Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 90 / NOVEMBER 1987 / PAGE 69

Telecomputing Today

Arlan R. Levitan

Just the Fax, Ma'am

Apple Computer introduced its new Applefax Modem at the Mac World exposition in Boston, Massachusetts. Facsimile devices (called "Fax" in the business world) are essentially photocopy machines that can send copies of paper documents over regular telephone lines at high speed. As recently as three years ago, the high cost (over $10,000) of Fax machines limited their use to well-heeled businesses, although low-volume users could opt for Fax-based services such as Federal Express's instant "Zap Mail." A recent wave of high-quality, under-$2000 Fax machines from Japan put Zap Mail to bed and Fax units into the hands of most any small business. The new Apple modem allows Mac owners to transfer files from one Applefax-equipped system to another at transmission speeds of 9600 bps, and it can communicate with many regular facsimile machines as well. The Applefax comes with software that supports attended and unattended data transfers of Macintosh files and Fax documents.

The Shocking Truth

Most computer owners are aware of the dangers posed by electrical power surges and spikes, and consequently buy devices to protect their computer systems from them. Spike and surge protectors are typically connected between a computer and the AC power outlet. The underlying principle behind such a device is to quickly erect an electronic "fence" between the AC power line and your' equipment when spikes and power surges are detected.

Even when equipped with such protection, most telecomputer systems have an Achilles heel. Remember that your modem plugs into the phone line as well as an AC outlet. While the normal current carried on the phone network is very low, a nearby lightning strike during an electrical storm can damage a modem, and in some cases, the computer system attached to it.

An inexpensive solution to the problem is Radio Shack's Model 43-102 Spike Protector. The unit goes between your modem and modular phone-line jack and plugs into a grounded AC outlet. It's a bargain at $12.95—about half the price of competitive products.

How Low Can You Go?

The street price of 1200-bps modems has taken another dive with many bargains popping up in unlikely places. C.O.M.B. liquidators, usually seen touting low-cost briefcases and the like in the margins of the Wall Street Journal, has been selling discontinued Kyocera modems that respond to the bulk of the Hayes command set. Kyocera may not be a household name, but it designed and built the popular Tandy Model 100 laptop computer. While somewhat sensitive to line noise, the Kyocera modem (which formerly listed at $295) is an adequate performer and is a great buy at C.O.M.B.'s $79 price.

The Empire Strikes Back

Last August, CompuServe set up a special section for users who wished to protest the proposed FCC rule changes for next year. These proposed changes may result in four- to five-dollar-an-hour surcharges on information service connect time. CompuServe users were given advice on what to include in the letters they write protesting the new rules. CompuServe also provided the names, addresses, and phone numbers of legislators and FCC officials, as well as facilities for sending low-cost "FCC CongressGrams" to one's favorite Washingtonian. CompuServe graciously waived normal connect charges for time spent in the FCC section.

If the new FCC rules go into effect, the stage will soon be set for the commercial information services and alternative long-distance voice-service providers to bypass the local telephone networks by using existing cable television services. In Great Britain, two cable systems recently signed agreements with a private telecommunications firm and behind-closed-doors discussions reportedly began this summer in the U.S. Such a switch may actually be a boon to information-service subscribers, since the cable systems can handle higher speed data transmission than the present public telephone network.

Tanks For The Memories

This summer, the U.S. Naval Institute unveiled an unclassified online database intended to provide information on the world's armies, navies, air power, special and strategic forces, and weapons systems. Also included is a "Who's Who" on the battlefield, detailing unitbattle organization and high-ranking military officers.

The first phase of the system, which went online this summer, contained information on the Soviet Union and United States. By year end, information on all NATO and Warsaw Pact countries will be available, and information on the rest of the world by late spring. According to the Institute, "details of … armed forces, their orders of battle, and descriptions of their weapons and electronics will be immediately available at the touch of a computer key."

User reaction during initial testing of the system was said to be extremely favorable, although it is rumored that some were unduly nervous about the possibility of pushing the wrong button on their keyboards.