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Page 5 (The Death of Commodore)

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NOTE: This page is devoted to several articles on "the state of Commodore" which were published in The Interface mostly in the 1990s.

  

The Indestructible Floppy Disk          The Disappearing Floppy Disk          The Last Commodore

The Nine Lives of Commodore         Orphan Computers

    
The Indestructible Floppy Disk Experiment

by Alma Peterson

Carrying the 64 library disks back and forth to every meeting can be a real test of courage sometimes.
Especially when it is in the 90 degree range outside, and I'm carting somewhere between 1,000 to
1,500 disks in the trunk of my non-air conditioned car. Of course, we keep an entire back-up library
just in case a disaster does strike someday, but would you want to have to re-copy each and every 64
disk in the club library? Ugh! Have you ever wondered just how much abuse a disk could take?
Curiosity finally got the best of me last week and I decided to find out. The experiment started out
rather small, simple and to the point, but then I got a little carried away.
Using our own DCMR library catalog on side one and a full disk of library data on side two, I quickly
made up two "experimental" copies of the disk, marking one "SUN" and the other "FREEZE." That's
when the abusive side of me took over.
Happily cackling to myself, (cackling happily?) I cranked out another called "STOMP," then one called
"KOOL AID," and finally one called "MICRO WAVE."
My first victim was the "SUN" disk. I threw it out the back door into full-blazing sunlight for two hours.
In the meantime, "FREEZE" got popped into my handy kitchen freezer and promptly forgotten.
Fun! But when I brought the "SUN" disk in a full two hours later, both sides still worked perfectly.
Hmmmm! Not at all what I expected. Did I do something wrong? Maybe the black vinyl jacket was
enough of a shield to keep the sun's rays from doing any damage.
The next day I took the jacket apart with the flat edge of a little screwdriver. It's real easy, you just
slide it under the edge of the little seam on back of the disk and then rip! and tear! and slash! til it
comes apart. Scratch one black vinyl jacket. The temperature was between 85-90, so I put the actual
floppy, you know, the part you're never supposed to touch, right out there in the sun with absolutely no
protection for another couple of hours, brought it back in, and faced another dilemma: no floppy will
work in these drives without a jacket! Okay, but I'm dying to see what these "scrambled up" files must
look like.
So I carefully sliced off a thin section of one side of a good jacket, removed the blank floppy and put
"SUN" inside. Even with one side of the jacket cut open, the disk slid right into the drive like it should,
and both sides of "SUN" still worked perfectly.
Well, maybe it hadn't received quite the right amount of heat like disks closed up in a hot car would get.
At this point I was getting rather frustrated at the durability of this floppy. I scratched out the word
"SUN" on the label and re-named it "CLOTHES DRYER." Then I heated up the dryer real good and
put the entire disk in, all alone, still in the sliced jacket. I figured half an hour ought to do it. It came out
sort of deformed looking, and the label was half off so I just flattened it out with a rolling pin while it
was still warm. I guess I should have flattened it out with a hot iron instead, because when I tried once
again to load the disk it still worked just fine.
It's pretty hard to continue, with any sort of enthusiasm, in an experiment that's not producing expected
results. I thawed out "FREEZE" overnight and the next day it worked perfectly. Both sides.
I set the "SUN" disk up on the dashboard of my car all day long. After about an hour, that disk had
curled up into the shape of a cereal bowl. When I finally brought it back in the house it was barely
recognizable. The vinyl jacket, after its initial curl up earlier, had actually swollen and bubbled up from
the intense heat. With trembling fingertips, I pulled the SUN floppy from its twisted, blistered prison,
placed it in a new jacket, and then into the drive, and guess what? It worked perfectly!
Both sides of the disk called "MICRO WAVE" were totally zapped in less than 30 seconds, so 
consider that rumor proven. But attempts to re-format resulted in a perfectly working disk.
Stay tuned next month for another report on the "SUN" floppy, which, in its shiny new sliced-open
jacket, has been renamed to "boil in saucepan on kitchen stove as long as it takes."
Ed note: Kids, don't try this at home. Alma Peterson is a trained professional.
(Editor's PS: A greatly condensed version of this article was printed in The Interface in September
1990. A year or two ago I attempted to contact Ms. Peterson to request an update on her further
experiments, but I was informed by the man who answered that she is no longer involved with
Commodore. Perhaps all her disks melted.)

(From the Dayton Area Commodore Users Group newsletter via The Commodore Information Center)
(Recommended companion article: "The Disappearing Floppy Disk," below)
   

The Disappearing Floppy Disk

by Dick Estel

Experiments with sun, microwave and freezing have shown that the floppy disk is pretty sturdy--as long as you have one. But the continued advances in the PC world do not bode well for users of antiquated media. It is getting harder and harder to find double-sided, double-density 5.25 inch floppies. 

I have not seen them in stores for some time (in fact, 5.25 disks of any type are becoming a thing of the past, as current model PC's use only 3.5" disks).

