CO 72.1 [Fall 1994], pp. 31-33: Exploring Ancient Cities, Wrath of the Gods, MacFlash; Computing and the Classics newsletter; Internet and e-mail discussed
Although this year's ACL Institute did not have near as many different
computer-oriented presentations as the previous year, it somehow managed
to create just as many last-minute compatibility problems, all of which
did get worked out--just in time. We had the use of a truly state-of-the-art
computer lab in the Marcum Conference Center at Miami University. There
were 12 Mac IIci and 12 IBM PS/2 computers in a tiered lecture room with
a single video projector which hooked up to the presenter's computers (with
CD-ROM), a videodisc player, and a VCR, allowing one to switch viewing on
the "movie screen" to any one of those.
Our only frustration with this high-powered, high-tech setup came during the open workshop near the end of the conference, when we tried to run a new CD-ROM disk that Joe Davenport had just received. No one in the conference center could find one of the little, plastic "caddies" that a CD-ROM disk needs to be slipped into so that the drive can use it. Fortunately, this problem is now being circumvented by the newer CD-ROM drives that Apple is putting into its AV Macintoshes; they use the same kind of drawer drive that audio CD players have--no caddy required.
I have since been able to get a copy of the program myself and am very
impressed with what it has to offer. The title is Exploring Ancient Cities
(figure 1), and it is published by Sumeria with much of its material provided
by Scientific American (copyrights shared by both). The cities covered are
Knossos, Petra, Pompeii, and Teotihuacan. This is a truly multimedia presentation.
The CD-ROM disk includes menus, maps, and articles that have hypertext links
to site photographs and extended audiovisual presentations. You can run
a full "slide show" (20-35 min.) on any of the four sites or shorter
topical presentations (2-8 min.) on architecture, painting, or sculpture
at most sites. The "grand tours" are narrated, while most pictures
also have short captions.
I had the most fun just jumping around the maps and picking out shots to look at from there. The map sequence actually starts with a full world map and gradually moves in closer to show the geographical context and relationship of all four sites. The articles show their hypertext connections with underlining; their SA publication dates vary from 1958 (Pompeii) to 1985 (Knossos).
This disk is an excellent example of what multimedia can do to put a student in interactive control of her own investigative curiosity. It may not have as many photos available as some might like (are there ever enough?), but the organization and presentation of material is exceptionally clear and thoughtful, and the price seems very reasonable to me ($59.95). The only things to be careful of here are the hardware and software requirements. The specially configured "hybrid" CD-ROM disk can be run on either a Mac or an IBM-compatible computer. The Mac version requires System 7; the IBM must have Windows 3.1; both versions require at least 6MB of RAM. For more information, contact Sumeria, 329 Bryant St. #3D, San Francisco, CA 94107; tel. 415-904-0800.
Our ever astute editor-in-chief put me onto another exciting new program
on CD-ROM called Wrath of the Gods (figure 2). This piece of software manages
to extend even further the multimedia expectations of the computer-savvy
by providing impressive audio and video special effects to accompany the
normal ins and outs of the interactive fiction genre. The program puts the
user in the position of your average, everyday, ancient Greek hero (akin
to Jason, Hercules, or Atalanta), who is raised by Chiron the Centaur and
destined to tackle a wide variety of physical and mental challenges as he
attempts to determine his ancestry and his rightful place in the world.
(The hero is always a young man here, but there are many references to Atalanta
in the reference files, too.)
The sequence by which our hero pursues this process of discovery is directed by you, so that it will vary every time, based on the path you choose to follow and the order in which you take on the tests of your skill. As is usual with an interactive fiction game, you will be collecting objects and gathering clues along the way--nothing should be ignored! Even though the resulting, self-directed path will obviously not follow the paths of the actual mythological heroes (which can vary according to version anyway), the help that is available to you along the way is a wealth of accurate, mythological background, the real educational side of the program. The obstacles that you face include a vast array of the traditional "labors," like fighting the Hydra, visiting the Underworld, seeking advice from Daedalus--sort of a combination of all the heroes rolled into one.
The backgrounds in all the scenes are beautiful, photographic still shots, while the characters are real-life actors who actually speak at times and are moved around the screen (based on your decisions) by a choppy sort of animation (probably to save on memory use). There is a colorful reference map of the fictional area that you are travelling in; and, when you get really stuck on what to do next, you can consult the Oracle--for a price. All in all, it's a truly unique and exciting program which I think any students of classical mythology will enjoy--even if they're not video game junkies.
Wrath of the Gods is published by a new multimedia company called Luminaria and is being distributed by Maxis, the makers of the SimCity series (2 Theatre Sq., Orinda, CA 94563; tel. 510-254-9700). It is available for $54.95 in either Mac (System 7) or IBM (Windows 3.1) formats and requires a 13" monitor and 4-8 MB of RAM.
Many people have asked me if there isn't some kind of electronic dictionary
for Latin yet, and so far my response has remained negative. The closest
thing I've found to it, though, is a program called MacFlash (figure 3)
which has a total of 2000 Latin words in its vocabulary set. As its name
suggests, MacFlash acts as a very flexible and adjustable, electronic version
of a box of flashcards. You can use it both as a reference tool to look
up words or a drilling device to test your vocabulary skills. The collection
of words is not based on any particular textbook. You can let it select
words randomly for you or go through the entire set in alphabetical order,
from Latin to English or vice versa. You can also mark a particular group
of words for specific drilling and save that marked list for future work.
