A Brief history of the SUC – Part II ( 1987-1991 )
Recap on Part I ( 1980-1986 )
In the last issue I covered the history of the Sharp Users Club between September 1980 and December 1986. By the latter date the old Yeovil-based organisation had fulfilled all its outstanding commitments and the new SUC Committee had got the SUC back on its feet by tidying up loose ends, re-organising the SUC Libraries, and publishing Volumes 5 – 6 of the Magazine. Thus, by the start of 1987 the new SUC Committee was more than ready to ‘go it alone‘.
1987 – Getting Everything Going Smoothly Again
The Magazine is the life-blood of the Club; Yeovil had started by publishing 3 magazines a year in 1981 – 82; they then published 4 Magazines in 1983; and they attempted to publish 4 magazines in 1984 but fell at the last hurdle and in the process came very close to killing off the SUC altogether. The ‘interim‘ period 1985-6 saw the publication of 6 Magazines at irregular intervals.
The new Committee therefore felt that it was vital to decide on the number of Magazines to be published each year, and then stick to it as far as was humanly possible. In one important respect our hands were tied, because we had already accepted several 1987 subscriptions at the old level of £6 p.a.; so we could not change the subscription, and all we had to decide was how many Magazines we could publish at that level. We settled for 3 Magazines each year, to be published early in March, July and November, and there was a logical reason for choosing each of these dates – March, to allow the Treasurer time to assess our likely income for the year and thus give the Chief Editor a guide to how many pages he could afford; July, to get the second issue to members before the start of the school holidays; and November, to get the third issue to members before the start of the Christmas postal rush.
Therefore, 3 Magazines were published in 1987, in March, July and November – and that set a pattern that has been followed to the present day, in spite of many little local difficulties. To exemplify some of these difficulties, I shall now digress….
Production difficulties with SUC Magazines, 1987 – 1991
The principal difficulty was to find and keep hold of a reliable printer. All the ‘professionally-printed‘ issues published by the old Yeovil Committee ( Vols. 2 – 4 ) were produced by a keen MZ-80K member, Bill Oldham, who also happened to be a master printer. He did the job ‘at cost‘, and the new 1985 Committee were very happy to accept his offer to do the same for them, as a result of which Bill Oldham also printed the ‘interim‘ Volumes 5 and 6.
Unfortunately for the SUC, Bill then decided that it was time to retire, and we were faced with our first big problem. Luckily, the Chief Editor knew someone who worked at management level for a big printing firm in Wolverhampton, and they printed Vol. 7 No. 1 at an acceptable price, and then did likewise for Vol. 7 No. 2; but then, bang in the middle of setting up the plates to print Vol. 7 No. 3, they went into Receivership!
Some of you may know enough about ‘Receivership‘ to guess that this created some difficulties; initially, we were unable to recover our precious masters, but by the end of November 1987 they were back in our hands and all we had to do was find another printer! By this time Vol. 7 No. 3 was already very late; but a new, young and enthusiastic printer was found in Newark, Notts, and he gallantly worked round the clock to enable us to post Vol. 7 No. 3 to members on 7th December, just in time to beat the peak of the 1987 Christmas postal rush.
Our relationship with ‘Speediprint‘ of Newark continued to our mutual benefit for four happy years, and Vols. 8 – 11 appeared without a hitch – well, to be precise, with only one hitch which occurred just before Easter 1991, when Vol. 11/1 ‘went missing‘ for several days on its way from Newark to Weymouth, due to a mistake by the carrier. Fortunately the parcel landed in the lap of an honest man who opened it and, out of perplexed curiosity, started to read a copy of Vol. 11/1; on seeing my address on the Editorial page, he then telephoned me to ask why 300 copies of an SUC Magazine had been delivered to an ironworks in Chesterfield!
When I phoned the carriers to tell them where our parcel had landed up, they were very apologetic, and to give them their due, collected it from Chesterfield within a couple of hours and dropped it on my doorstep in Weymouth very early on the next day. Thus, on April 5th 1991 I was able to Post the ‘March 1991‘ issue of the Club Magazine to members – slightly late, but it might have been worse ( they could easily have been thrown into a furnace ! ).
Soon after that crisis, there was another; ‘Speediprint‘ of Newark printed Vol. 11 No.m 3 as usual, but when we wrote to him to thank him for his efforts in 1991 and ask him if he would do the job in 1992, he abruptly informed us that he was about to dose his business and emigrate to Australia. So there we were, early in 1992, searching for a printer yet again. By that time the Chief Editor was resident in Weymouth and, through local contacts there, knew of a family-run printing firm in a rural part of Dorset. They stepped into the breach, and printed Volumes 12-15 and Vol. 16/1 – but that‘s another story, and the end of my little digression.
SUC Library Developments, 1980 – 1991
1) SUC Libraries 1980-1984
For most of the ‘Yeovil‘ period ( 1980 – 1984 ) there was only ONE Library. It consisted mainly of TAPE programs for the MZ-80K, with a sprinkling of TAPE programs for the MZ-80A. This Library was organised overall by Tom Heeps, and for short period in 1982-3 there were some experiments with obtaining pre-recorded tapes from a commercial source; but these were plagued by ‘bugs‘, and the donkey work of actually copying and posting programs was mainly done by a dozen or so Sub-Librarians whose addresses were spread all round the U.K.; each of these Sub-Librarians was responsible for dealing with requests for his own group of about 5 tapes ( the MZ-80K/A Library contained about 70 tapes altogether ).
