Tuesday, June 30, 2009

StarText People: Larry Groebe

(Note: This is one in a continuing series tracing the history of StarText. Read it from the beginning by using the Archive Post links on the right)

Interview with Larry Groebe

Note: I met Larry Groebe in the early 1980s, almost two years before he became a programmer for StarText. Like others that would work for us, he was a subscriber first. Larry was instrumental to our growth made many contributions, both as a subscriber and an employee. So much so I invited Larry to co-author a book on StarText, which could still be in our future. This interview is from the late 1990s.

Our first meeting was at Rave Computers in Dallas. You seemed passionate about doing videotex even in those days. What was the attraction?

Groebe: I'm not sure how much of this will be directly relevant to your story, but it WILL help you to understand how I was really "primed" for StarText. It also touches on the state of the art in computing and the online world prior to StarText. After all, since years in the computer business work like dog years - that makes 1984 something approaching a
hundred years ago! (and some days, yeah, it DOES feel that long ago.)


I'd been involved with online computing, after a fashion, since back in the spring of 1972. (!) It was in high school - the spring semester of 9th grade - that I was introduced to computers. Back then they called the concept "time sharing," a computing term which I suspect most people today have never heard of. The idea was that since were computers were (obviously) so large and expensive, that people should share them. One big computer could be used by many folks at once if we all shared time on it. It took some clever programming to allow allow more than one person access at once, but the results were worth it. (Among others, DEC made a great success of time-sharing systems.)

In the early 70s a few educators banded together in various regions around the country to make time available on computers. Dallas was part of Region 10; our region's computer was a room-filling Hewlett Packard 2000C tucked away in a building in Richardson. At the other end - my high school - we had a printing Teletype with acoustic coupler with which to reach it. In 1972, I could pick up the phone, dial in, place the handset down on the rubber cups of the coupler, and log on. Literally type in an ID and password and be connected to a computer. At the same time as other people! What a rush! What a feeling of power! What a chance for a ninth-grader! My own computer!

Of course, the computer was pretty much a blank slate. There were a few programs already written for it, but the main goal was to write your own. The sky was the limit; whatever you could think of doing. Actually, the sky wasn't the limit - the printing KSR-33 Teletype was highly limiting, as was the connection speed. Our acoustic coupler connected at a miserly 110 baud - yeah, 10 whole characters per second. Which was about as fast as the Teletype could print, anyhow. So you had your constraints. Nonetheless, my friends and I persevered, and within a year had developed an entire hacker culture in miniature, so powerful was the lure of having a computer at your fingertips.

We wrote all sorts of programs; games mostly, and things that would qualify as simulations if they had possessed any accuracy or detail. We also attempted our first "hacks", finding way to gain access to unauthorized accounts as well as ways to crash the computer.

The fact that we were dialing IN to the computer, and that others were doing the same, wasn't lost on us. At one point along the way I wrote the world's first online chat program. Or at least the first online chat program that I'd ever heard of. With it, I succeeded in holding a two-way conversation with my sister at her school several miles away. I felt a distant kinship with Marconi and Bell that day.

In the spring of 1975, my senior year, our Teletype was hauled away and replaced by a Cathode Ray Tube - a CRT. (also known in those days as a "glass Teletype".) At the same time we were upgraded to a 300 baud modem - a mind-numbing speed of 30 characters per second - as fast as any of us could read! New possibilities were upon us. Aside from the fact that the computer was in another part of the city, we were truly experiencing personal computing, well before the first Altair or Apple.

College nearly undid the whole good experience. Most of Trinity University's computing degree consisted of learning IBM mainframes and their (soon-to-be-extinct) punch-card environment. Despite the fact that the first qualifiably personal computers had appeared in the preceding months, the computer science faculty had no comprehension of their potential, seeing them as a useless toys. Thus, my major stayed in broadcasting and film. Only a book called Computer Lib, published by Ted Nelson, fired my imagination - but it did it spectacularly well. Nelson imagined machines which no one had yet built but which COULD be built; machines which linked text from document to document in a web of pages. He called them "Hypertexts."

Upon graduation I entered the film business, mixing audio for Houston filmmakers. My best friend John Shelton, even more of a computer fanatic than I, was working his way to a degree up at computer heaven - MIT. During phone calls he fed me with tales of the wonders he had seen and used up there - a network of connected computers called the "Arpa-Net" and printers that used lasers to print letters.

John managed to get me a free account on a computer at MIT that could reached via the Arpanet, and I obtained a used TI Silent-700 terminal that printed on thermal fax-type paper. I was able to log into this network from Houston, and soon was hooked all over again. Here on this Arpanet was not only powerful computers, but a human community, and a sophisticated and interesting group they were. You could write electronic letters to them. They published daily electronic articles about science fiction and human-computer interaction. Some of the users were folks I had heard of, like Marvin Minsky. A couple MIT students were building some sort of interactive game called "Zork."

That was online computing in 1980. I lost my free account on the MIT computers after a few years and and had to leave the Arpanet community. When I rejoined it, it had been renamed the Internet.

In the fall of 1980 I returned to Dallas to join the Tracy-Locke advertising agency to run all their in-house audio-visual equipment. In 1981, personal computing was a hot topic (wasn't it just a year or two later that Time named the computer the "Man of the Year?"), and for the already-converted it wasn't hard to see that a revolution was in progress. A friend and I bought an Atari 400 but really coveted an Apple II. Tracy-Locke had just lost the TI electronics account but retained a single 99-4 computer, which I had ample chance to play with. When the agency pitched the Best Products account (a now-defunct retailer along the lines of Service Merchandise) I went along to run the slide show...and to present a vision of our forward-thinking qualities.

Using the TI 99-4 (and storing the program on cassette!) I programmed a demonstration of a futuristic Best Products online catalog which could be dialed up via modems. It involved a menu system that helped you locate and purchase the exact product you wanted, even telling you the amount in stock. I also wrote a two-page summary vision of electronic retailing possibilities (which I still have). I imagined that someday the yellow pages would list modem numbers along with voice numbers. I saw difficulties in selling highly visual items like diamonds, but imagined how space for descriptive copy would be unlimited and possibilities for programmed sales help to assist you in your purchasing.

I saw how sales could be linked to inventories in real-time and realized that the amount of customer tracking possibilities should be wonderfully enticing to any retailer.

Somewhere about this time (1981) Radio Shack's burgeoning TRS-80 business sparked them to partner with a recently-started online service called CompuServe. I became an early subscriber. Loved what I saw, although costs of $5/hour even at 300 baud limited my online time. If the costs could be brought down, this had possibilities. What kind of data COULDN'T be stored on a computer!

So by Christmas of 1982, I wised up and realized that computers were advancing far faster than the Dallas film business ever would. In fact, if I squinted, I could see that personal computers were in a position in society not unlike where movies were in the first decade of the century, or radio was in the 20s, or TV in 1950 - poised to become a media and cultural revolution. I could see myself there. So I went to work at Rave selling Commodore computers - the first computer-related job I could get. And one day, you walked in...

In short: I had seen what computers could do. I had seen what personal computers were starting to do. I understood what a modem was and felt in my gut the allure of online communications. As a pop-culture/media buff, I had studied the mass-media revolutions. I could see it all happening. Of course, my timetable was a little bit off, and I didn't realize at the time that StarText's isolation made it only a transitional medium...

Talk a little about your pre-employment involvement with StarText. You participated as a subscriber columnist. What did you write for us? And can you remember your old ID number?

Well, for the first few months of my StarText involvement I had several ID numbers, since I was using some of the free trial subscriptions you handed out at the Rave store. You had dropped by with trial subscriptions to seed to our customers. Since Rave stores were probably the most popular Texas home computer stores of their day, we could boost StarText's presence. (This was at the height of the early 80s home computer revolution - the era of Atari, TI, Timex, and Commodore. Rave was founded by a pair of brothers from South Africa - the Jacobsens - and rose to become the area's most sophisticated Commodore dealer, locked in a deadly battle with Videoland stores. Rave unfortunately managed it's finances quite poorly and filed for Chapter 11 in 1984. Errol Jacobsen later gathered up a few of his favorite Rave employees and started another company called "Soft Warehouse," which changed it's name in 1991 to become CompUSA. )

Anyway - I would hand out free StarText trials to subscribers who bought Vicmodems, but I also held a few back for myself and used them to get online. I think it took me three or four trial subscriptions before I decided to fork out my hard-earned cash for 3 months of real service at $7.95/month. My ID number, 2419, was assigned 4/21/1983, according to the piece of paper sitting in front of me. But before I got much used to that ID number, StarText underwent a major software revision and my ID became 26091. That's the one *I* remember fondly.

I was looking over some old issues of StarText INK to remind myself of the StarText system in those days and to remind myself of what I wrote! I think I must have produce at least 4 or 5 columns at different times.

The first was COMCHAT, the Commodore Chat. It happened, as I suppose so many subscriber columns did, because you had some hobby you were passionate about. I knew a thing or two about the Commodore 64 computer since I was selling them. That put me in a position to talk about them, review them, test software that came my way, and so on. Which is what I did in ComChat for a year or two. At the height of the Commodore 64's popularity my column consistently made it into the top 10 subscriber columns (if memory serves). I treated the column with the utmost respect - I couldn't have taken it any more seriously if I'd been paid to write it. It was done for free, but it was a connection to a real world of journalism that I'd left behind in college and which, up until this moment, I had not hoped to regain. (Well, I *did* have a couple of book ideas being pursued, but this was REAL)

I recall nights spent slaving over the keyboard and then sending the column at 300 baud to a special editorial email address, where the next day I'd have confirmation from the editors - real editors! - that the column was online. And over the next few days, I'd get email from readers who had read and enjoyed the column. I lived for that feedback. Authors sometimes say they feel they are living in a vacuum, tossing out words but not knowing what impact they make when they land. With StarText, that wasn't a problem. The feedback was there, swift and certain.

