ZIP Beep #60
INTRODUCTION TO ZIP BEEP / FIFTH ANNIVERSARY EDITORIAL
by Chuck Strinz

Five years doesn't seem like a particularly long time. Of course, it's all relative. To a four-year-old child, it's an almost inconceivable span. In videotex terms, it's the rough equivalent of 874 dog years.

This editorial is appearing as part of ZIP Beep #60. After its normal run, it will be placed at the beginning of our newly re-edited compilation of articles from back issues of ZIP Beep. The first line of each back issue article shows you the issue number and date on which that article was first seen. We have marked some of our favorites in the Table of Contents. Continual readers will probably have their own favorites. In any case, let us know what YOU think.

We have adopted terms like "article" rather than "file." This was originally meant to underscore our overriding goal: to bring videotex to an audience comprising more than the traditional "computer user" group. On the other hand, we resisted the term "magazine" because it seemed inaccurate. "Videotex" was not a fashionable word at the time; we generally referred to our efforts as "microcomputer telecommunications features." The unintentional irony of hanging our hats on a moniker that totally negated our stated intention of helping to create a friendly new medium is in keeping with the overall tone we have always tried to maintain. Irony is our sustenance.

We've given in. This is a videotex magazine. On September 30, 1984, it was a semi-weekly, soon to be a weekly. Instead, it became a monthly. It was designed to carry advertising (and still does in syndication -- see the next paragraph). Now it's primarily targeted at people who use videotex gateways. Nothing ever works out like you expect. But never mind my ramblings. See for yourself. The first article (EDITORIAL, ZIP Beep #1) is a good place to start. Be sure to note the dates. Some of the humor is closely linked to the events and popular culture of the time.

Current issues of ZIP Beep are syndicated to free Bulletin Board Services throughout North America, Europe and Australia through the BBS Press Service (BPS). To see back issues, those of you reading this on a free BBS will need to call the participating videotex gateway near you. For more information on this, other Strinz Creative videotex products, and how you can get involved, leave a message to the System Operator here or on our Gizmode Gatehouse BBS (612) 929-6879.

When I say "we" and "our," it isn't an editorial affectation meaning "I" and "my." It means "all of us." My sincere thanks to everybody who contributed and commented on ZIP Beep. Particular thanks to Don Fitzwater. Sysop Don kept Strinz Creative's Gizmode Data Bank online and growing through some pretty rough times. And he writes darned funny stuff. Moreover, he was instrumental in ZIP Beep's growth from a humor magazine on a single system, to one distributed widely on free BBSs, and now to a videotex service with readers around the world on Minitel, Captain, ALEX, Prestel, Bildschirmtext, US West's Community Link, NYNEX's Info-Look, Bell South's BSAN, Atlantic Bell's Gateway, and probably one or two other videotex gateways I can't recall presently.

Special thanks also to contributors Dennis Wallaker, Ed Eubanks, Steve Israel, the One True Steve Anderson, and the rest. You folks are good.

Those of you who like mystery and intrigue may appreciate the fact that two of our back issues are missing without a trace. If anybody runs across copies of articles from ZIP Beep #31 or ZIP Beep #33, be sure to let us know. We're anxious to bring them back into the fold.

Meanwhile, life and silicon circuitry go on. So now, in celebration of our fifth continuous year online, a big double issue of ZIP Beep, suitable for reading or using as a night light.

ZIP Beep #60
ROCK BOTTOM: THE WORST THAT RADIO HAS OFFERED
by Barry J. Bottger

Driving down a rural Nebraska road without the benefit of FM radio can be something akin to having your teeth pulled without the benefit of novacaine. Such was the case a short time back when Bill, a buddy of mine, and I were making our way on Highway 12 from Spencer (pop. 598) to Sparks (pop. 2). Country twang or top forty were about all we had to look forward to on the 90 minute drive. Pretty dismal.

Fortunately, we found a station that played a fair amount of oldies. That wasthe beginning of the idea for this list. A particular tune stimulated things. It prompted a near-nauseating reaction from both of us.

"This has gotta be one of the worst songs ever," was Bill's comment.

An impromptu list of "Worst Songs Ever Recorded" was the result. It helped pass the time for the duration of our journey. And I believe it is worth sharing. Here then, in no particular order, are our nominations for the worst songs ever recorded.

"Feelings" by Morris Albert. A bile-producing song if there ever was one. Whatever happened to this guy anyway? I was kind of anxious to hear the followup. This is the perfect song to record in one of those "make your own record" booths in amusement parks. You know what I'm talking about....you record the song and the park broadcasts the song as you're recording it all over the amusement park. Very entertaining.