The July 1984 Magazine ( Vol. 4/2 ) carried the first published Library list for the MZ-80B; this Library was organised and run by MZ-80B enthusiast Mike Stickland.
2) SUC Libraries 1985 – 1986
During this ‘interim‘ period the MZ-80K/A Library was completely reorganised, and a new ‘MZ-80K/A‘ Library list ( including the addresses of all the Sub-Librarians ) appeared in Vol. 5/1 and was updated in Vol. 6/1, which also carried an updated MZ-80B Library list and the ‘first ever‘ MZ-700 Library list from Roy Houghton. Finally, towards the end of 1986, Vol. 6/2 announced the ‘first ever‘ MZ-80K Disk Library list, organised by Alan Bunting.
In short, the ‘interim‘ period 1985-6 saw a major revamp of the existing MZ-80K/A Tape Library, new Tape Libraries for the MZ-80B and the MZ-700, and a new Disk Library for the MZ-80K.
3) SUC Libraries 1987 – 1991
In 1987 a complicated game of musical chairs ended when the John Duxbury became the new Treasurer of the SUC and John Ibberson took his place as MZ-80B Editor/Librarian. Another change in 1987 was the creation of a separate MZ-80A Library under Ian Baldwin.
In 1988 all Libraries continued to run along existing lines, with occasional updates published in the 1988 Magazines.
1989 saw major changes. The old MZ-80K Tape Library System with several Sub- Librarians under the overall guidance of Tom Heeps underwent a radical transformation and was put in the hands of one member, MZ-80K enthusiast Don Cram; and a separate Library for MZ-80K CP/M disks was organised by John Edwards. On the MZ-80A front Ian Baldwin expanded the MZ-80A Library to include disks as well as tapes. Another major change in 1989 was the decision to publish complete up-to-date lists of all Libraries in every March issue ( thus ensuring that new members would automatically receive up-to-date Library lists without having to order back issues ).
In 1990, Alan Bunting took charge of the MZ-80K Tape Library as well as the MZ-80K Disk Library, and Paul Trainer took over the MZ-700 Library from Roy Houghton. And all the ‘Special Request‘ programs were extracted from their machine-specific Libraries and put together on one ‘Special Request‘ list, which was published for the first time in Vol. 10 No. 1, along with the 2nd edition of the complete and updated MZ-80K/B/A/700 Library lists.
Early in 1991 ‘DUG‘ Grout took over the MZ-80A Library from Ian Baldwin. Vol. 11/1 offered the 3rd edition of the complete lists and also announced a ‘starter‘ Library for the MZ-800. Vol. 11/2 saw a big breakthrough; having acquired examples of Sharp MZ-3500 and MZ-5600 Computers and some useful ‘hands on‘ experience, we could at last offer Software support for both these machines.
At the end of 1991, therefore, the all SUC Libraries were in a very well-documented state, and the Librarians were as follows:
|MZ-80K||Tape and BASIC-SDOS-FDOS DISK||Alan Bunting|
|MZ-80K||CP/M disk||John Edwards|
|‘Special Request‘||John Edwards
SUC Software and Hardware Developments, 1987 – 1991
As shown above, the years 1987 – 1991 saw a big effort being made to ensure the continuation of the ‘flagship‘ services of the Sharp Users Club – a regular Magazine and an efficient Library. At the same time we realised that we could not allow ourselves to stand still on the development front, as much of the early MZ-software was deficient in some way, and some early MZ-machines required hardware upgrades, for example to produce an 80-column display.
1) SUC Software Developments, 1987 – 1991
Initial efforts were concentrated on the MZ-80K, to provide it with a decent Tape Basic and a 1-Drive disk-copying program. The 1987 Magazines therefore included a full handbook for an upgraded MZ-80K Tape Basic by Peter Tuffs ( SP+5025.K2 ), and announced a 1-Drive disk- copying program by John Edwards. Other new software in 1987 included an MZ-80B version of ‘SUPERTAPE‘; versions of HU-BASIC for the 80-column MZ-80A and the MZ-700; a new MZ-700 version of Bany Frost‘s SHARP PENCIL; and a new and very powerful CP/M disassembler from Dr. Brian Gladman, called DIS.COM.
1988 saw us concentrating on disk software. First, we learned how to ‘tweak‘ all the original Sharp disk-copying programs so that they would copy any disk, and do so without making changes. Then, thanks to John Edwards, we added DISKEDIT programs for the MZ- 80K/A/700 and DISK>CMT for the MZ-80A. Another, more general, 1988 development was the new command SCRN$ for MZ-80B/80K Basics.
