Tunnels of Doom: An Interview with Hank Mishkoff

Published with permission from Dan Eicher.

Part II: Interview by Charles Good, 1995

by Charles Good
Lima Ohio User Group
Hank Mishkoff worked on a lot of projects for TI between 1978 and 1983
relating to the 99/4, 99/4A and 99/8.  As an independent contractor he
wrote the code for some early TI education command modules, wrote the
music for some modules (he is a musician), and wrote some of the 99/8
documentation.  He also was an employee of Tronics, which is a company
that sold 99/4A coputers through multiple layers of distributors much
like Amway home care products are sold today.  In addition Hank worked
in 1983 for Looking Glass Software and was involved in the creation of
some of the never released ET command modules.  What follows is compiled
from a telephone interview and (mostly) from a number of separate
internet email messages sent between Hank Mishkoff and Charles Good in
late September and early October 1995.  You certainly meet the most
interesting people on the internet!

CG-- Tell me about some of the early work you did that relates to the TI
Home Computer
HM-- I worked for TI as a programmer on the 99/4 in 1978, and then again
doing documentation (and some programming) from 1980-1982. (Oh yeah, I'm
also a musician; a lot of the music on TI's programs -- especially the
early ones -- was mine.) For about a year after that, I worked with a
company called Tronics, which sold the TI Home Computer on a multi-level
basis. Following that, I did contract work on various TI products for
years. I'm not an engineer, so I may not have the kind of info you're
looking for; but I was involved with TI Home Computer products for quite
a while, and I'd be happy to share my reminiscences with you any time
you're interested.
CG-- The following is quoted from the June 1980 issue of FORTUNE
magazine and describes the situation at TI in 1979 as TI considered
developing an advanced version of the 99/4 to be called the 99/7.  Any
comments on this?  "Internal competition ultimately put the kibosh on
the 99/7.  TI's digital systems group, which is based in Austin and
sells minicomputers to small businesses, argued that it should control
development of the 99/7 because the machine was designed for small
businesses.  Besides, the 99/7 was so powerful and inexpensive that it
would have cannibalized the low end of the minicomputer line.  The
squabble went all the way up to top management, which decided at the
last minute to cancel the 99/7 introduction and transfer the project to
Austin.  There, the "not invented here" syndrome took over.  Austin
engineers started questioning the new product's technical and economic
feasibility, and within six months, most of the project staff had left
for other jobs in TI.  Looking back on all this, an allumnus concludes,
"They threw away the two pieces of gold and kept the lump of coal.""
HM-- Wow, this section is incredibly accurate -- I remember quite well
when all of this happened.

CG-- Did you have anything to do with the 99/8 project?
HM-- Wow, does *that* bring back memories. I wrote the manual for that
sucker; I didn't know that *any* of them were ever actually produced. I
just went back and dug up an old invoice dated 7/7/83, in which I billed
TI for my expenses in shipping them the final copy of the TI-99/8 manual
counter-to-counter air freight (they must have wanted it *real*
fast). If I remember correctly, I had worked on the manual all night
(hey, I was a *lot* younger then), then drove to D/FW Airport in the wee
hours of the morning to ship the manual to Lubbock. I seem to recall
that the product was killed shortly after that; I doubt that the manual
was actually printed.  Another nostalgia note: My invoice says that I
shipped the manual to Monte Williams; Monte has since moved to Dallas,
and now heads up Micrografx' documentation group.
CG-- I have the 99/8 book you wrote! I have rough, not quite ready for
printing, "Final Draft 09/15/83" of the "TI-99/8, Book 2, Programmer's
Guide for the Computer 99/8".  Much of it looks it was printed on a line
printer.  It's about 300 pages.  I can send it to you if you are
interested, no charge.
HM-- I am definitely interested, thanks! That sounds like my book. It's
probably slightly revised, since my records show that I shipped them
*my* final draft in July.
CG-- I don't have a 99/8 but I know some people who do.  One friend has
a hex bus disk drive, an armadillo interface, and a whole bunch of
special memory expansion cards that only work with his 99/8.
HM-- Well, I'm more amazed all the time. The very concept that you would
personally know more than one person who has a 99/8 is stunning. Do you have
any idea of how they got them? (Or why they would want them?) Did they work for

CG-- Did you do any work on the 99/2? I have one of these, complete with
a built in hexbus interface that can use all the little hexbus
peripherals that TI sold, and some they never sold.  I also have a
"Wafertape digital tape drive", serial number 0000007.  I can understand
why TI never sold the things.  Mine doesn't work at all reliably.
HM-- I don't think so. Let me take a minute here and search through some
old invoices...  Nope, lots of charges for the 99/8, nothing for the
99/2. Did the 99/2 precede the 99/8? It seems to me that they provided
me with a copy (possibly a draft) of the 99/2 manual, and I used it as
the basis for the 99/8 manual.  Maybe not.

