Computer Corner by Bill Kibler

Well summer is gone and with it all chances of catching up with
projects. I must admit my time off for a trip to Alaska was enjoyable
and I can recommend that people should see Alaska if possible. Trying to
make up for the time lost and all the problems that happened after I got
back may take some time to recover from however.

System Overload

I had promised to do some programming on the side this summer, and with
that came the need to use Win95. I have moved from using Win 3.1 to
WinNT at work and find that a rather nice change. I have not
exhaustively tested DOS programs, but then the main ones I use all do
work. That has been a very big surprise. I thought most would fail or do
something strange, but it seems I was wrong.

The Win95 actually installed very easily and I was surprised to find all
my PCDOS 7.0 drivers were moved and used just as they had been before
the change. NT however was installed by someone else at work and so I
was unable to see what happens when you upgrade. I think WinNT blows all
the old items away which causes many problems if there is not an NT
driver for one of your devices.

Win95 solved the driver problem, by basically using any previous drivers
or better put, by just running a DOS under the win program so it still
can use the DOS drivers without problem. I'm still trying to decide if
there really is a good reason to do it if your happy with Win 3.1 or
something else. A friend who I told not to upgrade feels he would not do
it after what has happened or better put, what he had to relearn and
reload. Seems he had lots of programs with 95 that didn't work right
after the change.

What I find interesting is how Microsoft is still hiding from the public
how many bugs and problems have been quietly fixed with upgrades. With
NT you see the “build” number when it boots. This is sort of their way
of telling you which minor bug fix version you have. My guess is that
there is some similar way to determine where in the bug fix loop your
version of 95 is, but at present I really don't care since I know there
isn't much you can do to try and keep up with the changes. I have heard
there are plenty of revisions or upgrade packs for 95.

Older Sales

I was told by a friend that he saw someone selling a IMSAI with front
panel for $4000, I think on the Internet. Everyone was giving the person
a bad time about the price, only to have him tell them it was sold
already. I think there are plenty of our readers who would agree with
both sides of the issue on the price. By that I mean, some will think it
is too much money, while others and myself say it is only the beginning.
I expect to see similar stories over the next few years until the
collecting side gets well established.

What will it take to get established?  I am sure a big sale at
Sotherby's would do it.  An IMSAI or such going for say a $100,000 would
certainly make some headlines and send people scrambling. Do I really
think it will happen, yes - but how long is the only question. It seems
to me that collectibles sort of grow slowly in price till they are
rather scarce. Once the availability of the items drops from thousands
to hundreds or reach rare status, then and only then do people start
bidding up the price.

Are IMSAI's rare, yes and no. The yes side is from people hording their
older systems and also from giving up on trying to sell them. That comes
from so many people being interested in the latest hardware gimmick at
swap meets, that selling something outside the normal is pretty much a
waste of time. I haven't seen a S100 card for sale at a swap meet for
years now. It is getting to be that most buyers have no idea of what the
older systems were or if they have any value at all. For those of us who
do know an IMSAI from a PC, a great find ing if they shouldn't have

The NO side of me says that IMSAI are not rare, people are just waiting.
I know plenty of people who have numerous collectible systems stashed
away. There is not a shortage, just people waiting for higher prices. If
all goes well, I see a later time when there will be once or twice a
year collectible computer swap meets. At first probably based on
invitation to attend, just to make sure only vendors of older systems
are there. If PC sellers are allowed, forget it, it will not work.

I feel it would probably be possible to do one in Silicon Valley now and
easily two or three hundred sellers could be found to come to it. You
would get both the honest buyers and sellers as well as the media. Once
the big TV shows stopped by and it hit national news, boom were in
business and the 100K IMSAI would be but a few years down the road.

The key is finding real collectible vendors willing to talk and display
their systems. No junk piles, no boxes of bad boards, no systems without
books and software. Of course you would need to let in the few people
left who also support the old systems with magazines, software, and
hardware fixes. It can't be some parking lot sale or some business back
lot. You got to rent a real convention hall with guards, drinks, and
vendor booths all which means some money up front. But be prepared to
talk more than sell the first few years!


