CO 71.3 [Spring 1994], pp. 98-101: Videodiscs discussed; Louvre
& National Gallery (Voyager); updates on Perseus, de
Italia, TLG, HyperMyth; MacArchitecture, MasterLatin,
Denarius Avaricius, Caesar
In my last column I talked about CD-ROM and its significance in the development
of computer-based resources for the Classics (see CO 71.1 [Fall 1993], 21-22).
A related medium which has played second fiddle for many years--first to
videocassettes and now to CD-ROM--is the laserdisc (also known as the videodisc,
due to the preponderance of its applications to the storage of video images).
The material of which both CDs and laserdiscs are made is basically the
same. The most obvious difference between the two is their size. CD-ROM
disks are 120 mm (4 3/4"), identical to both audio CDs and the actual
disk inside a 5 1/4" floppy case; laserdiscs are almost exactly a foot
wide, the same size as the old 33 RPM vinyl records.
Laserdiscs came into popular use about fifteen years ago--around the
same time that VCRs began to be an affordable consumer appliance. Like videocassettes,
laserdiscs were designed to hold about two hours of full-motion video and
an accompanying soundtrack. The economics of the technologies seems to have
given VCRs a significant advantage, so that laserdiscs never became a major
player in the video recording market (just as the VHS format won out over
Beta), though there are still a small number of movies available in laserdisc
More recently, laserdiscs have become popular for the storage of large collections of still photo images (like slides). Two hours of full motion video translates into about 54,000 individual images at full capacity. (That's a lot of slides!) It should be noted that CD-ROM disks can handle such video images, too, but their smaller size and their strictly digitized format has delayed their application in this area. Only recently have influential companies like Kodak and RCA been settling on standardized formats for digital storage of high-resolution images on CD-ROM discs.
The range of offerings for laserdisc players is rather limited. The main competition runs between Pioneer and Sony. These machines have only recently come down under the $1000 mark (which explains their failure up against VCRs) and can now be found for about $700. They are also capable of playing audio CDs now--but not CD-ROM disks. The Pioneer CLD-V2400 is available for $739.95 from Quality Computers (20200 E. Nine Mile Rd., St. Clair Shores, MI 48080; tel. 800-777-3642). The Sony MDP-1100 is available for $695 from the Voyager Company, 1351 Pacific Coast Hwy., Santa Monica, CA 90401; tel. 800-446-2001.
Laserdiscs and their players are not dependent on being compatible with a particular computer in order to be useful. What is decisive is that you have accessing software on your computer that is capable of "talking" to the player and calling up specific images quickly and easily. At this point in time, virtually all of the significant laserdiscs available for the Classics are published with customized accessing software for the Macintosh only. It is possible, however, to call up the images with a standard laserdisc accessing program on any computer, but it will probably be more work finding what you want and presenting it to a class. It has become common to use bar codes to label image locations in printed indexes; this way a teacher can page through an index and call up an image by merely passing a laser pen over the bar code.
There are two videodisc titles with particular relevance to the Classics
that I have discussed in previous columns. The Perseus program (see CO 70.3
[Spring 1992], 106-7), which is distributed on CD-ROM disks, has an optional
companion videodisc. All of the same photographic images of Greek sites
and artwork are contained on both disks, but the images on the laserdisc
are of much higher quality and transmissible to a large screen TV monitor.
Contact Yale Univ. Press, 92A Yale Station, New Haven, CT 06520; tel. 203-432-0912.
The de Italia laserdisc (see CO 69.1 [Fall 1991]), published by the Fondazione Giovanni Agnelli, contains about 15,000 images covering 3,000 years of Italian history and culture, including about 1500 with classical relevance (Figure 1). The accessing software was written by Voyager (see above), and the Univ. of Wisconsin Classics Dept. was able to get permission to create an accessory slide show program and distribute the complete package on a nonprofit basis. It is still available--while supplies last--at the reduced cost of $145. Contact the Classics Videodisc Project, 910 Van Hise Hall, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706; tel. 608-262-2041.
There are a few other laserdisc titles that pop up regularly in conversations
among Classics teachers, so I wanted to make sure everyone reading this
is aware of them. They are all published and/or distributed by the Voyager
Company (see contact info above).
