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View the documentTechnoBITS/06-May-91
View the documentMailBITS/06-May-91
View the documentLess-Than Prodigal
View the documentROM Rumors
View the documentData-PCS, Please
View the documentReviews/06-May-91
View the documentFoot Notes

Topics:

  • TechnoBITS/06-May-91
  • MailBITS/06-May-91
  • Less-Than Prodigal
  • ROM Rumors
  • Data-PCS, Please
  • Reviews/06-May-91

Copyright 1991 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
Information: <info@tidbits.com> Comments: <editors@tidbits.com>


TechnoBITS/06-May-91

Compression is a hot field these days, with everyone trying to squeeze the last few bytes from a compressed file. A company called Iterated Systems might top them all though, with its compression board for PC-clones. The board can save a minute and a half of moving video images on a 1.4 MB floppy, and while that doesn't sound too impressive, multiply that up to 650 MB on a CD-ROM and you get about 10 hours of video. Iterated Systems's technique uses fractal transformations, essentially replacing bits with mathematical formulas. I'm beginning to think that everything relates to fractals...or was it marketing schemes? In any event, the hardware is required for compression, but decompression can be software only and can play video at 24 to 30 frames per second without hardware. Iterated System's best compression ratio so far is 500 to 1, but keep in mind that the fractal transformations are a lossless technology, unlike JPEG compression, which is lossy.

Related articles:
BYTE -- Feb-91, pg. 32

MailBITS/06-May-91

On a personal note, if you live in the Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond area, I would appreciate it immensely if you could send me email at ace@tidbits.uucp (or any of my other addresses). I wish to ask about some stuff partially unrelated to TidBITS. Many thanks! Sorry for the interruption to those of you not in the Seattle area.

An anonymous elf writes, "Just as a word of notice, neither DOS Mounter nor the current Access PC work under System 7.0."

Gene Spafford writes, though not to us directly, "On March 2nd, thieves stole 3000 computer chips from one of a major computer manufacturer's California locations. These chips are Intel 386 and 486 CPUs, and were valued at over $1.1 million. Beware of anyone attempting to sell you any quantity of these particular chips, especially if it is at surprisingly reduced price. Authorities believe the thieves will attempt to resell these chips within the US or Canada, probably in the midwest or east coast. These chips can be traced, and anyone buying them may find themselves in trouble - deals too good to be true usually are. If you suspect that someone is attempting to sell you these chips, you are requested to contact your local FBI office (check the phone book for the number), and refer the agent in charge to casefile #87B-SC-15826. I checked with the local FBI office and they couldn't come up with the expected prices. From the numbers, we'd guess that between $300 and $500 per chip, retail, sounds right. This posting refers entirely to Intel brand chips, and not to second source compatible chips. This notice was posted at the request of the FBI." [So watch out for seedy-looking men in trenchcoats in dark alleys who want to sell you a cheap CPU.]

Also for your reading pleasure, the text of Macintosh trainer-to-the-stars John Sculley's letter to George Bush. As usual, I couldn't resist making a few pointed comments.

Dear Mr. President:

I was honored to be with you today for your announcement of the AMERICA 2000 Education initiative. From the first time we met right before your inauguration I have been convinced that no real reform would take place in American education until you seized the day with a call for this kind of comprehensive, dramatic and revolutionary action. The ideas you announced today, after our luncheon, will spark a national, grass-roots movement. You can count on our support. [We'd like to start with some Apple support for our international grass-roots movement for new ROMs. -Ed.]

You announced that you want to learn how to operate a personal computer. Since I know a little about computers I am ready to teach you. It will only take four hours to learn how to operate the Macintosh Classic computer. [Yeah, but try teaching him to use Microsoft Word or PageMaker in that amount of time. -Ed.] This is the computer that was built by a young generation of Americans who wanted to have the power of modern computing, but wanted to have fun with it, too. [Damn right! -Ed.] You can drive this computer, and go wherever you want to, without having to be an auto mechanic. School kids and scientists are right now communicating with each other on the Apple Macintosh. There are hundreds of schools whose kids are linked together via our AppleLink network could have a nationwide conversation.

I have given this same computer to President Gorbachev, and installed it in his office. Jack Kemp, Lamar Alexander, John Sununu, the governors of several states, the King of Thailand and the Presidents of Algeria and Turkey all have Macintosh computers that they use. [But how many of them read TidBITS? -Ed.] I would be delighted to help you with your goal of continuing education in computer operation.

Let me know when you want to start. [Just don't start him off with Missile Command for mouse practice. -Ed.]

Very sincerely, John Sculley Chairman, and CEO Apple Computer, Inc.

Information from:
Gene Spafford -- spaf@cs.purdue.edu


Less-Than Prodigal

When I asked Nisus's version of Webster's Electronic Thesaurus for a definition of "prodigy," it defined a prodigy as something that causes fascinated astonishment or admiration. Admiration is out, but Prodigy certainly causes fascinated astonishment. The latest slime to ooze from Prodigy (gee, am I being negative?) affects only people using IBM-PC clones, but that doesn't lessen the offense.

