Written by David Tebbutt, Personal Computer World 06/81 - scanned
This year's West Coast Computer Faire, held in San Francisco, was a roaring success with 450 stands, 160 conference speakers and almost 32,000 visitors. Last year was considered successful with just 20,000 attendees. Jim Warren, the man responsible for the show, and his staff must be congratulated for this remarkable achievement. David Tebbutt reports from the Faire.
Last year about 20,000 people turned up for the Faire so Jim Warren decided that 30,000 tickets should more than cover this year's requirements. Can you imagine the scene on Sunday morning when he realised that a few thousand more tickets would be needed? Faire staff were going absolutely bananas with their John Bull ticket printing outfits, just trying to keep pace with the demand.
Sunday just wasn't Jim's day. Every year he organises an exhibitors' breakfast in one of the local hotels. It is an opportunity for the exhibitors to get together for a cosy chat. Last year was bad enough when around 130 people turned up. This year a ballroom was needed to accommodate the 515 who arrived!!!
The show was not without its fair share of odd sights. The first to catch my eye was the Dynavit exerciser bike which enables you to watch yourself having a heart attack on a display panel of LEDs. It's made by Nordic Fitness Products, 4170 Gross Road, Capitola CA95010. Sinclair treated us to a flying duck-like display of ZX80s. Come to think of it, ZX80s are probably lighter than the flying ducks on grandma's wall. Then there was the dragon playing music on the Alpha Syntauri stand and the Adventure Island set up by Adventure International. IBM looked out of place with its very low-key 5120 display, and Don Lancaster looked distinctly unhappy sitting beneath a sign inviting all and sundry to `meet Don Lancaster' - which no one was. Finally, on the memorable sights front, there was Britain's very own Chris Cary, who'd somehow managed to recreate Comp Shop's tatty decor on his MicroAce stand.
Lots of software products were on display but, short of employing an army and giving each member two or three packages to hit, there is no way that we can be even remotely comprehensive. Accordingly, I'll mention a few which caught my attention.
Now it is a little-known fact (unknown even) that I have been spending my spare time writing a program which simulates the operation of the human brain. That is to say, it mimics the knowledge networks with the indisputable advantages of total recall and swift association of related ideas. Imagine my joy when I learnt that someone else has already trodden the same path and come up with a product which does just this and much more. The disk-based product is called Grow and it can be run on the North Star Horizon and the Apple and it is primarily aimed at the CAI markets. To quote from the blurb, `Grow is an extensible system for authoring creative CAI programs, adventure games, and dynamic knowledge networks. In Grow, knowledge is represented textually by nodes which may be edited and executed like programs.' Anyone familiar with Tony Buzan's work will instantly recognise the potential for this system. Mike Gurr is the UK dealer for this product and he can be found at 140 High Street, Tenterden, Kent TN30 6HT, tel (05806) 4278.
Another little-known fact is that I somehow allowed myself to be persuaded to give a talk at the Faire. The subject was The Last One and I'm pleased to report that the talk went well and that I'd wisely dragged David James across the Atlantic to answer the questions. Without him that part may not have gone so well. A lot of interest was generated in his system, so much that he had to spend almost 35 hours demonstrating it between Friday lunchtime and Sunday night. That'll teach him to get on the cover of PCW. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, read the February issue.)
A neat range of packages is offered by the Micro Applications Group. Under the generic terms Prism and Magsam, the company offers some interesting application development software. Database management and list management facilities are at the heart of these systems, and together they can satisfy a very high proportion of a user's data processing needs. I set up a database of estate agent's information and was then able to access this information by any field and to produce a variety of reports from the derived information. I liked it. It seems like a good way for an inexperienced user to get off the ground. Further information is available from 7300 Caldus Avenue, Van Nuys, CA. 91406, tel (213) 8818076.
Friends Software is a bunch of ex-IBM people who have created a very good file management system which includes a report writer and file re-organisation facility. Access 180 is a micro version of a system which has started its life on IBM and Univac mainframess back in 1963. It runs under CP/M and requires at least 56k memory. It looks good. Contact Friends Software at Tioga Building, Suite 440, 2020 Milvia Street, PO Box 527, Berkeley, CA 94701, tel (415) 540 7282.
BOOKS AND MAGAZINES
The first news is that PCW had a stand at the show and did a roaring trade under the eagle eye of Angelo Zgorelec (PCW's founder), aided and abetted by Ted and Timbo. Ted will soon become famous for his cartoons in PCW and Tim is one of the mainstays of the PCW show. We attracted the punters with uncharacteristically modest signs which proclaimed `PCW brings computing to California'!!!
Dilithium Press had its usual excellent selection of books (Brainfood). My favourite title this year is Nailing Jelly to a Tree. The book is about implementing software on a micro and the title is derived from the fact that at times it is such a nebulous business that it can be like Nailing . .
InfoWorld can be expected to join forces with Japan's ASCII magazine. This could make Pat McGovern's publications a real force to be reckoned with - in the UK he already owns ComputerWorld UK.