1989 saw progress on many different fronts; improvements to the WDPRO word-processor and its Manuals; improvements to DISK>CMT on the MZ-80A; Josef Riha‘s new MZ-80B DISK NURSE; and Dave Bagshaw‘s new CP/M 2.2 system for the MZ-700 ( based on M-T‘s CP/M 2.2 for the MZ-80A and therefore compatible with it and with their similar System for the MZ-80B ). We also found serious bit-map errors in the Sharp Basic Master Disks for the MZ-80B/80A/700, and developed new SUC Basic Master Disks in which these errors were eliminated.
1990 began with a bang when the SUC was given the rights to all DCS software, to the ‘ZEN‘ Assembler, and to Knight‘s Software for the MZ-80K/B/A. Our own efforts were mainly aimed at solving the problems involved when using standard ‘Centronics‘ printers with early MZ machines; our solution at this point combined hardware mods and software patches – a bit complicated, but it did work. 1990 also saw the start of a policy of using Magazine pages to reprint Manuals for important SUC Software – thus, Vol. 10/2 covered SHARP PENCIL, and Vol. 10/3 covered CLUB MON, SUPERTAPE 2, CLUB COPY.U1, DISASSEMBLER B880, PROBE, and Z80 MACHINE.
1991 also started with a bang, when SHARPSOFT invited us to help them clear the cellars in their London Office; the most useful finds were 80 disks of CP/M-UG PD Software and several boxes of Sharpsoft Magazines. Our own efforts were directed at sorting out the different types of Sharp Tape Data File, writing an MZ-80B version of DISKEDIT, comparing the three versions of MZ-3500 CP/M, getting programs to run on the MZ-5600 under its not-very-standard version of MS-DOS 2.11, and investigating the differences between the ROM and RAM tape routines on the MZ-700. On the Manual front, the 1991 Magazines covered MAGNETO CO, DISCMOD.COM, DISX.COM, and all the various TOOLKITS for the early MZ-Basics.
2) SUC Hardware Developments, 1987 – 1991
Given all our other commitments in 1987 – 1991, it is surprising that anyone found time for hardware developments. But we did so, and produced several important hardware upgrades, most of them emanating from our Hardware ‘King‘, John Edwards.
John‘s first upgrade, early in 1987, was an 80-column screen for the MZ-80K, described on p.20 of Vol. 7/2; initially this looked promising but problems were later encountered due to the limited performance of some chips in this early MZ- machine. As a result, this modification was later dropped from the ‘SUC Hardware‘ list.
Late in 1987 John began working on a 5¼” disk drive system for the MZ-700, and new Character Eproms for Sharp P3 and P5/6 printers. There were some initial difficulties but by June 1988, as reported in Vols. 8/1 – 8/2, all the problems were sorted out.
Around this time, Eproms such as the 2716 and 2732 were becoming hard to find; but early in 1989 John realised that you can use a modern Eprom (e.g. 2764, 27128, 27256 or 27512) in a 2716 or 2732 socket, if you plug it in with the ‘notch‘ end overhanging the socket and wire up the overhanging pins in a particular way, as shown on p.72 of Vol. 9/1. The result is a system which offers two big advantages – the replacement Eprom is faster and more readily available; and it can accommodate several programs the size of the original program, any one of which may be ‘switched in‘ at will.
The article in Vol. 9/1 demonstrates John‘s first application of this idea – a ‘Multiple Eprom‘ for the MZ-80A 80-colunm kit which allows you to switch between Kuma‘s 80-column Monitor ROM and the original Sharp 40-column A/K Monitor ROM ( the latter enables you to run programs which require the MZ-80A to be in ‘MZ-80K‘ mode ).
In June 1989, to help a member of the SUC who was in a jam, we investigated the MZ-700 3½” SS FDD System from Germany ( i.e. the system that was sold in the 11K by Sharpsoft ); this led to the discovery of umpteen German disk Systems and disk formats for the MZ-700, and a powerful-looking MINIDOS program. Around this time we also finalised another ‘Multiple Eprom‘ – a 4-way Character Eprom for the Sharp P6 printer ( this offers the standard MZ-80K, MZ-80A and MZ-80B character sets, plus an alternative MZ-80B character Set in which ‘[YEN]‘ is replaced by ‘[UNDERLINE]‘ ).
In January 1990 we learned that M & B in Hove were offering the MZ-700 Expansion Box and complete MZ-800 QD Systems at bargain prices. This prompted John to produce a 3-way ‘Multiple Eprom‘ for the MZ-700, switchable between the ROM Monitor, the QD JPL, and the German MINIDOS mentioned above. At this time he also produced an MZ-700 80-column kit, to allow Dave Bagshaw‘s newly-developed MZ-700 CP/M 2.2 system to run in 80 columns. And as if that were not enough, he also devised the mods needed to convert MZ Printer I/F‘s to suit standard printers, as listed on p.8 ofVol. 10/1.
In 1991, in Vol. 11/1, John showed us how to connect Epson TF-16 disk Drives to our Sharp MZ computers, listed all his Hardware Kits, and then took a well-earned break. But as if by magic, up popped Steve Bass and John Ibberson with their composite MZ-80B Eprom carrying the IPL program AND a RAM checker. And that brings me to the end of 1991, and the end of this part of the SUC saga.