Saturday, July 15, 2017

CoCo Roots


Where It All Began

At the age of 11, in grade 7, I was got my first computer; a Tandy Color Computer 3 with a Tandy FD-502 floppy drive.  Why was the CoCo 3 my first computer? It was all because of a Saturday morning flyer we received in the mail. The best part is we didn’t even know what a CoCo was!  My dad and I happened to notice a sale RadioShack was offering on a CoCo 3 for $99.99 and for that price, we just had to go check it out.

 I had wanted a computer for the longest time and my dad knew this. So we headed down to our local RadioShack and luckily they had a few left in stock at that sale price. In the store, I also convinced my dad into buying a floppy disk system which wasn’t easy considering the floppy drive was $299.99. I figured I wouldn’t push it for a color RGB monitor.

 When we got back home,  I immediately unboxed and hooked up the CoCo 3 and floppy drive to a small color television we had. I was so thrilled to see that green screen with the OK prompt! Looking back, I hadn’t a clue  of how to use or know what to do on this machine but nonetheless I was excited. I dove right into the excellent manuals that came with the computer and before I knew it I was learning commands, formatting floppy disks, typing in simple basic programs and saving them to disk.

Interacting With People

After about a month of going through the manuals and hacking around on the CoCo I was on the quest for something more; I wanted to buy and run some commercial made software. Travelling on my bike back to RadioShack, I went with some saved up paper route money and purchased some games, two ROM cartridges and a floppy disk based game. As my luck would have it, when I went to the counter to pay for these games I noticed a flyer mentioning a local color computer club in my city. It was a CoCo users group that met monthly. I wrote down the information, paid for my games and headed home. The fiirst thing I did when I arrived back home was beg my dad to take me to this CoCo users group and sooner than I thought I was attending my first user group meeting.

I was so nervous and excited at the same time as I walked into a high school cafeteria where it was held each month. At the age of 11, I was by far the youngest person in there. My dad was very patient and would just sit there each month during the meetings and presentations. I learned a great deal of information on the CoCo and also computers in general. I discovered The Rainbow magazine and I borrowed software from the clubs library and was able to experience a lot of third party software that was not sold through RadioShack. I enjoyed meeting and talking to people about the CoCo and computers. Every month I would count down the days until the next meeting, where I would soak up every bit of knowledge that I could from the meetings, presentations and talking to people. I also had learned from a member there was another users group in a city next to us that wasn’t too far away and ended up attending that one as well. So now, I had two user groups to look forward to each month.

Because, CoCo!

Like most people, by the time 1991 came along we started to notice the writing on the wall with Tandy not supporting the CoCo anymore and we moved onto other platforms. I eventually switched over to a 386 MS-DOS PC based computer.  The great news was that MS-DOS wasn’t difficult for me to learn at that point because RS-DOS was similar in a lot of ways. I ended up sticking with the PC platform and fast forward 27+ years,  and today I run my own computer business doing sales, service, networking, and onsite work.  I owe where I am today because of the CoCo. It enabled me to learn operating systems, simple BASIC programming and most of all,  it lead me into joining user groups and interacting with people at such a young age.

A Feel For Nostalgia...

Sometime back in 2005,  I got the bug to get back into the CoCo. After some Google and eBay searching it wasn’t long before I had a complete CoCo 3 setup shipped to my house. From there on in I was hooked! Reading all the web pages created by dedicated retro CoCo users, I was blown away to see new hardware and software being created for this near 30 year old computer. And then the big moment came when I discovered a particular event called “CoCoFEST!”.  I found out it was still active after all these years, held in the Chicago area. I was a little hesitant and it was my wife who talked me into going (she probably regrets this now).  Since attending my first fest in 2010 I haven’t missed a year yet. CoCoFEST! reminds me of the old days when I attended the user groups, just on a bigger scale. I’ve met so many great people there and always have a wonderful time. It is where I met John Linville & Mike Rowen, two out of the five founders for creating our new event – Tandy Assembly!

The Formation

A few years ago, John and I were dreaming of having our own small retro computer event. He invited me to spend a few days at his house before CoCoFEST! and we would drive together to the fest. While in his area, he showed me a possible location that he had checked out for a possible event. But then time went by and it wasn’t until last year at VCF Midwest where myself, John and Mike met up. We then kicked around the idea about having a Tandy themed event.  John was mentioning about this half way point for him driving from his house to Chicago called “Chillicothe” in Ohio State. John also mentioned that it was roughly the exact same time for me travelling to Chillicothe from my house as him. The even better news was when Mike told us Chillicothe was very close to him. Shortly after our meet up at VCF Midwest Mike didn’t waste any time and went with his wife to scope out Chillicothe and the particular venue John was suggesting we hold the event in. Mike was also impressed with the location and venue. Before long Mike was pushing me and John to get this idea off the ground. We came up with the name “Tandy Assembly” to welcome all Tandy computers and because it’s an all Tandy event, we contacted the folks from the TRS-80 Trash Talk podcast to see if they wanted to help put on this event with us. Peter and Randy really liked the idea and teamed up with us. With the five of us now onboard BOOM! Tandy Assembly is born.

