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TI-99/4a Console

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This text and accompanying images were
PRESENTED AT THE 30TH TREFF (European TI99/4a TI Users Meeting)
held in CREWE Saturday 3rd October 2015
by Stephen Shaw, covering the UK history of the TI99/4a with special reference to the many UK TI99/4a publications.

At the TREFF there were a number of TI99/4a systems operational, some modified for direct connection to modern monitors, and there were several new modules and some new peripherals.

On most images click image for larger version.
TI99/4 console Test Card for TREFF First image produced with a Test Card program running on the TI99/4a, program written for Yorkshire TV Sound Engineer 1982 when electronic test cards were new and expensive.

Second image: NTSC version of the TI99/4 (the PAL version had a sliding volume control at bottom right where the "Solid State Software" sign is.).

Stephen's rambling....

I first met computers at work in 1969, typing in data and enquiries to a remote terminal for an IBM360- no vdu, just a printer and keyboard.

My leisure interests included games and recreational maths and I exchanged letters with a number of well known people in these areas.

My first "computer" was an expensive toy, the Sinclair Cambridge programmable calculator, which I hardly used before it stopped working just after the guarantee expired.

Then came home computers, initially these were quite costly, and this time I explored what was available and what I wanted, before spending any money. I saw my choice as between Commodore Pet, Tandy TRS80, Apple-1 and TI99/4. Computers from Atari and Mattel were not yet available.

I finally chose the TI, as it seemed more suited for someone who wanted to program and someone who was not too interested in fiddling with hardware (the plug and play approach). And TI were the only firm to respond to my letter of enquiry.

TI then had some retail shops and their Manchester shop lent me - free of charge- and delivered and collected- free of charge- an NTSC console with an NTSC monitor for a weekend. I cannot think of any modern day manufacturer going to these lengths.

Sample TI thermal printer printout TI Bedford 1980 letter head I was in contact with TI European Consumer Division in Bedford from early days ( my first letter to TI was September 1980 ) and chose to wait for the release of the PAL console, but joined the TI User Group from the outset in late 1980. I bought my TI99/4 PAL console from TI directly, the invoice was dated June 1981 and for the console TI99/4, Version 100 Extended Basic, the thermal printer 32k ram, a disk controller and a 90k 5.25 inch disk drive, I paid £1700.

daisy chain TI99/4 expanded layout Allowing for the increase in RPI, at 2015 prices that would be £5,900 which would buy some computing power today. Extended Basic Vn 100 was not to be available until August 1981.

Another early member was Peter Brooks, who bought his console before I bought mine- and he bought an NTSC 99/4 console and NTSC monitor. Peter is now in California and has no TI material.
TI Home front page issue 1 The initial UK User Group TI Home was run by Paul Dicks, whose address was given to me by TI in October 1980. The first magazine, initially just called TI Home then later TI Home TIdings was produced by Paul with the first issue dated February 1981. Paul had professional dealings with TI as a commercial user of their larger computers. It has been reported that TI were directly involved with at least two issues of the magazine.

From issue 2 the magazine had a disclaimer at the insistance of TI - "TIHOME is not affiliated with Texas Instruments in any way and is supported only by the group members".

The name of Stephen Shaw appeared in issue two of TI HOME, dated March 81, and appeared regularly after. This was some months before I obtained a console, invoiced to me in June 81..

autographed rule sheet for Pompeii XV My upgrade to Ext Bas Vn 110 was courtesy of TI - the only payment I ever received from them, in return for having the most listings published in UK magazines, mostly C&VG, who paid ten pounds per program.

One of these was the game of Pompeii. This was based upon a set of rules written by Robert Bell, a Canadian who settled in the NE of England. He found fame as a games archeologist and had a strong interest in pottery from NE England. I have an autographed rule sheet for Pompeii, setting out the history of the game, which was published by Whittlecraft, better known for their traditional wooden games, eg chess and backgammon boards. It did not sell too many copies but gave me a lovely game to emulate on the TI.

Italian Pompeii screen grab 1Italian Pompeii screen grab 2Italian Pompeii screen grab 3

In the database TI Gamebase I find two versions of Pompeii in Italian. My name has been removed and there is no mention of Mr Bell or C&VG but apart from the Italian translation, the code is all mine.

stainless software catalogue front cover

In the early days there was a lack of software in the UK and so, slowly, Stainless Software was born, obtaining licences from some US software houses to copy and sell their programs in the UK. And offering distribution to UK programmers on a royalties-only basis (not one single cash payment). Stainless covered the costs and paid them royalties that were relatively generous.. Most Stainless programs did not have the name Stainless in the code, only on the cassette label.

