Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 86 / JULY 1987 / PAGE 47

The World Inside the Computer

Fred D'lgnazio, Associate Editor

Sandbox Fred Rides The Wild Electrons

Now you can send news stories and wire photos over the telephone just like the big boys do at UPI and AP. And it's so simple.

It gives you goose bumps seeing yourself captured on a video image and watching the computer digitize it and transmit it over the telephone line to another person far away. You feel the same sense of awe and wonder that an isolated tribesman in the bush must feel when he first sees himself in a photograph.

That digitized image is like a little electronic "you," and when it journeys out of your computer and into the phone system, you feel that you are going with it—riding the wild electrons.

The "One Million Stories" Newsletter

I have ridden the wild electrons, and so have several teachers and students. It all began the other day when Sandra Pilley and her third graders sat down at their Apple computer at Hewitt Elementary School in Birmingham, Alabama, and typed in a two-page Newsroom newsletter. (Newsroom is available for $49.95 from Springboard Software, 7808 Creekridge Cir., Minneapolis, MN 55435.) The newsletter was entitled "One Million Stories" and was written by Sandra's Skies and Wings Group. The stories were illustrated with Newsroom Clip Art cartoons.

Typical of the stories was one written by Kris Roberts called "The Loc Nas Monster." According to Kris: "It all began in the biggest swamp ever in the hotel front yard on a summer day. Snakes dropped out of trees of course. Alligators swam everywhere. Mostly some turtles looked 4ike rocks." Crouching down in the belly of the story was a picture of a big, ugly monster, presumably the dreaded Loc Nas Monster himself.

After creating the story and laying it out in the Newsroom Layout work area, Sandra ejected the disk from the computer and took it home after school. That night, she booted up Newsroom on her Apple lie and entered the Newsroom Wire Service work area. After answering questions (like at what baud rate she planned to transmit), she typed in my telephone number and then hit Return. The computer signalled the modem plugged into Sandra's home phone, and the modem dialed my telephone number.

At my end, the telephone began ringing. Sandra had taken the precaution of calling me before she got her computer to phone me, so I was ready. I had booted up Newsroom on my home computer (it was an Apple, but it could have been a Commodore 64 or an IBM PC or compatible). My computer was in Answer mode, so as soon as it received the phone call, it signalled Sandra's computer that it was ready to receive Newsroom files. Sandra's computer complied, and within seconds the screen began filling up with the names of photos, banners, page layouts, and text panels from the "One Million Stories" newsletter.

After only a few minutes of transmission (at 1200 baud) I had received the entire newsletter. I told the Wire Service program to hang up my phone, and I turned on my printer and printed out the newsletter to make sure it was safe and sound.

It looked great—especially when I thought how just a few seconds before it was lots of little wild electrons riding the phone line across central Alabama.

A Grinning, Bearded Man—Over The Wires

Sandra and her kids had left the last panel of their newsletter blank so I could put something in it and transmit it back. I wanted to send something special, so I booted up my ComputerEyes/2 digitizer program (for more on this, see my April column). I pointed my little JVC camcorder at myself, fiddled with the controls, and captured myself on the computer picture screen—a grinning, bearded man making a V sign for victory. Using Computer-Eyes/2, I saved my picture as a Newsroom Photo file, and then booted up Newsroom. I added a caption to the photo, and, in the Layout work area, I tucked the photo onto the tail end of the Skies and Wings' newsletter.

A moment later I was on the phone calling Sandra's house. I couldn't wait to tell her. I was ready to send back the entire newsletter—along with my digitized photo. I had forgotten only one thing: It was almost one in the morning—on a school night!

A sleepy Sandra Pilley came to the phone and then turned on her computer and booted up Newsroom one last time. Five minutes later I entered the Wire Service and told the computer to dial Sandra's number and send the newly modified newsletter.

And it was sent—without a hitch. For the first time ever, Sand-box Fred got to ride the wild electrons—along with the Loc Nas Monster, the Magic Rock, and Mr. Fuzzy the spider (who lived in Kris Roberts' desk and ate Mrs. Pilley's lunch).

I was dying to find out if Sandra had received the newsletter successfully and if she liked my digitized photo.

But I wasn't brave enough to call back that night. No sir.