Prices of new hardware keep dropping and for those using the PC
platform, power and more has become very cheap. When I visited my cousin
in Alaska, we talked Internet, and I offered to build them a system for
$300. I could have bought several used 386 systems already setup for the
Internet from local used dealers. I had however many pieces to make a
system and at first was only going to buy a new case for them.

A local dealer however had a few sales going and 300 became $600 for a
586 with a 16Meg SIMM and a 1 gig drive. I ran some tests and found the
system very fast and was very surprised at the VLB video card. It was
faster than my PCI bus video card. It seems the VLB is better tuned for
video, while the PCI is a faster overall bus. The cost was $40 for the
mother board, $60 for the 586, and $110 for the ram. I had planned on
buying wholesale, but the 1 gig drives where going for less than my
wholesale quotes. The drive got me in the store and then I found the
other items and bought quick before they were gone.

When looking at PC hardware items, it can seem that the PC market has
gone crazy, but so have others. The embedded hardware sales literature
keeps coming faster than I can read it. The people behind the PIC chips
can't make new versions fast enough. Motorola is spinning off variations
of their 6805 and 6811's like mad. I believe there is now a 80151 that
fits in between the old standby 8051 and the new 80251 high end.
Numerous Japanese vendors are making big inroads with their own chips as

I think the only other area that has been getting more news than all the
hardware vendors is the battle brewing over cheap Internet boxes.
Several vendors are planning on having systems ready to sell by THIS
Christmas. Cable companies are trying to get hardware in place and
software on line to meet the hoped for demand. I think the demand will
be there, but plenty of behind the scenes action has to happen first.

There is more than enough people who feel that a melt down will happen
if even half the people start getting on line that could now. What would
happen if all the Christmas buyers really did buy and tried to get on is
any bodies guess. My guess for this year is forget being on the Internet
for all of January. Ask any BBS owner and they will tell you how the
next few weeks after Christmas is a nightmare. All these first time
users with their new modems learning how to use them on your BBS. Now
take that concept and give them the Internet. Just plan on giving it to
them, since you will not be able to use the Internet till they burnout
or give up.


The project queue is very deep and got thrown off track over the summer.
I had a few great plans to sort of catch up, but we lost three Llamas
this summer to heat, two of my wife's relatives were buried, all in 45
days. Busy is an understatement for me. The hot weather is still
lingering longer than normal and since my hardware shop has no cooling,
I have been forced out of it for a little longer. What will I be doing?

Number one on my list to do is hooking up my pile of S100 systems. I
stacked them up in my shop next to the work table. I start with a hard
drive, 3 tiers of 8 inch drives, two S-100 cabinets, and a 5 inch hard
drive for a total of four feet of systems. I am thinking of using a
Z-100 system as a terminal and disk interface. I have other ideas in
mind for hooking them altogether, but it is still too early to know how
that will actually be done.

The idea is to be able to test some older hardware and get BIOS listings
off of the many disks I have. The CP/M and TCJ CDROM is still in the
works, just dragging behind a little. I think Dave is getting all the
items working so the hard disk with the current CDROM software can be
on his BBS. My plans are to add to that drive until we get a CDROM
full. We will review the contents periodically and keep you posted. If
you can add BIOS code or embedded software please help out. Remember
however that DRI products are copyrighted and still not public domain.
BIOS code in many cases was not protected, while some was and may still
be even if the company has gone out of business. When a companies
assets were bought by another, all copyrights normally went as well. My
hopes are to put software on the BBS and if nobody complains after some
reasonable amount of time, we can assume that sets a precedence, and we
can then include it on the CDROM. If a rightful owner does complain,
off it comes with our apologies and the CDROM will then indicate who
does have the rights and where to mail letters if you need support.

I suppose one way out would be to make sure that all text referring to
copyright and ownership has been removed before we get it, but then that
would not be legal. We do try to be legal at TCJ even if the companies
make it very hard by refusing to allow releasing information that is
needed to keep a system running 10 years after the company went of

I had numerous plans in the wings and will try getting to them for later
issues, but for now, keep hacking and let me know how your fun is going!


Kibler Electronics, PO Box 535, Lincoln, CA 95648-0535, USA.
Copyright © 1996, Kibler Electronics. 11/16/96