Rom[ulus or Reamus

A few years ago, Garry Trudeau published a very funny Sunday edition of "Doonsbury." Michael Doonsbury had just purchased a new computer and he was waxing rhapsodic about its power, speed, and cutting edge technology. His wife, who was examining the back of the computer, uttered a small sound of dismay. She read off of the back of the computer, "Best if used before February 1995."

I can commiserate with Doonsbury because I have spent most of my adult life purchasing either electronic music gear (which quickly became obsolete) or computers (which were all eventually orphaned). I waited three years to upgrade my computer, hoping that the technology would momentarily level off, so that I would be happy with my purchase for at least six months. (Gratefully, there was no expiration date on the back of my machine. But, curiously, on the side of the carton it came in, there was a small photograph of Bob Farmer with the caption, "Have you seen me?" underneath.)

I'm glad that I waited. I have a blazing machine with a ton of memory and all the bells and whistles I could afford. In the ten days I've had this computer I have logged on to AOL, surfed the net like a wild man, played a few games, and been on the phone with tech support three times. And most importantly for you, I have had a chance to try out four magic oriented CD ROMs which have been released for the general public. And, having waded through them, I'm happy that I don't have to review CD ROMs for a living.

I can sum up the following four reviews by referring to them as The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and the Okay. Three of the four are "hybrid" CD ROMs which means that they are playable on either an IBM or a Macintosh system. All four suffer from the limitations of video playback on a computer system. (They all use a form of Quicktime video playback. This means that the "motion picture" viewing area on your screen is very small.) In all of them the video is played back in short snippets and you control the playback (rewind, fast forward, slow motion, etc.). You will need a sound card and at least a 2x CD ROM drive in order to make them work. Of course, before you make any purchase, be sure to read the box and check out the system requirements. I had no problem installing any of these products on my system. (By the way, if "The Professor's Nightmare" or "The Salt Shaker through the Table" are staples of your performing repertoire you may want to put them in retirement for a while. They seemed to be the exposure tricks of choice in these discs.)

Let's start with the bad. Inside Magic (IM) is produced by Houghton Mifflin Interactive and features a young man named Peter Grand as the host and performer. This disc differs from the other three in that it focuses on sleights rather than on simple, beginner-style magic tricks. When you run the program you are presented with a spread of playing cards and from this spread you must click on the four cards which are listed on a small piece of paper which comes with the disc. This is the password protection scheme and IM is the only disc which has implemented such a feature. You must click on the cards in the exact order in which they appear on the cue card. If you don't know the password (or you screw up) you can only view the performances of the sleights and the routines. Input the correct password and you move to the main menu.

This menu offers four areas. Click on Peter Grand's picture and he offers you a welcome, some navigational help, and a few suggestions. The other three areas are Coins, Cards, and Miscellaneous. You can also access a help function, an index of all the sleights, and a credits section. As I mentioned above, this disc focuses on sleights. Let's take a look at what is to be found in each of the three main sections.

The Coin section contains 17 items including basic palming, the French drop, the Bobo switch, the Downs palm, the Goshman/Tenkai pinch, and the Steeplechase flourish. You can step through theses moves sequentially, or access a menu which calls up the move directly. The viewing area is in the center of the screen. Under it is a bar with a small button on the left end. Clicking on this button starts the video, and as the video plays the button moves to the right. You can stop the video by clicking on the button again, and you can click and drag the button to advance the video to any point you wish. You can also choose to watch the video at full speed, half speed, or slow motion. There is no associated audio. You choose whether to watch the performance or the explanation by clicking on an area marked "Perform/Reveal." The reveal button shows an exposed view of the action. (Mostly this simply consists of a reverse angle shot.) I had problems with the Play button of the video scroll bar. It seemed very "touchy" as to where you had to click in order to get the video to play.

After watching Grand demonstrate and expose the sleight you can go to several other areas. Clicking on a clipboard gives you a text explanation of the sleight. Unfortunately, this cannot be printed out. Clicking on a light bulb gives more information on the move. Again, no printout.

Having explained the format, let me tell you what is in the other two sections. The Card section contains 21 items including the double lift, jog shuffle, one hand top palm, pressure fan, Elmsley count, Charlier cut, turnover pass, and several color changes. The Miscellaneous section includes 14 items focusing on ropes ("The Professor's Nightmare"), ropes (cut and restored), and a salt vanish with a thumbtip.

