Monday, April 17, 2017

Vintage Computer Festival East XII (2017)

Table of Contents ]

This ad is the cover to the Vintage Computer Festival East XII (2017) event brochure. VCF East XII, presented by the Vintage Computer Federation, took place Friday March 31, 2017 through Sunday April 2, 2017 at the InfoAge Science Center, 2201 Marconi Road, Wall NJ, the former site of Camp Evans, a United States military installation during parts of the 20th century.

The theme of this year's Vintage Computer Festival was The 40th Anniversary Of The Appliance Computer, celebrating the 1977 releases of the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the Tandy/RadioShack TRS-80.

Friday started out as a normal cold, wet, early spring day at the Jersey Shore. It wasn't raining hard, but it was chilly and raining hard enough. I arrived a little later than I had planned for the first day of activities.

Ian Primus's
CRT Repair & Maintenance Talk
Friday, March 31, 2017
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

In the morning, I caught the last half of Ian Primus's talk on CRT Repair & Maintenance. I than sat through Dean Notarnicola's talk on the TRS-80 Model I. To round out the morning sessions, I attended Corey Cohen's talk on Apple II Repair & Maintenance. I loved that Corey did his Apple II presentation while wearing an ATARI t-shirt.

Corey Cohen's
Apple II Repair & Maintenance Talk
Friday, March 31, 2017
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

Though I don't currently own any of the vintage computing hardware discussed in the morning sessions, the information presented could be applied to any vintage hardware repair and restoration activities. It was also nice to attend sessions that went along with the theme of the weekend.

All three morning sessions I attended were in Room #2. In fact, all of the talks I attended on Friday were either in Room #1 or Room #2. I never made it to any of the talks in Room #3. Although all of the rooms are in the same building, you can't actually walk through the building from Room #2 to Room #3, as there is an off-limits area in between. You would have had to go outside and reenter the building from the other end. Since it was raining out, I didn't want to go back outside, so I just attend the talks in Room #1 and Room #2. Still, it was a better layout than in the past years were the talks were held in revival tents setup out in the courtyard between the buildings. Those tents got pretty cold!

Event Map
Lecture Rooms & Exhibit Rooms
Marked With Blue Boxes

After my third morning session, a lunch of pizza and soft drinks was available for a few bucks. Shortly after eating lunch, I met up with Master Atari Archivist Allan Bushman, who had driven down from Connecticut for the event. We chatted ATARI for a while and then headed into the next session.

The afternoon started with the Friday Keynote session, Inside The Enigma: The History, Technology & The Real Story Behind Imitation Game presented, by Tom Perera, which was held in the Room #1. For me, Tom Perera's talk was the highlight of Friday. He is an engaging speaker who is full of passion and information on the German Enigma machines. Tom also runs the online-only Enigma Museum.

Inside The Enigma: The History, Technology
& The Real Story Behind Imitation Game
Presented By Tom Perera

After the keynote session, and just to round out the appliance-computer-themed sessions, I attended Todd George's session on the Commodore PET.

By 5 p.m., I was burned out and ready to head out for the day. Allan and I headed back to my house, about an hour or so away. After showing him my 8-bit collection, we went out for a late dinner with my wife Lucy at a nearby restaurant, than called it a night.

On Saturday morning, Allan was a great help in loading up our SUV with ATARI hardware and then unloading and setting up our exhibit at the event when we arrived. Unfortunately, we arrived a little later than I planned (again) and with the time it took to set up and test out the exhibit, I missed Bjarne Stroustrup's Saturday keynote on The Origins And Further Evolution Of C++.

Our exhibit was title ATARI Says Its First Words showing off ATARI 8-bit Voice Synthesizers utilizing the research and details from my previous blog posts Atari Says Its Word based on an Alien Group Voice Box hardware ad and Talk Is Cheap based on a Don't Ask Software ad for S.A.M., the Software Automatic Mouth. Both my wife Lucy and I manned the exhibit on Saturday and Sunday. Allan also helped out at our exhibit on Saturday when he wasn't exploring the rest of the festival.

