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Washington Apple Pi


August 1999 General Meeting Report

by Steven Kiepe, Vice President for Programs

Saturday morning is the one day a week that I try to start slowly, letting the events of the week work their way out of my overstressed mind as I reflect on nothing more profound than the orientation I should take in mowing my lawn. August 28th, however, was not to be quite so mindless. Instead, I joined a crowd of almost 200 enthusiastic Macintosh devotees in welcoming Fortner Software's Ted Meyers and Apple Senior System Engineer J. D. Mankovsky (JD) to Washington Apple Pi's (WAP) monthly meeting.

Data made visible

Our first presenter, Ted Meyers, is the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Technology Officer and President of Fortner Software, a Sterling, Virginia based firm focused on developing tools for analyzing and managing data. If you have marveled at computer generated graphical depictions of the inner workings of complex systems as portrayed on TV programs such as PBS's Nova, or viewed climatology maps or depictions of fluid dynamics problems in magazines like Scientific American, you've seen the utility of applications that can convert raw data into images. Fortner Software's flagship product, NOeSYS, is a highly sophisticated yet easy to use application that renders unintelligible raw data into visual multi-dimensional depictions of stunning clarity.

Ted began his presentation "Killer Apps & Desktop Science" with a primer on the evolution of data display standards. As he brought us to the present, his presentation entered into a realm formerly the province of supercomputers and high-end graphic workstations. Ted showed how graphic depictions can be rendered from any type of digital data, whether magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of human tissue; satellite imagery of ocean temperatures and currents; national data bases of geographic positions, terrain and characteristics; and computer generated visualizations from the smallest particles in the universe to the depths of space.

After bringing the crowd up to the present day, Ted demonstrated the ease with which visualization software could render, manipulate and present data that would otherwise be unfathomable. He showed the vast amount of data available from national satellite systems, which, although freely available on the Internet, may never be analyzed or even viewed because of the shear quantities of data archived and available. Ted showed how a user, with the right applications, could avail themselves of data which would be considered priceless only a few decades ago. Just as importantly, with the highly advanced capability to analyze data now available to users of NOeSYS and similar programs, doctors, engineers, scientists, researchers, teachers and the general public can gain insight into areas previously the province of NASA researchers and computer geeks. All of this power accessible with little more than a point and double click of a mouse.

For more information and a walkthrough of the power (and even beauty) of visually rendered data, turn your web browser to http://www.fortner.com/.

iBook debuts at Washington Apple Pi

With the pride reminiscent of a new parent displaying his new six and a half-pound progeny, JD introduced the crowd to a blueberry and white package of amazing speed and capability, Apple's new iBook notebook computer. The iBook's unveiling at August's WAP general meeting appears to be the first presentation to any user group since the iBook's announcement at July's New York MacWorld conference. If the WAP audience's reaction is any measure, the iBook is destined to set new notebook sales records.

JD's presentation began with a business update showing Apple's amazing return to profitability and the recent innovations that have once again set the computing world on end. To that end, the revelation that over 2 million iMac's have been sold to date, and that Apple Macintosh sales have been nearing 1 million computers per quarter during the last year, indicated that Apple is on very solid footing as it builds its road to the future.

JD moved on to the high end of the portable computer crowd, the Powerbook G3. He had good news on this front as well, with revelation that these high end Powerbooks are suitable replacements for desktop computers. With a full range of built in interfaces including S-Video supported by the ATI Rage LT Pro controller, USB, 56K modem, and 10/100 baseT ethernet all standard, and availability of a range of other plug in cards including Newer Technologies $199 Firewire card, the Powerbook G3 can handle even the most arduous of tasks such as digital video production. Further, the copper construction of the G3 central processing unit brings low power consumption and outstanding battery life to this lightweight powerhouse, with more than 5 hours of operation possible on a single battery and provisions for two batteries.

All this good news about Apple's resurrection from the media-world's grave not withstanding, many in the crowd came to the meeting to see the new iBook put through its paces and they weren't long disappointed.