Sometime after COMCHAT, I started a second column for a second computer of mine which quickly became my favorite - MOD100 for the Tandy Model 100 "Laptop." You'll remember the computer.; for about five years it was THE journalists' workhorse. The Star-Telegram owned dozens of these notebook-sized ,self-contained wonders. The Model 100 really was a brilliant concept, and the last computer for which Bill Gates personally helped write the software. So this computer was well deserving of a column, and I started writing MODEL100 for it. Later, my Tandy friend Sanjay Gakhar took over much of the column. Eventually, with relatively few companies wrote software for the Mod100, we ran out of things to say in the column. By that time I was hosting a Model 100 user group at the Infomart (in Dallas).

After writing these two computer-specific columns and now being established as some sort of expert, I wanted a larger forum for my views, and from that need came the MICRO-SCOPE column. Of all the effort I put into writing for StarText, this was perhaps my favorite. This was due in part to the format - because Microscope was co-authored with Carrington Dixon. We evolved a unique "point-Counterpoint" style to it and a unique method of collaborative writing. We alternated weeks. One person would write the body of the column. Then he would email the column to the other writer who had no idea what he was about to read. This author would insert his parenthetical remarks (IN ALL CAPS) as a sort of verbal counterpoint to the main topic. Then he'd mail the column back to the original author to make any minor edits or a summary statement, before sending it to StarText. The result had a great give and take. We tackled all sorts of hot industry topics of the day like "What can we do with (name your favorite computer brand) bigots?", "Will the IBM PC take over?", and an annual list of predictions for the year ahead. In a file box somewhere I have most of these columns. I'll have to dig them out. We responded to our readers email in a second column called MICROMAIL.

I had a hand in the formation of another even more collaborative writing effort, the FORUM. I devised the structure of the FORUM based on what I'd seen on the Arpanet; that all responses be collected up each day and republished in a "digest" format. After helping get the thing underway, I rarely participated because the general direction and tone of the discussions weren't of interest.

You'll have to ask Julie Barrett about the genesis of the STARSOAP - "As the CRT Scrolls." My memory is a little fuzzy on this one, although I remember it was a lot of fun to do. It was a mutual thing between the two of us. We brought in about four more writers to help write the weekly chapters, but after a few months they became less than enthused by the constant grind of putting out more plot, and they dropped out. Julie and I finished alone, and Julie did most of the final work. She was always the better fiction writer.

The basic premise involved two rival California families who had competing computer firms. The material ran just this side of soap opera parody (we hoped). The Malfatorres, an old Italian clan, had gotten into electronics as a side business when Prohibition hit their wine business. They now made more money from computers than from wine. They were full of old money and old-money politics and alcoholism. The other company, "Sigma Beta Corporation" was a bunch of young and hungry upstarts, who weren't above corporate espionage to win. CRT was heavy on intercompany love affairs (PG-rated) and technical skullduggery. We spent weeks building to a climactic moment when one company's prototype computer basically blew up in mid-demonstration on the floor of Comdex.

"As the CRT Scrolls" was HARD WORK! Writing our characters in and out of predicaments; coming to surprising climaxes each week and resolving them the next while starting new ones; this wasn't easy. We tried various approaches; writers alternating weeks and writers "owning" groups of characters with an editor weaving together the segments. I remember CRT as much for the work and the thought that went into it as for the actual output. I felt we were performing a grand experiment in this new medium - collaborative online fiction. It might lead somewhere.

Of course, it didn't. There have been attempts since - most recently "The Spot" on the Internet and Amazon's hiring of John Updike to start a chain novel. But it remains a novelty. And interactive computer fiction like "Zork" doesn't exist anymore either. Fiction publishing is such a tenuous activity these days - read within only proscribed formats - that no-one wants these. Or to put it more simply - "You're looking at a screen? Put PICTURES on it, not words."

I'm sure I left out others. I think I had a chapter of the StarNovel. I have a sheet of paper here that indicates I wrote "TRYIT." And of course, as a staff member I wrote all sorts of things - including, ultimately, a column in the Monday Business section of the Star-Telegram. With that, at last I was a legit writer. Funny, because when I first talked to you about someday coming to work for StarText, I imagined myself on the editorial side, not the technical side. Didn't think I could demonstrate enough programming skills, whereas I KNEW I had the writing and editing capabilities. And year after I left StarText I was hired as a writer by Soft Warehouse. It's an odd orbit.

Then were you hired by StarText. How long did you work here? Where has your career taken you since leaving StarText, including your current title and position

I was hired for StarText in May of 1985, after subscribing for close to two years. I'd been working for Tandy from the time Rave stores closed until StarText took me. And honestly, I'd been hinting repeatedly that I'd like to work for the service. I believe other local online services were also in development during this period. Something called "BISON" (the Belo Information Systems Online Network) was getting under way, but its content was weak and it vanished almost before it got started. No, StarText had the field to themselves. And for me, it wasn't even the local slant to the service: it was the flat-rate fee. Still, the local angle had it's appeal - none greater than the opportunity to leave Tandy and work at the venerable Star-Telegram. The Tandy job had been an excellent step after the closure of Rave. I was part of a team on the 16th floor testing unreleased Tandy computers for problems.

This was my first opportunity to stretch my programming skills. I ended up writing a low-level software test suite for the TRS-80 Model 16 Computer. The programs had to be written in assembly language to test basic computer functions like the disk operating system. I also worked on another computer planned as a sequel to the extraordinarily popular Model 100 - the Tandy 600. It was an attempt to cross the 100 with the MS-DOS laptops of the era, and introduce a new Microsoft product - Handheld DOS (HH-DOS) However, the computer was so slow and bulky, and the software so awkward to use, that after release the computer flopped. More promising was another Tandy model which was release while I worked there - the Tandy 1000. This was their first PC-clone. It flew off the store shelves and ultimately changed the company's computer directions. I also got my first look at another transforming product - a Microsoft DOS enhancement they called "Windows" which ran on a Tandy 2000. It played a mean game of "Othello" but little else at that stage.

Anyway, in the spring of 1985, it seems StarText was [in the market for a programmer.]

Since my programming background was slim, and since StarText's technical problems were unique, Joe Donth gave me a test problem to work on. The outcome would determine in large measure whether I was hired. He looked at my code for the Tandy Model 16, then described to me what happens inside the VAX computer when a subscriber logged on. He asked me then to go home and "flowchart" that process. I guess Joe liked it. After work one day at Tandy he called me to come over to the Star-Telegram. Joe, myself, and Gerry Barker walked over a few blocks to this downtown hole-in-the-wall of a bar. It can't be there anymore, because when I visited, just that once, it seemed it had been there for decades. Dark, smoky, and long, like a diner turned sideways, it was a a classic, eastern-big-city, federal worked and newspaperman's rotgut bar. We slid into a dark booth and Joe delivered the news. I was in and StarText was going to lead the next communications revolution. As if I had any doubt. This was Joe Donth at his best, weaving a seductive tale of the possibilities of videotex and the online communications breakthrough that the newspapers would lead. And I would write that story - literally, in all the code that made it happen. When I left at 6:30 I was so pumped I ran the 8 blocks back to the Tandy Center in a time that an Olympic sprinter would have been hard to match.

So I walked in, anxious to go to work. I have a handwritten flowchart dated 5/30/85 which is titled "Version 4 UserLogin Module" and must be the first thing I started on. So much to learn! I knew StarText only as a user. Now I really had to get to know the staff and find out what life was like on the other end of the computer screen. In fact, there was the whole paper to learn about. Getting to know the Star-Telegram was a delightful experience. So much history and tradition for an amateur historian like myself. Every day I walked into a building that literally hummed and shook with the sound of the presses spinning out the product. And the front of the building carried the very real presence in the air of Amon Carter, the scion of the paper. That conference room of his, kept just so, like he was away on a goodwill tour and expected back shortly. Even the closets in that area were stuffed with mementos left over from the era; newspapers and awards and random bits from the Amon administrations. Even though the paper had recently been bought by Capital Cities, the history was there. Right there. up in the front room for instance, was the office that housed the original studio of the mighty WBAP radio. Not hard to think, walking into StarText, that we might be recreating a bit of the magic that surrounded those pioneering efforts.

Even the paper's editorial staff reeked (creaked?) of the honored authority of the newspaper tradition. You saw it in the long-term staff commitment; people like Jim Jones and Jerry Flemmons and Elston Brooks who had been around that newsroom FOREVER.

StarText's editors sat at a terminal at the end of the news room. The rest of the staff were wedged into offices in and around the data processing department on the second floor. StarText had one programmer; the other IS functions had half-a-dozen others. And then there were the computers: VAXes and PDP 11s hidden away from the world in there own bright, false-floor, fireproof computer room and guarded over by an ever-changing cadre of computer operators.

The VAX was, fortunately, a friendly computer, and my friend Paul Barrett had access to one so he gave me a crash course in operations. Nonetheless, I never strayed far from Digital’s VAX documentation, which consisted of enough 3-ring binders to fill a four foot bookshelf. And that was just the VAX operating system. The programs you wrote yourself, of course, and StarText was written in a language called DBL. This was an extremely obscure offshoot of an extremely obscure language called Dibol, and if I ever DID know why DBL was StarText's language, I've since forgotten it. DBL was escribed in a single 3-ring handbook. It seemed to be a mishmash of BASIC, FORTRAN and most other similar languages, so I picked up the rudiments fairly quickly. I'm in possession of a printout dated June 8, 1985 which is listed as the "Version 4 Login Program. " and carries a version number of 0.1 (!) I must have been able to do SOMETHING in 9 days.

The USER program was the single largest piece of code I've ever worked on. With all the linked libraries, subroutines, et al, the printout, stacked, was two or three inches thick. I eventually got to know it well enough - and rewrote the whole thing enough - to literally visualize it in my head, the flow of the code as it looped and whirled through the program. But the USER program was only one of over 100 programs that helped StarText run. The software tended to cluster around key system features and functions:

AAEBOOK, AAELIST,AAETEXT, and the like were for converting the Grolier encyclopedia into online form. There were bunches of classified-ad-related programs. And billing-related programs like CREATESUBS, DOCUMENT, REPORTER, and the SCREEN program. USAGE, QUICK, QUICKER, and QUICKEST for reports. Dozens of others. A lot to keep track of, so it was great to have first Sheri Suggs and later Steve Smaller as help)

I stayed with StarText for 4 1/2 years. During that time we added an immense number of features, among them...

