Monday, September 11, 2017

Honoring Tandy Radio Shack

As anyone who listens to Floppy Days knows, my first computer was the TRS-80 Model I.  That little computer, with 4K of RAM and 4K of ROM, with a separate but bundled monitor and cassette drive, and with it’s blocky black-and-white graphics was an absolutely beautiful amazing device.  I will never forget the thrill of receiving that college graduation gift from my wife and the sheer joy of opening the box, hooking everything up, and turning on the machine.  I spent hours going through the bundled Level I manual and learning the limited Level I BASIC.

I clearly remember the months leading up to that acquisition.  As everyone knows, Radio Shacks were ubiquitous in those days and their stores were full of wondrous items, not the least of which was the TRS-80 line of computers.  I spent many an hour in there drooling over the Model I and admiring it’s clean, futuristic lines.  The rest of the store was pretty fun to wander through as well.  Electronics galore.  But, what I remember most was the computers.

Fast forward to modern times, and alas, Radio Shack is pretty much no more, as they never could figure out how to adapt to changing times.  Internet purchases from places like Amazon took away their business and they tried but could never maintain the margins they used to get back in their glory days.  It’s too bad because I will always have fond memories of the stores, even though I have to admit that prior to their liquidation I probably had only been in a Radio Shack a dozen times in the past decade.

Tandy Radio Shack must be given its due.  In their heyday, through the 1990’s, they carried probably the largest variety of computers of any of the major retailers. From the line that was started by the TRS-80 Model I and grew into the Models II, III, 4, 4D, 4P, Model 16, Model 6000, to the pocket computer line, to the Color Computer and its cousin the MC-10, to the Model 100/102, 200 and that entire line, to the PC compatibles like the 1000 and 2000, and a myriad of other computers they made a critical and lasting contribution to the personal computer explosion of that era.

In my Floppy Days Podcast, I have covered some of these machines, with many more yet to go.  I’ve learned so much from researching these machines and own many of the different models.  I’m so impressed with what Radio Shack did over the years in the personal computer space.  When John Linville, Mike Rowan, and Neil Blanchard asked me if I would be interested in helping to put together an event to showcase Tandy Radio Shack and their entire computer line, I didn’t see how I could refuse.  My love and interest in their machines, and my awe and gratitude concerning what Radio Shack did over the years make the answer easy.  I’m grateful and honored to be a part of this inaugural event and to do what I can to help honor a company that is most deserving.

I really hope to see you there!  Please help us make this a great event.  I guarantee fun :)

Randy Kindig
host Floppy Days Podcast
co-host TRS-80 Trash Talk Podcast

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Time is Near

The Model I

My first access to a computer was in 1978, when my father brought home a TRS-80 Model I, 16k Level II system. I fondly remember the trip to the Radio Shack store in Kewaunee, IL. My dad and I stayed up until 2am that night, playing backgammon and blackjack. I was hooked immediately. I learned to program on the TRS-80 model I and it set in motion what would later become a career. I was 13 years old at the time. I spent most evenings through high school hammering at the keyboard, typing in programs from 80 Micro, and occasionally loading up Ball Turret Gunner, Star Fighter, or Meteor Mission. In highschool, I entered two projects in the science fair. One was a study of seeding random numbers and demonstrating how I could make the TRS-80's random number very predictable. The other was a program that solved chemical equations. It was written in basic, required the entire periodic table in memory and pushed 16k to its limits! It didn't hurt my chemistry grades either.

The Color Computer

Fast Forward to 1985. I was 21 and wanted a computer that wouldn't take up much space in my tiny apartment and wouldn't break the bank. Since I was very familiar with BASIC, my logical choice was the TRS-80 Color Computer. I quickly had Graphicom, Autoterm, Telewriter, added a disk drive and a real color monitor. I was amazed at what this little machine could do! Time was marked by each issue of The Rainbow arriving in the mail. Each month was like Christmas, flipping through the pages and drooling over the products I couldn't immediately afford.

Exiting the Tandy World

Eventually I made the jump to the Tandy Color Computer 3 and quickly embraced OS-9 as my day job was working almost exclusively with Unix operating systems. I managed to get UUCP up and operating on my CoCo 3. I could transfer files between home and office from either location. Sure it was 1200bps, but so cool to be able to network between the big metal and my humble CoCo3. The CoCo was my primary computer until 1996. With most CoCo support seemingly dried up, I purchased an Apple Mac Performa. One big reason for this was my fondness for the Motorola CPU family. Radio Shack was now only selling Intel/MS-DOS PCs. Life events would see the elimination of all of my CoCo stuff by 1998.

Rediscovering Community

In mid 2009, I began doing some web searches on the CoCo and was surprised to find quite a few hits and an active mailing list. I also discovered that there was still a CoCoFEST in the Chicago area. I had never had the opportunity to attend such events at their peak. Without question, I was going to attend. I also needed to obtain a CoCo again. Happily, through eBay and some local collections being sold, I was able to go from 0 to 60 in a very short time. My first CoCoFest was in the spring of 2010 and I've been attending ever since.

Why Tandy Assembly?

So, why the walk down memory lane? The main point is that each of us has a story and a connection to Radio Shack / Tandy computers, often more than one model. I worked at a Radio Shack store for a couple of years. Most of us have spent a long time in a Radio Shack store, trying out pocket computers, Model 100s, or Model IIIs & IVs. The younger among us had a similar experience with the Model 1000 and the line of Intel systems at Radio Shack. If you're a fan of Radio Shack / Tandy computers, you most likely grew up with its evolving forms.

While CoCoFEST is a great event every year, its focus is on only one computer. The other Radio Shack / Tandy communities seemed smaller and less active. In any case, none of the separate communities are what you would consider sizable. Tandy Assembly was meant to cast a wider net, encompassing all Radio Shack and Tandy computers in one place, giving everyone a chance to share their story, their experience, and hopefully to kindle more enjoyment in their vintage computers.

As I write this, the inaugural Tandy Assembly is just 5 weeks away! We are excited about the event and we hope that you are too. We've spent 18 months getting to this point and have learned a lot along the way. We have an amazing line up of Radio Shack/Tandy pioneer speakers that you won't want to miss!

So book a room and plan on seeing us at Tandy Assembly. See other models you never had the chance to look at and meet people that actually know about them! And of course, you can find your favorite model and bond with your kindred folk.  Its going to be a great time in Chillicothe,OH! Many lifelong friendships emerge from such events and you will certainly be happy you attended! 

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!