The CD-ROM Software Column

by Nick Thomson

Welcome to the August 95 issue. This issue features reviews of two excellent Medio products - Vietnam: a Visual Investigation and Extreme Sports, as well as a brief review of one of the Microsoft Scenes collections That ever-popular additional component, Naomi's Notes, is there too...


Those of you who are gifted with unusual powers of observation will have noted the new name for the column. Over the years the column that I have been writing for Sixteen Bits has continued to evolve (variety is the spice of computing!) and since I and my daughter Naomi particularly enjoy doing software reviews it seemed like a logical area to focus on. Moreover, I have noticed other articles in the journal from time to time that address hardware issues with respect to multimedia computing. We will continue to concentrate on home/school reference products, not games, though there will be the occasional review of 'educational games'.

In order to make the column more useful to readers, I will publish each month a brief subject listing of products reviewed during the past 6 months - if you have further questions about any of them (or CD-ROM software in general), please feel free to ring me on 241 3239 in business hours or Monday - Thursday, 7.30pm - 9.00pm.

REVIEW Vietnam: a Visual Investigation

Vietnam is a multimedia history of the Vietnam conflict, covering events, people and places from the early French colonial days up to the present day (recent material includes coverage of the Vietnamese boat people and the American Vietnam memorial). It includes over 40 minutes of ABC News video and over 300 photographs.

The program has a strong US perspective, and it includes the full text of America's Longest War by George Herring. It is in fact a compelling investigation of a part of modern history that quite a significant impact on Australia. When the program starts up it gives you a visual introduction that runs from 1953 (Eisenhower explaining the reason for America getting involved in the Vietnam conflict) through the 60s (war scenes and Martin Luther King's speech against the war) and concludes in 1968 with LBJ stating that he will not seek nomination for another term as president. It is interesting to reflect that while many have suggested that Vietnam was the undoing of Lyndon B Johnson, it could also be argued that it had a lot to do with the fall of the Liberal party and the coming to power of the Australian Labour Party in 1972.

There are a number of ways that you can locate information in the program. The main sections are Overview, Experiences & Opinions, Timeline, People, Places & Events, The Wall and Library.

Overview provides a summary of answers to key questions such as 'Why did the US go to war in Vietnam?' and 'What was the war like in Vietnam?' - the answers being provided in interview form by people such as William Colby, former Director of the CIA. Experiences & Opinions is a collection of video interviews, that provide a whole range of different impressions of the war. They range from a young tank crewman reading a letter to his mum to a Vietnamese antiwar activist describing what the war was like for the people - his statement that It's much better to be the head of a chicken than the tail of an elephant sticks in my mind.

Picture unavailableTimeline is a chronology of the war from 1854 (French Indochina) up to the present day. There are photos of key events - if you click on one of them then you are given a screen like that shown in Diagram 1.

The text is fairly comprehensive (you can scroll down to get two more pages of it), and the photo can be blown up to full screen size.

People Places and Events is both a collection of short biographies of key people (photos included) and the text of America's Longest War. The Wall is a detailed description (video included) of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, while Library includes excerpts from three sources - The Pentagon Papers, America's Longest War and excerpts from Vietnam Documents: American and Vietnamese Views.

It is possible to search by word for information on specific items, and this search feature accesses all of the references listed in The Library (see above) as well as a Dictionary of Vietnam. When I did a search for the term Australia I located a one page summary of Australia's involvement in the war plus 18 other articles that referred to Australia. In each relevant topic the word Australia was highlighted wherever it appeared. You can also use Boolean operators such as AND, OR, NEAR or NOT in your searches.

Picture unavailableThe Gallery menu provides a visual tabulation of the various photos available (as demonstrated in Diagram 2 and a listing of all the videos.

There is no hard copy documentation provided with the package, but there is online help. It can be accessed from any of the screens, and it will provide spoken help about the various features of that screen. My only criticism of this feature is that the spoken 'help' is fairly quick, and there are no visual cues to help you - I really had to concentrate on the instructions to catch all of them.

You can print information obtained via such features as Timeline or Search, but it is not possible to copy excerpts for inclusion in other programs. This latter omission is most disappointing - I guess it may be for copyright reasons. There are also buttons to take you Back to the previous screen or to give you a History of what you have looked at in the current session.

It is difficult to imagine a more comprehensive coverage of the Vietnam War, and this program would be an invaluable resource for schools, colleges and history students. It is easy to use and makes excellent use of multimedia - the only serious drawback (from the point of view of students) is that you can't copy information from the program.

System requirements

Multimedia PC with 486SX or higher running Windows 3.1, 4Mb of RAM (8Mb recommended), 4 Mb of Hard disk space, CD-ROM Drive & Sound Card, VGA display with 256 colour support.

RRP: $79.95

For further info. contact:

Dataflow Tel: (02) 310 2020 Fax: (02) 319 2676


REVIEW Extreme Sports

This is a 'package with a difference' - a multimedia introduction to 21 "Extreme" sports such as skysurfing, mountain bike racing and boardsailing. These sports are gaining in popularity, and it is noticeable that the marketing world is currently working hand-in-hand with the media to push these sports along. The Coca Cola skysurfing and the Solo kayaking ads are examples of this. Basically this program provides a fairly comprehensive introduction to the sports, and as such it makes fascinating viewing.

