The Northeast Atari Fair
New England's First Atari Fair labeled a success
by Maurice Molyneaux, Andy Eddy and Charles F. Johnson
Andy Eddy, Charles F. Johnson and Maurice Molyneaux are all long-time users of Atari computers, and regular contributors to ANALOG and ST-Log. Their collective experience covers cable television, programming, hang gliding, music, game design, animation and graphics, in addition to various other sundry activities we won't mention here. This article is the first combination effort for the trio. Their next project will probably have something to do with meeting to engage in studies of the long-term effects of getting pleasantly "blittered."
October in New England brings the first touch of crispness to the air, signalling the start of the seemingly short stroll into winter. It also sets the foliage in the surrounding hills ablaze with bright reds and oranges, like a fiery DEGAS backdrop overseeing the small towns.
In 1987, October also brought the first official Atari Fair in New England, an event that took place over the Columbus Day weekend (October 10-11) at the Centrum in Worcester, Massachusetts. Sixty-two booths provided much to see and do for thousands of Atari enthusiasts from all over the Northeast and Canada, from looking at the latest in computer hardware, to blasting fellow show-goers via the networked wonder of MIDI-Maze.
The action really began on Friday, October 9, when the various exhibitors began setting up their booths amid confusion and handshakes galore, as those present got acquainted or reacquainted with each other. Through it all, whizzing about like a high-speed assembly language routine caught in an infinite loop, was ANALOG Editor/Publisher Lee Pap-pas—doing his best to get everything up and running smoothly.
To complicate matters, the rock group Heart was performing in the Centrum's auditorium both Friday and Saturday night, which resulted in a lot of anxious security guards trying to shuffle everyone out of the show both evenings. They must have feared "groupies" would sneak through the show to get backstage. The guards seemed unwilling to believe that those wearing staff or guest badges were just trying to take care of business and not trying to get on stage with Heart's Wilson sisters (though the thought had crossed our minds)!
The show opened to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday, and eager Atarians swarmed the many displays, keenly interested in seeing products they had previously known of only through rumors or announcements. The only real disappointment was how little was shown for the 8-bit machines; for the most part, the ST was the show's focus.
Closest to the entrance was the booth occupied by Supra Corp., where various peripherals were being demonstrated. Of particular note were the 2400-baud modem, 30-meg ST hard disk drive (sporting a DMA port for daisy-chaining additional devices), 20 megabyte internal hard disk (hard card) for the Mega ST, and a special new drive that can store ten megabytes of data on a 5¼-inch floppy disk! This high-density drive, which was shown utilizing Konica 480 TPI disks, operates at speeds comparable to a hard disk. Even though the disks are expensive, the ability to swap 10-meg disks is an attractive selling point—not to mention its obvious usefulness for backing up hard disks.
Astra Systems was on hand, displaying their combination hard/floppy ST disk unit. Sophos Chess was also present, showing their Chess software for the ST.
The MIO box for the XL/XE and a new ST hard disk were among the items shown by ICD. The MIO, as you may already know, allows simple "card" expansion of Atari XL and XE computers. ICD's 20-megabyte hard disk for the ST is notable because it fits under the monitor and can be tilted (acting as a stand). Further, it provides a DMA port for daisy-chaining other peripherals, and also sports two SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) ports for attaching non-ST specific devices.
Eidersoft had their large booth lined with computers showing an ST-ware cornucopia, from Triangle games and the Pro Sound Digitizer to the soon-to-be-released Quantum Paintbox—which, through programming tricks and screen interlacing, is capable of displaying some 4,096 colors.
Eidersoft also demonstrated another pending release from their '88 catalog: the Minicomm desk accessory. This program lets the user go on-line from within any GEM program, and offers many options that were only previously available through full-featured terminal software. One of the most sought after features of Minicomm is background file transfer, a process that frees you to run other applications while moving files, much like a printer buffer.
Virtusonics was one of the few vendors showing a new 8-bit product. Their Virtuoso Desktop Performance Studio package contains features for animating graphics, creating music, telecommunications, and much more. The program can be used for entertainment only, or for creating images and music for videotapes, etc. The Virtuoso package requires a minimum of 64K of RAM, so many older Ataris are not equipped to use it. Virtusonics plans to license drivers so that work created with Virtuoso can be used in other programs. Plans to port Virtuoso to the ST are underway.
