Telecommunications talk; magazines on-line, new bulletin boards, and new products. Brian Murphy.
Writing a magazine column is a little like burying a time-capsule. Because a column has to be done several months ahead of publication, the writer can only guess what the world will be like by the time his words reach his readers. Given the accelerated rate at which computer technology changes, the world may be a very different place in the summer from what it was in the spring. Looking a year into the future with almost any accuracy is almost impossible to do, as the plight of more than a few computer manufacturers attests.
Having said this much, it may seem a little foolish to say that I am using this forum in the first issue of the New Year to make a prediction of developments in telecommunications far into the future, but I intend to have a go at it anyway.
Here goes: In the next ten years I fully expect to see home computers with enormously enhanced processing power and with memory of from one to two megabytes. These systems will occupy the same (or less) space that a Commodore 64 does at present. I also expect to see printers specially designed for home use that render color graphics so faithfully that they rival four-color glossy magazine pages.
Picture this: The editorial and production staff of Creative Computing put the magazine together as they normally would with all the features, departments, and advertisements that you normally expect to see. The mechanicals of the individual pages are photographed for offset printing, and again for the office of Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. in Manhattan.
At Ziff-Davis, a laser scanner reads each page minutely, reducing the visual information into data which is stored on a hard disk. When the entire magazine is recorded, dubs of the disk are made for each of the computer information utilities which "distribute" Creative Computing.
Users who have the right home computer hardwre are notified through E-Mail when they log onto the utility that Creative is on-line. They can then choose to load specific articles from the current issue for view on their ultra-high-res video monitors. Using a joystick or a mouse they can skip to any part of the page they choose. They can also opt to dump the article to a high-resulution color printer, which will print the material (incuding advertisements) with a clarity rivalling that of a four-color press.
This is all speculation (don't request this service for another few years, please), but I don't think that the scenario is too far-fetched. The technology required to achieve it is already partially in place, and the rest is not too far over the horizon. As it is, the time is already at hand when the home user can call up the full text of any article from a database containing the text of more than a hundred periodicals. And therein lies a tale ... Magazine ASAP
By the time you read this, a division of Ziff-Davies called Information Access Company will have produced and placed on line databases containing the full text of about 130 populr, industrial, and trade magazines which can be accessed through the average home computer/modem setup. The new databases are called Magazine ASAP and Trade and Industry ASAP. Access to these databases is available through Dialog Information Services, which already offers some of IAC's databases and which will be the subject of a future column.
As I write this, I have only a barebones outline of how the service will work and how the information product it produces will look on screen and in print produces will look on screen and in print (we'll do a thorough profile in a subsequent column). For now let me fill you in with the information I had just prior to the first demonstrations of the system.
Any user with a computer and a 300 or 200 baud modem can connect to the system. A printer makes a very logical and desirable peripheral to the system as we shall shortly discover. Access to the system will be through Dialog using Telenet, Tymnet, Uninet, or the Dialog net whch is expected to go into operation sometime later this year. The system will be accessed using the regular Dialog sign-on and database selection routines. Once you are in the ASAP database you will use special search techniques to find the articles you need.
Morris Goldstein, the president of IAC, says that the databases will be structured so that a user "with no technical knowledge can quickly conduct a computer literature search." As it has been described by IAC, you will be able to conduct searches by topic, author, publication name, company, product, or a plain language description. This is called the "controlled vocabulary" approach to indexing and searches. Your search commands will generate a bibliography of articles, from which you can select the ones you wish to see reproduced in full text.
IAC says that all relevant citations on the subject will be included, with "insignificant" citations deleted. According to IAC, their "rigorous indexing allows the user to restrict a search to only the most substantive articles on any topic or person to keep online costs at a minimum."
Once you have selected an article, as I understand it, you can choose to see the article on your video monitor, dump it to your printer as it appears on screen, download it into memory if your communications software supports this activity, or order it to be printed off-line and sent to you by ASAP. No matter what sort of output you order there will be a charge for the access of the article (and an additional charge if the article is printed and mailed).
The next question is, who would be the most likely to benefit from a service like this? The benefits to business users, professionals, and libraries should be so obvious as not to require description here. Among home users, students would probably find the system most useful. Not only does it save time in looking up citations at the library, but you enjoy the added benefit of having the full text of the reference material in your hands almost instantaneously.
I'm afraid I have very little to offer in the bottom line department. By the time this column reaches you, the tariffs should be set, but as of this writing (remember, this is a time capsule you're reading) all anyone at Dialog or IAC could say was "We'll wait and see what's decided." Given the act that the most basic service of Dialog is $25 per connect hour (exclusive of database royalties, network connect charges, and long distance where applicable) we can reasonably expect the service to be expensive--certainly more expensive than going to the newsstand and buying a magazine, even if you live in Saskatchewan. So, unless my price prediction is way off base we're looking at a system designed for people with serious and specific research needs.
A note in passing: If you have a 1200 baud modem the tariffs will not hurt nearly as much. The system will transmit data at 300 and 1200. If you typically have large amounts of research to do, a 1200 baud modem would appear to be a necessity. You receive data roughly four times as fast as at the popular 300 speed, and your connect charges are correspondingly small.
As I promised before, I shall log onto the system and give you a full report on ASAP and Dialog service. Some BBS System
A few columns back I invited readers who operated bulletin board systems to send in their phone numbers and a few details about their systems. The response was good, so here are some profiles of a few of the BBS systems we learned about.
