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FARNA Systems / 68' micros
Publishers of "The World of 68 Micros"
The history below is excerpted from "Tandy's Little Wonder" (2006 updated version), with minor editing.
FARNA Systems - by F. G. Swygert
The first real program I wrote for the Color Computer was a genealogy database. My father had been working on our family genealogy and asked me if there was a program for the CoCo. We tried using one published in Rainbow, but it wasn't powerful enough. I then searched the PC SIG database on Delphi for a BASIC genealogy program for the IBM PC. I found one by the name of "Genealogy ON DISPLAY!". Equipped with a general knowledge of BASIC on both the CoCo and IBM PC (GW-BASIC or BASIC-A), and "BASIC Program Conversions" (HP Books), I proceeded to "convert" the program to the CoCo.
There is a good reason "convert" is in quotes... it isn't the correct word! GW-BASIC has several keywords unavailable to the CoCo, variable names can be up to eight characters long, and the memory limit is around 60K, not the CoCos 32K. Genealogy ON DISPLAY! was made up of twelve individual modules. Each one had to be totally re-written to work on the CoCo 3. It wasn't an easy job... I finally completed the work after a year of on and off laboring. My father would start using each module as it was finished, so the programs were thoroughly debugged. Few bugs found their way into the commercial version, which was ready for the public in early 1991.
I had thought of uploading the program to Delphi, but wasn't about to give away that much work! I started selling the genealogy program early in 1992. I ran my first ad in The Rainbow that May. Up until then, I had been involved with installing point of sell and other programs for small businesses. There wasn't much work for a small, part time operation in this field, so I turned my attention to my real love, the CoCo.
I got my first CoCo thanks to my first hobby and a Timex Sinclair 1500. My first hobby is old cars, specifically sixties AMC/Ramblers, my personal driver being a 1963 Rambler Classic. I wrote and published a book on the history of the AMC Rambler using a typewriter. This lead me to realize a computer would be much easier for that type work! Due to limited funds, an IBM PC was out of the question (PCs were still priced over $1000 with dual floppy drives and a monochrome monitor in 1985!).
I first purchased a Timex Sinclair T/S 1500 from a pawn shop for $50. I also purchased a couple books on the little beast. I wasn't much of a typist, so the small calculator type keys wouldn't present much of a problem. The entire unit was only 8 1/2" wide, 5 1/2" deep, and 1 1/2" thick, with all of 16K RAM. I soon found one fatal flaw in the 1500. It used a bit by bit printer port that was designed for the little 40 column T/S printer ONLY. No full size printer could use that port, and a serial printer interface would cost $100.
Well, I determined I could get another small computer for that price, as the bottom had fallen out of the "home computer" market. TI99/4A computers were being sold in department stores for $49.95 (around 1985)! I did some research this time around, and decided that of all the small computers, the Tandy Color Computer 2 was the best. Not only did it have a serial port that many printers would connect to, but the disk drives were standard units except for the controller. I soon located a used CoCo2 for $100... about half the cost of a new one.
I started out with a cassette recorder and Scripsit cartridge. The problem with the cartridge was the lack of an ASCII save feature. I purchased a copy of Telewriter 64 on tape and was in heaven! I then ordered a surplus IBM PC jr. thermal printer and made a special cable to adapt it to my CoCo. I only paid $49 for that printer. It required thermal paper, but was full size.
I eagerly sought all the information I could on my new computer. In many ways, it was just like my Rambler... simple, durable, and efficient, doing its required job with few problems. I got a subscription to Rainbow, and bought a couple boxes of older magazines from a friend who was switching to an IBM compatible. I saw no reason... my CoCo (by now a CoCo 3 and RGB monitor) did all I needed.
I completed my second book, a complete history of all AMC products, on the CoCo 3 in 1992. ASCII files were transferred from the CoCo (written with Simply Better) to a Macintosh at a local copy shop. The book was then assembled using PageMaker and printed on a laser printer. The text quality was exceptional, especially when compared to that first work. It was this book which kept the ads in Rainbow going, as the ads were expensive and software sales weren't up to justify the cost, though the software was moderately successful.