Data Pacific was showing off the famous Magic Sac Macintosh emulator for the ST, as well as the long awaited Translator One box, which makes it possible for the ST 3½-inch drives to read, write and format actual Macintosh disks. (Previously, programs had to be ported from a Mac, or downloaded from a BBS, because ST drives couldn't read the Mac disk format). The Translator One plugs into the MIDI ports on the ST, and lets you use either internal or external drives in Mac mode.
An ST running Magic Sac demonstrated a Macintosh program called Mac-a-Mug, which builds facial images ("mug shots," if you will) from a large variety of noses, eyes, mouths, and other computerized body parts. The software for the Magic Sac is up to revision 4.52 now; proof of Data Pacific's high level of support.
Practical Solutions was on hand to demonstrate their popular Monitor Master switchbox (for toggling between color and monochrome monitors without cable switching) and their upcoming Video Key, which converts the ST's RGB output to a composite signal, allowing the user to hook up composite monitors, or even videotape computer graphics. Another new item was the Mouse Master, a box that allows users to plug two joysticks and the mouse into an ST. The flip of a switch changes from mouse to joystick mode. 1040ST owners, rejoice!
JNL Technologies—perhaps the youngest exhibitor in computer history—was showing Monitor Box, which combines a monitor switchbox with a converter providing both composite video/audio and RF (television) output.
At the show's center was the large Atari display. ST and XE machines were on hand, as was a Mega ST4, hooked up to the Atari SLM804 laser printer. Also present, though overlooked by many, was the entry-level Atari PC. It should also be noted that while the laser printer and the Atari PC were on display, Neil Harris confirmed that neither were locked into actual release dates.
Also at Atari's booth was the SX212 1200-baud modem. A beta version of the upcoming SX Express telecom program (by Keith Ledbetter) for 8-bit users of the SX212 was shown echoing the GEnie connection from a neighboring ST. Running on one XE was a stunning graphic demo with a pulsing Atari logo floating over a scrolling 16-shade GTIA field. Amazing what can be done on an 8-bit!
The long-promised Atari XEP80 80-column 8-bit adapters were also seen and sold at the show. However, there was no sign of the (then-just-released) XE Game System, or any of Atari's other video game consoles.
Thomas Carbone and Bill Leslie of Omnitrend Software were on hand, selling copies of their complex Universe II game, as well as their newest offering, Breach, a single-player tactical combat game in which the user must see his "squad leader" through many complex missions with varied objectives. It comes with a goodly amount of scenarios, in addition to a scenario editor and the promise of upcoming scenario disks.
Frank Cohen, president of Regent Software, presided over the Regent booth, where many of their ST programs were on display, including Regent Word II, Regent Base and The Informer, Regent's latest application. It's a multi-table database which allows the user to import presentation graphics from DEGAS or Neo-Chrome.
Hartech USA caught many an eye as they showed and sold their line of Atari calculators. Ranging in price from $5.95 to $24.95, Hartech offered over a dozen models from solar-powered "credit card" models to handheld printing calculators featuring 32-step auto-recall. All are handsome, inexpensive and bear the Atari stamp.
ANTIC Publishing's booth gained much attention with demonstrations of the many new graphics programs from The Catalog's ST line. From the 512-color pictures of Spectrum 512 to the video-style graphics of CyberPaint, there was a lot to see. Impressive—but somewhat slow—was Tom Hudson's eight-minute, 4-meg Spider Patrol running on a Mega ST4. Looking like a computer movie, Spider Patrol got a lot of deserved attention. It certainly showed what you can do with 4 megs of RAM and the Cyber Control animation scripting program.
Atari Explorer had a booth, and one point gave away some Firebird software packages to new subscribers. Other publications represented were ST Express, ST World and ST Applications.
