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The 1,450 data bases that now exist in the U.S. range from general information services like the Source, a Reader's Digest subsidiary in McLean, Va., which can provide stock prices, airline schedules or movie reviews, to more specialized services like the American Medical Association's AMA/NET, to real esoterica like the Hughes Rotary Rig Report. Fees vary from $300 an hour to less than $10.
Just as the term personal computer can apply to both a home machine and an office machine (and indeed blurs the distinction between the two places) many of the first enthusiastic users of these devices have been people who do much of their work at home: doctors, lawyers, small businessmen, writers, engineers. Such people also have special needs for the networks of specialized data.
Orthopedic Surgeon Jon Love, of Madisonville, Ky., connects the Apple in his home to both the AMA/NET, which offers, among other things, information on 1,500 different drugs, and Medline, a compendium of all medical articles published in the U.S. "One day I accessed the computer three times in twelve minutes," he says. "I needed information on arthritis and cancer in the leg. It saved me an hour and a half of reading time. I want it to pay me back every time I sit down at it."
Charles Manly III practices law in Grinnell, Iowa (pop. 8,700), a town without a law library, so he pays $425 a month to connect his CPT word processor to Westlaw, a legal data base in St. Paul. Just now he needs precedents in an auto insurance case. He dials the Westlaw telephone number, identifies himself by code, then types: "Courts (Iowa) underinsurance." The computer promptly tells him there is only one such Iowa case, and it is 14 years old. Manly asks for a check on other Midwestern states, and it gives him a long list of precedents in Michigan and Minnesota. "I'm not a chiphead," he says, "but if you don't keep up with the new developments, even in a rural general practice, you're not going to have the competitive edge."
The personal computer and its networks are even changing that oldest of all home businesses, the family farm. Though only about 3% of commercial farmers and ranchers now have computers, that number is expected to rise to nearly 20% within the next five years. One who has grasped the true faith is Bob Johnson, who helps run his family's 2,800-acre pig farm near De Kalb, 111. Outside, the winter's first snowflakes have dusted the low-slung roofs of the six red-and-white barns and the brown fields specked with corn stubble. Inside the two-room office building, Johnson slips a disc into his computer and types "D" (for dial) and a telephone number. He is immediately connected to the Illinois farm bureau's newly computerized AgriVisor service. It not only gives him weather conditions to the west and the latest hog prices on the Chicago commodities exchange, but also offers advice. Should farmers continue to postpone the sale of their newly harvested corn? "Remember," the computer counsels, "that holding on for a dime or a nickel may not