Psst! Wanna buy a PowerBook 100 cheap? Read on. We also have a report on the 1992 MacHack Conference - including notes on the winning hacks, two articles describing how Apple is racing to save the environment and only occasionally tripping over its shoelaces, and finally, the promised review of two excellent trackballs, the CoStar Stingray and Curtis MVP Mouse with Foot Switch.
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Everything approaches normal again now that we have our new hard drive set up. Needless to say, we are investigating uninteruptible power supplies and would appreciate any information you can pass on. An article in TidBITS will certainly result. Drop me a line at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Bargain hunters would do well to check out the PowerBook 100 4/40s being sold at Price Club warehouse stores for around $900. Apple pulled that configuration of the PowerBook 100 from the price list, recalled all the stock from dealers, and sent it to Price Club. It seems Apple felt that the 75 Price Club stores were a good place to, well, dump the remaining 8,000 to 18,000 of these PowerBooks.
Needless to say, this move has angered dealers immensely because they cannot begin to match Price Club's prices, even with less-capable PowerBooks, due to Apple's normal pricing and dealer margins. The dealers I've heard complaining fumed because they felt they could have sold those PowerBook 100s just as quickly at such low prices had Apple allowed them to. The unfortunate consequence is that without the profits from selling low-end computers and the related training and software sales, dealers cannot afford quality staff, which damages the industry-wide dealer reputation even further. Nonetheless, Apple feels that it must expand its distribution network, and I'm sure that politics played a large part in the deal.
The Price Club stores have the machines now, but early reports indicate that the PowerBook 100 4/40 sells incredibly quickly at $900. A Price Club phone rep at one store said that she's never seen so much interest in a product. You must be a member to shop at Price Club, but it's reportedly fairly easy to qualify.
Despite several kind invitations, I could not attend MacHack this year, where I would have kibitzed for 96 hours straight as the programmers created their wonderful hacks. These hacks are still being cleaned up and released, so I can't point you to a site that has everything, but we have heard that you will be able to buy an inexpensive CD-ROM disk with all the hacks and source code. Expect to see more of the hacks released to the nets at that point too.
In any event, Leonard Rosenthol was kind enough to pass on some notes about the more interesting hacks.
Winning Hacks -- The five winning hacks ranged from the terribly useful to the thoroughly trivial. Mike Neil and David Falkenberg came up with IR-Man, a combined hardware and software hack for controlling various Macintosh actions with a stereo or VCR infrared remote controller. The VCR remote, quite reasonably, controls QuickTime movies and can also eject disks. The stereo remote controls the volume, window movements, and window and process ordering, although I'm curious how they manage some of those functions. With a few extra features and a universal remote, you could probably control a Mac remotely during a presentation quite easily. However, you will probably have to build some of the hardware yourself.
NetMouse, an even more useful utility, came from Jorg Brown and Eric Hayes, allows you to control another Mac on a network with the mouse and keyboard on your Mac. NetMouse would be wonderful for working with a PowerBook and main Mac, or for something like testing a multi-user database.
The next three winning entries move away from the realm of the useful, with Dean Yu and Fred Monroe's DylanTalk, a "semi-fake text-to-speech system with a really cool interface and multiple voices," Bell Choir, which simulates a bell choir using a series of network Macs, and MovieFinder, from Leonard Rosenthol and Alex Rosenberg, which will play QuickTime movies in the place of boring static icons in the Finder. Bell Choir, written by Kathy Brade, stands out among the winners for two reasons. It is the first winning hack written by a female (yay!), and it is also the only winning hack this year written by a single individual.
Hacks of Merit -- Leonard mentioned several other hacks of merit, including Strobe from Barry Semo and Flashback from Barry Semo and David Shayer. Strobe turns a PowerBook into an expensive strobe light by flashing the backlight (good for parties, I suppose :-)) and Flashback works similarly, except it works over a network of PowerBooks (useful for runway landing lights?). Tom Lippincott won the dubious honor of writing the first hack ever to be booed, something called "Run & Stumpy," which the hackers considered rather sick apart from the terrible pun on the popular "Ren & Stimpy" cartoon. Eric Slosser's elaborate joke control panel, "ADB Coffee Warmer," simulated control of a fake hardware device - if only he'd come up with the device too! Finally, Steve Falkenberg presented SloppyCopy, which runs all Finder copies in a separate memory partition so you can continue working while copying, a perhaps dangerous but useful utility.
