CO 72.1 [Fall 1994], pp. 31-33: Exploring Ancient Cities,Wrath of the Gods, MacFlash; Computing and the Classicsnewsletter; Internet and e-mail discussed
Although this year's ACL Institute did not have near as many differentcomputer-oriented presentations as the previous year, it somehow managedto create just as many last-minute compatibility problems, all of whichdid get worked out--just in time. We had the use of a truly state-of-the-artcomputer lab in the Marcum Conference Center at Miami University. Therewere 12 Mac IIci and 12 IBM PS/2 computers in a tiered lecture room witha single video projector which hooked up to the presenter's computers (withCD-ROM), a videodisc player, and a VCR, allowing one to switch viewing onthe "movie screen" to any one of those.
Our only frustration with this high-powered, high-tech setup came duringthe open workshop near the end of the conference, when we tried to run anew CD-ROM disk that Joe Davenport had just received. No one in the conferencecenter could find one of the little, plastic "caddies" that aCD-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 Appleis putting into its AV Macintoshes; they use the same kind of drawer drivethat audio CD players have--no caddy required.
I have since been able to get a copy of the program myself and am veryimpressed 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 providedby Scientific American (copyrights shared by both). The cities covered areKnossos, Petra, Pompeii, and Teotihuacan. This is a truly multimedia presentation.The CD-ROM disk includes menus, maps, and articles that have hypertext linksto site photographs and extended audiovisual presentations. You can runa full "slide show" (20-35 min.) on any of the four sites or shortertopical presentations (2-8 min.) on architecture, painting, or sculptureat most sites. The "grand tours" are narrated, while most picturesalso have short captions.
I had the most fun just jumping around the maps and picking out shots tolook at from there. The map sequence actually starts with a full world mapand gradually moves in closer to show the geographical context and relationshipof 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 studentin interactive control of her own investigative curiosity. It may not haveas many photos available as some might like (are there ever enough?), butthe organization and presentation of material is exceptionally clear andthoughtful, and the price seems very reasonable to me ($59.95). The onlythings to be careful of here are the hardware and software requirements.The specially configured "hybrid" CD-ROM disk can be run on eithera 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 programon CD-ROM called Wrath of the Gods (figure 2). This piece of software managesto extend even further the multimedia expectations of the computer-savvyby providing impressive audio and video special effects to accompany thenormal ins and outs of the interactive fiction genre. The program puts theuser in the position of your average, everyday, ancient Greek hero (akinto Jason, Hercules, or Atalanta), who is raised by Chiron the Centaur anddestined to tackle a wide variety of physical and mental challenges as heattempts 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 Atalantain the reference files, too.)
The sequence by which our hero pursues this process of discovery is directedby you, so that it will vary every time, based on the path you choose tofollow and the order in which you take on the tests of your skill. As isusual with an interactive fiction game, you will be collecting objects andgathering clues along the way--nothing should be ignored! Even though theresulting, self-directed path will obviously not follow the paths of theactual 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 obstaclesthat you face include a vast array of the traditional "labors,"like fighting the Hydra, visiting the Underworld, seeking advice from Daedalus--sortof 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 andare moved around the screen (based on your decisions) by a choppy sort ofanimation (probably to save on memory use). There is a colorful referencemap of the fictional area that you are travelling in; and, when you getreally 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 studentsof classical mythology will enjoy--even if they're not video game junkies.
Wrath of the Gods is published by a new multimedia company called Luminariaand is being distributed by Maxis, the makers of the SimCity series (2 TheatreSq., Orinda, CA 94563; tel. 510-254-9700). It is available for $54.95 ineither 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 dictionaryfor Latin yet, and so far my response has remained negative. The closestthing 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 namesuggests, MacFlash acts as a very flexible and adjustable, electronic versionof a box of flashcards. You can use it both as a reference tool to lookup words or a drilling device to test your vocabulary skills. The collectionof words is not based on any particular textbook. You can let it selectwords 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 groupof words for specific drilling and save that marked list for future work.