"You're Having My Baby" by Paul Anka and Odia Coates. This is often coupled with "Feelings." It's hard to think of one and not the other. After recording this massive hit, Coates disappeared into the morass of obscurity she richly deserves. Play this song for your feminist friends.

"Ebony and Ivory" by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. While we're on the subject of awful duets.......Actually, there's not a whole lot to say about this one. It's just bad. It's not even funny. It is interesting, though, to speculate on why Paul and Stevie chose to hit the nadir of their respective recording careers at precisely the same time. This one sent me running to my REVOLVER album.

"Proud Mary" by Leonard Nimoy. Got an audio dub on your VCR? Ok, here's what you do. Go down to your local video store and rent a copy of STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN. You know the scene where they bury Spock by shooting him off into space to revegetate, or whatever? Eliminate the boring soundtrack music by recording Nimoy's version of "Proud Mary" onto the soundtrack. Absolutely hilarious. It's great to hear Nimoy singing "Big wheels keep on TOININ', Proud Mary keep on BOININ'...."

And at the end of the movie, as the credits are rolling, use that audio dub to record William Shatner's version of "Mr. Tambourine Man." It really sounds like William Shatner portraying Hamlet reciting Bob Dylan, with the expected histrionics. I had the pleasure of playing this song to Byrds co-founder Gene Clark a couple of years ago. He stood with his mouth open shaking his head in disbelief.

"Sunny" by Leonard Nimoy. Yup, ol' Spock's go another one in the top ten. In the 60's, Dot records tried real hard to make a pop star out of Nimoy, who had no voice whatsoever for this kind of stuff. Off-key from beginning to end, he totally destroys the Bobby Helms hit.

"It Ain't Me, Babe" by Sebastion Cabot. This one's got to be heard to be believed. BOB DYLAN, POET......SEBASTION CABOT, ACTOR says the album cover. I always thought Bob Dylan was a lousy poet and, fortunately, I've got folks like Sebastion Cabot to prove my point. Cabot recites Dylan's lyrics like he's drunk and/or constipated, over a totally inappropriate baroque string ensemble.

"Candy Man" by Sammy Davis Jr. "The Candy Man can 'cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good," sings Sammy. Yeeechhh! This, for your information, is the song that was on the radio as we were driving along the highway.

"Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas. To quote Howard Kaylan of Flo and Eddie, "Who bought this record? I know I didn't buy it. And if I didn't buy it, and you didn't buy it, who bought it? Oriental Negroes, that's who!" Well, there must have been a lot of 'em out there, because the record went gold.

"Paralyzed" by The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Another one that's got to be heard. Mercury records actually released this incomprehensible single from 1968. The LSC was a one-man band incapable of playing any instruments. With the exception of "YEEEEHA" and "PARALYZED," I still can't understand what he is shouting about. A classic.

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Ok, that's the top ten. A few others worth noting:

"If" by Telly Savalas. Yeah, it's the Bread song as performed by Kojak. Who loves ya, Baby?

ANYTHING from the Burt Reynolds album ASK ME WHAT I AM.

"Ride My Seesaw" by the Moody Blues. I supposed if I was stoned and contemplating the universe I'd appreciate this more, but since I'm neither.... Bad, pretentious late '60's/early '70's art rock.

ANYTHING on the Walter Brennan Christmas album.

"It's Up To You Petula," by the Edison Lighthouse. Betcha forgot about that one, huh? If you remember it, you'll be humming it the rest of the day. You're welcome.

"Desiderata," by Les Crane. Sounds real bad these days.

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Alright, that's enough. I'm starting to feel sick just listing these songs. They're also bringing back some memories, not all of them good. It's amazing that even the bad songs can recreate mental images. Maybe that's part of what makes them bad songs.

I'm sure that many of you have your own favorite songs that you love to hate. Please pass them along via E-mail and perhaps I'll compile a list that you folks provide. Until then, I've got to get to work on my next project. I'm currently collecting Linda Blair movies and Bela Lugosi movies. I've always felt that the two of them would have been GREAT in a movie together. Through the magic of the VCR, it can now happen. Coming Soon!

ZIP Beep #60
IZZY'S ROCK
by J. Landman Gay
copyright 1989, J. Landman Gay

When the rock appeared in Izzy Ness's bathtub he hardly had time to notice. He'd been plagued by dreams the night before and overslept his alarm ten minutes, so he never glanced into the tub when he skidded through the bathroom. It wasn't until he'd come home that evening, read the paper, had a drink, and headed for the necessity that he noticed.