First, there is the three-disk set from the Louvre in Paris. Over 4500 works are covered in 30,000 images. An on-screen caption precedes each image. Some fragile and rarely exhibited pieces are included. The complete set, along with Macintosh HyperCard accessing software, costs $295. The disks can be purchased individually for $99.95, and the accessing software is an additional $99.95. Since the third disk covers only "Antiquities," this option might be attractive to Classics teachers. The first disk covers "Painting and Drawing," and the second "Sculpture and Objets d'Art."
The American counterpart to the Louvre disk is one from the National Gallery in Washington D.C. This disk covers 1600 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints, and includes a narrated tour given by the museum's director. The disk alone costs $99.95, and the companion software is an additional $59.95.
Finally, for what it's worth, Voyager is also offering six hours of Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth on three laserdiscs for $124.95.
The discussion of CD-ROM disks for the Classics in my last column included
a description of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and its development (see
CO 71.1 [Fall 1993], 21-2). It turns out that a new TLG update, disk "D,"
was recently released. Anyone maintaining a TLG license is able to exchange
the previous "C" disk for the updated version. The text contained
in the TLG CD-ROM has been expanded from 42 to 57 million words.
Besides the expanded text the new version has a revised file-naming method, so that any of the text-searching software which is used to access and make excerpts from the TLG must be updated to remain compatible. Most programs have been adapted as necessary, including Pandora (Mac) and LBase (IBM-DOS), mentioned in the last column. Pharos (IBM-Windows) and Searcher (IBM-DOS) are not going to be upgraded; however, their author, Randall Smith, has published a new program, Scriptorium, for IBM-Windows (and soon for Mac, as well), which can handle the TLG "D" disk, as well as the PHI CD-ROM disks #5 and #6 for Latin and Greek (also discussed in the last column). For more info, contact Scriptorium, 15237 Sunset Blvd. Suite 20, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272.
Randall Stewart, the creator of HyperMyth, continues to expand its coverage
and flexibility. This hypertext program provides easy connections between
mythological stories and references, allowing students the opportunity to
take a quick look into the background of each and every character mentioned
in a passage (see CO 69.1 [Fall 1991], 27-8). Originally contained in one
HyperCard stack on a single 800K disk, the program now includes fourteen
separate stacks on four high-density disks (which adds up to about 5MB of
hard disk space for easy running). It is quite possible to use each stack
one at a time if you like, too.
Once you've found enough space for it, you will immediately be impressed with the amount of material contained in it and the ease with which you can maneuver around through it. The main topics covered are: Olympians, Creation, Heroes, Love Stories, Regional Stories, the Trojan Cycle, the Theban Cycle, Roman Mythology, and Myth in the Stars. There are also useful, supplementary stacks on Maps, Brief Facts, Terms from Myth, Chronology, Name Etymology, and Alternative Spellings.
The thematic sections have introductory index cards that list all the significant characters involved and the stories, text, artwork (Figure 2), and family trees which are available to you for reference. You can even request a proper English pronunciation of most of the names. (All of the textual material is in English, too.) A number of multiple-choice quizzes, or "self-tests," are available in most sections.
Like any good hypertext program, HyperMyth may at first overwhelm the user with its wealth of options. The burden is on the user to set a purposeful direction and maintain focus. A 252-page companion text provides virtually all of the same information on the disks in a more traditional, linear format. The complete package sells for $89.95; a site license is available to elementary and secondary schools for $325. Quantity discounts are available to college bookstores. For more info, contact Hermes Publishing Co., P.O. Box 58063, Salt Lake City, UT 84158; tel. 800-944-6984.
A new release from Intellimation offers a fascinating look at the contributions
of classical architecture in both form and nomenclature. MacArchitecture
contains detailed presentations on Greek and Roman building materials, styles,
and inventions (Figure 3). The visuals in this program are truly stunning,
and the information presented is very thorough. Highlighted words in the
descriptive essays can be called up in a glossary. Wandering around the
Roman Forum with the mouse/cursor produces pop-up captions on significant
structures. One can switch between a digitized photograph, an overview map,
and a graphic interpretation of the Forum to get different perspectives
on all of the buildings involved.
After getting a good look at this program, I was not surprised to find out that the author, Trey Cosgriff, had won a grand prize at the Apple Education Solutions HyperCard Contest in 1991, when he completed the first half on Greek architecture. Cosgriff teaches western civilization and literature at the Discovery Center School in San Francisco. Anyone who even touches on the subject of classical architecture or has students interested in it could find this program invaluable. The program costs $45 for a single copy and $179 for a site license (P.O. Box 1922, Santa Barbara, CA 93116; tel. 800-346-8355).