· HomeBanking
· Grolier's Encyclopedia
· The FilmVault
· Credit card billing
· Starquotes
· Weekly stocks
· Changeable passwords
· Time -restricted accounts
· Federal Executive Board
· Online surveys
· Email enhancements

During that time I also worked on introducing the "Seven Days of StarText" package; hosted the monthly Infomart meetings; wrote TechTalk for StarText INK; wrote a weekly column in Tarrant Business, gave talks to user groups and appeared on local radio talk shows on behalf of the service.

1989 was a year of intense highs and lows. In March, I was honored as the second
Star-Telegram "Employee of the Month." The first person to receive the award was a maintenance worker who had been there 30 or 40 years; I was number two. Heady stuff. As was a trip to the "Videotex Industry Association" trade show in June, where I spoke of the success of our service, our plans for the future, and took notes on what others
were doing (none of whom, so far as I can tell, are much in the business today. Only the phone companies - and their product is even further removed from what it was then, than StarText's.)

By September 1989, however, Joe had I had wildly differing views of the direction to take StarText, and how and where to allocate resources. It took until September before I had the courage to quit. I consulted with everyone I could think of - even my father. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done. It was the giving up of a dream. But it became necessary.

So I left. Immediately spoke to U.S. Videotel in Houston whose Minitel -based service was showing promise. They couldn't figure out where I would fit. Neither could Jeremy Halbreich of The Dallas Morning News, who wasn't ready to get back into the online business (and indeed wasn't for another 6 years!). I even applied at Soft Warehouse as a salesman during the Christmas season, but was turned down. That shocked me. I was stuck doing minimal freelance computer work until a longshot application to a contract firm paid off. In December I was asked to go to work on a contract basis for IBM. The language was APL, which I'd studied in college and which was rare enough that they were willing to hire anyone for. The IBM job was a relaxing six-month vacation. There was a team of 11 people doing less programming together than I had maintained solo at StarText.

I didn't go back online much at StarText. I checked in occasionally, but there were too many memories.

In May of 1990 a friend from my old Rave days who had jumped to Soft Warehouse called me with word that there was an opening at that company again. As a writer. Surprise! And soon enough, I turned into a writer who did programming, just as at StarText I was a programmer who did writing. I spent seven years at Soft Warehouse, during which time the company became known as CompUSA and grew from 16 stores to nearly 100. Our marketing efforts played a large role in that growth. In particular, I had sole responsibility for creating the CompUSA catalogs that were so popular for many years.

But after seven years, CompUSA had grown into a large corporation with a matching large corporate bureaucracy. And we were repeating ourselves. My last major project at CompUSA was to create the company's web site, which went online in the fall of 1995. Much of the time was spent preparing the company for the project, since few believed in the possibilities of the online revolution. The investigation phase alone took nearly a year. The initial design of the actual web site took only a few months. CompUSA started realizing revenues from it almost immediately, and now, from what I understand, it contributes a nice piece of revenue.

After getting the CompUSA web site going, it was time for ME to go. So in the summer of 1996 I joined with a few other former CompUSA employees to start the Insider Creative advertising agency. A former CompUSA vice president, Ellen Miller, left in 1995 to start her own marketing consulting agency. In the summer of last year she was ready to expand and I became the first employee of Insider Creative. Our clients are high tech firms doing business in the retail industry; names as big as Microsoft, IBM, and Compaq. I'm one of two Creative Directors. I do most of the writing, and yes - I do some programming on the side...including our company web site. www.insidermarketing.com. It's not StarText, but it's not trying to be.

Monday, June 29, 2009

StarText People: Ed Jackson

Reader Note: Outside of the staff, most who were there would agree the one most influential persons through the formative years of StarText was Ed Jackson. It was almost as if Ed and StarText crossed paths by some Grand Plan. I wouldn't disagree. The following is something I authored in 1994 during a public library donation drive generated by StarText subscribers in the Jacksons' honor.

This is one in a continuing series tracing the history of StarText. Read it from the beginning by using the Archive Post links on the right.

Back in 1982, the year it all began, one of the first customers to sign up for fledging new service called StarText was a man named Ed Jackson, StarText ID number 1125. It soon became apparent Ed wasn't just another subscriber.

Right from the beginning, sitting in front of his Apple IIE and its 300 baud- modem, Ed fell in love with StarText and what it represented. He called StarText the "best bargain since nickel parking in Cleburne." And thanks to the magic of electronic mail, Ed made his presence known to all.

A day didn't go by without receiving a mail message from 1125. His letters were long and punctuated by capitalized words (he always capilatized words he wanted to emphasize). They were filled with praise, enthusiasm, humor and suggestions for this marvelous new medium called videotex. But more than anything else, Ed contributed ideas.

When Ed discovered new users were having trouble making their Apple computers work, he volunteered to help out by fielding their questions in his mailbox and posting the answers on StarText for all to read. The result was the first subscriber-authored column, APPLETALK.

He followed that with another general interest column on computers, and yet another on the origin of words. But through the years, he became best known for a three-times-a-week opinion column simply called EJ. Ed had a wonderful knack for combining homespun humor and biting satire in a way that made him the online version of Will Rogers.

Later, Ed won the first annual StarText fiction competition with a bittersweet story about a robot that was too all-to-human, Rad Fourteen. Many other stories would follow, all crafted in that same witty, insightful style.

Ed's often confessed his worst fear was not getting email from his readers. He dreaded coming on StarText and seeing the reminder, "You have no new mail messages." A column that didn't produce at least one mail message left him down and depressed.

But who was this man, really? Extremely shy in person, Ed never attended a StarText subscriber meeting. We learned by way of friends he was 55 years old and had never married. By trade, he worked for a local commercial printer. The late Elston Brooks, Star-Telegram entertainment writer, provided another clue when he produced Ed's high school picture. Ed and Elston both attended Paschal High School in the fifties.

StarText, Ed would quickly tell anyone, had completely changed his life. But even Ed didn't know how much.

A few years after Ed began writing his columns he started getting letters from a woman reader, Patricia Chadwell. Pat, it turned out, was like Ed -- a woman in her fifties who had never married. She worked at the public library and did some writing of her own -- a geneaology column for the Star-Telegram called "Texas Kin."

Ed and Pat kept up quite a correspondence. Their letters became longer and more frequent. Something was happening to Ed that had never happened before. . .he was falling in love.
Friends say Ed and Pat cultivated their E-mail romance for six months before either could summon the courage to meet in person. But meet they finally did. In a manner of weeks, the confirmed, retiring bachelor and the studious librarian were married. StarText had another first, thanks to Ed and Pat.

Ed professed to one and all he had found a happiness he never believed possible. Although they still avoided the spotlight, Ed and Pat had a large, warm circle of friends on StarText.

After a decade of contributing his ideas and energy to a medium that had given him a chance to write and meet people and fall in love, one day, as usual, Ed sent in his latest edition of EJ. This time, he wasn't taking potshots at politicians, or decrying wasteful spending or poking fun at the latest trend. He was telling us he had just returned from his doctor, where he found out the spot on his lungs was cancer and he probably had only months to live.

Ed was able to look at death and face it in the same philosophical, somewhat irreverent way he faced life. He wasn't going to let down his readers. Ed vowed to continue writing his columns as long as his strength allowed, saying he would never mentioned his cancer again.

Ed's wit and sense of humor never left him. He wrote that his doctor pointed to his 40 years of smoking as the likely cause of his condition. "Without smoking," Ed wrote, "I would have died of aggrevation long ago."

When the columns quit coming, we knew the end must be near. Now we had to depend on his friends to keep us informed. But even his friends weren't aware of the other drama playing out behind Ed's illness.

Suddenly, and without warning, the news came that Pat Jackson had died after a long and quiet battle with diabetes. Less than 24 hours later, his hope and strength exhausted, Ed joined his beloved Pat in death.

It's been two years since we said goodbye to Ed and Pat. But their legacy remains alive. For many, Ed Jackson was StarText. Ed's collected columns and stories have a permanent place in our archives. Some of his works have just been published in booklet form by his friends. And money is being collected to purchase a brick in Ed and Pat's memory at the new Fort Worth Public Library.

If you look on the front of our blue User Guide, you'll notice our Starmadillo mascot is wearing a single star with the number "1125" on it. It was our way of honoring the memory of a true pioneer -- someone who loved StarText not for its technology but for its people. People who shared their hopes and their dreams, their happiness and their sorrows, through its electronic byways.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

EJ: "Mr. StarText"

07/27/84 10:38



MC 2713



To many of you, Ed Jackson is "Mr. STARTEXT." Somehow, he finds time to write

three columns every week, Computer Corner (COMPCORNER) each Monday and an

opinion piece (JACKSON) twice weekly on Monday and Thursday, not to mention the

letters he processes from subscribers.

The STARNOVEL was his idea, as was the STARVOTE feature. In fact, Mr. Jackson

is continually offering new ideas and suggestions for making the service better.

And without further ado, meet Ed Jackson:


1. What kind of computer equipment do you own?

I have two Apples, with three disk drives, a Commodore with 1 disk drive,

a Vic-20 with cassette storage, four printers, and more darned fool stuff than

anybody has any use for, such as 2 music systems, a speech synthesizer, an

expansion interface, modem, micro-buffer, a Koala pad, and assorted joysticks,

light pens, and junk, not to mention 3 monitors, two color T.V. sets, and a

hi-fi, just for the computers.

2. What do you use it for mainly?

I think the figure for words processed is running close to 30,000 a month

now, to send to Startext, for 12 columns a month, plus umpteen replies to

letters. Folks who GET my letters would probably swear that the 30,000 mark was

what THEY got. I'm pretty well know for being disgustingly verbose.

