Arlon R, Levitan
An April Trade Show Report
While most of the computer press converged on Lost Wages, Nevada in November of 1985 to attend yet another humdrum computer trade show, this columnist packed up his gear and headed for a counterculture communications fest held on the multileveled U.S.S. Flotsam, an ex-petro supertanker converted for use as a floating convention facility. Dubbed COMMDECKS 85 by show sponsor Aski Blok, it provided a fresh look at the lunatic fringe of computer communications.
There had been some doubt as to whether the show would get off the ground at all. Picket lines were set up by angry labor protesters who had been written bad redundancy checks by the show sponsor. The strikers were demanding even parity for all data transmitted to and from the show, making it almost impossible for exhibitors to set up their tables in the days preceding the show's opening. In the end, the demonstrators dropped their parity demands in exchange for 14 percent more than they had been receiving, plus additional time off in the form of one extra data bit and two stop bits.
It's hard to pinpoint the most memorable products of the show (since I spent most of my time recovering from the hors d'oeuvres and beverages served at evening press conferences), but I owe it to the readers of this column (and to the IRS) to take a shot at it.
Don't Just Ask For A Light
For the health-minded telecomputerist, Natural Language's line of optical wave modems are the first of the new "light" modems, transmitting 30 percent fewer characters than their wire-based counterparts. The new units are also said to aid the digestion of serial data (a.k.a. "number crunching") due to their high fiber optic content.
Setting a hard standard to beat for intelligent modems is Thought System's new Kreskin 2400. How smart is it? The Kreskin reportedly can detect a busy signal before a call is actually made. Some recent prototypes also refuse to dial a remote Bulletin Board System if the unit's advanced circuitry senses there is nothing interesting to read or download on the BBS. The heart of the Kreskin is a superfast proprietary CPU chip capable of executing an infinite loop in 37 seconds. It translates the incoming stream of data into your choice of French, Italian, or Chinese (English is an extra-cost option).
No trade show would be complete without the obligatory raft of seminars and workshops, and COMMDECKS was no exception. Things did get off to a confusing start, however, when the kickoff session "The Future of VideoTex" turned out to be a panel discussion on merchandising VCRs and TVs in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Houston.
The highlight of the show's conference schedule had to be "Null Modems-Threat or Men ace?"-a discussion of the trend toward violence in data communications hardware. The introduction of the Ninja, Terminator, and Rambo class of modem eliminators at the show further fueled the controversy to new heights.
With the price of mobile telephones dropping faster than a brick, Phylum Systems of Paramecium, California figures to cash in big with a $14.95 limited-distance mobile modem dubbed the Amoeba. Phylum's vice president of marketing, Ernest Flagella, says the single cellular unit will be shipping either "(1) real soon now, (2) in two weeks, (3) when the manual comes back from the printer, or (4) when Atari ST and Amiga owners stop bickering over who bought the better machine."
Meanwhile, the Arapaho Indian Nation is entering the packet-switching network race to serve the communications needs of telecomputerists in the remote West. Bowing to the pressure of environmentalist groups, the Arapaho elders have agreed to house their telecommunications equipment inside structures disguised as totem poles. The job of cabling the poles has been awarded to RS-232 ace Louie "Bent Pin" Carson. Although Carson anticipates a high degree of difficulty in routing the cables within the highly confined spaces of the totems, he feels that a shot at everlasting fame is worth all of the headaches. When the job is done, Carson will have become the first man to wire a head for a reservation.
After-hours entertainment got physical on Friday night as anybaudy who is anybaudy attended a sports competition for manufacturers of multiuser LANs dubbed "Battle of the Network Stars." Over 50 teams vied for the coveted "Lord of the Rings" title, and the highly favored New York Subcarriers were disqualified in the early rounds for passing bad tokens in the relay.
To be perfectly honest, attendance at COMMDECKS 85 was far below the anticipated crowd of 25,000+. While hanging over the quarterdeck railing on the third day of the show, I bumped into promoter Aski Blok once more and quizzed him about the low number of attendees. "Well, it's really not too bad if you take everything into account," he said. "Our current location is kind of hard for people to get to. I think it would have been a lot more crowded if we hadn't cast off from the docks for the open C-the C programming workshop, that is."