Calling All Tandy’s

No matter what flavor of Tandy computer you have, had, or like. Whether you plan on being a speaker, vendor, exhibitor or attendee traipsing around mingling with other Tandy enthusiasts, I hope to see you there at our inaugural (and hopefully annually) assembly of all Tandy computers. –Tandy Assembly!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Four Months to Go

A few years ago by chance I came across a TRS-80 Model I computer for sale on eBay.  I saw this picture of a computer that I had not seen in many years in a wholly different light than I had 10 or 20 years ago.  Back in the 1990s, this same machine would probably have meant little more to me than laughably antiquated technology that I would never use again.  But, in 2015, it gave a different impression.  It was no longer conceivable for this machine to be compared with the computing machines of the present.  The difference in scale of performance between the phone in my pocket and that TRS-80 made the comparison unthinkable.  The machine immediately resonated with me in the context of a 20 year career in software engineering.  The contrast of that relatively simple computer with today's complex technology and software development processes was striking. I wanted to re-experience the pureness of programming an 8bit computer in machine language again.

Here was one of the first microcomputers sold to the general public, rather than just the computer aficionado.  For a few years in the late 1970s, the TRS-80 was the best selling computer in the world. It introduced the layman to the world of what was possible with a computer in the home or the business.  And more so than a computer will today, it immediately introduced countless boys and girls to the concepts of computer programming by presenting the READY prompt and silently waited for computer instructions to be entered to bring it to life.  It was a creative device foremost rather than the consumer oriented devices of today.  Those boys and girls took those skills they learned on that black and white 4K TRS-80 with a cassette recorder and are using them today to operate the complex computer dominated systems of our world in countless ways and in all industries, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

I purchased that TRS-80 on eBay a few years ago.  And what followed was an incredible journey into the now growing hobby of vintage computing.  Many Tandy computers (and a few Ataris, Apples, Commodores, TIs, etc.) later and I am enjoying it more and more.   Along the way I have met some of the most warm and genuine people that I know.  I consider many of them good friends even though I have not personally met them!  This was actually one of the main impetuses behind founding Tandy Assembly for me.  I want to keep trying to build the community of enthusiasts and bring them together to meet in person to simply enjoy our hobby with like-minded individuals.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the TRS-80 Microcomputer.  It is fitting that this is the year we will also be hosting the first large gathering of Tandy Radio Shack computers in at least 30 years.  Join us this October 7th and 8th in Chillicothe, Ohio as we celebrate the history of this legendary computer and its descendants.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Exciting Times

It doesn't seem very long ago, back when I started thinking about the event that has become known as Tandy Assembly. It started as a bit of a "pipe dream", partly as a reaction to the fact that the retro computing events that appealed to me seemed to be concentrated in the Spring, and partly out of a desire to have such an event physically closer to my home. Over time I talked about it enough that I convinced a few of my Tandy Color Computer (CoCo) friends that it was worth doing, but we still lacked a good location. Then, fate stepped-in...

First Capital of Ohio

Last fall I was desperate enough for another retro computing event that I agreed to meet my CoCo friends (and podcast partners) Neil Blanchard and Mike Rowen at the VCF MidWest event in the Chicago area. Over the last few years I have enjoyed driving to various events, partly for the "road trip" and partly just secure in the knowledge that I can acquire more stuff and be able to bring it home without any big problems. Unfortunately, Chicago is many hours from my home and some rest is required along the way. I had been stopping in Ohio near the Dayton area during my CoCoFEST! trips over the past few years, but for some reason I reevaluated my stopping place this time and found Chillicothe, OH as being slightly closer to the "half way" point of my trip. So, I found a hotel in Chillicothe and there I stopped.

It turns out that stopping in Chillicothe was a great idea! While not a "big" city by most standards, this little oasis in southeastern Ohio has plenty of amenities for hosting just the sort of event my friends and I had been envisioning. When I reached Chicago, I shared the news with my friends. Mike Rowen lives reasonably nearby in Indiana, and within a few weeks he and his wife took some time to visit Chillicothe as well. Mike was equally impressed, and before long he was pressing me and Neil to get serious about running a new retro computing event!

Tandy is Dandy

As CoCo folks, we all have CoCoFEST! as a defining example of what a retro computing event should be like. Yet, it remains unclear as to whether or not the CoCo community can support another Color Computer event each year in real life. In any case, we wanted to limit any direct competition between our new event and the venerable CoCoFEST! For months we had tossed around ideas for how to change or expand the event in a way to have a different focus while still retaining a solid place for our main interest, the Tandy Color Computer. Eventually, we found the perfect new theme -- Tandy computers, all of them.

By this time, the TRS-80 Trash Talk podcast had appeared. This indicated that there might be a big enough following of Z80-based Tandy folks to pair with some dedicated Tandy Color Computer folks in order to fill-out a new event. In the same spirit of fraternity, we decided that representatives of any machine under the Tandy umbrella would be welcome. We have yet to make good contact into any existing Tandy 1000 or other groups, but they are welcome and we still hope to make their acquaintance. In the meantime, we are already months into planning our inaugural (and hoping to be annual) assembly of Tandy computer enthusiasts -- Tandy Assembly!

Casting a Wide Net

So there you have it -- the teams behind the CoCo Crew and TRS-80 Trash Talk podcasts have joined forces to bring you an event in real life, conveniently located in the middle American town of Chillicothe, OH. Whatever model of Tandy computer brings you the fondest memories, and whatever stories you have to share about youth wasted at Radio Shack or the profound influence your Tandy computer had on your life, we want to meet you, greet you, and hear your stories. So whether your "daily driver" is a CoCo, a Model III, a Tandy 1000SX, a PC-2, a Model 100, or even a Zoomer, then come and be with your people on the 7th and 8th of October this year (2017) in Chillicothe, OH...see you there!