Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 163 / APRIL 1994 / PAGE 66

Tour the world with CD-ROM. (geographic multimedia software; includes related article on CD-ROM SelectPhone telephone number database) (Multimedia PC) (Buyers Guide)
by Scott A. May


Columbus would be impressed. Magellan would be amazed. History greatest explorers spent vast fortunes and much of thier lives charting unknown destinations. Now, with less effort than it takes to lift a compass, you can visit people and places these legendary navigators never dreamed of. Through the magic of multimedia, we can all be desktop tourists adn micro-Macro Polos, experiencing sights and sounds that might otherwise be unattainable. Perhaps our ancestors were right all along: The earth is indeed flat, in the shape of a compact disc.

Although several products covered here are available in both DOS and Windows versions (unless otherwise noted), we'll focus on the latter. The MPC format, by nature, is much more dynamic--taking full advantage of Windows' integrated resources for music, speech, animation, and video.

Ready to roll? Pack light--a simple mouse will do--and prepare for a multimedia journey of sight and sound.

Howdy, Neighbor!

Some of the most exotic adventures can be found in your own backyard. Provided that your backyard is in the United States, you have an abundance of choices--50, to be exact. From Alaska to Florida, Maine to Hawaii, the states offer some of the world's most diverse topography, climates, customs, natural wonders, and man-made attractions. Whether you're planning a vacation, looking to relocate, or just wanting to know more about your neighbors, now you can travel from coast to coast and still be home for dinner.

An excellent starting point is U.S. Atlas 4 (The Software Toolworks, 415-883-3000, $59.95), an MPC version of the company's bestt-selling disk-based software. Bursting with interesting facts and statistical data covering more than 200 topics the product proves to be as much of an audiovisual textbook as a multimedia travel guide. New features found in the CD-ROM edition include over 150 full-motion video clips, culled from the "America by Air" series by Douglas Kahan. Although brief and rendered without sound, the 256-color aerial footage is spectacular. Also included are more than 1000 captioned photos of scenic and historic spots, presented in slide-show format. Finally, the program offers MIDI renditions of each state's anthem, as well as digitized speech for key map pronunciations and a unique audio help feature. These multimedia goodies serve as enticements for the wealth of information contained within.

As an interactive reference guide, U.S. Atlas holds tremendous value for students, travelers, and researchers. You'll find 11 major categories--divided among national, state, and county levels--covering social, geographical, and economic data in more than 400 subtopics. The colorful presentation mix includes graphs, charts, and text, all of which can be easily cut and pasted into other Windows applications. Finally, there are maps galore: colorful topographic, highway, and presentation-style statmaps covering regional, state, county, and city levels. Special map markers let you pinpoint places of interest, while the Map Trails feature lets you create sell-running slide shows with up to 50 map locations.

Whereas U.S. Atlas succeeds with its crisp academic look, American Vista (Applied Optical Media, 215-429-3701, $59.95) evokes the warmth of a well-worn, oversize parlor book--multimedia style, of course. Entirely mouse driven, the program is divided into two main chapters, States and U.S. Bookshelf, each containing deeply nested topics and submenus. Don't look for exploding windows or flashy speical effects here; information is presented at a leisurely pace, one page at a time, inviting viewers to relax and browse awhile. Without question, your patience is rewarded.

Take a visual tour of all 50 states with the program's gallery of more than 1000 photographs. The images--landmarks, scenic wonders, and cultural attractions--are rendered in high-resolution (640 x 480) 256-color mode. Each state also features numerous maps, detailing state or regional topography, major cities, highways, national parks, and economic resources. The more fact-oriented traveler can explore the hypertext-style statistic shheets, outlining such topics as population, politics, geography, history, economy, tourism, and trivia.

Visit the History section to hear songs from such eras as the Revolutionary War period and the Great Depression. Enter the cultural exhibit to hear dozens of songs culled from the Smithsonian Institution's Folkways Collection, representing nine distinct regions of the United States. Songs range from authentic Appalachian dulcimer melodies oof Northwestern logging tunes. Perhaps even more fascinating are the lengthy samples of diverse regional dialects, from that of a New York street vendor to a Sea Islands Gullah to a native American. Both the music and the speech are cleanly recorded, offering flavorful examples of America's rich and diverse culture.

No tour of the U.S. would be complete without a visit to one of our historic and scenic national parks. Whether you're planning that next family vacation, reminiscing about a past trip, or simply in the mood for some sensational photography, National Parks of America (Multicom Publishing, 800-245-4525, $59.95) is sure to inspire. Key to the appal of this upscale MPC product are more than 950 pictures by award-winning photographer David Muench, spot-lighting 228 of the country's national parks. Subjects range from monuments and battlefields to trails, lakes, and shorelines. Muench's photos are absolutely breath-taking, showing a keen eye for natural light, color, and composition. Presented in slide-show format, the pictures can be viewed as windowed snapshots or in their full-screen glory. Also featured are 20 narrated full-motion videos, rendered in Quick Time for Windows. The program amkes extensive use of MIDI background music and QuickTime's clear digitized speech.