In drilling mode, MacFlash operates just like a box of flashcards: you donot 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 scorefor you. It will, however, let you type in a word in either English or Latinto search for in its word list.
MacFlash is a Macintosh HyperCard stack that was written by James Havlicefor 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 StateUniversity. C&C has been a very useful and dependable source of informationon current computer-related activities in our field. It offers up-to-dateannouncements of software releases and conferences of interest to classicists.A consistent feature of the newsletter is an annotated bibliography of recentpublications about computer applications in classical studies and relatedfields. The newsletter is sent out to any and all interested persons atno cost (funding provided by OSU). To get on the subscription list, contactProf. 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 canbe a yearround sport, even in the Midwest--surfing the Internet, that is.When Al Gore talks longingly about the potential of a National InformationInterchange (NII), popularly known as "the Information Superhighway,"what he is referring to is a greatly expanded version of the Internet, whichis itself already developed far beyond its original parameters. Before delvinginto some of the specifics of how the Internet works and how you can havesome fun surfing around on it, I feel bound to extend a caveat. Even thoughthe amount of media attention and cocktail conversation devoted to the Internetwould 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 easyto use as your basic wordprocessor. This will undoubtedly change for thebetter soon; there are some wonderful, new interface programs just now beingreleased, and there will certainly be more as the groundswell of interestin the Internet grows (and the funding from the Clinton-Gore initiativesgets into high gear).
The Internet has its origins in the U.S. Department of Defense and the NationalScience Foundation. It was first organized during the 1970s as a fast andcheap means of communication between government bureaucrats, defense contractors,and university researchers, and later it became recognized as one of themost efficient and dependable such networks around. The early commercialnetworks like CompuServe and MCI Mail were only easy to use if you werea member of the same network as your intended correspondent. Since the Internetwas a government entity, it became a logical candidate for public developmentas a standardized "national information interchange" utility toconnect 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 worldmuch more easily.
Of course, there is still no guaranteed public access to the Internet. Inorder to start "surfing," you must have either a paid membershipin one of the commercial networks or free access through one of the currentgovernment or academic gateways, which usually means a university campusor public library. These gateways are increasing in number logorithmically,so be on the lookout for new opportunities in your area. Large businessesare purchasing their own private gateways, and many local schools are beingoffered free hookups through state-funded programs.
What can you really do on the Internet? Well, its most common applicationby far, at this point, is Email. Among many university professors it hasbecome a preferred alternative to the telephone, especially for internationalcommunication. Since all government and academic usage is generally freeto the user, sending a short note or even a long article for review by Internetto a colleague on the other side of the world can be a lot simpler and cheaperthan either talking on the phone or mailing her a copy. This is probablyalso true for any similar kind of communication within your own state oracross a large metropolitan area. Of course, sometimes you just have totalk directly to hash things out; but, if you're going to sit down and typeout a letter on a computer, you might just as well send it out by Internetand save time, postage, and paper. (This is one of the crucial elementsin that paperless office of the future!)
The next most popular aspect of the Internet is the "discussion grouplist," which I have referred to twice already in this column, as twosuch 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 "listserver" at a home base, usually a university campus, which providesthe support for their maintenance. The list itself is actually a list ofindividuals (and their Email addresses) who subscribe to the service whichcovers a particular topic or area of interest. Right now, we classicistsmainly have the CLASSICS list, maintained by Linda Wright at the Univ. ofWashington, and the LATIN-L list, maintained by Kevin Berland at Penn State.
These lists operate on much the same format as the older "bulletinboard" systems (BBS), which are also still around. However, insteadof calling in directly to the bulletin board, reading messages, and postingyour own responses there, the list server for a discussion list actuallymails copies of every message received back out to the mailboxes of eachperson on the list. This makes it easier for you to do what you like withthe 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 andopportunity to see what everybody's talking about. Just don't expect itto be that easy to use...yet!