Known Users / Retrospective
Author: Kevin M. Savetz
Date: July, 1993
Keywords: SMUG newsletter
Text: In a recent attempt to avoid doing anything useful, I embarked on a new project -- to learn Hypertalk, the scripting language of Hypercard. I removed the virgin Hypercard disk that came with my Mac, blew the dust off, and began to poke around. To my utter surprise, Hypercard isn't as brain-damaged as I had surmised, and Hypertalk is an amazingly easy language to learn. The end product of my initial effort is the ''Known Users Archive'' stack, which contains information about every major article in the SMUG's newsletters since 1987. For most articles, the stack also contains full article texts -- the rest contain only the headline, author, and date. If you don't have a copy of the stack, you can get one at the next meeting, or from SMUGgler's BBS, or by calling me at 707/826-9270 and asking nicely. Then you can dust off your copy of Hypercard, too... While working on the project, I traveled backwards in time. Sure, my fiancee will tell you I was just sitting by the computer, with an enormous stack of old Known Users' precariously piled on the desk. I managed to read every issue of Known Users since its inception -- and found some interesting things to share. Known Users has been published, more or less consistently, since January, 1985. Actually, the first issue wasn't called Known Users --it was titled ''Field and Screen'' -- I can't say I'm upset that they changed it. Since then, ''the rag'' has gone through half a dozen editors, format changes and content shifts galore. It is obvious that the contents of the newsletter is highly dependent on the people behind it. The earliest ones were rife with hints about the infamous games ''Zork'' and ''Wizardry.'' When HSU journalism professor Howard Seemann edited Known Users, there was a very heavy emphasis on desktop publishing. In the past year, Known Users has had more software reviews than ever before. Once upon a time it was mostly information about the SMUG bureaucracy, or monthly columns.
The Columns: There was Gladys Burritt's profiles of interesting SMUG members, and Mike Furniss' column about Hypercard and Hypertalk. And, of course, there have always been letters from the president. Some were mercifully brief, others used their space for prolonged diatribes -- and others wrote poetry. (Really! O.J. Palmer in May of 1989 penned: Mac, let's become friendly,/So our work can turn out right/Maybe an ''attitude adjustment''/Is what we both need each night./I won't throw your disks around./I'll not bang hard on your keys./I'll even clean up little mouse,/Whenever he starts to sneeze...) The award for cutest column name goes to Judy Bennett for ''Get Info.'' My favorite column was called ''Fred's Follies'' written by HSU physics professor Fred Cranston. You can't help but feel for Fred: every issue he'd write about something that went wrong with his Mac. He would have program conflicts, bugs, viruses, obtuse error messages, beetlebugs crawling out of his CPU -- you name it, and it was Fred's folly. He wrote the column from March of 1986 until February of 1991. I don't know for sure why he doesn't write those columns anymore, but its a wonder he didn't boot his computer out the window. The first mention of computer viruses was in March of 1986 -- actually in a story about a game program that would erase itself if you tried to play a copied version. Talk of viruses has continued, but the one-time hot topic of copy protection has faded.
Blasts from the past: An advertisement in the April 1985 issue reads, ''Capital Business Machines now has a laser printer!'' The rental charge was $25 per hour. Then around 1987, the user group peddled accessories for members to buy. You know, the usual: floppy disks, mousepads, mouse cleaning kits, printer ribbons and teflon mouse feet. Teflon mouse feet?! That's what it says, really. In early 1987, Larry Goldberg wrote, ''I currently operate on a 'Monster Mac' -- 2 MB RAM with a 20 MB hard disk.'' How things change. While I'm picking on my friend Larry, I'll mention this. In November of 1989, he wrote: ''You've probably already heard -- Apple finally has its laptop out...At $5,799 for the base price and $7,844 for a fully loaded version, who needs a Mac laptop? On the other hand, the relatively new Cambridge Z88 is a real bargain at $750 and what a laptop -- less than 2 pounds, no disk drives to worry about and it works on 4 AA batteries! ... Designed by the same man who invented the Sinclair computer in the late '70s, the computer is assembled in England and is a dream to work with.'' (By the way, in February of 1992, Larry came around, announcing he would demonstrate his new Powerbook 170. ''What a little gem! One of the few in Humboldt!'') Known Users has had it's ups and downs since its inception. Over the years, many of the issues have been very good -- a few have been virtually content-free. Throughout, though, Known Users has helped to keep the users group (my mother calls it my ''computer support group'') together and informed.
Copyright © july, 1993 by Kevin M. Savetz