ZFEST 2003 - CP/M Alive and kicking in Germany

Let me start with the usual ignorant lie. "CP/M is dead". Well, if so, we had another great funeral party just recently, held again at the Dorfgemeinschaftshaus in Fuldatal-Knickhagen, an idyllic place on the country-side of Kassel, one of the most central cities in the ever-so-united Germany of nowadays.

Gaby (Chaudry) and I had taken some days off to be able to visit the "catacombs" of the Heinz-Nixdorf-Computer-Museum in Paderborn. That was on Friday. After that, we directly went to Knickhagen.

So, on the evening of Friday, July 27, 2003 we arrived there and helped to physically set up the show. Warned by the years before, we already had reserved our hotel close to the place and spent a peaceful, romantic night there.

After breakfast, we went to the venue and connected some more electrical stuff, eventually we had to repair the giant coffee brewer, but we succeeded.

Right on time, Ulla (Mrs.) Bernotat arrived with a carload of self-made cake! Really sensational - take a look at the pictures!

At 10:00 precise, the first attendees arrived and started unloading and setting up. By noon, we already had about 12 people jumping around from one table to the other to check out the latest stuff.

Coffee made the top of interest in no time at all. First parts of cake started to dissolve ...

Probably one of the most anxiously awaited persons this day was Dr. Holger Goebel, self-announced dBase madman, who not only had disassembled and improved dBase 2.41 to be less faulty, but had also installed new routines, and, to my own input, the capability to automatically take advantage of a Z-Environment. Imagine this:

You start dBase 2.50 (our name for it) and get a very much simplified installation program that has quite useful presets and also recognizes part of your system already such as ZCPR's TCAP (VLIB4D compliant, of course) and CP/M Plus (P2DOS) real time clock.

After pressing for about 10 times, your done!

Included with this is a tedious documentation (unfortunately, the whole thing is in German only as it applies to the version released in Germany). Also, this documentation in WordStar4 format can be stripped to pure ASCII by an included tool from Holger. There is a set of tools with sort of a dBase pre-compiler and a string replacement tool - altogether an amazing bit of work!

To demonstrate his work, Holger also wrote a demo program in dBase, that uses the newly implemented true window technique and keypress routines, as well as SAA pull-down menue bars and the like. A whole new dBase world!!

But let me tell you more about other things as well.

Of course, the usual nursing gang was all about to revive diseased or malfunctioning CRT-monsters. Top of all, Gaby's Superbrain was subject to broad interest. The machine had had trouble to boot from the start and refused to react properly to any key pressed. Last years assumption had been a defect in the keyboard controller. This year, Gaby had managed to bring one along and the desoldering was the first part, then a socket was mounted and after that, the two controllers were compared in behaviour. Tilman Reh's expertise was sad after all: the systems BIOS seemed to have flaws, requiring an update, which turned out to be impossible for the time being, as the chips involved use a non-standard programming setting.

Gaby watched with a bit of a heart-ache, when the computer was reassembled and put aside for next year...

One of the most exciting things was Matthias Huesch with his Z180 / MP3 Player project.

Being a complete "newcomer" in the world of microcomputers, he designed a Z180-based CP/M machine from scratch. Befor you say "big deal!", read on! He implemented not only a Multimedia bus, but also wrote drivers to have a self-designed MP3 player working plugged into this bus and the data coming from a 10GB harddisk. 10GB with CP/M ??? Think about it! Also, his computer runs at the priceless speed of 33MHz!

The fastest bastard around, so to speak. The whole design is so mature and "clean", I was very much impressed. Needless to say, that a CD-ROM drive is also at work in that machine and that he is about to release a generic CP/M CD-ROM driver to be used with Tilman Reh's GIDE !

Ernst Machert and his son presented the HC5-CF -"the ultimate CP/M computer" with PCMCIA-Card adapter and an interface to hook to modern PCs, the standard? You name it!

Another hardware sensation was Alexander Bernotat's adaption of an Amstrad PCW (a.k.a.JOYCE Computer) into a neat portable!