Hayden has been publishing micro books for some while now. Recently it started pushing out microcomputer software - Sargon for the Apple among other things. Now it has bought ailing magazine Personal Computing, which can only be good for the magazine.
Another phenomenon which the US marketplace can support is that of specialist magazines. There are already a number of publications available for the Apple and the 6502 has its specialist magazine Compute. Now the same publisher, Robert Lock, is publishing a VIC magazine. It's called Home and Educational Computing and details may be obtained from PO Box 5406, Greensboro, NC 27403, USA.
For TMS9900 fans, a 99'er magazine is also being published six times a year, starting in mid April. Subscriptions cost $25 or $40 depending on whether you want surface or air mail. Contact Emerald Valley Publishing Company, PO Box 5537 Eugene, Oregon 97405, USA, tel (503) 485 8796.
Everyone knows that Apple is one of the world's most popular machines, and it is with this in mind that a number of manufacturers are coming out with Apple compatible products. Three products which are worthy of mention are a music synthesiser, an inkjet colour printer, and a video disk system controlled by the Apple.
Passport Designs have created a nice Apple music synthesiser called the Soundchaser. A supplied edit system allows you to define four contours - two envelopes and two low-frequency oscillators. Alternatively, you can choose from a standard series of pre-defined contours. Along with the Alpha Syntauri we have arranged to review this instrument shortly. Further information can be obtained from Passport Designs Box 478, La Honda, CA 94020, tel (415) 747 0614 - ask for David Kusek.
The three-colour ink jet printer is available from the Omnico Computer Corporation. Any colour graphics which may be displayed on the screen may be printed with this interesting device. Maximum print size is 13in wide by unlimited length, and DOS 3.3 compatible software allows screen dumps, normal and expanded line printing, overlaying, etc. Further details may be obtained from 3300 Buckeye Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30341, USA, tel (404) 455 8460.
The Videodisk hooked up to the Apple is called the DiscoVision. Each plastic disk holds almost 30 billion bits of information held on up to 54,000 tracks. Each track represents one picture frame with two-channel sound and computer control information included. The disks revolve at 1800rpm and tracks can be pulled off in sequence or according to programmed requirements. Educators should be looking very seriously at this sort of thing. DiscoVision may be contacted at 3300 Hyland Avenue, PO Box 6600, Costa Mesa, CA 92626, tel (714) 957 3000.
The Source is going strong since its takeover by Reader's Digest. One of the French terminals was lurking around on the stand so the rumours of massive deals must be true, though quite how massive the deals are no one would say. One of the brochures had `May The Source be with you' plastered across it. Groan!!
A neat little terminal is available from Cybertek. It can send or receive data either via its inbuilt modem or via an acoustic coupler. Without the acoustic coupler, the terminal is actually pocket-sized. The ideal use would be for the person who needs access to plenty of information but who finds it impossible to carry it all around. Or perhaps the information changes so quickly that it is out of date almost as soon as he leaves the door with the latest listing. If the data is back home on a computer, then Cybertek's Pocket Terminal allows him to dial up the mother machine and make appropriate enquiries and updates. Transmission speed is selectable up to 300 baud. For further information write to PO Box 7500, Menlo Park, CA
94025, tel (408) 263 4379.
Anchor Pad is a neat little device for those of you who are worried about burglars pinching your pride and joy. (Your computer, that is.) It saves all that messing around with superglue, too. Anchor Pad comprises a number of very sticky pads which you fix to your desk, worktop or whatever and onto which you mount a base plate. You then bolt another plate to the underside of your computer. Lugs on this interleave with lugs on the bottom plate. Having interleaved, you then slide strong steel rods through the entire assembly and, finally, secure the rods from access by fixing locks on their ends. Rivets through the sticky pads ensure that they cannot be separated from the work surface by a thin wire. For further information, contact: Anchor Pad International Inc, 9046 Lindblade Street, Culver City, CA 90230, tel (213) 559 7111.
The Dynatyper allows you to convert any electric typewriter into a printer for your micro. It is capable of thrashing your typewriter far faster than it was ever designed to be thrashed - 50 cps, in fact. You'll be pleased to hear that the accompanying software allows you to slow things down a little so that your machine doesn't fall to bits. Dynatyper doesn't affect the normal functioning of your typewriter and it is available for the Apple, the TRS-80, the GPIB and RS232 interfaces. It costs a shade under $500 and for further information contact Rochester Data Inc, 3000 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY 14623 tel (716) 244 7804.
The Japanese computer club was once again in evidence, showing off some very nice machines. The most impressive is already available in the USA - it is called the BMC if 800. It features an eight colour smooth scrolling screen with a choice of character modes - either 40 or 80 columns and 20 or 25 rows. Five-inch dual-sided double density disks and a built-in printer complete the package. Light pen and ROMpack options are also available. Fantastic! I suspect that this is, in fact, an Oki computer. Addresses for further information are BMC Elektronik, Capim Center, RoBmarkt 15,6000 Frankfurt/ Main and BMC
International Tanimachi 5-27, Higashi-ku, Osaka, Japan. The other new machine on this stand was the Hitachi MB 6890 but unfortunately its own colour display was so overshadowed by the BMC machine that the latter stole all my attention.
