Review of All About Pumps by Fred Blechman

All About Pumps -- Educational Software Review


Review in Nuts & Volts Magazine, June, 1995.


By Fred Blechman.


Reprinted by permission of the author.

"ALL ABOUT PUMPS" is a software tutorial that places pumps into various categories and shows how they work through carefully drawn colorful animations. Over 50 pumps are covered with over 100 animations-more animations than are found in entire computer-based encyclopedias from other software companies, according to the author.

Have you ever tried to get through a day without using a mechanical pump? You probably don't realize how MANY pumps affect your life every day.

When programmer and artist Russell D. Hoffman first started his research to produce an animated educational software tutorial on pumps, he thought there would be about 17 different pumps. By the time the project was completed he had animated over 50 pumps!

ALL ABOUT PUMPS ($59.95) is the result of nearly two years of research and development by Hoffman. It is designed for everyone who use pumps-and we all use them, every day. Specifically, it is designed for schools, pump manufacturers, distributors, and homeowners.

Is there really a need for this. Author Hoffman surely thinks so. "During my research for this project, I found a book on inventions, published by the Smithsonian Institute. There was no mention of pumps. Yet, there are close to 400 pump manufacturers in the nation and thousands of distributors," he points out. "Every home, every car, boat, office building, factory-all have pumps."

ALL ABOUT PUMPS is a DOS program that requires a fairly powerful IBM PC or compatible. Although it works fine on my 386, a 486 with 1 megabyte SVGA video graphics (VESA 1.2) and 4 megabytes EMM or XMS is recommended. You'll also need about 25 megabytes of hard disk space (The program is now also available on CD-ROM.) Since it runs in DOS, it can take full advantage of the hardware without the burden of Windows, resulting in large, smooth, and fast animations.

The authoring system employed to create ALL ABOUT PUMPS is called "RUSSELL'S 'P11' ANIMATION MACHINE," also written by Russell D. Hoffman. "P11 began in 1984 when I was asked to program a tutorial about the human heart, titled "The Engine of Life." I needed a powerful tool to illustrate blood flow, EKG simulations, vein grafts, and more. There was nothing available to do the job, so I designed and developed P11. It is written entirely in Assembler language with over 100,000 lines of code," he reports (see Sidebar.)

ALL ABOUT PUMPS was written because Hoffman recognized several relevant factors.

First, there were no other tutorials available on this subject. The big software houses tend to create dozens of tutorials that cover about four types: An encyclopedia, a dinosaur tutorial, a human body tutorial, and an automotive tutorial.

Second, Hoffman believes that high quality products can have a long enough shelf life to allow them to return the significant development costs if they "push the envelope" now. Screen resolutions and machine speeds have reached a significant developmental stage. Hoffman believes that Screen Mode 261 (1024 by 768 dots, 256 colors) is adequate for a product expected to remain useful for years to come.

Third, pumps really are fascinating. They contain anywhere from zero to hundreds of working parts, work on many different mechanical and physical principles, are made of dozens of different materials and, of course, pumps are everywhere.

Fourth, and finally, pump motion is generally cyclic. This made it particularly appropriate for the P11 development system Hoffman had written.

INSTALLATION

ALL ABOUT PUMPS comes on four hi-density 3.5-inch floppy diskettes, which install one at a time-oddly enough, in any sequence! (A CD-ROM version has been made available since this review originally appeared.) Each disk contains the installation driver, and all you do (while in DOS) is type INSTALL B: C: (that is, source drive and hard drive) for each diskette. Although you must enter this INSTALL command for each disk, the advantage is that it doesn't make any difference if you get the diskettes out of order. A shortcut, after entering the first INSTALL command, is to just press the F3 key to repeat the command after changing diskettes. (The CD-ROM version has NO installation and takes NO hard disk space at all!)

All together, it takes about 12 minutes for the four diskettes to install 229 files (19,368,858 bytes!) all into a single directory (P11) with several levels of subdirectories. This includes a simple batch file to start the program. Since new pumps and screens are being added with each new update, plan on 25 megabytes of hard disk space, or get the CD-ROM version.

All you do to start the program is type RUN PUMPS and hit the Enter key. An attractive title screen appears quickly, with a RUNNING HORSE. It just keeps running and running-like the Eveready Rabbit-until you press the Enter key to continue. (This same neat running horse appears on many screens throughout the program.)

The screen changes to the Main Menu, which describes the simple navigational controls to move between major screens. Function key F5 takes you to a listing of all the pumps (52 in all), from which you can select any of the pumps.

F10 always takes you back to the Main Menu, where F1 takes you to two help screens that explain some additional key commands. This is all so well done that you actually don't need any documentation to use this program! I'm impressed!

On the Main Menu screen is a list of eight main program choices: Where Pumps Are Used; How Pumps Work; Types of Pumps; Measuring Pump Performance; the Right Pump for the Job; Historical Background and Some Famous Pumps; The Most Amazing Pump of All; Exit to DOS. Move a floating finger-pointing hand to any topic with your mouse, click, and you're there.

ALL ABOUT PUMPS is organized into sections, subsections, and then screens, with simple navigation between sections and subsections. Within each relatively small subsection you press the Enter key to advance.