ATARI Says Its First Words
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

We had a lot of people stop by our exhibit on Saturday. My brother Jim and my sister Barbara made the ride up from Toms River, NJ, about thirty minutes to the south of Wall, NJ. Mike Montana and his father, Richard "Mr. Glib" Montana also stopped by. Saturday is always the busier of the two exhibit days.

After the event closed for the day on Saturday, some of the staff, exhibitors and guests attended a buffet dinner at a restaurant called Clancy's Tavern in nearby Neptune City, NJ. Allan, Lucy and I spent most of the dinner talking with Vintage Computer Federation director Evan Koblentz.  

After dinner, we made the hour+ ride home to rest up for the Sunday session. Allan Bushman departed early on Sunday morning to head home to Connecticut while Lucy and I returned to the InfoAge Science Center for the third and final day of the festival.

On Sunday, Jamie Lendino came by and graciously autographed my copy of his new book Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation. I reviewed his book in a recent blog post. We also had a visit from Mr. Liber809 himself, Bosey Pitre.

Jamie Lendino, author of
Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation

During the weekend, there was one other ATARI 8-bit exhibit by Ralph Dodd, showing off his highly modified ATARI 8-bits. One of the Atari 8-bits had its internal BASIC chip replaced with a chip that can hold 256 different programs and the boot up software can be selected by toggling 8 switches on the top of the case, choosing the binary number for the desired program. Ralph also had an ATARI 8-bit with a internal SD card, an Ultimate Cart and other hardware.

Ralph Dodd's
Atari Secure Digital Trifecta Exhibit
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

Mr. Peter Flechter was also exhibiting, but instead of showing off his ATARI collection as he has done in the past, this year he had an assemblage of 1980s computers, including an ATARI ST, playing Battle Chess against each other via serial link in a weekend long competition. He didn't have any ATARI 8-bit hardware in his exhibit this year as, sadly, Battle Chess was never port to the platform.

As mentioned previously, the theme of the festival was the 40th Anniversary of the Appliance Computer with the launch of the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the TRS-80 in 1977. These three computer exhibits took up most of the floor space in Exhibit Hall #1. It was a sight to see. The Commodore exhibit was enormous.

At the Apple II exhibit, I got a chance to play an early, in-development copy of Michael Packard's upcoming release Alien Downpour. It is a pretty cool retro space shooter themed game that will be released on 5 1/4 floppy diskette and cassette on the Apple II's 40 Anniversary Release date. There was also an Apple II running the original Castle Wolfenstein written by Silas Warner and published by MUSE Software.

Apple II Exhibit
Running Castle Wolfenstein
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

Some final notes:

  • It was hard to have an audio-based exhibit, especially during the busy Saturday session, as it was so crowded and noisy in the exhibit hall at times, it was hard to hear.
  • If you are ever in the area on a weekend, go check out the InfoAge Science Museum. There are a dozen or so completely separate museum exhibits including a Model Railroad exhibit, a Shipwreck Museum, a World War II Miniatures Museum, multiple radio and electronic exhibits as well as the Vintage Computer Federation Museum (and warehouse). There is even a Fallout Shelter exhibit, in a real fallout shelter. In October, they also put on a Halloween Event as well. There is actually a lot to see and explore.

I'm already looking forward to next year's event and I have a couple of exhibit ideas that I am thinking about!

-- @BillLange1968

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Light Pen Is Here! And now it's gone.

This The Light Pen Is Here ad is from a New Products announcement on page 6 of the premier issue of The Atari Connection magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1., in the spring of 1981.

