COLLEGE FOOTBALL season is well under way, which means it is time for thousands of students to write home for money.
So let's raise a glass to the personal computer, a tool that can make the "PS: send more $$$ ASAP" process much easier, more efficient and perhaps even more lucrative.
First, scrounge up $39.95 for a copy of Handwritten Fonts, a CD-ROM disk that works with either the Apple Macintosh or Microsoft Windows. Handwritten Fonts is a collection of some 300 computer type fonts that resemble human handwriting. As it says on the box: "For a personal message, only a handwritten font will do. Get all the convenience of technology without the impersonal look of 'typewritten' words."
In other words, you can type a letter and print it on a laser printer, or any printer that can handle True Type fonts and with luck your parents may think you actually sat down and wrote them by hand. And my! How your handwriting has improved!
T-Maker gathered handwriting samples from scores of people around the country, analyzed the samples and created True Type computer fonts from them. With 300 samples from which to choose, you can almost certainly find a font that resembles a neater version of your own printing style. As fate would have it, my own handwriting (on a good day) is similar to one called "Peter."
But what if your handwriting is very distinctive, with hearts over the i's instead of boring dots, and you use lots of smiley faces and --es?
No problem! A custom font form is included in the Handwritten Fonts package. For an extra $44.95 plus $7 for shipping and "special handling," a company called Signature Software will create a computer font from your own printing sample.
The form includes space for the writer to print the alphabet, in both capital and lower-case characters, and all the numbers, plus a signature and even a smiley face or two.
In a week or two, "My Font" arrives in the mail.
The real payoff is after the holidays, when a single boilerplate "thank you" letter can be used over and over again, with only slight modifications. "Dear (relative), thank you SO MUCH for the (money, new underwear, advice) and, although I'm studying round the clock at the microbrewology lab, I wanted to take time to. . . ." You get the idea.
Of course, such chicanery is unnecessary if Mom and Dad are wired enough to have their own electronic mail accounts. In that case, a smart student can skip the paper and simply mainline the requests for money via modem.
Claris Emailer 1.0 can help. The $89 electronic mail utility for Macintosh computers helps manage multiple electronic mail accounts. It works with modem-based systems, specifically America Online, eWorld, CompuServe and the Internet, plus Radio Mail. It does not work as well with local area network (LAN) systems, the kind used in many businesses and some college campuses. But then, this is version 1.0, and such possibilities may be added in later versions.
For modem-based systems, though, Claris Emailer is one of the best mail managers yet. It can be instructed to log on to the various services automatically, assuming one has an account with those services, to retrieve and deliver mail.
With a little tinkering, Emailer can be set up to bombard Mom and Dad with "send money now" E-mail messages automatically. Unfortunately, the program cannot handle Handwritten Fonts. Otherwise, one could get nearly handwritten letters on the computer screen.
With all this automation, it is easy to envision relaxing in the chemistry lab with a beaker of ethanol, handling E-mail and other correspondence with a portable Powerbook.
But life is never without snags. Apple Computer Inc. has temporarily halted shipments of its new Powerbook 5300 models after a couple of them caught fire as their batteries were being charged.
According to Apple, a few bad lithium ion batteries from a supplier spoiled the first bunch of 5300s. The other new Powerbooks, including the 190 and the 2300, are not affected because they use a different battery. The battery problem is easily fixed, but it certainly will not help Apple's reputation.
Speaking of stupid Mac tricks, Bob LeVitus has assembled some great ones in "New and Improved Stupid Mac Tricks" ($19.95, Academic Press). While many of the 17 programs are amusing if loaded into your own Macintosh -- like the one that appears to splatter blood over the screen, or the one that automatically generates phony Shakespearean sonnets that make no sense -- they are much funnier when placed on a roommate's computer.
More information about Handwritten Fonts is available from the T/Maker Co. of Mountain View, Calif.; telephone (800) 986-2537.
Information about Claris Emailer 1.0 is available from the Claris Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., at (800) 544-8554.