The issue offers a look at the results of an Ingram Labs test of Power Macs versus Pentiums, a brief review of the PowerSwitch LT, and an analysis of why SyQuest drives may suffer head crashes. Adam and Bill announce their Internet Explorer Kit - a non- technical book that shows what life is like on the Internet, and we conclude with Nick Arnett's thoughtful comparison of the 15th century printing revolution in Europe and the Internet of today.
This issue of TidBITS sponsored in part by:
Lord Kelvin deserves an apology; the term "degrees," we're told by numerous alert readers, is not used along with his name in describing the temperature of an object. [MHA]
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by Mark H. Anbinder, News Editor <email@example.com>
Director of Technical Services, Baka Industries Inc.
Power Macs beat Pentium PCs, according to a study conducted by Ingram Laboratories in April. The results of the independent testing are, naturally, being trumpeted by Apple. Ingram, whose unbiased tests are well-respected in the industry, pitted Power Macintosh 6100/60, 7100/66, and 8100/80 computers against comparably equipped Compaq Deskpro Pentium/60 and Pentium/66 units, and a Compaq Presario 486SX/25 (for kicks, we assume).
Using a series of 25 tests incorporating four applications (Adobe Photoshop, Aldus Freehand, Frame Technology's FrameMaker, and Fractal Design Painter) available on both platforms, Ingram found that the Power Macs outperformed the corresponding Pentium systems by average amounts ranging from 24 percent (for the Power Mac 6100/60 over a 60 MHz Pentium system) to 54 percent (for the 8100/80 over the 66 MHz Pentium system). The Power Mac 6100/60 even beat the 66 MHz Pentium system by an average of 5 percent. The 25 tests included such every-day tasks as opening files, scrolling, and spell checking.
Ingram attempted to ensure that both Macintosh and Windows machines were comparably configured, since configuration can affect performance.
Apple points to these test results, and pricing research done by International Data Corp., to illustrate that Power Macs offer significant price and performance advantages over Pentium-based and other mainstream personal computers. Features such as SCSI, networking hardware and software, and 16-bit audio, which are included on the Power Macintoshes and typically add hundreds of dollars to the cost of Intel-based computers, were not considered as factors. Had they been, the price/performance ratios would have leaned towards Macintosh even more.
Ingram noted that computers based on Pentium processors faster than 66 MHz, and PowerPC processors faster than 80 MHz, were not available at the time of testing. The company plans to test faster systems as they become available. They also noted that extremely limited availability of 66 MHz Pentium systems meant they could not obtain pricing from vendors other than Compaq.
Apple's Ian Diery, executive vice president and general manager of Apple's Personal Computer Division, says that "these results give DOS and Windows users even more reason to consider switching to Macintosh." Although performance of DOS and Windows applications running in emulation under SoftWindows on a Power Mac will not approach the levels that would be seen on Pentium boxes (or even fast 486 machines), we agree that, when using comparable productivity applications on one platform or the other, Power Macs win hands down.
Adam: You know, Bill, we should mention that Internet Explorer Kit for Macintosh (Hayden Books, ISBN# 1-56830-089-1) is now out and probably even in bookstores.
Bill: That was less than subtle, Adam. I think TidBITS readers are too clever for that. They'll realize just what we're doing.
Adam: Sigh, I think we used to be better at disguising the blatant plug.
Bill: Such is life. Why don't you tell the nice readers what the book is about, then?
Adam: OK. When Bill and I thought about writing a book, we realized that what the world needs (and what we wanted to write) was a book that answered the burning question, "So what do you do on the Internet, anyway?"
Bill: And we wanted pretty much everybody to be able to understand the answer. I've always had trouble explaining it to people like my grandparents, for instance, so we had them in mind while writing it. This is not a technical book - it's a book for people who are interested in the Internet.
Adam: Needless to say, we both spend a lot of time on the nets, but we don't think about it - the Internet is just a different environment to us, much like your house and office are different environments. You do different things in each, and you probably even act differently.
Bill: You'd never see me throttling myself with a tie at home, for instance.
Adam: Especially with that nasty Jurassic Park tie.