I've run across a couple of the hacks on ZiffNet/Mac as well, two of which I found and used briefly before my hard drive's untimely (and unrelated) death. StickyClick makes the Mac pretend that every click on a menu was the equivalent of a trackball's click-lock, but it was well-implemented enough that if you clicked quickly and then moved on, StickyClick would realize that it shouldn't keep the menu down. I didn't think I'd like it, but ended up becoming rather fond of it, especially with long hierarchical menus. TrashSelector, which I only used for a day or so, also looks useful. When you select Empty Trash, TrashSelector pops up a scrolling hierarchical list of files available for erasure. You can then pick the ones you want to erase rather than erasing everything wholesale.
Conference Highlights -- Leonard also passed on some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the conference, which are best in a more-original form.
Keynote from Steve Weyl, Manager of Apple Developer Tools. His talk came very close to being as boring as last year's keynote, except that he demoed some cool games, including Prince of Persia, and told us how important game development was to Apple. Fortunately, most of the attendees had their PowerBooks with them, and were able to be productive!
Friday night movie - Batman Returns. 200 hackers take over most of a theatre.
Tornado, or "The Weather Hack." Touched down two miles from hotel. Determined hackers kept right on with their hacks - thank G-d for the PowerBook!
Lighting struck tree outside hotel, tree exploded, big bang (System 7 lives!).
Much sleep lost this year, probably more than any other year. Lots of late night discussions in the machine room - oh, and hacking too. Usually this is followed by a trip to Angelo's, the BEST breakfast place known to man, with a specialty of homemade bread with raisins turned into french toast!
The "Bus Error" or "Double Bus Fault." Two of the buses headed for the yearly banquet got lost, drove right past the location (to screams of "STOP!"), kept going a couple of miles out of the way, and FINALLY found their way back.
Leonard Rosenthol -- email@example.com
by Don Rittner -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Geez, talk about silly policies. It seems that at every chance Apple takes one step forward and two backward! I recently called the Apple toll free number to request 50 return labels for the Apple Toner recycling campaign. If you have a used Apple-label toner cartridge, Apple will prepay the shipping for you to return the spent toner cartridge. Apple then donates 50 cents to the National Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy. Seems like a good deal, but wait, there's more!
I asked for 50 labels since I wanted to pass them out to members of my user group at the next meeting. The pleasant fellow at the other end said he could only send me one! I said, "One. Doesn't it make sense to send more than one, because if 50 of my members call and request labels as well, Apple wastes paper, envelopes, postage, and so on? Did I miss something here? Isn't this suppose to help reduce waste?"
Well he asked his manager and with the executive decision in place I will receive THREE labels!
Sometimes you have to wonder what goes on in the minds of corporate America!
[Silly as this story is, we encourage you to take Apple up on this program if you would otherwise be throwing your Apple toner cartridges out. Hewlett-Packard had and probably still has a similar deal - ask your dealer for details. -Adam]
Apple Toner Recycling Program -- 800/776-2333
More important than the toner recycling program is an announcement from Apple last week that they have completely eliminated the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in cleaning circuit boards and manufacturing equipment. None of Apple's circuit boards require cleaning with Apple's new assembly technology, and Apple managed to convert manufacturing operations that do require cleaning so that they could use water.
Working with other companies, Apple achieved this goal over a year ahead of schedule (sounds like some of those engineers should start writing software!) and will now concentrate on disseminating the information and helping other companies eliminate CFCs from their manufacturing processes.
Many scientists believe that CFCs contribute to the erosion of the Earth's ozone layer, which shields against incoming ultraviolet radiation. In 1989, 81 countries "declared their intentions" to phase out the use of CFCs by the year 2000, a date which the US later moved up to 1995.
