Commodore Newsletter Articles
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Articles Page 5          Memory Lane Articles          Member Biography Articles

   

Big Blue Reader     Commodore to PC File Conversion     Dave Mohr Tribute     What it's Like in Fresno

Computer Health Risks     Grandkids & Commodore Gaming     I Become a Commodore User Again

On the Edge - book review     RUNning Back in Time     A Visit to the Roach Motel

 

Big Blue Reader in the 21st Century

By Dick Estel

As Commodore becomes less and less a factor in most people’s computing activities, one of the most useful and important programs for the C128 becomes more important. The name, “Big Blue Reader,” ( BBR ) gives us a hint as to its origins in the misty past – the reference is to IBM , known as “Big Blue,” which dominated the PC scene when the program was written.

Although the program came with a fairly clear manual, and most of its capabilities can be carried out via on-screen menu choices, there are subtle nuances that can only be discovered through use, experimentation, or help from another users, especially when using BBR with today’s machines.

At its most basic level, BBR quickly and easily converts almost any Commodore 64/128 word processor file to a text file that can be loaded into any Windows-based word processor for further use and editing.

This article is not intended to be a comprehensive re-stating of the manual – rather it is a series of hints and tips about things that may not be obvious when using the program, to help the user avoid some of the pitfalls that serve to frustrate and delay the conversion process.

Converting Commodore files to PC requires the original source disk, which can be a 5.25 or 3.5 disk, and a 3.5 disk formatted to 730 Kb. Back in the day, your PC would give you this option when formatting a floppy, but I believe starting with Windows 98, you could only format a disk at 1.38 Mb. Fortunately, BBR has a utility to format a MS-DOS disk on the 1581.

BBR runs only on the 128 in 80 column mode. When it boots up, the opening screen offers three options:  

            1. Use standard ASCII translation

            2. Use screen code

            3. Format 1571 disk

For text files, if you’re not sure what format your CBM word processor used, you can view the directory (from within BBR , or before booting it). If your files are SEQ, choose option 1; if they are PRG , choose option 2. If you are converting any kind of file other than text, always use option 1, which loads by default of you don’t make a selection within a certain time limit.

Once the program finishes loading, you are presented with a number of menu options. One of these is Utility, which is where you can format your PC disk if necessary. Normally the first choice I use is Drive I/O, which is where you set your source and target drive. Since there is a Disk Command option, it is possible to copy files from a partition on a hard drive. You should make a note of the exact partition and subdirectory name in advance, since you have to type them in without recourse to the directory. The source can be any 15XX drive and probably most third party clones; the target needs to be a 3.5” drive. I no longer remember if the program will create and write to an IBM formatted 5.25” disk, but it is not likely that you will have such a drive available in any PC outside a museum (or a major tech geek’s garage).

The next step is to load the directory of your source disk, using the LOAD DIR option. You will be asked what type of disk ( CBM , MS-DOS, or 128 CP/M), and be given the option to enter a pattern (for example, just files beginning with a specific word or group of letters). The directory then loads very quickly. Now you select the files you want converted, using the COPY command. After putting the cursor on COPY and pressing RETURN, you press RETURN again on each file you wish to copy. An asterisk appears next to the file name, and once you are finished, the conversion process begins.

This is where the author did what I think was some low level “copy protection” – there is nothing on screen to tell you what to do next (of course, it is in the manual). What you do is hit the UP ARROW key. Once again you are given a choice as what type of disk to write to ( CBM , MS-DOS, CP/M), and once you have made your choice, you will be asked three questions, the answers to which are critical to the success of your conversion.

The first is “Convert to standard ASCII?” Answer YES if you are converting text files, and you chose option 2 (screen code) from the opening screen. For all other situations, answer NO.

The second is “add line feeds?” Answer YES if you are converting text files, regardless of the choice made at the opening screen. For other types of files, answer NO.

The third is “retain same file names?” I recommend answering YES in most cases, and here I need to get into a detailed discussion of one of idiosyncrasies of Big Blue Reader. In the early days of PCs, they could only accept a file name of eight characters, plus an optional three character extension (this was at a time when Commodore file names could be much longer). Therefore many of us gave nice long descriptive names to our CBM files – for example, “Family History 1940s,” “Family History 1950s,” etc.

BBR automatically uses the first eight characters of the existing file name, discarding spaces and non-alpha-numeric characters. Therefore both file names in the example would be converted to “familyhi.” When BBR encounters such a duplicate file name, it stops and waits for you to enter a different file name (a good choice here might be “famhist5”) This requires you to sit there during what is a fairly slow process. If you say NO to retaining the same file names, then you have to be on duty throughout the entire conversion process.

Once you have converted your first disk of files, you should check it on your PC. If you let the program create the file names, you will not have a file extension, and your PC will not recognize the program type. There are several easy ways to deal with this. The simplest (in my opinion) is to open the files from within your Windows word processor. Most such programs will recognize the file as text, and may offer a conversion option. Select the default option.

Another way is re-name all the files, adding .txt to the file name. Your word processor will recognize the files as text, but may still ask for a conversion option. You can also open these files in WordPro or WordPad, but editing capabilities are limited.