Our own ANALOG Publishing had two booths. The ANALOG Sales booth was clearing out old 8-bit software and equipment at ridiculously low prices, while visitors to the main ANALOG booth were purchasing subscriptions, back issues of ANALOG and ST-Log, as well as ANALOG'S Atari 8-bit Extra and pocket reference cards. Also on display in the ANALOG booth were animations by Maurice Molyneaux, which attracted crowds unaccustomed to seeing such a computer-generated "cartoon."
Digital Vision, maker of the popular ComputerEyes video digitizer for both 8-bits and STs was showing off the ST version, along with software that could increase the demand for ComputerEyes even more. A program called Digispec now allows the (color) ST ComputerEyes to digitize full-color pictures into Spectrum 512 format, creating results far better than previously possible. The marriage of ComputerEyes and Digispec—consummated just two days before the show—is indeed a powerful one.
Migraph's booth was frequented by users interested in programs like EZ Draw 2.0 and the newer Drafix. Migraph's release of new modules for use with EZ Draw 2.0 have made EZ Draw more desirable than ever because they allow for more CAD-type graphics, as well as some desktop publishing capability.
Next to Migraph was QMI (Quantum Microsystems Inc.), makers of DeskCart and ST Talk. The most often heard question in that vicinity was, "When is ST Talk Professional 2.0 coming out?" The response from QMI chief John DeMar: "early November." If so, telecommunications users will have another quality choice for software.
QMI also showed their driver software for the Mitsubishi graphics tablet. This product will take the place of the mouse, permitting the user to input data into almost any application (such as DEGAS or CAD 3-D, even the desktop) with a stylus; a much-preferred method for computer artists and engineers.
Avant-Garde Software was demonstrating their PC emulator program, PC-Ditto. When run on an ST, it lets the user run most IBM PC-compatible software—with a slight loss of speed.
SoftLogic, the current leader of the ST desktop publishing pack, demonstrated their Publishing Partner program. More and more fonts and clip art for Partner are coming every month—many from outside firms—much to the delight of the program's users, and a testament to the program's acceptance in ST-land.
Delphi, the network housing ANALOG'S on-line Atari Users Group, had a booth where users could peruse the system (free of the usual on-line fees). While many users checked out the news, entertainment and sports, some of the Delphi regulars hopped into the ANALOG SIG, and read waiting messages in the forum, or chatted with other users on-line about the show itself. On more than one occasion, users' questions were relayed to a manufacturers' booth, with the answer shuffled back to the Delphi terminal for re-transmission.
MichTron's booth was filled with sights and sounds as many of their programs were played and purchased. Their oldest and newest were displayed, including the dazzlingly fast Goldrunner and the Marble-Madnessesque Airball.
Terrific Peripherals showed their ST RAM expansions and battery backup clocks. The guts-exposed ST on display offered a kind of visual support that most of those who have taken the "do-it-yourself" route wished they had experienced before.
One of the show-stoppers was the booth where Word Perfect for the ST was being premiered. Many users were impressed that a full-blown "professional" word processor was at last a reality for the ST. Although boasting a hefty price tag (suggested retail $395), Word Perfect offers file compatibility with all versions of the program, and calling of all commands through either GEM menus or keyboard strokes. The program sports a built-in 115,000-word dictionary/spell checker, as well as normally unavailable enhancements like an on-line thesaurus, footnotes and endnotes, plus the ability to generate tables-of-contents and indexes. If you couldn't afford the program, you could at least get a free Word Perfect baseball cap at the show.
True BASIC is the name of the program and the company that produces it. Created by two of the fathers of the original BASIC language (John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz), True BASIC is an updated and revised version of the language, designed to encourage "structured" programming. Also available on IBM PC compatibles, the Macintosh and Amiga, True BASIC offers modularity and graphics support. The ST version has complete AES/VDI library functions, and includes a GEM-based text editor. At the show, True BASIC, Inc. distributed a "flying ring" (like a hi-tech fris-bee) that was designed with the IBM version of True BASIC!
Megamax, Inc. showed a beta test version of their new updated C language system, now called Laser C. This is a much enhanced descendant of their popular Megamax C. Laser C does away with Megamax's 32K limitations, and features a very nice graphic shell to aid in the compiling process. Also included are a DRI-compatible linker and debugger, improved Resource Construction program, and improved floating point libraries. A variable sized RAM cache lets the editor, compiler, linker and debugger remain in memory simultaneously if you wish, speeding development even further.
