwhile, back in the non-computerized world, the projection
system wasn't quite up to par for the meeting, giving the audience at
Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) a dim view of what they could
have seen if they could have seen it. As an added insult, someone had swiped
NOVA's wireless microphone a few days earlier, making it harder to hear what
couldn't be seen.
Despite the difficulties, many people stopped by after the meeting
to say how much they enjoyed it. Warping a famous quote, it appears you can
do a good job of communicating your message even if your medium is still a
Network: a chain of connections
Mike Newman (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director of Marketing
for TIAC, opened the meeting. Using the Pi's Power Mac 7100/66 and his own
U.S. Robotics Sportster modem, he dialed up over an ordinary telephone line
into the Internet. Once connected, nothing happened.
Which, as Mike pointed out, is exactly what should have happened.
The Internet is not like a computer bulletin board; once you connect, there
is no opening banner saying "Welcome To The Internet." The Internet (note
the capital "I") is merely the largest collection of interconnected networks
on the planet. It isn't owned or controlled by any one group, so there isn't
any entity to greet you. It is constructed much like a garage sale of book
vendors: information is all around you, organized in the covers of books,
but nobody is in charge and, unlike a library, there is no card catalog or
other directory to lead you to books you might want to read.
But there are some parts of the Internet that are somewhat
organized, and the most famous part is the World Wide Web. Mike launched
Netscape, the best-known Web browser, and entered TIAC's Web site (http://www.tiac.com/), which just happens to
be one of the most intelligently designed and maintained Web sites offered
by any Internet Service Provider. Their Web server can either provide copies
of critical software packages for using the Internet, or provide current
links to sites with appropriate software. The Web server also has extensive
information on TIAC's pricing, critical phone numbers, E-mail addresses of
key TIAC personnel (including customer support technicians), personal Web
pages of TIAC employees (you can check out Mike's at http://www.tiac.net/staff/djay/djay.html),
and tons of neat "stuff."
While jumping around on the World Wide Web, examining different
sites, and downloading a few items, Mike detailed why he thinks TIAC
deserves the attention of Pi members. As his "machead" E-mail address
suggests, he is a Mac fanatic. More to the point, TIAC makes a point of
employing support personnel familiar with the Mac, and provides TIAC
subscribers with software preconfigured to get their Macs on the Internet
with minimal fuss and effort. If there are problems, the support personnel
can actually help Mac users rather than suggest they abandon their Macs and
buy UNIX machines.
While I'm not a TIAC subscriber, it was easy to check out this
claim. I sent a message to email@example.com, asking why a Mac user
should consider using their services. Within the hour, I had multiple E-mail
messages giving thoughtful reasons on why they were a cut above most
providers. About a week later, I sent a message to one of their support
addresses, asking a highly technical question on how to configure Open
Transport, Apple's new networking software, to work with their software.
Again, within the hour I had two responses. Even more astounding, the
responses were clear, understandable, and accurate.
For more information on TIAC, consult their ad in the
Journal, send an E-mail message to one of the addresses shown above,
or give them a call at (202) 822-6032. Mention that you are a Washington
Apple Pi member and you will qualify for a discount on their services.
Exploring the Earth
Pi member Paul Chernoff (firstname.lastname@example.org)
mentioned last year that his employer, Enteractive, Inc., had created an
interactive encyclopedia about the environment for Apple, called Earth
Explorer. Intended for an audience 10 and older (including adults),
Earth Explorer combines a wealth of raw data with pictures, sounds,
movie clips and graphics, all focused on one of the broadest topics
imaginable: the Earth.
Unfortunately for Paul, everyone trained in doing presentations was
unavailable for the General Meeting and, after a briefing the day before on
how to do a demo, Paul was selected as Enteractive's representative for the
meeting. He mentioned right at the start that his job was supposed to
involve running Enteractive's computer network and communications, not doing
With this pro-forma disclaimer out of the way, Paul immediately
immersed himself in the subject. Earth Explorer has, on one CD-ROM,
90 minutes of sound and video clips, over a thousand photos, and 433
original, interactive articles on the environment. This great mass of data
was reviewed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and
the development was partially funded by the National Science Foundation.
Aside from impressive credentials, Earth Explorer is also a
showcase for what "multimedia" can offer in education. While movie clips and
sound offer flash and dazzle, Enteractive also went out of its way to
involve the user in environmental issues through "what if" simulations and
simulated public debates (complete with consequences). Not only is data
presented, it looks and sounds good, and actually does something.
Paul proved to be a great public speaker, rapidly moving from topic
to topic and responding well to audience questions. One question he couldn't
answer, however, was "how much does it cost?" Since it is sold by Apple in
an Apple-labeled box, he didn't have an answer.
Paul attempted to show a second title, Ask Isaac Asimov About
Space, but ran into difficulties. Dr. Asimov is known as one of the
great science fiction writers, a great popular science writer, a highly
prolific writer, and a dead writer, having passed away several years ago.
Either the configuration of the Pi's Power Mac (often abused by various
people for various purposes) or the deceased state of the Good Doctor kept
the software package from loading properly. Paul tried several times, but
got an error each time.
While the audience didn't seem to appreciate it, I was impressed
with Paul's troubleshooting skills. He immediately zeroed in on likely
suspects and, even with the pressure of a couple hundred eyes staring at
him, quickly and efficiently attempted to overcome the problem. He failed,
and went on to other things, but the process was flawless.
The following week he posted a public message on the TCS, the Pi's
computer bulletin board, tracing the problem to an obscure bug in the
program's installer which created a conflict in certain rare configurations
of Power Macs. This public disclosure was praiseworthy, though I was a bit
disappointed it couldn't be traced to something more interesting, such as
Bugs aside, Ask Isaac Asimov About Space is a dual-platform
(Mac and Windows) CD-ROM that features a "holographic" Asimov guiding the
user through various activities dealing with astronomy and space science. It
looks like a lot more fun than my science classes.
Drawing prizes are donated by vendors, usually, but this month two
prizes were donated by members. Stuart Bonwit, email@example.com, donated the
Electronic Marker Pad (see his Journal article on the pad,
Mar./Apr. 1996, pp. 55-56) and Michael Phelps donated Game Parlor,
which features a game he wrote (contact Michael at Aspen Gold Software, firstname.lastname@example.org).
R:Base T-shirt (Microrim): Eric Crane The Macintosh Bible Guide to Games, book and CD-ROM (Peachpit Press):
Harlan Nygren The World Factbook 1996 Edition, CD-ROM (Wyzdata): Don Essick Electronic Marker Pad (Kurta): Myron Harrison Game Parlor, CD-ROM (MacSoft): John Fridinger Ask Isaac Asimov About Space, CD-ROM (Enteractive): Andy Anryshak Ask Isaac Asimov About Space, CD-ROM (Enteractive): Don Franklin