From the relative safety of the elevated stage, JD reviewed the near indestructible construction of the iBook, its careful engineering including built in 56K modem, 10/100 baseT Ethernet and USB ports, and the ease of access to the computer's available memory expansion and wireless communication slots. Waking the computer from it's sleep mode, he immediately ran it through its paces demonstrating demanding computing video presentations (very smooth full screen video), courtesy of the iBook's ATI Rage Mobility Advanced Graphics Processor video chip and the demonstration system's 300MHZ G3 central processing unit. The thoughtful design work evident in such touches as the wind-up power adapter, ease of RAM upgrade, padded cover edges and 6 hour battery life demonstrated a commitment to making the iBook fit the user, vice the reverse as is common to most computers.

JD next demonstrated the Airport, Apple's entry into the wireless networking arena. Based on industry standard IEEE 802.11 wireless technology, the Airport system ($299 for the base hub) and its related wireless LAN cards that fit in the iBook ($99) enable 11Mbps data transfer rate at over 150 feet, through walls, ceilings and across rooms. The Airport base hub has a 56Kbps modem built in, as well as a 10/100 baseT Ethernet port. The Airport base station retains all customized setup preferences including Internet setup, default printers, and the like. With the Airport base station installed, a user can walk within range of the base and be immediately connected (assuming user privileges are granted) to the network at speeds surpassing wired systems. The network is secure, with 40 bit encryption and cross platform capability (can operate with Lucent's WaveLan II system or other IEEE 802.11 compatible systems). Apple's Airport is the only system of its type currently being offered by any company featuring the high data transfer rate, ease of use and low cost. Just as importantly, the Airport base hub is not required for networking; multiple iBooks equipped with the inexpensive networking card can set up a wireless network and in turn be connected to wired networks or a dial in system through one of the laptop's hardwired ports.

JD took his show on the road as he walked around the room with a standard Powerbook loaded with a wireless LAN card and a small video camera. The video captured by the camera was transmitted, in real time, to the iBook on the stage through its wireless LAN card. As the crowd watched their full frame, filmed images being transmitted to the stage, JD explained Sorenson Broadcasting and QuickTime streaming. The capabilities were immediately obvious and led to several members of the WAP board of directors to discuss the potential for live streaming of WAP general meetings to the web for those unable to attend the meeting locally.

The final phase of JD's presentation continued with new information and a hook for the future. He demonstrated or discussed several different items now available or in production for USB equipped Macs including the VST external floppy drive loaned to the group for the demo (~$90 retail), and an iRez Critter Camera. He also discussed the over 150 USB devices now available ranging from USB to SCSI adapters through USB all-in-one scanner/printer/copier bundles. The acceptance of USB as a new standard interface for both Macs and WINTEL machines means that most devices should be cross platform, requiring only creation of Macintosh specific software drivers. Just when we thought there was nothing left to say, JD gave a quick teaser on Mac OS 9, and offered to return for the October meeting to demonstrate its new capabilities soon after it is released to the public.

Time to go

As the meeting came to its official end, the giveaways began and there were a lot of happy winners. A whole slew of folks walked out with various Apple t-shirts including Mary Ann Murphy, Jay Darmstadter, Karyn Thompson, Jack McCalman, Bob Wilbur, Vernice Christian, Joyce Slaton, Georgia Sadler, and John Bechtoldt. Other winners included Jan Bailey who won a video entitled "Master the Internet on a Mac," Kevin Adler who picked up a book on "Form Z," Tom Witte and Robert Langer who took home books on "Create cool HTML Web Pages," and Kevin Clare, the winner of the "Mac 3D Handbook."

With that, the meeting was closed but the crowd regathered around the iBook and it's accessories. It was almost another full hour before JD could retrieve the iBook from the last grasping, envious hands of those who hoped that somehow it too might join the list of giveaways!

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Revised October 3, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi
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