Long ago I read a spoof that poked fun at spelling checkers. It was disguised as a letter from an editor to Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. The editor was explaining his reasons for not publishing Jabberwocky and was trying to make sense of the poem after the spelling checker had offered its corrections and suggestions. Oh for those slithy troves!
Soon you too might be able to run your favorite spelling checker through Jabberwocky thanks to Project Gutenberg, which is dedicated to encouraging the creation and distribution of electronic English language texts. In a recent experiment, Project Gutenberg made Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland available to the general Internet public by putting it up for anonymous FTP. According to Michael Hart, Project Gutenberg's director, Alice has been a great hit with the online community. As an added benefit, he said that a number of people who had downloaded the electronic text had submitted corrections for typos in the text. In response to Alice In Wonderland's success, Project Gutenberg will soon be posting Through the Looking-glass and the Snark as well, so Carroll fans, be on the lookout!
If you are interested in checking out the electronic Alice, it's easy if you have access to FTP. Just type
-ftp email@example.com or ftp 22.214.171.124
(Your system may not know the actual name, the second address avoids this)
-anonymous (This is the login username)
-Any password works fine
-get alice.txt (it's about 150K)
If you do pick up Alice, be aware of Project Gutenberg's policy on releasing electronic texts (please note that this statement will change slightly in Alice 1.1, available soon with lots of good corrections): "This copy of Alice in Wonderland is hereby released in the CopyLeft traditions of the Free Software Foundation and Richard M. Stallman. This means the document is to be considered under copyright, and an individual may make as may copies for self and/or friends, etc. and will be under no obligation as long as this is not commercial. Not for profit corporations and all other corporate entities are not to distribute this file for any more cost to the user than $2 and only if a disk is provided for that fee. If you find errors, and we are sure you will, please email location of the errors to hart@uiucvmd, (BITNET) or firstname.lastname@example.org (INTERNET)." An admirable statement and one which we try to follow as well. Remember that any article in TidBITS may be freely copied for use in non-profit publications as long as we are clearly credited.
Project Gutenberg has taken on an enormous task, as their goal is to provide a collection of 10,000 of the most used books in the next ten years and to be able to provide those texts at a cost of about a penny per book (you will have to pay for your own disks and postage). That will put the cost of the entire library at about $100 US, which is pretty reasonable for 10,000 books (considering that I probably spend that much in a year in a single subject area alone). Of course floppy disks may be passe by then, but CD-ROMs may still be around and they will be ideal for such a storage task, assuming they haven't been supplanted by then by another storage medium that is far larger, like holographic images. Nevertheless, the task becomes much more imaginable if you consider the number of libraries in the US alone. Hart conservatively estimates 100,000 libraries, which would mean that if each library helped with Project Gutenberg, each library would only have to create a tenth of a text. Now admittedly, there is a bit more work in creating these things, since even the best OCR software makes mistakes and people are far worse (yes, many of Project Gutenberg's current texts have been typed in by hand. If you'd like to improve your typing speed, I'm sure they would love to give you something to work on.). If you are interested, they need people to proofread the electronic texts as much as they need people to enter them. Suggestions for what books to enter are also always welcome.
Project Gutenberg isn't in the slightest bit elitist about who wishes to help out. They gladly accept any electronic texts from anyone who has the inclination to enter some. If you wish, you can send texts to Michael Hart at the above address, or for those who can't access the Internet as easily, you can send them to the mailing address below.
If you are interested in more information about Project Gutenberg and you are on Bitnet or the Internet, you can get it directly by subscribing to the GUTNBERG discussion list. Send this message, SUB GUTNBERG YOUR NAME (where your name must be at least two words) to LISTSERV@UIUCVMD.BITNET. I've been reading and contributing to the GUTNBERG discussions for the last few months and have found them extremely interesting, though I may be biased because of my predilection for electronic texts. Electronic communication is the future, but with only a little effort, it can be the present as well. Project Gutenberg is one step, and we hope that TidBITS is another, but we're still waiting for electronic communications to coalesce and become the primary information source. We may have to wait for Ted Nelson's Xanadu for that day.
Michael S. Hart
P. O. Box 2782
Champaign, IL 61825
Here's an interesting phenomenon. Remember the hullabaloo about keeping public archives in public formats? Most people were talking about how wonderful Compactor and StuffIt Deluxe were, with an occasional mention of Diamond as well. DiskDoubler was mentioned a couple of times, but was never included as a serious contender to StuffIt Deluxe, which has history behind it, and Compactor, which is the shareware challenger.
Well it turns out that DiskDoubler hasn't been doing all that badly after all. It has simply found a subtle niche that the other two compression utilities don't really fill - personal compression and archiving. The most common use of compression utilities up to now has been to related to telecommunications - to reduce transmission time and limit use of expensive storage space. Some people used StuffIt (because that's all there was back then and it was good) to manage archives of programs and files, but StuffIt really wasn't very good at that despite all the little add-on programs Ray Lau created for it. No one would have called StuffIt transparent.
That's where DiskDoubler comes into play. It is ideal for managing hard disk space. I have a 105 meg drive that is constantly filling up, just as my previous 30 meg drive did. Now, however, before I throw something out, I look around for something I seldom use and compress it using DiskDoubler. If I want to use a it, DiskDoubler quickly expands it, and, keeping track of it when I'm done, recompresses it to save my disk space again. DiskDoubler usually manages about 50% compression in my experience, and it allows me to avoid throwing stuff out randomly. It doesn't prevent me from doing housekeeping on my drive, but at least I can schedule it for when I have time. One drawback to my compression habits is that MacTools Backup considers all the files that I've compressed to be new versions and backs them up again. Oh well, win some, lose some.