The sports are grouped into the four categories of Air, Land, Snow and Water. Within categories they are:

Hang Gliding, Base Jumping, Sky Diving, Sky Surfing, Bungee Jumping and Paragliding;

Mountain Biking, BMX Biking, In-line Skating and Rock climbing;

nowboarding, Speed skiing, Ski aerials, Ice climbing, Iditabike racing, Extreme skiing;

ig-wave surfing, Whitewater kayaking, Boardsailing, Scuba diving and Sea kayaking.

For each sport you have 6 options - Video, History, Interview, Exploits, Places and Gear.

The video footage on this package is stunning - the best video on CD-ROM I have yet seen. The quality depends a bit on the quality of your monitor - Super VGA with 256 colours is a must. I had some trouble getting the program to run at first because of a conflict with my Trident monitor - when I switched the driver to a standard Windows Super VGA driver it worked fine. I should hasten to add that I have found three games that refuse to run on my machine because of a conflict with the Trident driver - apparently it has an unusual way of using memory.

Picture unavailableWhen you select the Video option you get a screen something like that shown in Diagram 3.

If you want a specific aspect of the video you click on the appropriate title to the right - if you choose 'Entire Video' you will get over 2 minutes of video footage. This can be blown up to full screen. On a couple of sports the video was a bit chunky, but mostly it is excellent. Some of the stunts are mind boggling - what an introduction to the sports!

History provides an outline of how the sport began - in the case of the more established ones there can be quite a few pages of it. Interview provides an audio interview with a personality from the sport, while Exploits provides an extensive description of various experiences with the sport. In the case of Base Jumping there were 48 pages of it.

Places provides a world map with dots that highlight a number of 'the most extreme locations' for this sport. The program also allows you to add your own locations. Finally, Gear gives you information about the gear you need to practice the sport. In the case of Mountain Biking, the screen looks like that in Diagram 4.

Picture unavailableIf you click on any part of the bike or rider you get a label of what that piece of gear or clothing is - double clicking on it will give you a paragraph of information about the item. From the main menu you can access galleries of the Photos (several full colour photos for each sport), the Videos, the Interviews, the Venues and the Histories. There are also brief visual presentations on Risk Management and Extreme Motivations (what is so enticing about extreme sports?). There is no documentation, and online Help is only available in a couple of places, so you have to pretty much figure out the program for yourself. However, it is fairly self explanatory - though the Galleries that you can access from the main screen could do with some introductory explanation.

All in all , I found this to be a very interesting introduction to some fairly unusual sports, and it is also an excellent introduction to multimedia presentations. It provides good reference information on each of the sports, and some of the historical background material eg. on rock climbing makes very interesting reading. On a couple of occasions I got a message that it wouldn't read from the CD-ROM Drive - if I hit the <Esc> key then the message would disappear, and the program continued to work OK.

System requirements

Multimedia PC with 486SX or higher running Windows 3.1, 4Mb of RAM (8Mb recommended), 4 Mb of Hard disk space, double speed CD-ROM Drive & Sound Card, VGA display with 256 colour support.

RRP: $79.95

For further info. contact:
Dataflow Tel: (02) 310 2020 Fax: (02) 319 2676


Naomi's Notes

Hi! Welcome to Naomi's Notes. Today I reviewed Extreme Sports by Medio.

I think Extreme Sports is a great program, it is interesting and fun and has some great videos. It provides good information about each of the sports which is easy to understand and is interesting to know. It also gives interviews with famous people in the sport which is interesting to listen to. I really enjoyed exploring Extreme Sports and watching all the death-defying stunts and manoeuvres.

I couldn't find any main faults with the program except for the fact that on two occasions it jammed and we had to start up again or exit.

Otherwise I loved it because it was fun, interesting and helped me to learn about lots of different Extreme sports, and it was easy to use. I gave it a 5 star rating.


REVIEW Microsoft Scenes - Flight Collection

Strictly speaking this is not a multimedia product, but I have elected to do a brief review of it since it provides quite good reference information on a range of modern fighter aircraft. The Microsoft Scenes collections are a series of screen saver modules that you can set to run as screen savers from Control Panel in Windows. You can also use the images as Windows wallpaper. The modules include Undersea, Wildlife, Hollywood, Nature, Sports Extremes and Brain Twister collections.

The Flight collection includes full colour photos of fighter aircraft such as the F-14, the Mig Foxbat, the Lockheed U-2 and the Harrier. You can set the display so that one picture will display after your computer has been unused for a pre-determined interval, or you can set the program to rotate between all of the pictures. One annoyance is that there is no way within Scenes to set the screen saver to activate automatically when you start up Windows - to do this you have to go into the Desktop feature within Control Panel.

Picture unavailableAs well as background pictures you can access information about each of the aircraft - Diagram 5 is an example of the background information that is available on the Stealth fighter. Unfortunately there is no way of printing or copying this information for use in other Windows applications.

As far as the screen saver features are concerned, you can set transition effects, the time before it displays and how often you want the picture to change, and whether or not to include a password. You can also create personal collections of images.

System requirements

386 or higher running Windows 3.1, 2Mb of RAM, 3Mb of Hard disk space, VGA display.

For further info. contact Microsoft
Tel: (02) 870 2419
Fax: (02) 805 1108

Nick Thomson manages his own business, providing management consultancy and training in such topics as Strategic Planning, Team Building, Client Service, Time Management and Conflict Resolution. He can be contacted on (06) 241 3239.

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