Report on the 1999 Chicago TI Faire
By Charles Good
This is the 17th year for the Chicago User Group's annual fair. This year the event was free. As in some past years, it was at the Evanston Illinois public library. This an excellent easy to find location with indoor (not free) parking. The Chicago Faire is by far the longest running TI99/4A fair and perhaps the last remaining such annual event in the United States. This particular event was unusually organized and unusually well attended. When I say well organized I mean that everything worked smoothly as planned. In particular, all the equipment worked, and there was some rather fancy equipment. Hal Shanafield told me that he handed out 50 name tags at the event. This means that attendance was probably UP from 1998 and 1997 levels. I met TIers I know who had not attended a faire in several years, including Don Jones who used to write a monthly column about the Geneve, and Andy Frueh (firstname.lastname@example.org). Andy had Windows CD's with the complete collection of Micropendium magazines as scanned images available for $2. He sold at least 10 of these. Fair attendees saw new hardware and new software and heard some great stories.
One of the more interesting stories was told by Hal during a break in Bud Mills' presentation. Hal said that recently a friend of his telephoned him on a Friday evening. This friend had recently lost his job at Scott Forsman's headquarters in a Chicago suburb. The company had been acquired by another company and was downsizing. On the day his friend had to clean out his desk the friend reported that a storage room was being emptied of old TI cartirdges and hardware. Scott Forsman had developed a bunch of TI software, some of which didn't sell well and some of which was never released.
Some of these programs were ported over to other systems like Apple II. Everything went into dumpsters. Then next day, Saturday, Hal zoomed over to SF headquarters and found the place more or less deserted except for a watchman. This guy said, "Yup, they threw away several dumpsters full of little rectangular beige plastic things (cartridges) as well as larger beige plastic boxes and silver and black boxes (TI consoles and probably pboxes) as well as lots of square flat black things (floppy disks)." The dumpsters were empty! The trash hauling company told Hal that everything had first been crushed and then dumped in a landfill, lost forever. In its School Management Applications catalog of 1981 the company offers school districts complete 99/4A software AND HARDWARE systems to manage school systems. Apparently they just recently threw all this stuff out.
Barry Harmsen from the TIGG group of the Netherlands talked about how Europeans use the 99/4A. Most there have Michael Becker SCSI cards in their systems with zip drives. John Johnson's Boot menu program works great with such a system. Art Green's TI Writer v5 and the Funnelweb editor both allow the use of path names. He have out copies of DM2K v1.5 which is the preferred 99/4A disk manager there. This software works well in all platforms (ramdisk, Myarc floppy controller, HFDC, floppy, and SCSI). One still needs David Neeter's SCSI manager to initialize the SCSI drive, which you have to do with each separate zip disk. Barry reports that USA made SCSI cards by Western Horizon Technologies need an upgrade board and eprom 6.0 to work well on a 99/4A. This upgrade is available from WHT. Although WHT SCSI boards that are not upgraded will work with a Geneve they will work better with a Geneve if they are upgraded, Barry said.
Gerd Weissmann then talked about the German pbox cards made by Michael Becker and demonstrated the speech card. Most cards were available for examination, but purchases need to be made either directly from the person who makes the cards, Michael Becker email@example.com, or perhaps from Dan Eicher EICHER@delphi.com in Indianapolis. Prices in DM are stable but dollar prices may change as exchange rates vary. Available cards for the /4A include 80 column cards with either the 9938 or 9958 video chip. Both need an RGB monitor like that used with the Geneve. The 9938 supports a mouse and 256 colors. The 9958 has no mouse support but has thousands of colors. No price for the 80 column cards was available. The HSGPL card with 16 pages of grom is $165. This completely replaces the /4A console and lets you use a modern keyboard. The grom pages can be loaded with cartridge software. A 16 bit ramdisk card with 3mb of memory costs $160. A speech card costs $160. This has a greatly expanded 400+ word XB vocabulary and gives you either a male or female voice as well as the standard TI "computer" voice. It is 100% compatible with cartridges that include speech.
Mike Wright firstname.lastname@example.org told the audience about his recent trip to visit TIers in Europe. Mike also demonstrated PC99. This was projected onto a large screen in front of the audience using the library's computer projector and the library's portable Pentium PC with monitor. This projection system was spectacular. While in Europe Mike said that he saw a WORKING TI Video Controller card actually controlling a modern vcr from the TI's keyboard. This is probably the card that I gave to Gerd Weissmann several years ago. He gave it to Michael Backer, who figured out how to make the card send instructions to the infrared input of the vcr. The TI was functioning as an automatic remote control, alternately combining computer output and video tape images on a TV screen under the control of an XB program.
