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July 20, 1997

A better way to
get flight information

By Timothy C. Barmann

Imagine your mother-in-law is flying into T.F. Green Airport this afternoon. You want to check to see if her flight is on time, but when you call the airline, you get put on hold for so long that you might be late to pick her up.

Now there's a better way.

Just take a look at Green Airport's new Web site -- http://www.pvd-ri.com -- which went online last month. The site has continually updated charts of all arriving and departing flights at Green.

The computer that stores the airport's Web site is located at the airport and is linked to the airport's flight information computer, said Jim Geer, manager of information systems for the Rhode Island Airport Corp.

The Web page data is updated every 10 minutes, he said, so Internet users can see the same information that is displayed on the banks of television screens inside the airport.

Geer said he thinks Green Airport is the first in the nation to put live arrival and departure information on the Web.

"There are a few in Europe," he said. "I'm not aware of any others in the states."

The Web site lists flight status information by airline. It also gives the gate number and, in some cases, the baggage claim area assigned to incoming flights.

The site itself is simple and well-designed. Users click on one of three hanging television sets, like those found in airports, to enter the main sections.

In addition to the flight data, there are other useful resources. Those traveling into the state will appreciate contact information and links to many national car rental agencies, phone numbers for taxi and shuttle service and links to state tourism Web sites.

There's also phone numbers for the airport itself, parking rates and links to the airlines that serve Green.

The only major downside of the site I could find is its speed -- it takes a while to download each page. The reason is that the airport's current Internet connection is only 56,000 bits-per-second. In English, that means that if more than two people with standard modems try to access the site at any one time, there will be some slowdown in performance.

Geer said the airport will monitor how busy the site is. If it gets enough traffic, the airport may upgrade its Internet connection.

One addition that is planned is a live audio feed of airport radio transmissions, said Andy Green, whose company, InteleCom Data Systems, of East Greenwich, helped build the site.

Tune in to the Web

Speaking of live audio feeds, for the past several months visitors to the Log On America Web site have been able to hear Providence police radio scanner transmissions.

The company has a scanner tuned to about 10 of the Police Department's radio frequencies, said David R. Paolo, president of the Providence-based Internet access company. That scanner is plugged into a computer that broadcasts the signals over the Internet.

To hear the audio feed, download the "RealPlayer" software, which is free, from the Progressive Network's Web site at http://www.realaudio.com. (You'll need a sound card and at least a 14.4 Kbps modem; the sound is clearer with a 28.8 Kbps modem.)

Paolo said his company wanted to start up its own Internet "radio" show, with talk show host Billy Goodman. In preparation, he said they added the scanner broadcast to test the software that sends the audio signals over the Internet.

But Paolo said that they found so many people listening to the scanner, they decided to leave it on all the time.

You can find the radio transmission by going to Log On America's home page -- http://www.loa.com -- and clicking on LOA RealAudio.

IDS is also broadcasting scanner traffic -- of the Providence Fire Department. The company hasn't built a Web page for the service yet, but you can hear it by going to http://indy.ids.net/fire.html.

Rebroadcasting police and fire scanner traffic is becoming popular elsewhere as well. One site, PoliceScanner.com (http://www.policescanner.com) lets you listen to police scanners in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. You can also hear the Dallas Fire Department.

Also on that site is a 13-minute recording of the "not guilty" verdict in O.J. Simpson's criminal trial.

That site says it will soon add an interactive Internet-based radio talk show for scanner enthusiasts.

Ear vs. Teeth

Those wacky folks over at Rhode Island Soft Systems of Woonsocket have done it again. They've just released another free screen saver, this one called "Holyear vs. Teethson," based on the famous fight where Mike Tyson bit off part of Evander Holyfield's ear.

The screen saver is an animation that depicts a large human ear and a chattering set of teeth boxing it out in the ring. I don't have to tell you how that one ends. The company's last big hit was "Hey Macaroni!" a screen saver that was a spoof on the Macarena dance.

Download both screen savers at RISS's site -- http://www.risoftsystems.com.

Computer calendar

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.