Here's the deal. Prodigy keeps a file on your hard disk called STAGE.DAT that keeps track of which Prodigy screens you've used so that the software doesn't have to download them each time you go to that screen. Not unreasonable at all. Apparently, if you peek inside STAGE.DAT, you'll find lots of bits and pieces of information that are unrelated to anything that Prodigy should ever touch with its money-grubbing electronic fingers. People have found things like proprietary source code, confidential client records, tax information, and other good stuff that you probably wouldn't tell your shrink, much less a company accused of snuffling around in theoretically-private email. To be fair on that account, the company claims that it merely has the computer scan for key terms to prevent "bad" mail from causing trouble for it since it's responsible for the contents of the service. I'm not sure if electronic snuffling is any better than human snuffling, but that's another issue.

I've seen conflicting reports from different people who've tried experiments with the Prodigy software to see what actually happens with the STAGE.DAT file. Several people reported finding information from their hard disks in their STAGE.DAT files. Another person reported no unusual information in his STAGE.DAT and noted that his modem spent approximately 95% of the time connected receiving information, thus making a Prodigy conspiracy to steal hard disk contents unlikely. However, Prodigy has admitted that it knows that its software could possibly copy random bits of information into the STAGE.DAT file and that it would be theoretically possible to upload that information to its central computers. However, Brian Ek, Prodigy's spokesman, says that Prodigy has never done this, has no intention of doing so, and would have to spend a lot of time and money if it wanted to do so.

If you ignore Prodigy's tainted history and think about the issue, it's unlikely that Prodigy uploads information from subscribers' hard disks. First of all, Prodigy would have to spend an incredible amount of time and money collating and referencing the spotty information, which is equally as likely to be hexadecimal code as ASCII text. Second, Prodigy has primarily 1200 and 2400 bips lines, which means that subscribers would notice their modems performing a significant amount of unexplained transmitting. Now stop ignoring Prodigy's history and look at the L.A. County District Attorney's current lawsuit against it for deceptive trade practices. The third reason Prodigy probably isn't making off with the contents of your hard disk is that such a practice would open it to serious legal attack from groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility when Prodigy is already under legal fire.

A more likely explanation for the hubbub is that Prodigy did a bad job programming its software so that the STAGE.DAT file includes bits of other information. The problem with this explanation is that it is apparently quite difficult to circumvent the normal operating system precautions that allow one file to have bits of others included in it. The Prodigy software does capture the contents of memory at installation and record that in STAGE.DAT, so perhaps that accounts for the inappropriate contents of the file. No reports of the Prodigy software damaging files have come in, so the error doesn't seem directly malicious. Nonetheless, given the possibilities, it is a mark against Prodigy that they didn't guard more closely to protect themselves from such accusations. It's a bit like the phone company having the capability (which they don't) to look through your file drawers when you're having a conversation on the phone. The phone company guards closely against any charges that it listens in on telephone conversations because wiretapping is a federal offense. It is technologically possible for the phone company to keep the receiver in the phone turned on all the time so it could listen in to all conversations in the house, but even the merest hint of such a policy would bring the legal roof down.

In these days of heightened (but not unreasonable) sensitivity to personal privacy, any company that ventures into a grey area in which violations of privacy are possible should tread very carefully. Lotus found this out the hard way, investing ten million dollars in MarketPlace:Households and MarketPlace:Business before over 30,000 complaints, many from people on electronic services, convinced the company to cancel the mailing list CD-ROMs. With the possibility of this electronic burglary, Prodigy sits smack in the middle of the grey area with its connections and hyper-advertising. It has even advertised mailing lists culled from its subscriber lists in direct marketing magazines. Even if the company itself does not pursue a policy of systematic information theft, leaving it as an opportunity for an unscrupulous employee is negligent at best. Prodigy touts itself as a 50's family-style service, but if the company doesn't watch out, it could come instead to represent the grotesque offspring of Big Brother and a direct mail company.

Information from:
A. Padgett Peterson -- padgett%tccslr.dnet@uvs1.orl.mmc.com
Bill Seurer -- seurer@rchland.vnet.ibm.com
John Viescas -- c-johnv@microsoft.uucp
Bill J Biesty -- wjb@edsr.UUCP
Chuq Von Rospach -- chuq@Apple.COM
Mary Culnan -- mculnan@guvax.georgetown.edu
Mark A. Emanuele -- overlf!emanuele@kb2ear.ampr.org
Raymond Chen -- raymond@math.berkeley.edu
ONG ENG TENG -- ong@d.cs.okstate.edu
Don S Gladden -- CTuna@cup.portal.com
Joe Wasik -- jcwasik@PacBell.COM
Joe Collins -- joec@Morgan.COM
Paul Gauthier -- gauthier@ug.cs.dal.ca
and many others who forwarded me the series of postings

Related articles:
PC WEEK -- 06-May-91, Vol. 8, #18, pg. 119

ROM Rumors

In the process of receiving over 500 electronic mail messages in support of our letter to Apple asking for a ROM upgrade (it actually asks for a statement of policy regarding the ROM upgrade), I've come across some interesting information on the topic.