The New Product announcement states:
The Light Pen is here! The CX70 Light Pen is now available and can be used in programs you write for menu selection, games, computer art ... whatever you can dream up! Your Light Pen comes with complete instructions and a cassette containing demonstration programs to stimulate your imagination. Plugging into the controller jack on your ATARI Personal Computer, the CX70 Light Pen is easy to use. It can be used with your programs in all graphics modes in BASIC, PILOT, assembly language and other ATARI computer programming languages.Visit your local dealer now for a demonstration. [Quick, before they are removed from the shelves permanently!] 
The Atari CX70 Light Pen was introduced at the June 1980 Summer Consumer Electronic Show in Chicago. From the article Random Ramblings - The Consumer Electronics Show by David H. Ahl, in the September 1980 issue of Creative Computing, the Atari section on page 30 states that
The Atari CX70 Light Pen is a new controller that enables users to paint multicolored screens on the [screen], pick items from a menu, play games, direct geometric calculations, and do I/O operations in Basic programs simply by pressing the pen to the television screen. The Light Pen reads the coordinates of the TV electron beam as the beam passes by. This is a somewhat different approach than used by some other light pens which operate simply on light and dark. The Light Pen plugs into one of the four controller jacks. List price is $74.95.
In the picture, little Lucy is using her sharp, pointy ATARI CX70 Light Pen to draw directly on the delicate, glass-front, high-voltage containing, Cathode Ray Tube of her television, while teetering on a leaning tower of pillows. The light pen is connected to her ATARI 400 home computer's joystick port via a too-short cable. On the table, along with the television and the ATARI 400, is an older style (relative to my 14 year-old self in 1982, which is the crazy way I still think about this stuff, you know, like the ATARI 130XE just came out yesterday compared to the ATARI 400/800) ATARI 410 Program Recorder. 

My mom, or more likely my dad, always told me not to sit that close to the TV, that it was bad for my eyes. Of course, I did it anyway, and thanks to LASIK surgery, I still have 20/20 vision! Heck, I'm sitting that close to the monitor right now! Sorry mom!

There are also a few boxes of ATARI software shown in the picture, including the ubiquitous CXL4007 Music Composer and some ATARI educational programs. Strewn about are some pillows and dolls, including the highly popular 1970's Holly Hobbie rag doll. ATARI marketing was always great at showing women and girls, and families for that matter, involved in STEM activities, in a non-exploitative way, in their early home computer ads. Of course, on the other hand, ATARI engineers are also rumored to have code named the ATARI 400 Candy and the ATARI 800 Colleen after attractive administrative assistants. One step up, two steps back.

ATARI CX70 Light Pen

The ATARI CX70 Light Pen was a large pen styled in the ATARI 400/800 beige (ATARI Sunset) color scheme. Features and specifications of the light pen can be found in a 1980 ATARI Controllers brochure.

At some point before becoming available in any quantity, a decision was made to remove the Atari CX70 Light Pen from the market. The reasons for this remain somewhat murky (to me anyway) to this day. Here's the story... 

The ATARI CX70 Light Pen was announced by ATARI with a Fall 1980 availability date. It appeared for sale in various ads from many companies in many magazines. 

Light Pen Availability
as Fall 1980

In the Atari News section, on page 9 of the May/June 1981, issue #3 of ANALOG Computing magazine, it states that:
Light Pens: Forget about them for a while. First last year they were supposed to be released, but a minor software problem held them back (they didn't work on 400's). Now, after a few hundred were shipped they discovered quality control problems. I'm told to hope for next year as Atari has higher priorities.
I wonder if they had to make a hardware change to the ATARI 400 at this point to get the CX70 (and the future CX75) Light Pen to work correctly.

In the next issue of ANALOG Computing magazine, issue #4 in September 1981, the Atari News section follows up on page 9 with:
ATARI LIGHT PEN: I finally found one of the few light pens shipped ... the original release was cancelled because the software included wouldn't work on the [ATARI] 400's ... [on a follow-up release] ... only 200 went out before ATARI realized that quality control on the internal switch was poor with about half not working ... accuracy is not perfect ... sometimes the switch on my pen doesn't work is hard for it to read certain colors like light red ... certain parts of the screen can't be read ...  
That is a lot of issues going on for a product with so few parts: a pen-like shell, a photo-diode, a switch, some wire and an ATARI joystick controller port connector, and about 100 lines of ATARI BASIC code. 

