Have you talked to a computer lately?

Have You Talked to a Computer Lately?

FASO Today, Third Quarter, September 1988, pp. 22-23.

By Lawrence Charters

There you are, deep in the jungles of Lower Anonymia, when the call comes in. A thousand miles away, someone needs detailed information — twenty pages worth — and they need it right now. Sending it by mail would take too long; even an overnight delivery service would be too slow. The demand seems impossible, yet less than ten minutes later all twenty pages have been sent, and received. You are a hero, are rewarded with an early promotion to Fleet Admiral, and go on to even greater glory.

How did you single-handedly pull off this miracle? You had help: FASO’s microcomputer bulletin board system (BBS). With just one extra piece of equipment — a modem — any computer in the world can call the FASO BBS over an ordinary telephone line. Once connected, you can transmit your latest lesson guide for approval, send in a Sailor of the Year nominating letter, or leave a message for l.B. Leader about changes to an Aviation Maintenance course.

Not only can you send things, Ye Also Can Receive! After browsing through the extensive list of available programs, pictures, and other odds and ends already “posted”, you can select something to be transferred directly to your own computer. Within minutes, you, too, can be running a copy of the latest program to keep track of Navy Physical Readiness Test results, complete with a few opening bars from “Anchors Aweigh”.

As an example of what can be done, this article was sent to FASO TODAY just before deadline from a computer many miles away. After “posting” the article, a message to the Sysop (System Operator, the person assigned to monitor the BBS) was also posted, explaining what the article was and asking that it be sent on to the editor without delay. Sending the article and the accompanying message took less than two minutes. More significantly, all this was done late at night over the weekend. Even though no human operator was around, the BBS calmly accepted the article and the message, and waited patiently until the Sysop arrived on Monday.

For a command with wide-ranging commitments and widely scattered detachments, a BBS offers innovative solutions to longstanding problems. If ABH3 J.P. Sailor in Cubi Point needs some help from SGT J.D. Marine in El Toro in preparing a highly technical, detailed proposal, they could both spend endless hours, or days, playing telephone tag, trying to figure out differences in time zones, and misunderstanding one another on the phone. Or they could post the proposal on the BBS and gradually add to it, editing and reediting the draft until a finished product emerged. No one would have to go in early or stay late to get a call through, and no one would have to wait for a mail delivery.

Using the BBS is simple. First, you need a computer — any computer will do, but FASO’s Z-120 and Z-248 machines are probably the most obvious choice. Every detachment also received a 2400 baud modem some time ago, so dig that out and connect it between the computer and the phone line. You’ll also need a terminal software package (one is included as part of Enable).

The terminal package will want to know the settings for baud rate, word size, parity, and stop bits. This sounds complicated, but it has an easy solution: don’t worry about it. Set baud rate to 2400, set word size to 8 bit, set parity to None, and set stop bits to 1. These settings are sometimes abbreviated as 2400 8Nl, and as long as the computer understands (it will), you’ll never have to worry about what it means.

Next, use the terminal program to dial the telephone through the modem: (commercial) 619-43 7-7967 or (Autovon) 951-7967. Within a few seconds, the FASO BBS opening message will appear, and ask you who you are. After this, you can explore the menus, send messages, and experiment.

Naturally, all of this works best on a commercial “clean” phone line but you can also use the Autovon system. If you get bumped by noise, or a higher-priority call, try again. Once you get the hang of it, sending documents, programs, and messages by telephone is addictive.

DSl Bob Clark, FASO’s Sysop, has posted a rich collection of goodies on the board for those who take up “telecommunicating.” He has also prepared a collection of useful utilities for using the BBS which can be yours, free, if you send in a formatted diskette.

For those with problems, contact Microcomputer Training Division, Code 36, at FASO North Island or DSI Clark (A/V 951-7965). We cheerfully respond to all messages — even the slow, traditional paper and ink variety.

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