Kudos to Apple for placing an emphasis on this sort of technology. It may cost money in the short run and may even contribute to slightly higher prices for Macs over cut-rate PC-clones, but in our opinion the benefits easily outweigh that cost. Apple reduced its CFC solvent emissions from a peak of 270,000 pounds in 1990 to less than 2,500 pounds in 1992. That's an impressive drop.
Other Apple environmental projects include battery and toner recycling, product grants to environmental groups, environmentally-sensitive packaging, and finally an R&D effort to build energy-efficient computers.
Sleepy Computers -- I'd like to see results from this R&D effort in desktop Macs soon. The PowerBooks nap quite nicely to save battery power, but how about desktop Macs also taking a snooze to conserve power? People like me who leave the Mac on constantly would especially appreciate this feature, and it might even protect sleeping Macs from power problems of the sort that destroyed my hard drive last week. The off-on-off power cycle killed the drive, which was running at the time. If that drive had been sitting quietly, catching 40,000 winks (a unit of time similar to a tick, which computers perform very quickly), it might have survived the traumatic experience.
Actually, Apple has joined the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star Computers Program, a voluntary program in which members attempt to drop the power consumption of their machines to less than 30 watts when idle. Other companies in the program include, HP, IBM, DEC, Compaq, Smith-Corona, and Zenith. The PowerBooks meet these standards, but if all desktop machines did, the EPA estimates a savings of 25 billion kilowatt hours per year.
Ted Silveira mentioned on ZiffNet/Mac that several years ago he used a computer from a company called ON that was on all the time, but would go to sleep after about 10 minutes, coming back on with the touch of a key. The ON machine didn't offer a lot of features, even in 1986, with its Z80 microprocessor, 64K of RAM, CP/M operating system, and a separate dumb terminal for monitor and keyboard. Mass storage came in the form of 2 MB of RAM, although it had a floppy for shuffling files. Nonetheless, the ON had an innovative power system. It had no fan, making it completely silent, and it could keep data safe for about 24 hours with no power using its own internal backup power supply. If the wall power went out, the machine just went to sleep immediately, and you woke it up by touching any key once the power had returned. Finally, the ON had a software-controlled plug in the back where you could plug in your printer, take advantage of the built-in surge protection, and control the printer from your keyboard. Snazziest was the feature that simply turned on the printer if you tried to print to it while it was off rather than giving you a stupid error message. Where are ON's engineers today?!?
Obviously, Apple would have a hard time providing this level of functionality given the much larger power requirements of today's computers, but power technology has advanced along with power requirements. I would happily pay an extra $300 to $500 (if not more) for such features because it would decrease the amount of time I waited for my machine to start up and shut down and significantly decrease my electric bill, a direct monetary savings, not to mention the ecological benefits of reduced consumption. Such power protection features would also prevent me from spending $300 or so on an uninteruptible power supply (UPS) which I have to purchase to protect my current system. We're waiting, Apple.
Ted Silveira -- email@example.com
MacWEEK -- 22-Jun-92, Vol. 6, #24, pg. 3
So I lied - I only have two trackballs to review. But it's a good title and it does illustrate the main principle in buying a trackball, which is that trackballs, like porridge and beds, are individual and you must try several before you settle down like Goldilocks at your Mac.
I requested several trackballs for review because both Tonya and I were experiencing wrist pain, tendinitis for her, carpal tunnel syndrome for me. Several people had recommended we try one, and this was an excellent excuse. Since this isn't MacUser we didn't attempt to compare all the trackballs on the market but confined ourselves to two recommended units that looked interesting, the $79 CoStar Stingray and the $89 Curtis MVP Mouse and $19 Foot Switch (all prices mail order).
CoStar Stingray -- CoStar named this small, sleek device the Stingray for a good reason. It sports approximately the same curving shape as its namesake, with both "wings" being buttons. Apart from the small, PowerBook-sized ball, the two buttons cover the entire surface of the Stingray. This is good.