Unfortunately, you can't "rewind" to a previous screen when in a subsection, which vary in length from one to twelve screens, but you can jump to the beginning of each subsection with the PgUp and PgDn keys.

Most screens have a large box with descriptive information, and the subject animated pump in motion. You can speed up or slow down the pump using the up or down arrow keys. For more information on a particular pump, just press F5 and select the pump you want from the list of pumps.

I haven't counted the total number of screens in ALL ABOUT PUMPS, but there seem to be about 200! They are all colorful, easy to read, and those with animation operate quickly and smoothly even on my 80386 clone.

I wish more programs were this easy to use! When was the last time you used a program where only two help screens tell you ALL you need to know to use the program effectively, where only a few keys are used for navigation, where no typed command are required-and where you can learn so much about a useful topic with so little effort? Russell D. Hoffman should receive awards for this program-it's great!

SIDEBAR: RUSSELL'S 'P11' ANIMATION MACHINE

The authoring system used to produce ALL ABOUT PUMPS-and all Animated Software Co. products-is called RUSSELL'S 'P11' ANIMATION MACHINE. It is the result of over 10 years of development.

In 1984, Russell D. Hoffman was asked to develop a human heart tutorial. That tutorial needed lots of animation, as well as an ability to place text on the screen and to get input from the user. Further, the tool needed to be designed in such a way that the application developer could modify, rearrange, add, delete, and change the tutorial as the designed it.

To accomplish this, Hoffman wrote a development system in ASSEMBLER language. Originally designed to run in DOS on 8088-based IBM-PCs, it is compact, powerful, and fast. P11 combines a multi-frame picture editor with a text editor and player for a complete developer's environment. Hoffman used it to develop THE ENGINE OF LIFE, a human heart tutorial.

In 1984, very few software companies were developing animation tools for the PC. GRASP was probably not out yet, AUTODESK ANIMATOR was several years from its first release, and nothing else was available. P11 was therefore not a copy of anything, and it took a unique approach to the problem of allowing the user the ability to develop interactive animated educational software.

What is unique about P11 is the tight combination of animation capabilities and interactive commands. For example, virtually all animations can easily be sped up or slowed down, even single-stepped forward or back. This allows the user to run it at a comfortable pace, to understand the action. Timing control is accurate to about 1/584th of a second. A form of "fuzzy logic" is used to set the speed: about 1/5th of the current frame rate is added or subtracted with each speed change keypress. This allows fairly quick speed changes from very slow to very fast.

P11 is a continually growing thing, and was last upgraded in Nov. '94. It is available through numerous BBSs and online services, shareware disk, and CD-ROM distributors.

RUSSELL'S 'P11' ANIMATION MACHINE (also known as P11) can be ordered directly from The Animated Software Co.

Just send $4.95 plus $4.00 shipping and handling (s/h), plus sales tax in California. For Canada and Mexico, s/h is $5.00. Foreign orders please add $6.00 for s/h. If you choose to register the program, the disk cost may be deducted from the $25.00 registration fee!

"The Engine of Life" about the human heart is also available, last upgraded in Nov. '94. It is used by thousands of hospitals, schools, doctor offices, and so on. Several other products have been created with P11 by the author and others over the years. Call (800) 551-2726 (Pacific Time) for a free catalog.

TECHNICAL SPECS FOR "P11"

Hardware requirements: (See our HTML page for P11 for current specs.)

RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN

The author of ALL ABOUT PUMPS became involved with computers as a career in 1980 when he attended The Computer Processing Institute in Bridgeport, CT. This school offered a six-month course in COBOL business programming, with some time spent on RPG II and ASM. Programming was done through punch-cards.

Hoffman has created and given away (at computer trade shows throughout the Northeast) about 20,000 random art drawings using an interactive drawing program he wrote for the old NEC 8201A laptop computer (similar to the Tandy 100). He has also written many display routines for driving the LCD display on the NEC, and the Panasonic VP-6801 P30 six-pen plotter. This led to other assignments to create artwork for various devices, including monitors, printers, plotters, lasers, oscilloscopes, and LED matrices.

Hoffman also has "another life" when not working with P11 projects. He created comedy radio routines that have played on the Dr. Demento Show and elsewhere, and over 200 of his commentaries, humorous essays, and letters have been published. An avid aviation buff, he soloed in 1988, and flies a Cessna 172 Skyhawk at every opportunity. He also likes mountain biking, hiking, ocean and lake swimming, reading, photography, and loud music-as well as quiet music, dancing, and chocolate!

His wife, Sharon, is also a computer programmer and the editor of a computer magazine.

Hoffman says he has dabbled extensively in electronics, but avoids hardware. He claims that everything he builds either smokes, shocks him, or just doesn't work...


Related Material Outside this Web Site:

This review was first published in Nuts & Volts Magazine, June, 1995. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Fred Blechman, former U.S. Navy fighter pilot and author of over 700 magazine articles, is also the author of 6 books on low-cost electronics projects.

For more information about Mr. Blechman's books, visit these web sites:
Fred's Funnies: http://www.west.net/~wpc/fred.html
Simple, Low-Cost Electronics Projects: http://www.LLH-publishing.com/catalog/books/slcep.htm


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