Every now and then, when you call up a particular sleight, there will be a colored icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Clicking on this brings up a video (with sound) of Grand performing a routine using the sleight involved. There were about five of these, including "Twisting the Aces," "Daley's Last Trick," a couple of coin routines, and "The Professor's Nightmare." Unfortunately, these video routines are mostly useless for two reasons: the video image is so small that it is almost impossible to see what Grand is doing; and there is no explanation of the routine presented. So unless you can figure it out from what you are seeing, you're out of luck.

I found this disc to be of little value for many reasons. First, I was less than impressed with Mr. Grand's execution of many of the sleights demonstrated. If you mimic what you see, you are imitating less than perfect technique. Second, I see no value to having the sleights demonstrated and explained without sound. If you want an explanation you have to switch to a text page, and then flip back to the video. This is worthless. Third, the routines demonstrated are of no learning value for the reasons cited above. Fourth, this disc has no depth. It's a bunch of moves put into a quasi-multimedia format. Fifth, the box cover of this disc says that you will "learn over 50 tricks." There are no tricks taught; only sleights are demonstrated and explained. Sixth, the copy protection card is a bad idea. Lose the card and you're up the creek without your paddle move. Verdict: IM is best suited for use as a Frisbee or a coaster.

Moving to the "Ugly" category we have Learn the Art of Magic with Jay Alexander (LAMJA) from Braderbund software. This disc is geared to children 8 to 12 years old, and besides the explanation of tricks, also provides some information on famous magicians. Included with the disc are simple props (a Ball and Vase set, Dazzling Dice, a Card Box with flap, a drawer box, and a few gaffed cards).

The opening screen offers five options: The Oath, Magic Tricks, Famous Magicians, Magic Slang, and The Box Office. The "Oath" section suggests that the viewer should respect the secrets involved and not reveal or expose them by repeated performances for the same spectator. In the "Famous Magicians" area you can watch as Mr. Alexander tells you about such luminaries as Malini, Robert-Houdin, Herrmann, Thurston, Houdini, Chung Ling Soo, and himself. Clicking on various areas of the screen (you have to find them for yourself; it's kind of like a game) brings up more information. The "Slang" area gives explanations of some magic jargon. The "Box Office" option lets you print up posters, certificates, and tickets. I found the printing function was very slow.

The main area is the "Magic Tricks" section and it is divided into five parts: Card Tricks (slip force, a simple version of "Ladies Looking Glass," a dealing revelation of the four kings, the cut deeper force, Sid Lorraine's "Slop Shuffle"); Rope Tricks ("Clifton's Ring Move," a string restoration using a straw, cut and restored rope, "The Professor's Nightmare"); Table Tricks (vanishing salt shaker, a thimble vanish, jumping rubber band, magnetized fork, the sugar cube trick [ala Heba Haba Al], crayon identification); Coin Tricks (the French Drop, coin through table [lapping], quarter production from dollar bill, two coin "Matrix," coin vanish from trouser fold); and Magic Set (tricks which use the plastic props which come with the disc).

This disc does provide some depth of information, and young viewers will certainly be able to understand the trick explanations. The problem I have with LAMJA concerns its host. All the video portions of this disc are shot in a pseudo-hip, in-your-face, MTV style. I find this style to be extremely annoying. In addition, Mr. Alexander's performance persona ranged from grating (early on) to unbearable (by the time I'd worked my way through the whole disk). I found myself desperately wishing that Braderbund had programmed in a BFG. (If you don't know what a BFG is, ask any ten year old who plays Doom.) I realize that my prejudice against this disc's style and the host's persona is completely generational, and so you must take it with a grain of salt. If you have spent most of your life watching MTV then the style of this disc probably won't bother you, and you should ask the person who's reading you this review to go out and buy you one.

Secrets of Magic with Dikki Ellis (SMDE) is an okay disc. There are two main areas and each shows a table covered with props (cards, rubber bands, string, paper clips, cups and balls, matches). Clicking on one of these objects takes you to the performance and explanation of the associated tricks.