Bill: I happen to like that tie. As ties go.
Adam: I'm sure you do.
Bill: Anyway, the big problem with telling people what you can do on the Internet is that it's impossible to guess what they might want to do.
Adam: So we decided to concentrate on what we do, but rather than just tell you about it in the book, we actually did much of it and showed you what was happening. Before we wrote about Internet Relay Chat and MUDs, we logged on and talked to people in some different IRC channels and on FurryMUCK, a popular social MUD. And then, rather than write about what we did there, we heavily edited the logs of our sessions and included them so you can really see what went on. We even interviewed a number of Internet celebrities, ranging from Adam Curry of MTV and John Norstad of Disinfectant and NewsWatcher fame to the inimitable Emily Postnews and the White House (through their autoResponder).
Bill: Unfortunately, Hayden wouldn't let us call it "Bill and Adam Do the Internet." But they did let us write it entirely in dialog, just like this.
Adam: And they let us include Slugs!, a cartoon drawn by our friend Dominic White <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Dominic put one cartoon up on a local Gopher server - more should follow in future weeks.
Bill: Just so we're up front about this - Internet Explorer Kit is not a technical book.
Adam: Bill, you said that already. They can read.
Bill: Sorry - I just wanted to emphasize it. We don't tell you how to do much of anything in Internet Explorer Kit - that's not the point of this book. The point is to sit down in a comfortable chair and enjoy the book while getting a feel for what life is like on the Internet.
Adam: But for those of you who do like the gritty details, look at the screenshots and you'll find a remarkable number of pointers to interesting FTP sites, Gopher servers, and Web sites. We also included a disk (hermetically affixed to the back cover with a child-resistant seal - I used a large knife on my copy) with some of our favorite MacTCP-based Internet tools, Anarchie, Finger, TurboGopher, MacWAIS, and the clever MacWeather.
Bill: I should also mention the folder labeled "Don't Read These Files! ;-)"
Adam: Why? They're not supposed to read the files in there, no matter how funny they may be.
Bill. Oh, that's true. Forget I mentioned it, people.
Adam: Enough of this - I think they get the idea. If you'd like order a copy of Internet Explorer Kit via email or phone with a 20 percent discount off the $29.95 list price (magic code: IEK), send email to <email@example.com> for ordering instructions. If you think we're raving lunatics and want nothing to do with us, that's fine too, we won't waste any more of your time.
Bill: Oh, and shouldn't you tell them your little secret?
Adam: Do I have to?
Adam: OK, also out is Internet Starter Kit for Windows (Hayden Books, ISBN# 1-56830-094-8), which is very similar to my Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh, except that some friends of mine translated it for Windows. So if you're non-denominational in your Internet access habits, I hope you'll find the book helpful. It comes with software too, a fully-functional but stripped-down version of the $400 Chameleon, Eudora 1.4, WinVN, and WinSock Gopher. You can also get 20 percent off the $29.95 price of this book by ordering directly (magic code ISKW) - send email to <firstname.lastname@example.org> for information.
Hayden Books -- 800/428-5331 -- 317/581-3535
by Chriss G. Koch <email@example.com>
I've had reliability problems with 88 MB SyQuest drives recently and it seems that SyQuest is having a hard time deciding to publicize this valuable information. I believe this information is important enough to spread the word, though I have nothing against SyQuest and plan to continue to use and recommend their products.
I'd like to give you a little background information so that you know where I come from. I provide technical support and network management for an office of about 150 Macintoshes. Between two companies, I've done this for about six years. I have a degree in electronics engineering, and spent over five years working in a high-tech electronics manufacturing environment. In addition, I'm Apple-certified in the service and repair of Apple products. Now my story.
A little over two years ago (and within about a six month time frame) we bought 36 SyQuest 88 MB external removable drives for use with some of our Macintoshes. I won't mention the vendor because the problems we experienced had nothing to do with anything they had control over (enclosure, power supply, cabling, software, and so on). The drives were intended to be used for specific tasks that required large capacity, high performance, and removal of the storage medium. I chose SyQuest because I'd had good experience with their 44 MB removable drives for similar needs during the three previous years. The 88 MB drives served us well - until last September. In the last six months, twelve out of the thirty-six drives suffered a head crash.
