Videocams and a Newton
Don Modesto is a Mac user anticipating a time when platforms don't mean that much. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Desktop video has progressed from exotic-if flaky, shaky, and costly-third-party add-on boards to a standard feature on some Mac models. This means the marriage of digital and video formats (if not yet the honeymoon as we still seem to be dragging around a bunch of shoes and cans behind us-can you say "frame rate?" Can you say "high speed disk array?") We can plug our Sony into the Mac's S-video-in socket and bring stills and motion onto the screen and into QuickTime movies.
Below I look at two movie cameras. Neither has memory so they both are tied to your desktop. One is a surveillance camera and the other seems to be a surveillance camera adapted to the needs of computer imaging. Both are one-third inch CCD cameras.
Oxo Home TV Camera Eye or Gazing out of the Fishbowl
Pros: Compact, clear images, useful mounting brackets.
Cons: Wide angle lens produces fish-eye pics; black and white, no sound.
Ideal Application: Surveillance
Price: ¥49,800 yen at Tokyu Hands. Contact: 0265-43-2691 (Japanese only)
Unless you want a window on your Mac offering you a very wide view of your surroundings, this is probably not a camera for your needs. First, it is a black and white, no sound, no-frills affair. But more tellingly, the wide-angle lens which makes the Oxo ideal for showing who lurks outside your front door also shows everything from a fish-eye view.
I clipped a two page ad from a Mac rag onto a binder and held it up about a foot from the camera. The Oxo reversed the slightly concave bow of the surface into a strongly convex arch.
A moderately longer lens would get rid of the distortion. Unfortunately, the compact design of the unit is such as to inhibit the addition of lenses. This is unfortunate because the Oxo does have some nice features. Pictures the one-third inch CCD took (using the video utility Apple bundles with its AV machines) were very handsome gray-scale images. The resolution is 250,000 pixels.
The Oxo comes with three brackets. The camera is screwed onto the first which allows for a horizontal pan of 45°. The second bracket allows the unit to move up and down about 20°. The third bracket is for mounting on the wall.
As befits a security camera, the cables are generous. You get 240 cm from the camera to the S-video socket on the interface and another 136 cm from the interface to the monitor. The interface itself is slightly bigger and lighter than a pack of cigarettes. It has outlets for TV and video, an on/off switch, and, of course, the AC cord.
A handsome, if innocuous camera, the Oxo would only take a small bit of adaptation to make it useful to the computer user, namely color capability and a threaded ring for changing the lens from the fish-eye you get at present to a device capable of delivering undistorted images to your screen. The price is more than twice that of the Connectix QuickCam which also does audio recording, but the QuickCam's motion video is choppy and Connectix itself advises against using the QuickCam's sound capabilities.
Nippon Control TeleCam
Pros: Clear images, flexible video input, sound.
Cons: Expensive, needs AV machine.
Ideal Application: In-house video-conferencing
Price: Lists at ¥66,000 (or ¥71,000 for unit with Tamron zoom lens), ¥9,000 for support arm; available only at T-Zone. Contact 0492-83-7111
Nippon Control's Telecam delivers clean color images to the desktop. Like the Oxo, it has no independent means of storage and must be connected to the AV port of your Mac. Unlike the Oxo, it has no separate interface box, no mounting brackets (it has a place to screw in a tripod), it offers sound, and the resolution is 410,000 pixels. The Telecam unit itself accepts input from S-video or RCA jacks.
Unlike the choppy movies you get from a Connectix' QuickCam, the Telecam's motion is smooth and seamless. None of the pictures I brought into my Mac suffered those stray artifacts you sometimes find with digitized pics. Such odd pixels are probably due more to the compression schemes of the software rather than cameras themselves, though. As the Telecam does no compression-indeed, comes with no software-it is not an issue.
There is an iris mechanism for adjusting brightness as well as external color controls. A small stand is included with the camera. It screws into the tripod mount and comes with velcro strips for securing the unit in place. The more expensive unit has a Tamron lens included with the Telecam. It features a brightness control and a 2.286X manual zoom. There is also an optional tubular 'L' mount which allows you to move the camera forward and back, up and down, and at angles. The mount affixes to a flat surface with double-sided tape. I worried at first that it wouldn't be strong enough to hold the weight of the camera out on the arm, but there was not even a hint of slippage. (It wouldn't be advisable to mount the tape horizontally on a vertical surface, though, as this would lessen the effective support from 25 cm of bond to two.)
