Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 1985 sometime - scanned
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE MACINTOSH
Douglas Adams, co-author of Infocom's Hitchhiker's guide To The Galaxy adventure program talks to David Tebbutt about the infinite probabilities of owning a Macintosh.
Like many creative people, Douglas Adams' office is a mess. The only clear bit is a small patch of scuba suit material on which he rolls his Macintosh mouse. He'd just gone off to get me a coffee when I heard a ringing noise coming from under a heap of papers on the floor. Adams rushed in, shoved his hand deep into the pile and pulled out his telephone handset. Of course having found the phone I expected him to put it on his desk or something but no, back it went among the assorted computer magazines and brochures on the floor.
Casting around the room, there's much evidence of Adams' on-off love affair with computers. On a bookshelf at the back of the room there's an Apricot xi and, lurking under his desk, a DEC Rainbow. He tells me that he has a BBC Micro in a cupboard and a Tandy 100 hidden away somewhere, not to mention the Nexos wordprocessor in another room. Hogging his desk though, is the true object of his affection these days - a Macintosh together with an ImageWriter, digitising equipment, a couple of modems and a cable trailing into another room where he keeps a 90M Sunol hard disk.
Adams' interest in computers started a few years ago when a friend suggested that he buy a wordprocessor. Some time later he saw his first Macintosh and bought it on impulse thinking it would be a great plaything - there was no software for it and it was underpowered to say the least. Adams thinks that Apple made a grave mistake launching the 128K Macintosh without much serious software as it gave the opposition just what it needed to brand the Macintosh as a toy - an image Apple is still trying to shake off.
As soon as software and add-ons started appearing, Adams was at the front of the queue to look and maybe buy. Soon the Macintosh had displaced all his other computer equipment.
In the early days, Adams often found himself distracted by the Macintosh's easily accessed twiddly bits such as the jazzy fonts. He'd spend ages experimenting with different typefaces instead of getting on with the work in hand. There was even a period when he had to control these urges by switching to a manual typewriter as a sort of penance. Adams currently uses Microsoft's Word for all his writing work but can't wait to switch his allegiance to the up-coming British product, MacAuthor. (This word processor has been designed by writers for writers and takes full advantage of the Macintosh user interface.) MacAuthor is at home with straight-forward writing but, more importantly for Adams, it also lets the user construct awkward script-writing formats where 80 percent of the text sits on the right-hand side of the page.
The hard disk mentioned earlier is fine, up to a point. There are limitations on how much disk capacity the Macintosh can handle at any time, so he's carved the Sunol device up into a number of drives and then `perms' any four at a time depending on the work in hand. He warns that at the moment there are problems for people wanting to run LaserWriters and some modems at the same time as using the hard disk. Apparently, the disk drive was designed using an early specification of AppleTalk, and neither Apple nor the disk drive manufacturers seem to be rushing to a solution to these potentially serious problems.
One very natty toy Adams plays with is his MacVision package hooked up to a JVC video camera. Because the package scans the image vertically, he was able to produce the most weird images by moving the object being scanned. He showed me a picture of his face which was stretched horizontally and had acquired rather too many eyes by the simple expedient of pausing occasionally as the scan took place.
Adams is also a great fan of electronic mail. Because he travels quite a lot, he finds it a great way of keeping in touch, using Telecom Gold most of the time when in the UK and The Source when he's in America. MacTerminal is the communications software he's most familiar with, but just recently he's discovered a bit of user supported software called Red Ryder which he thinks is pretty good. It's one of those packages in the public domain, but if you use it you're supposed to send the author fifty dollars or whatever.
One of his current ambitions is to find enough time to try and implement his 3-D crossword using MacForth. He's been studying the Brodie books and is really taken with the structure of this language. He says it reflects the way he sometimes likes to write, that is from the details outwards rather than to some grand original plan. He often thinks of amusing little scenarios and then tries to figure out how to incorporate them into his current novel.
Ploughing through the mess of software he's accrued over the past few months, I was given a quick run down on the pieces which appealed to him most: Master Pieces - an automatic jigsaw maker which carves up any graphic image, breaks the jigsaw up and then lets you reassemble it; Alice - the chess-like game involving black holes and a pointer which can be made to move in the opposite direction to the mouse movement (very unnerving); Conway's Game of Life which moved at an incredible pace; a fractal picture generator; and, best of all he showed me a pre-release of the Switcher, the utility that allows you to `run' a number of applications at the same time. Switching from program to program is a doddle, and one of the best effects allows the old application to slide off one side of the screen while the new one slides into place from the other side.
Looking ahead, Adams would like to get a LaserWriter, both for its speed and its quality of print. He looks forward to CD ROMs appearing which will contain stupendous amounts of reference material (an on-line encyclopaedia for example), but also could be used to great effect to give stereo sound as an accompaniment to his interactive fiction. A third area in which he sees interesting developments is in sound synthesis. He can't wait to see a synthesiser which, as well as containing the sounds of all popular instruments, will be able to sample and reproduce any sound it hears.
Douglas Adams was born in Cambridge in 1952, where some years later he graduated in English at St John's College. He then spent several years writing material for radio and television in addition to writing, performing and even directing stage revues in London, Cambridge and Edinburgh. Other roles he has taken en route to becoming `A Very Famous Author' include those as a hospital porter, barn builder, chicken-shed cleaner, bodyguard and radio producer. A humble BBC sound entertainment entitled The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy eventually spawned an entire industry including the phenomenally successful book, record, T-shirt, television series and computer program. The most recent of three equally popular sequels, So Long, And Thanks For All the Fish, has just been issued in paperback by Pan Books.