User groups are communities. Sometimes they are communities of computers
(they get together when we aren't looking and plot ways to make us look silly)
and sometimes they are communities of people (General Meetings and the Pi's
bulletin board, the TCS, are prime examples). And like all communities, they
have odd, eerie events.
For example, at the April General meeting, I managed to acquire a U.S.
Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons tablet of paper. Quite nice,
complete with an entire 1996 calendar running down the left margin. I don't
remember ever seeing it before, yet several pages are covered with my
handwriting, with notes on the meeting. (Strange music starts to
I also managed to acquire a very nice letter from the U.S. Air Force
thanking me for providing aid, over the telephone, while they were having
severe network difficulties. Except I don't remember anyone giving me the
letter, and I don't remember, specifically, any such event. (Strange music
Finally, I arrived home from the meeting with a drawing prize I didn't
take: a Windows 3.1 Bible. Normally, I take prizes to the meetings, and
return without them; returning with one I didn't take was a new experience.
Yet on the cover is a yellow sticky with what appears to be a Samurai Teddy
Bear and a hand-written note, "Give away for drawing." A Washington Apple Pi
drawing? (Strange music gets really out of handŠ) (And where are these
parenthetical remarks coming from, anyway?)
The Vision Thing
One of the more challenging problems of the Microcomputer Revolution has
been "how do you display things?" In the real early days, "displays" were
either TeleType machines or modified IBM Selectrics, and you could have
anything you wanted displayed as long as it consisted of upper-case-only
characters printed 80 columns per line on cheap, usually yellow, paper.
"Interactive displays" meant that you waved the printout around in the air
while yelling and screaming.
Video monitors changed all that: you could display upper and lower
case characters, plus graphics, and even color! But your audience was limited
to those few who could crowd around a monitor. On the plus side, this often
encouraged good personal hygiene.
About six or seven years ago Computer Accessories brought out something
which changed all that: the Proxima Ovation LCD panel. This panel was hugely
expensive -- $10,000 -- since it required the largest active-matrix color LCD
panels ever made. Yet it revolutionized the computer field: when combined with
a high-intensity overhead projector, you could project full-color, rapid
motion computer video signals. The computer, the projector, and the panel
could all be set up by a single individual in minutes.
These panels were so successful that Computer Accessories changed their
name to Proxima (http://www.prxm.com), and
under this new name they've dominated the market. The Pi has borrowed various
Proxima panels and projectors over the years, and in April the Washington area
sales manager, Bonnie Allen (301-565-9330), stopped by to demonstrate their
latest, brightest projector, the Desktop Projector 5100.
An "all in one" design, the 5100 can be used with a Mac, an MS-DOS
computer, and a video tape player -- all at the same time -- with
"instantaneous" switching between the three sources. It also supports stereo
sound input, and plays it back via a built-in amplifier and speaker. Since the
display system is solid-state, you never have to spend time "converging" the
image (as with traditional video projectors) and the image is crisp even in
the corners. Because it is much brighter than using a separate overhead
projector and display panel, you can operate the 5100 in something closer to
"normal" conditions, meaning the lights can be left on -- a boon for note
takers, and a way of keeping the droopy from falling asleep. Topping
everything off is a motorized zoom lens: the perfect extra touch for
Proxima still makes flat panel displays for use with overhead projectors,
but they are now much more sophisticated, and much less expensive. The
improved technology, steep decline in prices, and advent of laptop computers
has made computer-based presentations an almost routine sight in education and
training, business briefings and sales presentations.
Without Proxima's innovative projection systems, user group meetings would
have to resort to hand puppets and imagination: "Now imagine that you see the
screen in front of you, and at the top left corner you see an appleŠ"
The Other Monopoly
Microsoft gets all the press these days about being the Evil Empire,
slowly sucking the entire computer world into a black hole. But in the
Macintosh field, in particular, there is another near-monopoly: Adobe
Once known for little more than the PostScript language built-in to most
Apple laser printers, Adobe has blossomed out to consume vast chunks of the
desktop publishing and graphics world: Adobe Illustrator is the top
professional drawing and illustrating package, Adobe Photoshop is the
top professional image editing package, Adobe (formerly Aldus)
PageMaker is the top page layout package, and Adobe Premiere is
the top desktop video package. Adobe Type Manager (ATM) has even
managed to carve a niche for itself as a critical part of Apple's System 7.5
(MacOS) operating system.