Though worthy for its stunning visuals alone, National Parks of America transcends the multimedia coffee-table level of function as a real-world travel guide. A marvelous indexing system sorts entries by region, state, park, photos, or videos, for fast and easy access. Click on the Text button to display or national park to display or print details such as mailing address, phone number, directions, best times to visit, points of interest, activities, and other general information. Select the Travel Planner to search parks by state or by region; parks are sorted by more than a dozen user-defined criteria such as backpacking, boating, fishing, camping, hiking, loding and restaurants. National Parks of America is a majestic work thaths guaranteed to stir memories and spark the urge to travel.

On the Road Again

Of course, planning a trip and actually hitting the road are two entirely different matters. Navigating America's convoluted highway system is a challenge for the best drives; it can be a nightmare for those unprepared. You can take a sneak peek at any U.S. thoroughfare--from interstate highway to the smallest city block--with Street Atlas USA 2.0 (DeLorme Mapping, 800-452-5931, $169). Using current U.S. Census Bureau data, this amazing Windows product packs detailed maps of the countryhs entire roadway system onto a single CD-ROM. No town, suburb, or rural area is too remote or obscure. With lightning-fast search functiions and excellent printing capabilities, DeLormehs masterpiece showcases the power and potential of CD-ROM.

The raw numbers behind the images are so mind-boggling that they bear mention. In terms of sheer size, the CD-ROM database now tops 646MB, up 166MB from the previous version. In addition to having more than 12 million street segments, the program identifies over 1 million man-made or geographical features: lakes, rivers, railroads, mountains, famous buildings, and more. Finally DeLorme claims that if you were to print the entire U.S. map at the program's highest magnification, the results would cover more than ten football fields. Any way you add it up, this is one of the most impressive CDs on the market.

Such an overwhelming volume of numbers, facts, and figures would be meaningless without the program's remarkably succinct, intuitive interface. To locate any city or town, simply type its name in the Search dialog box and highlight the correct entry; the program instantly transports you there. Use the same process to spot specific streets or blocks, which the program labels and highlights for quick visual reference. You can even find locations based on postal ZIP codes and telephone numbers (area code and/or exchange). Mouse-driven compass movement and lightning-fast screen redraws make it easy to move oin and around the maps, which zoom to 16 levels of magnification. Any closer, and you'd be brushing treetops and peekingg in windows.

Once you've been bitten by the cartography bug, take your interest to the next level with DeLorme's MapExpert ($495). Now in its second revisioins, this massive program combines the speed and features of Street Atlas USA with a comprehensive set of professional-quality mapping tools. In addition to full search and display functions, you can now update, personalize, and customize existing maps or create your own from scratch. Has your city recently expanded? Draw in and label any new boundaries, streets, or landmarks using simple line, fill, text, and symbol tools. Add "sticky notes" to any map, useful for directions or reference markers. Although you obviously can't alter the original maps on CD-ROM, the program saves all changes to hard disk as map overlays.

Beyond the Blue Horizon

It's a small world, so they say, and getting smaller all the time. This applies not so much to geographical size as to our concept of foreign lands and different cultures. Places that once seemed very far away and out of reach now seem close by. The idea of a world community has become a reality. Now, through the magic of multimedia, anyone can travel this shrinking globe and visit places that were once only a distant dream.

The first stop on our globe trotting tour is Great Cities of the World (InterOptica Publishing, 415-788-8788, $49.95), a dynamic MPC travel guide to ten of the world's most exciting places: Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Moscow, Los Angeles, London, New York, Cairo, Paris,a nd Bombay. Each location features several minutes of atmospheric video, plus a narrated slide snow with dozens of dazzling full-screen photos. Both text and speech can be configured to English, Spanish, or French.

The product succeeds best as a multimedia diplomat, providing basic valuable background information about currency, history, language, and time zones, as well as useful phrases. Other detailed topics of information include recreation, restaurants, hotels, culture, sights, transportation, shopping, and travel planning. There's even a quiz to test your knowledge of each city. InterOptica's programming is exceptionally smooth, giving the program a relaxed pace and distinct international feel.

Two more general-purpose reference guides are World Atlas 4 (The Software Toolworks, $69.95) and World Vista (Applied Optical Media, $59.95). Both products sport functions and features that are identical to those of their American counterparts, described earlier. Like U.S. Atlas 4, World Atlas 4 takes more of a textbook approach to its subject; it's filled with maps, stats, graphs, charts, and curent census figures for more than 200 countries. Aesthetically, however, the program boasts some of the genre's best full-motion video clips (150 in all), together with authentic digitized recordings, more than 1000 color photos, and hundreds of digitized speech samples.

