Andrew Laird ( a short biography)
As I set up the Wiki I guess some of you are wondering who I am and why I am keen on the VZ200.
I was born in Brisbane in May 1967 and lived the first year or two of my life in Boondall, after which my parents built a house in Everton Hills. We lived there until the end of 1977, when we moved to Tahlee Bible College, near Karuah and north of Newcastle in NSW.
My father was a lecturer there for just one year before the principal left. At this time, my father was invited to fill in as acting principal for a year, and then took over as principal from 1989 until 1990. Following this he moved to Adelaide to be the principal of the Bible College of South Australia. My mother also worked at Tahlee, both in a secretarial position and later also in lecturing New Testament Greek.
My interest in computers no doubt grew out of my interest in electronics, and that interest can be directly attributed to my father who was a keen electronics hobbyist. During holidays trips to Dick Smith Electronics were mandatory, and many hours were spent in building kits, including the "Fun Way into Electronics" series. No trip to Newcastle (which for serious department store shopping was the closest city – and was an hour away) was complete without dropping in to the Tighes Hill DSE and checking out the latest kits, and also the latest computers. I was particularly taken by one of the 'Galactic' series – probably 'Galactic Trader' – running on a System 80. Many hours were no doubt spent drooling over the DSE catalogue pages featuring System 80’s.
This interest in computers was fostered by another staff member at Tahlee, a former Tandy employee who had specialised in computer sales. During one set of school holidays I was given access to a complete BASIC programming course on his CoCo and I am sure I virtually lived there for the week or whatever that it took me to work through the course. I was well and truly hooked.
The unfortunate thing for my dreams of owning a computer was that we were not well off at all, I was given minimal pocket money and the only real income available was through my grandmother who sent down money for my birthday. I had also won prizes through the Bank of New South Wales (which became the Westpac) Mathematics competition so had some savings, but nowhere near enough to purchase a computer.
Then in 1983 the VZ-200 was released. It was still out of my price range but was fairly widely purchased by users interested in finding out about computers. My brother was in Year 10 and did work experience in Newcastle, from memory with the Department of Main Roads. He found himself in the middle of a thriving mini user group and was able to bring home a number of software tapes that we copied audio-to-audio. (In those days I did not understand software piracy!) So I had the software base but no computer.
Eventually though, DSE dropped their price on the VZ-200 down to $99, and at that point it was affordable. In 1984 we made the trip into Newcastle, purchased the VZ-200 and a datasette (not the VZ one but a slimline model that was cheaper) and after that I spent many hours playing the pirated games and programming in BASIC. I still passed Year 11 and 12 despite the late nights and the distraction. The most useful program I typed in was a mailing list program that saved data out to tape, and I think my parents actually used it to send out newsletters to friends and family.
A school friend who lived in Karuah also purchased a VZ and because he was already running an electronics business he had real money and was able to purchase a number of kits and peripherals. I spent many hours at his house working on VZ stuff.
I had learned about LE'VZ either through DSE or one of the electronics magazines my father purchased when he got the chance (Electronics Australia and Electronics Today International were the favourites). I can't remember if I subscribed (it is possible) or my friend in Karuah did – but certainly I had access to an issue that talked about a Christmas gathering at John D'Alton's house in Brisbane. As we were in Queensland every Christmas holidays to be with my grandmother who lived on Bribie Island, I managed to convince my father to take me to the gathering. I can't recall any of the finer details of the meeting, but was left with an impression of being in awe of someone who wrote a VZ newsletter.
When I started a degree at the University of Newcastle (Bachelor of Mathematics majoring in Computer Science) I had a bit more money coming my way and was able to buy some more VZ software and gear. I was interested in the potential that machine code programming offered and purchased Rodney's Zaks' "Programming the Z80" but with the pressures of uni never actually got around to writing any code.
It was probably towards the end of 1987 that I discovered the Hunter Valley VZ User's Group (HVVZUG), and I attended a number of their Friday evening meetings at the Jesmond Community Centre, located very conveniently near the university. It was there that I met Joe Leon and Gavin Williamson (coincidentally one of my uni friends knew Gavin because they were both umpiring in the local Aussie Rules competition). Joe made himself very accessible and I visited him at his home in Shortland on a few occasions.
The HVVZUG meetings generally consisted of demonstrations of various hardware or software projects, often produced by members. I am fairly sure that there was a software library that members were welcome to use. Of course, the HVVZUG produced the Hunter Valley VZ Journal, and at one stage I was involved enough in the group to actually submit an article to the journal.
It was through the group also that I was eventually encouraged to purchase a disk drive (quite possible a LaserLink one, but I am not sure), was given more software, and ended up with joysticks as well. I may have even come into possession of a VZ-300 but my memory of that time is not 100% clear.
However, university courses and activities began to leave less and less time available for the VZ, especially once I had moved out of home to live in Newcastle. At the end of 1989 – and before I moved to Sydney – I decided to sell all my VZ gear before it was worth nothing at all. Joe Leon obliged by taking it off my hands (including a fair collection of newsletters and magazines) for a reasonable sum.
Scroll forward ten or more years: I now have internet access, and in a fit of nostalgia I decide to put the term VZ200 into a search engine. To my surprise, there were a number of hits, and I visited them all. This renewed my interest in the VZ. Eventually I manage to purchase a VZ200 off eBay, from a South Australian seller. The purchase included a VZ datasette and a number of software tapes, as well as a VZ300 16K RAM expansion. It was a real thrill to turn the VZ200 on and see that familiar screen again. Not long after I was able to purchase a VZ200 16K RAM expansion.
More recently, I decided to finally put my interest in electronics to work in the VZ arena and actually build a modification. I butchered the VZ300 RAM expansion for its edge connector. Based on designs found in issues of the Hunter Valley VZ Journal, I came up with my own 5 chip design for a 256K RAM expansion, which took the VZ200 up to its full 34K memory capacity and allowed for 14 x 16K switched banks. I built it on experimenters' board purchased from Futurlec. It was with some trepidation that I plugged it in and turned on my only VZ-200, but fortunately there was no smoke and the project worked first time. Details were published on the 'vzemu' mailing list and can be found here: Andrew Laird's 256K RAM Expansion.
I have since purchased a second, third and now fourth VZ200, along with more VZ datasettes, more VZ200 16K RAM expansions and more tapes. My friend from Karuah (now living in Newcastle) was giving away a bunch of VZ gear he still had lying around and I was fortunate enough to receive a Laser-branded printer-plotter complete with spare pens and manual, a printer interface (no cover), a serial interface (DSE kit), a printer buffer (Don McKenzie's PBUFF) and a couple of Australian Electronic Monthly text-to-speech kits (4505), as well as a number of books and software manuals.
My dream (perhaps out of reach!) is to be able to own the full gamut of VZ products, as well as a complete set of software, books and magazine articles. I am also especially interested in history and this Wiki is my way of researching and recording the history of the VZ200 and VZ300. Where possible I have used original sources such as newsletters, magazine articles and advertisements rather than relying on the Internet.
I am also interested in starting up a physical 'museum' in the garage and so continue to collect whatever I can on my meagre budget.
I want to say thanks to the 'vzemu' mailing list – their enthusiasm fuels mine, and although none of us has lots of time to put into the VZ these days, it is great to know that there are others out there who still enjoy the VZ as much as I do.
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