Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 3 / MARCH 1985 / PAGE 22

Telecommunications talk; notes from a surgeon watcher, the facts about fax, and multimodemocracy. John J. Anderson.

I'm thinking of writing a letter to the Surgeon General. I feel he may be remiss in his duties. How well I remember when he spoke out vehemently against video games. The act conjured visions of youngsters in arcades across the nation suddenly taking up smoking in response. But that is not my criticism of the Surgeon General. Complaining Again

My complaint is that he has ignored the dangers of modem abuse.

My suggestion to the dear man is a message to be emblazoned on the sides of all modems sold in this country. Warning: continued use of this product may be hazardous to your bank card.

I should know, for I am a junkie. It has gotten to the point where the only time I am truly comfortable is when I am logged on. I have bags under my eyes and a crick in my neck. My sleep patterns are erratic. And I can't get enough of that handshaking protocol. I started out at 300 baud, never dreaming it would lead harder stuff. But once I got a taste of 1200 baud, nothing else could get me off. US Robotics stopped by the lab a couple of weeks ago and told us that 2400 baud was now ours for the asking. They loaned us a sample--it's easy to be generous when you know you're going to hook your customers for life. After operating at 2400 baud for half an hour, 1200 baud seems like a snail on a slow boat.

Then there are the network services themselves. Dow Jones, Compuserve, the Source, PlayNet, NewsNet, Delphi--all of them know my credit card number. No, I'm wrong--at least one siphons money directly from my checking account. That "service" is called Checkfree, and I assume it takes its name from the fact that the provider feels free to write its own checks on behalf of the providee. All this evil sneaks past my checkbook in athletic socks in the dead of night, along with those blank cassettes and all the other stuff I forgot I charged. Where will it end?

It won't. Having quit smoking at least five times in the same number of years, I can speak with some assurance on this topic. Telecommunicating is a much less deadly habit, and one to be enjoyed so very much more. I have made many real and true friends who share many of my interests. I have learned much and continue to learn. I am no longer engaged in a solitary pursuit when seated at my computer. I am connected. I am plugged into the communite. And use your modems to do so. Moc Fax

The major conduit of connection for me lately has been the Macintosh computer. Having access to connection via the IBM, Apple II, Commodore, Atari, and Tandy Model 100 computers, I have known of the power of the download for some time. This is the ability to capture not only text files over the phone, but files that convert to assembly, Basic, Logo, Pascal, and other high-level programming languages. The files then run as programs in themselves. Of urse the Macintosh also sports this capability (see this month's Apple Cart).

But that was not enough for the Macintosh contingent on the Compuserve Information Service. These minds, which fairly represent a subset of the cream of the Macintosh programming crop, knew that the key to telecommunicating effectively on the Mac would involve more than the uploading and downloading of mere text and program files. A means had to be developed whereby text files could be converted to binary form--and from there be converted into assembly language programs, as well as MacWrite and MacPaint documents.

The organic effort that resulted in a workable system involved the input of many people--people working with and refining other people's code--and of course, a massive amount of debugging. While following the track of this development, I have learned more about programming the Mac in a shorter time than would have been possible working from any magazine or book. The on-going process of the Mac program development lives in sections 3, 4, and 5 on Compuserve MAUG.

In the beginning, there was Dennis Brothers (70065,172). To his seminal MacTep terminal program (see the October 1984 issue of Creative Computing for more information on that program), he added an overlay that would convert a text file to binary. It did so with some brute force from Basic, and its major problem was that it was terribly slow. Then Overlaid MacTep met with Ronald Nicholson (71505,410) on Compuserve and begat BinHex 1 or Thereabouts, a stand-alone Basic program which converted extant text files to binary format--still very slow, and also rather buggy. BinHex 1 or Thereabouts met with William B. Davis (71505,410) and eventually became BinHex 3.0, which, while still slow and slightly buggy, worked well enough of the time to be worthwhile.

An overlay added by Bob VanBurkleo (74435,1373) made Basic BinHex more aggressive a finding file headers. Finally, a fine assembly language programmer by the name of Yves Lempereur (74016,1741) begat a smooth, fast, and debugged assembly version of BinHex. Of course you have to convert it using previous versions of BinHex, and the process is somewhat evocative of putting on your socks after you've laced up your sneakers. But Yves' version of BinHex is sitting in XA3 of MAUG, waiting for you to bootstrap your way to it.

