Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 79 / DECEMBER 1986 / PAGE 92

Telecomputing Today

Arlan R. Levitan

What To Give For Christmas

Why not consider making this a telecomputing holiday season for the computer owner on your gift list? With modem prices having dropped through the floor over the past year, it's more affordable than ever to give (or receive) a modem.

Low-cost 300-bps units are thicker than investors at a Microsoft stock offering. Atari's XM-301 modem is a good example of what's available. It's pegged at a list price of $40 and includes software. A quick rummage through the bargain bin at your local computer store will likely turn up a variety of 300-bps units mixed in among the Timex and PCjr accessories, Just make sure that the unit you purchase is compatible with the recipient's system.

Automatic Interfacing

The darling of the budget-minded telecomputing clan this year is the Avatex 1200 modem. While not 100-percent Hayes compatible, it does respond to the Hayes dialing commands. Other minor inconveniences are a manual 300/1200 bps switch, no internal speaker for monitoring the progress of calls, and manual disconnect. On the plus side are a full set of LED status lights, its compact size, and a two-year warranty. At the going rate of $75-$100, who's complaining?

Ever run into a modem or other serial device that just refuses to talk to your computer? Chances are the fault lies within your serial cable rather than the device. Buying a custom cable from a store is no guarantee either; I've run into a number of botched cables purchased from service technicians who should have known better. I keep a nifty device from I.Q. Technologies called Smartcable for the times I just want to get things working and figure out what's wrong after I'm done with the task at hand.

Using Smartcable couldn't be easier. At one end of the cable there's a couple of light emitting diodes and some slide switches. You simply hook up the cable between the two ill-mannered pieces of equipment and flip the slide switches until each of their associated LEDs turns green. Voila! Instant interface. At around $60, Smartcable is a godsend for the inveterate RS-232 tinkerer. A more expensive unit that actually ends up telling you how to wire a cable that will work is available for about $150. Tempting, and guaranteed to take all the witch-doctor mystique out of making RS-232 cables.

Fight Or Flight

Don't forget the nicest present of all for the serious telecomputerist: a separate phone line for data communications. A separate line lets you segregate the costs of modem calls from voice traffic. Most importantly, it can keep the peace in a household by not keeping the phone tied up for hours—leave that to the humans in the family.

SubLOGIC, whose Bruce Artwick brought us the popular Flight Simulator I and II programs for 8-bit machines, has a surprise in store for Atari ST and Amiga owners. Flight Simulator II for the afore-mentioned 32-bit machines includes a nifty feature of more than passing interest to the telecommunications community.

A special option within the program allows you to hook up two computers via modem (or modem eliminator, if located within the same room or building). When playing on machines so connected, both players can share the same airspace. Both planes will appear on each system's display screen. An option within the program allows each flyer to change the type and color of his or her aircraft so that the planes may be distinguished from each other.

While each player may fire weapons at the other, there is no mechanism built within the program yet for detection of weapons hits or midair collisions. Those features may be incorporated in future releases of FSII or another product. If most of the problems involved with such an implementation can be worked out in the short term, you may see the ST and Amiga versions of Jet, SubLOGIC’s F-16 and F-18 simulator, in early 1987. Until then we'll have to be satisfied with precision flying a la Blue Angels.

An item in my November telecommunications column is subject to misinterpretation. It was stated that a CompuServe assistant sysop was directly compensated by receiving a portion of the connect-time charges incurred during any downloading of his terminal program. This information came from a reliable source, but it has since been brought to my attention that the arrangement is not as was stated in the column. We do not know the specifics of the arrangements which were finally agreed to in this case, and erred in assuming that it remained as previously described. In other cases of which we're aware, compensation in the form of free access time to the CompuServe service is common as a payment to assistant sysops. Although the assistant sysop referred to as "Dash" in the column has not complained to us, these concerns were pointed out by a third party. We regret any misunderstanding.