Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 03/89 item 01 - scanned

Clients tied up in a comms nightmare

If you saw me right now, you wouldn't recognise me. This is because I am uncharacteristically hopping mad. I am in an utter fury, and fairly close to a nervous breakdown. And all thanks to the absurd demands of our telecommunications services.

Today was one of those days when I had a lot to do and not much time in which to do it. I had an hour to bolt together some research material before rushing off to a meeting in London ( I live in Middlesex). Some of the material was being sent to me by fellow PC Dealer journalist Guy Kewney.

Since both Guy and I regularly use Telecom Gold. it seemed only natural for him to send the material by this medium. What I didn't count on was Guy deciding to be helpful. He decided that I'd like the file in its original Wordstar format and, since Telecom Gold gets really messed up by such files, he converted it to hexadecimal characters before sending it.

When I went into Gold, Guy had thoughtfully left instructions for how to unravel the file. I followed his bidding and . . . nothing happened. I tried again, and again, and again.

I called Guy. 'Ah,' he said, you can't do file transfer unless you dial up Telecom Gold via the Packet Switch Stream (PSS).' He then gave me a couple of huge long numbers to key, in response to the NUJ? and ADD? prompts which appear after connection to PSS.

I dialled PSS, whacked <RETURN> a couple of times and no prompts appeared. I tried again and again and again. I tried a different PSS number and the same happened. Mystified, I phoned a pal in the comms business. 'Ah, yes,' he said, 'try typing D1 a couple of times. That should do the trick.' It did.

Then I typed the long numbers, my ID and my password. My password wasn't accepted. I tried again, and again, and again. I tried dialling PSS again, typing the Dls, entering my ID and password ... nothing. At this point, I called my London appointment to say I'd be half an hour late.

I called Guy. 'Ah,' he said, 'you haven't told it your system ID. It's assuming you're on system 81.' I keyed in the two long numbers, added my machine ID, entered my personal ID and password and, joy of joys, found myself back in Telecom Gold.

I went back into the file transfer procedure. Got it going and . . . nothing. Telecom Gold still refused to upload the file. I tried again and again and again. In the end, I called my London appointment and said I'd be an hour late. I then called Datasoft, the publisher of Datatalk - communications software.

Paul, the support person assigned to my call, checked everything; my modem type, my communications settings, the exact procedure I was following and declared everything spot on. I even tried it while he was on the other line checking my every move and still it didn't work. He then tried it by borrowing my ID and password and everything worked just fine. I finally dashed off to my appointment.

When I returned home, I read my Telecom Gold manual and read about the PSS log-on procedure. It even mentioned D1, but didn't tell me what it meant. It gave Telecom Gold's NUI and NUA numbers (the two I had to key in) and even told me about how to change the second number to access the Telecom Gold computer containing my mailbox.

Why didn't Telecom Gold's file transfer system tell me it only works via PSS connections? And even then it only seems to work when it feels like it. And why do these companies use such cryptic prompts? Since every Gold user uses the same sign-on, surely it would be easier to type something like 'GOLD'.

All companies in the telecommunications business have to recognise that their users are still human beings, not computers. By making communications so difficult, these companies frighten away thousands of potential customers.

This seems so obvious to me that I can't help wondering whether the policy is deliberate. Perhaps these telecommunications systems are reaching their operational limits and they're trying to stifle demand. rather like the Qwerty key layout was designed to stifle the enthusiasm of the early typists.