Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 59 / APRIL 1985 / PAGE 95


Arlan R. Levitan

Telecomputing To The Rescue
"I'm sorry, Mr. Levitan, your 7:45 flight to Las Vegas has been canceled."
    Although I had arrived at the airport eager to take off for January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES as it is known in the trade), I was somewhat slow to reply. After standing in line at the ticket counter, I was too tired to respond with the appropriate level of indignation. All I could manage was a feeble "You've got to be kidding!"
    "I wish I was, sir, but I'm afraid we couldn't muster a full crew for the flight. I'm sorry, but these things do happen once in a while."
    I wearily resigned myself to a couple of hours hanging around Detroit Metro Airport and asked, "What time does the next direct flight leave?"
    The countenance of what had seemed like a mild-mannered airline employee began to take on sinister undertones.
    "I'm afraid that everything we have is booked," he said. "We can't confirm you all the way into Las Vegas at this time."
    A note of hysteria crept into my voice. "Listen, I'll fly the plane. Honest, I do it all the time on weekends. My best friend owns a 747 and I'm qualified on everything up to the Space Shuttle."
    Ignoring my generous offer to help the airline and the other 240 stranded travelers out of an unfortunate predicament, the agent's eyes started burning with nefarious fire as he chortled, "We'll fly you into Chicago on a flight leaving here in about three hours. From there we'll have to wait-list you on the only two flights we have from O'Hare to Las Vegas . . ."
    I staggered backwards as if hit by a sharp blow to the solar plexus. In a momentary hallucination, I saw myself as the Lost Air Traveler, doomed to roam the corridors of O'Hare with a flight bag hanging 'round my neck.
    Wait a minute! My flight bag had the answer. I raced over to a nearby pay phone and whipped out my trusty lap computer and the acoustic cups necessary to hook the unit's builtin modem to the nonmodular handset. I must have looked like a novelty juggling act as I attempted to keep all of my equipment from crashing to the floor. I dialed into the local number for one of the information services that I subscribe to and hooked into the electronic edition of OAG, the Official Airlines Guide (for more info on OAG see "Telecomputing Today," COMPUTE!, February 1985). In about two minutes I had the flight numbers and airlines for five other flights out of Detroit to Las Vegas. Disconnecting my computer from the phone, I started calling the airlines. On my second call I hit pay dirt-an opening on a flight to Phoenix, Arizona, connecting with a commuter flight to Las Vegas.
    Armed with my new flight information, I boldly swaggered back to my nemesis's ticket position. "You may not be able to get me where I'm going, but another airline can. Just issue me an interrupted flight voucher for my canceled flight and I'll be on my way." Sheepishly, the agent completed the necessary paperwork. As I walked away to catch my new flight I glanced back over my shoulder in time to see a mass of angry ex-fellow passengers descending upon my defeated adversary.

New Lower-Priced Modems
So I finally did make it to the Winter CES and I return bearing glad tidings. This year will see the end of the Hayes price umbrella which has helped keep prices of intelligent 300 and 1200 bits-per-second (bps) modems rather high for the last 12 months or so.
    Now, don't get me wrong-Hayes modems represented good value for the money at the time of their introduction. But recent developments in chip technology have made it possible to drastically reduce the number of components and amount of support circuitry required for modems. The problem is that modem manufacturers have tended to price their goods based more upon the going rate for market-leading Hayes modems than upon the actual manufacturing cost. With the introduction in 1985 of mass-produced low chip-count modems from companies like Panasonic, Atari, and Commodore, telecomputing at 300 and 1200 bps speeds will be more affordable than ever before.
    Consider Panasonic's new line of modems. Models KX-D401 and KX-D402 are 300 bps and 300/1200 bps units, respectively. Both have originate, answer, and autoanswer modes with LED indicators for data, carrier detect, autoanswer, and power. Prices? The KX-D401 retails for $99.95, the KX-D402 for $299.95.
    How about a Panasonic phone with built-in modem? The KX-D4130 has all the features of the KX-D401 modem and sports a 24-button automatic dialer that can store up to 30 digits per number. An auto-redial function will redial busy numbers 15 times every ten minutes.
    The icing on the cake is an integral handsfree speakerphone with excellent audio clarity. At $199.95, the KX-D4130 is sure to be a favorite of gadget-happy telecomputing aficionados. All of the new Panasonics can be used with any computer equipped with an RS-232 interface.

