Computer Corner by Bill Kibler

Welcome to issue 76's Computer Corner and my last as editor. Next time
I'll be doing this column as just a contributing editor. Will it be
different, yes and no. Mostly I'll have more time to ponder and do
research. I have considered focusing more on one topic which is what I
did before becoming editor. But I think I might still hit a few "take
this world" topics even still. Take for instance the last Embedded
Systems Conference.


The Embedded System Conference this year, was not where I thought it
was. Like many readers, you get so much mail, that when it comes in, you
half look at it. I did that with the flyer from the conference.
Fortunately, I took it with me, for when I arrived in front of last
years meeting hall, no conference. I finally decided to read the flyer
very closely only to discover it was in San Jose Convention center,
about ten miles east somewhere.

After getting lost more than once by following incorrect signs, I did
get to the big new center that was packed with people. The opening day
is called October Feast as free beer and munches are provided after 7PM.
I over heard a few of the ladies responsible for setting the show up,
and they were commenting on how two to three times the number of people
showed up that they had prepared for. Needless to say many went away
hungry and upset from the food festival portion. I did get my usual beer
mug however, so I have no complaint in this area.

As to vendors, they all seemed to be there, the big guys that is. I
always find the show a bit strange, since very few small vendors can
afford to go there. It pretty much is like most things in America. All
the hoopla is over the big vendors which have a small part in the
overall market, while the little guys who do all the real work can't
even afford to pay the floor space fees. It is sort of like the fortune
100 get all the publicity, while something like 95% all business income
comes from companies with less than 25 workers and who most people have
never heard of. Embedded control is really like that too.

A FEW Surprises.

I was surprised by a few of the displays. Heading the list was IBM. I
didn't expect to see them at all, but they had three booths. The main
large one was pushing OS/2 and especially OS/2 Connect. I asked so many
question about connect, that I got a free copy of DOS 7 so I would go
away. The funny thing about DOS 7 was what I did before the show. I
needed a copy of CP Backup and had tried to find one without luck. When
I got home and opened my free DOS 7 package, I was pleasantly surprised
to find CP Backup is now a part of DOS 7. For those who have not tried
DOS 7 by IBM, do so, you will like it. I found it better and I think IBM
may keep making it better, while Microsoft has definitely abandoned the
DOS market.

Microsoft was there, but so low key, they might as well have not
bothered. IBM on the other hand also had a booth for their RISC chip for
embedded systems. I think it was a version of the RISC CPU used in their
RS6000 system. That concept is sort like the Intel 386 version for
embedded controllers. The idea here is to make moving programs from an
development platform into the real world simpler and easier. My problem
is, who needs another high powered CPU to do what a cheaper and simpler
8 bit CPU can do.

IBM is also starting to confront the operating system people, with their
version of a real time kernel. Somewhat based on OS/2, they have a group
starting to develop a real time operating system. It is just starting to
take off and they said next year it will be a full package. I think they
will have problems competing with all the other vendors, especially OS/9
which I think is probably number one. I'll be reviewing OS/9 in a later

Of Note

Motorola was there and I asked about their latest HC05 development
board. It seems they changed the development package and you must now
use an EPROMs to load from. In the past it was possible to do serial
loading, but they dropped that. The person there didn't like my comments
and reaction to finding out about the change. I guess they don't want to
heard about the bad things they do.

Now don't get me wrong, most of the vendors were only selling $10,000
systems and support products, yet a few of the others were able to show
up. You do feel like your running around in the land of the giants until
you get back into the small booth area. Here you find all the small guys
and even a few who's products you might be able to afford.

I was feeling still a little lost till I came across parvus Inc. These
people have done their homework and provide an incredible line of
products (801 483-1533). I am interested in PC based, memory mapped 8031
interface cards. Not only did they have one, but I could have my choice
of Z180, 68HC11, 8031, or 80166 on ISA or PC104 formats. They had all
types of industrial software interfaces and even real I/O cards (relays
and opto/isolators). It was like the concept of "one stop shopping." A
single vendor who can fill your every need. Pricing was fair, neither
high nor low, but the options just got me, like the choice between being
a co-processor on the PC bus, or taking the bus over and talking to
expansion cards. How about a 68HC11 running the PC bus? Sounds
interesting to me!