The third option is to open Windows Explorer (AKA My Computer), right click on the file, and use the OPEN WITH option, selecting the desired word processor. In all these cases, the final result is the same – whatever BBR has created will appear on the screen for further processing.

There are times when following my instructions regarding ASCII vs. Screen Code, or converting to ASCII when you start the conversion process will turn out to be wrong – you will get a screen full of garbage, or more likely, upper and lower case will be reversed. In this case, go back to BBR and change your choice, then test it on the PC until it looks right.

Many CBM word processors put commands such as Bold or Underline into the file as a hidden text string. This information cannot hide from BBR , and will be converted, usually into unintelligible garbage. Here’s where you have to go to work with your Windows word processor, editing the text to your liking. I have also seen files that convert with extra spaces here and there, or several blank lines, all fixable.

So far I have focused mainly on text file conversion, but it is possible to convert other types of files. To do so, you should ALWAYS use option 1 (Standard ASCII) from the opening screen, and ALWAYS answer NO to the two questions regarding converting to standard ASCII and adding line feeds.

I have successfully converted geoPaint graphics to .jpg via BBR . To do so, you must first use the GEOS utility Convert to change the files from GEOS USR format to CBM SEQ format. This is a simple, though somewhat time-consuming process, but the instructions on screen are fairly straight forward. There are several versions of Convert, and as far as I know, all of them will do the job correctly.

Once these former GEOS files are in SEQ format, then you simply load BBR and follow the instructions for converting as described above.

I have also converted Commodore programs that were downloaded from a BBS via a MS-DOS computer. Such downloads can’t be executed on a PC, but they can be converted to Commodore format and then should run normally on a C64 or whatever computer they were written for.

It is also possible to convert Windows text files to Commodore format. While the process is fairly straight forward, there is one point to consider – if the ultimate plan is to convert to geoWrite, use all UPPER CASE characters in your file name. In fact, I recommend using upper case for any files that are created or will be used in GEOS.

The Windows to CBM to geoWrite conversion can be outlined as follows:

1. Convert your Windows word processor file to a plain text file by selecting File/Save as. From the Save as Type drop-down, chose Plain Text (*.txt) (Note: These file commands are from Microsoft Word; other word processors may express them differently.)

2. Copy these files to a 3.5 disk formatted to 730 Kb.

3. Follow the conversion instructions above, using option 1 from the opening screen. Select MS-DOS as the source and CBM as the destination.

4. Answer NO to the Standard ASCII question (it’s already in that format). You may have to experiment with whether to add line feeds for not.

5. The converted result should be a standard ASCII file, which can be converted to geoWrite using the Wrong is Write utility. It can be loaded as is with The Write stuff and presumably many other Commodore word processors, but TWS is the only one I can vouch for.

From this point you can add GEOS or Commodore commands for bold, underline or other desired formatting.

A few final comments:

If you have a CMD hard drive, I can vouch that Big Blue Reader works just fine from a 1571 emulation partition.

If you make the wrong choice at the early steps, it will normally be obvious when you look at your converted file on the PC. If upper and lower case are reversed, you probably said YES to standard ASCII, and need to change it to NO. If there are extra line feeds, say NO to the linefeed question. And if the text on the screen is gibberish, you probably made the wrong choice at the opening screen.  

DISCLAIMER: I have not and will not in this lifetime tested all the possible conversion procures, Commodore programs, and Windows programs that might be involved in using Big Blue Reader. Follow the standard rules and always back up your files before doing anything new with them. Test your results before spending a lot of time on one part of the project. Send us an Email if you have questions (a reply is guaranteed; answers will depend on my knowledge and ability to make good guesses!)

 

Converting Commodore Files to PC Format
By Dick Estel

Some of you reading this are probably like me – you don’t use your Commodore anymore, having moved on to a Windows PC. Some don’t even have Commodore equipment any longer. 

What you DO have are some disks of text files that you created with Speedscript, The Write Stuff or some other Commodore word processor. These may be a diary of your trip to the Grand Canyon, a stab at the Great American Novel, or just records, letters, and the other typical stuff we do on the computer. Whatever it is, you’d like to be able to read it and print it out again.

That’s where Big Blue Reader comes to the rescue. This commercial program runs on the C64 or C128, and converts Commodore files to PC format and vice versa. Of course, “runs on the C64” means you either need to have your old classic in working shape, or know someone who does. 

BBR is relatively simple to use, and all required entries and actions are indicated on screen, with one important exception. 
The program requires a 1571, 1581 or comparable third party drive, and let’s face it, you’re probably not using a PC that has any place to stick a 5.25” disk, so a 3.5” drive is a necessity. The first step is to choose the appropriate drive In/Out settings, and to select the correct format for each drive (CBM or PC). For example, I usually convert from a 1571 with CBM files to PC format on a 1581. Next you must load the directory, and choose the desired files, all guided by on-screen prompts. Once you’ve done this, you’re at a loss if you don’t have documentation or a friend who knows the secret – press the up arrow key (next to Restore) to launch the conversions. 

You’re given the choice of keeping the original file names or entering them yourself. Here’s where things get tricky. I always choose the original name option, but the program was written in the old days of eight character DOS file names with a three character extension (e.g. DIARY98.TXT). No matter what the file name is, the program will select the first eight characters (eliminating spaces and any characters that are not alpha or numeric). Since Commodore users were used to using 16-character file names, you often find yourself with duplicate names, so you have to enter an alternative name. 