For digitizing images, the Telecam is a handsome unit, if a little expensive. It does suffer the drawback of being tied to your Mac by a video cable. It is designed for tele-conferencing and as wide-band networks increase, Nippon Control expects Telecam sales to increase right along with them. If you need high quality images across Ethernet, the Telecam is a good choice. Right now the only place to see it is at T-Zone in Akihabara. If you have questions, call Mr. Nakamura in Japanese or English.
Slouching Toward Newton
The Newton was in its fourth generation before I got interested. Before that I avoided it as an expensive gadget not even caring if the handwriting recognition did work.
But I came around for four reasons. One was the unwieldy heft of my PowerBook. I don't mind its heft so much, but I do worry that it will slip my grip and end up Apple-logoed splinters.
The Newt also seemed a more sensible way to handle my address book than printing my FileMaker database, punching holes in it and putting it into my looseleaf file, adding new numbers to the paper version, transfering them to the electronic doc and, starting all over again. An electronic version would be up to date, always.
I also wanted downloaded electronic docs available to read on my daily commutes without having to print them.
And, far from least, the value of the Newt increased for me when Appple released a keyboard for it. Except for the briefest of notes and rough drafts, I avoid writing. If there's a keyboard nearby, I'll choose it over a pen. (To my surprise, though, I generally don't mind the handwriting input on the Newton. If I'm careful it gets most of what I write.)
Newlogizing the PDA
While the Newt has yet to gain widespread consumer acceptance, it has a strong following in the medical community where it is used for quick online reference and patient tracking. The list features of the Newt make it ideal for rapid entry of repetitive items such as medications, symptons, order numbers, quantities, and prices. Available Newt software covers more ground than you would imagine. Bar-coding is a big-hitter and order processing and student observation also weigh in with Newt appeal. Mainstream applications are prevalent. There are Newt databases, contact managers, spreadsheets, mailers, draw and paint programs, and games.
I've been using the Newt daily for several months. For addresses, telecomm, and electronic books, it's a delight. I write, 'Call Tim,' select it, and tap the assist button. The Newt looks up the name for me and a moment later I'm offered a dialing slip entitled with Tim's phone number on it. I hold up the bottom of the Newt to the mouthpiece and the speaker dials for me.
Software is available for access to First Class BBSes, the Web, Usenet groups, and email. First Class Retriever+ is a truly nifty program that outdoes its Mac counterpart in some ways. NetHopper does a competent, if lackluster job of web browsing. Usenet reports of GoFetch for email have been positive. I have neither tried nor read reports of NewtsPaper for newsgroups but it's available.
I take a lot of the material I download from the Web on my laptop-product info, articles from Atlantic Monthly, mailing list items-and turn it into Newton books with a freeware program called PaperBack. Simplicity itself, you drag the text file onto PaperBack's icon and a modal dialog pops up giving you options for formating and titling. You can even create tables of contents. Click ok and you have a package ready for installing in the Newt via Apple's Newton Backup Utilities or Landware's Xport. Read only documents, text from these Newt books can be copied but not edited or bookmarked. Nifty-intuitive and blazingly fast.
Now that I'm getting on the Web with the Newt directly, I shouldn't have to worry too much about transfering text back and forth. NetHopper keeps downloaded pages in a cache for later reference. Another Web browser called Newtscape-gotta love that name-will actually take downloaded pages and turn them into live URL Newt books without the intervention of the desktop. (Unfortunately, while Newtscape seems to have the edge in functionality, it is not intuitive and the documentation is impenetrable, written by a hacker for other hackers.)
No AppleCare for Japan bought Newts is the word from Apple. . If you have AppleCare from the States, they will honor it but they will not sell it to you.
The Newt has little internal memory. Buying a Newt, you ought to get at least a 4MB PC card-my 8MB card is filling up fast-and set files to be saved there by default. You will be able to use your telecomm apps with no problem if you are using an external modem (my TelePort Platinum works fine; the GV PC card modem doesn't). On the other hand, if you will be depending on a PC card modem-my TDK DF2814 has proven faultless-you will have to eject the memory card and depend solely on internal memory which may leave you swapping applications: internal memory for card and card for modem.
For text, the Newt is a dog. Handwriting recognition is much better than before, but some situations--the slips that pop up when tapping on typical Newt cells come to mind--bring on claustrophobia. If you start the down stroke above the invisible field, it doesn't register. Write big and you run out of space and have to wait for recognition to enter more; write small and accuracy goes down. Make a mistake and you might as well start over because editing is torment. Reflex, a lifesaver reviewed below, solves this problem with a keyboard accessible anywhere in the system.
