Charles Brannon, Program Editor
Any computer can become an information appliance with the addition of a modem. Hayes-compatible 1200-baud modems can be bought for under $200 now. You may find one small complication when connecting a modem to your Amiga. When purchasing a cable to connect the modem to your Amiga, you must pay close attention to the types of plugs on the cable. The Amiga serial port connector—where you plug in the modem cable—is the gender opposite that of the IBM serial port. (The Amiga port uses a female connector while the IBM uses a male.) Since IBM-style modem cables are more common than Amiga modem cables, you may find it simpler to use an IBM cable with a gender-changer module. I'm using one with my Amiga at home. A gender-changer is a small box that attaches to the female plug on the end of the modem cable, terminating in a male connection that plugs into the female connector on the Amiga. Be aware, though, that there is voltage on pins 14, 21, and 23 on the Amiga port, although these pins are not normally used in most RS-232 cables. Check your modem manual to make sure these pins are not connected or grounded on your modem's connector.
When using a direct-connect modem, you are required to call your local phone company to register the modem, as it becomes part of the phone system when you plug it in. Have at hand the FCC registration and ringer equivalence numbers, usually found on the bottom of the modem or in the manual.
Next comes terminal software. In its simplest form, this is a program that monitors the modem for input—displaying it on your screen—and checks the keyboard for your typing, sending it out over the phone lines. The Amiga BASIC "Extras" disk contains a simple terminal program in the BasicDemos folder. More complex terminal programs allow you to transmit a file (uploading) or store incoming data to disk (downloading).
Error-free And Automatic
Programs such as XMODEM allow error-free file transmission. XON/XOFF allows either computer to pause when necessary without missing any characters. Advanced modem software lets you create scripts to automate the process of calling a remote computer, entering your password, and seeking and downloading information—even if you aren't there to monitor your computer.
What can you do with a modem? First, you can call up local bulletin boards, including Amiga-specific ones. These boards offer services where callers discuss everything from the nuts and bolts of computing to controversial political issues. Usually, there are also public-domain programs for you to download. It's expected you'll upload some of your own programs in exchange.
Then there are the commercial information services such as CompuServe, The Source, Delphi, and GEnie. These services provide information such as stock quotes, daily news/weather/sports, and online encyclopedias and books. Via electronic mail, you can send and receive letters directly over the phone. Most of these services let you play games with other users. The popular CB simulation allows dozens of callers to talk via keyboard in a conversational free-for-all. You can also shop by phone, make airline and ticket reservations—even buy and sell commodities.
Always a popular part of these services is the forum specific to your machine. All these services have Commodore or Amiga forums, containing databases of the most popular public-domain software. The forums allow you to exchange messages with other members. It's like belonging to an electronic user group. It's a great way to get help with a problem—just send a question and you'll likely be surprised by how many answers you get.
The Twenty-first Century And Beyond
Perhaps the most powerful option you have with an autoanswer modem—one that can pick up the phone and establish a connection automatically when called by another modem—is to set up your own bulletin board. You can buy bulletin board software or download public-domain programs to help manage your own information service. You are the host here, providing your time and equipment to set up a local communications network. Callers will download software and expect to find interesting things to download. Of course, you must insure that you offer only noncopyrighted, public-domain software on your board. If in doubt, leave it out. (Programs published in most magazines, COMPUTE! included, are not public domain.) A public bulletin board is a great way to meet people.
Technology is now significantly expanding our communications; we live in an age where we can have our own computers and hook them into a global intelligence net, offering the greatest possibilities yet for personal expression and free choice. Although there are limitations, telecommunication offers us a hint of what life will be like as the global village becomes a reality in the twenty-first century, and beyond.