In the book The Creative Atari published by Creative Computing Press in 1983, John Anderson's article title Build Your Own Light Pen (which itself is a reprint of the Outpost: Atari article on page 276 of the March 1983 issue of Creative Computing) states on page 89 that: 
... Atari itself slated a light pen for production. It was to cost less than $100. In the second quarter of 1981, a products brochure that showed the device in use was released. It was a stubby, fat hunk of plastic with a tip switch on it. And what pretty multicolor pictures it supposedly drew ... though the decision to kill it was made over a year ago, the product was listed in a few retail rosters until only a few months ago ... a decision was made to pull the pen. The reasons for this remain somewhat vague. Some have suggested that the tip switch was flaky, making the device unreliable ... Another explanation I have heard from more than one reliable source goes like this: The Atari is designed as the machine for everybody, including novices and kids. Marketing was skitterish about the idea of a tiny kid fooling around a TV tube with a big pointy stick. One false move and gazonga: Mommy finds Billy on the living room floor, a victim of implosion! ... Pull the pen ... This may or may not have been the last straw concerning the Atari light pen. Whether it was or not, the pen was pulled from production very swiftly, and it is unlikely the decision will ever be reversed. A few did manage to get off the assembly line...

The ATARI CX70 Light Pen is mentioned in an article title Light Pen Technology Looks To The Micro by Scott Mace beginning on page 61 in the December 26, 1983 issue of Infoworld:
Gibson [Steve Gibson of Gibson Laboratories, designer of the later ATARI CX75 Light Pen] believes light pens for personal computers have not sold well in part because of a bad reputation garnered by early versions (which he claims were inferior). A notable failure was an earlier Atari light pen, which came with virtually no software. The product was only offered by Atari for a few months in 1981. 
Steve Gibson has more to say on light pens in general in an article titled A Tale Of Light And Magic: The Making Of The Atari Light Pen by Lewis MacAdams beginning on page 33 of the Summer 1984 issue, Vol. 4, No. 2, of The Atari Connection magazine.

Whatever the ultimate reason, the Atari CX70 Light Pen was short-lived in the market and very few of them, 200 by some reports, actually made it out of the assembly line, through the channel and shipped to customers. It is now considered a rare collector's item.   

Light Pen CX70 Demonstration - 8K Version
Side 1

Back in July, 2015, I reached out to Brad Koda of Best Electronics to see if he had any "Atari CX70 (not CX75) light pens, the CX70 demonstration cassette CX4124 or the printed manual" available. I was pretty sure that this product was history. Mr. Koda generously had the entire Best Electronics staff scour their immense warehouse and while no CX70 Light Pens came to light, one CX4124 Light Pen Demonstration Program cassette, probably the last NEW cassette available, was found. The Best Electronics shipping department carefully packaged up my order, in the new, improved, recyclable packaging peanuts and shipped it out to NJ.

Light Pen CX70 Demonstration - 16K Version
Side 2

Once this rare, unopened little gem landed in my mailbox, I captured the CX4124 Light Pen Demonstration cassette, both sides, using my ancient Sony Walkman and Audacity. I then converted the resulting files with the FLAC utility to get the audio in the desired format. I also used a utility I wrote to dump the BASIC program's LISTed ATASCII text to a .PNG image. I zipped up the audio files, the .PNG program file listing as well as photos of the cassette tape to Roland Wassenberg of ATARIWIKI for archiving and inclusion in the ATARI CX70 Light Pen article. I also uploaded the content to

Thanks to Brad Koda of Best Electronics for finding the CX4124 Demonstration cassette!

ATARI CX70 Manual Cover

On March 13, 2018, former ATARI employee Cecile Wood-Leguillon posted to the Atari Museum Facebook Group that it is her hand shown holding the ATARI CX70 Light Pen in the artwork for the Box Cover and Manual Cover: "That's my hand ... I remember sitting for the artwork just like it was yesterday."

-- @BillLange1968