LOADSA MONEY

PAUL EVANS forgoes the SHADES article (yet again) to take a stroll round Telemap’s Hotel California

ANOTHER MONTH, another exam to worry about. That’s the way it’s going down here.

Group (Micronet’s parent company), have been very busy improving its service to the humble modem user in and out of Micronet. The results? Well...

Oh dear, oh dear! Have Telemap inherited Loadsa Money’s fortune? If they have then they’re certainly having a good go at losing it! I’m referring to their new database, Hotel California. It’s one of the first to start using the dreaded 0898 numbers. You’ve probably seen these numbers in the papers, or even The Sun! They connect you to normally taped messages from ‘Sexy Sarah and her Wild Ferrets’, badly recorded chart music or chatlines, including the now expired Talkabout. These numbers are leased by British Telecom and they pay the owner some of the money gained for each call. Of course, for both parties to make a decent profit, the calls are very expensive. They cost 38p a minute between 8am and 6pm during a weekday or 25p a minute any other time. It doesn’t need much mathematical knowledge to realise that you would need a very flexible bank account to cope with that! Talkabout was closed after reports came in of teenagers running up bills of £500 or more! However, despite all of this, Telemap have joined another company, Denise, in opening viewdata databases on the 0898 numbers. As I have no information on Denise, I’m taking a look at Hotel California.

Hotel California has been designed around (surprise. surprise) a hotel. The database has not been written with computer buffs in mind, but is meant to appeal to a wider audience of public. At the time of writing it hardly compares with Prestel or Micronet for size, but promises that it will expand. The hotel is divided into eight sections, plus a reception area that provides a guide to what is new and how to use the service. All areas are accessible via a hotel elevator. I’ll take a look at them all.

RENDEZVOUS: This area you could call a dating agency! It’s a database containing names of people who want to meet with others. You can add your own name to the list or look at the others available. At this time it’s quite small. I spotted one entry!

CASINO: Here’s an area for all you quiz-masters. In real terms it comes nowhere near a real casino: it’s just a collection of games that you can play for cash prizes or fun! Most of the games are quizzes and very hard ones too. The roulette is a weekly set of questions that had me stumped from the first one! However, the prizes are quite generous and this particular one was worth £25.

SHOPS: This section has two ‘shops': the newsagents and the Kays catalogue shop. The newsagents is a classified ads section where you can read adverts from other users for anything they want to buy, sell or say. If you want, you can add your own advert which will remain for three working days on the system.

Kays has a database containing the details of every product they sell. You can search for an article by stating what product, make and cash limit you have, or just browse and examine the special offers. You can order a catalogue or, if you spot something you like, exercise your plastic and buy it! Kays are offering the chance of winning a personal stereo with every first purchase. The flaw that occurs to me is that if you already have a catalogue, then you can phone Kays direct and save money on your bill.

CAFE SOCIETY: There’s not much to say about this. It’s just a normal Micronet-style chatline for people with nothing better to do. It’s similar to Quickchat but it also has a database of previous messages to took through. There’s no privacy so your messages are revealed to all watching. It’s a bit slow and boring — as is the case with most chatlines.

CONFERENCE SUITE: This is just a gateway to Teletalk. You can create your own persona but if you go and try using on your own account, it won’t work. See last month’s issue for a review of Teletalk, and an update later on.

NIGHT PORTER: I was expecting this section. It’s a database of horoscopes and a problem page. You can read the horoscopes or the various problems and if you have one, send your own! Can’t really decide why they called it the Night Porter though.

TRAVEL: This was the area that impressed me the most. It’s a massive collection of information on 157 countries and an amazing 35,000 hotels. The database gives information on what each hotel provides and flights to and from it. You can, for example, find out if there’s a Ludlow hotel with 35 room conference centre, luxury penthouse, 500 rooms all with colour TV and video and a large green monster in the basement (Lloyd?). It’s certainly a huge database that could be useful to non-prestel members needing to know about flights at the last minute.

THE CINEMA: If you’re looking for a bit of a giggle, then this is your department. It’s a weekly-updated story for you to read. At the moment it’s James Glond in ‘Go On, Say Never Again’. If you enjoy that sort of thing. you’re welcome to it!

That’s all the areas currently available on Hotel California. It’s quite small and reminds me of The Midnight Micronetter’s Club (* TMMCS) too much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same people wrote it.

