Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 58 / MARCH 1985 / PAGE 87


Arlan R. Levitan

The Race To Talk Fast

At last November's COMDEX (Computer Dealers Exposition), held in Las Vegas, new high-speed modems were more prevalent than high rollers at the baccarat tables. Hayes Microcomputer Products, Novation, U.S. Robotics, Racal-Vadic, Multitech Systems, CTS Datacomm, Anderson Jacobson, Cermetek, and Telenetics all announced new modems that work at 2400 bps (bits per second). These units are eight times faster than the 300 bps modems commonly used with home computers and twice as fast as the higher-end 1200 bps modems.
    Some analysts predict that the close pricing-spread ($800 to $900) and almost identical features of the "CCIT V.22 bis" (say it five times fast) compatible units will lead to aggressive pricing by retailers. But there are indications that 2400 bps modems will be in short supply until fall of 1985. The reason? A shortage of the Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM) logic chips used in just about every one of the newly unveiled speedsters. Loose talk in The Gulch's most popular watering holes maintain that Rockwell, the sole source for QAM chips at this time, will not be delivering the critical components in any kind of reasonable quantities until February or March 1985 at the earliest. While other major silicon shops are acquiring licenses to manufacture the logic chips, full production won't be ramped up until late this year.
    Complicating matters further are large early orders for 2400 bps units from the major packet switchers and commercial information services. The orders caught almost everyone flat-footed, including most telecommunications pundits (such as yours truly) who predicted a cool wait-and-see attitude from the consumer and business-oriented data bases. It seems that one well-heeled service had secret plans to be the first of the pack to support 2400 bps connections in all of the major markets. Well, the only things that travel faster than secrets in this business are the locations of all the parties at trade shows that offer free food and beverages. The result? Everybody wants to get into the act with first overtures from most quarters in March and April. Keeping up with the Joneses (ahem) will be a tad expensive at first, with 2400 bps access costing three to four times the base hourly rate of most services.

What's New On-Line
With all this infighting going on, we can use a good laugh. Subscribers to The Source can read some of the funniest computer-oriented humor around by checking out "Comedy By Wire" in the User Publishing Area of that service. "Comedy By Wire" is the brainchild of Billiam "Yes, it's my real name" Coronel, a professional stand-up comedian based in New York City. It's outrageously good-natured computer humor, and several "back issues" are available for your perusal as well. Tyros who eschew menus can beam directly to "Comedy By Wire" by typing PUBLIC 153 DIRECT from The Source's command prompt.
    In case you can't get enough exercise and lifestyle enhancement by hanging out at the health spa or watching aerobics on cable TV, you can now pump data on CompuServe's latest special interest group, the Health Forum. Sysop Bob Walter (76703,647) moderates the discussions of fitness-related issues. To access the Health Forum, type GO HCM 660 at any ! prompt on CompuServe.
    Merrill Millman's new American People/Link information service should be off and flying by the time you read this. The new service was about a month or so behind schedule at this writing, but December 29, 1984, was scheduled as opening day. In an effort to guarantee that there will be lots of folks to chat with on the service, People/Link has set up 20 special lines in the Chicago area. What's so special about them? Registered users who manage to get through to the special access number incur no hourly connect charges! The special lines will be in service until March 1, 1985.
    People/Link's startup has generated more than its share of heat. It seems that Millman's future competitors didn't find it too amusing that he was drumming up business via their electronic mail and special interest group message facilities. CompuServe even notified the young upstart that People/Link should cease and desist from using wording that it felt left the impression the advertisements were from CompuServe itself. A further statement to the effect that "we have removed ... such offending messages as we have identified them" was taken by People/Link to mean that much of its E-mail had been deleted. CompuServe maintains that while no EMail was or would be deleted, it did reserve the right to enforce its longstanding policy against commercial messages in its special interest group message systems.
    Meanwhile, the brass at NewsNet aren't very pleased with People/Link, either. Quite by accident, People/Link's newsletter is a dead ringer for NewsNet's newsletter-it's printed on almost the same color stock with similar shades of ink in the same format. And People/Link's publication is called the LinkLetter, while NewsNet's is called the ActionLetter.

E-Mail Or J-Mail?
Many telecomputerists (myself included) are up in arms over the latest telecomputing phenomenon-electronic junk mail. In a lot of respects, electronic junk mail is just like paper junk mail, generally consisting of friendly offers to relieve you of excess currency in exchange for merchandise and services that no human being should be without. The big difference is that junk E-mail doesn't come in gaudy envelopes marked "Urgent! Open Immediately" along with the telltale bulk mail mark in the upper-right corner. A quick visual inspection is all that is generally needed before you consign such epistles to their appropriate final resting place.
    Not so with junk E-mail. There are usually no warnings of the nature of an electronic mail message other than a short title, usually quite innocuous. Compounding the situation is the fact that I use an intelligent terminal program capable of unattended operation to automatically retrieve my E-mail, and I regularly find one or two junkers mixed in with the important stuff. The most irritating aspect of the whole thing is that you actually pay good money for the connect time it takes to retrieve such notices. No big deal until you get a five-page letter from some yahoo selling a computerized heraldry program. I'm just waiting for Reader's Digest and H&R Block (owners of The Source and CompuServe respectively) to notify me of my big chance to win a $25,000 sweepstakes or offer to help me out with my tax return. At least things haven't sunk to the level of "Just imagine the look on your neighbors' faces as the [insert your name here] family boots up your new 30-megabyte Whizzo hard disk." At least, not yet.
    Surely, chain E-Mail can't be far behind: "This E-mail has been around the network 15 times. If you will send ten copies of it to your friends, it will bring you luck. Sonny Tufts of Winslow, Oklahoma, sent ten copies immediately upon receipt and is now vice president in charge of acronyms at IBM. Anglia Griffith of Salvo, North Carolina, deleted this message and forgot about it. Three days later her Apple IIc exploded, terminally frightening her parakeet, Bob."
    On the other hand, the majority of my electronic mail is indeed welcome, coming from friends and readers of this column. Every three or four months, I'll reprint the most frequently asked questions I receive via E-mail or regular post. I'd also like to encourage readers to respond with help of their own to the questioners if they have anything to add. To that end, ID numbers are listed after names whenever applicable.