From Eastern Germany, we had a very rare item on display, of which only few exist: A Mansfeld computer which was used for a very nice trick: the output normally sent to an Epson Printer, was sent to a file and read to screen, where it displayed nicely in full graphics mode!

Having been around on the newsletters from Usenet, the existence of a CP/M for the Amstrad Notepad NC-100 was known to me, bute I had never actually grabbed hold of a running one or even seen it. Well, here was our occasion: Philip Mulrane from Ireland had brought his NC-100 and explained, it was actually him who had done most of the work for it and how to get the CP/M into the machine, due to the absence of any other device but a memory card reader. The trick was to get a Newton Flash Card 1MB (not greater) and to put the data on there. Then the card was entered into the machine and the rest done from there. Philip complained, that some people had actually given out his private telephone number and that he suffered from one or two idiots, who used to call him practically in the middle of the night to ask for technical details. This is really annoying, especially if you have little children. To the worst, one of these persons more or less attempted to make it appear as if he was the genius instead of Philip.

But - alas! There were highlights, that made us forget the trouble.

For the very first time, we held a tombola, as we had been given a SIEMENS IC 35 Organizer, of course Z80-based. Those, who had donated to the festivity, had been rewarded with a number that was entered into the lottery.

After some tingling minutes we had our winner: Ernst Machert who was really glad to receive this and promised to give it a thorough work.

The Z-Fest wouldn't be a Z-Fest, if there wasn't a prize to be handed out. In opposition to the Trenton Z-Fest, where the same prize gets handed out over and over and has to be returned, we always do a lot of brainstorming and come up with some funny ideas. This year's prize went out to Dirk Berghoefer for good reason.

Not only had Dirk attending the Z-Fest quite regularly, but he also innovated the use of Z80-based computers, like the SAM with all sorts of extensions. Dirk is a professional vermin exterminator, so we associated that with "Bug Killer" and presented him with a fly swatter, cut in shape of a "Z". He was quite amused, and so was the audience. Of course the carrying bag was from a Supermarket called "HL" like the famous register within the Z80 ...

Having had only lots of coffee and cake, we felt it was about time to get something real. We emerged to the open and took the ususal short walk to a near-by sports guest house. There, they had prepared barbequeue steaks and sausages for us and we spent quite some time there.

After this, the first people left, as some of them only attend on Saturdays, some on Sundays, only a few are there both days.

The next morning, after the typical coffee talk, we started to explore what we had missed the day before. I had time to sit down with Holger Goebel and to examine his MTX tower, which incorporates an MTX 512 fully souped up and running with a special BDOS, that allows this CP/M 2.2 based machine to not only run native ZCPR, but also makes use of "Quickstart" technique from RAM by cleverly switching banks. This was the computer, Holger does all of his developments on. This is where he gained the idea of optimising dBase and to implement windowing.

On the other hand, Holger was quite impressed about the CPU280 from Tilmann, the computer I am using. To bring this to mind, many of us have actually soldered their computer by hand, and so had I. My machine is resting in a MINI-PC housing, incorporating a second ECB Bus board with an IDE-controller and a parallel printer interface, a third board with a standard Herkules Monochrome graphics adapter and 4MB of RAM. Tilmann's special BIOS enables me to use four disk drives, whereof A is a standard 5.25 inch 1.2MB drive, B a standard 1.44 HD 3.5 inch drive, C and D duplicate this, but share one common unit, the TEAC double drive, due to space limitations in the MINI-housing.

The Sunday is by nature the day with the shorter activities, as most of us have to work the very next day and some have to travel quite some distance (up to a 1000 kilometers! (Isle of Ruegen, not to speak of Ireland))

It is nearly impossible to cover every aspect of the Z-Fest, as there are so many little threads going on, but on thing is for sure: there will be another Z-Fest in 2004 and it is going to be as exciting as ever!

Overseas visitors welcome :-)

See you all next year!

Helmut Jungkunz

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