W.L. Chaney is the sysop of T.H.A.T.S. (Terre Haute Atari Tele-Service), a 24-hour Atari bulletin board which he runs using his 48K Atari 800, three disk drives, and a 300 baud Hayes Stack modem. Chaney uses the Forem bulletin board software system to run his BBS. The number to call is (812) 299-9891. Chaney also operates a nighttime (6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) Apple II BBS called Mindstorm using the GABBS software system. The number to call is (812) 235-0908. Any computer can access either system.
George Matyaszek, a Chicago computer operations consultant, is a sysop for the Chicago Greene Machine, a TRS-80 Model 1 BBS with about six hundred users. The Greene Machine, which includes a Dial-A-Date System attracts about one hundred calls a day. The number for this 24-hour system is (312) 622-4442. The People's Message System of Santee, California, which keeps an updated register of BBS systems all over the country, recently coded this BBS as a "sexually oriented" system. We don't know why it was so designated (though it does have a dating service). Parents, use discretion.
I have no name connected with this next entry, but anyone who misspells my first name "Brain" can't be all bad, so here goes: Knight-Line is a Nashville, TN BBS which operates 24 hours a day at (615) 297-6037. It does not appear to by system-Specific.
Ryan Katri of Fortuna, CA operates an Apple BBS called Johnny Appleseed. This BBS is a forum where users can review and exchange opinions about software and other computer products they have recently tried. The number is (707) 725-9202, and the board opertes from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. daily.
Michael Connic of Reston, VA is the sysop of Nova 100, a TRS-80 Model 100 users' group BBS. The board runs on a 24K Model 100 and is a support system for users of this computer in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., area. This 300 baud system can be accessed with a Model 100 provided you set the TELCOM to M7I1E. Other computers set for 8 bit/no parity operation can also access this BBS. On weekends and holidays operation is 24 hours a day. On work days the BBS is up from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.
My apologies to anyone I've left out in this roundup. We'll run your numbers in a subsequent column. For the rest of you sysops, get with it and send it your BBS numbers and a brief description of your system. If it's legitimate, we'll describe it here. New Products
Hayes Microcomputer Products is jumping onto the IBM PC bandwagon with a new modem and communications software tailored for the IBM computer.
Smartcom II is a communications software package that can be used with th eIBM PC and the Hayes Smartmodem 300 or 1200. A menu-driven program, Smartcom II can originate and answer calls and automatically log a user onto a remote system. Macros for logging onto The Source, CompuServe, Dow Jones News/Retrieval, and Dialog's Knowledge Index are included on the Smartcom II include data capture and file transfer (including unattended transfer with another Smartcom II system).
The program supports up to 16 disk drives (including hard disk), operates with parallel and serial printers, and supports monochrome or color/graphics video displays. Hardware requirements include an 80-column monitor, at least one disk drive, 96K RAM, an assynchronous communications card, and DOS 1.10 or 1.00. Smartcom II retails for $119.
The new IBM modem is an adaptation of the fine Hayes Smartmodem 1200, designated the 1200B. This unit functions in the same way that a Smartmodem 1200 and IBM asynchronous Communications Adapter would, eliminating the need for the separate communications card.
The 1200B allows 300 and 1200 baud communications. Features include support of tone and pulse dialing, compatibility with Bell 212A protocol modems in asynchronous operation, support of user programs, a modular jack, a speaker (with volume control) to monitor the signal, and automatic calling and answering in the unattended mode.
Incidentally, if you buy the 1200B you can get Smartcom II as part of the package. The modem and software are package-priced at $599. The price includes the modem, modular phone cable, a plastic reference card, Smartcom II, the Hardware Reference Manual, and the IBM Smartcom II manual.
The Menlo Corporation is now marketing a very powerful software tool for Dialog Information Services users which promises to cut drastically the time users spend on-line with Dialog searching for article citations. Given the high cost of connection to an information broker like Dialog, the advantages of software like this seem obvious.
Called In-Search, the software works on Texas Instruments computers, IBM PCs, and PC work-alikes. In-Search is designed to simplify the process of searching for specific citations on the dialog system. On-screen directions guide the user to select the correct databases and prepare the prooer strategy for finding the information needed. Disks provided with the software are broken down into business, engineering, science, biology, social science, and medicine categories. They contain extensive information on the contents of the Dialog databases, allowing you to prepare your search strategy in great detail.
Once the search strategy has been formulated, it is formatted in preparation for the actual search. When you are ready for the real search, a single keystroke commands In-Search to log onto Dialog, selects the correct database, and begins the search process, following the preset format. If you encounter difficulties on the way, the software is designed to allow you to restructure the search quickly or to add additional qualifiers to the search parameters to narrow the focus of the search.
Once you have found the information you want, In-Search allows you to structure it on screen into long, medium, or short versions, without having to enter Dialog codes. If unfamiliar Dialog protocols appear on screen, or if you have trouble understanding an In-Search prompt, Help files provide excellent explanations and alternatives for action. Menlo claims that the Help files are so well organized that they eliminate the need for Dialog's reference manuals and training sessions.
Some of the other benefits provided by In-Search include a keyboard overlay to pinpoint program function keys, a Dialog password, and updates of database information transmitted over phone lines.
To use In-Search you need one of the above named computers with at least 192K RAM, two double density floppy disk drives (or one floppy and a fixed disk drive), and either a Hayes Smartmodem 300, 1200, 1200B or a Novation Smartcat. The price for the software package is $399. If you wish, you can get a demonstration program for $5 by calling Menlo at (408) 986-1200 during California business hours. Have your Visa or Mastercard at the ready. If you prefer, you may mail your $5 directly to Menlo at the address shown below
Products: Magazine ASAP (data base) - Innovations
Trade and Industry ASAP (data base) - Innovations