One of the nicest looking new machines on display was from Archives Incorporated. It is a 64k, S100, Z80, CP/M machine with twin Sin drives. A 5 Mbyte Winchester disk is an available option and 10 MByte (five fixed/five removable) is also available. The screen is 25 x 80 or 240 x 100 with features such as inverse, video blink, and underline in any of eight intensities. A function keypad, a numeric keypad and 23 user-definable keys complete this very nice machine. More information can be obtained from Archives Inc, 404 West 35th Street Davenport, IA 52806, tel (319) 386 7400.
Another interesting machine is the Expander. It is interesting because it was designed by Lee Felsenstein, the creator of the Sol. The system features the ubiquitous S100 bus, a Z80 processor, the ability to drive a 24 x 80 display, and low resolution colour graphics. Cassettes can be driven at 500 or 1500 baud and the slower speed makes this machine compatible with the TRS-80 format. The system will sell for less than $2000 and it's no good looking for disks because there aren't any - yet. For further information contact Micro-Expander at 6835 W Higgins Avenue, Chicago, IL 60656.
And now for the one you've been waiting for: Adam Osborne's modestly named Osborne 1. It, too, was designed by Lee Felsenstein and it's not at all a bad piece of kit with its twin Sin floppies, CP/M, 64k and built-in TV screen. Wordstar, Mailmerge, SuperCalc (a hotted-up VisiCalc), CBasic and MBasic are all supplied as part of the basic package. Adam is planning to launch this system on the UK market for less than £1000. Apart from the small screen, the package looks good very good. It is possible to plug in to an external monitor if you want to avoid eyestrain. Adam says that this machine is portable -- he's even put a carrying handle on the rear as if to emphasise the point. Alan Wood of Digitus tells me that the Osborne 1 is portable `but only if you enjoy getting a pain in your back!'. The machine will run for three to five hours from an optional battery pack.
I wasn't going to mention Commodore's VIC but I just have to say that the joystick controller being used was taken from an Atari!
You've heard of activity holidays for kids, haven't you? Inevitably there is now a computer camp for boys and girls aged ten to 18. It really looks like fun. Apart from computing, kids can learn to ride horses, go swimming or hiking and play tennis. As well as learning to program in Basic (or Fortran, Pascal, Cobol, etc.) and playing computer games, films are shown and guest lecturers give a wider view of computer applications and how they work. I quote Computer Camp's stated goals: `To have the participants experience joy and satisfaction in learning a skill that will be of tremendous value to them their entire lives; to teach the Basic programming language; to expand surroundings, both environmentally and socially; to create a supportive atmosphere to facilitate emotional growth.' Computer Camp is at lovely Zaca Lake, about 40 miles north of Santa Barbara in California. The fortnight costs $795 per head plus the cost of getting there. It looks like fun - is anyone in the UK doing the same sort of thing? If you are, write and let us know. Computer Camp's address is 1235 Coast Village Road Suite G, Santa Barbara California 93108, tel (805) 965 7777.
I intended to spend some time with a group called Women in Information Processing. This is an organisation dedicated to help women pursue careers in this industry by keeping them up-to-date with relevant news, establishing an effective network of contacts, both with women in the organisation and through seminars organised by local WIP forums (or should it be `fora'?). Anyone interested should write to Janice Millar, WIP, 1000 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 9, Washington, DC 20036. If you get anything going in the UK, perhaps you'd like to get in touch with PCW and we'll broadcast the fact.
Anyone involved with Computer-Town will know that it was launched in the UK as a result of my visit to the Faire last year. There I met one Bob Albrecht, who fired me up (is that why he's called `The Dragon'?) to the whole idea. This year, he's come up with an idea which might just work too. If we could get computers donated by interested parties, we could lend them to capable children on condition that, while they have the machine on loan, they must teach all the kids in the street. The scheme will be called ComputerKid and we're going to try it out using the kids we already know through ComputerTown. Dealers, importers and manufacturers: what machines will the kids be pestering their parents for this Christmas? - It's up to you.
Write to ComputerKid, 14 Rathbone Place, London W1P IDE. Would-be ComputerKids please don't write until we have something concrete to offer.
Finally, there was the White Elephant Award. Each year, Adam Osborne takes it upon himself to announce the most significant achievements in the microcomputer business during the previous year. This year he gave three honourable mentions and just one award. Adam has an undoubted talent for recognising a good product long before anyone else realises what's going on. In previous years he has picked a number of winners, including Visicalc and CP/M. This year, the single award went to Motorola for the 68000. To my great glee, he mentioned David James (who invented The Last One) as being one of the people who had `given us the most in the past year'. Why glee? Because PCW was first with that particular story.