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Using a telecomm service as a disk drive

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

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Using a telecomm service as a disk drive

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1993, The Syracuse Newspapers

Did I ever tell you about the time I used GEnie as a disk drive? You heard it right. I turned the GEnie telecomm service into a personal hard-disk drive for an entire week a couple of years ago when I was traveling with my ancient laptop computer.

It all started when I arrived at my hotel in Chicago to cover the Summer Consumer Electronics Show. I had driven from New York with the trunk of my car filled with everything I needed—clothes, an extra pair of shoes, notebooks, my sturdy old Bondwell laptop, the kind with two floppy drives and a built-in modem.

I couldn't afford the model with a self-contained hard drive, but that was no problem. After all, I always carried a box full of support disks, containing my word-processing software, my telecomm programs, my notes on the electronics industry and my little database of phone numbers and industry personnel.

That is, I always HAD carried all these support disks. When I unpacked my luggage at the Congress Hotel, there was my laptop, ready for action—along with one floppy disk. All it had on it was MS-DOS and two utilities, a stand-alone Xmodem transfer program and a copy of ARC, the file-compression program. I had packed too quickly and had left all my vital support disks at home.

Getting blank floppies in downtown Chicago wasn't a problem. I found a store across the street that had just what I needed. But what about all the software I had been using? Most of it was custom-designed. I had spent weeks developing it a few years before, and had been so proud of it I had even uploaded it to GEnie.

To GEnie! Would my software still be there?

More to the point, if they were still there, could I find a way to get those files back from GEnie? I needed a way to download them. It was the classic chicken-and-egg dilemma: Without a telecommunications program, how could I get the telecomm software that I needed to send my twice-daily reports on the electronics show back to my newspaper office? I had a modem in my laptop, and I had DOS. And the Xmodem software I had copied months ago onto the DOS bootup disk was supposed to be used with a regular telecomm program. But I doodled around with it and saw that it hooked into the modem's serial port even if I ran it all by itself.

That was all I needed to know.

I got the Chicago-area telephone number for GEnie by calling GEnie's 800 number. By using DOS to redirect my keyboard commands to the modem, I dialed GEnie and navigated over to the PC software library. In a few seconds, a search for PROCOMM brought up a listing for the shareware version of that familiar telecomm software. I gave the command to GEnie to start a download and typed the command to run my Xmodem transfer software right from DOS.

In a couple of minutes, I was in telecomm heaven. I signed off GEnie and let ARC extract the Procomm files to a blank floppy. Then I ran Procomm and got back to GEnie, searching the file lists for the special Procomm scripts that I had shared with other GEnie users.

They were still there. And so was the little text editor that I had fallen in love with and uploaded to GEnie in '86 or '87. And so were the shareware spelling checker and the other little utilities I had found so useful.

GEnie even had the little database software I had uploaded. All that was missing was my own data $-$ but I had a solution to that, too. I called my office in New York and asked a co-worker to find my backup database floppy in my desk drawer. She called GEnie and attached the data to an electronic mail message, and 15 minutes later I had the data, too.

The week went by smoothly. I sent my reports back to my office by direct transfer into a computer there, but I also sent copies of everything by GEmail. And on my last day in Chicago, I compressed all my data and sent it via email attachment to my own GEnie mailbox, so I could get it back when I got back to the office.

Since that time, I've joked about the extra drive I installed on my laptop. It's got Drive A:, Drive B: and Drive G:. The first two hold 720 kilobytes each. The third holds the answer to a forgetful traveler's prayers.

1997 note: The rise of the Internet and its ever-useful e-mail has made remote emergency file storage a simple matter.

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