Falsoft had announced a history of the CoCo, but then told us they wouldn't be printing due to unexpected problems the authors were having (health problems), but they would reconsider if another author was found. About six months after this I had finished my AMC book. Since I'd have the time to write about the CoCo now, I gave Falsoft a call. I was asked to send in my ideas and a sample of my writing. The idea at Falsoft was to make a compendium of recollections from long time CoCo users, the pioneers of the CoCo as it were. In my opinion, what the CoCo community really needed was an all encompassing reference, not just a simple history. Support was floundering all around us... we needed a collection of all those valuable tid-bits of information that would be helpful to all users! Falsoft turned my ideas down by merely saying they were no longer interested in publishing the history. At that point, I decided to go ahead and write the book, "Tandy's Little Wonder", published in 1993. It should be noted that had Falsoft stated that they were interested in printing a history, but not my ideas for a complete reference, I would have been willing to go ahead with whatever they wanted. In a way, I'm glad it didn't turn out like that.
When The Rainbow hit an all time low of 16 pages, I was greatly concerned about future CoCo support. I wrote Mr. Falk a letter expressing an interest in possibly buying out Rainbow. About a week later, I got a call from him. We talked a while, and it was apparent I couldn't come up with the funds needed for The Rainbow. About two weeks passed and I received another call from Mr. Falk. They were getting ready to cease publication of the Rainbow (this was in February of 1993), and would consider a sum much lower than he had originally mentioned. This lower amount was somewhat attainable, so I discussed the idea with several potential investors. The outcome of these discussions was that they didn't think it was a reasonable risk, $90-100,000 would be invested in all, but they would be interested in helping to support a new magazine.
I gave the idea of starting a magazine from scratch some thought. With the support of several influential CoCo people, I decided it could be done. I contacted several people who had published small CoCo publications in the past. All had ceased publication, but were willing to give much helpful information.
With my research in pricing and publishing in mind, I formulated plans to start a new magazine. In order to survive, the magazine would have to leave the door open for OS-9 and OSK support, but for the present and near future, CoCo Disk BASIC support would be the priority. The title was finalized as "the world of 68' micros" (all lower case.. "micro"... letters), with a sub-heading spelling out "Tandy Color Computer, OS-9, OSK". This would prevent the necessity of a future name change.
As stated, the primary goal of "68' micros" would be support of the Color Computer. To begin with, the target would be a CoCo BASIC content of around 70% with the remaining 30% coverage for OS-9 and OSK combined. In all fairness, articles that pertained equally to all operating systems would be included in the Cocos' 70% (such as Bill Stamatas' "C Programming" series, which is based on the "CoCo-C" compiler, but can be used with ANY compiler.). Also, the percentages would have to change with the subscriber base. As long as a high percentage was CoCo BASIC users, the content for those would remain high. As people moved away from the CoCo, something that was inevitable, then a higher percentage would be devoted to OS-9 and OSK. I expected the CoCo BASIC users to keep at least 50% of the magazine for the next five years... I myself was primarily a DECB user!
I had intended to base percentages on reader surveys, which would be done yearly and when one sent in a subscription form. Unfortunately, there just weren't enough responses to base anything on. The problem is the old chicken and egg routine. You have to have a chicken to get an egg, but you have to have an egg to get a chicken. I had DECB users, so I had to support them. In order to attract OS-9/OSK users, I had to show some support, but I needed articles from some of those users to print! And I didn't want to alienate the DECB users either. So instead of growing in to a new market, I just ended up supporting the old until it just got to be more trouble than it was worth to me.
