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I worked an hour on a detailed reply for you, Tom, and then, naturally,
Digital Express crashed. Might so do again. So I'll keep this relatively
short. I hope it's helpful.-David R
 
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On Wed, 11 Aug 1993, Thomas Andrew Newman (of Internet's Communet
mailing list, devoted to community computer networks) wrote:
 
> No matter what kind of a computer you use and what kind of a connection you
> have (SLIP, dialup, etc.) most of the time, I suspect, you are reading and
> writing text.
>
> I would like to know how cheaply a TeleReader could be made, using
> off-the-shelf parts. Such a product would probably be better than an old
> Apple II (new chips do much more than old chips); it might even be as
> cheap. It would certainly be easier to repair - just replace a module.
>
 
With off-the-shelf parts, maybe $400 in volume. With custom parts, much
less--*perhaps* less than $150 within two years or so if vendors *really*
cranked up the production lines.
 
The secret, of course, would be to use highly integrated chips and other
tricks to drive down the cost of manufacturing. And although my proposal
mentioned something more sophisticated, I'd go along with a modest start
if that's what people wanted.
 
Features and stats of the TeleReader:
 
--Operating system. GUI. Perhaps Windows, perhaps Mac. Let the Microsoft
and Apple (and others, including IBM!) compete. Certainly there'd be room
for more than one OS. If the OS happened to be Windows--even Windows as a
full operating system, as opposed to a mere environment--Microsoft would
have to make it *much* more stable. And it would help if the OS were
simpler than the present Windows. What's more, for people just wanting to
download books and exchange messages, the interface would be confined to a
few simple icons. Ideally the system would be telephone-easy, just as you
want. But it could allow the user to switch in a more complicated versions
as he or she progressed.
 
--CPU. 386SX or a Motorola chip in the same range. I know you had in mind
a computer that was little more than a terminal, but prices are dropping,
and we might as well give the kids a *real* computer with at least a 25Mhz
clock speed. BTW, I'd be open to use of chips other than a 386SX. I'm just
trying to give you an idea of something that would be the minimum. In two
years 25Mhz chips will be throwaways, almost.
 
--RAM. At least 2MB-4MB. Prices go up and down, but the long-term trend is
*down*.
 
--Mass storage. A floppy and hard drive. Obviously solid-stage mass
storage would be the real solution, but let's keep prices low. The HD
would be 40-60MB at least. Most of the software would be in ROM to save HD
space. Yes, there could be easy ROM upgrades.
 
--Display. I'd hope that it could be LCD, but if not, then a very sharp
b&w CRT in the same box as the CPU. The machine might look quite Macish
*if* we went the CRT route. In the TeleRead proposal, I suggested a
tablet-style computer (propped up by a wire stand when you were typing at
your desk), but that could come later. The CRT could be a little bigger
than the Mac's, maybe 10 inches. The software would easily let the user
vary the size and style of style when reading.
 
--Keyboard. Detachable. Use standard industry keyboards if possible. You
could buy them in bulk for all of $15 or $20. Several keyboard styles
might be available. Avoid debacles like the PRjr keyboard. Make it *fun*
to write and type.
 
--Mouse. Would come in different sizes for kids and adults. Note: Another
possiblities for the first TeleReaders could be a trackball built into the
keyboard. Eventually TeleReaders would also have a pen-style interface.
 
--Modem. In the next two years there might not be that many dollars
difference between 2,400 and 9,600 bps. It's just a matter of the right
chip coming along.
 
--Sound card (or equivalent). If price allowed.
 
--Printing. My price estimates don't include printers; I don't think
schools and libraries should mess with lending them out--printing could be
done at the school or library. Besides, children could modem in homework.
People buying TeleReaders privately could use them perhaps with small,
economy-priced inkjets.
 
Yes, the above computer would be better for older children than for younger
children--it wouldn't be as rugged as what I had in mind. But as I
said, it's a start.
 
 
> If the computer industry put their minds to making a computer just for >
>using the Internet I'm sure they could sell them at a price most people >
>could afford. Viz., the Walkman, the digital watch, the answering machine,
> the discount store's televisions and radios and telephones. All of these
> products were prohibitively expensive before the industry decided to get
> serious and develop highly integrated special purpose chips for them. >
 
Right on! The Feds and local and state schools need to tell the computer
industry: "You can still sell us deluxe boxes with CD-ROM and similar
trimmings, but as of such-and-such date, we're going to spend X percentage
of our computer dollars on TeleReaders. Here are the basic specs and the
price range we want. How about turning your designers loose? You'll
discover a whole new market beyond libraries and schools. You can also
sell the same machines to private individuals."
 
As noted in an earlier message, the Wall Street Journal recently reported
findings that "More than one-third of U.S. households have no
discretionary income." Who says we don't need more affordable computers? I
hope that school boards will pass resolutions asking local congress
members to start a TeleRead program--including not only the machines, but
also an affordable national database of the kind described in my proposal.
 
The freshest version of teleread.txt is available from me via e-mail and
now includes comments from Communet member Jack Frisch, Professor Emeritus
of Communication and the Arts, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. The new
teleread.txt also tells how TeleRead could help Free-Nets and the
Internet.
 
Tooo, the proposal tells how we could use electronic forms to cost-justify
TeleRead. They could save small business people and other citizens tens of
billions of dollars in time and money in their transactions with
government at various levels. Before a pen-style interface appeared on
TeleReaders, people would still have to confirm their transactions via
paper. But that wouldn't be the end of the world. Gov. workers could print
out the completed forms and mail them back to the taxpayers, etc., for
signing. Writers are small business people, and believe me, I had better
things to do than to spend a good part of the morning at Alexandria City
Hall recently. I had to go from office to office and suffer the usual
delays. With TeleRead I could easily have done everything online and via
mail.
 
 
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David H. Rothman                                  "So we beat on, boats against
[log in to unmask]                                 the current...."
805 N. Howard St., #240
Alexandria, Va. 22304
703-370-6540(o)(h)
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