Apple cart; the II can see and speak. John J. Anderson; Owen W. Linzmayer.
This month young Mr. Linzmayer and I will divide the honors of hosting the Apple Cart. I will bring you up to date on some Macintosh news, and then Owen will look at an exciting number of new products for the II+ and IIe.
While I have long used an Apple II+ as a word processor and to run graphics and game programs, I have never been an "Apple to the core" person. Rather I have remained an objective admirer. The last time I wrote an Apple Cart (July 1983), I reported on Apple's User Group Conference for IAC brass, where the IIE was introduced. I was impressed. I called the conference "a gracious and thoughtful christening for the new machine." But I saw the IIe as II with lower case, an improved keyboard, and a really low chip count. It was no Apple IV.
What really impressed me at the time was the Lisa. It had some incredible capabilities, though it took about $10,000 to make them your own. I wondered if that technology would or could ever appear in a relatively inexpensive machine. Mac: I'm A Believer
Well it took another year, but finally the Macintosh appeared. And I was swiftly convereted from an ardent admirer to a true believer. In the time since my review of the Macintosh computer (July 1984), I have grown to know and love the machine. Sure, I'm still waiting for a writer's word processor, with virtual memory storage and things like word counts and print spoolers, but quality Mac software has begun to appear, along with peripheral upgrades that give it formidable powers. Second Microfloppy Drive
The Mac is ahead of the schedule I had set for it in my review. Second drives, for example, have now begun shippin in quantity. I walked into my local computer store a few weeks ago and simply walked out with on (I had to pay for it, of course). What a difference it has made in file handling!
Now data files can reside on one disk, while allprogram and utility files reside on a system master. Tiresome disk swaps are eliminated completely, and psychologically there is a lot more space to stretch out in. Though $495 seems a little steep for a unit that OEMs for so much less, it is well worth it in time saved and annoyance avoided. Tecmar Mac Drive
Of course there is another peripheral that can even beat out a second floppy drive for convenience--a hard disk. I have had a Tecmar Mac Drive hooked up for the last few days, and it proves that a hard disk drive is a natural for the Macintosh. With a 5 meg cartridge online, there is more than enough breathing room. And working with the hard disk is just like working with any other disk--it appears as a Mac Drive icon on your desktop.
For my purposes, I would have been happier with the 10 meg fixed disk model, but that is a matter of taste. A removable cartridge increases convenience, security, and versatility. On the other hand, the user is "constrained" to 5 meg hard disk access. I would much rather trade disk space for cartridge portability.
Not everything about the Tecmar Drive is ideal, but very few of the disadvantages are the fault of Tecmar. Rather, it is the Macintosh itself and protected software that make the Mac Drive less terrific than it could be.
Because of the internal architecture of the Mac, you can't boot directly from hard disk. That means that you must always begin with a system floppy in the Mac's internal drive. Once the custom System Folder is installed, you can remove the system floppy and insert a data disk. But every session must begin with a boot from the internal drive.
Then there is the question of protected software--a question that has haunted hard disk owners since well before the Macintosh came on the scene. If a piece of software is protected, it cannot be transferred to hard disk, so it must be run from a floppy drive. In many if not most cases, the program floppy must remain in the drive during use as well.
The result of this is that many important applications, including database and spreadsheet programs, are not compatible with a hard disk drive. Oh woe. If only those applications were copyable.
When the Mac first appeared, word had it that most applications, like MacPaint and MacWrite, would be unprotected. Consumers rejoiced. How considerate, enlightened, and generous of Macintosh programmers, to realize the need to copy programs for personal use. All your heavy duty applications would be able to reside entirely on hard disk. You wouldn't need an entire library of applications disks at hand at all times.
Then the debugged version of Multiplan showed up, and it was protected. Don't waste time trying to copy it to hard disk. You'll get the icon to transfer, all right. But you'll be asked to insert the system master disk upon execution of the icon. Soon other packages started to come in, each and every one protected against copying.
As it turns out, MacPaint and MacWrite are about the only two Macintosh packages that aren't protected. What about all those promises, folks?
Well, despite the drawbacks, a hard disk still has a place alongside the Mac. I tried hard to get things to screw up, but couldn't manage to do any real damage. It was fun trying to get the Mac to try to eject the hard disk -- but it never caused any harm. Guess the people at Tecmar thought of that. Answer the MacPhone
Another neat object that recently appeared at the lab is the MacPhone, a hardware/software system that combines a telephone with Macintosh software that will autodial, keep a personal "phone book," monitor charges, log all calls, even keep an updated calendar. You can type and print messages, print out phone book logs, and use the Mac's internal sound system to dial numbers right out of your directory.
The MacPhone bills itself as "a unique concept in telecommunications," a statement that sent me excitedly looking through the box for a modem cable. Such is not the case. If your definition of telecommunications is talking on the phone, you will have greater enthusiasm for the MacPhone than I did. If, in fact, the product did come with a built-in modem and telecommunications software, it would be a sure winner--combining voice and telecommunications into one integral system. Perhaps this is on the way from maker Intermatrix. Mac on MAUG
While we're on the topic of telecommunications, I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Dennis Brothers of MAUG (PCS-51), the Apple user's group on Compu-serve on behalf of Macintosh owners everywhere. Dennis offered the first full-featured tele-communications program for the Mac, written in Microsoft Basic. It has gome through many revisions and in recent incarnations allows not only text uploads and downloads, but automatic formatting of text into Mac Write format and transmission as well as decoding of binary MacPaint files.
