Telecommunications talk. (Creative Computing Special Interest Group) Brian J. Murphy.
How the year is flying by. It is September already and in just a few more days it will be fall and time for many of you to return to your desks in schools and offices. Until then, the evenings are free for us telecommunicators to connect to our favorite information utilities, to sample bulletin boards around the country, and generally to relax with our computers in a pleasingly aimless way. It is one of the special delights in this new age to spend a lazy summer evening, after midnight has come and gone, "chatting' with a new-found friend in California or Texas about everything in general and nothing in particular.
Now, some gladsome tidings from our own camp, regarding the newly created Creative Computing SIG (Special Interest Group) on CompuServe.
Is was at the beginning of last May that the Creative Computing SIG was brought into being on CompuServe. The gestation process was a little rough for reasons we will not detail here, but which concerned red tape and technical problems of one sort or another. The final result has been a service which is interesting, lively, and popular--even if we do say so ourselves.
As the Creative staff envisions it, the SIG will serve several purposes. The most important of which is to act as a conduit for two-way communication between the people who create the magazine and the people who read it and use it. No magazine can hope to survive long if it doesn't keep in touch with its readers. Creative's ten year run is testimony to its recognition of that fact, and the SIG is a token of a commitment to even better communications.
We also wanted to expand the services that Creative offers to its readers, by getting the information from the magazine to its readers in a truly accessible form. Let's examine now how the SIG accomplishes these goals.
As you enter the SIG, you discover that it is formatted like most of the other CompuServe SIGs. There is a greeting message, more than likely from John Anderson, and a menu of options:
1 (L) LEAVE A MESSAGE
2 (R) READ MESSAGES
3 (RN) READ NEW MESSAGES
4 (RM) READ WAITING MESSAGES
5 (B) READ BULLETINS
6 (CO) ONLINE CONFERENCE
9 (OP) CHANGE YOUR SIG OPTIONS
0 (E) EXIT FROM THIS SIG
Options 1 through 4 allow you to leave messages for other SIG members and to read messages that have been left in the file, either from the beginning of the existing message or starting where you left off the last time you were on line. There is no private messaging in the SIG (E-Mail is more appropriate for that), so bear in mind that anything you have to say will be read by others--which is where the fun comes in. You may reply to any message you see, even if it isn't addressed to you.
Option 5 plays back current bulletins placed in that file by the system operators (sysops). Choice 6, Online Conferencing, is a CB simulation which allows you to chat with other users on as many as 30 "channels.' A help file that comes with this choice explains the various commands and procedures. This system is used primarily for conferences at set hours.
Nine Data Files
The nine XA sections contain data files broken down into specific areas of interest. By typing XA1 at the ENTER SELECTION OR H FOR HELP prompt you will be taken to the first set of data files. The XA1 files are designated as the NewsWire. The files here contain late-breaking news, views, and rumors, coming attractions, special announcements of interest to SIG members, errata, and other notices.
The XA2 files promise to be among the most popular because they will contain the Street Price Index. The index will be kept meticulously up to date to offer users an invaluable aid in pricing computer hardware and software and in negotiating price with computer merchants ("Whaddaya mean $199? The Street Price Index says I can find Atari 600XLs for $149!). Computers included in the Index include Apple IIe, Atari 800XL, Commodore 64 and other popular models. You will also find prices of ten printers, seven monitors, and 20 popular software packages.
Another XA3 database feature is the Creative Computing benchmark test results. The test uses a simple program to determine computational speed and accuracy. As of this writing 183 computers had been tested, ranging from the ultra-powerful Cray I mainframe (which completed the calculations in one-hundredth of a second) to the Texas Instruments SR-50 calculator (which took more than 12 days).
In the XA7 database you will find files of articles and information revolving around Apple products. You will also discover material from our Apple Cart column. The XA4 database contains files on Commodore products and material from John Anderson's column, Commodore's Port. Atari users will find a similar service on the XA5 database where the files include material from Outpost: Atari. XA6 covers the TRS-80 series.
The catchall database is XA8, which features information on a variety of computers, including the IBM-PC and PCjr, Timex Sinclair, and all other popular home and business personal computers. In the XA3 database are the files relating to computer hardware and accessories such as printers, plotters, graphics pads, modems, and so forth. The XA2 database contains lively discussions of software and operating systems, to keep you current with the most recent innovations. The XA0 database is reserved for help files for users and for miscellaneous subject files.
Accessing a file on the XA database is actually quite simple, whether you have a specific file in mind or you just want to check out what is currently available. Let's quickly review the procedure to see how it's done.
Accessing a File
First, you select the appropriate database. If you were interested in an Atari file, you would first key in the command XA5 for the Atari files. This would result in a menu which, among other options, gives you the opportunity to browse through the files. After you select the browse option you get a /AGE: prompt. This allows you to select files entered into the database within a certain number of days. For example, an answer of 5 means that you will be shown only those files entered within the last five days.
If you simply hit ENTER or RETURN in response to the prompt, the files will be shown to you regardless of age. Next comes the prompt /KEY. Some files have formal keywords which, if you use them in response to this prompt, immediately locate and bring them up to the screen. A typical keyword would be "Outpost' for the Outpost: Atari column. If you don't want to search via keywords, then hit the RETURN or ENTER key, and the program will let you browse through all the titles.
Once you have the file you want, Outpost: Atari for example, you are given the choice of reading the file, downloading it or moving on. By downloading it to your own storage device you can keep a permanent record of the file. Similarly, you can use your printer to copy the file as you read it.
The XA databases are not one-way streets. You can add your own files to the databases subject to the approval of the sysops. If, in their judgment, the material is relevant and useful, they will let the file stand, although they reserve the right to edit and cut the file as they see fit.
I am happy to report that as of this writing the SIG is an apparent success. Readers have been coming to us with their views, questions, and gripes. It has really been interesting to see how many people with systems like the Atari 800XL and the Color Computer are among our readers. This intelligence will almost certainly influence the way our editors see the magazine and the decisions they make when they decide to cover a specific machine.
Another encouraging aspect of the SIG has been its use as a place to upload and download files, using the XA databases. At first there was a little grumbling because we went on line without too much in the databases, but the readers pitched in and started uploading their own programs. Now this aspect of the SIG is healthy and burgeoning. It is definitely worth a look.
One of my favorite things about the SIG has been the way the readers and editors have maintained long and fascinating dialogues on the message system. An idle comment about possible Atari obsolescence by one reader led to a flood of messages from Atari users--who turned out to be extraordinarily dedicated to their machine, despite the way the company treats them. "Conversations' like these abound, and they don't lack for wit, wisdom, and information.
Take my advice and log onto the Creative SIG often. Jump into the stream of conversation on the message board, Download an interesting, free program. Participate in some of the exciting conferences that we are planning with top personalities in the computer software and hardware industry. Read the columns, the Street Index, the test reports, and have fun. See you on PCS-22!