Intellimation has also released significant upgrades for Pandora (see above), MacLang, and HyperGreek (see CO 70.3 [Spring 1993], 108). MacLang 4.5 now provides for wildcard answers (allowing separate stem and ending correction) and the importing of text files containing questions and answers created on a wordprocessor. HyperGreek 2.4.1 has been expanded to almost 5.5MB of HyperCard stacks, with another 5MB of audio recordings for pronunciation modeling.
While many of the artificial intelligence programmers have been getting
bogged down on the fine points of natural language grammar (the ones that
don't follow any rules), Edward Bailey has managed to show what's feasible
when you confine yourself to the basics. Bailey is a technical writer who
got fascinated with the programming that he was writing about for IBM compatibles
and decided to try it out on Latin. The result of his efforts is a program
that can correct virtually any translation from English into Latin within
carefully prescribed limits. The student must use the vocabulary words provided
and only the amount of grammar that has been presented in roughly the first
year of a high school Latin class. This is no small feat, and it is done
smoothly and speedily by MasterLatin.
A list of the necessary Latin vocabulary (without meanings) is presented with each English sentence. After the user attempts a translation, a correction chart points out mistakes on a word-for-word comparison. (No particular word order is enforced.) At this point, help is available in the form of a detailed parsing for any word requested. The standard number of tries per sentence is three, but this and many other parameters can be changed. Scores are recorded and can be printed out after a sentence set is completed.
MasterLatin is currently published in four versions, to accompany Wheelock, Jenney (1990), Ecce Romani (Books 1-2), and Cambridge Latin Course (Unit 1)--all for IBM-compatibles (cost: $59.95, includes site license). The manual for each version spells out the vocabulary and the grammar that are supported. Though the program includes several sample test files, its real power comes out in the editor module, which allows a teacher to make up original sentences within the prescribed range. The program immediately translates them for you to verify that it will be able to handle it properly during student usage. Changing the parameters of the program can be done either from the DOS command line or through an introductory menu. Detailed instructions are provided in a 31-page manual. For more info, contact Bailout Software, 18 Sturtevant St., Beverly, MA 01915; tel. 508-922-6076.
Many people ask me about programs for the Classics that have more of
the color, sound, animation, and slick graphics that you see in popular
simulations like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and SimCity. Usually
I don't have much to tell them. Recently, though, I have gotten word of
a couple of programs that at least use a classical setting. Even if they
don't necessarily teach too much in the way of language, history, or culture,
they might serve to spur more curiosity and questions.
Winthrop Dahl of Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton, MA, sent me a copy of a shareware program called Denarius Avaricius. Coincidentally, I had just run across it myself in a shareware catalog from Software Labs (3767 Overland Ave. #112, Los Angeles, CA 90034; tel. 310-559-5456). This program follows the typical interactive fiction scenario of moving from room to room, building to building, trying to figure out what items need to be picked up and when to use them to get access to another room or building, always with some ultimate life-or-death goal in mind. The backdrop in this program is Pompeii during the eruption of Vesuvius, and the cast of characters are close to some of the stereotypes of Roman comedy: a nagging wife, a drunken slave, and a greedy Roman businessman (the program's namesake), among others. Since it's shareware, the price is hard to beat ($8); but, remember, this is just a demo license. If you decide to use the program regularly after trying it out, you are expected to send another $15 directly to the authors. (That's the shareware way!)
Belle Goebel, a retired Latin teacher from Madison, WI, put me on to a new, colorful simulation called Caesar, which follows in the tradition of community management software like SimCity and Civilization. These programs put the user in the position of decision maker for a community (city, nation, planet), who must make initial "founding" decisions about location and layout, and later on must handle periodic adjustments to variables like food production, taxation, and wages, as various influential events (natural and man-made) occur over time.
As you might imagine, Caesar operates in the context of the Roman army's early colonization of the provinces, starting out with setting up a well-organized camp, which gradually evolves into a market town and later a provincial center. This program, as well as a similar one called Cohort II, is published by Impressions Software, 222 Third St. #0234, Cambridge, MA 02142; tel. 617-225-0848. The list price is $60, but she found it in a local software store for only $39.
Well, that should about do it for me for now! By the way, have you tried surfing on the Internet yet?