For example, names such as SUMMER TRIP 1, SUMMER TRIP 2, would both be converted TO SUMMERTR, and you would have to rename the second and subsequent duplicates. I just delete the last character and add a number (e.g. SUMMERT2). I also add the .TXT extension since it makes it easier to use the files on the PC. 

The program operates in computer memory only (no disk access other than loading the files), so if there are a lot of files or large files, it will load as many as possible, do the conversion, then load the next batch until the job is completed. 

Big Blue Reader includes several utilities, the most useful of which is the ability to format a 3.5” disk for the PC. Since the 1581 drive requires 800K disks, this is very useful. I’ve found that my newer PC does not want to format a disk at less than 1.2Mb, which is not recognized in the 1581. 

A number of options are available when converting. When the program boots, you can choose “screen code” as the source. This is helpful with The Write Stuff, Speedscript, and other Commodore word processors that save files in this format. During conversion, you can choose to have the files changed to standard ASCII, which is the normal format for text files. 

If you are converting non-text files, then you answer “no” to this question. This lets you convert any kind of file, but the end use of such files is limited. You can’t convert PacMan and expect to run it on a PC. Instead, this option is intended to allow you to upload or download Commodore files via the PC. 

Big Blue Reader is no longer supported by its creator, but you can probably find used copies (possibly without documentation). There is also a free public domain program, Little Red Reader, that performs the same tasks. I’ve never used it, so I don’t know if it’s as functional as BBR, but it IS an option. 

(The Fresno Commodore User Group offers file conversion service at a nominal cost; for details log on to www.dickestel.com/fileconvert.htm). In addition, we’ll be happy to provide answers and advice via Email to info@dickestel.com.

  

David “Lord Ronin” Mohr – a Tribute  

by Robert Bernardo

(In lieu of a memorial service for Dave Mohr, I wrote the following.) 

 

“Ow!  Dave, you're making me laugh too much.”

 Dave looked at me, grinning at the discomfort I was having.  He kept at it, telling me joke after joke, and I continued laughing and holding my chest, the physical pain very real.  He knew what he was doing; he was lifting my spirits after a tumultuous 36 hours for me.  Car packed full of Commodore and Amiga items, I had arrived in Portland that Tuesday in 2007 for MossyCon 3, the little Commodore event Dave put on every spring break.  That Tuesday night, an ambulance hauled me away to the nearest hospital emergency room for chest pains which I later found out was pericarditis (post-viral inflammation of the pericardium – the protective sac around the heart).  I missed MossyCon on Wednesday, me being still stuck in the emergency room, my only visitors being Andrew Wiskow and Jeremy L..  Later that afternoon I was released, and the next day, after a worried Jeri Ellsworth treated me to lunch, I drove out to Dave's place in Astoria . The chest was starting to hurt again at 4:30 on the road, and I downed three ibuprofens, according to the wishes of the doctors.  By the time, I reached Dave's place at 6, the pains had just subsided... until Dave started me laughing and laughing.

“You know, Robert, you didn't have to come,” as Dave gently chided me for traveling all that way in my condition.

“Nah, Dave, I said I would come to MossyCon.”  

For the next 3 ½ hours, Dave and I had our own MossyCon, the others having attended the day before.  His eyes would light up with every Commodore computer I pulled out of my car – PET 2001, PET 4032, PET 8032, modded SX-64, Amiga CD-32.  

“If you don't want to take that back to California , I can take it off your hands,” he would say, this being a long-running joke that I had heard for years and years.  

Years and years....  

Fast forward to MossyCon 5 in 2009, a different venue – the Moose Lodge in Astoria – and a different day – the first Sunday of spring break.  Dave and I were reminiscing about how long we had known each other.  

“I think it was 2001, Dave.”  

“No, Robert, it was before you knew Jeri Ellsworth.”  

“You know... you're right, Dave,” and we determined it was from the late 1990's.  I seemed to think it was from 1998 or 1999 when I first visited his Amiga-Commodore User Group on the way back from a visit to the Amiga computer dealer, Wonder Computers, in Vancouver , British Columbia , Canada .  

Ten years of visits to him in Astoria .  I had only known Dave to come out of Astoria one time... to visit me one Thanksgiving in Canby , Oregon so that he could pick up a MSD-SD2 disk drive from me.  He had another person drive him over, but he couldn't stay too long.  He had to return for Thanksgiving dinner at his place two hours back.  

When the annual Commodore Vegas Expo started in 2005, I dreamt of methods to get him to Las Vegas , by bus or by train or by car or by a combination of those.  None of those plans came to fruition.  An airline flight would be a no-go for him.  

He did tell me about having a table at the annual Portland Orycon event, a role-playing gamers  convention.  Though in later years he boycotted the show, during the times he did go to it, he spoke favorably of it where he would dress up, talk RPG, promote Commodore computers, and espouse the Klingon way.  Yeah, Dave was a fan of the Star Trek original series.  When he found out about my taking sides with Starfleet, he looked at me and sniffed half-seriously, “Staaarfleeeet...”  

