The Angry Corrie 30: Jan-Feb97

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CD-ROM review: The Munros Through Windows

Iain White for Isys Computers, ISBN 0 9528586 0 6, #79

- Reviewed by Perkin Warbeck -

I breezed into Urology Physics and kicked Peter Morrison the Singing Urologist out of my chair at the PC. Plonking my Grenson brogues onto the desk, I speared the urologist. "What shall we do today Pete? How about some work on that cystoscopy program?" This was a bad move on my part, for the urologist hankers after a computer he can just speak into with all his mumbling and technical jargon.

"The trouble with you Pete is you've seen too much Star Trek. I'll wager you've never taken the bus all the way to the University formerly known as Bell Street Tech and spent three hours in front of a punched tape machine just to get a program that solves a quadratic equation. In those days we thought we had multimedia if we could print Raquel Welch with the ASCII character set." Mention of multimedia brought me round to my immediate extracurricular task - a review of The Munros Through Windows - so I booted the urologist off to perform a Nesbitt's Procedure.

High standards are expected of multimedia packages these days and rightly so. The wee boys of Jools, TAC's trusty proofreader, play virtual golf on the 18th hole at Harbour Town on a free CD and have the temerity to hit a driver off the green. That's multimedia. It only lacks a virtual "oldest member" leaping from his armchair on the veranda to chastise them. TMTW on the other hand is virtually some of Butterfield's High Mountains book on CD. "Monomedia" was the way the Ed described it. Fellow TAC contributors used to the Ed's red pen will be amazed at my restraint in not pointing out to him that "monomedium" would be correct. (Well you have now anyway - monomediocre Ed.)

But to return to the beginning; TMTW consists of three windows: a map, a hill data window and a control window. Click on the map to select a hill. Its name will be pronounced in the Gaelic. If a photo is available it can be viewed. A so-called "panorama" can be requested; this takes some time and one has high hopes. Sadly all that come up are a whole lot of triangles corresponding to the hills visible from the summit. Imagine randomly scattering Toblerone boxes on the ground and looking at them from "Sir" Nicholas Scott's usual position. TMTW also supplies an electronic version of Murdo's battered old ledger, although since our review copy didn't allow access to it not much can be said. The problem with TMTW is that it is less than the sum of Butterfield's book and Blanco's site at http://www.gla.ac.uk/Subject/Hill/ and other websites such as the Pineapple People's. And this is the crux. We not only expect bells and whistles but tubular bells and dog whistles. Punched tape and Raquel Welch have faded like Tam Weir's nose - sorry, bad simile - like Tam's duvet Daily Record. "Panorama" should mean at the very least a Vistapro-generated topology. At best a quicktime VRML 360 spin like those available at the Everest site http://www.web.co.za/everest/. Why so critical? Because TMTW is changing hands at #79, that's why. Check the prices of multimedia in the press: thirty quid, forty tops. Download Blanco's list into Excel or Dbase and you've got a more flexible ledger for free. In terms of pictures, a quick Internet search on "Ben Nevis" and ".gif" produced nine sources. University climbing clubs infest the Net with photographs of usually reasonable quality. Even Gaelic hill-name pronunciation is already available on audio cassette.

Even within its own limitations TMTW is annoying. One can't browse the hills by height, name or whatever tickles the fancy. They have to be selected with the map or by typing part of the name. One can't browse a list of the photies; possibly because there are only 142 and this would be more obvious in a list. Even when looking at the directory of the D: drive, the identities are buried in a huge single file. There may be a good reason for this but it's not what we have come to expect. When I spin up Encarta I can list all the videos on the disk. I can view them in succession without having to go through the encyclopaedia. With TMTW they're saying "you will use it in this way" - and the geek generation doesn't like that. Some of the photographic absences are staggering too - no An Teallach; no Triple Buttress of Beinn Eighe; only a rather insipid shot from Kinlochewe featuring what is probably the author's family; next to no winter shots. This would be forgiveable if the photos were in-your-face brilliant, but again they fall down. Scanners are fiddly beasties and your man here ought to be loath to criticise, but here goes anyway: the Gillean ridge is out of focus and there can be no excuse.

An ideal multimedia package for the Munros would allow you to mark waypoints and create a flyby or walkby. It would generate proper summit panoramas for all the hills. There would be photos for every hill. We know it's all possible. Zooming the map would add detail. The ledger bit is unnecessary for any adequate user of a spreadsheet or database. Baggers being baggers, they are always going to want to customise that type of activity. Despite all this carping, I shall not throw it away. It would be a half-decent first effort at the task if it didn't claim to "revolutionise the way we look at hills" and demand eighty quid. Just as Peter Morrison wants me to give him a PC that he can talk to, so I want TMTW to give me more than I can get from the Internet for free. Oh and there's no hypertext-type linking. That again is a must. The joy of hypertext is burrowing into the details of one hill, then finding a link to Professor Collie or to Lord Byron and jumping off to another thread. That's the only way interactive software can remain interesting. I make no apologies for the WWW addresses here; if you're into spending #79 on a CD, you've already got enough for an Internet subscription.

Ed. - Just to add that two copies of TMTW were received in this parish: the TAC copy, given to Warbeck, and the TGO copy, about which 494 words of negativity will appear in the Feb issue of that glossy organ. These fairly leapt from the keyboard in response to the unprecedented hype given to TMTW - Scottish news bulletins, business pages of the broadsheets etc. Bizarrely (or cannily) Isys Computers obtained gushing pre-launch puffs from several famous hillmen who have almost made a virtue out of their anti-technology-stance until now. Hence their wowish quotes were surely akin to having never before seen a car then suddenly waxing lyrical when a Lada phuts past. Anyway, buy the Feb TGO and read more, but think very carefully before buying the actual CD, since the unanimous opinion chez TAC is that #79 would be a way-over-the-score asking price even if the actual end product was top-notch. Which, sadly, it isn't - and from what we hear via feedback from newsgroups and shops, several far-from-gruntled customers have already bought TMTW unseen and have been less than overjoyed at finding out the hard way.

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