There was this big slate-colored smooth round rock in his bathtub. It looked like it weighed a hundred pounds and had sat there forever, grown from the tub like a stalagmite. Izzy thought maybe someone was playing a joke.

Since it was too late to call anyone to come and move it, and experiment showed Izzy that it really did weigh a hundred pounds, he just left it there. It wasn't hurting anything.

The next morning Izzy did better with his alarm clock and had time for a shower. He was a little hard pressed what to do about the rock, but found that if he straddled or hunched he could work around it.

He'd had that dream again. He'd been wandering in foggy slow-motion through an eerie landscape of granite and rubble, desperately seeking . . . what? The angular peaks had glowed, alive in the motionless air that was stale with the dust of eons. What had he been looking for?

Izzy shook his head, spraying the memory from his sleep-encrusted brain along with a cascade of water from his hair. He'd call someone about the rock when he got to the office; he dressed, bolted some coffee, and split.

Meanwhile the water and the rock had found themselves very compatible. The tiny droplets that clung to it from Izzy's shower were quickly absorbed, assimilated and activated, and soon it had little medusan sprouts snaking over the top. It heaved a bit in satisfaction and settled down to grow.

One thing led to another, there were business meetings and clients to amuse, and Izzy never quite got around to making that phone call. As a matter of fact, it slipped his mind entirely until he got home that night and then it was too late again.

When he looked in the bathroom he was profoundly amazed. "You grew a wig," he told it. One of the tiny snaky things waved lightly at him. "Really, you ought to do something about your hair." Izzy didn't think it was too strange to be joking with a rock after some of the clients he'd had. In some ways the rock seemed more appreciative.

Izzy decided then and there that he had an oddity on his hands and maybe he shouldn't be so hasty about getting rid of it. Not everyone owns, or anyway has access to, a living rock. He drew some water in the tub and watched it absorb into the stone, the little creepers dancing.

"Go to it," he said. "Let's see your stuff." And he went off to have a few drinks in earnest this time.

--------------------------------

The craggy alien landscape grew from an ancient layer of bedrock rooted deep near the planet's core. Sentient formations of stone patiently drew sustenance from the minerals in the water that collected around them from the occasional rains, and formed themselves slowly into the Shapes. The land was a living, growing sculpture, a sort of slow-motion lava light, as formations emerged striated with vivid metallic color, stone flowers, or abstract lines depending on the whim or design of the individual. The pieces that were shed eventually became new organisms which, still mobile, moved sluggishly around the footings of the solid adults, small boulders enjoying the good rains and the salts of the earth. They made gentle noises and coos as they went, though they would eventually stop speaking as their telepathic and teleportation abilities matured.

The Old Ones had to be careful if the youngsters were nearby. A random thought might be picked up by a precocious little one who could not distinguish between a simple memory and the actual Going. Seeing a place through an adult's mind, they could reflexively teleport and be unable to find their way home. So mostly the Old Ones just pondered the goodness of the air and the water and let it go at that.

Between Izzy's hangover and the return of the funny dream, he was more than ten minutes late the next morning and mostly incapable of appreciating his rock. It was only incidentally that he noticed it had dotted itself with solid granite flowers, extra-worldly and extraordinarily colored. They glowed softly, casting rainbows on the edge of the tub. The rock had footed itself with smaller stones and traces of landscaping had emerged on its surface. "Grow well and flourish," Izzy muttered, gave it another drink, cut himself shaving, and raced out the door.

When he returned in the evening the rock had definitely terraced itself and spread out all over the tub. He thought he should probably stop giving it water or it might outgrow its container, and he had no desire to set up housekeeping in a quarry. He stared fixedly at it while it waved gently at him over miniature terraced hillsides and flowerbeds, a truly impressive rock garden.

On impulse Izzy stuck the end of his toothbrush into a crack in one of the terraces. "I claim this land in the name of the United States of America," he announced, "and in the name of Isaac Leban Ness."

"Urble," said the rock.

A loud enough thought would have knocked Izzy over. "Urble" was not in his set of meaningful utterances, but it had certainly sounded friendly enough. "Speak again, bright angel," he suggested.

"Urble, urble, urble."

So. It could talk. He tried to imitate its earthy inflections. "Urble . . .?"