Atari & Commodore Surprises
The price of telecomputing on Atari systems takes a dive with the introduction of the Atari XM-301 300 bps direct-connect modem. At $49.95 it's one of the least expensive autoanswer, autodial modems around. Since the compact unit draws its power from the Atari serial bus connector, no separate power supply is required. Also announced at CES was a new telecomputing software cartridge dubbed The Learning Phone, which will allow Atari systems equipped with modems to access Control Data Corporation's vaunted PLATO educational system, complete with high-resolution graphics. Estimated price of the new cartridge is in the $30-$40 range.
    Micro Peripheral Products of Albany, Oregon, announced a price cut of $50 on its Model 1000C modem for Atari computers (now $149.95) and introduced the MPP 1064, a new direct-connect modem for the Commodore 64. The price is $99.95, which includes a sophisticated smart terminal program.
    Commodore's new palm-sized 1660 Modem 300 is a direct-connect 300 bps unit with autoanswer, autodial, and a built-in speaker for monitoring the progress of calls. The 1660 plugs directly into the user ports of the Commodore 64, Plus/4, or new Commodore 128 computer. At only $29.95, it will hardly make a dent in even the most frugal Commodore owner's pocket.
    If that pricing doesn't seem predatory, consider the Commodore 1670 Modem/1200, a 1200 bps twin to the 1660. Slated for introduction three months or so after the introduction of its little brother, the 1670 is likely to set the modem market on its ear. I was able to inspect the innards of the 1670 at an after-hours conclave during CES and counted only three chips and a couple dozen small resistors on the modem's 2 X 4-inch circuit board. The low component count should contribute to relatively high reliability. The board and chips still bore the markings of the manufacturer which designed the unit-U.S. Robotics, an experienced and well-respected vendor of telecomputing products. Commodore will manufacture both the 1660 and 1670 internally to keep costs down.
    The price? If only one mildly euphoric Commodore employee had mentioned a number below $100, I might have dismissed it out of hand. To my surprise, the figure was seconded by another source the following day. Looks like Commodore owners may have the telecomputing bargain of the year on their hands by summer's end!

And More Good News
Commodore's new 32K LCD lap computer was the hit of the show for most journalists already accustomed to lugging around TRS-80 Model 100s or Olivetti M10s. The modem-equipped Commodore's 80-column by 16-line screen is the fastest and most legible LCD screen I've seen to date. Priced at $600 or less, the Commodore lap portable may cause Tandy to rethink the thousand-dollar price of its new 24K Model 200 lap computer, whose 40 X 16 LCD screen pales in comparison.
    Racing to beat the band, General Videotex Corporation announced at CES that its Delphi information service now supports high-speed 2400 bps access in 34 major cities. The additional cost to Delphi subscribers for the higher access rate is a $5/hour surcharge over the normal Delphi rates of $16/hour during business hours and $6/hour nonprime time for both 300 and 1200 bps access. Watch for the previously low-key service to start making noises like a contender - new personnel that GVC has picked up in raids on CompuServe's staff will begin making major changes in the services offered.
    Enough news for now. Next month we'll cover the ins and outs of transferring information to and from a remote computer with your own system. Stay tuned for chapter 1 of the "Compleat Uploader & Downloader."

Till then, BCNU.

Arlan R. Levitan
Delphi: ARLANL
The Source: TCT987
CompuServe: 70675,463