Stainless Software titles on the Internet

TX Software (R Mathews) Battlefront game One early programmer who had a program published in C&VG was Mr R Matthews who went on to run TX Software. He died very early on. One of his programs was sent in to Stainless by a Cornish fish frier, as his own work. No reply was sent but Mr Matthews widow was advised (obviously she could do nothing) and others were told- the person concerned was already known to be a software pirate. I was therefore horrified to find the website Gameshelf had Mr Matthews program Battlefront with my name against it.

I have checked the code which does have my name inserted as someone to send Shareware funds to - it doesn't say I wrote it, I didn't authorise that statement - and I didn't receive any funds either. The person who did this died many years ago. Battlefront was written entirely by Mr R Matthews.
At last, after face to face contacts in Chicago, the web site was updated 12th December 2015, with my name removed. But Mr Matthews name has not been added. Let this article record a product of this talented programmer.

[I have discovered that Tex Comp issued a set of disks entitled "The Best of the UK" on each of which they requested Fairware donations be sent to me. I knew nothing about this, and did not receive one single penny - or cent].

Video Games 1 pinball high score over ten million

My big claim to gaming fame is with Video Games 1 game called Pinball (although it is nothing of the sort). Whilst waiting for my Extended Basic Vn 100 module...

My high score was over ten million, which had rather more digits than the display was built for, but well done TI, the program did not crash.

Waddington letter re Black Box
The game of Black Box has been widely emulated on computers for many many years. Not many people know that the game was invented by Dr Eric Solomon. A commercial physical game was licenced from Dr Solomon and marketed by Waddingtons. Stainless Software published a version of this game and it seems to have been virtually the ONLY software version that was properly licenced with consent from Waddingtons and Dr Solomon, and gave credit to Dr Solomon (Many, many, years later, Andrea Gilbert in her Mazes website nicely gives attribution). Later - possibly triggered by my enquiry - another software company claimed to have an exclusive licence from Waddingtons, however Stainless Software had been there first and may have had the first game licenced from Waddingtons.
[A 17 page (only 276k) history and analysis of the game Black Box is available from University of California as a pdf file.]

Waddingtons were by 1922 manufacturing playing cards and went on to board games, in the UK distributing Monopoly, Buccaneer, Campaign, Cluedo, Mine a Million, Risk, Scoop!, Sorry, Subbuteo, Totopoly and many others.

Video games reduced sales of boxed games and Waddingtons was bought by American company Hasbro. Waddington's name remains on playing card packs but these are now manufactured by a company called "Winning Moves".

Across the world an older playing card manufacturer from 1889 was better able to meet the computer storm and still manufactures Nintendo Hanafuda playing cards which you may buy from Amazon.

Extract from scienceguy web site- Bill Kuhl Early on, Stainless offered a simple little program simply called FISH by Bill Kuhl, who recalled those days recently on his website. FISH required just one key to operate it.

Mark Sumner book covers
Stainless also published a number of programs written by Mark Sumner, who used the funds obtained to take time out to write a number of books, one series of which was made into a tv series. So if you bought one of

3D STALKERS | CRAZY CAVER | KEYS OF THE CASTLE | PS PESTEROIDS | SPACE RESCUE | SPY'S DEMISE | STARPROBE 99 | WALLABY | WONKAPILLAR | OCTAL (he wrote others) then you contributed towards the creation of a tv series (The Chronicle).

Not Polyoptics logo and Capobianco book cover

Michael Capobianco of Not Polyoptics, many of whose programs Stainless sold also wrote a Science Fiction book or two. He served as President of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) from 1996–1998 and again from 2007-2008. He received the Service to SFWA Award in 2004. Not-Polyoptics TI Basic programs were mostly strategy based and rather good. (Why "Not Polyoptics"? 'Cos we're not going to call it Polyoptics...)

TIHCUC last magazine cover
Returning to the UK User Group the last issue of TIdings was dated March 1983, Then nothing was heard until...

Subscribers to TIdings found their subscriptions had been passed to TIHCUC Ltd, a private company run by Ray Hodges Associates, a PR company (still trading). Their thin magazine which only ran for five issues did not meet the needs of many of the TIdings subscribers. The first magazine was dated Autumn 1983. The last issue was Summer 1985.

It is likely that Paul Dicks had been overwhelmed by increasing numbers of TI Users and that TI had jumped in to rescue the situation, possibly making a one off payment to Ray Hodges, but we don't know that, it was all terribly secret.

