Telecommunications talk. (BRS database vendor) Brian J. Murphy.
A Shameless Plug
It's customary for columnists here to start their pieces with a brief personal note or observation. For me it's getting hard to observe anything. As this is written your humble servant is in the middle of a miserable winter chest cold, the result of pushing himself through a string of 14- and 18-hour workdays to finish a book.
A sneaky way to slip in a plug for my book, isn't it? Actually, it is not a plug at all; since we don't have a definited title for the book yet, I can't tell you to go to your favorite bookstore and order them for you and all your friends. I'll do that next month, unless my editor stops me.
What I can tell you now is that the book is an introduction to computer wargames and fantasy games, covering ruels, strategies, and some of the ways you can get the most out of your game playing time. It is tentatively scheduled to be released by Creative Computing Press in August. Am I excited? It is my first book, and it is the realization of my life's ambition to become an author, so you can imagine. I only wish I could get rid of this cold so I could enjoy the feeling.
So much for the plug. Now it is time to turn to the business of the current month, a profile of a unique information utility which serves the needs of commercial and scientific researchers--BRS. The BRS System
BRS is not an information utility in the sense that CompuServe, The Source, and Delphi are. There are no games, no cutesy shopping services and no special interest groups.
The BRS system is a service designed to assist business, scientific, and professional users who need to compile lists of articles and publications in a variety of specialized fields to conduct research.
BRS started in 1976 as a bibliographic service for libraries, keeping these institutions apprised of publications in the scientific, medical, and technical fields. Although 1976 doesn't seem very long ago, it was before the personal computer revolution, back when libraries were almost the only potential market for BRS's service. With the advent of the personal computer, BRS sought to expand its market to include businesses; professional users such as doctors, lawyers, and scientists; and even private individuals.
To that end BRS expanded the number of accessible databases it managed from about 20 to more than 80 (as of this writing) covering the broad areas of Sciences and Medicine, Business/ Finance, Education, Social Sciences, Energy/Environment, and General Reference.
A few of these databases offer complete articles which can be dumped to your printer or printed off-line by BRS and mailed to you. These databases include Groiler's Academic American Encyclopedia (which is also available on CompuServe), the Harvard Business Review, and the Mental Measurements Yearbook.
The overwhelming majority of the databases are designed to provide you not with articles but with a bibliography--a list of articles and sources which treat the subject in which you have expressed interest. These citations make the job of the researcher infinitely easier, eliminating the need for a trip to the library to make a lengthy search through the Periodical Guide and other books and files detailing current publications.
Before we examine the database choices in detail, let's briefly explore how the system is used. Bibliographic Searches
Although BRS claims that the system is "easy to learn," if you have no experience in database information retrieval, it will take you a little time to learn. Once you have learned the various logics which make the system run, you will come to appreciate the flexibility and versatility of the BRS approach. To fully appreciate what BRS can do, you have to see how BRS assembles data to meet your specific requirements. We are going to use a search compiled by BRS to illustrate the simplest search techniques.
We'll start after the sign-on and greetings have been completed by answering the prompt ENTER DATABASE NAME with the code for the ABI/Inform database (comprised of general busines information), INFO. This response brings up the message BRS/INFO/MAY84 which tells us that the database is current up to May 1984.
Now we see a very prompt, 1: BRS-SEARCH MODE-ENTER QUERY. this is where the system asks us what information we want to extract from this file. The response COMPUTERS tells the system that we want all the article citations in the ABI/Inform bibliography which deal with computers.
The BRS system responds with RESULT 5878. This tells us that there are 5878 article citations in the database of articles and publications about computers. With nearly 6000 articles cited, this is an invitation to be more specific in your search.
So let's be more specific. It is easy enough to do because we can qualify our search by using the operators AND, OR, and NOT. In the next field we key in CRIME OR CRIMINAL OR FRAUD, and get 1022 response. Now let's combine these two fields to see how many articles deal with computers and criminal activity.
Before we do, let's look at what has appeared on the screen so far: 1: COMPUTERS RESULT 5878 2: CRIME OR CRIMINAL OR FRAUD RESULT 1022
Now, in field 3, we key in the response 1 AND 2. On screen it looks like this: 3: 1 AND 2
And the response at the end of field 3 looks like this: RESULT 167
Now we have a resource of 167 article citations, dealing wiht various aspects of computer crime that we can list. If we want, we can get an even more specialized listing from this selection. In field 4 we can key in the request 3 AND LEGISLATION.
This response tells the system that you wan the data sampling as defined in Field 3 (crime and computers) narrowed down to legislation dealing with computer crime. The response is RESULT 12. This means that in the file there are 12 article listings treating computer crime legislation.
A command to print brings up the listings themselves. The listing begins with the author's name (AU), the title of the article (TI), the source publication (SO) and an abstract (AB) of the contents. In a sample provided by BRS, the first listing of the article citations would appear as in Figure 1.
