That box you call your computer (when you're feeling polite) may well have a very different appearance by the end of the century. Its price may have tumbled to £300, and it may connect to a TV, affording access to the Internet, interactive television and even a simple videophone. Today's £2,000 computer with its big bulky monitor, keyboard, mouse, hard disk, floppy disk, CD-ROM and modem is far too complex and expensive to hit the mass-market in any quantity, and so something which has more in common with a VCR or a games console is more likely to be the 'computer' that you will find the 'man in the street' using.
How does this affect musicians? Well, remembering the popularity of the Atari ST when it cost a few hundred pounds, and comparing this with the price of a decent Mac (or even a PC), I can see many of today's undecided going to Dixons, Comet or their local music shop, and coming home with a credit card-impulse purchase. In common with the Atari ST, such a mass market computer will be easy to use: on the ST, you put a disk in the drive and turned it on, and with this cheap '90s follow-up, you may not even need the disk!
To make it cheap and easy to use, such a 'consumer' computer will have very little inside. No floppy disk or hard disk, no monitor on top, and no complicated operating system and software programs either. Instead, it will connect to a phone line, ISDN line or even a cable TV socket, and will have a WWW Browser inside. When you power it up, it will make a call to a 'service provider' -- the computer network equivalent of a TV station -- and a WWW page will appear on the screen. This page will be your own personal page, where you keep your bookmarks, diary, links to interesting places and so on. From there, by using your remote control (VCR-like, of course), you will be able to roam the Internet, find out what's on TV tonight, chat with your friends about your favourite music video, buy a CD by mail order, and more.
So where's the musician's interest in this 'overgrown' teletext idea? Well actually, there's quite a lot to consider before you dismiss it with words like: 'it'll never get into the studio...'. At the moment, WWW browsers are seeing explosive growth along a number of fronts. Graphics are one obvious change, with several highly compressed formats offering faster pictures. Page layout will soon change from the simple 'Times' font, grey background, block paragraph appearance of today to something much more like a printed page -- and a page of music just as easily as a page from a magazine.
Sound-wise, the current audio capabilities of most computers are poor, and Web browsers have a reputation for outdoing even AM radio in terms of lo-fi. But this too is changing. MIDI support is now appearing in browsers, as last month's Crescendo shows. But some audio codecs are using MIDI-like technology to transmit audio by describing it, instead of trying to compress it.
Some time around Christmas 2000, I predict Apple Notes readers will be able to trip round to their nearest electrical superstore, bring home a VCR-sized box, plug it into their flat-screen TV, GM2 MIDI synthesizer module, hi-fi and DVD videodisk player, and use it to make music. Not on their own, either -- they'll be collaborating with other musicians all over the globe, discussing scores, jamming along with each other, perhaps even releasing an album. And it all happens over a piece of wire that is supplied by a phone company or a cable TV company. No CD-R, no huge hard disks, no DAT mastering, and no laser printers. The box won't be a Mac or a PC -- it might even have an Acorn RISC chip inside -- and it won't be running MacOS or Windows either. In fact, there's almost none of the computer paraphernalia that you and I associate with MIDI and music at the moment. Your grandparents could probably use it, too!
So hold on to your hat -- and your Apple. The next five years are going to see a revolution in the way that computers, music, audio and the media interrelate. If you keep your wits about you, the opportunities are enormous. Apple Notes has a ticket booked already.
After last month's 'How it works' section appeared, I received a bit of a ribbing for suggesting that a computer password should be a ridiculous mixture of letters, numbers and hard-to-remember symbols. At the risk of compounding the error, let's think about some more words to avoid, and then move on to one or two ways to produce memorable, but still effective passwords.
If someone is trying to hack their way into your private email or Internet account, they will try the obvious things first. Words like 'password', 'martin' and 'russ' would be candidates, as would 'guest,' and 'apple' or 'macintosh'. Even 'june96' or 'june1996' are potentials, as are the eternal 'sharon' and 'tracy'. Other targets would be a partner, spouse or friend's name, your location or address, your age or birthday, name of your pet, type of car, a word connected with your hobby, and so on. You would be very dismayed at how easy many passwords are to guess.
Curiously, the ease of finding a password increases if it is changed regularly. If a password changes monthly, then passwords of the form 'june96' or 'june1996' will crop up alarmingly often.
