by lra Myer
Ira Mayer is the home computer
columnist for the New York Post and managing editor of Video
The Radio Shack Model 100 textbook-size computer is every journalist's dream. I know. I've been able to act out my Super Reporter fantasies, composing hot stories in midflight, then standing in booths at the airport or on the Champs Elysees, transmitting my copy over the phone handset to the New York Post or over Telex lines to London.
The Model 100 sounded like the perfect traveling companion when it was first announced. After reading a glowing Wall Street Journal review of the machine composed at 36,000 feet, I called the public relations department of Tandy to ask to borrow one for review purposes.
One of the benefits of writing about computers is that you get to borrow hardware and software to play with, usually for sixty or ninety days, after which you either return it or pay for it. Some companies even offer a "professional discount." The Tandy guy down in Texas laughed, said sure, he'd add my name to the list, and warned that I was number 110 or so in line. That was about nine months ago. I'm still waiting to hear from him.
Off I went to the local Radio Shack store-a place I'd assiduously avoided for years. An audio hobbyist from way back, I didn't have a whole lot of respect for the Radio Shack ReaListic line of components or the popular TRS-80 series of full-size computers. The manager of the store had just sold twenty-five units of the Model 100 after a demonstration for one of the national news wire services, so when I told him I did much of the computer reporting for the New York Post he understood my needs. When I added that I usually worked on a DECmate word processor, he also understood that I knew what first-rate word processing was.
A computer is a dynamic elephant, for other than the obvious reason. Sure, computers remember many, many things for a long time. But they're also like the pachyderm in the old story about the blind men and the elephant, because computers represent different things to different people.
To some, a computer is a game machine. To others, it's a writing machine that has obsoleted the typewriter. To the quantitatively oriented, it's a fabulous number cruncher that works at preposterous speeds. To still others, a computer keeps files, draws pie charts or maintains contact with huge storehouses of information.
Computers are dynamic because their uses change. A microwave oven cooks food, a lawn mower cuts grass, and a stereo plays music. Most appliances always did, and always will, have defined uses. But computers change: today they do lots of different things, at home, in our offices, and in the huge private and governmental organizations with which we deal; by 1990, with voice recognition and other technology I couldn't even begin to predict, computers will be something else entirely.
The very fact that computers are dynamic elephants is what keeps more and more of us totally fascinated, and many of us absolutely addicted.
He was honest enough to differentiate between serious word processing and the "text processing" functions on the Model 100. "Text processing" differs from word processing in the number of functions available and the ease with which they can be performed. You can readily move a block of text with the Model 100, but it's difficult-if not impossible-to set tabs or underline or paginate a document. On the other hand, you can plug the Model 100 right into a telephone (where the handset plugs into the base of the phone) and establish a communications link with just about any network that operates at 300 baud. The acoustic coupler, which goes for an extra $20, is for those occasions when you can't unplug the phone.
Like most computer owners, I've barely touched the surface of my Model 100's capabilities. For instance, I know that I can program the computer to log onto the Telex network for me, retrieve my electronic mail and automatically send out my stories. Yet I still dial manually, log on myself and then hit the UPLOAD button. I also know the thing will buzz to remind me of appointments entered into the scheduling program, but I prefer my somewhat imprecise body clock (or the one on my office wall with the numbers all tumbling off the face). I even know that I could do some more sophisticated word processing tasks by remembering-or even looking up-the codes needed to activate those functions that are instituted by hitting the CONTROL key along with some others.
But I'm lazy. Besides, most of the kick of using the Model 100 comes from watching other people's faces (particularly those of the poor souls lugging around thirty-pound Osbornes and Kaypros) as I sit on planes, in airports or, especially, in interviews. One executive whom I'd interviewed at least a half-dozen times, and who never remembered me from one time to the next, finally took notice when during a press conference I recorded all my notes directly onto the machine.
The only complaint I've had since buying my "lap computer" is that downloading cassette programs to the machine hasn't worked properly. (In fact, it's in the shop as I write this on my now antiquated DECmate I.) It also has all sorts of graphics keys that do things I don't understand. But I look forward to playing with the game tapes someday soon and to working with what looks like a great spreadsheet program-just enough to do my small-business forecasting. The new magazine for the Model 100 seems to have new programs available every month, though Radio Shack itself hasn't been all that quick to add software for the unit.
Then again, the Model 100's software may already be too useful for my good in certain areas. I'd better not tell my wife about its alarm/scheduler function or she'll set the little bugger on my case about those chores around the house. How many Model 100s does it take to screw in a light bulb, anyway?
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