Thursday, 3 February 2011

Futile Attack on Quanta and New Hardware Announced

Geoff Wicks has been at it again. Despite being seen off on ql-users following his attack on the constitution and an individual serving on the committee he returns with another negative post, be warned and here it is below. Please bear in mind that Geoff, who has repeatedly attacked Quanta has no remit whatsoever to act as Quanta's mouth piece.

"Last weekend several people castigated me for suggesting that Quanta should be 
wound up.
Now it's time to see if you are prepared to put your money where your mouths 
I am not asking you to to do anything drastic like joining the committee, but 
something more simple to show your support for Quanta and the Quanta committee.
Unlike most of you I have frequent unofficial contact with members of the Quanta 
committee. In public they are frequently criticising the members for their 
apathy. In private their language and emotions are much stronger. I think it is 
fair to say they are bitter and disillusioned by the lack of support from the 
members. They are having to double or triple up committee duties to keep Quanta 
alive and feel a lack of concern and interest from the members. Over the last 
year they have continually warned that the future of Quanta was in jeopardy, but 
apparently no one was listening. At the moment committee morale is at a low ebb 
and has been made worse by two factors. For the first time a Quanta committee 
has had to be prepared for the real possibility of advising the closure of the 
organisation at the next AGM. They have also had to cope with a serious problem, 
the details of which I cannot go into, that has proved more difficult to solve 
than first thought. Some advanced plans for Quanta on which the committee have 
done hours of preparation have had to be put on hold. Inevitably this has led to 
some tension between members of the committee.
So I am asking you all now to give the committee a good morale boost. Below is a 
list of the problems that face the committee. It is a little frightening in its 
length. Let's now give the committee some detailed help and feedback on these 
Quanta has been unable to find a permanent editor for its magazine for about 6 
years. There is now an acute crisis with no editor or acting editor. Producing a 
magazine is a highly skilled task and the people on the committee with those 
skills are already overworked with other duties. I doubt if the committee now 
has the resources to produce a magazine. What should they do in these 
The Quanta website has not been updated for 6 months. Although Quanta has had 
websites for about 10 years it has never mastered the art of keeping a website 
up to date. How should they tackle this problem?
Quanta can now manage only one show per year and the attendance is usually low. 
Quanta is legally obliged to hold an AGM each year. Although in recent years 
attendance has improved, three or four years ago attendance levels were 
dangerously near the quorum. How should Quanta organise its AGMs in future?
Apart from a small, and, in my opinion, somewhat secretive subgroup, Quanta has 
had no presence in the South East for almost 4 years. How do we re-establish 
contact with the South East?
Some years ago I wrote a piece in QL Today about the falling membership and was 
accused of being anti-Quanta. When I wrote that item subscription income covered 
more than 80% of expenditure. Today that figure is more like 60%. Quanta has 
survived financially in recent years because Rich Mellor has traded in second 
hand hardware on their behalf, but this is a diminishing source of income. What 
would you do about the gap between subscription income and expenditure? Would 
you be prepared to accept increasing the subscription to a maximum of £25? (And 
just a warning for those people who suggest structurally using the capital. You 
would be condemning Quanta to a short term future. In the worst case scenario 
you could count the years left on the fingers of one hand.)
Several people suggested amending Quanta's constitution to save the 
organisation. What specific amendments are you proposing? There is no need for 
detailed proposals - that could be a job for the experts. Bear in mind that 
constitutional amendments are not a quick fix. The earliest that constitutional 
amendments affecting the committee could be implemented would be 2013.
This still seems to be a fairly successful area for Quanta. However they have 
great autonomy and, with the exception of London, all the subgroups could 
continue if Quanta closed down. Is there a need for more structured links 
between the sub groups and the central organisation? There must be a lot of 
things happening in subgroups that could be of interest to all members. They are 
also in a position to provide valuable feedback to the committee.
Not really a problem, but something for Quanta to boast about. Without Quanta 
there would have been no new keyboard membranes. Any ideas for other good uses 
for the capital? But don't forget you can't use the capital for both projects 
and to make up shortfalls in the subscription income/expenditure balance.
I want to add some personal comments about the South East situation. Five years 
ago it was the life blood of Quanta, and Manchester and the north were the poor 
relations. There was always at least one show, and often two a year, whereas the 
north had just one show every two years. The last South East show was held in 
2007 and the decline in interest in Quanta (and perhaps the QL) was 
frighteningly rapid. How often do you now see the former stalwarts of Portslade 
and Byfleet contributing to this list?  Almost never.
At one time a quarter of Quanta members lived in London or the South East. I 
expected to see some old friends at Quanta's centenary, but only one person from 
the region attended. It appears that Quanta now means nothing to them.
That is a warning for us all,
Best Wishes,

The response was robust and in fact as Geoff was attacking Quanta, the organisation was gaining a new editor.

At the same time two doyens of QL hardware and software were releasing news of progress with their projects. First Peter Graf and then Adrian Ives.

"Now that we finally seem close to new QL hardware, I wonder if it's the
right time to ask for another decline in QUANTA activities.
I rarely attend an AGM, but I consider to come this year. If I find the 
time, I would demonstate some of the QL projects I had started but 
abandoned due to the operating system situation.
This would include
- Prototype of a new QL hardware
- Native ethernet drivers
- QL internet applications
- Cool looking GUI without need for pointer environment
- Parallel port SD card interface
Sorry that I can not commit myself. I'll try to let someone else show the 
hardware prototype if I can not attend.
All the best
"I have no idea if anyone is remotely interested in this project to attach
USB devices to a QL using a small card called a USBWiz. This device presents a serial interface and accepts AT style commands to communicate with many classes of USB device. I started working on this last year, but
was delayed by some family problems and a move to another part of the country. My prototype hardware is a little black block that connects via a serial lead to a QL or Hermes serial port. The box has an SD card slot and two USB ports.

In the past two weeks I have turned my original prototype driver inside out (not a trivial task, no wonder I missed an errant "me equ 0" statement). The first version suffered from problems encountered when trying to do serial I/O while in supervisor mode (in effect, a driver on top of a driver). Today I successfully completed a test which involved writing a text file to a native QDOS format SD card, then reading it back again.

The new driver switches to user mode to do asynchronous I/O over the standard serial port driver through an I/O queue which is managed by a Queue Manager job. In this it is very different from other device drivers and so will need a lot more testing. Not the least of which under QDOS as the driver has been developed under SMSQ. The framework is also in place to support real time communication with the driver core through a pipe mechanism. This is intended to allow queries to be sent to the driver, as opposed to its devices; a variation on a paper that I read about the possibility of implementing meta devices on the QL. Some time in the future I envisage a USB "thing" to act as the interface to this feature.

Anyway, that's where I am.

The new device driver has the name USB; USB1 is the SD card slot, USB2 and USB3 are the ports which can mount standard external hard drives or memory sticks. It reads and writes, but the format routine still needs completing (formatting is currently done with a S*BASIC utility)

As well as the native QL driver I also have a File Manager which needs no driver (only a free serial port) and can read and write FAT format SD card and USB hard drives. This software also supports the automatic saving and retrieving of the QDOS 64 byte header. This program currently runs in menu-driven character mode, but it is my intention to migrate it to a GD2 compliant pointer app in the very near future.

So, my question is this: Is anyone actually interested in me devoting more time to finish this project? If (and it is still an if) the driver can be brought to a release-stable state, is there interest in a commercial product
based around this?


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