The little creepers rippled like trees in a breeze. "Urble, urble, urble, urble, urble." It was very excited.

The conversation was not as enlightening as Izzy would have liked. This igneous chunk had a lot of explaining to do, and urbling at each other seemed markedly limited. But he had no ready solution, so he went to have a sponge bath in the kitchen sink.

Periodically during the evening he checked the rock, and each time it urbled at him with increasing affection. He noted that one of its terraced sides was altering, creating some sort of bas relief sculpture. He urbled back as convincingly as he could and hit the sack.

The next morning it was evident that Urble was chiselling part of itself into a human visage. Isaac "Izzy" Ness was not all that surprised to see his own features emerging from the stone.

"God save us," he mumbled through morning blear, "the rock-Ness monster." As flattered as he was to be immortalized in miniature, he was disturbed as well. The thing was imprinting on him like a duck. As pretty as it was, he was irritated at having no shower. And he was difficult to live with in the morning anyway. So mostly he glowered at his granite reflection, feeling like the thing was around his neck.

"I'm the one with rocks in my head," he muttered, "Pebbles for brains."

"Urble?" It positively cooed in his presence. It probably thought he was its motherlode. Izzy was suddenly struck by the similarity between the rock usurping his bathtub and the stony landscape of his recurring dream. He was not ordinarily bothered by the conjurations of his sleeping mind; he wondered offhandedly if it was the rock and not himself who was looking for something.

It was an interminable day at work, what with the board meeting ("Bored meeting," Izzy thought,) and Izzy couldn't entirely keep his attention focused on the proceedings. Visions of alien landscapes insisted on creeping in at the most inopportune times and he felt it would have been as productive to the company and to himself as well if he had just sent Urble to work while he caught up on his sleep. But a man's got to eat, so he stuck it out and arrived home in the kind of fog that accompanies intense preoccupation in unusual situations. Urble's exterior was a remarkably lifelike image of himself, but the expression on the granite face was filled with longing and nostalgia.

"Urb." Its greeting, usually so contented, was tinged with sadness. "Urb, urb."

The dream that night was very vivid.

----------------------------

Under the tendrilous mists, the delicately sculptured peak ached with the emptiness of unrecovered loss. Part of its Continuing had suddenly stopped, and it searched through the reaches of space and time with a patient persistence given only to those who have existed since the Beginning and who will continue to the End. It scanned mental images of innumerable planets, looking for what was itself but separate, its child, its Continuing. At last it came upon the commonality, and began at once to focus its telepathic beam toward the source, calling insistently and sending its pain across the far expanses of the galaxies. It received in turn an answering recognition exuberant with joy and relief: "Urb!". The massive peak sent out its beacon to guide the youngster home, and there was wholeness, completion, and finally reunion filled with singing.

----------------------------

Izzy awoke with the oddest song running through his head, a strange creaking and grating tonality like sandpaper on concrete with a bit of chiselling thrown in for counterpoint. He was unaccustomed to awakening so clear-headed and good-natured, and so it took him a while to identify the feeling as happiness.

"Must be slipping," he thought, aiming a stream into the toilet bowl with a minimum of his usual splash. "Don't want to tarnish the old image."

He threw a casual good-morning at the tub. "Urble," quoth he.

There was no response. As a matter of fact, there was no Urble. All that remained were a few scattered grains of sand and debris, brightly colored in metallic hues, some looking like flower petals and some looking like nothing on Earth. The air still vibrated with a joyous song. "Rock music," thought Izzy and grinned.

If he hurried, he just had time for coffee.

------------------------------

Contentment and peace settled over the planet once again, and the sense of wholeness was comforting. The smaller stones were beginning to root, growing into the beautiful, fantastic shapes that would eventually become their adult visages. At the foot of one particularly large peak squatted a small boulder with the only incongruity in the otherwise flowing landscape: upon its terraced hills, among its flowered gardens perched the all too human features of one Isaac "Izzy" Ness, eyes bleary from lack of sleep and hair spiked up as though just awakened. From the rock emanated a great pride and not a little fondness for the benefactor it would immortalize forever -- whether he wanted it or not.

ZIP Beep #60
STATE FAIR ON A STICK
by Sue Fitzwater

We're winding up one of my favorite times of the year..."Fair Time."