I was astounded and began searching for the cause. At first I suspected misuse, but after speaking with the users, I felt certain that they were familiar with, and had been practicing, proper usage. I ruled out inappropriate cartridges - we'd always used the SyQuest brand. Next I examined the environment. All the drives were used in the same building - a typical office environment, free from poor environmental factors such as variable temperatures, humidity, dust, and smoke. I contacted the vendor and they agreed that the rate of failure was excessive but could see no cause. None of their other customers had reported similar problems.
Then I called SyQuest to seek their opinion and advice. They asked me to send several of the failed drive mechanisms and cartridges to them for analysis. I had visually inspected each of the failed cartridges myself, and found it interesting that the marks on the platter indicating the head crash area were on the same side and in the same location on every disk. A few weeks later, I received replacements from SyQuest for the drives and cartridges I had sent them, but no explanation as to the cause. I called and talked to the engineer who had inspected my drives. I told him that I appreciated the replacements, but I needed to know the cause so that I could prevent future crashes. He asked me how the drives were used. Specifically, he wondered if we left cartridges in the drives (and running or "spun up") all day, or overnight (and weekends) with long periods when the disk potentially wasn't accessed. Guess what - not much more than six months ago quite a number of my users began doing this. The SyQuest engineer said that "this might not be a good idea," though there has never been any prior warning.
He explained that while the drive is idle, the heads fly a few millionths of an inch away from the disk in a nominal position to provide quick performance. The heads sort of float on a cushion of air between them and the disk. Friction in the air cushion causes heat build-up, and while the heads are not moving (accessing the disk) the heat does not dissipate. Any airborne debris tends to gather on the disk in this area and after enough of it collects the head collides with it and bounces into the disk. SyQuest's answer to this problem is the dust guard bezel you may have already heard about. The SyQuest engineer told me that the plastic bezels reduce air flow into the drive by 90 percent and should be used on all 44 MB and 88 MB drives. SyQuest has corrected the problem by changing the design of their 3.5-inch drives and the new 200 MB 5.25-inch drive to reduce air flow into the drive. The SyQuest engineer seemed worried enough about my satisfaction that he offered to send me (free) enough of the bezels to cover all of my drives.
In conclusion, if you have a 44 or 88 MB SyQuest drive, be careful not to leave a cartridge in the drive during long periods of inactivity. I also recommend that you use one of the plastic bezels. APS Technologies (I'm not affiliated - other vendors may sell them too) currently offers the bezels for $8.99 each, though I think SyQuest should give the bezels away to anyone who owns a 44 or 88 MB drive.
SyQuest Technology -- 800/245-2278
APS Technologies -- 800/443-4199
by Kee Nethery <firstname.lastname@example.org>
My home LaserWriter is tucked away in a closet corner where it's difficult to turn on and off, especially when I'm on a different floor. I don't like leaving it on for long periods of time because the lights dim when it power cycles (it's a power hog) and I've seen the repair bills for office LaserWriters left on year round. My solution is the PowerSwitch LT from Radiant Enterprises.
The PowerSwitch LT is an intelligent power outlet with an ADB port for controlling a Mac directly and a LocalTalk port for attaching to a LocalTalk network. If you want to control a device remotely, the PowerSwitch LT can probably handle it. It can power up your office Macintosh when you dial in through an Apple Remote Access server, automatically reboot LocalTalk routers when they freeze, control power to appliances, and - my favorite - power on a LaserWriter (or any LocalTalk-based laser printer) when I print and then turn it off after a period of inactivity. If half of the Apple LaserWriters ever sold are currently kept on round the clock, and if each had a PowerSwitch LT, the energy saved could power all the homes in Rochester, New York or St. Petersburg, Florida.