Perhaps the most stressful action involved with mousing, as I said last week, is the click & drag, so making the click action easier is all important. By creating such large buttons, CoStar ensured that you can hit the button with any part of your hand, including the side or back [or even your elbow if your wrists especially hurt! -Tonya]. Like most trackballs, the Stingray comes with a click-lock function to ease the click & drag motion. Using a switch on the bottom of the Stingray, you can set either (or neither) button to click-lock. When you click-lock, the trackball pretends that you have clicked and have the button held down, and a second click on the same button acts as though you have let the button up after selecting an object. I highly recommend using a trackball with click-lock for presentations where you want to show people menu items - it's much easier than holding the button down yourself. [After using a normal mouse for some seven years, I found the idea of click-lock a bit foreign, and I avoided it for some time. One day, though, I started using it, and within about three hours I became a click-lock convert. -Tonya]
The Stingray ships with a Control Panel that lets you adjust the tracking to make it faster or slower, which could be useful for different environments. We haven't used it much since the default settings work fine for our general use. The Stingray works without the Control Panel, so you can easily bring the Stingray to a different Macintosh and use it without installing software.
Physically, the Stingray is small and light, with a six inch cable. You must plug it into the keyboard's ADB port and it has no ADB pass-through, a disadvantage for people using Classics and other Macs having only one ADB port. We found the Stingray ideal for traveling between home and work because it's light; the cable doesn't get in the way; and the small ball must be actively pressed out with a tab on the bottom for cleaning. Thus, the ball doesn't escape when you unpack it.
Most importantly perhaps, people with small hands will find the Stingray ideal. I can't quite palm a basketball, but I have relatively large hands. Tonya's hands match her slight frame, and although I found the small ball and small size a bit clumsy, she feels that the size is perfect for her smaller hands.
Curtis MVP Mouse & Foot Switch -- In comparison we have the Curtis MVP Mouse, a strangely named trackball. Curtis designed it along more conventional trackball lines, with a slightly sloped base and a pool ball-style ball that is exactly the same size as the Kensington TurboMouse's ball. The palm rest on the MVP Mouse has raised bumps on it, which may sound uncomfortable but which I find useful for holding my hand in place. Three buttons circle around the upper three quarters of the ball, and people with small hands may find hitting the top button over the top of the ball a difficult task. I, on the other hand, like it a lot because the larger ball fits my larger hand better.
The buttons provide one of the MVP Mouse's two main features. Each buttons functions independently, and you can assign any one of a number of functions to each button. Currently, I have the left button set to click, the middle button set to the Return key, and the right button set to command-W (Close Window in most applications). These buttons work the same in all applications, but needless to say, I find the command-W button the most convenient in applications with lots of windows like uAccess. You can set the buttons to any command key, as well as click, click-lock, Delete, Return, Shift, Tab, Undo, Cut, Copy, and Paste.
Originally I wanted different button assignments for different applications, but with further thought I decided that it would probably be too confusing. Apple believes that users find two-button mice too confusing, and although I think sophisticated users can handle two or three buttons, different definitions for each application does not smack of the Macintosh way. Oh, you can also control tracking and double-click speed in the Curtis Control Panel, but frankly, the defaults work well enough so I've never bothered.
The second main feature of the MVP Mouse is its accompanying Foot Switch. You don't have to buy it if you don't want, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have mine set to a normal click, which allows me to move the cursor gently with the trackball and then click with my right foot when I want. It's wonderful for hierarchical menus or reading a long document, because you can just place the cursor over a scroll arrow and click with your foot when you want to move the page. There's no need to even move your hand for such trivial stuff.
The Foot Switch is well-constructed of durable plastic and metal, and mine has survived several months of clicking quite well. You need not worry if you have clumsy feet since the Foot Switch has a fair amount of travel when clicking down and it's trivial to use. If you can drive a car you can use the Foot Switch. I have no difficulty using the Foot Switch even when wearing bulky Birkenstock sandals, although it's most responsive when I'm barefoot. Either foot works with the Foot Switch, although you will probably prefer one over the other. I use my right foot, but occasionally switch for the fun of it. Curtis does not mention one important fact though, which is that you must adjust your chair and desk appropriately. I found the Foot Switch somewhat uncomfortable until I adjusted my desk and chair so they were at the proper ergonomic heights for typing, which is also the proper height for the Foot Switch. Check out TidBITS-134 for more ergonomic details.