I grew up in a small midwestern town where a large part of each summer was spent thinking about "Fair Time." Everyone knew that the Iowa County Fair opened the Thursday before Labor Day (A true Monday Holiday if there ever was one). Everyone knew the best harness races were on Sunday so that was the best day to go if you didn't have an entry of your own. Everyone who planned to enter the judging had been working on their "fair entries" since early spring. But, despite what everyone knew, the posters would go up on the lamp posts and main street windows every July announcing: "Two Full Days of Racing," "GIANT Midway," "Prizewinning Displays." Each year the same green and yellow posters (provided as a service by the Democratic Republican Weekly News) with only the calendar dates changed.

People came from all over the county and I think my folks knew most of them. There must have been 200 people in the grandstand at the first post time every Sunday before Labor Day. The Odd Fellows cooked the best burgers of the year in their little booth right under the grandstand (Except for the year they set the poultry barn next to them on fire in the middle of the fourth race and had to close the food stand early and take a break in the racing while the volunteer firemen went to put out the fire.)

At night they would even light up the midway on the infield and stay open until 10:30 P.M. Once you got across the racetrack, you could spend at least an hour riding the Tilt-a-Whirl, Merry-go-round and Haunted Mine, and seeing all the attractions that came in the carnies' semi trucks.

Those fairs really were the high point to end many summers.

Now, however, I live in a "Major Metropolitan Area"; in fact our county just passed the 1,000,000 population mark this summer. This county doesn't have a fair like the ones I remember. If we even have a county fair, the paper sure doesn't provide posters in every store to announce the event. I don't think there's a large enough patch of grass left in this county to raise a 4-H calf or a harness horse. And I've never heard of anyone who worked half a year to make the perfect smocked pillow for the handicrafts judging...

BUT, we do get a State Fair in the next county over, just across the river, in another portion of the "Major Metropolitan Area." Since I couldn't make the 600 mile trip home this year at Fair time, I figured I'd have to settle for any fair that was close at hand. I went to the State Fair and it was a high point this summer but in so many different ways.

I knew this had to be a bigger deal than the county fair because, instead of poster in the department store windows, there were giant billboards along the freeways. There were TV ads. The newspaper ran a special color Sunday section and daily two page events listings every one of the ten days of the fair.

The price of admission was more per person than grandstand seats at the finish wire for a family of six! I guess the high admission price was because the people running the fair knew the entertainment value of just walking around looking at people.

After living in the city, it was nice to find some down to earth, honest, folksy folks. There were men in plain work shirts and boots up on Machinery Hill, these were men who knew what there products could do and if you wanted it to do something it couldn't...they would be the first ones to tell you it couldn't. There were kids who knew animals in the flesh in stead of from picture books and tv. They knew about hard work to raise a prizewinning animal. Whole families turned out to see if they would be able to bring home a ribbon after all those months.

But the other end of the fairgrounds was populated city-style with 200,000 people. For that one day, the fairgrounds became the third largest city in the state but crammed into a smaller area. It was worse than being back on the city streets.

Unlike the county fairs I remember, I'm glad I didn't know most of the people I saw at the State Fair. Most of those people were there for Food, Beer, Merchandise, Beer, Rock 'n' Roll, and Beer.

I thought I saw the people from "The Hills Have Eyes" waiting in line to ride the Space Needle.

There were people with their children on leashes. There were people who thought they were dressing to go to a fashion show and there were people who apparently shop all year for the ugliest clothes possible so they have something that will make them stand out in the crowd. There were people wearing hats that looked like animals or that made obscene gestures. There were teenagers in rock band t-shirts and blue jeans that should have gone to the rag bag years ago. Until I went to the fair, I never would have figured there would be a market for T-shirts saying "Who gives a..." over a picture of the back end of a rat in neon pink, or for that matter why would any loving couple go out in public wearing t-shirts that say (Hers) "I'm with Stupid" and (His) "I'm Stupid".

Then I found out where they shop for this stuff...right there at the fair! There are six huge buildings devoted to selling poorly made junk at outrageously high prices. There are encyclopedias; vibrating chairs, pillows, beds and foot massagers; eyeglass/windshield cleaners; genuine simulated woodgrain vinyl cupboards and siding; real diamond-like zircons; genuine leather moccasins; and row after row of booths selling t-shirts, gag-hats, and poorly made toys rubber banded on sticks to poke out your parents' eyes in the car on the way home.

The next building was even more enlightening. It said simply "FOOD BUILDING" over the door. There were more people in that one building then in the entire town where I spent my summers waiting for "fair time." I knew I was out of the Odd Fellows Burger grill league when I saw a booth catering to any yuppies that came to the fair, Croissants and French Bottled Water right where one should be eating burgers and maybe some cotton candy or caramel apples.