CG-- In the Spring 1988 Triton catalog NUMBER BOWLING is listed for
$11.95 as cartridge #1030.  It is one of the modules shown on the video
tape I am sending you.  Did you work on Number Bowling?
HM-- I think I might have written Number Bowling, but I wouldn't swear
to it. I worked on a few of the Scott Foresman programs, but I sure
can't remember which ones right now.

CG-- On December 15, 1994 Thomas Hartsig left a message on the
comp.sys.ti internet newsgroup.  He was commenting on discussions of
recent sales and purchases by newsgroup readers of TI educational
modules.  "I wrote Addition and Subtraction 1 back in 1981.  I had no
idea people were still using these cartridges." Were you involved in
that project?
HM-- I always thought that *I* "wrote" it, but I guess that depends on
how you define "wrote." Tom designed the module and "wrote" the
specification; I "wrote" every line of code that went into that module.
CG-- So why is Thomas Hartsig's name prominantly displayed on the title
screen of Addition & Subtraction 1 and your name is found nowhere, not
even in the documentation.  Why are you given no credit?
HM-- Here's a funny story for you (well, *I* think it's funny,
All of the programmers were miffed when we saw that Scott Foresman
wanted to put Tom's name on the title page of Addition and Subtraction
1. Not that we had anything against Tom (we had never met him, for one
thing; and for another, his contract with SF *required* that they give
him onscreen credit), but we had all been developing programs for the
Home Computer for years, and not once had any of us been given that kind
of visibility. We weren't angry, but we were annoyed.  When I had
completed a first pass of the program, I flew up to Chicago to show it
to the folks at SF; I knew that Tom was going to be there also. (I think
that was the first -- and possibly the only -- time that I met him.)
Just as a joke -- and to exact some small measure of satisfaction -- I
changed the onscreen credit from Tom's name to mine, mostly to see how
he would react (and, I suppose, in some obscure way, to make a point).
So I'm in the room with Tom and two folks from SF (Bob and Dee), and I
fire up the program, and up pops the title screen with my name on it. I
keep a perfectly straight face, like nothing's going on. Bob looks real
surprised for a second, then he smiles, and I think he's going to laugh,
but he covers his face with his hand for a second, and then he's got a
straight face, too.  And Tom, who is staring directly at the screen,
doesn't react at all! I even find some excuse to keep the title screen
up there for a few extra seconds to make sure he sees it, but there's no
reaction. I figure that he's missed it, maybe he's been looking at the
esthetics and hasn't noticed the switch.  Bummer.  After a while, Bob
and I leave to go talk about something else, leaving Tom alone with
Dee. Later, Dee tells me that the second I left the room, Tom turned to
her and said, worriedly, "I didn't know that *Hank's* name was going to
be on the title screen!" Dee, who had figured out what I was doing, said
something non-committal like, "I'll have to review that with Hank to see
what's going on."  I got a *tremendous* feeling of satisfaction after
that; all I had been trying to do was to tweak Tom a little bit, and it
had worked. Life is full of little victories!

CG-- Did you do the music at the beginning of the Music Maker module?
You can hear this music near the end of the video I am sending you.  It
is, I think, a Beethoven sonata.
HM-- It's possible; I'd have to hear it to be sure. Actually, the main
reason that TI hired me was because of my background as a musician; my
programming training and experience were pretty weak at the time. When I
went to Lubbock for my interview in early 1978, they were in a position
where they were making this revolutionary computer with three voices,
and yet they had nobody on their staff with any musical ability. I
hadn't mentioned my muscial background on my resume, because it didnd't
seem relevent to a programming job. And TI couldn't tell me anything
about the product(or even admit that they were working on a home
computer) because the product hadn't been announced! Finally, in my very
last intreview of the day, someone asked my about the two-year hole in
my resume. When I mentioned that I had been playing in a band, his eyes
lit up -- although I had no idea why, and he couldn't tell me. Weird.
When I first started on the job, my first assignment was the Home Budget
module; any experimenting with music was on my own time. I remember that
I programmed the Minute Waltz to play in less than a minute -- it
sounded terrible that fast, but it was a lot of fun. I also did a Bach
two-part invention that was one of my favorite piano pieces; that may be
what they later used on Music Maker. Then I started doing little bits
and pieces for the Grammar module, which everybody liked so much that
they decided to actually pay me for creating music (as long as I got my
"real" work done on time!).  The piece I'm most proud of is a three-part
piece I wrote for the Demo module. Unfortunatley, they chopped it up and
only used pieces of it. I've recently entered the entire piece into MIDI
format; if you have some way to play MIDI, I can send you the file as an
attachment, if you're interested.
CG-- Sure, send me the Demo module music in MIDI format.
HM-- Ok, here is the demo module music.  I've attached three slightly
different arrangements. I would have only sent you the best one, but I'm
not at home, and I have no way to play them, and I can't remember which
is which.  By the way, here's a funny story about that music, which was
written for the Demo module. I left TI before the computer hit the
market, and I was real excited when it finally began to show up in
stores -- especially because a lot of retailers, having no idea of what
else to do with it, just left the Demo module running in an "endless
loop."  One day, I stopped into a computer store with some friends of
mine, hoping to show off the computer -- and my music. They had the Demo
program running, but the sound was turned off! I asked a salesman if
they ever turned the sound up. "Yeah," he said. "When we're bad
salespeople, they turn the sound on and make us stand next to the
computer!" I had never realized that my wonderful music could get on
your nerves after you'd heard it maybe 500 times...