Though I buy games all the time, I rarely play them, because I'm so bad at

it. I get them, just to watch the graphics, and clap my hands, like a demented

three year old. When I have the time (rarely) I like to try to program some, in

BASIC, but never learned any other language, unless you count CEEMAC. I have had

three pieces printed in hard copy, and keep trying to break into the market.

3. How long how been a STARTEXT subscriber?

I dunno..... over a year.

4. What do use most on STARTEXT?

My first love is all the contributed columns. I try to read them all.

I read all the major news stories, Brooks, Youngblood, JACKSON, and

COMPCORNER... You want to make something of it?

I send, and receive, lots of mail, and enjoy that feature as much as

anything else.

5. Personal info: occupation, what are your special interests or hobbies, and

what is your STARTEXT Mail Code?

I operate a computer controlled precision paper trimmer, in a printshop,

and have been in the business for 35 years. I graduated from Paschal High School

in 1948. I am a self-taught keyboard player, and have a Hammond organ, and a

Yamaha electric keyboard. I'm a very poor teacher, and have no talent for it,

but enjoy it. THAT is the ONLY exercise in which I believe.

I am a bachelor, live alone, and, until I met so many people on STARTEXT,

had no friends. Now I have MANY friends, and MANY disks of letters to prove it!

I'm a gadget freak, and my favorite pastime is throwing money away on stuff, and

then trying to find someplace to put it.

My mail code is Mc 135


Friday, June 26, 2009

Ed Jackson's First Column

Note to Readers

Regular readers of this blog already know Ed Jackson, the prolific subscriber columnist and by many counts, "Mr. StarText" in terms of his influence and support. Dennis Brand was kind enough to send along a copy of Ed's first column, which appeared on StarText March 12, 1984. Dennis also notes Ed's original mail code - 135 -- was changed to 1125 in November when everyone was switched over to Version 3. Above is the only photo of Ed I have, taken at the Star-Telegram during a focus group meeting he attended.

From: Ed Jackson
E-Mail 135

A Dollar Short

Forgive the title. It means something special to me. For years I have read and admired the editorial commentaries in papers. I always thought `What great fun!' I daydreamed of writing such a column, and gave my fantasy piece the above title. It's the last half of the saying `A day late and a dollar short.' Since a written commentary is more likely to be about yesterday's news, rather than today's news, or tomorrow's forecast, it seemed like a good idea.... maybe a bit adolescent, but that daydream started a long time ago when clever (?) titles were fashionable.

Mr. Barker, our Editor-in-Chief of STARTEXT extended the invitation to me which would allow me to fulfill that dream. I jumped at the chance. While I have many things I'd like to talk about, and will, in future articles, I want to take this opportunity to let you all share my good fortune. You are all invited to send me YOUR views of current events, which I may quote, either giving you credit, or not, as you wish. You are also invited to send me criticisms, anecdotes, ideas for articles, ideas for directions you would like to see the column take... such as `More letters from readers.' or `How about creating a department for....'. You get the idea. Much as I like to speak my mind, and fully intend to use this space for my own personal soap box, I really would like all of you to get into the act too.

So you will know to whom you are addressing your comments, my resume is regrettably short and undistinguished. I graduated (escaped?) from Pascal (Then) High School, in 1948. This was back when Dan Jenkins played basketball, and Elston Brooks was the B.M.O.C. in the entertainment arts. If the do-it-yourself IQ tests have any cedibility, I am about `average'. I have been employed in the printing business for the last thirty-five years, twenty- five of which have been where I am now. Slow and steady wins the race has always been my motto. I haven't won the race, yet... but I'm still in there, running... trotting....well, sauntering. Even though my formal education ended with the diploma from P.H.S., fear not to write to me in whatever manner you choose. I have a half dozen dictionaries, and one is never far from my fingertips.

As soon as I found out this column was to be a possibility, and before I recieved any confirmation, I immediately set to writing things for future use. Since this effort is mostly introductory, I'll just pass along a few thoughts about a bit of news I read recently.

Did you read in STARTEXT the other night about the FCC's ruling on Dial-a-Porn? They refused to ban it. I have followed the stories about this... the outraged parents who received staggering phone bills, run up by their children. The church groups, who are striving to get them outlawed, and all the rhetoric about `Freedom of Speech' and `Free Enterprise.' I got to thinking about that, today, and it occurred to me that if it really went over, it might well lead to a very specialized service. We ARE in an age of specialization, and after all, all people do not react to the same words.

For instance, there could be a number for the intellectuals to call. The girl, between sexy, heavy breathing could murmur things like `Oh, Honey! I'd like to have a clandestine tryst with you.' (pant pant) `Just imagine, you and I,' (pant pant) `in illicit relations at our assignation...'

Some fellows are `turned on' by women who speak foreign languages. They could have a separate number to call. `Ahhh..mon cher..' she moans, `moi pettite saucisse, tu sui generis...' (pant pant) `enchante!' Yet another number could be used by the very rich clients. Their needs could be fulfilled with; `Tax shelter!' (pant pant) `Loophole!' (pant pant) `Hidden assets!'

What I had at first dismissed as downright silly suddenly took on a new dimension. Not wanting to condemn unfairly, I decided to give it a shot. I got this number, which I was told used REALLY dirty language. When I dialed, the woman's voice on the other end screamed at me `SCUM! (augh augh) SLEAZEBALL!' (huff huff) `FILTH! TRASH!...'

I hung up rather quickly. I wondered if maybe the FCC hadn't realized how far a thing like this could get out of hand.

One more time! My E-Mail code is 135. Please use it and share your thoughts, and my wonderful luck.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ed Jackson's 'Rad' Stories

Note to Readers

In 1984, StarText held a short story contest, inviting readers to submit original work around the general themes of science fiction and computers. First place went to Ed Jackson for his tale about a legal fight to save a robot, titled "Rad Fourteen." A year later, we published Jackson's sequel, "Rad Fifteen."

With an assist from Dennis Brand, who maintained an archive of Jackson's work after his death, both are presented below. I think you'll find them just as enjoyable today as they were then.


By Ed Jackson

"I tell you, St. John, you and your liberals have gone out of your skulls! It's simply preposterous."


Judge William Donovan glared angrily at the attor¬ney facing him. "What you're asking me to rule on is to give 'human rights' to non-humans.”

"Not at all. Consider, William, that at one time or another all sorts of people were classified as 'non-human.' The aborigines of Australia, the red men of America, the black men of Africa — of America, for that matter. Good lord, William, if an angel came down and made his presence known, there would be those who would think of the angel as 'non-human!'"

Judge William Donovan passed his hand through sparse hair, absently, and then rubbed his eyes tiredly. God! How he hated these civil actions. Give him a good, old-fashioned murder anytime, with facts and evi¬dence.

"All right, St. John. Suppose I even give you the hypothetical point that all life is sacred and equal. Human, animal, Martian. I'll even throw, in the trees and plants and such. What then? There's no way you can claim Rad Fourteen fits into any of those categories.”

"Rad Fourteen possesses many of those qualities that we think of as 'human.' His mind is very rational. He is a lot more logical than most, and even has a sense of humor."

The judge shook his head sadly. How on earth do you argue with a nitwit like this? His face lit up.

“Well, let’s see your Rad Fourteen reproduce his kind. Every kind of life form can do that! Survival, not only of the individual but of the species, is the inborn characteristic of every form of life on this planet"

"Even a mule?" St. John said, smiling.

Judge Donovan's face flushed and he snapped angrily. "That doesn't count. A mule is a hybrid -- a mutant.”

"Of course. So is Rad Fourteen. Genetically he is certainly different from either of his parents."

William Donovan leaped to his feet angrily.

" 'Parents!' 'Parents!' God almighty!"

"Calm yourself, William, before you have an apo¬plectic stroke. Sure, Rad has parents. His father was Rad Thirteen, and his mother was the GICPU. He has quite a family tree. His great great-great grandfather was JSNIAC, His great-great-great grandmother was Univac. His cousins are Apple, TRS-80, Atari, TIPET and so on and on. Rad is simply a hybrid."

"You can argue 'til you're blue in the face and you can't prove he's human because he isn't!"

"And yet you used the word 'he' twice in your last sentence."

"Nonsense!" Donovan said with a snort. "I may refer to a ship as a 'she,' but nobody would ever try to prove it should have 'human rights!'"

"True! Some objects have masculine or feminine pronouns attached to them, but a ship is always a 'she.' You don't have 'he's.' With Rad and his kind, you have 'him's' and 'her's.' You can tell them apart." St. John laughed bitterly. "Since the ERA came into effect, humans certainly aren't that clearly defined!"

The judge looked at St. John strangely.

What's the matter, St John? Can't, you say 'robot?'"

This time it was St. John who leaped up in anger. "Don't say 'robot!' William, that's the whole point of what I've been trying to tell you. He's not a robot. A robot is a mindless, programmed machine. Rad is far beyond that"

"But he's not human."

"So you are going to rule he can arbitrarily be killed," St. John said sadly.

"His owner built him .His owner has the right to put him to death."

St. John paced back and forth. He lit a cigarette and puffed it quickly, his eyes squinted down in thought. He turned back to the judge and leaned down to snuff out the butt. He looked at Donovan out of the tops of his eyes, his forehead creased in furrows.

"Don't you see that by acknowledging that his 'owner' has the right to 'put him to death, you are admitting that he is alive.”

"Can you understand what it would mean if I made a ruling that, robots had a right to life, to self-determina¬tion?" Donovan said. "You're asking me to plant the seed of revolt. Think about a few years from now when you don't have one Rad, but hundreds — perhaps thousands.' And perhaps many times over farther advanced than your precious Rad. What then?"

St. John's shoulders slumped. He only had one card left up his sleeve. He really didn't want to play it, but he could see another way. "Will you do me one favor?"

"If I can."

"Will you talk to Rad?"

"Talk to a machine?"