There must have hundreds of food booths in that building and radiating out toward the midway than you could shake a stick at... and there were plenty of sticks to shake. Each booth was selling some new delicacy never before tried. "Never before tried" was a safe claim to make, no cause for false advertising there, because I have never tried to put so many different kinds of food on a stick before.

Ok...I'll admit I love caramel apples and that's a food traditionally served on a stick to try to keep some of the caramel off your fingers. But overall, fresh fruit is good finger food because you can pick it up and carry it away eating as you go. These vendors, though, are concerned about keeping American fingers clean. Anyone willing to pay the price can get strawberries, pineapple chunks, or melon balls on a stick.

I think cheese is another good take-along food but these folks are worried about your fingers so you can even buy Swiss or American "Cheese on a stick".

There are "Hot Dogs Dun in a Bun"...on a stick.

There are Shish-K-Bobs...A meal on a stick.

Veggie Kabobs...Salad on a stick.

About the only I didn't see on a stick was a caramel apple. They did sell "Eve's Delight" which is "just like a Caramel Apple WITHOUT THE STICK".

There was no harness racing on Sunday afternoon, there was a Rock Concert at night and Chinese Acrobats performing hourly (For a separate admission fee). There were no friendly county board members shaking hands and giving away balloons, but a state senator was selling overpriced, flavored milk. There's no weekly paper to cover the winners of the various judgings, but three major network TV stations and a dozen radio stations tell corny jokes and broadcast from the glass houses at the fairgrounds.

The crowds standing around watching those folks talk were more than I could bear...until I tried to elbow my way into the Midway...I gave up!

There was a highlight of my day at the fair though. Unfortunately it seemed to be a favorite with the Croissant and French water crowd...a committee of concerned citizens has banded together to "Save the Carousel." This group is the Greenpeace of the wooden horse world. Despite the two-city-block-sized midway, there is an interest to save the world's largest indoor carousel. Yes, even I stood in line and paid to ride around in a circle listening to the borrowed band organ in hopes that through supporting small, old-fashioned things like this, people will regain some of bit the small town sense of community and friendship I remember.

I know I went to the fair to try for a little bit of the small town days I remember, it wasn't there. What I don't know is why people who've been there keep going back for more.

ZIP Beep #60
THE SILICON CURTAIN
by Billy Joe Baud

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Regular readers of ZIP Beep (you know who you are) will no doubt remember that in ZIP Beep #55 we introduced you to a new writer here at ZIP Beep, Billy Joe Baud. Then in issue #58 he held forth on Teenaged Mutant Ninja Hackers. Billy Joe hails from down Texas way (why he ever decided to move up here to Minnesota I'll never know), and as everything in Texas is big, including the egos, it goes without saying that Billy Joe takes it upon himself to keep everybody informed on just what HIS opinions on the state of computing are. Those of you that read his first effort "SONS OF THE PIONEERS" or his second installment "RIDERS OF THE PURPLE RAGE" know that Billy Joe will hold forth on etiquette, hardware, software and his fellow on-line travellers at the drop of a carrier. He likes to be direct (that's what he calls it...I call it just plain rude -- but never to his face, until you've seen Billy Joe with a chainsaw in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other, you really don't understand what fear IS). In this third foray, Billy Joe examines the "Silicon Curtain" that has kept computer users separated in spite of their common goals.]

Glad y'all made it back!

As I mentioned in my first article, I'm bi-computational. That's right, I use BOTH Mac's and PC's! And let me tell ya'll sumptin' else...they both got problems. I promised to get into this more at some later time...well, the time has arrived.

Actually, "bi-computational" is a misnomer as I'm just as likely to end up usin' a MicroVAX II or a UNIX box as I am a Macintosh or a PS/2. When I was younger, my pappy always said to use "the right tool for the right job" and as true as that was then, I find it even more so these days.

But the majority of computer users, bein' the strange critters that they are, insist on clingin' to this one-platform-does-all kind of mentality even in the face of the severe limitations of their chosen platform. Let me tell ya folks, EVERY platform has its limitations!

A MS-DOS compatible PC is a wiz at number crunchin', especially large databases and spreadsheets, but is pretty pitiful when it comes to handlin' graphics or mixtures of text and graphics. This type of PC (dependin' on who ya'll are talkin' to) is afflicted/blessed with a fairly powerful command line interface (or CLI in computer-speak).