Dave could throw out a choice phrase in Klingon when needed.  For that matter, Dave could blurt out choice phrases in British English, German, and Yiddish.  And the speed with which he could turn a phrase would always amaze me.  

“Dave, how should I respond to this person who is bugging me?”  

“Robert, this is what you say...”  Needless to say, now I have a quick response in German.  

Dave could appropriately modulate his voice, too, being a former radio disc jockey.  He would turn on his radio voice and read a line from his radio station, and I would be properly impressed.  

 One thing he couldn't do was communicate in Spanish at a Mexican restaurant.  I had to teach him.  

“Robert, how do you say, 'I'm Jewish.  I cannot eat pork.'?”  

“This is the way, Dave.  Say, 'Soy judio.  No puedo comer cerdo.'”  

Dave loved his many and varied pet cats.  It didn't matter to him whether they slept on top of the Commodore keyboards or on his lap.  He would rescue those he could and rehabilitate them.  Every time I visited his house, I had to be aware of where the cats were for fear of stepping on them or for fear of them jumping on me.  Dave took great pleasure in my discomfort.  

“That one, Robert, has especially sharp claws.”  

I would then huddle on a chair with books, boxes, or computer parts covering my lap.  When he found out about my preferring dogs, he looked at me and sniffed half-seriously, “Doooogs...”  

It was only last year I found out that Dave was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War.  Yes, I knew he was a veteran, but I never knew that he had been captured, that he had been in Army intelligence.  He was on a mission and had been captured by the Viet Cong.  He was tortured.  Five (or was it six) days later, he was rescued/freed by Americans.  He spoke that in those days the Viet Cong had a price on his head.  And he still couldn't watch the movie, the Deerhunter, because it cut too close... it brought back too many memories of his experiences during the Vietnam War.  

He was a fan of other movies and t.v. shows, especially British t.v. shows – Red Dwarf, Monty Python, Dr. Who, Gerry Anderson shows like UFO, and his supreme favorite, the Prisoner.  When he found out that I would be visiting Wales in 2008, he urged me to visit Portmeirion, site of the Village seen in the Prisoner.  The nearest I could get to it was Cardiff , the site of the new Dr. Who t.v. series.  I brought back details of my visit, and he would listen to all of it with great appreciation.  Not only was Dave a good talker but he was a good listener, too.

He enjoyed the souvenirs I brought to him from the U.K. .  He enjoyed the souvenirs that Peter Hanson, the Plus4 king of England , brought during his visits to Astoria .  Dave especially liked the various British tabloids, like the Sun with its famous/infamous Page 3 Girl; Dave's eyes would positively glow at the photo of a pretty girl.  Peter and Dave got along famously, Peter remarking that Dave had the English sense of humor.  Peter and Dave would be telling English jokes with each other, and I would be dumbfounded... not understanding anything of the jokes.  

The last Peter and I saw Dave was on our mid-June visit to Astoria .  It was on a Sunday, very quiet because the bar above the Mohr Realities RPG/Commodore shop was closed.  As usual, Dave was very hospitable; he even gave us a few of his Commodore disks-of-the-month.  And I thought this would always be.  I would visit Dave two or three or four times a year.  I would bring his Commodore goodies to Ray Carlsen in Washington State for repair, and I would dutifully bring them back.  I would buy unusual Commodore items from his shop and gladly pay him.  I would listen to his wisdom on Commodore games and GEOS.  I would listen to his explanations on various RPGs or comic books.  

Now I can only listen to that little part of him captured on my MossyCon videos.  Now I can only see him in the photos I took of him.  Now I can only read his musings in his Village Green newsletter or in the accumulated e-mails and postings I have from him.  Now I can only relive the memories I have of him, though those memories may fade in time.  He was the Master, the Sensei... and he always considered me the kid.  

The night before he passed away... 12 hours before... he made a posting on Facebook.  He was joking about his cats and about pretty girls.  He talked about “Slow now, only about an hour of online time a day.”  He talked about “Getting there, had a slight relapse on Monday.”  And he talked about his German Jew father and Scotch-Irish mother.  As he remarked, “So there may be a slight reason why I have a slight stubborn streak. (LOL)”  

A stubborn streak that kept him in Commodore, a stubborn streak that kept his club together, a stubborn streak kept him going through every trial and tribulation in his personal life; those tribulations he would try to explain to me, and I couldn't understand all of them.  

The only thing I understood was that Dave was a good man, a good friend.

  

What it's Like in Fresno

By Dick Estel  

Back in the early 1990s I was the editor of the Fresno Commodore User Group’s newsletter, The Interface. In addition, I handled all the exchange newsletter duties, sending copies to 30 or more other Commodore clubs throughout the country.

I also got first look at the newsletters that we received in exchange from those other clubs. It was always interesting to see the different approaches to layout, writing styles, and other aspects of these publications.

One of these “aspects” was the information that editors sometimes included about their local area. One that struck me particularly came from the club in Bartlesville OK. At the top of the front page the editor had placed a picture of his city’s skyline, featuring a modest skyscraper. I had never heard of Bartlesville, but from the picture I deduced that it was a fairly big city.

In 2004, driving from Fresno to Ohio, I had occasion to pass through Bartlesville. Sure enough, there was the tall building I had seen in the newsletter, about 15 stories tall. But where was the city? In fact, the town was no bigger than Kingsburg (for those of you in northeast Ohio, it was no bigger than Delta; and for those of you in Oklahoma, it was far smaller than Enid).