I spent 40+ hours on each magazine, and earned about $2.00 an hour. I'd grown enough in my own computer needs that the CoCo could no longer fill them, and there was no affordable OS-9/OSK machine that had the software base to do the things I wanted to do. Like most CoCo users, I migrated to a PC clone computer instead of a more expensive and ultimately less capable (due to lack of software) OSK machine. Not only that, but I was getting more involved in my first love, AMC cars, and I had a new wife and family that I needed to spend time with. I just didn't have time and money for two big hobbies, and my Rambler won out. But don't think the CoCo was slighted any -- I even told my new wife (celebrated our 10th anniversary in December 2005!) that the Rambler had seniority even over her!
The day came that I finally decided I no longer had time to print 268'm. The last fest I went to had cost me a couple hundred dollars, and I had other interests as well. I didn't bail because I was no longer making money -- except for the fest trip I was still making a bit, and a trip to Chicago for $200-300 was still a bargain. In the end I was working for about $2.00 an hour putting 268'm out. My original goal was to do it with no out-of-pocket costs, and it was a break even proposition. Note that I wasn't including any overhead costs (computer supplies, space, etc.) when I say I was "making" $2.00 an hour, but that wasn't a real consideration -- I'd have had a computer and needed space anyway. In reality I only needed a few more office supplies and storage space for 268'm, though I really didn't need a laser printer and a few other things except for the magazine. Time for my family and other interests, and a lessening of my interests in the CoCo in general, are the reasons I decided to cease publishing.
When I stopped printing "268'm" in 1998 I still had a loyal subscriber base of 125-150 people (peak had been just over 400) that still had an interest in the CoCo. I tried to find someone to take the publication over at no cost by announcing that fact in the magazine, and letting subscribers know that I wouldn't just stop printing without warning. After about six months I found a taker! We made an arrangement where I paid for the printing and mailing of the next two issues, and forwarded all renewal funds from the take-over date on. I usually received enough renewals to cover printing and mailing costs between issues even at that late stage of the game, so that plan should have given a little extra to start off. We did discuss all business aspects, and that the magazine alone would be little more than a break-even proposition -- I didn't want anyone having a false hope of making much money off the deal.
Unfortunately that person ran into problems and only printed another issue or two after the two I paid for. Around 100 subscribers lost a little money -- some the entire $20 subscription price, but most half that or less. I never could get in touch with the person again, and forgot who it was a long time ago. It's possible that after the announcement that I was personally getting out of publishing that a lot of people simply didn't renew. The two issues printed after I left off were as nicely done as I had printed, in my opinion (the deal included a copy of PageMaker software and templates to ensure reasonable quality and little change in appearance at first -- and no start-up costs). Not getting enough renewals to cover printing and postage expenses would have been disheartening to say the least, but I think the guy had personal problems (maybe a divorce?) that caused the sudden drop.
Instead of packing my CoCo 3s up and keeping them, I made the tough decision to sell them. I figured that someone willing to pay a fair price for them would have to have a keen interest in the CoCo, and would continue to put them to good use for a while. I sometimes wish I still had one of them, but I don't regret that they continued in service at least while longer. Being an old car nut, I've always hated seeing a car sitting and rusting away because someone was going to "fix it up one day" -- but you just knew it would never happen. I didn't want that happening to my CoCos -- I'd rather know someone got a bit more enjoyment from them before they were retired. I do still have a couple CoCo1s and a 2 that I put in storage as future collectibles though.
If anyone wants copies of "268'm", they are available at ftp://maltedmedia.com/coco/MAGAZINES/The%20World%20of%2068%27%20micros%20%5BFARNA%20systems%5D/. You will find other FARNA publications and programs, including "Tandy's Little Wonder", at ftp://maltedmedia.com/coco/MAGAZINES/FARNA/. A couple years ago I made all the software publicly accessible. I retain the copyright to the books, but have given that site permission to host them and make them freely available for personal use only -- just don't sell anything or include it on a web site or archive collection (to sell or give away) without written permission from me (website below).
FARNA Systems is still in the small publishing business. Currently I'm printing an AMC/Rambler quarterly magazine and working on a couple more AMC/Rambler publications. I also provide services to others who wish to get their small publishing projects off the ground. See the FARNA Systems web site at http://www.amc-mag.com.