Once you have done so, you can upload and download assembly language programs, desk accessories, MacWrite and MacPaint files with the same ease as you print out a text buffer. The latest version of BinHex makes use of pull-down menus and toolbox dialogs, and is as professional a Mac program as you will encounter. And it is the result of an ad hoc effort, mounted in public, by a group of dedicated programmers for whom monetary gain was not, at least in this case, a motivating factor. Dare I assert that all that is good about the hacker ethic is alive and well and living on Compuserve? I won't. Rather, I'll simply advise you that BinHex is available to you for the price of your connect time.

The ramifications of transmission of MacPaint documents are far-reaching and most dramatically underscored when considered in conjunction with the range of products which open MacPaint to the input of a camera, such as KoalaVision, MicronEye, and other announced products. (See Figure 1.)

At the offices of Creative Computing, we rent a Rapicom fax (for facsimile) machine to send documents to and from Ziff-Davis headquarters in New York. I must assume that there exists at least one machine on the New York end of things in order to make the system worthwhile. Rental of such a system costs thousands of dollars a year. With imaging systems, BinHex, and a phone, you can create a system for document transmission at a cost undreamed of a year ago, and still largely undreamed of today. The resolution of a system like the one described above approaches that of dedicated fax machines. It is certainly good enough for most of the purposes for which we use a fax machine in our own business.

The major disadvantage: the current system is relatively slow. At 1200 baud, transmission of a single MacPaint page might take up to 8 minutes, depending upon its complexity. At 12400 baud, of course, efficiency is increased in an inverse connect time. And there is no reason to believe that one of the wizards in MAUG won't devise a data compressor to improve the transfer rate even at 1200 bps. Keep it up, fellas. MultiModem

I have been using the MultiModem from MultiTech on a daily basis for over three months now and have nothing but praise for its operation, reliability, and ease of use. The MultiModem is a 300/1200 baud machine, with autodial, autoanswer, pulse or tone dialing, verbose or terse result codes, automatic hang-up on carrier loss, a built-in speaker, LED function readouts, and a host of "smart" features.

Fully compatible with the Hayes SmartModem, the MultiModem configures and behaves just as if it were a Hayes. The result codes, command structure, and even DIP architecture, stick strictly to the Hayes standard. All the Hayescompatible terminal software at the lab, for the IBM, Apple II, and Macintosh, ran without a hitch on the MultiModem. Its makers have done a fine job of ensuring the total compatibility of their product.

In addition, the MultiMdoem has a few features that might qualify it as even smarter than the Hayes. Three new codes detect ring, dial tone, and busy signal tone. This helps avoid the very common pitfalls of carrier-detect timeout, dialing without a dialtone, and sitting on a busy signal.

As they say on late-night TV, "and that's not all." In case your terminal package does not store phone numbers, the MultiModem can store six numbers onboard (each may include a mximum of 30 characters). These characters may include digits, pauses, and even switch codes to move from pulse to tone or tone to pulse in mid-dial. The phone number memory is backed-up by a built-in battery.

Stored numbers can be autoredialed or stacked to call number sequentially until a connection is established.

The unit has a standard DB-25 RS-232 connector on the rear, and wiring up cables for it was relatively simple. The documentation is quite strong, and helped on this score. The internal speaker lets you hear the phone line to keep track of the proceedings; it cuts out automatically as the Hayes does when carrier is detected. Configuration of the DIP switches requires removing the snap-lock case, but this procedure is quite simple, and since it is unlikely that most users will be moving DIP switches regularly, as I do, I won't make this a complaint.

The only complaint I can make is that for $549 list, MultiTech could have supplied the unit with an on-off switch, which they seem to have ignored. I was convinced that there must be one, and it was just cleverly concealed, but to this day I have not found it. Other than that, I have not seen a better modem for the money. Its transmission is clean, errorfree, and reliable. What more can be said? VPI Phone Surge Protector

You may already have protected your power lines against surges, but have you protected your phone line? Accordipng to Video Peripherals, Inc., telecommunications lines are commonly subject to surges as well. They can be caused by power system faults, dropped power lines, and lightning. The VPI 145 Telecommunications Line Protector acts as a modular extension cord and in the process diverts surges through the line whenever they occur. It is transparent in use and is activated only in the event of an abnormality, $39.95. Make Contact

Want to get in touch to talk about telecommunications? Email me via Compuserve--my ID is 76703,654--or better yet, stop by Creative Computing Online at PCS-22. Type to you later!

Products: CompuServe (Online information service) - Innovations