Overall, I am very critical of Hotel California. A lot of people run better bulletin boards using normal phone lines. There is no way it could stand up to systems like The Gnome At Home. It could succeed if the price was slashed to a London number, but at 25p a minute, its very usage is a joke. When researching it, I had to run through it as quickly as possible as I did not want to be charged £1.00 for every four minutes. It could only prove useful for the travel section or maybe the quiz section. Using the chatline would prove to be far too expensive. This is highlighted in the case of using Teletalk. On Micronet, the average usage time for each caller Is around an hour. If you stayed around that long on Hotel California, it would cost you £15 at cheap rate! If you weigh up the pros and cons, you realise Telemap have got a real loser. Unless Loadsa Money stays on 24 hours a day!

TELETALK SURPRISE

Here’s an update on Teletalk, following the article last month. Then, I said that the expected price would be around 1.5p per minute for using the Teletalk gateway. I couldn’t be more wrong: when it opened, the price set was the surprisingly large sum of 3p per minute. That works out at £1.80 an hour! Micronet users reacted angrily to this, many deliberately avoiding the service in the hope that Micronet might lower the price. I phoned Micronet and revealed this to them. David Rosembaum, their PR man, said he had been unaware of this and would look into it. He explained that the gateway it uses is very expensive to operate and the lower priced Shades only just makes a profit. This is true, but if the price was lowered, a lot more people would use the system and the lost money would easily be recuperated!

Despite the problems just mentioned, Micronet’s Teletalk (* TELETALK$) has become a marvellous success for them. Many people have started using the system for private and open discussions ranging from how much alcohol they could consume to the ancient Greek language! The private rooms have been used quite a lot, as well as the bar for open talks. Some of the personas created are quite remarkable: Aardvark, Cocquette, Socrates, Squiggle and Hell are some of the regular users. The funniest names often provide the funniest chat on the system. One command I forgot to mention last month has been put to a lot of use. This is EMOTE. By using the EMOTE command you can apparently become more ‘real’ and create things that aren’t there. Here’s an example:

Typing, ‘EMOTE gets a drink from the bar’ would produce: Paul gets a drink from the bar

Using this has great possibilities. From ‘Paul beats up the nearest foghorn’ to ‘Paul plays Des O’Connor on the jukebox’. If any of you Teletalk users out there can think up a good EMOTE, then MBX me it.

Also, a range of commands have been discovered that perform actions similar to what EMOTE produces.

KISS (Name) produces (You) kisses (Name) slowly and sexily!

BOOGIE produce (You) boogies on down!

BOP produces something very long and complicated!

BLUSH produces (You) blushes

GRIN produces (You) grins infectiously!

LAUGH produces (You) roars with laughter

And my favourite of all:

POGO produces (You) pogos violently, doing the Siddance, yeah!

If you know any commands, MBX them to me!

Another hidden secret in Teletalk’s conference centre is the new annexe. Typing GOTO BAC takes you to Forum 2, an area designed for talks by users to an audience. It has many seats and a podium for speakers to stand. Also there are private party rooms, but I haven’t found them yet! If you have any further information, please MBX me!

Before I leave this sublect, a big Hi! to Jazmine, who claims to be a games reviewer for CRASH! After a little conversation, I still couldn’t get her full name!

AND FINALLY, THE HARDWARE MARKET!

IF ANY SPECTRUM owners who use different computers for communications are reading, Dataphone have launched their brand new modem.

Dataphone have long been famous for their brilliant Demon modem. Now they have launched the Designer Modem. It’s based on the Demon II but has full BABT approval. Among its many features it has an auto answer, auto dial, handles 1200/1200 half-duplex and 300/300, as well as viewdata, of course. If your software does not have auto dial built in, you can dial manually by pressing the override switch.

It fits to any computer with an RS232 or RS423 and has a 25-way D-style connector. It comes with a power supply, mains plug and a three metre telephone cable. There’s a power switch mounted on it (Which I always find useful) and six LEDs to show full status.

Dataphone say the modem will retail ‘For less than £100’ which, as we all know, means £99.95 or similar. It looks like a very good deal at the price, especially with the auto-dial facility. If you need an approved, low-cost modem, then this is the one to go for. For more details, contact Dataphone Ltd.