Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 92 / JANUARY 1988 / PAGE 62

The World Inside the Computer

Fred D'lgnazio, Associate Editor

Treat Your Kids To Some K-Mail

Our day is probably a lot like yours. My wife Janet is up like a shot at 5:15 a.m. Ten minutes later she plays reveille over the walkie-talkie we have rigged between our first-floor bedroom and our son's distant second-floor bedroom. "Get up, sleepy bags," she warbles. I grunt and roll out of bed.

Then it's hurry, hurry, hurry. Wake the kids. Feed the cat. Make the lunches. Wake the kids again. Make breakfasts. Sign homework papers. Search for lunch money. Find shoes. Tie shoes. Find kids. Rush them out the door.

Janet is like an invisible "wake-up" elf in the morning. No one ever actually sees her. She rushes around saying cheery things, whipping up scrambled eggs for Eric, putting on makeup, and then, zip! she's out the door as we stumble into the kitchen. "Who was that?" Catie usually asks. "Mommy," says Eric, "I think."

Your Hair Looks Great!

All the members of my family, including Mowie the cat, go in different directions. We're together as a group only 10 or 20 minutes a day. But, like any family, we need to communicate. There are all the formal things like doctors' appointments, birthday parties, shopping expeditions, haircuts, and the like. And there are the little things that are just as important. Things like: "How was your day?" "Your hair looks great," and "That was a neat 20-foot python made out of spiral binder rings that you brought home from school yesterday."

But we never see each other—except in passing. So how do we stay in touch and keep all those little cracks and crevices in our lives from growing bigger?

I used to try to communicate by magic marker and bulletin board. But there were so many messages that the board became messy and impossible to read. Next I tried yellow sticky tabs. But sticky tabs are like gerbils: They multiply. Soon we had wallpapered our entire kitchen in sticky tabs; there were layers of new sticky tabs on top of old ones, like geological eras of mud, dust, and sludge. Janet got so fed up with the darn things she held a sticky tab bonfire on top of the kitchen stove, risking burning down the whole house just because my domestic message system had gotten a little out of control.

Now we're in a new home, and we need to communicate more than ever. I don't dare smuggle in another sticky tab (not if I want to stay married). So I've turned to Old Faithful: the computer.

Starting A K-Board

The best thing about our K-Board (Kitchen electronic bulletin board) is that the K-Mail and the K-Messages we send to each other don't accumulate the way sticky tabs used to. We have a board that's as deep as the ocean and as high as the fins on my mom's old Edsel. It's a virtual board with unlimited space. No matter how many messages we "tack" on our board, there's always room for more.

And it's cheap! No line charges. No service or system charges because all the messages are stored inside a single computer sitting on our kitchen counter. We happen to be using Thinktank on a very old Compaq computer, but you could use any outline processor, word processor, or database.

I have five categories on the computer: Messages, Tasks, Calendar, Phone Book, and Library. I fire it up when I stumble into the kitchen each morning. And I don't shut it down until the kids are in bed.

The K-Board just sits there, smack in the middle of the kitchen, quietly and invitingly waiting for people to sit down and type in messages. And you know, it works.

I still don't see Janet in the morning, but when I've had my first cup of coffee, I sit down at the K-Board, and there's a message from her. I usually reply; then I grow ambitious and type messages to Catie, Eric, and, on my good days, Mowie. Catie has just begun the seventh grade, and she's taking French, so we've put a stack of French-English dictionaries next to the K-Board, and we cleverly slip French words into our messages— especially the messages to Mowie. (Mowie's code name is la chatte noire la plus grande du monde.)

Catie and Eric love the board. Before its arrival, they always rushed home from school and asked me if they had received mail that day. (I never understood why they asked, since neither ever writes anyone.) I had the disagreeable task of telling them no. But those days are past. Now when they come home from school, messages are always waiting—from Mommy, from Daddy, from Mowie, and from any other creature my imagination can dream up. Both children gobble the messages up like candy and then they sit down at the K-Board and dutifully reply to each one. When I stand behind Eric's shoulder and watch him, I am overcome by emotion. He absolutely refuses to read the Dick and Jane texts his school assigns him. But he sails through his messages on the K-Board and slowly but surely pecks a heartfelt reply.

Sending and receiving K-Mail makes it possible for the members of my family to stay in better touch with each other despite their busy schedules. It gets my kids to practice their keyboard and word processing skills. And it just might help my son get through the third grade.