At CommVEx this year, there happened to be a young man who had spent some of his youth in Bartlesville, so I inquired about the town’s striking landmark. It seems that it was commissioned by a local oil baron many years ago, and was designed by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

I thought of this recently when our editor, Lenard Roach, wrote about the floods they have experienced in Kansas City, causing a vacant lot to turn into a semi-permanent lake. Lenard is certainly not the first editor to offer comments on “what it’s like” in his location. He may be the first to ask “what’s it like” in the club’s home area.

Actually he asked “how is the weather there in southern California?” Although our president, Robert Bernardo, does participate in a club based in southern California, where we live is more properly considered central California, more specifically the Great Central Valley, and even more locally, the San Joaquin Valley. The Central Valley runs from Bakersfield, 100 miles south of Fresno and just north of the Tehachapi Mountains, the true dividing line that marks the beginning of southern California, all the way to Red Bluff, 300 miles north of us. The valley probably averages 50 miles in width. The San Joaquin Valley is the southern part of this, with the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers at Stockton being the dividing line. The portion of the great valley north of there is the Sacramento Valley.

As to what the weather is like, in the summer it is hot and dry. There is probably more water in Lenard’s lake right now than falls in the entire San Joaquin Valley all summer. Even during the rainy season (roughly October to May), our average rainfall is barely in the double digits. However, the valley is one of the most fertile areas in the United States, and a major agricultural area. This is made possible by irrigation from water that falls as snow on the Sierra Nevada mountains east of us, to be captured in reservoirs on half a dozen major river systems that flow out of the mountains.

Although 100 degree temperatures are normal in the summer, it’s quite dry, so we don’t suffer the effects of high humidity, and air conditioning is standard equipment in virtually all homes and vehicles. And when the temperature gets up to 110, as it always does for a few days each summer, we can head for the mountains, a 60 mile trip to beautiful camping areas, or to the coast, a three hour drive or less.

And that’s what it’s like in CENTRAL California, home of the Fresno Commodore User Group.

   

Computer Health Risks

 In the December 7 issue of Time Magazine is a section on “The Year in Health from A to Z.”

Under “O for Ouch,” it is reported that the most dangerous machine in your house may be your computer. “Each year 9,300 Americans suffer a computer-related injury” the article states. The most common injury was laceration from a sharp corner. Among adults, falling equipment accounted for 21% of injuries.

Children under 5 suffered 13.4% of all injuries, most of them to the head, and most as a result of climbing on or near equipment.

I guess the Commodore engineers knew what they were doing when they gave the C64 rounded corners. I recall one of my PC boxes was pretty squared off, but the current one is nicely rounded on all sides. I’m still not clear how equipment falls on people – keep that CPU on or under the desk!

-- Dick Estel

 

Grandsons and Commodore Gaming

By Dick Estel

One day in 1988 my three-year old grandson and I headed for Sears, lured by an ad for a Commodore computer. We returned home with a C64 and a Blue Chip drive (the latter did not work right and they gave me a 1541 in exchange at the same price).

While my interests were in word processing and data organization, Johnny became a proficient game player, racking up high scores in Frogger, Pac-Man and Rock Crash.

In the 1990s it came time for me to move on to a Windows based PC, and Johnny’s game interests turned toward Doom and NHL Hockey. I still kept my Commodore set up, but used it mainly to research questions from Commodore users.

Meanwhile, Johnny’s little brother Mikie came along in 1997, and in due time developed an interest in games on the PC.

About three years ago, I put away all my Commodore equipment except a 128 keyboard and 1084 monitor. I plugged a Pac-Man cartridge into the 128, essentially creating an arcade game machine. Then one day when Mikie was visiting, I fired the C128 up and introduced him to Pac-Man.

Today, although he enjoys a number of games on the PC, he also usually plays Pac-Man for a while when he visits. I recently set up a complete Commodore system again, and he added Frogger and Rock Crash to his repertoire (although we need to have Johnny come over and show us how to get past the very difficult level one in this program).

Mikie’s Commodore experience was broadened one day when he went with me to a meeting of the Fresno Commodore User Group at the Pizza Pit. After using up all his quarters playing some of the arcade games there, he wandered over to the meeting area, and was introduced to the DTV, the joystick that contains the hardware and software to play a number of classic Commodore games on any compatible monitor. He especially enjoyed Jump Man and Dig Dug. A DTV may be under his Christmas tree this year.

As for Johnny, at age 21 he’s packing around a state-of-the-art laptop. With 20 units at Cal State Fresno, his computer time is pretty much limited to homework.

(Originally published in 2005)

    

I become a Commodore User Again

By Dick Estel

My first computer was a Commodore 64, purchased new for $200 from Sears in 1987. I followed a pattern that was probably common with many owners of that era – buying the computer and disk drive, and using the TV for a monitor. I quickly realized that the TV resolution was not going to work, and soon owned a monitor and a printer.

I bought a word processor program, which I expected to be my primary use for the computer. I was already familiar with word processing on a dedicated Wang system (WP only). I stumbled around trying to figure things out on the C64, and finally discovered the local user group, which greatly enhanced my experience.