The Macintosh, on the other hand, is an extremely powerful graphics oriented platform that also manages to excel (pun not intended though noticed) at spreadsheets and personal productivity applications (not to mention Desktop Publishing, which the Mac is almost single handedly responsible for creating). The Mac (again dependin' on who ya'll are talkin' to) is equipped/cursed with a very user friendly graphical user interface (or GUI...pronounced "Gooey").

Both are great personal computers. Ya'll would never guess that from listenin' to fanatics from either camp.

The MS-DOS camp thinks the Mac's GUI is cute, and that the Mac, over all, is a toy computer not meant for serious things like business.

The Mac disciples believe that MS-DOS based PC's are the godless, soul suckin' corporate servants of an IBM spawned evil empire.

PCs as a totalitarian, repressive power and Macs as free-to-be-you-and-me anarchists...

Callin' a truce between these two extreme views makes peace in the Middle East and U.S./Soviet arms negotiations seem like child's play!

What we have here folks is nothin' other than a "Silicon Curtain" dividin' two rabidly antagonistic approaches to personal computing. Each group has grabbed whatever territory they could initially, and now spend the rest of their time makin' plans to try to seize the other guy's turf. They speak different languages, neither side really knows what the other side has up their sleeve and both sides have a deep and abiding distrust the other. Refugees from either side occasionally make the perilous journey across the Silicon Curtain to the other side. But many perish during the attempt. The best we can currently hope for is limited (and often garbled at that) communications via translators.

This is a tragic situation to my way of thinkin'...personal computers were put here to aid us, enrich and empower our lives. Personal Computing was to let the individual harness the power of the computer for his or her personal needs...the more an individual could do with their PC the better it was for us all, at least that's how I though it was supposed to be. The rise of an silicon-based "nationalism" finds the end users with their horizons limited rather than expanded.

In an age where the power of the mainframe of a few years ago can reside in a small desktop package, how did we come to such a sad state?

How? Well for much the same reason the East and West have been divided by the Iron Curtain...Politics.

Ya see, each side just can't believe that there is any other valid way to approach personal computing other than their own. Rather than accept each other's approach, celebrate their differences and cooperate synergistically for the betterment of all, these "super powers" will settle for nothin' less than complete dominance of PC market or better yet, the annihilation of their opponent!

There is an equivalent to the arms race mixed in with all this as well. After years of pooh-poohing the Mac's GUI, IBM and Microsoft have decided that maybe there's sumptin' to this graphical interface jazz afterall. The Mac camp is claimin' their GUI is still superior in ease of use, while the DOS camp is takin' the superior numbers approach similiar to the Soviets approach to their side of the cold war. Both ideologies are in a constant battle to out-feature their opponent.

The end result is this "silicon curtain" dividin' the user community. Communication is limited and therefore productivity is reduced as well. You either belong (and conform) to one side or the other...fraternizing with the "enemy" is NOT encouraged.

Then there is UNIX, attempting to be the United Nations of operating systems. UNIX has a CLI, it also does windows. UNIX proponents claim it has everything a user might need, and besides, Macs or PCs can talk to a UNIX middleman just fine. UNIX as Henry Kissinger. Silicon shuttle diplomacy.

UNIX tries to woo the user by bein' everything to everybody. It promises the MS-DOS user with a command line interface to beat all command line interfaces. It promises windows that mac users can only dream about. Does it deliver? Well, just like the United Nations...sort of.

Steve Jobs (the Mac's daddy) has embraced UNIX via his "personal workstation" the NeXT machine, by puttin' a Mac-like interface on top of UNIX's otherwise difficult to master operating system. Like the U.N. peace keepin' forces in the Middle East, Jobs hopes the NeXT machine can step in between the warring factions and stop all the user disgruntlement.

Actually, it seems more like he wants to seduce the DOS side of things with UNIX's poweruser features and tempt the Mac side with the easy to use graphical interface. I think he's hopin' to pickup a lot of the casualties from the DOS/Mac conflict.

But that all presupposes that UNIX has got its act together, which it most assuredly has not (though it is much further along in cooperation and standards than the Mac/DOS conflict). Even Jobs' much celebrated NeXT machine has some problems when it comes to talkin' to other UNIX systems. And being in the middle often means you get nailed from both sides!

What it all boils down to is simply this: the power and the promise of personal computing still remains largely unfulfilled. As long as the major powers that be spend more time on tryin' to out do the other side than they do on cooperating with the each other, the end user will lose out.

