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Flying High: When you're using a computer to help an unmanned aircraft fly 18 miles above the earth, you definitely want to avoid crashes. So when AeroVironment takes to the skies with its solar-powered Helios Prototype, the Monrovia, California-based company uses Macs to display the plane's instruments and record flight data.

"It has to run without bugs ... We need reliability," says AeroVironment Vice President Bob Curtin. "And most of our engineers really like the Mac."

The Power Mac 6100s and 7200s used by AeroVironment are helping to keep aloft an aircraft that's eight feet long, from nose to tail, with a 250-foot wingspan -- "basically a long, skinny wing," Curtin says. The Helios weighs 1,500 pounds and sports 14 propellers. It's powered by more than 60,000 individual solar cells that collect about 30 kilowatts of power -- the equivalent of 15 hairdryers, according to Curtin.

AeroVironment wants to build unmanned aircraft capable of staying at high altitudes for prolonged periods. Such aircraft would serve as low-flying satellites, offering services such as broadband wireless transmission more efficiently than orbiting satellites can. "We're trying to develop an airplane that will be the equivalent of an 18-mile-high tower," Curtin says.

In an August 2001 test conducted with NASA high above Kauai, Hawaii, the Helios aircraft reached an altitude of 96,863 feet; only rocket-propelled craft have gone higher.

AeroVironment uses Macs to control more than just its planes; the design development center is a Mac-run office, handling everything from word-processing to 2-D modeling. "We use the Mac internally because it's easier to use than a PC, easier to maintain, and cheaper to maintain," Curtin says. "We really believe it's a reliable platform." -- PHILIP MICHAELS


Cashing In: Belinda Walch speaks over the clamor of the Ungaluwa Coffee Shop's lunch crowd and 7,500 miles of phone line about "another bloody tax" imposed by the Australian government. The 10 percent tax is a burden, Walch says. But she credits her cash register -- a blueberry iMac -- for helping her business survive.

"At the end of the day, it tells me what I owe the government," Walch says. "Without it, I'd be a full-time bookkeeper."

The Ungaluwa Coffee Shop is popular among the Aborigines and expatriate South Africans of Alyangula, a manganese-mining town on the Australian island of Groote Eylandt. It also happens to use an iMac as a touch-screen register. The coffee shop staff place orders for marinated chicken and salad rolls by fingering the proper icon on the iMac screen. An application called ProZk from ProBe Software organizes the orders into sales and inventory figures that help the business run more smoothly.

The software that makes this possible is known generically as point of sale-inventory management, or POS-IM -- it links to a cash register and helps managers track the flow of goods and money. POS-IM software has been around for a decade, but recent developments -- including touch-screen capabilities and the stylish iMac -- have helped it spread widely to stores and shops.

Take, for example, Country Clutter, a gift store chain in 23 states. Each franchisee must buy four compact, easy-to-use iMacs and run POS-IM software from Ensign Systems, far and away the dominant purveyor of this kind of software for the Mac. The reports from each store help the central office know what's selling and what's not, allowing it to make projections that help the stores pull ahead of their mom-and-pop competitors, says Scott Jacobs, president of Country Clutter parent company Country Visions.

"We have over 350 machines out there now and only one technical-support manager," Jacobs says. "It's amazing to support that many machines with that number of personnel."

Other businesses have used POS-IM to make sense of inventories that boggle the mind -- such as the 85,000 pieces of sheet music sold by the Boston Music Company. Employees used to take two weeks every year to do inventory by hand, says Operations Manager Paul Ginocchio. Now they only need do the occasional spot check because every score is in the database and searchable by composer, key, and instrument, thanks to Ensign's POS-IM application.

POS-IM isn't just for newer iMacs. The Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a 1,500-acre nonprofit animal sanctuary in Glen Rose, Texas, has cobbled a POS-IM system together from four Mac 5200s and a Mac 7500 running Ensign's software to handle nature store and ticket sales.

"The inventory control is awesome," Fossil Rim IT manager Brad Michael says. "POS-IM has a set of preferences and you can export your accounting information based on what preferences you choose. The two systems can speak together very well."

Fossil Rim recently started entering customer zip-code information into its POS-IM system and realized that almost all its visitors live within 100 miles, proving that while Macs are everywhere, the customer is likely just down the road. -- DAVID FERRIS


Digital Cuts: Amy Emmerich used to live the typical life of a TV associate producer. She'd join camera crews when they went out on shoots, but rarely got to work the camera herself. That was before Emmerich's employer, Oxygen Media, enlisted her in a three-week digital videography and editing boot camp. Now she goes into the field every month with nothing more than a digital camera and her imagination, making rough edits of the results with iMovie.

Oxygen, the women-centric cable network and Web site, schools its employees -- from executive assistants to Web producers -- in the finer points of Apple's iMovie and Final Cut Pro. Most use their newly acquired skills on the job -- producer-editors, or "DV Troopers," as Oxygen calls them, do rough cuts on iMacs, then polish their pieces, adding soundtracks and cleaning up the edits in Final Cut Pro on Power Mac G4s. Other employees go through a shorter training program to produce videos of their vacations and hobbies, some of which have wound up on the air, says Oxygen spokeswoman Cheryl Smith.

The DV boot camp is one of the ways Oxygen is using Macs to create an independent digital culture. "Oxygen is trying to find a new voice -- or, more accurately, many, many, many voices," says Kit Laybourne, head of the animation group. "Our audience will get to know the people who shoot their stories." -- DF


Bodies in Motion: The folks at Motion Theory have rarely been at rest since the Venice, California-based design and production studio opened up shop nearly two years ago. The company has edited commercials and designed animations, logos, and title sequences for a client roster that includes Disney, Toyota, Suzuki, Showtime, and DirecTV. It also has won recognition from the Society of Publication Designers, the Art Director's Club, the Broadcast Design Association, and the American Institute of Graphic Arts.

And Motion Theory has achieved all this with the help of Macs. The company uses eight Power Mac G4s, equipped with Digital Voodoo's 10-bit D1 Desktop video card to create titles, credits, and logos. Motion Theory also produces 3-D effects, character animation, and Web design.

"Everyone here is on a G4," says Motion Theory cofounder and executive producer Javier Jimenez. "The video card we use makes the computers fast enough to work with uncompressed video. Uncompressed video [files] are huge, but you lose quality with compression. We've got a 360GB storage tower hooked up to our edit bay to hold the video we're working with. We don't have DVD burning capabilities yet, but that's next on our slate for sure." -- JENNIFER SMODISH

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