Before the PowerSwitch existed, if you wanted to access your computer remotely through an Apple Remote Access server (Cayman, Shiva, and so on), you had to leave your Mac running constantly. By attaching a PowerSwitch, you can turn the Macintosh off when you leave the office and on those occasions when you need access to it via ARA, communicate with the PowerSwitch, enter your password, power on the peripherals, wait a couple of seconds, then power on your Macintosh with an ADB command. The PowerSwitch comes with software that enables you to issue a Shut Down command to reverse the process.
When networking hardware devices (routers, modems, etc.) must be rebooted, they are always physically far away and everyone at the remote site has gone home (it's just one of those rules). The PowerSwitch can be paired with a remote device such as a router, server, or ARA server so that it watches for packets coming from that device. If the device stops sending packets on the network for a configured amount of time, the PowerSwitch automatically powers it off, waits a number of seconds, then powers it back on. This is extremely useful if you manage devices in far away locations.
As I said, my favorite is power control of a LaserWriter. When the LaserWriter is off, the PowerSwitch pretends to be the LaserWriter. Pull down the Chooser and you see all the LaserWriters, even if they all are powered off. When you print, the PowerSwitch powers on the LaserWriter, PrintMonitor tells you there is a problem printing, you tell it that you would like to try printing again, and it prints on that second try. My LaserWriter is set to power off if I don't use it again within thirty minutes. For offices, an extension on the receptionist's Macintosh can keep the LaserWriters on while that Macintosh is on, thereby skipping the PrintMonitor message and still powering it off at night. [The PrintMonitor complaint that it can't find the printer is the most irritating part of using the PowerSwitch. I'd like to see Radiant fool Print Monitor into not complaining, or at least provide an FKEY to turn it on beforehand. -Tonya]
A flashing push button on the PowerSwitch indicates that it is functioning and enables you to physically switch power on or off without using software. The button sticks up, so I put my PowerSwitch on the floor - when I step on it, my LaserWriter powers on.
Installation is relatively simple, just plug the device you are controlling into the PowerSwitch 15 amp power outlet, plug the PowerSwitch into a power outlet and attach a network connector. If you use the PowerSwitch to control a Macintosh, connect the PowerSwitch to the Macintosh with an ADB extension cable. Radiant makes an ADB Y-splitter cable for Macs with only one ADB port.
You configure the PowerSwitch through a rather clumsy HyperCard stack that is explained by a mediocre and confusing manual. The PowerSwitch can be manually controlled from the Chooser and can pretend to be any Choose-type device, such as a LaserWriter, NetModem, Coffee Pot, Photocopier, or Macintosh. Any software that can execute HyperCard XCMDs can be used to control a PowerSwitch. Offices that have several LaserWriters can have them all turn on in the morning by using an extension that powers them on when a Mac is on.
The configuration is password-protected and on/off control can also be password-protected. The password uses a random number exchange so that the actual password does not travel across the network. Passwords make controlling routers realistic, since you wouldn't want someone to accidentally or maliciously power off your routers. To make passwords easier to manage, PowerSwitch offers a text field where you can leave a note about the location of the password or who has the password. Since the note is in the PowerSwitch, anyone on the network can read it.
All the latest Radiant software (including their Analog/Digital I/O software, and video camera pan & tilt control for QuickTime) is available on America Online in Radiant's area (keyword = radiant).
The PowerSwitch LT is sold directly by Radiant for $199. Last but not least, I used to work at Radiant, and I helped design the PowerSwitch hardware so I am a bit biased. [Which is why we've tested the PowerSwitch for a while, and can vouch for its everyday efficacy. -Tonya]
Radiant Enterprises -- 415/395-9940 -- 415/395-9646 (fax)
by Nick Arnett <email@example.com> Copyright (c) 1994 Nick Arnett, Campbell, Calif., USA
"Convergence," the hot buzzword to describe the crossovers between computing and communications, is not new, even though the technologies are. Today's convergence mirrors the European 15th century intersection of printing and cheap paper. Prior to then, in order to get many points of view of a subject as a scholar, you had to travel from library to library, since the extremely valuable hand-made manuscripts were chained to tables. As you read each manuscript, you had to figure out its organization and structure, a difficult task because each "publisher" tended to have its own methods. Many of the clues that we take for granted, including punctuation (!), weren't invented or weren't standardized. You couldn't take notes, since paper was difficult to come by, so you had to memorize all sorts of obscure information, including idiosyncratic clues to the organization and structure of the manuscripts.