ZIP Beep #60
HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION
by J. Landman Gay
copyright 1989, J. Landman Gay

Grandma was always bringing us terrible things to eat that summer. She had to; she was a health nut and it's part of the religion. She hadn't always been that way, she took it up as a kind of mission after her second husband died. He was in the building trades and one day, six months after their marriage, he fell off a scaffolding -- smack!-- into a vat of wet cement. Easy come, easy go.

Anyway, mostly I knew her in between husbands. She was a self-motivator; she claimed she learned to read English by studying the boat ticket on the way over here from the Old Country. No one ever directly challenged her on this, though my dad liked to snicker about it behind her back. "The way she spells, it could be true," he'd say. She spoke the same way she spelled. She could never quite get her "th"'s right. "Say 'teeth', Grandma," I'd urge, and she'd respond amiably, "teat". I thought this screamingly funny.

Health fetish aside, she was never quite right about food anyway. She'd eat raw green pepper like other people eat popcorn. "Here," she'd say, thrusting a piece at me, "this is a good dessert." And she'd chomp and spray and clack her dentures. I'd stare in disbelief, overwhelmed, my young sense of values completely violated.

So one day she discovered this health food store, right along with her true calling, and soon we were inundated with strange foods of unknown origin and palatability. It all had blackstrap molasses in it, since Grandma believed molasses was so good for you that enough would make even a dead man stand upright, if not sing. She brought us exotic vegetables Mom didn't know how to cook. She brought weird nut-honey-bran stuff that stuck in your teeth like you'd been grazing on little clumps of sagebrush. And especially, she brought jars and jars of raw sunflower seeds coated with ginger and blackstrap molasses.

They were unfathomably terrible. One tentative bite released molasses fumes that cramped up my esophagus for the rest of the week. The cat sniffed and walked away, repulsed. "Eat them, they're good for you," said Mom. "I can't," I protested, "they're like oily little sponges." I clawed at my throat and moaned for effect. Mom scowled at me, put one on her tongue, and immediately removed it with an expression of faint surprise. This was, indeed, about the most unpalatable thing she'd tasted since the last time she'd had a nosebleed, and without any more fuss she dumped them down the toilet. Good riddance, and so much for that.

Grandma came to visit every Sunday, and soon noticed the jar was empty. "I thought you might like those," she said, "so I brought you another jar." (Well, really she didn't say that. Really she said, "I taut you might laek dose, so I brut you anodder jar.") We're not talking little olive jars here, we're talking big, one quart canning jars. Mom swallowed politely, wavered, and then said, "Thanks," almost like she really meant it. She was trying to appreciate the maternal concern Grandma was showing. Still, I never respected Mom quite the same way after that.

That's why we flushed a quart of molasses/ginger sunflower seeds down the can every week. I should be so regular. Finally Mom started feeling guilty about the money Grandma was spending on this stuff and tactfully told her to stop.

Undaunted, Grandma narrowed her focus to just the grandchildren. I became one of the recipients of "health candy". This, remember, was before the days of all-natural-ninety-per-cent-sugar-but-it's-okay-because-it's- brown-sugar Granola. This stuff was raw roots and grass with a little honey or blackstrap molasses to clump it all together. There were several varieties, but they all looked like what comes out of the back of a hay baler and they all had names like "Sesame Surprise" and "Gold Nugget Treat". After some protesting, I gave up and just started squirrelling these little goodies away behind the shoe racks in the closets, and under out of season clothing.

One Sunday Grandma walked in with four different health candies. "I don't know which of these you'll like," she told me, "so you go eat them and whichever one you like the best, you tell me and I'll bring you that from now on." ("I doan know vich uf this you laek, so you go it dem," ...well, you get the idea.) And so I was left with a veritable gold mine of confectionary delight on my hands. No doubt she felt pretty slick, getting me to eat four healthy "candy" bars with one ruse.

Being under impending weekly gastro-subjection, I figured I'd better ferret out the least of these sugarless evils. One bite proved the first bar inedible. The second I could just swallow, the third was out of the question. But the fourth was, well, not bad, not bad at all. As a matter of fact, quite good. I would even have gone so far as to say it was surprisingly excellent. I announced that This One Was It.

That was fine with Grandma because it was good for me. It was "health candy" and I got one every week. You couldn't argue with that, because right there on the front of the package it said so. Grandma, with her dubious spelling and questionable pronounciations, liked to point that out. Right there on the front of the package, in letters as big as they were colorful, it proclaimed itself to be a

HEATH BAR.
Let's hear it for the Old Country.

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