The MVP Mouse and Foot Switch travel badly. Unlike the Stingray, the MVP Mouse is relatively large, and its ball tends to fall out as soon as you take the mouse out of your bag. It has a long cable, probably at least four feet long, and an even longer cable with a telephone-style connector connects the Foot Switch to the underside of the MVP Mouse. Since that cable will always go behind your desk to get to the floor, it's a pain to pack up. It would be great if the Foot Switch was an ADB device that could attach to any Mac, regardless of pointing device. The MVP Mouse will stay put at one computer, but it's a good solid piece of work, and I have little bad to say about it.
Conclusion -- I did have some problems with both trackballs. The original Stingray we tested started squeaking when you clicked one of the buttons, which was rather annoying, but we had to return it anyway. Then Tonya bought one for personal use because she liked it so much. That one would only track up and down and not to either side. MacConnection took it back that day and sent us yet another Stingray, which has performed perfectly since then.
We have received a report from a disgruntled Stingray user who didn't find the Stingray accurate enough for single-pixel graphics work, especially in comparison with the Kensington trackball he had used previously. So make sure to check your software with the trackball before buying.
The MVP Mouse at some point developed the annoying habit of activating the cursor even when I wasn't touching the ball or moving the desk in any way. It doesn't do it most of the time, but on occasion I'll place the cursor on a scroll arrow, expecting to click only with the Foot Switch, but the MVP Mouse will move the cursor off the scroll arrow unbeknownst to me, often resulting in an application switch when I click.
I can recommend both of these trackballs without hesitation, but I will add that you shouldn't pay much attention to my opinions unless you also try one out before you buy. Hand size, working habits, and software use will make a large difference in your attitudes toward trackballs. Incidentally, left-handed people will find both trackballs equally useful since they are symmetric and easily customized. I occasionally switch to the left side, just to keep my hand in, so to speak.
Other trackballs may also appeal to you, such as the EMAC Silhouette, which is strangely shaped so that you put your hand around the ball on the side, and the Logitech Trackman, which has three completely easily customized buttons (in each application). Nonetheless, people with small hands who move between two Macs will love the Stingray and those of us who see no reason to let our legs just sit all day, letting our hands to all the work, will truly enjoy the MVP Mouse and Foot Switch.
Tonya adds: -- Before the trackballs arrived, I was having a lot of trouble doing my job, (phone tech support) which often involves a lot of mouse action and not much keyboarding. In desperation, I put my mouse on the floor and moused with my feet. I could do this only by scooting my entire setup forward so that my mouse's cord was long enough for it to set on the ground, and I had trouble finding an adequate mouse pad. I believe that a pointing/clicking device operated completely with the feet would be a wonderful thing, and I hope to see one some day. Many devices currently on the market could be foot-operated with only minor changes. The standard Apple Macintosh mouse, for example, only needs a longer cord. If a company designed such a device ergonomically for the foot, I'd buy it in an instant.
Even if nobody ever manufactures a pointing device used exclusively by the foot, I'd like to see more pointing device options. Most trackball ads tout their ergonomic design. But, I ask, ergonomic for whom? They offer big balls, small balls, and all sorts of different shapes. You'll finally find the one that feels ergonomic to you, only to discover that it lacks some other feature that you desire, like a second ADB port (which neither of these trackballs have), or a foot switch, or an easily-transportable design. Given that the standard equipment hurts more and more people all the time, I find it frustrating that the available alternatives are so limited. Perhaps as more people explore the alternatives, the market for trackballs and the like will become more lucrative and we consumers will see more choices.
CoStar -- 203/661-9700 -- COSTAR1@applelink.apple.com
Curtis -- 800/548-4900 -- 603/532-4123
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