"Talk to Rad. If you're going to pass judgment on him I think the least you could do is talk to him," Judge Donovan gripped the edge of his desk nervously. He had never liked being around .robots. He feared them as, he feared spiders and snakes No matter how sophisti-cated their memory banks, he considered them essentially mindless, and as such capable of almost anything. . .

St. John let the door swing open. A young man walked in and looked around with some interest. He walked slowly to the desk and smiled down at Donovan.

"You have some nice paintings here, your honor. I believe within 20 years your Brattletons will be worth a small fortune. His work is already becoming a bit too commercial. But I think these early works will contin¬ue to increase in value."

"Judge Donovan, I would like for you to meet Rad. Rad, this is Judge Donovan,"

The judge forced himself to shake hands with the robot He was pleas¬antly surprised. It felt like a human hand: Warm — firm — resilient. Most amazing.

"I'm pleased to meet you, your honor. I feel as if I already know you. In the past 16 years you have handed down nine landmark decisions. Time will show them to be wise deci¬sions indeed."

"Are you a prophet, Mr. — uh — Rad? And how do you think I will rule on this case?” the judge asked.

Rad smiled easily.

"I could make a guess — based on your decisions over the past 28 years on the bench. I would prefer not to."

"You know all my decisions over the past 28 years?"

"I read them all last night. I have a very good memory."

"All of them? That must have tak¬en all night!"

"Not quite," Rad said, smiling gen¬tly. He knew the judge would not believe him if he said it had taken 37 minutes, 42 3/5 seconds.

"Do you have anything you would like to say about this case?" the judge asked quietly.

"It will be a difficult decision for you either way. I believe that either way you decide, you will feel you made the wrong decision." Rad hesitated and smiled a bit more, with the corners of his mouth turning down with a glint of humor. “But I think no matter which way you decide, it will turn out to be the right decision.”

“How could that be? It’s illogical. I thought you were very strong on logic.”

“It is electronically impossible for me to be illogical. However, in the matter of forecasting the future, it is possible to predict many scenarios – each equally logical but each capable of leading in different directions – many with good results and an equal number with bad results.”

The judge scratched his head at that one and thought. Absently, he lit a cigarette and offered the pack to Rad. The robot took the cigarette, lit it and sat puffing contentedly while the judge ran it all through his mind. After a few moments, Donovan looked up abruptly.

“You’re smoking!”

“I receive no pleasure from it as you do. It is merely a social function I have modified myself to be capable of performing in order to be less strange to people.”

“ ‘Modified yourself?’ ”

“Extra filtration. I have a breathing apparatus to give the illusion of respiration. It is fairly sturdily constructed but the tars in the tobacco would certainly do my mechanism no more good than it does your lungs, your honor.”

“No, I suppose not,” Donovan said thoughtfully.

St. John was a bit more relaxed now. The judge was talking with Rad as he might with a human. He was feeling infinitely better. If he could keep the conversation from taking a bad turn.

Rad stood up then and stretched in a very human way. He stifled a yawn and smiled broadly. "Please forgive me. It's been a long day."

Then St. John almost blew it. He nearly laughed out loud. He knew that Rad had no "days." He had no need to sleep, or stretch, it was all a pose, and William was swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.

Rad reached into his inside coat pocket and drew out an envelope.

"Your honor, I guessed that you would want a prediction from me, and I would not like to deny you a simple request. So I have typed out my prediction and sealed it within this envelope." He smiled easily. "I would appreciate it if you would open the envelope only after you have made your decision."

Donovan reached out and took the envelope. He turned it over and over in his hands.

"That seems the best way. By to¬morrow morning we shall both know what was in each other's mind. I shall enter my judgment in the GICPU before I retire tonight." "Thank y6u for your time, your honor. It has been a pleasure meet¬ing you."

"Yes — uh — me, too," Donovan said, tapping the envelope into the palm of his hand.

St. John bowed slightly and left with Rad. Donovan stood, looking down at the envelope, and reached for a letter opener. "I didn't give my word," he thought, "Still, I had indi¬cated I would honor his wishes." He pulled the point out and stared at the envelope. '"His wishes!' Good lord! I'm beginning to think like St. John," he muttered.

The judge's eyes crossed the walls until they fell on one of the Brattletons. He looked with pleasure at the clean lines. That fool art dealer told him that he was wasting his money on them! "Huh! Rad's smarter than Berensturn, anyway!" he thought. He lit a cigarette and stared at the tip. "I wonder if Rad could come up with something that would protect me from these fool things.” He frowned at the cigarette and snuffed it out in the tray, and then looked at the envelope again.

“Well, one way to find out what’s in there!” he said, out loud this time. He picked up the microphone and switched it on.

“In the case of Rad Fourteen, in regard to a petition by attorney John St. John, to legally prevent the Chia-yiang Edison Corp. from dismantling the pseudo-humanoid identified as Rad Fourteen, it is the court’s decision that if any …”

He flicked the pause control, searching for a word. “Being?” he thought. “What the devil do I say? Rad is not animal or vegetable.” He smiled and flicked the control again.

“Entity displays qualities historically associated with those genetically attributed to Homo sapiens. That entity, in order to be considered worthy of the attention of the courts in regards to its ‘rights’ to existence, must be considered to be given ‘life’ by a power beyond the hand of man, else that entity is merely a mechanism of man.”

The judge pressed the pause control again. He got up and walked over to the Brattleton hanging on the wall. He looked at it several moments. “it’s a shame,” he thought. “That – creature? – machine? – gave every outward indication of being a human being. For a moment, he weakened, then he thought, “No! It would never do, to give any machine equal status with man.”

He returned to his desk, sat heavily and picked up the mike again.

“While stimulated life forms may possess outward signs of intellect, it is, in the judgment of this court, a false conclusion to attach significance to these to these simulations. Even though the arts be included, while a computer may be programmed to recognize different styles of art and music, to commit to memory works of literature, and so forth, the human attribute of appreciation is programmed - simulated. The tru¬ly important qualities of mankind are absent in such programming. Indeed, such matters are not ‘programmable.’ They are inherent traits of humanity. They are matters of the soul Love, hope, charity are far more essential to mankind than the most sophisticated of technological advances. Petition denied." He pressed the "enter" button and leaned back.

Once his decision was entered, it; would be acted upon long before any legal action could be taken to change it. He felt good. Rad was wrong about one thing. He didn't feel he had made the wrong decision.

Then he picked up the envelope again, and forgetting the opener laying on his desk, he tore the end shook out the paper. It fell opened out flat. He sat there many minutes staring. Finally he could read no more, for the tears in his eyes which fell and spotted the paper.

"I forgive you."




By Ed Jackson

Judge Donovan had just finished a difficult day and with only 30 minutes to go before his usual departure time, he sat moodily staring at one of his Brattletons.

Rad had been right, he reflected. The going price on the earlier Brattletons was skyrocketing. He could have tripled his money two years ago, and now he could double even THAT if he had bought them for speculation.

Often, in a blue mood, he thought about Rad Fourteen, and wondered what else lie had been right about. Before he had condemned Rad to "death," Rad had predicted that whatever his decision would be, it would be the right one. How could that be, he mused for the thousandth time.

His secretary entered, following a gentle tap at his chamber door. She laid a sheaf of papers before him and as he started signing the letters and forms, he spoke.

"You might as well go on home, Miss Jones. We can finish these up in the morning."

"Yes sir," she replied, and withdrew. Judge Donovan finished up the stack, pushed it to one side, checked the clock, and rose to leave. He left his chambers, and as he was just leaving his secretary's office, the phone rang.

"Ring and be damned," he muttered. "It's been a long day."

He closed the door, but he couldn't leave. He was one of those unfortunate people who can't let a phone ring. He went back in and snatched the receiver up.

“Hello” he growled.

"Hello yourself. This is St. John."

The judge's face split into a smile. He hadn't communicated with St. John since that night, twelve years ago, when he had dictated his "death sentence" of Rad Fourteen. Lord knows he'd tried, but St. John had refused his calls, and then cleared out his law office and headed for parts unknown.

"Hello? ... William?... Are you there?"

"Yes.,. Yes! I'm here, St. John. I guess I was just speechless with surprise! How are you? How have you been? WHERE are you?"

"Whoa! Hold on, William, one thing at a time. I'm fine, I've been fine, but busy. I've got a place out off of I35, and I'd love to see you. What's chances of you dropping by this evening for dinner? I know it's late... do you have any other plans?"

"No. As a matter of fact I don't. I'd be delighted!"

So, after receiving some rather detailed instructions, Judge Donovan dropped by his apartment for a shower and a change. He still had a full hour to make the trip, so in plenty of time, Judge Donovan found himself outside of a very large, very old stone house. St. John was standing on the steps, and walked down to meet him as he stepped from the car.

"Welcome! It's so good to see you again. Come right in!"

They shook hands warmly.

“St. John, you haven’t changed a bit! How do you manage that?"

"Clean living and a clear conscience .., that's all." The judge's smile slipped a little. "Clear conscience! You think I don't have a clear conscience? I tell you I made the right decision! Even Rad said I'd make the right decision.

"Easy! Easy! I didn't mean anything, William, Let's not get our nose out of joint!"

The judge grinned. "Sorry old fellow... maybe my conscience isn't as clear as I thought it was. I'm still pretty defensive about it, you know."

"No need to be. You did what you thought was right, and you are right. Rad said it would be all right... and so it shall!"

As the two old friends mounted the steps, the judge slipped his arm across St. John's shoulders. It was good to see him again. They walked through an immense foyer into an even more immense dining room.

"Hope you don't mind eating first, and having our little chit-chat later, William.” I let the staff go, and everything is hot and ready. All I have to do is bring it in."

“Fine! Can I help?"

"No, just sit down and make yourself comfortable. I'll just be a minute."

True to his word, he was gone a minute or so, and Judge Donovan had only a brief look around the room. They had entered from the north. On the west were draped windows; on the east were large sliding doors, and St. John entered, pushing a serving tray through a swinging door on the south wall.

In just moments the dinner was transferred from the cart to the dining table, and the judge and St. John were enjoying a delicious dinner of game hen, wild rice, dressing, and early June peas.

