TV-PGMay 19, 1999: Want to prevent Sears from turning into another Best Buy? Then sign up to dig in and help. Meanwhile, Some Apple tech has a red face right about now, following the discovery of blatantly incorrect information in the Tech Info Library, and Macs may have played a much bigger role in creating The Phantom Menace than George Lucas will admit...
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Preventative Medicine (5/19/99)

Another retail chain, another opportunity for all you wacky Mac fanatics to strut your Apple-savvy stuff... Every since Apple first enlisted the aid of its absurdly helpful user base when the call went out for volunteers to demo Macs at local CompUSA locations a couple of years ago, the company knew they had tapped into something big. After all, how many other multibillion-dollar corporations have a customer base so fiercely loyal that representatives would volunteer to spend a few hours of their weekend to go demonstrate hardware and software to potential buyers, all in exchange for little more than a free t-shirt and the satisfaction of helping the cause? Now that's dedication, baby.

Of course, Apple's refined the whole process over time, and these days volunteers often get more than a free t-shirt and a glowing sense of self-satisfaction for their time. We recall getting lots of exuberant mail from Demo Days volunteers who participated in the Mac OS 8.5 promotion, who, much to their surprise and delight, received a free copy of the $99 software upgrade for their trouble. And volunteers also actually get paid now, too. So if you're looking to pick up a little scratch while you're saving up for a new G3 or whatever, perhaps you'd like to jump in and help Apple make the imminent Sears iMac launch a success. According to the PowerBook Zone, Apple's promotion company MarketSource is enlisting the help of volunteers to visit local Sears locations once a week and make sure that display models are working, monitor inventory levels, install software demos, and other similar tasks. If they pick you, you can make up to $19 a visit.

Here's hoping that Apple really makes effective use of us rabid Mac fans to ensure that the whole Sears rollout doesn't turn into another Best Buy. After that whole fiasco, we're almost surprised that no one's preparing "Best Buy: Never Again" buttons and bumper stickers to commemorate one of the nastiest sales debacles in Apple's recent history. Without a lot of hard work and conscientious effort, Sears could turn out to be just as painful. Let's not let that happen, shall we?

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MegaBITS? Mega-oops (5/19/99)

Maybe we're just naïve, but we wouldn't have expected Apple to include blatant misinformation in their Tech Info Library. Recently, for example, we think we recall someone pointing out that Apple had posted a TIL article which claimed that Fast Ethernet (as in, the 100-base-T interface provided on all shipping Macs) actually used different wires in its connecting cables depending on which protocol (AppleTalk or TCP/IP) was being piped through it, which, based on our admittedly limited knowledge of networking, is pretty clearly incorrect. Fast Ethernet is a physical connection medium and AppleTalk and TCP/IP are communications protocols, so Apple's alleged statement is like saying your phone sends your voice through different wires depending on whether you're speaking in English or German-- a weird thing to assert.

Still, we'd let that one slide, if for no other reasons than 1) we never actually saw the TIL in question, and 2) we're definitely not networking experts and we could be wrong (and we're sure that many of you will correct us if we are). But now MacInTouch notes another TIL which makes a serious rookie mistake: Apple mixes up Mb (megabits) and MB (megabytes) when they compare the speeds of various peripheral interconnect buses. See, USB, that nifty new bus Apple's throwing into everything they ship these days, runs at either 1.5 or 12 Mbps, read as "megabits per second;" similarly, FireWire runs at 400 Mbps. The fastest SCSI flavor, Ultra SCSI-3, runs at up to 160 MBps, but on Apple's graph, it's listed as 160 Mbps. So it looks as though FireWire is more than twice as fast as Ultra SCSI-3, when in fact it's only about a third the speed, since there are eight bits in a byte. (The chart under the graphs labels the speeds correctly, though.)

We don't mean to be nitpicky, or anything, but that seems to us to be exactly the kind of mistake Apple would want to keep well away from the Tech Info Library; it sort of undermines the authority of the TIL as the Golden Repository of Technical Truth™. It's the sort of error we'd more likely expect in, say, a marketing fluff piece that never got fact-checked. But hey, everybody makes misteaks mistakes, right? What's a factor of 8 between friends?

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Credit Where It's Due (5/19/99)

The day has come and gone. The lines of fanatics camping out on the sidewalks have dissipated, and sixteen years of waiting have finally borne fruit. As the dust starts to settle following the premiere of Star Wars: Episode I, and all the real fans have seen it at least six or eight times already, and cash registers all over the country continue to ring up millions of dollars worth of officially licensed merchandise, it's probably worth reflecting on just how big a part our beloved Macintosh platform played in the creation of the special effects spectacular.

Whoops-- looks like we sort of can't. By now you may have noticed the big flap between Play Inc. and Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas' special effects production company. Play makes the 3D modeling and animation software called Electric Image, which they claim was used on "standard Macintosh computers" to generate "between 300 and 400 on-screen shots" in the movie. In an open letter published by Play earlier this week, they state that Lucas promised them that Electric Image's "significant contribution" would be "publicly acknowledged in articles about the film," but instead they found that EI's use had been all but covered up. There's more on this in a Wired article.

Of course you knew there was a conspiracy theory in here somewhere, right? Stop us if you've heard this one before, but it's long been widely rumored that ILM has a "Jedi Agreement" with Silicon Graphics; basically, ILM gets SGI's latest and greatest workstations in return for agreeing never to trumpet any effects they create on non-SGI systems. MacNN has a nice special report on the whole rumor. To us, that whole story carries the distinct scent of urban legend, but that won't stop the likes of us from believing it lock, stock, and barrel. It's a shame, isn't it? But the well-informed Mac faithful can take personal pride in knowing that their platform of choice payed a hefty role in bringing the latest Star Wars installment to light.

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