Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 11, NO. 6 / JUNE 1985 / PAGE 84

Home control, CP-M, and a flat screen for Apple II users. Owen W. Linzmayer.

Home Control, CP/M, and a Flat Screen for Apple II Users

It has been said that "He who dies with the most toys wins,' and in my opinion, the Apple II is one of the greatest toys ever invented. This month we take a look at some interesting gadgets that make our computers work harder for us and allow us to enjoy our computers even more.

Home, Sweet Computerized Home

Topping this month's hit parade is the SmartHome home control system from CyberLynx of Boulder, CO. SmartHome is a wireless control/security system that you program with your computer. Turn your stereo into a turbo-charged radio alarm clock, have SmartHome switch on the hallway light if it detects smoke, install security sensors on your doors and windows, and let SmartHome dial for help if your house is being broken into--the possibilities are bounded only by your imagination.

The SmartHome Control Unit (SCU) itself is a metal box the size of a half-height external disk drive. It has its own AC power cord backed up by an internal 9-volt battery, and it interfaces with the modem port of an Apple IIc or the Super Serial card of a II. The SCU acts as a receiver of the radio signals sent to it by the various sensors (handheld transmitter, door/window, motion, and smoke). Then, according to how you have programmed the system, the SCU sends command signals through your existing house power wiring to the lamp and appliance switchers. The whole system is wireless and can be installed in a few hours. A maximum of 13 devices can be controlled on each floor of your home, but that requires the purchase of additional modules from CyberLynx.

The SmartHome Control Unit is told what to do by an installation program supplied with the system. The program is icon-driven, much like Electronic Arts' Pinball Construction Set. You lay out a floor plan for your house or apartment, then add icons representing appliances and sensors. Finally, you link sensors to appliances and assign commands. To turn the television on/off with the handheld transmitter, for example, simply connect the two icons together and select the toggle function. To operate correctly, though, the sensors and appliance modules must be set to send and receive individual codes. This is outlined in the manual, but the explanations are rather difficult to understand. Although the manual is replete with figures and illustrations, it lacks cohesiveness, which makes it hard to comprehend.

Once programmed, the SCU is disconnected from the computer, leaving it free for normal use. The SCU retains time and date information so that you can use the system to make your house look lived in while you are away on vacation. Another security option that can be added to the system is the SmartHome Alarm Center. This simulated woodgrain box is the size of a small bookshelf speaker and connects to the SCU via a very long cable. It acts as an appliance and can be activated directly by any of the sensors, or set on a time delay that allows you to disarm the alarm before it blasts you out of your socks and your neighbors out of their beds. This unit is loud.

I would have liked a numeric keypad on the alarm center so that you could arm/disarm the system just as you enter your secret password in an automatic banking machine. An option that is available is an automatic telephone dialer that installs within the alarm center and can be programmed to dial different numbers upon receiving specified signals from the SCU.

I enjoyed evaluating the SmartHome system and was quite pleased to find that it operated dependably in an apartment-style environment without picking up stray radio signals that could theoretically disturb the system. My main complaint involves neither the hardware nor the software, but rather, the manual. Although it is apparent that a great deal of effort went into the production of the documentation, it still suffers from insufficient examples.

If you have ever wanted to control your surroundings from the comfort of your easy-chair, or if you have felt the need for a security system, SmartHome may be everything you need in one package.

It Can't Be Done

When the Apple IIc was first introduced back in April of 1984, Apple watchers were upset because it was a "closed system'; it didn't have slots like the rest of the II line. According to them, you wouldn't be able to expand the IIc; you couldn't add in interesting peripheral cards. It is a good thing that not everyone believed them, or we wouldn't have the Z80c CP/M card from Applied Engineering.

The Z80c is a co-processor board that mounts inside the IIc and gives you the capability to run most of the popular CP/M software packages on your IIc. Created by Gary Kildall and now licensed by Digital Research, CP/M is the most widely used microcomputer disk operating system (DOS). Designed 12 years ago to run on now-antique 8 diskettes, CP/M continues to enjoy popularity because of a large public-domain software base. Its continued existence rests largely upon the multitude of programs that are free for the asking and the price of a disk (see Programmer's Guide to CP/M by Sol Libes available from Creative Computing Press).

The Z80c is a small, printed circuit board that contains, among other things, a Z80 microprocessor. After following the detailed illustrated instructions for opening up your IIc, you are told to remove the 65C02 cpu chip and plug it into the empty socket on the Z80c board. Then you plug the entire board into the now-vacant 65C02 socket underneath the keyboard and, for timing purposes, connect a small jumper wire to the leg of a chip on the IIc motherboard. As I write this, it is not clear whether this installation voids the Apple warranty, but remember that if you must take your IIc in for repairs, you can remove the Z80c board without leaving a trace.