Over the years I owned a second C64, then a 128, and maybe at times two of them (can’t remember all the details after 24 years). My “last” Commodore set-up was a C128 with a one meg RAM expander, Creative Micro Designs (CMD) hard drive, two 1581s, and two 1571s.

Of course, I went through one or two more printers, ending with a Star NX1020 Rainbow, an excellent color dot matrix unit.

The Commodore served me well for a number of years, as I expanded my interests to include, among other things, desktop publishing, first with the horrible Paper Clip Publisher, then with GeoPublish. I produced the club newsletter with this program for two or three years.

Eventually I realized that the Commodore’s limitations meant it was time to jump into the Windows world. I had been using a PC with Windows 3.1 at work, and realized that I could do some things in a few minutes that took a half hour with the Commodore. I also got interested in graphic applications, mainly editing my many digital photos, and scanning old photos.

Around this same time CMD came out with the Super CPU accelerator. I gave some thought to adding this to my hardware setup, but at $200, I was put off. I suspected that I could upgrade my Commodore system indefinitely with new hardware, at considerable expense and without gaining much if anything in the graphic area. Or I could buy what was still called an “ IBM compatible” computer and get all the upgrades at once. So the release of the Super CPU actually pushed me towards a PC.

My first PC was an Acer with 16 Mb of memory, and other specs typical of the day, which I think was about 1995. It cost nearly $2000, and was far less capable than what you can get today for $300 or so.

At first the Commodore remained on my computer desk and the Acer had a secondary spot on a old office desk. As I began to use the PC more and the Commodore less, they switched places; and I stored or sold some of my duplicate Commodore equipment.

This progression continued, until I reached a point where someone described me as a “Commodore user in name only.” In fact, I had reached a point where the only thing I used the Commodore for was to research and help solve problems other users were having.

When I began making plans to move out of my house where I’d been for 30 years into a condo, I sold or donated to the club all the equipment I had left except the CMD hard drive, the REU, and a PacMan cartridge. This did not diminish my loyalty to the Commodore user group, and I remain interested in the new developments that have taken place long after the old classic was been declared dead by the world at large.

By this time my latest Windows machine was about six years old, running on XP, and taking care of all my computing needs. As keeper of the club equipment, I could still set up a C128 system, which I did for copying library disks or converting files with Big Blue Reader. But for all practical purposes, I was not a Commodore user except in the most limited way.

In 2010 and again in 2011 one of the big prizes at our annual CommVEx show in Las Vegas was an SX64, and for reasons I could not explain to myself, I purchased tickets for it both years, breathing a quiet sigh of relief when I failed to win both times.

Then along came the donation of a large cache of equipment from the now defunct Jason Ranheim Company. The stipulation was that the items were to be given to club members and others, so when our president, Robert Bernardo, drove up with his Crown Vic stuffed with free goodies, I put in a claim on the only SX64 in the batch.

Once again I was an actual Commodore user, although I have no place to set it up permanently. I plugged it in and did some disk copying, with the CMD hard drive as the source. Since the SX does not have JiffyDOS, I had to dig out the hard drive manual, and figure out how to type in the lengthy commands to change partitions. I also plugged in the PacMan cart, and got all the dots in the first round, despite not having played in a year or so.

So far that’s all I have done, and the SX sits in a corner. Every key was either so sticky I had to press and hold it for a few seconds, or printed the character three or four times as soon as it was pressed, so the keyboard is with Ray Carlson in Washington for cleaning. I believe he will ship it to me when it’s done, and in the meantime, I can still play PacMan.

With no convenient place to set it up, I don’t think the SX will get a lot of use, but at least when I do need to do something, I can get it set up very quickly. So over a quarter century period I have come full circle, from minimal Commodore set-up to minimal Commodore set-up.

(Originally published in 2011)

  

Book Reivew: On the Edge - The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore

© 2005 by Brian Bagnall; published by Variant Press

http://www.variantpress.com/books/on-the-edge

Several years ago FCUG President Robert Bernardo became aware of a book recounting Commodore’s early history, On the Edge, by Brian Bagnall. The club became a distributor for the book, selling copies at CommVEx and elsewhere.

I glanced through it, saw some interesting paragraphs, and purchased a copy in September of 2006. It later occurred to me that I might not really want to read it, and it sat on the shelf until late 2009. But when I decided to give it a try, I found that it held my attention throughout its 557 pages.

I will not attempt a thorough review, but I would like to share some comments and a few things I learned.

Since I came to Commodore in 1987, I had always thought of the company as being based in Canada and Westchester PA, so it was interesting to learn that Commodore achieved its early success as a Silicon Valley company,   

Commodore came close to buying Apple, but the Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) wanted more than Jack was willing to pay.

The book starts out with a description of chip design and manufacture that becomes a bit tedious, but the author is a good story-teller, and his focus on the people involved keeps it interesting.

Throughout the book, it becomes apparent that Commodore could have had much greater success if its management had avoided a few stupid moves. Company president Jack Tramiel was somewhat of a visionary, but his vision was very limited – it was to produce the lowest cost computer possible, and have it ready by his arbitrary deadline, even if waiting a few more months would have produced a far superior product.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Board Irving Gould refused to provide adequate financing for the company to become a long-lasting and dominant player in the computer business. They often refused to advertise adequately, although doing so could have created a huge demand for their products.