The fate of this thin magazine was probably sealed when in November 1983 TI announced their withdrawal from home computing.

TI*MES magazine issue 1 cover
Fortunately, an owner in Brighton, Clive Scally, set up TI Exchange to foster the exchange of modules between TI owners, and produced a small magazine- first issue Summer 83, after the last issue of TIdings and before the first issue of TIHCUC. It was just in time for TIHOME subscribers looking for a magazine with some content to start subscribing and so TI*MES replaced TIdings. Not as an official transfer or handover, but a disorganised mass movement of UK TI owners.

TI User Magazine cover

In August 1983, also before the first issue of TIHCUC magazine, a TI retailer in Maidstone, Galaxy, set up a quarterly magazine (TI User) which ran for at least five issues commencing August 1983. Lantern Software probably provided the editorial.

Also in 1983 I was approached by a publisher who wished to have a TI99/4a book on sale for Christmas- matters had to be speeded up a little with TI's withdrawal from the market but my book "Getting Started with the Texas Instruments TI-99/4a" published by Phoenix, did make it into the bookstores and even the public libraries. Unfortunately I was VAT registered at the time so from the meagre royalties had to pay both income tax AND pay a share of the royalties to the VAT man.

Parco magazine cover

1984 saw another retailer launch a magazine, called 99/4a, this was the TI99/4a specialist Parco in Devon. This diminished in size from A4 to A5 later on, but ran bi-monthly for at least eight issues.

Front cover of TI Lines

1984 was a good year for magazines, Peter Brooks set up his own magazine under the initial title of TI Lines from Oxon TI Users Group, which was initially more or less the sole output of Peter himself. Peter also worked closely with Gordon Pitt of the West Midlands TI User Group, who organised regular user meetings at Bloxwich. Peter later renamed his magazine "International TI Lines a production of the International TI User Group" but it was still just Peter Brooks. I have copies up to November 1987. If anyone has later copies they could share with me?

Peter moved to America and currently has no TI materials.

Manchester TI Meet at the Ritz 1984

November 1984 saw the great TI99/4a meeting at the Ritz in Manchester, one very rainy day, and a huge number attended, well over a thousand. It was the first organised meeting of UK TI owners (apart from meeting up at the TI stand at the London computer shows).

By 1985 Stainless sales were slipping and I obtained consent from as many programmers as possible to send out their programs as freeware, which is why so many still survive. Most programs which were only sold by Stainless do not mention Stainless in the program code- it was only on the cassette label. This makes it difficult to identify them now, but I have an alphabetical list on Stainless programs on my website, with screen grabs where possible.

A number of third party hardware items appeared, but only one turned out to be of value, the excellent joysticks made by Howard Greenberg of Arcade Hardware. The MBX unit proved a hit with my youngster but the Sketch tablet device has not been used. I have a German mouse but have never used it, and several other items which have been a complete waste of funds. My original FX80 printer, used to print the MS for my book, still works, more than three decades later. And you can still buy new ribbons for it.

In May 87 Clive passed the group over to an elected committee with myself as one of the members. From the initial committee I can only track down myself.

Front cover of East Anglia Region magazine

Also around May 1987, a US Air Force employee in England started a regional group based upon regular members meetings, but also producing a monthly magazine. This was Scott Copeland who with his then wife JoAnn managed the East Anglia Region TI Users Group.

Edgar Mauk awards 2015
In 2000 at the 13th Tref, an award was made to me - (The Edgar Mauk Award- the first awarded to a Brit) but I didn't have a passport and didn't attend, apparently the award was lost in the post! and only in 2013 I discovered on the internet that I had been given the award. (At the evening meal, October 2015, on Saturday I finally received my award, just 15 years later. Many thanks to all concerned).

Image- >

2015 presentation of 2000 Edgar Mauk award

(and two 2015 awards also)---->>

In 2013 I was added to the 99ers Hall of Fame


Screen grab of TI Articles web page by Stephen Shaw

Today I have a website with 189 pages of which 109 are TI related. The TI section gets few visitors- about 20% of site visitors. I have added many articles from UK TI magazines and as much of the Stainless catalogue as I can find.

I have a 17 year old PC running FreeDOS and have squeezed in a Linux OS as well. I use a number of TI emulators including the older MESS, PC99, PC Emulate, V9t9, and TI Sim. My TI console still works too.

TREFF 2015 pennant

I am adding older TI material to the internet, and where possible adding some important TI related web pages to historical safety with

TI99/4a Title Page screen grab