Mac Lab Report

Five Helpful Wares for the Mac

- 2002.04.11

As I've been writing these articles over the past year, I've benefited enormously from the many tips, hints, and suggestions from my readers. Sometimes this takes the form of features or functions I didn't know about in a piece of software I've reviewed. Often it is software I've never heard of suggested to solve a particular problem.

This week I present several of the best programs I've encountered due to reader suggestions. Each of these programs is easy enough to use in schools (and often is) but can also generate college or professional level work (and often does).

Graphing

From Dave Sopchak comes the tip for third party graphing software that is more versatile and easier to use than integrated spreadsheet graphing tools, look at Pro Fit, which can generate contour maps, 3D plots, curve fits, and more. Even better, it is available in a mildly disabled trial version in flavors for Mac OS X, Mac OS 9 on PPC, and 68K Macs with and without FPU's. That ought to cover just about all of us here at Low End Mac! Dave says, "I wrote my Ph.D. thesis using AppleWorks and Pro Fit on OS X Public Beta."

BASIC

John Christie read one of my whiny articles about missing old fashioned BASIC interpreters and clued me in to METAL Basic, written by Marin Saric. Not only does this thing look like my old friend GFA BASIC for the Atari ST, it also sports an integrated compiler that lets you generate standalone programs. Even better, it's free. And still better, it runs in both OS 9 and OS X.

Those of you looking for a good BASIC interpreter for older machines should look no farther than Chipmunk BASIC. John said, " I don't know why you complain at all given that you know Chipmunk BASIC. It is as powerful as anything we had on the Apple II or Pet." You know what, John? You're right. That's the last time you'll hear me complain about it. My wife credits you with giving me a BGO (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious.)

Image Enhancement

I've been discovering the usefulness of image processing in my astronomy classroom over the past couple of years, and now I am learning about the National Institute of Health's Image program (commonly called NIH Image). This was originally a Mac-only program, although a Windows version is now available, as well as a Java-based version. This program is amazing. It can take a stack of images and animate them. Given a stack of images from a medical scanner, it can "slice" the stack in any direction and show cross sections not originally imaged. It can be used to analyze micrographs of cells. It can artificially colorize images and enhance faint detail. It can import raw data and convert it into images. It can provide graphs of the pixel values taken in any direction across an image. It has a macro system which allows you to write Pascal-like code to pre- or post-process images. It is used in professional settings all over the world, and the great thing about it is that it is free and runs on almost any color Mac with System 7.0 and higher.

Gradebook

Finally, from Clay Leeds comes an old-fashioned gradebook program called Gradekeeper. Among its other nice features, it is available as trialware, pay if you like, but it isn't disabled. The reasonable licensing fees allow you to use both Mac and Windows versions, and the files are interchangeable. For me, the way the assignments print out sideways at the tops of columns is really nice; I hate using lookup tables to find what assignment #4 was. I'm not happy with my current gradebook program, and I'll be giving this one a serious look for next year.

Anyway, thanks to these folks and to everyone else who writes in, because it lets me know the effort is appreciated and it helps me learn more in the process.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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