Nineteen simple children's tricks are explained, including: rolling a ball along the edge of a scarf, nest of boxes, saltshaker through table, cups and balls, throwing a knot into a scarf, "The Professor's Nightmare," jumping rubber band, untying knot in silk, tying a knot with one hand, and "Clipped." The video area is larger than in the other three discs and because of this the image is not as sharp as on the other three discs. (Although on none of these discs does the video clarity compare to that of your VCR.) Performance and explanations are accompanied with sound.

There is a large letter "E" in the corner of each main room, and clicking on it takes you to the encyclopedia. This is an area of text and line drawings which has instructions for 20 more tricks. As you scroll through the text the associated pictures are displayed, and these tricks can be printed out. Also included is a very brief history of magic, and hints on practice, performance, and preparation.

Mr. Ellis has a nice, gentle style. SMDE does not have a great deal of depth, but certainly does an acceptable job of presenting the material. Incidentally, this disc can only be used with the Windows format.

I saved the good one for last. Magic An Insider's View (MAIV) comes from HarperCollins Interactive and is hosted by Harry Anderson. Marc DeSouza is the magician who performs and explains the tricks. That this is a much more elaborate production is evident right off the bat, as you fall into a top hat and travel down a tunnel lined with playing cards. You arrive at the main screen which is dominated by a large playing card flanked by two staircases leading off to the right and left. At the top of each staircase is a door, one marked "Magic Show," the other marked "Magic Gallery."

The large playing card becomes a view screen and Harry Anderson greets you and gives you some information about what is to follow. When he finishes you can enter either of the two doors, or you can click on some objects which are lying on the floor. Click on the objects (a wand, a heart, a piece of rope) and you hear some magic related quotes or anecdotes.

The "Magic Show" area is where you learn the tricks. There is a large crate in the center of the screen (this becomes the viewing area) flanked by two towers of 14 boxes, each of which is titled with the name of a trick. Click on a box and it opens the view screen. The tricks include: jumping rubber band, three card monte, pen suspension, a coin vanish, coin through the handkerchief, crayon divination, salt shaker through table, cups and balls, and cut and restored string.

When the viewing area appears four (or sometimes five) slides appear from the left side of the box. The manual says these are supposed to be swords. Each is labeled: Performance, Tutorial/Tips, Props, Preparation, Building Blocks. Click on Performance and you watch and listen to Marc perform the trick. Click on Tutorial and the explanation begins. There is a nice feature associated with the explanation of the tricks. The viewing area divides into four parts: one large area with three smaller areas underneath. These three small areas show three different views of the explanatory action. Click on one and you see it in the larger area. Not every trick has the "Tips" option, but when it is available a voice over offers hints on misdirection and other skills. The "Props" and "Preparation" options are self-explanatory. The "Building Blocks" option is only offered in five tricks, and it gives further explanation of important techniques (for example, the final load in the cups and balls).

At the bottom of the screen are two items: a playing card with Harry's picture on it, and book labeled "Trick Guide." Click on Harry and he fills the view area and offers some clever comments about the trick at hand. Click on the book and you are taken to a text area where you can read the entire instructions for the trick. There is also the option to print out the text, but I had trouble with this function, and I was only able to print out the first page of the text of any trick.

The "Magic Gallery" area is intended to be a resource to gain more information about the historical and theoretical side of magic. The screen has six large pillars labeled "The History of Magic," "Resources," "Your Routine," "Did You Know?" "The 10 Commandments," and "12 Effects." For the most part these are text based areas, but the history area contains a section called "Exhibits" which contains posters or pictures of famous magicians, tricks, books, or magazines. I liked the "Magic Gallery" idea very much, and I wish that it had been implemented to a deeper level. You can learn a lot just browsing around in here.

MAIV is a good multimedia instructional video. It isn't perfect, it is about as interactive as your VCR, and it does not exploit the resources of the CD ROM medium to its fullest. But it's a good start, and if you are interested in investing in a disc for a young person who has an interest in magic this is the only disc I would recommend.

Fundamentals of Magick

Fundamentals of Magick

Magick is the art and practice of moving natural energies to effect needed or wanted change. Magick is natural, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. What is taught here are various techniques of magick for beginners. Magick is natural and simple and the techniques to develop abilities should be simple and natural as well. What is taught on this site is not only the basics of magick, but the basics of many things.

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