HM-- Here's a long shot for you: When TI pulled the plug on Home
Computer division, I was in the middle of writing a program that I
believe was planned to be put into a "Command Module." I was writing the
program as a subcontractor; the contractor was a company named Looking
Glass. The program had to do with the adventures of ET; TI had licensed
the character from Speilberg. Looking Glass had contracted to create 2
or 3 ET adventures; I don't remember the name of the one I was working
on. I assume that, when the project went under, TI would have had a
current copy of the code, and someone could have burned it into some
EPROM's (the programs were pretty far along). Have you ever seen or
heard of any program that might fit that description?
CG-- Which ones? Of those I know about one was just called "ET" and was
a frogger like game where ET had to cross the highway, river, etc. to
get to his space ship at the top of the screen.
HM-- Nope, that one doesn't even sound familiar.
CG-- The other, and maybe the one you worked on, is called "ET at Sea".
It is a world geography game.  ET has to move around a map of the world
visiting cities and getting clues to the location of his space ship.
HM-- Now we're getting somewhere -- but that still isn't mine. Mine was
called "ET's Adventures on Land" -- which I *never* would have
remembered, not in a zillion years, if you hadn't jogged my memory with
the At Sea title. If my memory is accurate after all these years, the
"At Sea" program was created by a programmer who worked for Looking
Glass; his first name was Pete, but I can't remember his last name. (I
vaguely remember that it was some kind of long Polish-sounding name.)
His wife was also a programmer; she worked for a company in Richardson
(a Dallas suburb) that did a couple of TI games, including one called
HenHouse or something like that.
CG-- I have a video tape of these two modules, and other never released
official 99/4A module software that I will be glad to copy and send you.
HM-- I would *love* to see that! The memory overload might prove to be
fatal, but it would be worth it!
CG-- I have heard of "ET and his adventures on land" and always thought
it was the frogger type game I described.  Nobody that I have ever heard
of has seen the "adventures on land" software.
HM-- I don't believe I was as far along on it as Pete was on the Sea
module when work was discontinued. As I recall, I had programmed in all
the little animals and animated them and given them paths to walk on,
but the game didn't actually *do* anything when it was abondoned. You
could move the animals around, but that was it. My guess is that nobody
saved it because it was so incomplete.  Looking Glass Software (the
company that had the contract for the ET games) was run by Gary and Mary
Schenck (since then, they've been divorced, remarried, and divorced
again), with whom I still speak every once in a while; if I remember,
I'll ask them if they still have a copy of ET/Land, such as it was. Gary
lives in KC (he's an art director for Hallmark), and I'm going to be
visiting a client next week who has an office just down the street from
his house; I think I'll give him a call.

I was right in the middle of writing this note, thinking about what the
chances were that Gary might have any idea where any of my old work
might be, when it hit me that I might have some old stuff lying around
-- and guess what I found??? I opened up one of my old diskette cases
(this is starting to sound like the discovery of King Tut's tomb), and
the diskette on top was labelled (in my handwriting) "E/A," which I
assume means Editor/Assembler. The only project in which I ever used the
Editor Assembler was the ET game, so I figured that I might have hit
paydirt -- although I did work on the manual for that product, so the
diskette might contain documentation, rather than code...  But here's
what the labels on the other disks say:

   ET LAND ("GROM7" crossed out) CODE FILES

Also, there's a sheet of paper with what looks like some coding equates
for animals, homes, and food (12 of each); I'm thinking that maybe you
were supposed to get each animal to its home and feed it (?).  Anyway,
I'd like to mail this stuff to you, if you're interested and if you
think you might be able to make some sense out of it (and if you think
there's half a chance that the diskettes are still readable). Would you
promise me to let me know what's on it before you make it public and let
me "withdraw" some of the stuff if it turns out not to have anything to
do with the Home Computer (like if I included a list of my
ex-girlfriends and their phone #s...)?