World Vista features the same structure and programming style of its American counsin. The product's major attractions are its hundreds of full-screen photos and its map system, scanned from Rand McNally originals. The designers use overscanned windows to display seamless maps at full scale, scrolled across several virtual screens. Digitized sound also plays a big role, evidenced by the wide array of traditional music (courtesy of the Smithsonian's Folkways Collection) and language samples. Simply pick a common phrase and then click on 1 of 210 countries to hear it spoken. With few exceptions, the program makes no distinction between language and regional dialect. Elsewhere, the atlas offers a more traditional cross-referencing of facts, figures, stats, and assorted graphic treasures.

DeLorme goes international with its Global Explorer ($169), an ambitious combination of map collection, world atlas, and travel guide. This Windows CD-ROM offers seamless, full-color maps of the entire world, rendered at various levels of detail. More reference-oriented than the company's street-mapping products, Global Explorer focuses less on navigation than on cultural, geographical, social, and historical features. Large map icons are linked to descriptive text windows, highlightning current facts and figures for more than 20,000 locations. As you'd expect from DeLorme, all maps provide labeled roads, railways, and topographic features, and they zoom down to street level in all major world cities.

When you get that itch to travel, Adventures (Deep River Publishing, 207-871-1684, $49.95) will do almost everything but pack your bags and buy the airline ticket. The ultimate vacation reference guide, this fun, fact-filled CD-ROM will inspire you with detailed accounts of more than 1000 worldwide adventures. Pull-down menus let you pick through 29 main categories of activities ranging from aerial sports to youth programs. Selecting a category reveals dozens of unique vacation getaways throughout the world, with thousands of exquisite photos, 76 full-motion videos, and lengthy textt descriptions. The program will even tell you whom to contact, the best times of the year to go, costs, difficulty levels of the various activities, and whether the trip is suitable for children. The Windows interface is fast and clean, highlighted by one of the best cross-referenced search engines in the business.

Many MPC travel guides focus on specific regions--for example, InterOptica's Mount Everest ($24.95) and Astonishing Asia $(49.95). The first title, produced in conjunction with the Sierra Club, teaches ecological awareness while it entertains and informs. Standout features include glossary, maps, photos, full-motion video, and hypertext-style text with direct links to animated illustrations. Although not as large in scale or as visually dynamic as as most InterOptica titles, the Mount Everest program scales its towering subject with thorough, sure-footed authority. Astonishing Asia, on the other hand, must surely rank among the most unusual and visually stunning of any of the products mentioned here. Featuring more than 30 minutes of video and 600 pictures by photojournalists Earl and Nazima Kowall--some never before seen by Western eyes--this title offers a firsthand look at more than 44 themes in nine categories. Experience bizarre rituals, festivals, death rites, religious ceremonies and more more. The mood is dark and forbidding, thanks in part to Louis Roth's expressive narration and Ken Andrukhs ethereal sound-track. Exotic, to say the least, this incredible journey should not be missed.

Speaking of Travel

Once you've decided where to go, crossing broders is the easy part; getting past language barriers often proves more daunting. Luckily, this is one are where multimedia teaching tools really shine. The growing number of high-quality MPC language products is sure to bring smiles to many weary travelers.

A great place to begin is the Introductory Games series from Syracuse Language Systems (315-478-6729). This series offers titles in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and English ($69.95 each). Each features 27 games, such as concentration, jigsaw puzzles, counting, and Simon says, to teach hundreds of words and expressions. Students learn by total language immersion--interactive reinforcement, with no translations--helped by excellent digitized voices and colorful graphics. Although designed for children ages 4 and above, these products are quite suitable for beginning teens and adults. In a similar vein, Syracuse offers its Triple Play series, currently available in Spanish, French, and English ($89.95 each). Designed for intermediate users ages 9 through adult, the programs contain dozens of amusing games, teaching more than 1000 words and phrases in three levels of learning difficulty. A unique feature is the ability to record and play back your voice to compare it with the narrator's.

For more advanced language skills, turn to the impressive HyperGlot (615-558-8270) line of MPC products, such as the self-study Berlitz Think & Talk series for Spanish, French, German, and Italian ($199 each). These multivolume sets (seven to nine discs per package) offer 50 interactive lessons of total language immersion. Although not particularly flashy, HyperGlot's presentation style is smooth and effective, with CD audio of unequaled clarity and featuring authentic native speakers and 10,000-word online dictionaries. Other excellent HyperGlot multimedia products include the Learn to Speak series in Spanish, French,a nd English ($99 each), featuring two-disco, first-year language courses of 30 or more contextt-intensive lessons. Once again, the program succeeds by immersing students in role-playing conversations and interactive simulations, including MPC recording and playback sessions.