At Gilliland's, Rosa Oliver presiding. The meeting was called to order at 9:00:00 (my, aren't we efficient?). The minutes were approved as read. The Treasury saluted at $5,804.99.
PUBLICATIONS: The October Journal was reverently received.
ENTERTAINMENT: A postcard from Somtow (who is in Greece) said "what a spectacle." Who will host the 5th Friday party? There is a Michael Whelan exhibit at the Pendragon in Annapolis. We need singers for "2001" (to be performed at Balticon).
D'UDDERCLAVE: We have a letter of agreement - flat rate $39 for rooms. How much admission should we charge (to the circus?)?
OLD BUSINESS: none.
NEW BUSINESS: none (come on, now!).
The meeting fell apart at 9:12:50 PM, to thunderous acclaim.
The WSFA Journal is the quaint publication of the Washington Science Fiction Association. Editor-in-Chief: Jane Wagner, 1000 6th St. SW #312, Washington, DC 20024. Assistant Editor: Joe Mayhew. I just did one of these - how come it's time to do another?
AND MORE MINUTES
At Oliver's, Rosa Oliver presiding. The meeting was gathered up at 9:09:20 PM. The minutes were approved as read. The Treasurer reluctantly reported that we had $5,767.61, with more money coming from Disclave.
DISCLAVE '83: No change.
DISCLAVE '84: New hotel, folks! We'll be at the Sheraton-New Carrollton. $48 flat rate, and there will be no one else in the hotel (we'll take all the rooms!). Should be fun... (Editor's Note: Whose idea was this, anyway?)
OLD BUSINESS: Again, no one could scrape any up.
NEW BUSINESS: This is getting boring, folks - won't somebody think of something?
The meeting decided to curl up and diet at 9:20:24 PM.
OKAY, LISTEN UP EVERYONE (this means you!) The December Journal will be the Christmas address list. Check with the secretary to see if she (I) has your correct address. Don't you WANT any cards? Incidentally, you won't be listed if your dues aren't paid (Hint, Hint).
Sometimes when I stop by Marian's photocopy shop, her son Stu Higgins is there visiting. Usually we lean on either side of the formica counter and proceed to jabber computerese while Marian Xeroxes my imperishable prose. But, sadly, there's more than the counter that separates Stu and me. While ours are never less than friendly exchanges, always looming in the background, seldom stated, and then only with fumbling embarrassment, is that repulsive, irreconcilable barrier. For last fall, in the middle of the emergence of what seemed to be shaping up into a warm and lasting friendship, the awful fact suddenly slipped out in the middle of a casual conversation. Stu owns an Apple II and I was in the process of buying--Heaven forbid!--a "Trash-80": that's the "affectionate" name the competition calls a Tandy Radio Shack Computer, one of the TRS-80s. Specifically, I was buying a TRS-80 Model III.
Stu was visibly shaken. He stared at me with a look of pained betrayal. Then an idea struck him. "Have you taken delivery yet?" he almost shouted. Perhaps he could yet save me from a fate worse than...How can one put it? The traditional worse-case fate is usually death, and that seemed a happy reprieve compared to the awfulness of touching, much less actually buying, a Trash-80.
"No," I said, "not yet." The muscles in the back of my neck began to tense. "Well, we can stop delivery and get you an Apple II," Stu said with finality and sighed with relief. "But there's a problem," I said, coolly. "I need a reasonably-priced, professional word-processing program, and I don't like what Apple's got to offer." "Hell, you can put in a C/PM board and get a Wordstar or Magic Wand," Stu shot back without batting a laser-beamed eye. "They're not reasonably priced," I said. "And besides, I don't like the size of the type on the Apple's screen. Forty characters per line makes the letters so big I get the feeling I'm back in kindergarten learning my ABCs with block letters." I was getting mean. "And the TRS-80 Model III," I continued, "has 64 characters per line and some outfit named Prosoft has got a dynamite word-processing program for under $100. And believe it or not, they say you can even read their manual." This last statement was a bit too much even in acrimonious confrontation between Applist and Trasher. Nobody's going to believe you can actually read a word-processing manual - or practically any other manual for that matter.
Documentation in the microcomputer world is generally pretty bad, and it's improved a lot to reach this stage. Stu had joined the personal-computer movement early, when the only way one could believe the state of the documentation was to assume it had been written by an agent planted by the competition. But that didn't stop Stu or all those other hearty pioneers. While inputting on the keyboard of their terminals with one hand, they held a soldering iron in the other. Coming rather late to micros, having been a venturer in the more structured world of big mainframe computers, I was a little defensive.
I can't recall all of the conversation, but I think Stu offered to perform some of his electronics wizardry and get a board for the Apple that would give me 80 characters per line on the Apple's screen instead of the paltry 64 offered by the Trash-80 Model III. (He quite apparently had forgotten the Apple II has only 40.) I said I couldn't wait, that I had to get a computer and word processing program now, like immediately, because I was writing a column about computers and the microcomputer revolution and how just everybody who knows what's happening has one or will get one as soon as they come to their senses, and that I was getting concerned somebody was going to ask me what kind of computer I used. I couldn't get away with saying, which was true enough, "I use a Smith Corona," because for some strange reason they hadn't yet come out with a personal computer. Everybody would know I was still using a typewriter, for Pete's sake! And like every other writer, with the exception of Harold Robbins, Judith Krantz and people like that, I was momentarily experiencing a slight cash-flow problem.