(Charles Good's added note:-- Hank did indeed mail these disks to me,
along with the "ET and his Adventures on Land" programming notebook
containg original graph paper drawings and notes of all the graphics in
the game, as well as extensive dated notes concerning the conception and
development of all the Looking Glass Software ET series of command
modules.  There were three planned modules called Land, Sea, and Air.
The notebook contains little information on the Air game beyond its
general concept.  The Sea game exists in the Lima software library as
GROM files that can be run with a gram device, as well as a slightly
buggy version that works from extended basic.  None of these three ET
games are the same as the frogger type ET command module game, which was
not a Looking Glass Software project.  The disks are TI DOS in SSSD
format and contain lots of GPL source and object code for the Land game.
There are no phone numbers of girl friends.  The code is incomplete and
the game is not functional.  At Hank's request, I copied the disks (some
were duplicates) and made a xerox copy of the development notebook, then
returned all the originals to him.)

CG-- Do I have your permission to give copies of your disks and notebook
to others interested in the 99/4A?
hm-- Absolutely, although I must tell you that I have no idea whether or
not I have any legal right to give you that permission. I suspect that
Looking Glass (which doesn't exist any more) or TI may own the rights to
the material.  Practically speaking, however, I have a hard time
imagining that anyone would care, at this late date, as I can't see that
any of that stuff could possibly have even the slightest commercial

CG-- The Looking Glass notebook you sent me has several pages that are
headed "Conceptual development for TI/SDA education modules.."  What
does "SDA" stand for?  I have a never released TI module that says
"Music SDA" on its title screen.  It is the regular Music Maker module
with extra code that allows you to get printouts of assembly source
code, GPL source code, and Basic CALL SOUND statements that will produce
the music you enter into the module.  I have always wondered about the
meaning of "SDA" in this module's title screen.
HM-- I don't have a clue what SDA means -- although you'd think I'd
know, seeing as how it's in my notebook. I've forwarded your question to
Paul Urbanus, the creator of Parsec, who's the only one of the TI Home
Computer programmers that I keep in touch with; I'll let you know if his
memory is any better than mine.

CG-- I am today mailing book rate a VHS video tape with 6 hours of
viewing.  Included are many of the never released modules such as the ET
stuff, a bunch of Bill Cosby commercials and pep talks designed for 99/4
and /4A retailers, and the official TI Retail Training video.  There is
lots of footage of the 99/4 (no A).
HM-- That sounds great. I remember seeing Cosby at a CES show in
Chacago; TI had rented a ballroom as a hospitality suite, and he was
posing for pictures with retailers. There was quite a long line, as I
recall, of people waiting to be in some pix with Cos.

CG-- I have a Tronics cassette tape set.
HM-- Which one? Do you mean audiocassette or program cassette? I was
involved in both projects, so you may have some of my work after all.
CG-- Both audio and program cassettes.  The audio tape has your voice on
it!  It was apparently made in 1982 and features you introducing
yourself by name.  The "Sights and Sounds" program tape credits you as
one of the authors of this TI BASIC software
CG-- From a newsletter article I wrote a couple of years ago: "TRONICS
was created by Mike Wilcox and Dave Guardanapo to sell 99/4A's using a
pyramid system of distributors and subdistributors, similar to the way
AMWAY home care products are sold today."  Any comments?
HM-- Actually, Tronics was the brainchild of Jody Black, who was a
Braniff pilot (a captain, actually) at the time. Pilots make a lot of
money (he was pulling in 6 figures at the time, as I recall) and have a
lot of free time on their hands (since they work only one out of every
three days). Like firemen (who are in a similar situation, but with less
money), pilots tend to get into other businesses on the side. And since
he traveled so widely (and worked with a lot of other people who
travelled a lot, too), Tronics spread quickly all around the country. I
knew Dave, and Mike's name sounds familiar, and they may have been
successful Tronic distributors (for a while, anyway), but they were
*not* involved in its founding.  Tronics always had trouble acquiring
enough credit.  Thus they had trouble keeping inventory and were very
slow in delivering product to their distributors.  This trouble
delivering goods that had been paid for doomed the project.  Eventually
Tronics was sold. It went through several sets of owners.  The last guys
to own the company milked it dry, taking all incoming cash and
delivering nothing.  I had some involvement in advising a bankruptcy
judge on the distribution of the company's remaining assets.
CG-- From my newsletter article: "Apparently TI knew about and approved
of TRONICS pyramid sales scheme."
HM-- They knew about it, but were always a little leery of it. Actually,
Tronics was an offical TI distributor; they couldn't have done what they
did withough being able to purchase products at distributor prices. It
took Jody a long time to convince TI to let him do what he did; many
people were surprised that TI went for it at all. And Tronics was a
"multi-level" company, not a pyramid scheme -- the differences are many
and can be subtle, the main one being that pyramids are generally
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Last modified: Sun Jul 31 10:13:33 Eastern Daylight Time 2005