So how do you choose a password to protect your personal information? Well, avoid the obvious. If your password would appear in a dictionary or encyclopedia, it just ain't suitabul. Aha! You see, bad grammar and mis-spellings are useful. 'Parswurd' or 'joon96' are preferable to the plain versions (assuming, of course, that the hacker is not himself illiterate!). Typing words 'sdrawkcab' can be a neat idea, whilst transpsoing two letters can be easy to remember, and only likely to be reproduced by a dyslexic hacker. Symbols can be introduced into words by misinterpreting the symbol. $ can replace s in word$, whilst the £ can replace the letter l. @ can repl@ce a, and some people use ^ for 'hat', * for 'star' (as in *ling, the bird) and ! for 'ping' (as in 'shop! at a supermarket'...).
MacTCP deals with the interfacing between the application software which runs on the Macintosh, and the network-specific drivers which communicate with the network itself. Whereas SLIP or PPP are concerned with the nitty-gritty details of the modem and the telephone number for the Internet Service Provider (ISP), MacTCP deals with much more abstract numbers; the main ones being several 'addresses'.
On the Internet, major input and output points are given numbers which uniquely identify them -- rather like a postcode. These are usually in the form of four numbers separated by full stops: 22.214.171.124. The numbers indicate increasingly small locations as you move from left to right, so the 123 might indicate the country or county, whilst the 145 could indicate a specific city, town or company, the 78 might be part of a town or a specific ISP, or part of a company, and the final 9 would be a particular input/output port.
Four numbers is not always going to be adequate for unique numbers, and the numbering scheme is due to gradually change over the next few years, but the underlying idea of having numbers for each major input/output connection is the same.
MacTCP needs to know a few of these Internet Addresses, which are called IP Addresses, because they are used as part of the header in the Internet Protocol (IP) packets that get sent around the network. This is rather like the channel number in a MIDI message -- it indicates where something is going to or has come from.
MacTCP needs to know things like what the IP address of your computer is, the IP address of the 'gateway' provided by the ISP, and the address of something called a Domain Name Server (DNS), which deals with the decoding of named places on the Internet. Ever wondered how a WWW browser could find somewhere called 'www.apple.com'? Well, the DNS converts from the name to an IP address.
In most cases, DNS's will be set up by the installation software, or you may need to type them in manually. Once set and working, you should never need to change them -- but don't forget them. If you were sent a 'welcome' letter from your ISP with a series of IP addresses on it, then keep it safe. You may need it if you ever have a hard disk crash and need to manually re-install all your software again.
When it is set up and working, MacTCP works almost invisibly, acting as a go-between: it takes the output of Mac communications programs, packages them up into packets, and passes them on to SLIP or PPP. Packets which are received from SLIP or PPP are unpacked, and then presented to the communications program. Next month, I will look at Mac communications programs.
Trying to cope with huge numbers of URLs (WWW addresses) can be problematic. Finding Web sites covering your favourite bands, hints and tips on guitar fret maintenance and Casio VZ10 SysEx is all very well, but finding them again may be difficult when they join all the rest of the sites you have found. Some Web browsers have limited facilities for coping with more than a few of these 'bookmarks', but there are some excellent dedicated utility programs. One of the most promising that I've seen can be tested out by calling at:
Remember though -- as with all WWW URLs, by the time you read this, the site may no longer exist, and the free demo offer may have expired. Some people use the acronym AIST (Assuming It's Still There!) for these circumstances.
And how to find all these wonderful places? My personal favourite is Digital's AltaVista searcher, which lives at:
This is an advert for their impressively fast and powerful Alpha processor and workstations. It's an easy-to-use searcher with a huge index. It's so good, that if you type in my name, it finds my WWW site!
Apple seem to be looking to make a loss this quarter, but then this should see them turning the corner, and although the figures may appear bad ($700 million according to some predictions), they should then return to profit. Remember that some of Apple's problem has been that they have been too successful -- they couldn't deliver enough of the Macs that people wanted!
There has been some confusion about the updates to System 7.5. Is it Update 1.0, 2.0 or System 7.5.x that you need to install? Apple has now decided to clear the decks and release a CD-ROM with the definitive update to System 7.5. It is called System 7.5 Update 2.0 (aka System 7.5.3!) and should cost about £20. It contains all sorts of minor improvements, tweaks and bug fixes, with some major additions for PowerPC users. If you prefer, you can download it from Apple's Web site: (www.info.apple.com), but be warned: there's over 26Mb to download, as 12 high density disk images, or one big compressed file!
Macromedia have released version 5.0 of their multimedia authoring tool. Possibly the most widely-used method of producing animated presentations, applications, music 'videos' and interactive products, Director is the leading edge of computer media tweaking (for everything except MIDI sequencing, of course!). Contact Computers Unlimited on 0181 200 8282.