LOADSTAR, surely the last major user of 5.25 disks, recently lost their last supplier, and had to resort to recycled disks (not used in the sense that they had been loaded and handled, but not new in the sense that they were unsold program disks). Not long ago I saw an ad for disks for 19 cents each from a Commodore user in Canada with whom I've corresponded for several years. When I contacted him by Email, he had sold all his disks--to LOADSTAR! 

Another supplier is Ed Hart in the Bay Area, who acquired a large number of disks of both sizes a couple of years ago. When I talked to him in early May, he was down to about 1,000 disks. He was charging 10 cents at that time. If LOADSTAR hears of this, how long do you think that supply will last? (I purchased 100 of each size, the 3.5's for myself and the others for the club). 

Most of us have acquired oodles of programs and files we don't use, and have dozens or hundreds of floppy disks that are carefully (or not so carefully) stored somewhere. Recycling these may well be the best and possibly only source of disks in the not-so-distant future.

The 3.5 format may not be around all that long either. Double-density disks can be used on PC's but are no longer the standard. And even the high-density disks which have 1.44 megabytes are falling out of favor, with newer programs creating ever larger files. A 3" by 4" photo, scanned at 150 dots per inch and saved in a high quality format on the PC can run over one megabyte. No one wants to store files one to a disk. So PC users are turning to newer disk formats that start with a 100-megabyte capacity.

There should be quite a few 3.5 DD disks, and a huge supply of 3.5 HD disks for some time to come. The latter can be used on CMD's FD 2000 drive; this may be a good way to go if you anticipate a long-term need for significant storage capacity. If you are using your Commodore at the basic level for a bit of word processing and playing around with GEOS, you probably have your own stock in the form of disks you haven't touched for years.

From "The Interface," newsletter of Fresno Commodore User Group 

(Recommended companion article: "The Indestructible Floppy Disk," above)

 

The Last Commodore 

by Dick Estel

In the March 1998 issue of the Commodore Mailink, Managing Editor Jean Nance asked, when will the last Commodore die?

In June, 1990, Lee Pasborg, editor of The Town Cryer, Heartland Users Group, Cape Girardeau MO, wrote an article titled The Orphan Computer, pointing out that while Commodores were about to become orphans, they would be vital, healthy orphans that could survive for years with the right care and planning. He correctly predicted that we would see Amigas sold at yard sales by 1995. 

Also in the early 90's, I wrote a similar article for The Interface, newsletter of Fresno Commodore User Group. My theme was that while the sunset of Commodore was in view, it would be a long and glowing sunset. 

While Lee and I both realized that a working Commodore 15 years hence would do everything it could do back then, we both were concerned that a Commodore of 1990 would not be satisfactory for most users in 1995. Indeed, many Commodore users have abandoned their machines for PC's, Mac's and Amigas, but many continue to use the older machine along side a new one. 

What we did not foresee was that a few talented programmers and engineers saw opportunity where we saw limits. They put their brains and skill and effort to the task of making Commodore nearly equal to many other newer and faster machines. Because of this, Commodore has survived in a more vital form than Lee and I expected.

Thanks to these often unsung heroes, we have large hard drives, improved 3.5" drives, and add-on equipment to increase not only disk access, but operating speed. Its true that many users are satisfied with their machine just as it was in 1990. Others felt that these improvements were still not enough. But enough Commodore users to support several dozen small companies and individuals have taken advantage of these new products to keep their machines at an acceptable level into the 21st century. 

The last Commodore will die only when no one is willing and able to make repairs, because as long as they work, there will be people who will keep them running. With a few million around for spare parts, there's no reason why we can't have a small but world-wide group of Commodore devotees a dozen years into the next millennium.

From The Interface, newsletter of Fresno Commodore User Group

 

The Nine Lives of Commodore

by Dick Estel

You'll find this does not cover all nine of the lives mentioned in the title--because Commodore has not yet reached it's final life.

First Commodore was a "low cost" home computer, priced around $600, well below the thousand or more required for a Radio Shack or Apple product about the same time.

Next the price dropped substantially, with the bottom retail store price in the neighborhood of $150 to $200 for the C-64. During this incarnation over ten million C-64's were sold worldwide. At the same time the disrespect that Commodore has suffered ever since began, with the epithet of the day being "game machine." Part of this was due to the fact that Commodore was in fact the best game machine around. IBM had crude graphics and no sound other than a pitiful "beep."

Then came the decline of Commodore the company, which stayed away from the pattern of innovation, advancement, and obsolescence marking the rest of the PC world. In its final years the company gave birth to another excellent, non-compatible machine, the Amiga. With the demise of the company, Commodore entered the "orphan" phase.

But there were plenty of "foster parents" willing to continue to care for their machines. User groups became the primary method of support. 

Soon Windows arose as the primary force in the PC world (borrowing liberally from Apple who had borrowed from Xerox). At this time Commodore became "obsolete."

This seems to have been the status for the last five or six years, even as unsung heroes labored to drag the Commodore into the 21st century with RAM expansion, hard drives and processor speed-up hardware like the Super CPU.