Today, as we work on our modern technological convergence, we have reproduced the confusions and frustrations of the 15th century in cyberspace. We find ourselves wandering (albeit quickly) from Web server to FTP site to WAIS source to newsgroup, hoping to stumble across something interesting, but most of the time we can't quickly figure out how the owners or managers of the information organized their stuff. It often takes time just to determine that the desired piece of information does not in fact exist at the given site.
We memorize strange access codes, path names, Uniform Resource Locators, and other idiosyncrasies of the online sources. There are no standard title pages, tables of contents, indexes, or punctuation, and there are few (if any, depending on your range) navigational tools that span the various islands of information. We've even created new punctuation - "emoticons" that help avoid misunderstood humor, for example.
Current events mirror the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe. A professor puts some papers on the Internet to share with his peers and finds that to his surprise and dismay, people all over the world read and interpret them in ways unintended. This echoes a recorded conversation between Martin Luther and Pope Leo X, in which Luther said, "It is a mystery to me how my theses, more so than my other writings, indeed, those of other professors, were spread to so many places. They were meant exclusively for our academic circle here... They were written in such a language that the common people could hardly understand them."
The Wittenberg church door was Usenet for Luther's community. The printing press, like today's Internet connections, made it cheap and easy for many new people to get copies, including some who, scandalously, wished to make money by printing them - the "Wired" magazines of the mid-Renaissance.
The dissemination of Luther's theses was the pope's own fault, depending on your view of ultimate responsibility. Leo X had proclaimed that souls in purgatory could have their sins paid via indulgences - printed papers, often bearing religious images. The pope's decision allowed the bishop of Mainz, Germany, to raise money for a building project by having a local fellow, named Gutenberg, and others print lots of indulgences. The printers, hungry for more work, started scouting around for sensational stuff that would sell well among the common folk. Apparently, the ancestors of "Hard Copy" came across Luther's theses nailed to the church door and said to themselves, "Hey, copyright law won't be invented for centuries, so we can make a fortune selling this stuff. It's heresy, and we all know how heresy sells!"
Our information navigation problems are being solved by means quite similar to those of the 15th century. Just as the mendicant scholars of those days helped interpret, organize, and disseminate information in exchange for free room and board, today's "mendicant sysops" often trade free access to commercial online services in exchange for doing the grunt work of organizing, maintaining, and interpreting today's navigational nightmares. Like the educators, church, and businesses who supported mendicant scholars in the 15th century, universities and businesses provide "free" access to many of the volunteers who do this work on the Internet.
These are the people inventing the punctuation of the global digital network, title pages, indexes, and catalogs. In doing so, they're forming new collaborations among education, science, business, the humanities, the arts, and all of the other human pursuits present on the net. And just as those collaborations produced some of the greatest fruit of the Renaissance after Gutenberg, by letting people see the world through new eyes, the net's great promise is to balance today's homogenized, mass-media information overload with easy access to many points of view.
Who will choose the new punctuation, the new layouts, the new indexing schemes? For good or ill, it will probably be the same kind of people who chose them after the time of Gutenberg - publishers, eager to sell. Most publishers have seen digital networks primarily as an inexpensive distribution medium. We imagine that we can reap huge profits by saving the costs of printing, paper, and postage. On reflection, those seem not to be costs but falling barriers to entry. Publishers shouldn't expect profits to rise; they should expect competition to heat up. It's cheap - $2,500 plus $50 a month - to put a server on the Internet. The standard-setters won't necessarily be those with the deepest pockets. They'll be the people who figure out how to organize, punctuate, and navigate the terabytes of information that are only milliseconds away.
Meanwhile, be careful what you nail to the digital church door.
Nick Arnett is president of Multimedia Computing Corp. While starting a new venture in information navigation, Arnett is also working on a project to begin rebuilding the Sarajevo library via the Internet (see the World-Wide Web server below for more information).
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.