One of my favourite simulation programs of 1985 was Flight Path from Storm Software. It offered tremendous flexibility, contained excellent but optional tutorials on the effect of wind and speed on the flight of a plane, and involved youngsters in making accurate calculations, logical decisions and learning important mapping skills in a purposeful manner. If you haven't tried it yet, do!
I was, therefore, very interested to receive a copy of their latest simulation, Search And Rescue. In this program, children are given the responsibility for co-ordinating the actions of lifeboats or helicopters in an emergency off the coast of Dorset. The program is said to be suitable for 9-15 year olds and you can adjust the set of "Initial Conditions" to allow the same sort of flexibility for age/ability as offered in Flight Path. These options permit the sound to be turned on or off, but more importantly, allow the user to include/exclude the effect of tidal drift and winds on the incident and use the computer grid squares, OS co-ordinates or latitude and longitude to report the position of the incident. You need the appropriate OS maps if you intend using the last two options. If you wish to make any changes, you simply respond "Y" to the question "Do you wish to make a change?" and enter the number. I think I'd have been inclined to have added a further option - whether or not a general shipping forecast is required in addition to the local forecast. The majority of 9-10 year olds will find the former somewhat difficult to comprehend I suspect, although the telex-type display is a pleasing touch. I'd keep the sound on, and for the first run, at least keep to the easy options: computer grid without tidal drift and wind.
The screen display shows a grid-based map of the area indicating the position of the incident and gives details of the time, target, type of emergency, number of people involved and the survival aids available to them. You are asked to give the position of the incident, e.g. K8, and instruct the lifeboat or helicopter. This question can lead to some very interesting discussion - how serious is the emergency, will a lifeboat from Swanage, for example, reach the incident before a helicopter from Lee-on-Solent, what are the relative costs? Unfortunately, there isn't an option which allows the same incident to be repeated so that comparisons can be made, although this can be achieved if you make information sheets with details of all the information available and do the work away from the computer. Not a bad idea if you can rely on checking your own calculations!
Profiles of the selected mode of rescue follow: station, model, speed, fuel consumption, range and number of passengers, so the next decision is to select the most appropriate craft and the station which is best positioned to deal with the incident. After the rescue model has been selected, it must de directed to the position of the incident. This is achieved by stating the directions in terms of compass points and the distance the craft has to move. The course is plotted on the chart in a series of "legs" - up to five are permitted. At first I didn't like this idea, because I was comparing it with the excellent distance and bearings options on the Flight Path program. It didn't seem to be realistic - I understand that boat people have used bearings for many years. However, it wouldn't have been very sensible of Storm to produce another program which develops exactly the same skills and concepts and I've warmed to the idea of the "legs" - younger children can use the four point compass more ably than the right point compass. Again, this is where I'd have liked a repeat option - can you reach the incident using a more direct route?
When you've entered the information on your proposed route, you are asked to calculate the length of the return journey - adding a 20% margin of safety allowance for manoeuvering, transfer of casualties, etc - then the amount of fuel you'll require. The planned route is displayed on the Coastguard's map and you are given the option of accepting the route or making changes - sensible if you've gone off in the wrong direction or run out of fuel before reaching the incident. Accept the planned search and rescue and the lifeboat or helictoper shown against a scenic background of the coastal resorts in the Poole Bay area - another very nice touch! Perhaps if a version is ever produced to make use of the extra memory of the B+ or Master Series, we'll be able to see the crewman jumping from the helicopter and the rescued party being winched into the helicopter!
When I tried the latitude/longitude and the OS options, I expected to see a different screen display, i.e. map grid. However, the computer grid is still in position and you have to give the position by that method first, followed by the alternative method. Should you be out in your calculations you're asked if you're prepared to accept the figures. Confirmation allows the program to proceed on the basis of the grid points and the correct latitude/longitude or OS position is given at the end of the exercise.
The optional drift tutorial showing the effects of drift due to the wind and the tide is very well presented - perhaps I'd have done better in physics if I'd had this sort of program available! Using this and the appropriate option can open up some interesting problem-solving activities for the older pupils or the bright children who need a challenge. The disc is accompanied by a very useful handbook which contains all the information required to run the program in an easy-to-follow format, some helpful background information, a list of resources and addresses, a couple of copies of the coastguard's grid and an all-embracing topic web. It's altogether a very agreeable package which will enhance any topic on the sea.
The "Nottingham Collection" consists of a number of individual/suites of computer programs written by Nottinghamshire CC's Computer Education Support Service and marketed by Micro Express. The first of these, Robin Hood, was reviewed in the March 1986 issue of A&B Computing.