Connectix, the people who make Virtual and Maxima and are gurus at this sort of thing, are going to release a utility called MODE32. MODE32 will do exactly what A/UX does for those Macs with dirty ROMs - provide 32-bit cleanliness via software. Connectix will price the utility at $169, I've heard, which will make it a viable option if Apple fails to come out with a ROM upgrade or if the upgrade is exorbitantly priced. The main question with MODE32 is how compatible it will be. If it works on all the machines (it may require a specific version of the PMMU on the Mac II) and all software works with it and there are no strange bugs that go bump in the heap (and that's a lot of 'ifs,' even for Connectix), then MODE32 might become the 'in' utility among power users.

A number of rumors have come in suggesting that Apple is indeed working on a ROM upgrade based on the 32-bit clean IIsi ROMs. Such an upgrade may take until the end of the year, though, in part because Apple is adding features as well as cleaning up the 24-bit ROMs. Those feature would certainly explain the delay, but it does make you wonder what they might put in. The primary candidate is the ability to boot from ROM since that's already shown up in the Classic ROMs, but there's probably not as much room in the IIsi ROMs, so there's no telling. The bad news from Apple was one report on CompuServe that Charlie Oppenheimer, Apple's Product Development Manager, said Apple was hoping the MODE32 would help solve the 32-bit ROM problem. That statement implies that Apple won't release anything for some time yet, if at all.

On an interesting but completely useless note, the IIci ROMs are supposed to work in the IIcx and IIsi ROMs may work in the SE/30, so if any of you have a IIci or IIsi that you want to scrap so that you can use your beloved IIcx or SE/30 in 32-bit mode, feel free to pop them in (of course I could be wrong and it will fry everything, so don't try this at home on your own Macs, kids). On second thought, why don't you just send the IIci or IIsi over to us if you don't want it. :-)

Connectix -- 800/950-5880

Information from:
Connectix propaganda -- CONNECTIX@applelink.apple.com
David Ramsey -- 76702,335
Walt Mossberg -- 72065,1050
AFC Alex on America Online


Data-PCS, Please

Boy we're getting to be a pain about all this letter writing, aren't we? OK, we promise to lay off for a while after this one. Remember Apple's petition to the FCC asking that a portion of the radio spectrum be set aside for Data-PCS (Data Personal Communications Service)? Data-PCS provides short range wireless network services and will be vendor-independent, so everyone gets to use it, not just Apple. Well, several people at Apple have requested the public's support now, and since the FCC deadline for outside comment ends May 10th, it seems appropriate to include instructions for making your views known to the FCC.

Although 50 meters is a bit limiting for my tastes, wireless networking would truly ease much of effort spent hooking computer together today and would radically change the way people use networks. My personal favorite use of wireless networks requires some major advances in portable computers - the computer would automatically connect and disconnect from network services where ever you went, making available the full storage and processing power (remember the network distributed computing from a few issues back?) of the local network. Such a scheme would require extremely small portable computers that could be worn like a watch or in a shoulder belt. Displays would either be unnecessary because of voice feedback, in a small ear speaker if necessary, or would work along the lines of the Private Eye virtual display. Control would be voice-oriented with a small chord keyboard for quiet text entry, and ideally, brain wave control using DSP (digital signal processing) chips would be a reality by then. And all of this would center around the services provided by a wireless network for minium local storage and processing in the portable. Some day all this will become a reality, although it will require a shift in philosophy by designers and manufacturers. Wireless networking will help that paradigm shift.

To ease some fears that this is purely a US issue (which it is at the moment, so those of you in other countries can ignore this), let me say that if Data-PCS gains support here, it is more likely to become an international standard. Apple looks favorably on the non-US markets, and would not like to have a product that could not be sold in those markets for lack of the radio band. Anyway, here's a template letter to send to the FCC if you feel strongly that wireless networking will make your life easier. You've all read enough computer manuals to figure out where to put in your information.

(On your institution's letterhead if possible.)
(Date)
Hon. Alfred C. Sikes, Chairman
Federal Communications Commission
Washington, D.C. 20554
Reference: Rulemaking 7618

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We (I) understand that Apple Computer, Inc. ("Apple") has asked the FCC to allocate spectrum to establish a new radio service ("Data-PCS") for local area high speed communications among personal computing devices. We are writing to urge you to grant Apple's request (RM-7618).

(Please describe in the text your views on how Data-PCS could be important to you.)

Information from:
Bill Stevens -- bsteven@Apple.COM
John Forre -- jf@ap.co.umist.ac.uk
Bob Snyder -- snyderr@wookumz.gnu.ai.mit.edu


Reviews/06-May-91

  • MacWEEK
    • File Transfer Programs, pg. 31
      • LapLink Mac 3.0
      • SendExpress 2.0.1
      • Mac-to-Mac 1.1.0
    • Taste 1.01
    • Video Capture Boards, pg. 34
      • ComputerEyes/Pro
      • ColorSnap 32+
      • QuickImage 24
      • ColorBoard 364
    • Personal Information Managers, pg. 38
      • ThoughtPattern
      • Docu-Mentor

References:

  • MacWEEK -- 30-Apr-91, Vol. 5, #17

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