[Continued from 30 Years later TED finds his voice: A Commodore Story Part I]
Like parents standing on the porch waiting to see their children off to their first day of school we waited for what comes next in a release to production. Among our children: The C116 ($49 Sinclair killer), the C264 ($79 office computer), and the V364 – The computer with an interactive desktop that could speak (courtesy of [John Fegans] who gave us the lion’s share of what made the C64 software great).
Something happened then, and by something I mean nothing. Nothing happened. We waited to assist in production builds and stood ready to make engineering change notices, and yet nothing happened. It was around this time that [Mr. Jack Tramiel] had left the company, I know why he left but I can’t tell due to a promise I made. Sadly, without [Tramiel’s] vision and direction the new product releases pretty much stopped.
Meanwhile in Marketing, someone came up with the idea to make the C264 more expensive so that they could then sell it for a prohibitively high price in. They changed the name, they told us to add chips, and they added software that (at best) wasn’t of interest to the users at that price. They wanted another C64, after all it had previously been the source of some success. Meanwhile the C116 and the V364 prototypes slowly melded into the random storage of a busy R&D lab. We literally didn’t notice what had happened; we were too busy arguing against abominations such as the C16 — a “creation” brought about by a shoving a TED board into a C64 case (the term inbred came to mind at the time).
With the passing of Winter and the final sign-off by FCC we found the time to catch up on our hygiene and start to think about what to do next. Within a relatively short period we started to re-coagulate into functioning groups and were running the gauntlet again with the new pair of machines; the Commodore LCD and the C128. The LCD and C128 were mostly for short field gains and the hail-Mary of the Amiga which was believed to be a company saver if marketed correctly. Time passed and we never really asked what happened to “Talking TED” as rumors of another office closing abounded and the numbness of 18 hour days created so much tunnel vision that it became hard to remember anything else, like where you parked. My car actually sat in the lot for 3 months and was towed subsequently away after the snow melted.
Doubt and faded velum are all that’s left of this moment in time from almost two generations ago. For me the Early 1980s at Commodore Business Machines was Camelot. The role of Merlin was played by our brilliant chip designers, our quests many and fruitful as we dutifully searched for the Holy Grail of home computing. I had entered as a squire and came out a knight with no visible scars and one heck of a story. Near the end we grabbed a child off the street, (or was it a technician in QA?) and — like in the Camelot musical — told him to ride from town to town telling the story of Commodore. This was a company that at one time had offices circling the world; the sun never set on Commodore.
A few years ago I ran into [Chris Liendo] from the New York Times at Vintage Computer Festival East. I know my jaw dropped, I felt my tongue drying out. I had not seen this picture nor did I know of its existence. Right there in the late [Jack Tramiel’s] hands is proof that my memory wasn’t just about a rouge prototype in the R&D lab, this was the culmination of many departments and several offices. It was our group that put those computers in [Mr. Tramiel’s] hands. These are among a very few hand-crafted units ever brought into existence.
Sometime last year I found a PCB in my collection, one that I actually didn’t readily identify for a score of milliseconds… it had open ROM sockets, it had a TED chip, it had a speech chip… it was a V364 PCB. I had no interest in turning it on or fixing it as it was a relic and placeholder for machines that I had seen working long ago. We old engineers make lousy collectors, we toss the boards and occasionally break pins and toss them in the air while talking. If we are talking to collectors at the time we toss them even higher.
Jump forward to this year’s Vintage Computer Festival East. I knew there was one collector who would be there that relished the TED line of computers more than any of the other festival-goers. He had gone as far as writing some pretty capable diagnostics for TED. I knew he would be a good custodian. A deal was done and [Rob Clarke] returned to Switzerland, the new owner of a rare v364 mainboard.
According to [Rob], it required replacing around 10 chips but then TED cleared his throat and spoke… in a female voice. The full video of [Rob’s] repair and TED talking including his/her entire 256 word vocabulary is shown here:
How strange that with all of the things I remember from that era, I had forgotten that TED was a she, not a he.
[Photo of Jack Tramiel from NY Times]
[Video and photo of working TED courtesy Rob Clarke]