This, however, isn't all. Jon Dellaria (email@example.com), an Adobe systems
engineer working out of MacLean, VA, talked about the role of Adobe
Acrobat as a cross-platform medium for exchanging information. With free
Acrobat readers available for Macs (new Macs ship with them installed
on the hard drive), Windows, and various flavors of UNIX, and even bundled
with forthcoming versions of Netscape Navigator, virtually everything either
can or will be able to read Acrobat files. Acrobat files look
and print exactly like the original files, even if you don't happen to
have copies of the applications or fonts which produced the document. All the
fonts, text and design elements appear right where they were placed in the
Unfortunately, Jon never said this. His talk seemed more of an unfocused
brief on Adobe Acrobat 3.0 (which doesn't exist yet) and a
philosophical overview of how Acrobat files can change both the
Internet and organizations. Many people left with the impression that
Acrobat was some sort of universal "viewer" capable of reading PICTs
and JPEGs and GIFs and formatted text -- which it is not.
David Helmly (firstname.lastname@example.org),
an Adobe account manager for the local area (and a Pi member?), gave much more
complete -- yet succinct -- presentations on Adobe PageMill and
SiteMill. PageMill, a surprise consumer hit (are there really
that many Web editors?), is essentially a page layout package for Web pages,
with a highly graphical interface and a built-in preview mode. Pages are
constructed, for the most part, by just dragging desired elements to where you
want them on the page. Save the page, and you're done. Linking pages is as
difficult as dragging one page onto another -- not difficult at all.
PageMill is also cheap: under $100.
SiteMill, a much more recent addition (and also more expensive),
goes one step beyond PageMill, but it is a major step: site management.
You can open an entire Web site with SiteMill, and it will then scan
every link and report back which links are "broken." It will also allow you to
massively restructure a site, moving entire directories of pages from one
location to another, without breaking links. Instead, each link is
automatically adjusted for the new location.
Another "consumer" goodie is Adobe Photo Deluxe. Designed to offer
the most popular features of Photoshop at a greatly reduced price,
Photo Deluxe adds a few new tricks, too. Rather than have the user
guess at how to do certain things, or even guess what a certain function might
be called, Photo Deluxe prompts for information and then guides the
user, step by step, through whatever image editing task they have in mind.
Adobe closed with a brief, and unsuccessful, demonstration of the tight
links between the new PageMaker 6.0 and Phtotoshop. In theory,
both packages now share information on color management, and an update of an
image with one will be passed on to the other. But installation glitches
caused the demo to fail. Just the same, there were many thoughtful looks as
the page designers in the audience looked ahead to trying this for
Adobe brought an unknown number of CD-ROMs filled with sampler material.
I'm not certain exactly what they brought since, by the time I discovered they
were being given away, they were -- given away. "Oh, there were lots of them,
didn't you get one?" was as much information as I was able to glean. Other
Adobe Photo Deluxe CD-ROM (Adobe): Robert Fetterhoff Adobe PageMill (Adobe): Tom Bryan Adobe Acrobat Exchange CD-ROM (Adobe): Darla Lee
In addition to the drawing prizes, Adobe donated several packages which
the Pi will use for brochures, newsletters, signs, pretty pictures, tutorials,
demonstrations and such.
The April General Meeting was my last meeting as Vice President,
Macintosh, for Washington Apple Pi. While my term extended through May, I was
3,000 miles away during the May meeting. Apple Remote Access is a great piece
of software, but it doesn't allow you to run a large meeting from that
Any successes I may have had over the past several years were not mine so
much as those of Pi members who offered aid and assistance:
Beth Medlin, Pi Office Manager. She says she works for us, but things
wouldn't work at all unless she reminded us what we were doing, and steered us
away from things that won't work;
Lorin Evans, Pi President, subtle counselor, and frequent stand-in when
other matters kept me from my duties;
Tom Witte, Pi Director, long-time contributor to the General Meeting
Question and Answer sessions, and master of ceremonies during meetings when I
Dave Weikert, Pi Director and software librarian, a careful, thoughtful
critic ("That was a terrible meeting") with a wicked wit;
The TCS Crew: Bill Beavers, Jon Hardis, Lou Pastura, Paul Schlosser,
Nancy Seferian, Dale Smith, Jon Thomason, Lauri Zeman, and Rick Zeman.
Collectively, they manage the electronic communications infrastructure that
makes the job of Mac Vice President a pleasure rather than a chore;
Bill Wydro; his setup and breakdown of equipment for meetings is crucial,
and without his name tags I'd never know who I was;
Kathryn Murray, managing editor of the Washington Apple Pi
Journal, and someone with the rare knack for panicking quietly ("Please
don't rush; things shouldn't fall apart too badly as long as I have it by
Hundreds of others have made substantial contributions to planning,
organizing, setting up, and cleaning up General Meetings, as well as
contacting vendors, sending out promotional material, and otherwise helping
get our message across.
And what is our message? Individually, we are isolated computer users,
lost in a rapidly accelerating technological plunge into the unknown.
Collectively, we are Washington Apple Pi, and we can do almost