On the other hand, Jack was the definition of Chutzpah. For example, He sold the first PETs by requiring advance payment with shipment guaranteed within 90 days or your money back; most buyers waited closer to 180 days, but few asked for refunds. Without this method of financing, company probably would have gone under.

Technical advances by the company included primitive networking, what was in effect a digital webcam, and a working prototype touch screen in 1979. The plan was to be able to communicate audio/video via the computer. Commodore also pioneered the 80 column screen and lower case letters.

One reason they could beat the competition with time and features was vertical integration – owning a chip company, so they could get the chips quickly and in necessary quantities.

Apple’s claims at being first were just made up out of whole cloth. Quoting Jack’s son Leonard: “Every month they had an ad asking the question, ‘Why is Apple number one in the world of Personal Computers?’ And the answer of course was because they were number three, behind Radio Shack and Commodore. They just lied.”

About Radio Shack’s TRS-80, “After a few minutes at the keyboard, many walked away dazzled by the promise of computers.” My own experience: I tried to play blackjack, but could not understand what to do, and the clerks in the store apparently knew as little as I did. This (and a price that was out of my reach) caused me to abandon my desire for a computer for a few years, until an ad for a $200 Commodore 64 caught my eye.

The Commodore 64 was done fast and “good enough,” but not good. Although it was a huge success, it was the company’s last moment of true glory. It could have been a LOT better if not rushed to market and made as cheaply as possible.

A new edition of the book is supposed to be coming out in 2010 with a Jack Tramiel interview (he did not comment for the first edition). The book badly needs an index, and hopefully the new edition will contain one.

Even so, this edition is worth reading for those who have an abiding interest in Commodore, and my copy will be given as a raffle prize at the 2010 CommVEx in Las Vegas .

About the Author: Brian Bagnall is the author of several computer books for McGraw-Hill, Prentice-Hall PTR , and Syngress Publishing. His previous book, Core Lego Mindstorms Programming, has been translated into French and Japanese. He is also a frequent contributor to Old-Computers.com, an online museum dedicated to preserving computer history.

The book gave me a new appreciation for my now long-gone C64 and C128 computers.

--Dick Estel

    

RUNning Back in Time

By Dick Estel

Recently I’ve been sorting through some old magazines that I’ve kept over the years, including a number of Commodore publications. Among these was the first issue of Run, dated January, 1984, which brings back some interesting memories.

The most notable thing to me was a review of Commodore word processors. This included detailed descriptions of eleven different programs, including what the writer did and didn’t like. There’s an accompanying chart that lists features missing or present for a total of sixteen programs. A lot of us in the Fresno Commodore User Group settled on The Write Stuff as our word processor of choice, and it’s hard now to conceive that there could have been so many choices (TWS was not available at the time of this review).

Another trip in the Wayback Machine involves prices, an area that offers plenty of “sticker shock” in these days of picking up a C128 for $5 or $10. In those days, before the C128 was available, Protecto Enterprizes offered the C64 for $199.50, which is only a little more than I paid for my first Commodore at Sears in 1987. This price included a coupon for “over $100 off on software.”

The ad also has a “word processing system” package that includes the C64 (inexplicably described as an “84K computer,” probably a typo), a 170K Commodore 64 disk drive, a box of 10 disks, the Gemini 10X Star Micronics printer, Cardco interface, box of printer paper, 12” inch green or amber screen monitor, monitor interface cable, and Script-64 Executive Word Processor Program. The price for all this – only $995 (“list price” $1800).

There was also a Farm Business System for $1095, which added specialized farm management programs for beef, pork or grain production.

Articles in this premiere issue included “The Commodore Connection” (three ways to hook up your C64 to your printer), “Double Your Pleasure with Conversion Magic” (how to convert VIC20 programs to run on the C64), and “Fun with Math Facts,” (type-in programs for the VIC20 and C64).

The “List of Advertisers” filled a full page in three columns, and included such familiar names as Abacus, Batteries Included, Parker Brothers (Q*Bert, Frogger, Super Cobra), Parsec (apparently not the same Parsec that may be more familiar in the later years of Commodore), and Xetec ( RAM cards, expanders, and a printer interface for the VIC).

And in case you were a subscriber during the final days of Run, when the thickness of the magazine was about that of a floppy disk, this initial issue runs a hefty 162 pages.

  

A Visit to the Roach Motel

by Lenard R. Roach

(A parody)

Hail and well met, fellow Commodore users of Fresno !  This time I am going to talk a little about what can be found when you come to visit the Roach Hotel, situated in lovely Kansas City Kansas .

The Roach Hotel sits at 6025 Corona in middle downtown Kansas City Kansas .  It is a lovely one story building that houses myself, my youngest son, one rat, two fish, one dog, and three cats.  The dog just recently stopped trying the eat the cats, and the cats just recently stopped trying to eat the fish and rat, so all is harmony when you come for a visit to our little hovel in the Coronado Hills subdivision just off US 24 highway (State Avenue).