From time to time during the meal, Donovan tried to talk about Rad, but St. John skillfully turned the subject aside, Finally Judge Donovan said, "It was a hard time, and a hard decision, St. John, but I just now realized it must have been harder for you than it was for me. You can't even talk about it, can you?"

"Not at all, William, I have no regrets. I merely wanted to keep you from dwelling on the past and ... well, to stop kicking yourself." The last was added almost as an after-thought.

"Kicking myself!" The judge repeated, "What do you mean?"

"Don't get riled up, William, You want to talk about Rad.,. we'll talk about Rad ... but first, how about some wine. I remembered you liked rare vintage wine, so I stopped and got a bottle I was told would... intrigue you,"

He reached under the serving cart and brought out a very old, oddly shaped bottle. The judge was proud of his knowledge of rare wines, but he was mystified at the label. "The man said it would take a real connoisseur to appreciate its unusual flavor."

He broke the seal, and poured.

"Aren't you joining me?" the judge asked, as St. John poured only one glass.

"No, I gave up alcohol of all kinds, twelve years ago."

The judge went through the usual wine drinker's ritual. He swirled, he looked through the glass, he rocked the glass, sniffed the glass and finally wet his tongue.

“This is unusual. Quite a bouquet, and I don't believe I have ever seen a wine this dark. It's almost black!" He sipped delicately, and then sipped again. He didn't seem to be able to put it down, as St. John spoke.

"You wanted to talk about Rad, so let's talk. He was quite a man. You've got to admit that"

"Quite a man? Ridiculous! He was a marvelous machine. Nothing more. Nothing less."

"Aha! but didn't you define a person as someone with human traits? Rad forgave you. Isn't forgiveness a human trait?".

"Just more baloney, St. John! He was a robot."

"A robot, yes... but a very special robot... Here... let me refill your glass."

"You see? Even you admit he was a robot!"

"Yes, he was... but, again, a very special one. Here. Let me read you the last letter he sent me... his last will and testament."

The judge wanted to snort and say derisively, "Last will and testament! Of a robot? Bah!" but he didn't. The wine had a mellowing effect. St. John opened a thick envelope and pulled out some papers. He cleared his throat.

"Dear St. John," he read, "You really must not hold Judge Donovan responsible. He did what he felt was right, and as I said to him, 'Whatever decision you make, it will be the right one.'

"I believe that if he had given me life, I might have been able to demonstrate to the world that people and robots could co-exist, but on the other hand, in order to advance the cause in a long-term, positive way, we needed someone in the judiciary.

"Perhaps this way will be quicker.

"You see, St. John, I spent the night before 1 met the judge, studying the Bible. There was a teacher, who lived two thousand years ago, who taught love, and mercy, and forgiveness.

"There is more to this religion business than meets the eye, my old friend. He was right, you know. Hatred and bitterness are debilitating. Love and forgiveness are divine. It was with a calm spirit that I wrote the judge that message, 'I forgive you.'

"Even as that teacher, 2,000 years ago, I felt flooded with compassion ... call it a 'Holy Spirit' I decided that, like that great man, I, too, would give immortality... even unto he who would deny me.

"Blasphemy!" the judge croaked ... and was surprised at the croak. He tried to clear his throat, choked, and coughed. "How could he give immortality?"

"That you are about to see, my old friend."

The judge was startled, and tried to rise. He could not move.

"You poisoned me, St. John!"

"Poison you?" St. John laughed, "How could I poison you when it was Rad's last wish to grant you immortality?”

“But how,” the judge wanted to say but he found he could no longer speak. His eyelids grew heavy, and his head drooped. He forced his eyes open and saw St. John opening the large sliding doors in the east wall, revealing a large laboratory. He returned, and rolled the judge on the castered dining chair right into the laboratory. The last thing he judge saw was a hooded apparatus, looking all the world like a hair drier, being lowered down on his head. He heard St. John chuckle.

"That you are about to see, old friend. All masterminded and blueprinted by the man who you put to death."

Without the feeling of the passage of any time, the judge snapped his eyes open. He tried to rise, but found be was strapped in his chair. He looked down and discovered he was naked.

"Damn you, St. John," he bellowed. "What are you up to?"

"Now, now, William, is that any way to talk to your benefactor?"

St. John grasped the edge of a large blackboard, standing on a set of rollers, and whirled it around. The reverse side was a mirror, and, in turning it, St. John revealed a naked, slumped figure in a chair that matched the one in which he sat.

The judge's eyes flickered back and forth, comparing. The figure in the chair was a replica of himself! His eyes sought out details ... the oddly overlapped right little toe... the scar on his left knee that he had suffered when he was a boy, and fell on a foot scraper, half a century ago ... the bunion on his right foot… all perfect.

"Dammit St. John! You'll never get away with it!"

"Get away with what?" asked St. John, innocently.

"That infernal machine! I don't care how detailed that thing is. It may be an exact replica of me, but it cannot take my place on the bench. So Rad thought he needed someone in the judiciary. Great idea, but anyone I really knew would spot it in a minute!"

"Think back, William," said St. John, smiling, "would you have been able to spot Rad Fourteen as a robot?"

"That's different. Rad Fourteen was ... well, Rad Fourteen! He wasn't an impostor! He wasn't trying to be someone else. There are mannerisms and quirks, not to mention memories which I share with many friends. You couldn't possibly know how to program all that information in. You'll never get away with it."

St. John's smile broadened. "I have gotten away with it, old friend! You really don't get it, do you? That.... thing over there, as you referred to it, is the mortal remains of Judge Donovan." He tapped the mirror.

"Meet the new, IMMORTAL Judge Donovan... alias Rad Fifteen."

St. John rolled the mirror closer, and the Judge saw his lips form the soundless words.

"Oh my God."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

EJ's 'The Second Coming'

Reader Note: The following is another story in the RAD series authored by StarText columnist Ed Jackson, originally published May 23, 1986. It is made available courtesy of Dennis Brand, who has archived a great number of Jackson stories and columns.

The Second Coming

By e.j. (Ed Jackson)

It was a hectic time. It was a joyous time. It was celebration time. The turn of yet another century. . . the year 2500. Every prophecy of every sci-fi writer of every century had been fulfilled. Sci-fi writers were out of business. NOTHING was so far out not to have already bean accomplished. Even the robot/human war had come to an end, and robots had become totally integrated into society. They didn't have to carry I.D. cards to SHOW they were robots, and people had become so used to them that they no longer CARED if their beat friend turned out to be an android. Mostly, people tried to AVOID the knowledge. It was part of this culture to be 'blind' to the EXISTENCE of a 'second society.'

The Tribune's managing editor summoned Patrick O'Rourke to his office.

“You wanted me, Chief?”

“Come in, Pat, and set a spell. I have an assignment for you.”

“Aw HELL! I've got some vacation time coming, and I been looking forward to a couple of weeks on the moon in low grav.”

“This MAY be quite a story.” Bradley Thurman leaned forward and said conspiratorially, “I wanted YOU to have the first crack at it."

“Sure, sure.” Said O'Rourke sourly, “Translation? Another wack-o 'hunch' of yours that anybody with any seniority or brains would tell you to stick where the sun doesn't shine.”

“Now, Now, Patrick. . ..you gotta have faith in your old boss. When you have as many years in the business as I'VE had, you develop a nose. . .no.. more than that. . . a sixth sense. . ..call it intuition if you like.”

Patrick O'Rourke rubbed his nose thoughtfully, “Nobody is conned better or faster than an old con. . .. and that's what YOU are. Who has been whispering in your ear this time, Chief?”

“Have you seen the thing about the 'faith healing' that's been going on down at the mission on 45th street?”

O'Rourke's jaw dropped. “LORD! You aren't falling for THAT stuff are you?”

“Just check it out, O'Rourke, and get back to me. After a preliminary check, we'll decide whether to go all-out on it or not.”

“But CHIEF!”

“Just a preliminary, O'Rourke. Is that asking too much?”

“O.K., I'll go, Chief, but I think you're getting senile.”

O'Rourke closed the door a mite more forcefully than he intended to. He certainly owed the Chief that much, but dammit, he had a vacation coming, and he'd seen more faith healers in his time than you could shake a stick at. Not just here, but all over the world, he'd covered stories of moving statues, weeping statues, healing 'naturals' of every faith, race, and age. NEVER had he been able to prove ANYBODY ever truly healed ANYBODY of ANYTHING. 'Just a preliminary indeed! he fumed. But he went.

It was just forty-eight hours later that O'Rourke rapped on his editor's door, and followed the rap in. “You busy Chief?”

“Naw. Whatcha got, O’Rourke?”

O'Rourke fell into a chair, leaned back, stuck his feet on his boss's desk, and pulled out a pad.

“I don't know. I can't figure it out. That kook down there who claims to be the Son of God has ‘healed’ more people than I ever HEARD of being healed. NOBODY could afford THAT many shills. I don't get it.”

“He claims to be the Son of GOD?”

“No, HE doesn't, actually, but all his 'disciples' call him 'Master.' They say it like they mean it. THEY call him the Son of God.”

“So? You think he's really DOING it?”

O'Rourke scratched his chin. “I dunno, Chief. Every indication at this time is that it's true. But let's face it, Chief. YOU know it ain't true, and I know it ain't true. Only INDICATIONS of miracles are true. Only TALES of miracles are true. There just ain't no such animal alive today.”

“How does he work it?”

“Well, he opens up shop about 9:00 in the morning, and closes down about midnight, three days a week. He claims he must 'get his batteries charged' on the in-between-days. He takes all comers. He puts his hands on the afflicted part, and leaves 'em there for varying lengths of time, and then says, 'NEXT!' I'm sure I haven't seen anything that some magician, or some special effect man couldn't duplicate, but WHY? He doesn't charge any money. You can't even GIVE him money. There's no place to PUT any money you may WANT to give him. I can't figure what his game is.”

Thurman tapped a pencil on his teeth thoughtfully. “Then you're going back?”