Dennis did something so "unusual" with his terminal program that even Time magazine took notice. He posted it in a MAUG database on CompuServe so that anybody could download it. Sure, the connect time will cost you, but that's it. He didn't even invite "donations."
Thanks, Dennis, for a wonderful program, and an exemplary attitude. You helped get Creative Computing's Macintosh online and communicating with its own special interest group (PCS-22). And thanks for fielding all my dumb questions along the way.
Well I could go on and on, but Owen wants to look at some hardware and software for the Apple II series, so I'd better wrap up. Take it away. Owen! ComputerEyes
You can often evaluate a new product simply by noting the decline in general productivity of our editorial staff. When we get something really exciting for review, a crowd usually gathers to see what's up. The longer a new product can hold the attention of the onlookers, the higher the marks the product gets on our preliminary rating scale.
It did not take long for a group to gather 'round the old II+ this morning after I set up the Digital Vision ComputerEyes video acquisition system. With ComputerEyes installed, the Apple can read any standard video signal, as from a video tape recorder, and convert the picture to a black and white digitized computer display.
ComputerEyes is a small (4" x 4" x 1.75") black box that connects to the Apple 16-pin game I/O socket. The RCA phone jack on the back of the box is where the standard video signals enter the ComputerEyes system.
Any video device that outputs NTSC video or standard non-interlaced industrial video may be used with ComputerEyes. This includes video tape recorders (Beta and VHS), disc players, and those nifty portable cameras. For our review, we used an Olympus VHS tape deck with accompanying hand-held camera.
Supplied with the ComputerEyes hardware is a single disk which contains the acquisition program, Executive. This software allows you to adjust the sync of the video source and computer, capture normal and gray-scale images, and save/load these images to/from disk. Operation of ComputerEyes is as simple as point and shoot. Once you have the image from the video source that you want to capture, all you do is press the N key to get a normal high-contrast image. If you use the gray-scale option, eight different images are taken and superimposed upon one another.
Without writing your own applications, all you can do with Executive is view the digitized images on the computer screen. Digital Vision President, David Pratt, explains that they "wanted to draw the line between providing the acquisition and the application software" because the possible uses for ComputerEyes are infinite.
"Many applications are obvious. Others are bound to surface, once the product is in the hands of the creative members of the personal computer community" says Mr. Pratt.
ComputerEyes comes with excellent doecumentation. The 27-page instruction manual covers everything from set-up to theory of operation. ComputerEyes sells for $350 with a black and white video camera, or $130 sans the camera. Time-Trax
Is your desk culttered with scraps of paper with important appointments and dates frantically scrawled on them? If so, Time-Trax may be for you. Manufactured by Creative Peripherals Unlimited (CPU), the $99.95 Time-Trax package consists of a time and date oriented calendar program and a clock module that plugs into the Apple internal 16-pin game I/O socket.
Installation of the Time-Trax clock module, a small 1" x 2" circuit board, is simple. The module is transparent to software that reads the joystick and paddle positions, but can be read by your own Basic and machine language programs. Complete directions for incorporating the clock functions into your code are given in the documentation.
Time-Trax is a menu-driven time management system. The software supplied can monitor several people's appointments, errands, holidays, tasks, etc. As the primary user, you can add/review entries, search for entries using a target word, and examine the calendar. The obvious question arises, "can I justify $100 for a computerized appointment book?" That depends.
Time-Trax offers several features no conventional appointment book can match. Using a printer, it can provide you with a hard-copy to take with you wherever you go. Time-Trax can also be programmed to give you advance notice of an upcoming event. When you miss an event, Time-Trax brings it to your attention.
The clock module is inserted into the 16-pin game socket found on all 48K Apple II computers except the IIc. To initialize the Time-Trax module, you set the time, date, and year using the book disk. Once set, you can "write-protect" the clock via a switch on the circuit board. The module gets its power from two AA alkaline batteries which mount inside the Apple case. CPU claims that the batteries can provide up to two years of uniterrupted power. Voice Box III
The Voice Box III from the Alien Group of NYC is designed for use with Apple II and IIe computers and come complete with a small controller card, demo disk, external 3.5" speaker, and documentation--all for $130 retail.
Installation of the unit is simple. The Voice Box III controller car slips into expansion slot 3, and the voice output can be routed to the internal Apple speaker, the supplied external speaker, or both. Using the voice driver programs on the demo disk, you can enter regular English text and have the computer speak exactly what is typed. These programs may be easily transferred to another disk for custom use.
Like all voice synthesizers we have tried over the years, the computer voice of the Voice Box III takes some getting used to. The Voice Box III utilizes the new SSI 263 speech chip which generates more natural speech than earlier phoneme synthesizers using the popular SC-01 or TMS 5200 chips. As is typical of most commercial voice synthesizers, some English words must be spelled differently so that the Voice Box III can pronounce them correctly.
The Voice Box III offers several interesting features not found on all voice generators. For instance, you can easily switch between male and female voices. Instant sex change! Also, the computer can be set to automatically add intonation to speech, or you can manually add intonation by inserting numbers into the text to be spoken.
Other options include pauses between words, the speed of voice, and the volume. If it is flexibility that you are looking for, Voice Box III offers it but you must be prepared to spend a lot of time manually fixing the text to get the computer to speak in a perfectly comprehensible voice.