Too Fast For Phones
I have heard that it would be difficult for a modem to use a rate above 1200 bps on ordinary phone lines with minimal errors. Is the transmission protocol of 2400 bps modems too flaky to use on such lines?
Arthur Penn, CompuServe 75216,517

Until recently, 1200 bps was indeed considered the top speed for microcomputer communications over voice-grade lines without building expensive error detection and correction into the modem. Anderson Jacobson has marketed a fairly expensive 4800 bps modem for over a year that works on standard phone lines. The catch was that at 4800 bps the modem at each end of the telecomputing link had to be an Anderson Jacobson 4800. The new 2400 bps modems conform to the CCIT V.22 bis transmission standard, and actually operate at 600 baud, the same baud rate used by 1200 bps modems (See "Telecomputing Today," COMPUTE!, January 1985). While the method used to pack four bits into every baud may be slightly more susceptible to interference from very poor quality lines, my experience with 2400 bps units to date has been very positive. Most of the new 2400 bps units also have the ability to communicate at 1200 and 300 bps if conditions make higher data rates impractical.
    How fast can we go on voice-grade lines? Extremely reliable sources report that Bell Labs has developed some rather pricey equipment that can push data rates all the way up to 57,600 bps on regular old telephone lines! But don't rush to the store looking for one yet-1990 is the earliest that the technology required to produce the so-called hyper-modems will be economical enough to yield reasonable prices for mass market consumption (under $2,000).

Atari JTERM Compatibility
I have an Atari 800XL and Atari 835 modem. How can I get the JTERM terminal program (COMPUTE!, January 1985) to work with my equipment?
No Name-CompuServe 73305,744

JTERM was written to work with Atari computers that use the Atari 850 Interface Module to connect a standard RS-232 modem. I am not aware of a version of JTERM designed to work with the Atari 835 or 1030 modems. Jim Steinbrecher, author of AMODEM, the other popular public domain terminal program for Atari computers, does market two inexpensive programs which allow uploading and downloading with the 835 and 1030. These programs are called "ETMODEM" and "AMODEM.835" and cost $15 each. You can get further details from Jim's ARCADE bulletin board at 313-978-8087, or write to 37220 Tricia Drive, Sterling Heights, MI 48077.

PCjr Internal Modem Commands
What is the dialing command prefix for the IBM internal modem for the PCjr? I am trying to set the dialing prefix within the PC-Talk III terminal program to take advantage of the program's autodialing features.
Glenn Fichter

The dialing command for the PCjr's internal modem is DIAL or D for short. All commands intended for the internal modem must be prefixed with a control character (CTRL-N is the default) to let the modem know that what follows is a command rather than plain old data. To set PC-Talk III for autodialing with the internal modem, go to the dialing menu (press ALT-D) and select R to revise the autodialer. Select M to change the modem command word. When prompted for the new dialing command, press CTRL-N. Then type an uppercase D and hit RETURN. If you have done everything right, the dialing command displayed at the top of the screen will consist of two characters: a musical note followed by a D. For complete information about PCjr internal modem commands and their use, refer to IBM's PCjr Technical Reference Manual ($35 at most dealers), pages 3-40 through 3-67.

Downloading With Mitey Mo
I have a Commodore 64 with a Mitey Mo modem. Is there any software for my system that will let me download programs? Do the modems on both ends of a telecomputing link have to be the same to successfully transfer files?
Richard Scoggins, CompuServe 75236,3354

USI, the company which originally sold the Mitey Mo, is no longer with us, another casualty of the home computer wars. Another firm, Computer Devices International, has picked up the product and informs me that owners of Mitey Mos who sent their warranty registration cards to USI have been notified of a new version of the Smart64 terminal program which takes advantage of the special features of the Mitey Mo and supports uploading and downloading. If you have not already registered your modem, you can acquire the new software by returning the warranty card along with $17 to:

Computer Devices International
1345 A2 Doolittle Drive
San Leandro, CA 94577

    The most recent release of CompuServe's VIDTEX terminal software for the Commodore 64 also supports your modem. You can contact CompuServe customer service on-line via FEEDBACK or by calling the customer service number in your CompuServe guidebooks.
    Although the modems on both ends of a telecomputing link must transmit and receive at the same speed and adhere to the same rules for encoding and decoding data, identical modems are not required. Some terminal programs that use proprietary file transfer schemes do require that both computers run the same terminal program.

Arlan R. Levitan
Delphi: ARLANL
The Source: TCT987
CompuServe: 70675,463
People/Link: ALEVITAN