The system also allows you to order the citations to be printed off-line and forwarded to you for a small additional fee.
With this much information at your disposal, you can easily decide whether the article in question meets the needs of your research or not. Root Word Searches
Sometimes it is hard for you to define precisely the parameters of your interest in terms the system can understand. To help you and the system to communicate better, you can do a root word search. In such a search you pick a root word like "computer" and enter the command ROOT COMPUTER in the first search field. The command and the response appear on screen as in Figure 2.
These terms, derived from the root search, are found in what is called the Dictionary File for the database you are accessing. If this search has turned up the search term for which you are looking, then when you return to the first search field, instead of having to type out COMPUTER-AIDED-LEARNING, you can simply enter the number of the term assigned in the root search, R2.
Another search option you have is to use operator words WITH and ADJ (adjacent) to home in on titles more precisely. If you were to search a database using the query COMPUTER WITH EDUCATION, the system would come up only with titles containing the words "computer" and "education." If you were to issue the query COMPUTER ADJ EDUCATION, then the system would pull up only those titles which contain the phrase "computer education."
Still another way to home in on the research material you need is to define the period of time you want to search. Suppose you want just the most current information on computer crime. When you access the INFO database you enter BRS/INFO/1983-MAY84. In this way, only those articles published from January 1, 1983 to May 31, 1984 will be cited.
Let's suppose that INFO contains articles in foreign language publications and that you do not want to include them in the bibliography because you can read only English. After you have defined the topic you want researched, in the next field you can include the command LG=EN, limiting citations to English language articles. Perhaps you can speak English and French. In that case, you can use the command LG-EN, FR and you will get only English and French language articles.
Another service which BRS offers is to send you updates on selected files. No matter what your area of interest, new articles are entering the literature all the time, and for some professionals, such as research scientists, lawyers, and physicians; it is very important to keep abreast of the latest published literature.
The BRS Selective Dissemination service (SDI) lets you know every time a new citation is added to the database in which you are interested. The citations are printed off-line and sent by mail to the user. Unfortunately SDI does not cover all of the more than 80 databases representatives sampling of them. Database Selections
This brings us, rather belatedly I admit, to the subject of just what the BRS databases are. I don't propose to list them all her, but I could list some of the databases available for SDI as a representative sampling. They include Biosis Previews, Books in PRint, Deaprtment of Energy Database, Energyline, Exceptional Child Education Resources, Government Printing Office Monthly Catalog, Harfax Industry Data Sources, Health Planning and Administration, Mathfile, Medlars, National Institute of Mental Health, Pollution Abstract, Public Affairs Information Service, Religion Index, school Practices Information File and Social Science Citation Index.
As I said, those are only a few of the databases you can access--for a free. The rate schedule is very complex, but the bottom line is: expensive. You don't need special hardware; most personal and home computers and modems will do fine--and you can save money if you have a printer and communications software that lets you dump the data to it.
You do have to pay to connect to the system, however. The least expensive way to do it, if you plan to use the system for a one-time research project for example, is with the hourly Open Access plan. There is a $50 fee, payabel annually, for registration and your pass-word. Then come the connect charges. The charges are assessed on an hourly basis and are highest for the Open Access user at $35 per connect hour.
There are four levels of annual subcription for users anticipating longer periods of use on the system. The least expensive subscription is $750. This buys you 25 connect hours for which you pay an additional $30 per. At the other end of the scale--attention: Libraries and larger institutions--the rate is $3800 a year for 240 connect hours at an additional $16 per.
In addition to the connect charges there are also royalties which are charged for almost all the databases. They range from free (for a few of the BRS-generated files) to $75 to Digests of Environmental Impact Statements. Typical fees seem to fall within the $10 to $30 range.
But you are not off the hook yet. Don't forget telecommunications costs. You can access BRS directly ($3 connect hour), through Uninet ($6), telenet Public Dial ($7 hour), Tymnet Public Dial ($11), or Telenet In-Wats ($26).
If nothing else convinces you that BRS is not for the casual user, these rates should do so. For libraries, government and charitable institutions, medical research facilities, academicians, and medical and legal professionals a BRS subscription can be a fantastic resource, however.
For the privated individual working on a master's thesis or a doctoral dissertation--even for the serious under-graduate with the appropriate financial resources--the Open Access plan is the way to go. As expensive as it is, it can save you hours and hours.
For more information, contact BRS, 1200 Route 7, Latham, NY 12110. (800) 833-4707. E-Mail Feedback
If you have comments or criticisms regarding this column, if you want to set me straight on any topic, or if you have a contribution to make, you can do so by contacting me via The Source, CompuServe, or Delphi. Send Source E-Mail to me via STU 393. My CompuServed E-mail "address" is 70426,143. My mail at Delphi goes to BJMURPHY. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.
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