The neighbors here at the Roach Hotel are friendly and always glad to hear from you, and they let you know it.  Every time my Neon starts at 7:00 am and the alternator belt squeals it’s good morning to the neighborhood, everyone comes out to say hello.  However, I don’t think that “Shut that d—m thing up.” Or “Why don’t you fix that piece of s—t?” constitutes as a hello, but when it comes to the Hotel, everything is bright and rosy.

As you cruise into Coronado Hills, everybody greets you with a wave.  Yet, at some times, I wish they would use all their fingers when they wave.  However, they are kind enough to let you know that you are number one by extending the longest digit of the hand to you.  Such great people live here near the Hotel, and there is always a cheery hello that comes from all of them in the form of “F—k you, cracka!”

As you enter the hotel, you enter the lounging room, complete with our large in a wooden box 26 inch television complete with some of the best cartoon shows and movies on DVD like The Incredulous, Dora the Exploder, and Ice Aged.  On top of the entertainment complex is where Sable, the guard rat keeps an eye on each person entering the Hotel, wondering what each of you would be like for dinner.  Don’t worry, however, she is harmless – sometimes.  Next to her near the closet door are the dragon fish Spike, and the picosamus Zoom.  They like to be fed promptly at 7:00 am, and they will just about eat anything – fish food, tin cans, fingers – whatever they can get a hold of. 

A turn to the right and you have our lounging chair – one sofa, one loveseat, and one recliner, or  the “Command Chair” as I put it. Everyone is welcome to sit and enjoy themselves while they wait on whatever it is they are waiting on – dinner, a snack, or an escape plan out of there.  In the command chair is where I do most of the work when it comes to putting things onto computer as the Hotel has, not one, not two, but THREE computers that are all tied together by a router found in one of the rooms.

About eight steps to the west and a turn to the south you will find yourself in the kitchen/laundry room.  Here is where the great meals consisting of Hamburger and Tuna Helpers are concocted and set before you to enjoy or feed to the fish at your leisure. A few steps into the kitchen and a turn to the left puts you into the back of the Hotel where the washer and dryer are.  Sometimes we get a little absent minded at the Hotel and we either serve your laundry and wash your food, or the other way around.  Such is the life as it is in the Hotel.

From the main entrance to the left you find the first door to the left, which is our luxurious bathroom, decorated in a seaside setting.  Here is where our guests shower, shave and poo, whichever the case may be.  Towels are plentiful in the towel closet at the end of the hall, but be sure to get your towel before you get ready for your bath, or else you’re in for an embarrassing time of it as everyone in the lounging room will be able to see everything whole and natural, just as the good Lord made you.

One thing I must mention about the loo:  On the back of it is a beautiful sculpture of dolphins playing in the surf that comes with built in sound.  As you rise from completing your business, the dolphins made a playful noise of clicks and chirps while water flows from the top of the sculpture, congratulating you on a successful trip.  Just one of the extras you will find when your visit the Roach Hotel.

As you head down to the end of the hall you come to one of our great rooms in the Hotel.  This one is occupied by our resident technician, mechanic, all around fixit guy, and my son, Gabriel.  He works hard to make sure all the computers and household items, as well as vehicles, work to top physical performance.  His bed takes up over eighty percent of his room, making closet access and access to his desktop computer, which houses also the router and wireless printer I must add, a little difficult but even though Gabe is six feet six, he moves around that room like a cat.

A half step out of his room to the west and a head turn to the left you will find where I, the great and mighty, omnipotent, stomper and poobah of newsletter writing and editing hang my hat.  My room is larger than Gabe’s, so I get to house more stuff like a dresser, a china cabinet (which I use for a work clothes cabinet) a queen size bed, and my wife’s vanity table sit.  These chambers are off limits to all guests except those invited in, and that is only for an open door visit, so don’t get any silly ideas!

Another full step to the west and another turn of the head to the left and you will come across the pride and joy of the Roach Hotel – the computer room.  Here is where the great Commodore 128 sits on a large desk facing the west wall. Out of this room comes such great writings as The Interface, Ryte Bytes, books, plays, and other miscellaneous trinkets that happen to come in my head.  This room is open to everyone who is interested in using a Commodore computer.

So where do guests sleep?  Well, if you’re adventurous – and I know you are – you can stretch out in our lounging area in sleeping bags, or blankets that can be provided by the Hotel.  If you don’t mind being used as a raceway for the cats during their midnight rampage through the Hotel, you can get a decent night’s sleep and wake up stiff and tired and ready for day of fun at the Hotel.

What do we do for fun here at the Roach Hotel?  If you are game, you can stroll in our somewhat well kept back yard that views all the neighbor houses, but be careful of the recycled Alpo piles that dot the yard.  We use these for fertilizer to make sure that the Hotel’s grass is green and lush each spring after the winter thaw.  Out the front door, you can always play the never ending game of “Dodge the Drunk Driver” or run with the game of “Escape the Rabid Dog.”  For those wishing to venture off property, Kevlar, flak jackets, and M-16s will be issued free of charge by Hotel staff.

From what I have described you can already tell it’s nothing but non-stop fun and adventure at the Roach Hotel, so be sure to book your visit with us soon.  Our phone number can be found on most of the bathrooms walls around some of the biggest name truck stops of the country.

We look forward to meeting you!

     
This page is sponsored by the Fresno Commodore User Group
     
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Updated September 9, 2016