Another amazing story Mike and Barry Harmsen told means that we now have available a "new" official TI cartridge that nobody on this side of the Atlantic has ever seen. In 1983 Barry was in Paris and saw for sale TI CALC, spreadsheet software completely contained in a cartridge. This was two days before Black Friday. Barry knew that this was a new product and although it was expensive he purchased it. He went back to the Netherlands and showed the product to his local user group a couple of days later. If I understand Barry's story correctly, Black Friday came and then in Europe Black Tuesday occurred when TI mandated that all its products be pulled from store shelves. The next weekend other members of Barry's user group went to Paris and were unable to purchase TI CALC. It was gone from all store shelves. This is apparently a product that was only available in one country and only for one weekend before TI withdrew it from the market. Barry purchased the only known copy. Michael Becker had Barry's cartridge and official TI user guide. Now Mike has them. The user guide is now available from Mike as part of his CYC, $25 on a cd with lots and lots of text and documents in *.pdf format as well as some software in PC99 format. The cartridge uses a unique bank switching system with 4 banks of rom. Mike arranged to have PC99 modified so that it will run TI CALC and showed the audience the title screen and played with the spread sheet a bit. The next version of PC99 will have this 4 rom bank emulation and may include for free TI CALC.
The following is an addendum supplied by Mike Wright to clarify some points:
1. The VCR demo was done by Wolfgang Bertsch. He was the owner of the Video Controller and the VCR. The VCR was a vintage machine with a wired remote control. It was made my Panasonic, but it had a Blaupunkt label. Wolfgang told me he was a TV technician, and that he thought it might bepossible to make an infrared interface so that the Video Controller could drive a modern VCR.
2. The BSM code was brought from Michael Becker's basement. The TI source code for the console ROMs and GROMs came from another source. It is very similar to the ROM source code that is already on the CaDD CD. I am only working on the ROM portion, since I don't think I know enough to be able to get the GROMs to assemble.
Mike also found in Michael Becker' magic basement the source code in GPL for a "13SN Basic Support Module" which was apparently only to be used internally at TI. It does vpoke and other neat stuff. Unfortunately this will not assemble on a 4A with available GPL assemblers. Mike shipped the code off to Rich Gilbertson who probably knows more about GPL than anyone else alive. We may soon also have this "new" official TI cartridge to play with.
And finally, Mike brought home from Michael Becker's magic basement the official commented TI source code for the console groms and roms. Instead of reverse engineering the console and guessing at what everything does, as was done in the book TI Intern, we will soon have available the official version, with no guessing and with official comments like "don't change the contents of this address because if you do XB will crash".
Lew King showed how he accesses the internet using the programs ZT4-80 and TERM 80. Both give you an 80 column display on an unmodified 99/4A using 3 pixel wide characters. They looked really really good on the big projector screen feeding from a 99/4A console into some kind of a converter box to an SVGA monitor and to the PC SVGA projector. The box lets one use an SVGA monitor with a 99/4A. If you ask Lew he will give you the details about where he purchased this magic box. Using ZT4-80 Lew was able to log on at 38400 using a TI-RS232 and a 36.6 modem. He downloaded email and downloaded files from an ftp server with this configuration. Then he switched to Term 80 and used the LYNX browser that was running on his ISP's server to view the text (no graphics) of web pages. Very impressive!
The final presentation of the day was by Mark and Dave (I missed their last names) on the Linux operating system. They also used the projector system to display what was on their laptops. They represent the Chicagoland Linux user group http://clug.chicago.il.us. Linux is a free open operating system for PCs with source code also freely available. Most web servers today run the free Apache server program under Linux. Netscape has a Linux version of its browser. The presenters said that currently Linux development is similar to the 99/4A, both of whose operating systems are today open and widely known and can be modified as needed. They also stated that Linux has a "dosmenu" mode which emulates msdos. Soon Mike Wright will try to run PC99 under Linux using this mode.
After the show we all went to eat at a neighborhood restaurant. Then we went around the corner to a cyber café the Chicago group paid for our computer time and where award announcements were made by faire organizer Hal Shanafield. The John Birdwell award for outstanding service to the TI community is awarded annually by the trustees of the Birdwell Fund, into which fairware donations for Birdwell's DSKU (Disk Utilities) are placed. The fund pays for a plaque to the award recipient. This year's award goes to Tony and Will McGovern, authors of Funnelweb. The Chicago group's annual Grant Schnaglemeyer (I hope I spelled this properly) memorial award goes to Ernest Pergrem who, after leaving the TI community years ago has come back into the flock and now runs the Chicago group's BBS and software library. Ernie has also helped me out significantly in my project to get all the Micropendium magazines and disks available for free to the TI community.