Well, I ended up by getting my TRS-80 Model III and the Newscript* word-processing program from Prosoft. You can, by the way, read their manual. For any of you fellow Trasher Is and IIIs out there, Prosoft's address is Box 839, N. Hollywood, CA 91603. To say that a certain coolness developed between Stu and me is to put it mildly. That's like saying that a certain coolness developed between the Israelis and the P.L.O., or between the British and the Argentines, or between the Hatfields and the McCoys. On those chance occasions when we ran into each other at his mother's shop, Stu and I would exchange the formal amenities. Chatting stiffly about such innocuous topics as politics and religion, we studiously avoided the subject of computers. But I always sensed that Stu was expectantly poised to hear my confession, ready to nod forgivingly as I blurted out the error of my ways. Of course it never happened. One takes one's vows and endures.
On a late afternoon, however, when I came back to pick up some photocopies of a column, Stu was in the shop alone - a coy, knowing smile on his face. "Graphics," he said, the way he twisted out the word making his face look like a malevolent Golden Delicious apple. "Graphics?" I answered, innocently. "The Apple's graphics look pretty good," he chortled, waving the photocopies in my face. Then it dawned on me. The column had been devoted to the relative merits of the graphics capabilities of a variety of computers. Quite correctly--and unfortunately--I had concluded that of the various personal computers reviewed in the column, the Apple II had the best graphics. Indeed, the TRS-80 Model III is not only relatively wanting graphically, in some sense it can be said that it lacks any real graphics capability at all. But who cares about graphics? You want pictures? Go to a museum.
While eventually I owned up to the failings of the TRS-80 III's graphics, I probably said something about the rumor I'd heard that Tandy was coming out with a new, terrific, and revolutionary graphics board for the Model III. While there has been a rumor of some kind of board, the other stuff was cultist braggadocio. I do remember distinctly that I got in a legitimate jab or two about the clear superiority of the Z80's micro-instruction set vis-a-vis that of the Apple II's central-processing chip. If you don't understand the fine point I was making here, you clearly have not bought a microcomputer and been initiated into the subtleties of computer cultism--or perhaps you've bought an IBM Personal Computer (the PC). If this latter case, it means, most likely, that you haven't plugged it in yet but do delight in bringing your friends into the den to see what an advanced person you are.
If this slap at IBM PCers (those who own an IBM Personal Computer) seems a gratuitous insult, you must understand that in the world of computer cultism any target of opportunity will do--valid or otherwise. This isn't just war, after all.
As some quotable person once said, history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as comedy. What is happening in the world of personal and micro-computers is what has always and will probably forever happen--people are inveterate groupies. It really doesn't matter what anchors their groupism. For instance, when I was a youngster I knew that the best, indeed the only car was a Ford and the best and only radio was an RCA. You can guess what kind of car and radio my family owned. When someone, who has happened to read one of my computer columns, asks what brand of personal computer they should buy, my immediate impulse is to should into their ear that there is only one and best personal computer in the universe: a Trash-80 Model III: the one without all those beautiful graphics that just distract you from your earthly duties. In reality, asking someone who already owns a personal computer what kind they think you should buy is a little like asking a Trappist monk what kind of monastic observance is the right one.
While all of this is meant to be amusing, it is not done at the sacrifice of much of the truth. (For instance, Stu and I still nod on meeting.) Buying a personal computer or any other kind of computer, for that matter, is very much like being born into a particular family, nation, or religion. However you might have arrived at the terminal you get up to every morning, it's the one you've got. You may curse it in the privacy of your home, or in your users' group, but you don't wash the family's dirty linen in public. And if somebody outside of the computer family says something untoward about the paternity of one's micro, they'd better be ready to suffer the consequences.
I wish I had some wonderfully clever solution to propose to decease the enmity which exists between computer cultists. While computerists ritualistically bemoan the lack of compatibility of equipment and the lack of portability of software, and call for standards to be established, it has about the same effect as it does when people talk about peace and the means of achieving it in this war-torn world. Those idealists who dream of being able to plug any peripheral into any system or to use any program on any computer are doing just that--dreaming.
Many people who have a liking for the conspiracy theory think that the accelerating fragmentation in the microcomputer world is the result of hardware and software vendors' self-interest in keeping their products differentiated. While this may be their intent, and such may seem to be the result, conspiracy theory is not my particular cup of tea. What history seems to show is that events are not the result of cleverly organized plots, but rather the grim consequences of the obvious inability of people to organize almost anything for any appreciable length of time. And why should we be any different--even though the means of being so may be at our fingertips?
(This article appeared in AirCal Magazine's August, 1982 issue, and is used by permission. Your editor wishes to dedicate it to all the WSFAhacks, in memory of many incomprehensible conversations. Joe Mayhew dug this one up, folks - blame him!)
*The author says that Newscript was written by lifelong fan Chuck Tesler, business phone 213-764-3131.