Your Roving Reporter
I attended (and exhibited at) the Los Angeles Atari Computer Faire on August 15 and 16, and I would like to share a few things I saw and a few thoughts I had. The most significant part of this Faire was probably Atari's presence. As far as I know, this was their first real participation in a user group-sponsored event, and they were there in force. Such Atari notables as Sam Tramiel, Sig Hartmann, John Feagans, Neil Harris, Mel Stevens, and Sandy Austin (and others who will undoubtedly embarrass me by asking me why I forgot them) all made an appearance.
Faster ST Graphics
Most important were the products being shown there for the first time. Atari's new blitter chip for the ST was being put through its paces. This chip takes over some of the graphics processing (such as moving sprites) that must be done in software on current ST machines. Depending on the type of processing, this chip should make graphics-oriented programs run from two to six (my estimate) times faster.
The 80-column adapter for the eight-bit machines was also on display, as was a new word processor for the ST: Microsoft Write. Although it is another nice, solid word processor, I did not see any really exciting features. But the very presence of Microsoft in the Atari world is expected by many to lend respectability to the ST machines.
The real battle for attention, though, was among the various purveyors of music software for the ST machines, particularly by the MIDI-oriented companies. Sounds ranged from exotically electronic to a guitar so realistic I thought it was a live accompaniment.
The Catalog (honest, that's the company's official name) people were showing off animated 3-D graphics, which wasn't too surprising, given the capabilities of Tom Hudson's CAD 3-D program. But then they added liquid crystal "shutter" glasses for true 3-D vision and a glimpse into some fascinating future possibilities. Liquid crystal glasses are not exactly a convenience store item (they usually go for hundreds or even thousands of dollars—mostly to the military), but you can expect to buy a pair sometime early next year for $150 or so, according to the exhibitors.
Significantly missing, though: the game companies. No Brøder-bund, no Sierra On-Line, and so on. What a turnaround from the early days of the West Coast Computer Faire. Most attendees probably didn't complain, though, since there was a good deal of software for eight-bit and ST machines. There were literally hundreds of titles available in each category, even though the Faire organizers purposely limited the number of dealers at the Faire to four, and one of those sold no eight-bit software.
Finally, the show was put on by an association of user groups, and almost every member I talked to was pleased by the show and the turnout. Final figures were not in as I left, but John Tarpanian, president of both HACKS and ACENET, estimated the crowd for the two-day event at 3000 people. It seemed at least that big. Atari is encouraging at least two more such shows that I know of: one right here in San Jose in September, and one in Portland in October. There's another show in Virginia in November, though it's not as closely tied to Atari as these other three. I suggest attending one of these if you can.
Join Your Local User Group
This is the first of my answers to readers' inquiries, and it ties in neatly with the discussion above. Several people asked me where they could get (1) help with their hardware and/or software, (2) cheap public-domain programs, or (3) up-to-date news on events of the Atari world. My answer to all three? Join a user group.
I have pushed user groups in this column before, and I will probably do so again. At the Faire, for example, one person thanked me for getting him involved in a group—he had quickly gotten the help he needed. I asked him if he's now returning the favor to newer members. He is. He's the club's librarian.
There are over 300 active user groups in the U.S. now, so there's a good chance there is one near you. And if you join one, maybe you can help put on one of these Faires in the next year or two.
How do you find a user group? Ask a local dealer or look for announcements in newspapers. And user groups: Be sure to have a publicity chairperson who gets you mentioned in your hometown paper from time to time. If you are absolutely desperate, send me a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and I will give you the address of the closest group on my list. Send your request to P.O. Box 710352, San Jose, CA, 95171-0352. No guarantees of a good match, though.
Also, if you have a modem, you might like to know that I have an account on CompuServe. You can leave messages for me by using my account number: 73177,2714. I expect to be active on Delphi in the near future, too, but I don't have an account name for that service yet. Please understand that I cannot give long-winded answers online. It costs money, remember. But I don't mind comments, suggestions, or even quick questions.