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User-Friendly Networking : Computer Clubs Offer Information, Support

August 02, 1990|LINDA MURPHY

As she spoke, Kelly Bahry rolled her eyes and took on that exasperated look teen-agers get when they think one of their parents is doing something particularly un-parentlike.

"The only time she's not on that thing is when she's working or sleeping," chided 16-year-old Kelly, sounding much like a parent herself. "She plays Shanghai by the hours. She used to play with about five other women, but now that's doubled. The telephone rings more for her than it does for me."

Jo Bahry, 53, can only laugh as her daughter tells of Mom's "disease." For Bahry is an Appleholic, dependent on the family's Apple IIGS personal computer. She uses it to play games, do word processing, keep track of her nursing work and put together graphics displays for her husband's collectibles business. And when she's not tinkering with her computer, Bahry is eager to read or talk about computing.

Peer pressure is partly to blame for Bahry's addiction. After buying her Apple three years ago, the Carlsbad resident began attending meetings of the North County Appleholics computer users group in Oceanside. By sharing their knowledge and experience with Bahry, club members soon had taught this computer neophyte all about bits and bytes, monitors and mice, disks and data bases.

Bahry is one of hundreds who belong to North County computer users groups. These clubs, also called special interest groups (SIGs), are made up of people who use the same computer or software programs, or have the same computing interests. They meet regularly to swap information, solve problems and provide motivational support for each other when their machines seem to be getting the best of them.

Most meetings are informal, and beginners are as prevalent as computer veterans. A typical meeting features a demonstration of a new software program or piece of equipment, either by a manufacturer's representative or a group member who is well-versed on the product. There is usually a question-and-answer session where, as one group member noted, "The only stupid questions are the ones you're afraid to ask." Afterward, attendees break up into small groups to discuss their specific interests.

Bahry, a certified nurse-midwife at UCSD Medical Center, uses her Apple to keep statistics on deliveries. She credits the Appleholics with helping her master her machine.

"I would make a list of all the questions I wanted to ask, bring the list to the meetings, and then ask away. Now I've gotten to the point where I can answer other people's questions. And I do a lot of networking outside the meetings," she said.

Although Bahry's husband, Ted, keeps a safe distance from the computer, daughter Kelly puts in some keyboard time when her mother is away, and has started accompanying her to Appleholics meetings.

"Mom was spending so much time at it that I wanted to see what the big deal was," she said.

There is a range of age groups represented in the user groups, but seniors account for a large portion of the membership.

"You'll see a lot of gray heads," said George King, president of the 60-member IBM group in Oceanside. "Seniors have the time to devote to the groups, and the older folks are very much into computers. But we also have a lot of young members, high school and college students.

"Our oldest member? I guess that would be me, at age 78."

King, a retired editor of a Boston computer trade magazine, became active in the IBM group five years ago.

"My No. 1 job is to bring somebody in each meeting to discuss a piece of hardware or software," he explained. "On top of that, we all bring our problems to the meetings, and we see if others can help us find the answers. We more or less teach each other."

One seniors group, the Computer Club at Leisure Village Ocean Hills in Oceanside, is composed of computerphiles age 55 and up. A recent count showed that 121 of the 1,300 Ocean Hills households had memberships in the club.

The group has made a computer room available to other clubs at Ocean Hills, and members are in the process of teaching other residents how to use the word processing software.

Burke Belknap, 66, who helped found the club in February, 1989, works part time as a marketing engineer and full time as a computer fanatic. At the July meeting he and guest lecturer Mel Koch, using a desktop publishing program, designed a logo for the club's newsletter.

Balknap proved to be a magician with the mouse, scurrying the input device over a rubber pad and deftly producing images on the monitor screen.

"I'm an addict," Belknap said. "I now have 100 to 150 programs, but if I live to be 120, I will probably have only half of the ones I want."

Belknap recalled a time when, as a member of an Orange County group, his computer's cursor refused to move. He phoned a fellow member at 10 p.m. and asked, "What the hell do I do now?"

"One of the biggest days of my life was when someone first called me and said, 'What the hell do I do now?' " Belknap said.

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