Scrolling and navigation are issues, too. There is no built in scroll by line option. In the Extras drawer this means you cannot arrange icons as you wish. In Notes it means going back and forth to check the lines immediately above. You can't always navigate with the virtual keyboard's cursor keys (they only go left and right.) I have lost two separate selections of text-at one go-by dropping one on the other using the Newt's own spastic copy/paste system. Again, solutions exist, but why does Apple need third parties to do it right?
To copy something, you select, double-tap, and drag it to the top of the screen where the first letters remain visible. There is one clipboard. To paste, drag down to the input line. Don't copy long text for input into the Names app, though. It gets lost behind ellipses and you may as well give it up for gone. This means that if you want to create a new contact from Note text, perhaps something you imported from a BBS, you have to make numerous short trips from text to top of screen, from Notes to Names and back again. This is about as graceful as a dropsical three legged Yak on roller skates. Again, a third party utility, KwikMenu, comes to the rescue with an intelligent implementation of copy/paste with three clipboards.
Transfering docs between Newt and desktop is another headache. The Newton Backup Utility only does backup/restore and installing. Basic text need not apply. Users have been screaming for months because Apple has failed to release its long promised Newton Connection Kit. In its stead one can turn to the commercial product, Xport which is an uneven performer at best but about the best thing going. Some apps provide their own transfer utility-and several that I've tried crash at every turn.
With Apple's Newton keyboard (perennially out of stock) input is sluggish. You wait for the text to appear after typing, sometimes several seconds. Function keys don't do anything, no cmd-Q, for example, no enhanced navigation through notes. Nada.
As whiz-bang a toy as it is, the Newt still feels like Version 1. Apple's own software is lacking and some vendors release slow, buggy, unstable hacks that sometimes are the best thing going. Many 'companies' producing for the Newt are probably, truth be told, individuals mainlining caffeine after work, unable to quit their day jobs. The Newt market has attracted no Adobe's. Casady and Green (Reflex) is the only name I recognize in the roster of Newt publishers and smaller companies natually lack the resources for extensive beta-testing and bug squashing (unlike, say, Microsoft and their exquisite Word 6 ;-) Most mainstream Newt applications, on the other hand, only cost around $50, a remarkable price given the Newt's economy of scale. Programmers suffer low return for effort. Users will suffer ineptitude for a few years. This is the bleeding edge.
The first Newt provided great fodder for jokes, Doonesbury, et al. But, my own bitching aside, what guts it took to produce something like this and then continue with it after its initial reception! People complain that the Newt is unwieldy and want a smaller one. Sharp's sweet little Pilot made people doubly envious since it drops into a shirt-pocket and syncs with the desktop in one motion. Pilot does not expand, though, nor telecommunicate.
A Mac-biased programmer I talked with made the opposite criticism. He pointed out that the Newt's biggest constituency was medical personnel. Had the Newt a tablet option, it would have been a runaway success, he
maintains. Latest rumors--Mac the Knife, Don Crabb--indicate the next Newt will be a tablet run on the Strong ARM chip (the current chip is a plain old ARM chip) with much faster responsiveness, real time handwriting recognition and even voice recognition. Imagine that: Someone in a crowded restaurant calls to his friend Scotty and half a dozen Newtons respond,'Aye, Captain.'
The Newton Source in San Francisco mail-ordered me my Newt. I bought from them because of Usenet testimonials and would add mine to those of others. Ask for Blake Watson who is very knowledgeable and frank (not everyone in the store is.) 210 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94108 Tel:(415) 986-6689 Fax:(415) 986-6904
Ike Shop's Newton specialty store has a good selection of Newton software at good prices. Ms. Katsuyama speaks English and is knowledgeable about the Newt. She's off on Sundays and the store is closed on Wednesdays. Open 10:30-9:30; P) 3251-7555
The Newton Store, programmer Richard Northcott's venture into storefront, recently opened across the street from the Kabuki-za in Ginza.
AMUG has an extensive selection of Newt shareware at their Web site: http://amug.org/amug_newton.html but first check out Ringo's online CD ROMs (we get them from AMUG.)
Pen Computing has the most extensive coverage of Newt stuff on paper. Getinfo at http://pencomputing.com/
NewtNews is a free weekly labor of love from Steve Holden. Get subscription info at http://www.ridgecrest.ca.us/NewtNews/NN_top.html.
The Newton Reference is worth a visit: http://www.panix.com/~clay/newton/
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