With the Z80c board installed, the IIc can boot either CP/M-formatted disks or the standard DOS 3.3, ProDOS, and Apple Pascal disks. There is no need to specify which you are booting--the computer figures it out and uses the appropriate cpu; the presence of the Z80c board is completely transparent to most software. The Applied Engineering Z80c card permits the direct execution of 8080, 8085, and Z80 programs, including the CP/M operating system as well as all of the programs that execute in the CP/M environment.

The Z80c package comes complete with a CP/AM 4.0 system master disk that is not copy-protected. CP/AM 4.0 is "compatible with virtually all older CP/M systems. 99.9% of all programs that you will buy will require CP/M 2.2 for which CP/AM 4.0 is compatible, only better.' The various system and transient commands of CP/AM are explained briefly in the documentation, and several advanced books on the subject are recommended for further reading.

I experienced no problems installing the Z80c and find it works as claimed. I was, however, initially distressed when I booted my APTEST diagnostics disk and found that the disk drives were supposedly 20000% slow. Obviously the board interferes with the diagnostics, because the drives functioned correctly. For $159, the Z80c card offers the same features as the most popular Apple II CP/M boards, yet at a better price. Although I have never been a big fan of CP/M, I must admit it does give me a certain rush seeing WordStar boot up on my IIc, although I refuse to learn the arcane commands of yet another word processor.

As an aside, there is one other company of which I am aware that sells a similar board for the IIc. The company is called Intellicom, and the product is the $159 Intellicard IIc Z80 software development kit. Although the boards are functionally the same, the Intellicard does not come with any software, and the manual is a scant booklet. I mention this solely for information purposes and must recommend the Applied Engineering Z80c until such time as the folks at Intellicom enhance their package.

Oh Say Can You See?

Introduced by Apple in April of 1984 with delivery promised for that fall, the LCD flat panel display for the IIc was finally shipped in February of this year. Was it worth the wait? In my opinion, the answer is a disappointed "no.'

The flat panel display weighs two and a half pounds and, measuring 11.375 X 5.375 X 1.5 , is slightly larger than the IIc keyboard. The display has runners on the bottom side which rest in the vertical slots on the top of the IIc case. Unfortunately, this mounting is not sturdy and restricts access to the reset button.

The screen is connected via a flat, insulated ribbon cable to a small, white box that screws into the video expansion port on the back of the computer. This prevents you from using an RF modulator or an RGB adapter while using the flat panel display, but you can still use the NTSC video signal from the RCA phono jack to drive a composite monitor.

The flat panel screen requires no special software and can display a full 80 columns and 24 lines of text in addition to 560 X 192 pixels (double hi-res graphics). Text characters are about the same size as normal dot matrix printer output, but because of the aspect ratio of the display, graphics take on a strange, stretched appearance that hardly resembles the same image on a standard monitor.

Since the flat panel display is essentially just another viewing device, anything that can be displayed on a regular IIc monitor can be displayed on the flat panel screen; however, that doesn't necessarily mean you can read it.

As is the case with all LCD screens, the most important consideration is whether the information displayed is legible (see "High Resolution and Color Liquid Crystal Displays,' p. 114, February 1985). The IIc flat panel display performs adequately in this regard; Apple has incorporated a number of features to insure that both text and graphics can be seen under a wide range of lighting conditions and from many viewing angles. In addition to using a contrast control knob, you can lock the flat panel display into a number of viewing angles. A special anti-glare coating and an inverse switch which lets you alternate between dark characters on a light background and vice versa improve legibility. The one thing with which I am not comfortable, however, is that there is no border between the display area of the LCD screen and its plastic case. Thus characters at the extreme edges of the screen are often obscured by the shadows cast by the case.

The documentation supplied with the flat panel display is multi-lingual, with four pages devoted to each language. One thing the booklet warns against is leaving the display in direct sunlight or in an overheated area. I accidentally left my IIc next to the window one sunny afternoon and came back to find that one column of pixels in the display had died. Imitating Lazarus, however, they miraculously came back to life a few hours later. Apparently no permanent damage was done, but I wanted to make sure. So out came the screwdriver, and I attacked the display with curiosity and a desire to see the liquid crystal goo inside the case. What I found was eight tiny chips (each with one-hundred pins!) driving two displays that work in conjunction to give the appearance of one large screen. I guess these little connections are so fragile that occasionally they temporarily malfunction. Incidentally, the LCD panels are made in Japan by Sharp Electronics.

The IIc flat panel display costs $599, comes with a 90-day warranty, and is intended for "mobile professionals who take work home or travel frequently.' Personally, I think the price is too high, especially in light of the fact that to use the IIc on the fly you must purchase a carrying case with a built-in battery pack like the $250 Discwasher Cari. Even in this configuration, the system is more appropriately described as "luggable.' Unless your particular requirements demand that you use an Apple computer, you may be better off buying a truly portable TRS-80 Model 100 with its built-in 300-baud modem and adding as much RAM as possible. You'll save yourself lots of money, not to mention muscle fatigue.

Well, there you have it, a trilogy of interesting gadgets for the Apple II line. It must be gratifying for Woz to see his creation being used in ways not even he could have imagined when he was first tinkering around in that famous California garage.