In drilling mode, MacFlash operates just like a box of flashcards: you do not actually type in an answer, but rather wait for the answer to appear. The amount of time allowed is set by the user on the "control card." Since it is not correcting your answers, it does not keep any kind of score for you. It will, however, let you type in a word in either English or Latin to search for in its word list.
MacFlash is a Macintosh HyperCard stack that was written by James Havlice for the Language Quest Software Co., 101 First St. #428, Los Altos, CA 94022; tel. 800-622-3574. The cost is $25.
This is the tenth year of publication for Computing and the Classics,
a quarterly newsletter edited by Joseph Tebben and published at Ohio State
University. C&C has been a very useful and dependable source of information
on current computer-related activities in our field. It offers up-to-date
announcements of software releases and conferences of interest to classicists.
A consistent feature of the newsletter is an annotated bibliography of recent
publications about computer applications in classical studies and related
fields. The newsletter is sent out to any and all interested persons at
no cost (funding provided by OSU). To get on the subscription list, contact
Prof. Joseph Tebben, 147 Adena Hall, The Ohio State Univ., 1179 Univ. Dr.,
Newark, OH 43055; or by E-mail on the Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Autumn may be upon us, but many of you have discovered that surfing can
be a yearround sport, even in the Midwest--surfing the Internet, that is.
When Al Gore talks longingly about the potential of a National Information
Interchange (NII), popularly known as "the Information Superhighway,"
what he is referring to is a greatly expanded version of the Internet, which
is itself already developed far beyond its original parameters. Before delving
into some of the specifics of how the Internet works and how you can have
some fun surfing around on it, I feel bound to extend a caveat. Even though
the amount of media attention and cocktail conversation devoted to the Internet
would lead one to believe that it is the best thing since sliced bread,
it still has quite a way to go in development before it becomes as easy
to use as your basic wordprocessor. This will undoubtedly change for the
better soon; there are some wonderful, new interface programs just now being
released, and there will certainly be more as the groundswell of interest
in the Internet grows (and the funding from the Clinton-Gore initiatives
gets into high gear).
The Internet has its origins in the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. It was first organized during the 1970s as a fast and cheap means of communication between government bureaucrats, defense contractors, and university researchers, and later it became recognized as one of the most efficient and dependable such networks around. The early commercial networks like CompuServe and MCI Mail were only easy to use if you were a member of the same network as your intended correspondent. Since the Internet was a government entity, it became a logical candidate for public development as a standardized "national information interchange" utility to connect both public and private networks. Now those older commercial networks, along with GEnie, Prodigy, Delphi, and America On Line, have their own Internet "gateways" (hookups, or "on-ramps," in highway lingo) so that their members can interact with each other and the rest of the world much more easily.
Of course, there is still no guaranteed public access to the Internet. In order to start "surfing," you must have either a paid membership in one of the commercial networks or free access through one of the current government or academic gateways, which usually means a university campus or public library. These gateways are increasing in number logorithmically, so be on the lookout for new opportunities in your area. Large businesses are purchasing their own private gateways, and many local schools are being offered free hookups through state-funded programs.
What can you really do on the Internet? Well, its most common application
by far, at this point, is Email. Among many university professors it has
become a preferred alternative to the telephone, especially for international
communication. Since all government and academic usage is generally free
to the user, sending a short note or even a long article for review by Internet
to a colleague on the other side of the world can be a lot simpler and cheaper
than either talking on the phone or mailing her a copy. This is probably
also true for any similar kind of communication within your own state or
across a large metropolitan area. Of course, sometimes you just have to
talk directly to hash things out; but, if you're going to sit down and type
out a letter on a computer, you might just as well send it out by Internet
and save time, postage, and paper. (This is one of the crucial elements
in that paperless office of the future!)
The next most popular aspect of the Internet is the "discussion group list," which I have referred to twice already in this column, as two such lists recently arose in our field (see CO 70.3 [Spring 1993], 109, and CO 71.1 [Fall 1993], 24). Discussion group lists are created on a "list server" at a home base, usually a university campus, which provides the support for their maintenance. The list itself is actually a list of individuals (and their Email addresses) who subscribe to the service which covers a particular topic or area of interest. Right now, we classicists mainly have the CLASSICS list, maintained by Linda Wright at the Univ. of Washington, and the LATIN-L list, maintained by Kevin Berland at Penn State.
These lists operate on much the same format as the older "bulletin board" systems (BBS), which are also still around. However, instead of calling in directly to the bulletin board, reading messages, and posting your own responses there, the list server for a discussion list actually mails copies of every message received back out to the mailboxes of each person on the list. This makes it easier for you to do what you like with the messages--save a few and throw out the rest (electronically, that is). If list members offer their personal Email address for direct responses, then you can also send an Email message to them "off list"; otherwise, all replies are publicly distributed to all members of the list.
There is a growing number of other opportunities available on the Internet, and I'm sure I will be writing more about it as time goes on. In the meantime, I would encourage you to check it out if and when you have the time and opportunity to see what everybody's talking about. Just don't expect it to be that easy to use...yet!