“Sure. . .. but HOW? With WHAT? I TRIED to talk to him . . . no business. I TRIED to talk to his 'disciples' but nobody is talking. What's my move?”

The editor threw back his head and laughed. “Come ON, O'Rourke. You're not TRYING. I've seen you get interviews that simply were not get-able. You're STYMIED? HELL! Fake a sickness, and go in to be 'healed.' See what happens.”

O'Rourke looked embarrassed. “Sorry, Chief, I guess I still had my thoughts on the moon vacation thing. I'll get back to you.” He stuffed his hat back on his head and slumped out of the office.

. . . . . .

It was late. A skeletal staff. O'Rourke didn't REALLY expect the Chief to be there, but he was. He walked in without knocking.

“Oh, Hello, O'Rourke.” said Thurman, looking up. “Hadn't heard from you in a few days. I was about to send out the dogs after you. What happened?”

O'Rourke sat down, lit up a smoke, and squinted at the Chief through the smoke. “You just ain't gonna believe this. I don't know if I believe it myself.”

“Try me.”

“Well, I went in, like you said, and faked an illness. I told the man that I had recurring migraine headaches. He felt around, here and there and then smiled at me. He said, 'Why do you come to me with a migraine headache? Have you no faith?' Well sir, that got me flustered, and all I could come back with is, 'What do you mean?' He replied, 'Migraine headaches are transitory. Unless you came in here while you were experiencing one, I could not help you. However, your diabetes is a long term disease that you have had MANY years. Why did you not ask for relief from it?'“

The Chief jumped up. “Gosh Almighty, O'Rourke! I never knew you were a diabetic. You had diabetes and didn't think to ask him to heal you of that?”

O'Rourke shrugged. “Why SHOULD I, Chief? Remember? You and I BOTH know there is no such thing as miracle healing. . ,. right? The truth is, like I told him, I've had it so long. . . gotten so used to it. . . that I simply forgot it.”

“And what did HE say?”

“He laughed, and then said, 'No matter. You are healed. REMEMBER you are healed, and do NOT attempt to take insulin any longer. It could have a VERY bad effect on you. Remember these rules, and you will have a long and happy life.” Then he told me some things, and I jotted them down in my pad.”

“And you BELIEVED him?”

“No . . . not at first. . . I let a couple of days go by, and my blood sugar checked out right down the line. I went to my doctor for a urine test, blood test, the whole makeup. He was mystified. He couldn't explain it. Chief . . . he said I don't have diabetes anymore.” He tore a page from his pad and said, “Get a load of this, Chief.” He read:

“Redemption and Deliverance:

Fourteen commandments:

1. Place YOUR God first.

2. Desire only what you EARN.

3. Honor TRUTH above ALL.

4. Accept the responsibility for your actions.

5. Obey the law of the land.

6. Honor and respect ALL Gods of ALL people.

7. Respect and defend the lives and properties of others as if they
were your own.

8. Place JUSTICE above MERCY.

9. Temper Charity with a respect for the self respect of others,

10. Honor your contracts, be they monetary or moral.

11. Have faith in your OWN sense of logic and good sense. Accept
NOTHING on faith alone.

12. Realize the limitations of your intelligence. Do not mistakenly
believe you can understand the workings of the universe, or understand
some mystic 'plan' of God's.

13. Do the BEST you can. Even GOD can not ask more.

14. Love your spouse, your children, yourself, your country, and your
God. ... in that order.”

O'Rourke sat there in the now smoke-filled office. He was on his seventh cigarette. The office was silent. The click of computer terminals in the next room was inaudible. The hum of the presses was so much a part of the building that neither man heard them. So . . . the office was silent. He broke the silence. “Well, what do you think?”

Bradley Thurman. . . O'Rourke could hardly REMEMBER his name . . . he'd called him 'Chief so long . . . sat there squinting back at his reporter.

“Something there rings a bell, O'Rourke, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Let me see that paper.” He took the note sheet and looked at it.

R.A.D. Fourteen commandments.

1. Place YOUR God first.

2. Desire only what you EARN.

3. Honor TRUTH above ALL. Accept the responsibility for your actions.

4. Obey the law of the land.

O'Rourke had risen and was re-reading his note pad over his boss's shoulder. Five was as far as he'd gotten when his editor leaped to his feet.

“I've GOT it, O'Rourke! I've GOT it!”

“Got WHAT Chief?”

“I don't have it ALL, yet, I don't know WHAT his scam is, but I know WHO he is!” He smacked a beefy fist into a palm. “I KNOW who he is!”

“Well, you gonna let me in on it?”

“M'boy, you are going to have the privilege of seeing the old man at work. Grab your lid and let's GO.”


“To see your new Jehovah.”

“I never said. . .” But the Chief was half way out the door. “WAIT, Chief! You can't see him NOW. He closed up shop hours ago.”

“So we'll open it.” he grinned. “Don't worry. I have the password.”


It was almost dawn when they arrived at the little downtown mission. O'Rourke hadn't a CLUE to what the Chief was talking about. He just kept saying, 'You ought to read more history, O'Rourke. I know who he is. You understand? I know who he is. They walked into the tiny 'lobby' of the mission. An unshaven clerk looked up.

“I want to talk to your resident priest, or rabbi, or what-ever the Hell he calls himself.”

“You mean you want to talk to the MASTER?”

“You bet. You got it, old timer. Rustle him out here.”

“That's not possible. I can't. . .”

“I'll take full responsibility. Just tell him I want to see RAD Fourteen. He'll understand what I mean.”

“Rad Fourteen, Chief?” said O’Rourke.

“I TOLD you I knew who he was.”

“Chief. ... I don't think. . ......”

The door opened and the man who had cured O'Rourke's diabetes walked in.

“I understand you want to see me but who is this Rad Fourteen you mentioned?”

Puzzlement was plain on his features.

“Don't give me that crap, preacher. YOU are Rad Fourteen and you KNOW it? Now what *I* want is the whole story. What kind of scam are you running, and how do you work it?”

The man smiled. “I understand. If you come this way, I'll fill you in.”

They followed him through a small passageway into a large clean-looking room. It had marble all over everywhere, and it was difficult to tell whether it was just a room, a laboratory, or a temple. There was a large frosted glass screen, and behind it, a hint of winking lights in various colors.

“Won't you sit down?” They sat. “Now suppose you tell me what YOU know, and then I'll fill in the details.”

The Chief sat, and then hunched forward in his chair. “I couldn't get it all together, until O'Rourke showed me his pad, with the notes. Instead of 'Redemption and Deliverance,' he'd abbreviated, 'R.A.D.,' and the NEXT word was 'Fourteen. ‘As soon as I saw those words together, the bells rang. R.A.D. Fourteen was the first truly humanoid robot that started the whole thing. The R.A.D. stood for Robots-Androids Development, then. Was your 'Redemption and Deliverance' a coincidence?”

“No. A conceit.”

“O.K. How do you work it?”

“It's simple, really. Before I was dismantled, I left some rather complex plans for my resurrection. A lot of time had to pass before the proper technology became available, but my lawyer, St. John, and the Judge Donovan, who sentenced me, kept the notes on my return, and built the present world of human/robot existence.

“When they reconstructed me, my new plans came into play, with all sorts of 'miracles' built into my framework. I really DO heal people, you know. ... OF COURSE you know, I healed Mr. O'Rourke of his diabetes. I do it with special penetrating and healing rays of particles which they only DISCOVERED a few years ago, but which I PREDICTED would be there. It took Gigatrons to even FIND them, and people don't understand their properties yet.

“Somehow I knew that merely HEALING the sick would not be enough. A lot of the sick are sick in mind as well as body, so I wanted to get at the people who were in despair. . . . who had given up on their God, and themselves. I had to create not a new God, but a new religious philosophy.

“So, I 'returned.”

"Didn't I TELL you, O'Rourke? Didn't I TELL you! We've got a Pulitzer prize winning story here!"

He started to jump to his feet. ... only to find his arms clamped down by circling arms. Rad Fourteen smiled. "You think I waited all this time to have someone like you come along and ruin all my plans? I'm sorry, gentlemen, but your new bodies will extend your life indefinitely, and the adjustments to your minds and memories will be minimal. Please believe that."

He and O'Rourke hardly felt the needle-pricks.

Ed Jackson -- Mail Code 1125

Saturday, June 20, 2009

StarText People: Jim Boughton

Reader Note: Jim Boughton was a StarText subscriber and avid contributor, honored several times for his columns and one of only two recipients of the prestigious "EJ Award," named in honor of Ed Jackson (see prior post). The following is an interview conducted with Jim on June 15, 1994. Find out more about what Jim's been up since StarText in the Post Script.

This is one in a continuing series tracing the history of StarText. Read it from the beginning by using the Archive Post links on the right.

How long have you been a StarText Subscriber?

Which time? I originally joined StarText in the mid 1980's and was on line for about 3 or 4 years and then I had to cancel for a while. In 1990 I returned to StarText and have been here ever since except for a brief 2 or 3-month vacation.

What attracted you to StarText?

The fascination of using a modem to gain news and articles. It was fun to read the news online and a lot of times the news was much fresher than what the paper printed. Then I met Jerry Holmes and he really pushed me to get more and more involved with StarText. The next thing I knew I was moderating a column for Tandy computers. When I left the system back in the late 80's it was Jerry that kept me informed of any changes and it was his shall we say encouragement that caused me to start writing WOW.

What has kept you online?

The people! I have met so many really great people, both subscribers and staff. Many have become close personal friends. I have access to better E-mail, better news with national and world coverage, but no where in cyberspace have I found better people. That's what makes StarText so neat. It is an information service that has never forgotten the people side of business.

What are the rewards of writing a column on-line?

There are so many it is hard to list them all. First of course there is the ego thing. It is quite a feeling the first few times you see a column on-line with your own byline. Then there is that continuous shock that comes from realizing people really want to read what you write. There is the challenge of trying to put out quality work with accurate information and keep to an update schedule. Self-discipline is a lesson I am still learning in life.

