Serving 500 square miles of Texas
TACE, the Temple Area Computer Enthusiasts, is located right in the middle of Texas. "I'd say we cover about 500 square miles," says TACE founder Jim Wesolowski, "but we also have members in other states and even in Germany. There's a lot of military around here, 285,000 troops in the area. Fort Hood itself is 323 square miles. Temple, on the other hand, has 42 people and is six miles from one end to the other." Temple residents used to go about 65 miles for the nearest Atari equipment, but a new full-fledged dealer has cropped up less than 40 miles away.
Wesolowski, confined to a wheelchair as a result of a tunnel explosion while serving in Vietnam, is now TACE librarian and system operator of the users group bulletin board, the Telephone Company. "I also belong to SAM, the Sysops' Association of the Metroplex," Wesolowski says. The Metroplex is the triangle between Waco, Temple and Killeen, including Fort Hood and Harbor Heights. "To give you an idea of how big the area is, one sysop drives 163 miles each way for our monthly meeting."
TACE officially meets at Wesolowski's home three times a month--some people drive ovcr 100 miles round trip. But members stop by all the time. "It's an oddball arrangement," says Wesolowski. "I'm stuck at home all the time. So when people come for disk swaps or to learn something on the computer 10 might show up on Saturday, 15 on Sunday--or whenever they can make it. They'll come any day of the week to learn whatever was taught at the last meeting."
Most TACE members are in the military, so the largest age group is between 18 and 34. However, TACE memberships cover an entire family, not just an individual. Including children, the total membership is about 400 of which some l03 famalies are primarily Atari users.
"I have non-Atari users over also," says Wesolowski, "though my only computer now is an ST. For instance, I worked with a couple of IBM users on C compilers." The A in TACE used to stand for Atari, but the group now includes users of other personal computer brands. Previously there had been no groups for non-Atari users in the area.
TACE holds a major meeting every three months at Kwik-Fix Electronics, the only full-service Atari dealer in the area. Average attendance is around 160. TACE membership has grown about 22 percent a year since it began in 1983.
The Telephone Company bulletin board runs on Wesolowski's one-megabyte 520ST, with a 20Mb Atari hard disk and MichTron BBS software (rev. 2.0). The BBS is online from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. on weekdays, 24 hours on weekends and holidays.
"'We have about 8Mb of MIDI music and graphics online--they're the major push," says Wesolowski. "We have 1Mb---1O8 titles of Activision Music Studio files and 3.5 megs of Hybrid Arts EZ Track MIDI songs. In fact, Hybrid Arts' own BBS doesn't even have half a megabyte--they call mine to get more music. We also have 2Mb. of DEGAS and NEOchrome pictures."
The Music Studio material ranges from "The William Tell Overture" to "Rhapsody in Blue" to Broadway showtunes and the "Hooked on Classics" series. All music and graphics files on this BBS have been compressed as much as possible with ARC (short for Archiver) public domain software found in such online services as GEnie and CompuServe. ARC compresses 330,000 bytes of Hybrid Arts programs to 64,000, and it crunches NEOchrome pictures from 32,000 bytes to 5,000.
"Forty-five percent of our callers are long distance--I even have callers from Ohio and California," says Wesolowski. The Telephone Company BBS is open to everyone. First-time callers have upload and download capability. Online time is limited to 35 minutes until users are validated and get boosted to 75 minutes.
TACE actually has five bulletin boards covering topics from computers to country-western music. Wesolowski's system just handles the Atari information-- 8-bit and ST. All the TACE systems run at 300 and 1200 baud. "Because the of the range of topics," says Wesolowski, "people usually call one BBS, then another and another. They don't usually hook up to just one."
Wesolowski updates TACE's online newsletter monthly. "We've channeled our energy into software reviews," he says, "and I've got online reviews of Haba, Michtron and Activision products. I'm limited to how much I can do at a time, though, because I have only one ST."
Antic first heard about the Telephone Company when it used to specialize in listing phone numbers for other bulletin boards throughout the country. This specialty was discontinued when it became too difficult to keep up with the constant changes in a list of 1,400 numbers.
TACE's president, Paul Fische, is the Chief of Recreation and Rehabilitation at a nearby Temple Veteran's Administration Medical Center and TACE is one of the few Atari users groups in the United States with the VA as a member.
"We help the VA hospital with 8-bit computers," says Wesolowski, "which they use in a nursing home for recreation and rehabilitation in terms of such things as hand-eye coordination after strokes. We also work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and have a hotline modem pledge system for the Jerry Lewis Telethon."
Another group member is Temple Junior College, which holds an annual continuing education class that covers various computers and modem operation. TACE is also a charter member of the Worldwide User Network and has started a bulletin board association against piracy.
TACE supplied the following survey information. Of the 103 Atari-owner family memberships in TACE, 9.8 percent use STs and the remainder use 8-bit computers in this order: 800XL, 800, 130XE, 65XE and 1200XL. Atari 1050 and Indus GT disk drives are the most popular.
The most widely-used modems are the Avatex, Volksmodem, Atari, Supra(MPP) and Hayes. Twelve percent of the members use online serices, primarily GEnie, CompuServe and Dow Jones.
About 6 percent of the TACE Atarians are active programmers, while another 12 percent program occasionally. Rankings for the favorite 8-bit languages are Atari BASIC, Microsoft BASIC and ACTION!. ST programmers favor C, ST BASIC and assembler in that order.
The software types used most by members are ranked here in order of importance:
2. Word Processing
4. Help for Handicapped
9. Artificial Intellegence
Temple Area Computer Enthusiasts
3202 Las Cruces Drive
Temple, TX 76502
Bulletin Board: (817) 778-2506