In a time long ago, before there was a World Wide Web, even before there were Personal Computers, "PAL" was the computer for Everyman. It was completely free to everyone, with unlimited round-the-clock access, simple to use, required no special hardware to buy, and the user's anonymity was assured. Here is the story of a wonderful adventure in innovation, during which MM learrns many expensive (but valuable) lessons in business.

PAL -- The Amazing Consumer's Computer

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, Begin it.
For Boldness has Genius, Power and Magic in it."

Last summer while most San Diego residents languished on local beaches or indulged in recreational pastimes, Michael McCafferty confined himself to a condominium overlooking Swamis Beach in Encinitas and invented a computer that promises to revolutionize the efficiency of shopping by phone for merchandise and services.

McCafferty, a former computer whiz-kid who quotes Goethe, previously owned a successful East Coast computer firm. He was lured into his latest project, the Consumers' Computer, by a millionaire friend who also is in the computer business who promised to back McCafferty if he invented something unique.

Although semi-retirement agreed with McCafferty, who spent his days tossing a Frisbee or zipping around in his Ferrari, he seized the challenge and after a few months of concentrated thought and application, devised an amazing computer system.

McCafferty, who researched the computer's hardware and software extensively and is confident he's got a "trade secret", hasn't found evidence of a similar computer system anywhere else in the United States. Although San Diego's Consumers' Computer Corp. is still in its infancy, McCafferty has already received inquires from across the country about franchises.

The computer, Products and Area Locator, called "PAL" for short, is activated by the buttons on a pushbutton telephone. A free guide lists code numbers for products as varied as appliances, home furnishings, boats, cars, and stereos to services like medical, legal, and real estate expertise. When the proper code is entered the computer responds with the phone numbers of businesses located near your home.

PAL is designed to save time, effort and money by reducing unnecessary shopping trips. Businesses that want to be listed with PAL pay 93 cents a day for the privilege, which McCafferty calls "quiet and on-demand advertising."

An estimated 200 callers daily ask PAL for information but the potential is much greater since the computer has the ability for split-second data retrieval.

McCafferty, obviously thrilled with PAL's prowess, aimed to invent a computer "that is interactive with as many people as possible. With electronics and touch-tone telephones, everyone can be in touch instantaneously."

It's estimated that more than 300,000 households and businesses have touch-tone phones in San Diego County and McCafferty says that at least 50 per cent of the new phone hookups are for touch-tone.

"We're just starting to understand the full potential of the computer," acknowledges McCafferty, "Older people are less likely to pick it up than young people."

PALs powers are about to be tapped by another consumer oriented service -- the Public Broadcasting System, known as KPBS in San Diego.

Recently McCafferty was contacted by KPBS's parent company, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington D.C., and told, "you've got just what we're looking for." The alternative, public television station has no accurate way to judge programming effectiveness since the Nielsen ratings are geared primarily for commercial shows.

Starting in May, as soon as a KPBS show is over, a viewer with a push button phone will be able to rate the show by entering a code in PAL to represent a value judgement statement -- opinions that PBS seeks in order to upgrade its programming.

In the latest Consumers' Computer guide, several services to begin this year are capsulized, including the time and date service and the instant calculator which are already available just by entering the appropriate code. A carpool matchmaker, metric conversion aid, garage sale locator, public opinion surveys, and a meet-a-new-friend service are all on the drawing boards slated for implementation by the end of the year.

Consumers' Computer offers a $100 reward for "something you feel PAL should be able to do as a free public service. You could do yourself (and thousands, perhaps millions of others) a favor by describing your idea."

To submit a unique or creative suggestion, or for a free guide detailing the codes for PAL, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to 3545 Fifth Ave., San Diego, CA 92103. If you can't wait until you receive the guide or have specific questions, call for consumer information at 298-0861.

Story by Janet Holman, Del Mar News, May 15, 1980. This is just one of dozens of stories that appeared about PAL, the Consumers' Computer, between November 7, 1979 and January 1983. Most stories appeared in the San Diego area. Some stories went out over the UPI wire service and appeared throughout the US.

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