Another item of note, was Siemens way of getting you a development
systems. Instead of charging the usual low show price, they were giving
them away. That is right, free if you got four of the six support
vendors to sign their card off. The idea here was to make you sit
through the support vendors lectures (typically about a half hour each
and trying to sell you a $10,000 support package) and then you get the
free system. I figured it would have taken me all day to do that, so I
didn't get the free unit. Nice idea if you have the time and I expect to
see more sales approaches like it next year.

Other fronts

I finally had the chance to use AP Circuits of Canada last month. We had
a board needing proto typing and opted to use them. I couldn't be
happier. I uploaded the file on Tuesday morning, and we had the board in
house Friday morning. Cost was $99 for two boards about 3 by 6 inches
each. The work was excellent, although all we had them do was their
proto 1 service (two sided no silk or solder mask). Most proto houses
want $200 to $300 setup charges before making even one board. Their BBS
has free layout programs and information for "would be" circuit
builders. Cost wise it beats doing it yourself, for all but the simplest
of boards. (AP Circuits (403) 250-3406 voice, (403) 291-9342 BBS or 

I am considering trying to setup a deal with them for TCJ circuits. The
idea would be based on giving them the Gerber files needed to make a TCJ
board. Readers wanting one of the boards would just call up and give
them a credit card number and two days later you get two cards. I am not
sure why, but all their runs are based on producing two cards at a time.
The cost would be a little higher than us producing a large run of
cards, but then we don't get stuck with ordering, shipping, handling and
storage cost. You need the board, simply call and zap it is in the mail
faster than we would be able to do so.

I would like to hear from readers who have found a cheaper or faster
option to get two sided platted through boards. (I checked out several
units at WESCON, only the cost of the machines that would put a light
plating in the were expensive, and the cost per hole was 5 cents each!)
We checked many places and they by far are the cheapest and seem to be
very good. Like I say the boards looked great and we had them NOW!

On the software front, I am starting to look at Linux as my operating
system of choice. It has so much going for it, it gets really hard not
to become hooked on it. You should also get one of the Linux bibles or
FAQ reprints. These books (typically 1200+ pages) have tons of useful
information about Linux and PC's in general. I have started using mine
as a reference book about PC parts. Found out why not to use 3C501
ethernet cards on 486's, too slow and too small buffer space.

Now with Linux and unlike Microsoft products, you always get source code
with the CDROM release and it seems to exceed any other product for
power and options. If your looking for "how to" write some driver code,
or how a CDROM works, consider looking at the source code inside Linux.
They talk to most all the PC devices available. 

What little I have done so far has impressed me to no end. I recently
got a Sony 31B CDROM and had trouble finding a driver that worked on
DOS. Linux found it and was able to run from it, right from the floppy.

I tried many of the Sony DOS device drivers, all with no luck. I was
told that maybe the older drivers might work. I eventually found a box
of cheap disks that were from a sound card. The label said drivers for
Sony and Panasonic CDROMs and were 10 cents each. The driver label was
SLCD.SYS and it works just fine. Since I have had many requests for CP/M
systems being able to talk to CDROMs, I have been a bit more interested
in talking to them now. I was about to try writing my own driver, based
on using the Linux code until I found SLCD. My early reading however,
brought up a minor problem with a CDROM for CPM. 

If I remember right, CP/M has a maximum drive size of 32 megs. My
studies so far indicate at least 512 megs must be minimum limit. So
right off, we got one problem, how to deal with 660 megs of file system.
The file format is not even DOS compatible, which is why you need MSCDEX
on DOS boxes, to convert the CDROM directory to one DOS can understand.
The only approach I can think of would be a separate program that treats
the CDROM as a database, where entries are files, allowing you to
retrieve records and save them to a local drive. This is some early
musings about the problem and I certainly would like to hear your ideas
on the subject.


Since I no longer am editor of TCJ, you need to use my personal or
Kibler Electronic business e-mail address. The PO Box 535 Lincoln is
still a good mailing address, but e-mail is  I have
started a personal web page at and will
try and put things of interest there as well as in TCJ's web page. So
far the web page is (TCJ's that is) getting lots of good reviews, even
though it is not the fanciest one around. We keep ours a little simpler
so people downloading the files don't have a lot of extra text to deal
with. That means non-windows users can still get information from us on
the net. So till next issue, Keep hacking.

Kibler Electronics, PO Box 535, Lincoln, CA 95648-0535, USA. /
Copyright © 1995-2004 Kibler Electronics.