I thought until recently that DiskDoubler was losing out in the compression wars because it didn't seem to be the telecommunications compressor of choice. However, I just heard that DiskDoubler is doing surprisingly well, and in some interesting places other than the world of telecommunications. According to Computer Currents, DiskDoubler ranked 5th of all of MacConnection's sales in terms of units sold for the first week of November. I'm glad they rated it in terms of units sold; a lot of those sorts of statistics are done in terms of total dollar sales, which immediately removes reasonably priced utility software from the ratings because utility software can't hope to compete with high-priced word processors and spreadsheets like Word and Excel.
I've also heard from Salient that they have a new version, called DiskDoubler Plus, only for people doing JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group - finally found out what the acronym stood for) compression with C-Cube's Compression Master board. DiskDoubler Plus has extensions to handle 24-bit color and will be bundled with the C-Cube board. I hope Apple's forthcoming video compression hardware/software (perhaps to appear in March) is as transparent. And no, we don't know anything more about Apple's stuff short of a positive report from Pythaeus. Of course, Apple might do something similar considering that they just purchased a worldwide site license for DiskDoubler from Salient. I wonder how much a worldwide site license runs.
Salient -- 415/852-9567
SimCity from Maxis was the hit game of last year. Not too surprising really, if you think about all the human vices that the game satisfied. Greed, violence, cruelty. Lust was probably the only one that didn't figure in. (Perhaps that will be coming soon in SimRelationship :-)). Some people felt, well, a little cramped by SimCity. After all being the mayor of a city is fun, but it's not like being a demi-urge.
SimEarth, Maxis's new game, allows you that power. You are a deity in charge of a planet and have control over the physical landscape and the evolution of life. Sim life forms can start out at the most basic level and progress up to intelligent life forms capable of interstellar travel. Felt like tearing up a swamp or eradicating a particularly bothersome life form (I don't think there is a life form corresponding to your co-workers)? Well, it's all possible in SimEarth. If you are feeling especially ruthless you might think about some appropriate disasters, a plague perhaps, or maybe an earthquake, or what about an ice asteroid?
The $69.95 SimEarth is designed by Will Wright, creator of SimCity. Wright was aided in the task by James Lovelock, whose Gaia hypothesis treats the Earth as a single self-regulating system instead of separate systems of biology, geology, human culture, etc. One of the seven worlds that ships with SimEarth is DaisyWorld, a computer version of Lovelock's model of how life can regulate the environment to create conditions favorable to its continued well-being.
One of the most interesting parts of the game is that it can be goal-oriented or exploratory, as the player wishes. If you simply wants to see what happens when you work on getting dinosaurs up to the level of interstellar space travel or maybe to see what species will survive in an icy environment, so be it. There isn't much of the traditional winning or losing. In addition, SimEarth has been praised by environmental groups as a learning tool for illustrating what humans can do to the environment.
There are also the usual slew of hidden codes in SimEarth. If you're a ResEdit explorer you'd probably run across these too, so I don't feel bad about revealing anything (besides, I don't know what most of them do :-)). Try typing "joke," "erad," "smoo," and "rand". But be warned that you may not want to see what they do to your favorite planet. Erad in particular sounds nasty. Jake Hoelter of Maxis did reveal that "smoo" stands for smooth and smooths out your terrain.
The response I've heard to SimEarth has been extremely positive. In fact, people have been complaining about not being able to get a copy because all the stores are sold out. Unfortunately, we're waiting until Christmas when we have time off to play games for a day straight (that's right, TidBITS will not be coming out around that time for at least a week, maybe two. Even we deserve a break every now and then.). If you are looking for more presents still, Maxis also will release, probably in time for the holiday season, two graphic sets for SimCity. Set #1, Ancient Cities, will include Ancient Asia, Medieval Times, and Wild West graphics. Set #2, Future Cities, will include Future Europe, Future America, and Moon Colony graphics. Be aware that these are simply different graphics - there has been no change in the city simulator itself. But if you were getting tired of the basic old city graphics, being able to zone a cemetery and a corral might be fun. Maxis hasn't set a price on the graphic sets yet, nor is there a firm release date.
Maxis -- 800/521-6263 -- 415/492-3200
It's a fine week when I don't have to write about the latest and slimiest virus on the block. However, there is a small piece of news that everyone should be aware of. Chris Johnson's excellent utility, Gatekeeper Aid, has been updated to version 1.1. Gatekeeper aid works by itself in stopping and eradicating WDEF, MDEF, and CDEF viruses whenever any file containing the virus is used. Gatekeeper Aid can be used in conjunction with Johnson's Gatekeeper 1.1.1, a more general purpose utility for preventing viral activity on one's Mac, or with John Norstad's Disinfectant INIT.
The main fixes in Gatekeeper Aid 1.1 are in finding and eradicating WDEF and the latest MDEF C virus and to intercept possible mutations of these types of viruses. Also, Gatekeeper Aid 1.1 incorporates a retroactive fix for a conflict between Gatekeeper and System 6.0.7. This conflict manifests itself as Res(Sys) privilege violations (this conflict manifests itself when the ImageWriter printer is chosen and applications are executed under Finder, rather than MultiFinder). This was the side-effect of an unexpected change in MacOS 6.0.7 and not a bug in Gatekeeper. So if you use Gatekeeper and System 6.0.7, be sure to get this new version of Gatekeeper Aid.
Gatekeeper Aid is available from the usual online sources. If you can't find it anywhere near you, and you have access to a modem, it's available from the Memory Alpha BBS in Ithaca, NY at 607/257-5822. 2400 baud, No parity, 8 data bits, 1 stop bit.
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