From doctors to pets,bills paid by phoneQuestion: What do...


October 26, 1992|By Leslie Cauley

From doctors to pets,bills paid by phone

Question: What do Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. and Bob's Lawn Service have in common?

Answer: Both are listed as "payees" by customers of Maryland National Bank's home banking service, ScreenPhone.

The service, which allows customers to pay their bills by phone, debuted in June. Bank officials had expected customers to use ScreenPhone to pay five or six bills a month, tops -- the mortgage, utilities and maybe a credit card company or two.

But nobody ever expected customers to use the ScreenPhone to pay for lawn care, pet services or doctor's bills.

Which is exactly what people are doing.

According to an MNC spokesman, ScreenPhone customers use the device to pay for an average of 12 to 13 bills a month. Some go higher, much higher. One customer uses it to pay for 40 bills a month.

MNC won't say how many people have signed up for the service since it was introduced in June. Bank insiders peg the number at about 3,000.

But the company will say that the number of transactions are "far in excess of anything we expected in start-up." The best guesstimate has those transactions numbering in the "tens of thousands" each month.

The service, which offers unlimited home-banking, costs a flat $6.95 a month. To use the service, customers must purchase a ScreenPhone, which costs $69.95. The phone, which looks much like a regular phone except it has a small, built-in screen, is available through any MNC branch. When the phone isn't being used to pay bills, it works just like any other phone.

Superconductivity puts UM in forefront

Maryland may be known for steamed crabs, but it also ranks tops in SQUIDs.

No, not the sea creatures, but Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices (SQUIDs), which is scientist-talk for superconducting wire -- filaments a tenth the size of the human hair -- that is supersensitive to magnetic fields.

SQUIDs are still in the research stage, but the University of Maryland is leading the pack, according to Richard L. Greene, professor of physics and director of the Center for Superconductivity Research at the University of Maryland. The school, which recently gave its superconductivity center a $4 million face-lift, has one of the world's foremost SQUID experts on hand, Fred Wellstood. UM is one of only a handful in the nation that has such a center.

Mr. Wellstood has developed a "scanning SQUID microscope" that can be used to detect magnetic fields. A patent is pending on the microscope, which looks nothing like the traditional microscope that most non-scientists remember from high school days.

What it does look like is a metal cylinder hooked to a computer. The cylinder is jammed with superconducting filaments that, when passed over an object, zero in on magnetic fields with the accuracy of a heat-seeking missile.

In a recent demonstration, the microscope was passed over a $1 bill. Why? The ink in George Washington's face contains magnetic particles. The question was, could the microscope find them?

And how.

According to Mr. Greene, the microscope neatly transmitted the image of George Washington, which was spit out on a printer for all to see.

According to Mr. Greene, doctors could use use SQUIDs to perform critical diagnostic work that is both accurate and non-intrusive. When passed over the skull, for example, SQUIDs could find magnetic fields that are created by neurons firing in the brain.

"You could compare a normal brain with [one] that had some problem. This would be one way of 'seeing' where the problem was," Mr. Greene said.

The military is also interested in using the technology to detect deviations in the earth's magnetic field. Armed with a SQUID, reconnaissance pilots could track the movement of enemy submarines. Subs apparently disrupt the earth's electronic karma, making them easy prey for SQUIDs.

That same supersensitive nature could also be put to work testing commercial materials.

Ex-Soviet republics to get phone codes

The countries that used to make up the Soviet Union are poised to undergo yet another upheaval. This time, the target isn't the political system but the telephone system. It seems several of the new republics not only want new names, they want new country codes.

Five republics -- Azerbaijan, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Moldova -- currently share the same country code -- 7. That will soon change, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Geneva-based arm of the United Nations that handles telecommunications.

Under the new numbering system adopted by ITU, the following codes will apply: Azerbaijan (994), Estonia (372), Latvia (371), Lithuania (370) and Moldova (373). The remaining 10 republics, including Russian Federation, will continue to use the old country code.

No word on when the new codes go into effect.

Pagers help parents keep tabs on offspring

Something like this could definitely cramp a kid's style.

The Paging Services Council suggests that parents give pagers to their children so that they can easily -- and immediately -- be reminded when they need to call or come home.

Jeanie Ryan, a council spokeswoman, says pagers for pint-sized customers are a fairly new phenomenon, but one the council expects to become more common.

According to the council, the industry has responded to its young customers by offering pagers in bubble-gum pink and electric green.

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