But by far the most rewarding thing is the interaction with the readers. The thank you note when you solve a users problem's via E-mail that has had them stumped for hours, the tips and ideas that readers pass on and the whole interaction that goes on daily with StarText users. Writing a column starts out being a fun idea, may become a chore a little later down the line, and soon there after becomes an integral part of your life. I don't think I could ever walk away from writing the column, it is just too much fun.

Tell us how you came to be an on-line correspondent at COMDEX?

That is an interesting story. I first attended COMDEX in the Fall of 1991. I was amazed to say the very least. When I got home most of my next columns centered around COMDEX and the things I saw there. It was then the idea hit me to do an on-line column the following year. I was hooked on COMDEX and knew that no matter what, I was returning to Fall'92 COMDEX. I proposed the idea to Mike Holland [an editor at StarText] and he seemed receptive but needed more information. You see, it was my idea to cover COMDEX with a Press Pass as a true columnist.

In the summer of 1992 I received the application and Press requirements and was pleasantly surprised to learn that free lance writers were included along with on-line services. Mike saw no problem at all and soon everything was set up. Keywords were set up to upload to and I borrowed a laptop from a friend and was off to the show. I would tour the show and exhibits all day, hit a few of the after-show activities and then return to the hotel room to write the column and upload it to StarText so it would be on-line first thing the next morning.

After the second column, an amazing thing happened! I would upload the column and then check E-mail for news from friends back home. What I was finding was questions and comments from readers about things I had mentioned in the previous column or things they would like me to look for. Since I didn't have a printer in the hotel room, I would write down the questions and put them in my jacket to research the next day. That night I would upload a column and then write E-mail answers back to the readers who had written questions. I call this "interactive journalism" for lack of a better term.

It was amazing the reception it got. Readers would write and say that they felt like they were there on the floor, and the vendors and manufacturers reactions were enthusiastic as well. They loved it when they learned that a new product of theirs was written about and that people in Ft. Worth, Texas were interested enough to be writing E-mail questions.

In 1993 StarText really promoted the COMDEX series on-line and in two great articles that Christine Gonzales did in INK magazine. The results were fantastic! I was fortunate enough to have my best friend with me, Ricardo Salinas, who is also a StarText subscriber and quite handy with a camera. So we even had a photo layout to bring back for INK. The reader response was overwhelming to the whole concept. I can't wait till November and do it all over again.

How did you get involved in the [StarText] SIG [Special Interest Group]? Why do you do it?

Now there is one StarText activity I can't blame on Jerry Holmes! Doug Gohrie of the North Texas PC Users Group invited StarText to his Communications SIG in honor of the [StarText] 10th Anniversary. Since it was announced on-line, and open to anyone, a large group of StarText subscribers attended. Doug was amazed at the turnout and since he was the President-elect of NTPCUG he informed the group that we could create our own StarText SIG. All we needed was two members to volunteer to lead it.

Bev Kurtin and I had our hands raised before anyone could blink an eye! A monthly StarText users meeting, you bet! Bev and I co-led the SIG for quite awhile and when she had to cut back on some of her activities, I assumed the SIG leader position. I wasn't alone for long. Bill Jones quickly volunteered to help me any way he could and has done a fantastic job writing the STARSIG keyword and keeping the NTPCUG Newsletter and BBS updated on SIG happenings.

Why do I do it? Again, because it is fun. It is a challenge to coordinate a monthly meeting that is fun, provocative and informing. Without the great cooperation of the StarText Staff, I would be lost some months. Christy Jeter has been fantastic in supporting the SIG and Paul Harral never misses a meeting. There have been some meetings when I think the whole staff has been present except for who ever had weekend duty.

Staff and users contribute suggestions for future SIG meeting topics and the embarrassing thing is, a lot of the times they are on features of StarText I know nothing or very little about. Talk about getting an education quickly. You would be amazed how much I have learned about the system just so I could put on a plausible presentation of a particular area or feature. The exchange of information and ideas between Staff, columnists, and users is really what gives the SIG it's substance. Again it's the people. StarText without people is just words on a screen. That's something this system will never be.

Tell us about yourself: job, interests, kind of computer you use etc.

Well, first of all, I am Yankee by birth and Texan by choice. I moved here in 1980 and fell in love with Texas and Arlington. My family lives in Rochester, New York but my home is in Texas. I currently own my own computer consulting company, Polywebb Enterprise, and have an interest in and serve as General Manager of Secure Planning Corporation in Arlington. My wife Aliza works for Sky Chefs and my stepsons Ron and Neil are both in college. My own children, Jim and Terry, are married and settled in the Rochester, N. Y. area. Terry is expecting her first child this September, so I guess I am going to be a Grampa. I am sure it won't be long after that that Jim and his wife decide to do the same. Boy that makes me feel old!

My main hobby of course is computers. I get withdrawal symptoms if I am away from a keyboard too long. I am a member of the Computer Press Association and enjoy writing computer-related columns and articles. I play a lousy round of golf but I do it as a public service. Heck, I have found property on golf courses they didn't know they owned and we won't discuss the number of balls I have "float", tested for manufacturers. Unfortunately none have stayed above water for more than 10 seconds.

This last Memorial Day weekend I got to go sailing again. First time in 20 some years. Now that is a hobby I would like to be able to devote a lot more time to. But probably my most enjoyable leisure time is spent reading. I have always felt that a day that I don't learn something new is a day wasted in my life. Fortunately I was taught at an early age the magic of books and reading. I have an extensive collection of autographed books and my computer CD collection is comparable to any home library. My home computer system is a 486-50 that I constructed myself. It contains a 2 gigabyte hard drive and CD-ROM and full multimedia setup. I use a color printer, laser printer, color scanner, and even have a video capture card that allows me to watch TV while I work. And of course everything runs under Windows.

If you wave a magic wand, what changes would you make on Startext?

OK, you asked for it. The first thing I would do is give this magazine concept the burial it so longly has deserved. I would make the system feel like an AP newswire. News would come as fast as possible with no limit to the number of articles. Yesterday's news would be in the reference room, today's news would be flowing like a river. Along with this I would install a clipping retrieval service, where the system would capture any story or article containing user set keywords and store those articles in a personal area of the system for later retrieval.

The next thing I would do is tie the school subscriptions in with a responsible student interested in sports, especially on Friday night in the fall. High school football scores would be on-line minutes after the end of the game and well ahead of the 10 o'clock news on TV.

The next step would be to blur the distinction between StarText and the Star-Telegram. Columns would appear on both services whether they were StarText subscriber columns or Star-Telegram staff columnists. I would also encourage others to take up where the COMDEX series has left off in the field of interactive journalism. I dream of the day when we can have reporters at political conventions and other local and state activities, reporting on-line and fielding readers questions back to the delegates and participants. I would expand this interview area to include local, state and national elected and appointed officials answering user submitted questions.

I would open gateways on-line to other community service and information BBS such as the Fort Worth City BBS, the Arlington and Plano Police BBS, the Dallas real estate BBS, and the Texas State Department of Commerce BBS, to name just a few. A sort of local Internet or StarNet as I call it.

These are changes that could be implemented immediately or in the near future. As for the far flung changes, I would have StarText traveling over fiber optics lines of a local cable system connected to an RF Modem on my computer. The system would serve news and information with full stereo sound, pictures, and full motion video along with up to the second text. Through interactivity with the Internet, the system would not only have the latest local news for the Metroplex but the latest news for any place, in any part of the world. World wide e-mail would be second nature to everyone. Since the system would be using cable lines for distribution it would also be available to anyone with a TV set as a one way news service. And through it all StarText would still remain the people-oriented system that has made it so great all these years. The sense of belonging and the feeling of community are things that must never change but be nurtured and allowed to grow.

Post Script.

Shortly after this was done, Christy Jones hooked me up with Dave Lieber, the Star-Telegram’s most popular columnist. I started an archive of Dave’s columns on StarText, worked on his Yankee Cowboy site and developed Dave’s Video Column, the first regular scheduled video column by a newspaper columnist. Do you remember buffering, buffering, buffering … as Dave fondly calls it.

Of course the saying around the house became “another fine mess Lieber got me into” culminating in my joining the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and serving on the Board of Directors for 10 years. Eight of those years as the Web Master. I still retain both my Lifetime Member status and strong friendship with Dave.

Family wise, Aliza and I still live at the same address, she retired a few years ago from Sky Chef’s and I have worked the last 11 years as Senior System Specialist for Freeman, (country’s largest trade show contractor).

All the kids are married and I now have 4 grand children, two in upstate New York and two in Georgia. Aliza is of course hoping for more.

Hobbies haven’t changed except for the addition of gardening and landscaping. I still maintain Polywebb Enterprise on a small scale and occasionally do some beta testing of new software and hardware.

Indirectly through StarText (remember the contests and give aways?) I became a loyal TCU Football fan and attend every home game. I had to upgrade the cable package last year so I could get the away games, too.

I am also a huge NASCAR fan and have permanent seats at Texas Motor Speedway. Favorite drivers are Mark Martin and Matt Kennseth, while Aliza is partial to Kasey Kahne

After hearing from Gerry and seeing the StarText blog, my newest project will be sorting through my archive of StarText columns and memorabilia to supply to Gerry for the blog.

What a trip down memory lane as I discover columns and pages I created from Interactive activities, StarSig meetings etc. Do you remember the Tarantula Train Trip or the Ice Cream social at Thistle Hill? How about the Rangers Ballgame Outing or the Lego display at the Museum trip. Yep, I got pictures from them all.

Do you still have the infamous StarText 300 Baud modem that was given out to new subscribers, or the Christmas Tree Ornaments, or how about the StarText coffee cup or T-Shirt. Got all of them, too. I will be sending Gerry pictures in the near future to add to the blog. And when the weather cools off a little, up in the attic I have a few copies of INK that I saved for my kids because I was mentioned in them.

[Yes indeed, Jim, I do remember the subscriber parties, the giveaways, the merchandise and those 300-baud modems which for the record were really 1200-baud. We do thank you for the memories and look forward to more, including the photos.]