There was a lot of action on the MIDI front, as the ST computer is quickly gaining acceptance in musical circles as a powerful, low cost alternative to the more firmly entrenched Macintosh. With so many booths demonstrating music software, the Centrum was in a state of near constant cacophony.
Hybrid Arts was demonstrating its ADAP sampling system, a high-end (read, expensive) audio processing tool for serious musicians. Also on display were the SMPTETrack, CZ-Android, DX-Android and Gen-Patch programs. And of course, Hybrid's MIDI Maze game kept scores of fair-goers busy trying to blast each other into submission.
Dr. T's Music Software had some new products on display, including the MPE (Multi Program Environment). This powerful new program is similar to Switcher on the Macintosh; it lets you load any four Dr. T programs into memory and switch between them instantly with the click of a mouse button. According to Dr. T spokesman Al Hospers, MPE will also allow users to access features of their KCS sequencer while using another program. For example, you could adjust your synthesizer sounds with a patch editor as the music plays—a terrific idea. Another interesting new program is the Programmable Variations Generator (PVG), which creates variations on a prerecorded musical part. The PVG lets you specify a wide range of options such as variations in pitch, dynamics, rhythm, etc.
Users' groups represented included DASH, PACE, A-BUG, J-BUG and RHODE ISLAND ACE. Computer dealers/retailers at the show included Compuclub (who shared a booth with Berkeley Microsystems, makers of a build-it-yourself hard drive kit), Best Electronics, Bit Bucket, Computer Bug and Software Connection. Many dealers and exhibitors donated items to be given away as door prizes. One lucky fellow walked off with a Magic Sac cartridge. Not bad for a $5 admission price!
Many conferences were called in the two seminar rooms, with varied topics like "Word Processing for the Power User." After Atari discussed its marketing and price policies, a number of users got the feeling the only thing missing from the presentation were pom-pom girls chanting, "The Mega ST is not overpriced". Neil Harris spoke about the history of the Tramiels' takeover of Warner Atari, telling humorous anecdotes about warehouses full of unsellable software and computers.
Bill Teal of Avant-Garde (PC-Ditto) and Dan Moore of Data Pacific (Magic Sac) presided over a conference with the title "All-Star Software Hacking." They discussed issues such as copyright infringement (did you know that in some European countries, computer software cannot be copyrighted?) and programming philosophy.
Unfortunately, not everything went smoothly. On Sunday morning, we entered the show an hour before the general public (one of the privileges of badge-holder status), and immediately noticed that a tall table at the ANTIC booth was tilted at a sickening angle, leaning on the lower table next to it. The Mega ST4 and color monitor had been spared a lengthy free-fall to the concrete, caught against the second table. However, the Mega's keyboard lay on the floor, and atop it, upside down, were two hard disk drives. The sight gave new meaning to the phrase "hard disk crash," and as a result of the accident, many of the large animations could not be run that day.
But all in all, it seemed that most of the attendees had a good time. The three of us writing this article had never before met in person. Our previous encounters were limited to a few phone calls, and conferences on Delphi. It's strange to travel to a place you've never been before, to meet people you've never seen face-to-face, and yet feel like old friends.
For many of us, the hectic pace of the show seemed to carry on into the evenings. We'll not forget the confused look on a waitress's face when, confronted by a mob of computer people, she was given the number in our party by (PaperClip programmer) Dan Moore...in hexadecimal! ("Waitress, we reserved a hex table for 8:30...party of 1C.")
Nor will we soon forget the way the term "blittered" came into being, or the way conversation would leap from "horizontal blank interrupts," to how the word kludge is pronounced, to the most important thing to do during a major earthquake (park your hard drive heads—in case anyone asks you) to "Clayton Walnum And The World's Worst Banana Cream Pie." Justified comments were made to the effect that most of us acted like we were "just out of high school."
And last, but not least, we had the most fun meeting some of you, the readers, in person, instead of via printed page or terminal screen. That, in and of itself, was the perfect capper to a great show.