Now Commodore seems to have entered a new life era. I'm not sure what to call it, but possibilities include "venerated classic," "historic curio," and "tool of unrepentant Neanderthals." This phase is marked by a strange interest in these "archaic" machines by the popular mass media. In the summer of 1999 a positive and respectful article appeared in the New York Times. At the 1999 Vintage Computer Show in Santa Clara, our club president, Robert Bernardo, made contact with people from several publications. Out of this came an article in Wired magazine, which usually has its compass pointed unwaveringly to the future. Wired interviewed Robert, programmer Maurice Randall and others, and conducted a photo session with Robert in early January.

The magazine Shift, which is kind of a Wireless for the great white north published an article on the Vintage Computer Show and featured Robert's photo in the table of contents as well as the article, along with a half dozen other pictures from the show.

I myself received a call from The Fresno Bee (our local newspaper) to ask about "people who use old computers." This culminated in an article in The Bee's "Neighbors" section, which is sort of an attempt to print a folksy small town newspaper for various regions of our metropolis. The article featured a photo of an Amiga (Commodore's "other" brand) and its proud owner, along with comments from Amiga users, a brief nod to Atari, and my own comments on the state of Commodore.

Let's see, that's about five lives. So I guess we have at least four more to look forward to as we plunge headlong into a new century. A good time to keep this in mind: If you never change your style, it's bound to come back again. 

From "The Interface," newsletter of Fresno Commodore User Group

(Click here for an update)

 

Commodore Computers: Not Ready for the Orphanage

by Lee Pasborg

Editor's Note: This was one of the most widely reprinted articles I have seen in any Commodore newsletter. I think we can agree that things are even better eight years after Lee's optimistic predictions.


At some point it is time to wake up and smell the coffee. The sad fact is the 8-bit computer world is shuffling off to the orphanage. Yes, I know that the 64 and Apple II aren't orphans yet, but the manufacturers have got them in the basket and are ready to ring the doorbell and run. The magazines that features our machines have either folded up or are withering away. Software is getting harder and harder to find, and little that is new is being introduced.

Our choices as users are simple. Either bail out, get a new machine and start over; or try to make the most of what we have, knowing that new hardware and software is going to be harder to find as the years pass. How you decide depends on what you want to do with your machine.

If you are primarily a game player, get an Amiga or fancy clone and play away. I have trouble with the idea of investing thousands of dollars to play games, but if you have the money to spare, have fun.

If you are a high-tech junkie, you are probably already in the 16/32 bit world, unless you are poor. If that's the case, I guess you are stuck with 8-bits for the time being. You can soup up your machine until it rivals the performance of the fancier models.

However, if you are a home computer user, you could stick with your orphan as I intend to do. Let's face it, the 64, 128 and Apple II are going to be orphans unlike any others. The Sinclair had only 1 or 2 K of memory--not enough to load in a decent program. The VIC 20 had 16 K but a 22 column screen. The Apple III, Lisa, and Plus4 never got off the ground, so there is little software that was written for them. The PC Jr. had that awful keyboard. When these machines became orphans there was little their owners could do with them. It is important to realize, however, that some of these machines are still being used today. User groups have sustained their owners over the years.

Apple and Commodore users do not have the same kinds of problems that the owners of other orphans had. The machines are well developed and well thought out. The 64 is capable of loading fairly sophisticated programs, including word processors and data bases capable of servicing a small business. Expanded Apples and the 128 have even more features. There is nearly an unlimited supply of software still available for your machine. Millions have been sold, and they are not going to disappear. The 128 and the 80 column Apples have nearly all the features that most people need in a home computer. If you plan to stick with your machine, you might consider doing some of the following:


1. Start accumulating the software you need now while it is still readily available. It's true that in the years to come you'll be able to get a lot of software for next to nothing, but you can't count on getting what you need this way. If you don't already have a good quality word processor, copy utility, etc., get one, preferably with all documentation.

2. If you run across hardware at a bargain price, consider buying it. Even dead machines serve a purpose--parts. Again, as time goes by, the prices for Commodore and Apple hardware should drop to next to nothing. An extra disk drive is always nice to have anyway.

3. Pick up books that cover your machine, especially programming reference guides. These are getting harder to find in the bookstores now, but a used one will do just as good a job as new--maybe even better, since the previous owner has probably marked the most useful pages already. Get the book even if you don't program or even understand most of what the book says; someday you may want to learn.

4. Join and support your local users' group. There you will find other hard-core enthusiasts who will be glad to share solutions to your problems. Someone will know how to get a program to run, or where you can get repairs done.

5. Don't despair! Orphans may have a harder time than others, but as long as they stay healthy, they can be just as productive as anyone else. The way I figure it, by the time the last 8-bit goes south for the last time, today's computers will look ancient. Consider the advances that have occurred in the last five years. If you and your orphan can hang on until 1995, it's likely that you'll see Amigas at yard sales.

So when the orphanage door opens for our favorite machines, it will be sad -- becoming an orphan is not a happy event. But it need not be the end. After all, an orphanage is not a graveyard. As long as we keep using these useful, productive machines, their being orphans will really be irrelevant.

(from The Town Cryer, Heartland Users Group, Cape Girardeau MO, June, 1990; reprinted in The Interface, September, 1990; and again in 1998)

           
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Updated September 9 , 2016